1.10.2012

I am trying to figure out why I don’t like church

I once read an article that shared the top five things people confess or regret on their deathbeds and one of them was “I wish I were more authentic or honest about what I really thought.” That resonated with me because I think lots of thoughts and I don’t like to share them except with my very best friends because I think a lot of those thoughts I am not supposed to have.  Does that make sense? Well, maybe it does and maybe it does not  - but it is how I feel. But I’ve decided to think what I think and share those thoughts regardless of how I think others are going to react. So here is my first shot at that. I don’t like church. I know I am supposed to, because every good Christian girl does, but I don’t. Authenticity wins over perception. 

I am trying to figure out why I don’t like church. Because it seems weird to me. I grew up in the church, and I don’t feel any bitterness or resentment for the time that I spent there. And I really love God and feel I have a good “relationship” with God (although I struggle to know what a “relationship” with the divine actually looks like…but that is a conversation for another day). But I can’t figure it out. Maybe if I talk it out a bit and type out my jumbled ideas stream of thought it might become clearer (NOTE: that might make this miserable to read!)

Perhaps it is because people and relationships seem inauthentic. Church is supposed to be where you go to deal with your ish. To face a God that is both just and full of grace. To bring all that you are and say: this is me; the good the bad and the ugly. And what do you know? I’m not the only crazy one! There are others like me that struggle with this stuff but that are also beautiful and poetic and artistic and try to see the beauty in the world and make it a better place. 

The one time I can remember in the recent past LOVING church was a house church I was part of. We called it “coffee church.” Each home took turns hosting. If you were hosing you got up early, cleaned your place, made the coffee and opened your house up to whoever wanted to come over that morning. And what did we do? We chatted. About life. About God. About nothing. About everything. We got to know one another. We cared about each other. It wasn’t anything even remotely organized or resembling a “real” church – but it was perfect. I was more real and authentic with that group of people than I have ever been in an institutionalized church because we got to know each other. We were in a community which meant we were in each other’s lives outside of one hour a week on Sunday’s. We genuinely cared about each other and what went on in our lives. 

But that does not happen in church. In church – you have to have it all together. Don’t believe me? Bring a homeless person with you to church and see how everyone squirms. Bring a prostitute and see how much everyone whispers. Bring someone going through alcohol or drug withdrawal twitching a lot and see people anxious and kept back.

Everyone tries to keep it together at church – to prove that they are the best Christian. And when you go to the churches that are the kind of places you can admit that you are an alcoholic or sex addict or struggling with something it is almost a contest to see WHO is the biggest sinner. Who has struggled most and overcome it and has the tattoos to prove how far they have come? 

Or perhaps I do not like church because the worship feels inauthentic.

I have always gone to non-liturgical churches that are not exactly charismatic but friendly to the spirit and not afraid of turning down the lights, setting the mood and plucking at your heart strings with the worship leaders guitar. And for some reason that just gets under my skin now. I literally start to itch, my stomach gets nauseated and I start overheating. I am not sure when this reaction started and why, I just know that this environment is no longer conducive to worship for me. It is almost like I feel manipulated. 

In a liturgical church I know that it could still be seen as putting on a show since things are so programmed, but it does not feel that way. To me it feels like I am stepping into history, into a legacy, into a heritage of forefathers and foremothers that have gone before me. I am singing their songs and reading their words of testimony to the great God they sought to love and understand. I love that feeling of entering into a greater story. Of singing and chanting these historical words – it makes modern worship songs feel almost empty and shallow. I understand that they are not – and they move a great number of people in mighty ways, just not me…

Spencer Burke, founder of The Ooze and Mission Planting once said “sometimes to really love the church you have to walk away from her” and I think that’s what I’ve had to do in these last couple of years. I love God, a lot, and I have not lost faith in the church – I just don’t know how to love her and still be part of her at the same time right now. I don’t doubt that will happen again, I just have to be patient with the journey and learn something in the meantime. 

I guess that’s all I have for now…maybe I’ll process more on the church later.

6 comments:

/dave said...

I know a great church that you should try - nothing like all the other churches out there!

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kidding. Thanks for opening up some of these thoughts in public, they push and challenge my thinking!

WanderingellimaC said...

i bet i would LOVE your church. it is true, i cannot judge it until i try it. but for the reasons above (and many more jumbled in my head) i have not been brave enough to give it a go yet. i will though....soon(ish)!

april said...

I am asking myself the same question and not able to answer. I agree with your thoughts, but I wonder if I am doing something to keep a wall up at church... Why am I not building relationship outside the building's walls? What can I do to make it better? I don't know, it's frustrating. I like your home church that you were a part of, that is awesome. I know one thing I have had a hard time with is when the pressure to teach or lead or sign up for everything under the sun at the church is heavy. You're adored if you're there every time the doors are open, but not so much if you don't help out much.

Kevin Lewis said...

Your description of your home church sounds more like the communal experience described in the New Testament than what we do today. Our traditional version of church is so influenced by the Modern, individualistic, intellectual mindset. We come, sit down in a lecture hall, and we are expected to consume but not contribute. Rinse, lather, repeat.

We then push any type of communal effort to small groups, but we miss the big picture (imo) about actually emulating what community should be like on a Sunday morning. I love your description of a home church, and I would love to have something like that, even taking it a step further (maybe partnering with that group to be a part of some social justice process in our neighborhood on a weekly basis).

theurbanboy said...

Julia, I have SO MUCH to say about all of this. The simple churches we help to start here in South LA do exactly what you describe in the coffee church. We should discuss. I have no idea where you are at in these thoughts these days, but I would love to talk more about it. It's my main driving passion, besides film.

WanderingellimaC said...

@theurbanboy: let's chat! i've been wanting to hear more about the church planting work you are doing.