Monday, April 27, 2009

My Thoughts On Church

Breaking of the bread.Image via Wikipedia
If you're a long time follower of my blog, you know my struggles with "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" as from time to time I write about my perceptions with my love/hate relationship with church. I haven't written about it much lately. In this case, my silence is a good thing. But, Annie (a good friend of mine) brought up something this morning that prompted me to write about my views on church now.

Annie said:
here's what i can't figure out... jim and i were discussing it the other day. with so many folks changing their minds (metanoia), why isn't that translating into change WITHIN churches? after all, they're made up of people. it seems that by the time folks get so fed up with the old and leave, they have no interest in planting something new. aisi, we are still folks who thrive most in community, in committed relationships that extend beyond our families. i like what shane claiborne and others doing it call "intentional communities". but, how...? jim and i moved into the inner city, thinking that it would facilitate our work with the homeless, bring about that sense of "community" with them. but, after 6 years here, the city shut down our homeless feeding and our neighborhood has been rehabbed with mostly "yuppie" neighbors who aren't remotely interested in even knowing their neighbors' names, much less establishing relationships. the UCC where i volunteer at the food pantry is wonderful in terms of outreach, in being open and affirming... but they cling to the sunday morning liturgy. and they tend to gather on sunday morning and then go their separate ways. even the guys i volunteer with a the pantry come in from another church out in the county. i spent time with pastor mary (herself a lesbian and a wonderful loving, accepting christian universalist) and let her know the only reason jim and i weren't going to attend there was that we're just not looking to go back to the format of listening to a monologue while looking at the backs of everyone else's heads. if it's "relationship over religion", then shouldn't we have a gathering that actually encourages relationships between us all? i don't miss the IC, but i very much miss interacting in small groups on a deeper level. right now, the only other option available to us in the quaker church - which again, doesn't have much in the way of interaction, mostly meditating alone together. but, at least they sit in a circle... :) -
Great questions, Annie....

Here's my completely uneducated guess at it.

People who are interested in relationship and truly following the spiritual path and developing themselves are getting fed up with the church and it's feeding of either pablum, poison or both. Many "progressives" are also intellectuals and we lose a certain percentage to atheism or agnosticism as they reject the literal interpretation of the Bible and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Those who remain with Christianity struggle to find a church they find relevant to their lives as they see it now. They aren't looking for "salvation" (as in the escape from a lake of fire) anymore and are no longer interested in going to church to get a ticky mark from G-d. When I first heard Spong say the church must change or die, I thought he was exaggerating. I don't think so anymore. I think the modern church is dying and the rate of death will accelerate unless it makes some radical changes.

People are also less and less involved in real community and I think we Americans have become so ruggedly individualistic that we don't even know what we are missing. Plus, our schedules are so full that we are not going to sacrifice our precious Sunday morning to go sing a few songs and hear 20 minutes of a sermon that we will have forgotten by the time we hit the parking lot.

Personally, I think I'm still in church because it was so deeply ingrained in me as a child. But, as you know, it's been a real struggle. The best I've found is Nexus and while it's good (really good), it is not without its share of challenges. Sunday mornings are still my time of sacrifice as we follow a pretty traditional worship format. Having said that, the last couple of Sundays we've busted out of the mold and they've been fantastic. Two weeks ago we had a recommitment ceremony for all the families in the church. We exchanged vows within families and between families promising our love and support. We had a single adoptive mother, a lesbian couple, a newly married couple and a older married couple speak about their commitments to each other. Yesterday was talent day where we had storytelling, music and art presented by the congregation. We're doing a book study on The Shack and the discussion yesterday was the best discussion I've ever had in any church group anywhere. But, most Sundays are pretty much the same old Sunday morning stuff.  People like my atheistic friend,who would like to be in community, just won't make the sacrifice. I make the sacrifice to sit through Sunday mornings because the pay off I get is Nexus is a real community for us.  And, I do  it for my family. I've made real friendships with several people there and we do things outside of church which is the way it should be. Nexus is going really well. Financially, we've got to get our numbers up so we can be self-sustaining. If Mike (our pastor), sticks around, I think Nexus is mostly over-the-hump and will be a nice little force in the community here.

Apart from Nexus, until that came along, I kind of liked the Quaker church if I were going to stick with Christianity. I wasn't there long enough to really get to know anyone. But, I liked their theology. Not sure how excited I could have gotten about the Sunday morning services. Even though the pastor's sermons were more interesting than most I have heard over the years. If Nexus goes away for some reason, I don't know what I'll do. I was seriously considering joining the Buddhist sangha. Ty wouldn't have gone for that though. Not sure how she'd feel about it now.

It's hard for those of us who really long for relationship to be surrounded by those who couldn't seem to care less. Ty and I have been really blessed. We are actually good friends with many of our neighbors. We take care of each others' children, we go out to dinner together, we have parties together. Funny though, we don't go to church together. They'd freak out at Nexus.

Keep searching, Annie. You never know what's going to turn up. Keep looking and keep making a difference where you are. I would have never guessed that a place like Nexus would spring up in Butler County, Ohio. But, it did. It's kind of a little spark that's just beginning to turn into a flame. Maybe the same thing can happen where you are. Maybe you can make it happen.



Don said...

Brian- Like you, I was raised in the traditional church (Southern Baptist). For some unknown reason, I was able, after about 3 years of wrestling with my feelings, to completely leave the IC. I think some of that ease of leaving came because of the fact that my kids are grown. Other than that, I can't explain the ease with which I left. I have never regretted the choice to leave. I know my wife misses the "fellowship" of the group, but has made no move to return. That could happen for her, but as for me, it is a non-issue and I could not do it. I think perhaps another issue that possibly is involved here is the fact that I'm an only child. I was never a "social" climber. I could be happy without large amounts of social interaction. My choices for like-thinking folks around are limited. Unity Church. One UR (very Baptist, otherwise). I tried the UR, but they are still very structured and very Bible-centric. Didn't really like what I saw. I am very glad you are happy. You have to think of wife and girls at this point in your life. Blessings!

Brian said...

Thanks for sharing, Don. I'm pretty much of a loner, too. Not an only child, but a first child. I'm still learning about the value of social interaction in spiritual development.

If it weren't for the wife and kids, I'm pretty sure I'd be completely unchurched right now. I was for a few years before I got married and Ty dragged me back. But, if a place like Nexus is available once the kids are gone, I think I'd stick with it.