One of my favorite movies as a child was 2001 A Space Odyssey. Even at about age 6 I was a space nerd. The highlight of my early life was Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. While my classmates were collecting baseball cards, I was scrapbooking stories about the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo program.
I thought I knew science well. One of the reasons that I liked 2001 so well was that it was a fictional fulfillment of what we (meaning the scientist at the time) anticipated about the year 2001. However, one scene confused me (okay, the monolith was a little confusing to a 7 year old too). That scene was where Dave was locked outside the spaceship without his helmet. The computer, which had evolved an artificial intelligence, including human-like emotions, had a fatal attraction for Dave and wouldn’t open the pod doors so he could reenter via the airlock. So Dave had to leap through space, while holding his breath, to the door and unlock it himself. He was pissed. He shut down the computer after that.
I remember sitting in the theater with my big sister (about 25 at the time) and feeling puzzled. But that scene was not true to science. You couldn’t leap through the vacuum of space without a helmet. It isn’t the simple lack of oxygen as the movie conveniently portrayed but the lack of free gasses . . . or in other words an almost total vacuum. You would die. Your body would be sucked through the neck hole on your suit and maybe your lungs would be pulled inside out through your mouth. Not a pretty sight.
This week something very unexpectedly happened. My new church called and asked me to be an elder. I was surprised because during my year there, I’ve been peripherally involved . . . by design. I’m afraid to venture deeper. I like what I have and I’m afraid that if I dared to enter the core, I would be disappointed. The reason is that the church, while far better for me than my last church, is still the product of American Evangelicalism. I know that my endeavor could bring some greatly disappointing encounters. I recognize that I am the exception. Most Christians my age (different than the < 30 generation) actually and honestly do love the present state of the evangelical church.
Our church has a surprisingly large population of educated people, scientists, engineers, CEOs, physicians and others, like Bob whom I sat with last Sunday. He is a retired professor of Science History from a major Christian university. I bet Bob and I would share a lot of similar interests. So, my present church is about as good as it gets (in my view) but still, I am nervous about going deeper.
I turned down the offer for several reasons. For one, I am literally working right now 10-11 hour days, plus several hours on Saturday and Sunday. I’m way behind in so many things (and why I don’t write much here anymore). I have virtually no recreational time. The job description of the Elder came with many, many time consuming strings.
The second, and most compelling reason I said no, is my fear of entering the inner-most chambers of the spaceship, is that I was an elder at my old church . . . and it was a crazy-hell realm of dysfunctionality. While the pastor there promoted himself as being “anal about being Biblical” that was just window dressing, and a cover for his insanity. I loath being in dysfunctional relationships with evangelicals. With non Christians (and I’m involved with plenty of those dysfunctional relationships through my patients) you can call a spade a spade. They may not like it, but you can tell them they are being manipulative, controlling, angry, anxious and etc. In the Evangelical world, you can not. They wrap their dysfunctional in “Biblical” cloaks.
A good friend taught me something a long time ago. No, she wasn’t a believer. She was a co-worker and a widowed thirty-five year old. I was often trying to set her up with dates with friends. She never had a lot of interest. She had been involved with a couple of men, and it turned out ugly. She would always say, “It is easier to stay out than to get out.”
So I reside just inside the door of the spaceship . . . actually in the air-lock. I’m still inside, because outside is a deadly vacuum.
This is another reason so many youth leave Christianity completely. The choice is between the safety of the traditional church, and its baggage . . . or the vacuum. I believe that we must create space . . . in space . . . where people can breathe and thrive.
I dream of the coffee shop church. But it would shed its weirdness. People there would be very honest with each other and very close. There would be no pressure to lie, to fake miracles or to act spiritual. They wouldn’t be expected to put on the show that my evangelical friends feel compelled to do. I can’t go to Facebook anymore without seeing them trying to out-do each other in their spiritual statements. “I just love Go so much, that I’m about to bust.” Or, “I’ve witnessed five miracles this morning and it is only 10 AM.” I can't stand that chatter anymore and if I attempted to do it . . . I would be a Caulfied Phony.
There would be a seamless flow between how the people in the coffee shop church were in their private world and how they are in their church world. Relationships would be meaningful, really meaningful. Others would not just be an audience where could try and project our spirituality onto, but people whom we honestly care about and are deeply empathic with.
In the coffee shop church, if one of the members was caught stealing from their employer, they wouldn’t be thrown out on their heels (which I saw happy at a previous church years ago). But the “members” would gab a six pack of beer, come over to that person’s house and sit with them. They would listen and talk and help them unravel the mess they got themselves into. In that church, everyone would know that they are just one decision away from a personal disaster and therefore they could humbly support one another. They would never pretend that they are "godly" thus above the fray. I could go on ad nauseam about this idealize church . . . but I will stop with that one example.