Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Church Defined Without Stones

Of course . . . ask any Christian, evangelical, catholic or other, and they would quickly define the Church as the people and not the building or organization . . . but . . . of course they don't mean it.  It is so ingrained into our Christian culture that getting your heads around the concept of a stone-less church is about as beyond conception for most of us as the proverbial one hand clapping, fourth dimension . . . or the Higgs boson.

Now, I think I'm in a good position to discuss this right now because I am happily involved in the organized church.  I'm not as involved as they would like.  As I said before I must stay at this point of equilibrium . . . half way out . . . half way in . . . or it wouldn't work for me.  If I moved in a little further inward, it would be like the satellite that looses just enough speed that the centrifugal force is over-taken by the gravitational pull and goes crashing inward like a meteor. In the inward circles of even my great church, I'm sure I would find the same evangelical voices that can drive me crazy.  I'm not cut of that "church culture" any more and I'm beyond re-reform. But, I'm at a good place in this church and that is my main background point.  Now to my main-foreground point.

Several things have brought this to my mind of late.  One was someone here asking the question (in a prior discussion) about whether we were referring to The Church or a church. The next situation was during a week-long family reunion in Florida last week.  It this strange stew of people (20 in all) the common "Christian" denominator was being brought up in the Bible belt church.  Most of them don't believe anymore. Some go to large churches that embrace new age spirituality.  One works for a famous TV evangelist. You can't have a conversation about spiritual things at all without it being defined by church meetings ("do they still go to church?"  "Oh, having seen him at church in a while").  One clear example is a family member who is almost out of control. She drinks heavily and runs around with a lot of men, rich and married, men.  So, rather than talking about the real issues of her endless search for meaning, the conversation is about when is the last time she was in a church meeting.

Another thing that was the final tipping point was a story told in my good church last Sunday.  The speaker told a story about a woman who was almost blind and almost deaf was brought to church each Sunday morning.  When her driver asked her, "Mrs. Brown, can you hear anything said or see anyone at church?"  She answered, "Of course not."  Then her driver asked, "Why do you still go?"  She smiled and answered, "So the world will know whose side I'm on."

Now stories like that sound sweet and most Christians love them . . . but when you deconstruct them and I mean totally deconstruct them . . . I don't think they are so sweet.  For one, like my formal paragraph about my extended family, implies the magic of working into a church meeting.  This is a long ways, in my opinion, from the original intent of Christian getting together.  It wasn't about penitence or magic as it is today (and has been for 1500 years). It was practical.

I don't know if I'm making sense in this.

I just glanced at Imonk (don't have time to read anything these days) and saw they were listing the long history of Church abuses.  I can't imagine how to qualify the amount of psychological abuse that has occurred under the guise of God wanting you to come to the church meeting.

My previous evangelical pastor was very skillful at this.  He was a control freak and abusive to people and his family. Yet, to question him, was to question God. He often preached about those people who have turned their backs on God because they were not under the authority of a pastor.  Now, in a perfect world it is wonderful to be under the care (better word) of a pastor. But, having worked with him as an elder for 8 years, I knew what he really wanted was obedience to himself and he used God as his tool of manipulation.  Even when I left his church he suggested that I was leaving God's will and calling and thus was doing something dangerous.  If you listened between the lines, he was making treats that God wouldn't protect me nor my family anymore if I walked away from his church (very cult like talk).

Now, this brings me to my final story and point.

I have a friend now who is one of the nicest men I've ever known and I will call him Hank.  He is an insider at my new church. He is an insider simply because he thinks that is where God wants everyone to be and he has great motives.  Yet, poor Hank, has just endured a season that is Job-ian in nature (as Job in the Old Testament).

I will tell the story with my limited knowledge of the situation.

Two years ago his wife wanted to start a business, her life dream. He liquidated his entire savings and retirement to help her fulfill her dream. The business was a disaster and failed.  This almost bankrupted them, but he seemed to have the attitude of a saint about it.  His wife, however, seemed to be too evango-cavalier about it. I approached her after the failure, "How are you holding up?"  She tried to make distance and answered, "What do you mean?  I always trust God and he never fails me."  Evangoplastic.

So, anyway, the next curse for Hank was that his deeply religious wife suddenly left him, or threw him out of the house.  I think it was tied to her shame of failure somehow but not provoked by his cruelty or anger about her loosing their savings.

The final blow for Hank came a few weeks ago when the company, which he had worked for for 30 years, suddenly announced hey were going out of business.  He is left unemployed after enjoying a good position.

My heart grieves for Hank and I'm trying to get together with him.  But he confined with me on Sunday morning that he can't go to all the men's groups that he had gone to for years because they blame him for his troubles.  They say things like, "He hasn't claimed it for the Lord."  It is so hurtful for him, that he feels like he can't fit into the epicenter of the church anymore and I wouldn't be surprised that if he doesn't walk away altogether.  I want him to come out to my orbit, where you can enjoy the good teaching without the evangocrap.

So, finally I reach my point.  I wish there was a way to "give permission" to good meaning Christians that they can come out to this outer orbit of involvement . . . or, I'm nervous to say this, they can be freelance Christians with no church affiliation.

Now, this last point scares the hell out of most Christians and such a statement would have had me burned at the stake for anyone of about 1500 years. But I'm talking about the lessor of evils.

Sure, in the ideal world, the way the Church started, getting together with other Christians and enjoying a meal and having some education was better than going at it alone. But when the choice is between a evangotoxin or a total rejection of Christianity, then there has to be place of either minimal involvement, like I enjoy or going solo.  Now, even going solo is healthier with others to iron-sharpen-iron, but that could be a couple of like-minded friends or even an Imonk "virtual" church.

But too often we give up the good, replace it with the terrible, while hoping for the ideal.


Johan said...

Another post I sympathise with, a lot.
For a couple of months I tried again attending the evangelical church, but it started to wear on me. There's nothing wrong with the people there (at least the one's I talked with), and the music was good, but almost every sermon had me squirming on my seat. I am of a disposition that I take everything that's being said serious, so I'm pretty stressed by messages about what I should be and do. Others, such as my fiance, are able to keep those messages 'out there', outside of themselves, but she is bored during the sermons. And I miss the messages about God's love. I never heard a sermon on the cross or the resurrection in four months. I never heard the good news I'm craving. What I hear are 'oughts'. Obligations. But honestly I get enough of those at the office.
But when I think of maybe going back to the Brethren church (where the cross and resurrection are central more), I know I won't be accepted because I don't take scripture literally, and am not a young earth creationist.
Last weekend I was called 'unbiblical' on Twitter when someone asked me my interpretation of Revelation, and my answer didn't fit their perspective. That hurt, and what hurt the most was the other being dishonest about what she communicated. She asked my opinion, and then called my opinion 'unbiblical', being 'completely sure' that it was not what the bible teached. And then she could not see how that was rude.
And anyways: what I long for most in church are the relationships with people who can speak the truth about Gods love to me and walk with me through my pain and uncertainty, to this place of rest in Gods love.
So, like you, I think my involvement with the institution is meant to be minimal, if any. I long for the church without walls. For community with fellow seekers, sharing life, sharing meals.
I know I'm not in danger of losing my faith, because I simply cannot not believe, but I cannot stay in traditional church.
The battle is over. I must be in the perifery. Like you.


jmj said...

Johan, I've lost count of the times I've been called unbiblical. Usually it is usually the trump card used to squash any opposing view points. That's how I used to use the term.

Collette said...

I haven't been to my church since Autumn last year. The kids still go with my husband. My husband speaks at our church but doesn't get further involved. I used to be heavily involved in everything, Sunday school, toddlers, cooking and very much part of things. I constantly compared myself to the other christian women around me. My so called friends. The ones who every week ask my husband how I am and tell her we are asking for her, but haven't came near or phoned.

I became disilluioned. With others, mediocre egotistical songs written more and more by our worship leader, one family dominating decisions and their way Always being the right way. I grew sick of being judged, treated like a child or being called "negative" by even criticising or having a different opinion.

I have finally discovered me and who I am and i am happy with that. Will I go back?? My husband thinks no. I have kids and am always aware of them missing out on church. I didn't get saved until i was 25 and didn't have a christian upbringing.

Sorry for ramble but I totally get where u r coming from. Thanks for a refuge to share our thoughts. X