What Is My Problem (with the church)?
I just spent part of the week with an old friend. We’ve known each other since we both attended a Christian college over twenty years ago. Deep rivers of relationship run between us … one of those friends you can talk to about anything.
Or at least that’s the way it use to be. Since I’ve been “coming out” of organized religion, I find I have to be very careful who I talk to about what. It’s kind of like “reverse judgment.” For many years, I was judged on the “bad” things I did or said. Now, I’m judged on the “good” things I say or do, simply because it disagrees with the “established system.” Go figure.
Anyway, after a couple of days, this friend finally asked (very loving and not judgmental- just in an earnest way), “What has brought about this ‘hating’ of the church?”
She stopped me in my tracks because I guess I never viewed it as a hatred of the church. Quite the contrary, it’s my respect of this institution and the people I love there that has kept me from totally walking out. However, I guess it “looks” like all I do is condemn and criticize the problems I see. If one is still “in the Matrix,” it is tough to see it as anything else.
For years, I lived a life of half-truth. I pretended to be something I wasn’t just to keep up the image that had been programmed into my head since I was about sixteen. It was easy, I found, because the majority of people surrounding me were playing the same game. Don’t get me wrong, are earnest people who truly believe the things the structure (i.e. organized religion) sells. However, I was always bothered by some of the trappings- if you know what I mean?
My friend and I talked a lot of about “unconditional love.” I have found that this state of being is really too much of a stretch for most of us. We all have our unconditional zone, and anyone who falls into this zone receives unconditional love. But truth be told, most people’s “unconditional zone” is very small — regardless of what they say.
We talked a lot about forgiveness — using our interpretations of the life of Jesus as an example. But at the end of the day, I think I have encountered more gossip and resentment than true forgiveness. Not always, but it happens — regardless of what they say.
Over the years, we have also been involved in conversations ad nauseum about what things we could do to “change our world.” Whether grandiose or small, we would discuss and plan and discuss it some more. Then, when the execution took place (if it ever did) it was usually less than we planned. However, we would pretend the result was OK, it was “God’s will,” even if it was because of our poor planning or lack of commitment … and we’d say it was a success — regardless of what we had originally said.
After thinking about all of this (and so much more I won’t bore you with), I told my friend what my problem is. I have been a part of an institution that says a lot of stuff, but, at the end of the day, most of its efforts are not any different than that of “the world,” – the very place they say they are so different from. All I want is for our words to somewhat resemble our actions. For us to stop pretending and start actually being bold enough to put ourselves on the block for what we believe. I try to consistently live my life so that my words at least live in the same neighborhood as my actions. Me, being weak and flawed as I am. I expect the same from an organization that claims God as it’s source. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Many people in the church accuse the culture of all sorts of things such as: believing lies; pandering to selfishness; using distractions of drugs, sex and rock and roll to keep them from “the truth.” After being on both sides, I can say that in or out of the structure, much of “the song remains the same.”
When I dropped my friend off, I saw something that was funny to me. We were sitting at McDonalds, and a big white van pulls up. Out of the back, an Amish family emerged. Now, if you know anything about the Amish, they shun any “modern” things in order to keep their lives simple. They believe the “modern world” will take them from the things of God. But here they were, having hired someone else to drive them (because they can’t drive gas powered vehicles) coming to eat at what some would argue is the poster child for modern, self-indulgent life. And it was somehow OK because they didn’t drive. They didn’t make the food on modern stoves, and they didn’t pay the electric bill for the lights and television they enjoyed while at McDonalds …
Sadly, in my head, it gave me the picture of my “problem” with the structure of the church.