Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why I'm Done With church

Well, today is the day that I finally broke.

That's probably not true. Today is the day that I realized that I finally broke. I'm sure I broke a long time ago.

If you follow this blog with any kind of regularity, you can look back on the posts over the years and see that I have been pawing towards this conclusion. I think I didn't want to come out and accept it because I've spent my life in the church, spent my life apologizing for the church (in all senses of the word). My family and friends are in the church, I met my wife in the church. I'm kind of invested.

So I don't take this breakup lightly.

But it's time for me to check out: to check out of worrying how my words will be received, worrying about keeping up a front, a face, a good witness for the cause. I have been laboring under the illusion that church is a place on earth, an institution, where God and his will dwell among those people and their purposes.

I'm done with that. Church is an institution, like rotary, education, professional sports, and is fine as far as it goes. The problem is that church, for a long time, I have no idea how long, has been writing checks that it can't possibly cash. The offer: an honest, open and supportive environment where you can be vulnerable as you seek to connect with God in a community of like-minded brothers and sisters.

To the extent that you have been involved in church, and especially in anything even approaching leadership within, is the extent to which you are chuckling along, painfully, to my description above. Church experience falls woefully, painfully short of its promise. Which is fine and understandable, because the church is just a conglomeration of broken human beings, same as all other institutions--the church just goes further than any other to cover up this fact with a metric ton of fig leaves, clever smoke and mirrors. If this hasn't been your experience with church--wait awhile. Sometimes it takes decades, but it eventually comes.

So the church has been doing this for God knows how long, maybe 2,000 years or so, I don't know, but the facts on the ground have radically changed. The world has always been, and probably always will be, a severely religious place. There is this aberration in the West that we have been living under for the past 200 years or so, where religion has been dethroned as the chief institution and culture maker of society, but this has certainly not been the norm, at least in the last few millennia.

The Western church has not taken this well. I personally am happy, thrilled in fact, for the church to be out of vogue, because I think the farther away from institutional, rational power you are, the closer you are to God. And if you spend any time reading His book, you might notice that theme, but that's another topic. The Western church feels like it's trying to wear an old coat that doesn't fit anymore. We are speaking a dead language.

I don't want my children to grow up obsessed with morality, and judgement, and deciding who is right and who is wrong. I don't want my children growing up viewing people primarily in terms of their final destination, which they couldn't possibly know, which none of us know. I don't want them being taught theology that is much more a product of human imagination, dependent on the prevailing winds of the age, rather than a rational subject with rules and immutability, like math. I don't want my children thinking that Christianity is easily translated into a political platform, wherein the conclusion is axiomatic, that if you are a decent X then you will vote as a decent Y.

I don't know if you have noticed, but I have been using the word church with a small "c"--this has theological significance. Please allow me to nerd out on you for a moment. The Church are all of those people that God has called to Himself. I have no doubt that this group, The Church, spans all social/political/religious categories, and may just include everyone. Yes, I am holding out for universalism, but that call is above my pay grade. I believe in God for the very simple reason that my soul responds within me when the subject is raised. Sure, it's more complicated than that, but for me, it can also be as simple as just that. Belief comes easy to me. And my belief has not been shaken by a thousand books written "debunking" Christianity (of which I have read a few, just to make sure I'm not being taken), or a thousand insinuations that religion is for simple folk, is a crutch, etc. I look at the alternative, an ultimately meaningless universe, and that gives me the willies. So even if I'm only kidding myself about a God for 80 or so years, I'll take it.

So yes, I will continue to go to church, but I will no longer make the mistake of thinking that God is any more inside of that building or the people than he is on the outside, or in those people. That, my friends, is the difference. The Church is all of us or none of us, or some of us, scattered out into the world, like a handful of sand flung into the air. The church, on the other hand, is a conglomeration of people, Church and/or church, trying to cobble together some meaning. The institution of church has done this better and worse, throughout history, and I happen to think that the Western church is doing it so badly that it is practically unrecognizable, when compared to its original intent, to the extent that I am waiting around for a third Reformation. And until that day comes I will be haunting the outposts of a broken machine, trying to figure out what it looks like to be a part of the solution, instead of just bitching about the problem. Oh, but it's just so easy to bitch about the problem.

About the Post I am About To Publish

I really struggled with this one.

Well, I suppose there's nothing strange about that--struggle is my game. Self-doubt, cynicism and lack of confidence are my drugs, and I both pedal them and steal from my own stash. But this one was different because, for a little while, I was thinking that I was making a declaration, that I was making a pronouncement on an entire subject--an entire religion, no less. So I did what I do--"oh, who am I to say? I don't know anything, there are far smarter people who have put far more thought into this, and I'm just going to sound like an idiot."

But then I came to my senses. I'm not offering answers. I am not telling you the way that it is. I am not telling you the Truth With A Capital T. I'm only offering you one thing--my perspective. And my perspective is only worth whatever it is worth to you, which is only subjective. I offer my perspective on the world because I like hearing other people's perspectives. Some I agree with, some I disagree with, some bore me to death--and some change my life. I don't need to worry about misleading some, or being wrong. All I have right now is my perspective, and I feel like floating it out into the world. I may come back to it in five years and laugh at how wrong I was. Or not. It doesn't really matter. Life is a wardrobe--it takes a long time to find the perfect outfit.

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Buddy, Cam Newton

For some weird reason at some point many years ago I got tired of hating people who disagreed with my politics or my religion.

And then that tiredness extended to being tired of enjoying the judgement and ridicule of celebrities that the tabloids and talk shows made fun of. 

For some reason all of this judgement that the media, magazines, talk shows and gossip circles practically seduces all of America to partake in suddenly lost its allure.

From somewhere in my mind a principle asserted itself--think of every single person, which includes every single celebrity--think of them as your friend. Process the judgement that is being poured out upon them through that lens. 

When a friend of yours screws up, does something stupid, or faces criticism, what are the things you say? Things like: that doesn't define them; there is so much more to them than that one act; it's complicated; they've stood by me in my darkest hour, and I'll stand by them; even though they were wrong, they are still my friend. You do things like give them the benefit of the doubt. You consider their circumstances. Your knowledge of who that person is causes you to see all of their actions in a deeper context, in a different light. 

I don't know Cam Newton, I've never met him before, I'll never meet him. I don't know what he's like--and any amount of ESPN clips I can see of him will not get me any closer to actually knowing him. In fact, they get me further away, because it's such a distorted image. Put a camera or a microphone in front of my face and I can barely remember my own name, let alone conduct myself as I do day in and day out in my familiar context.

Cam Newton doesn't need to be Russell Wilson. Cam Newton was not gracious in defeat. Being gracious in defeat is a great personal strength to have. Do you have all of the character strengths that exist? If Cam Newton was my buddy, I can imagine saying something like, "Nope, Cam doesn't take a loss very well, he's too fixated on being the best, on pushing himself, and it's hell for him to go through a defeat. But he's the first one to be there for me when I'm down on myself."

Maybe we saw Cam Newton in an immature moment, and it's something that he will grow out of. Maybe we saw Cam Newton as who he is and always will be--someone who can't take a loss well. I have never said anything in my life with more conviction than this--so what? I'm not perfect, my friends aren't perfect. We all have flaws that we will never overcome, we somehow find a way to put up with one another, and love each other anyway. 

I don't want to ever pretend I know enough about someone I've only met on a TV screen to say I know the first thing about that person, that I'm qualified to pronounce a judgement. In the meantime, unless I know otherwise about you, I'd rather just think of you as my buddy. I'd rather work my charity muscle than my judgement muscle.