Feeble Knees

Friday, July 28, 2006

Church Without Jesus

A friend recently bubbled over in excitement, she couldn't wait to tell me about her new church. "It's really great, there's this great community, and they have child care, and they do all sorts of stuff, but they don't talk about God - you don't have to believe in a specific god or anything, so there's none of this dogma crap. It's great!"

Church without God? Church without Jesus? Why bother!

Had it not been for Jesus, my friends, I'd never, ever have stepped foot inside a church. Neeeeever. Well, maybe for weddings and funerals, but that would have been about it. Even after I'd decided to turn my broken, messed up life back over to Him, I didn't want to go. I figured we could work everything out between us, Father, Son, Holy Spirit and I. I'd read the Good Book and do my best to obey, God helping me. Did I really need to go to church?

It was at the behest of a friend that I started going. I dragged my feet there the whole way. Once inside the music caused the tears to flow, and years of guilt, shame, pain, loneliness, anger and bitterness welled up, spilled over and washed away. I even did the aisle walk at the end of the sermon. I knelt in a tight little ball at the altar and sobbed heavily. Time passed, then more time passed, and I was still having it out, oblivious to anything and everything around me. When I finally lifted my head, I saw my friend sitting in the back pews, where we'd been sitting. The rest of the place was empty, save for the pastors (who looked like they weren't sure if I was ever going to get up) and the pianist, who dutifully plunked away on the keyboard until I'd composed myself and headed back to the pew. I'd been there wringing myself out for over an hour.

This wasn't for anyone's sake other than mine, and the Lord's. We had a lot of things to talk about. There were a lot of things to turn right. So many things, in fact, that one conversation wasn't going to do it. That old-timey pianist was going to run out of hymns long before the Lord and I ran out of things to discuss. Because of this, the following Sunday, I went back. And then the next Sunday, and the next. I didn't even know or care what the church's programs were. I just knew that no one bugged me at then end when I went down to the altar and wept and prayed, and they let me stay there as long as I liked and the pianist just kept plunking away. That's why I kept going back.

It wasn't the people. It wasn't the programs. It certainly, God help me (and that poor pianist), was not the music. Nor was it the air conditioning, the fancy lighting, the color of the walls, or the soft, cushy upholstered pews. It was my desire to apprehend That which had apprehended me (Philippians 3:8-14), namely the person of Jesus Christ himself. You see, I'd just learned what it really meant to really, really need forgiveness and then get it, even though I didn't deserve it, not even a little bit. I felt in my heart that God honestly wanted me back, despite all the crappy stuff I'd done, and was willing to help me turn things around in my heart and life.

It was heady stuff. Potent. Jesus was all I wanted, and I wanted all I could get.

Everything else was superfluous, unnecessary. I didn't care if there were mission statement banners in the sanctuary, or what colors they were. I didn't care whether or not the worship team had microphones or speakers or any electrification at all. I didn't care if there was a projector for lyrics - isn't that what the hymnals were for? I didn't care if we sang two hundred year old hymns, or new ones for that matter. I didn't notice whether or not people around me were doing all the right spiritual gymnastics. All I cared about was that I was right with God and loving Jesus more every day.

Then somewhere along the line it all went nutso, the church went beserk and it became agony to go every week and see and hear things that were not of God, that were not done as Christ would have done them.

I left precisely because not only was it just plain getting spooky and dangerous, but there was less and less of Jesus. Oh sure everyone talked about Him and invoked His name everywhere, but in a constant spiritual-one-upmanship type of way that fostered divisions, cliques and strife of all sorts. People jockeyed for elected positions, or, if unelected, formed their own new little special interest groups, even rival prayer meetings. Yes, rival prayer meetings. It's true.

Maybe that was part of my problem in church, is that I kept going expecting it to be about Jesus. That was the reason you went, I thought, to learn about Him and worship Him and do your best to act like Him. It started out that way, at first. But take Jesus out of church and why on earth would I want to go? It's like making a cake without sugar, hot water without tea, a meal without meat or bread - what's the point?

Why on earth would a born introvert like me put myself out there with a whole bunch of other people early on a Sunday morning? Exactly! I wouldn't!

As she took a drag on her cigarette, my friend went on and on about the great communal experience she has found. "They have sermons, but they're not like about God or anything. They talk about how you have to take time for yourself, and awareness, and all that. I really like it."

Given my own churchless state of late, the strength of my inward reaction surprised me. There were many things I wanted to say, many super-spiritual insta-sermonettes about drinking from broken cisterns sprang to my lips. But I didn't go there.

"Hunh." I said. And that was it. What else could I say? She has found what she likes, hears only what she wants to hear, and sees no need or lack anywhere in her life. In essence, she just wants a Starbucks® with childcare.

I'll have a Mocha Grande Caramel Latte, light on the religion please, extra whipped cream, and hold the dogma. Thank You! See you next week, ta-ta!
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