Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Somewhere I Belong

My family and I just returned from a brief vacation to San Diego. We spent a week enjoying the beach, Legoland and my favorite part of the trip, a tour of the USS Midway. On the whole it was a delightful getaway. I would be lying if I said there was neither bickering nor the occasional meltdown but, hey, that's all part of the fun of spending time together as a family.

We also had a chance to visit with my brother-in-law's family and see our new niece for the first time, a Miss Charlotte Rae. What a cutie! He and my sister-in-law certainly know how to make darling babies.

One thing I prayed for during this visit was an opportunity to have a spiritual discussion with them. Not in an awkward, preachy way but rather something natural that was full of grace and respect. Both of them are more in the skeptical camp with a pinch of post-modern relativism and agnostic uncertainty. They are very much in line with the current belief of this generation. Spiritual but not religious. All paths lead to heaven.

I eventually did get my opportunity. I wanted to tell them about the unconditional love of Jesus. I wanted to tell them that if they place their hope in his promise of a full pardon for their sins they could experience a peace that passes all understanding. I wanted to present the good news of the gospel. I wanted to but I didn't.

What we ended up talking about more was organized religion and hypocrisy in the church. Any comment having to do with Christianity ended up back at church and its judgmental attitude towards people. Multiple comments were made about how they experience more love and acceptance from non-church-goers than professing Christians. They failed to see any good reason for attending a meeting that preaches judgement for a fee.

They equated gathering in church as supporting phony charlatans, snake oil salesmen that are more interested in their own narcissism and/or bank account than genuinely caring for people. They would rather take a walk in the woods and experience God's creation in silent reverie instead of shaking hands with a bunch of strangers that really don't care about you and listen to someone pontificate for 40 minutes.

The sad thing is I really had no answer to their comments because there is a kernel of truth to what they are saying. There ARE judgmental people in church. And many leaders DO only want to make money or stroke their own ego. And I completely agree with experiencing God in nature. I personally feel closest to God when I'm alone and meditate on his goodness.

To be completely honest this is one area I've been wrestling with for well over a year. What is the point of our church services? Why do we meet the way we do each Saturday or Sunday? Hebrews 10:24-25 says:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
But if I look at our Sunday morning services I feel neither encouragement nor love. What I feel is inadequacy and nonacceptance. As a more reserved and quiet individual growing up in a charismatic church I never felt like I measured up to living a truly Spirit-filled life. Anything less than running, singing, shouting, and dancing like a crazy person was portrayed as being lukewarm. One popular youth group chorus we sung put it like this:
I don't want be, I don't want to be a casual Christian
I don't want live, I don't want to live a lukewarm life
'Cause I want to light up the night with an everlasting light
I don't want to live a casual Christian life
My youth pastors reiterated over and over through their sermons, their songs and their socializing that if you aren't an outgoing, life-of-party, talk-to-everyone kind of person, you are lacking and need to pray for Pentecostal boldness. Never mind the notion that some of us are wired differently and don't enjoy these kinds of high-energy social interactions.

Today I still attend a charismatic church. And I still feel the same pressure to perform in a manner that goes against everything that makes me who I am. As a musician I used to enjoy worship songs as a genuine expression of adoration to God. I used to think music was just about the purest form of heaven we could experience here on Earth. And then I was told my music was too melancholy and not joyful enough. I no longer enjoy worship songs.

Now any time I hear popular Christian music I don't find inspiration. I don't find heaven on earth. Instead I hear cash registers. I see smoke and mirrors. I see contrived performances designed to manipulate people's emotions into getting them to do something. When I hear sermons by paid pastors I do not just hear their spoken words. I sense unspoken thoughts of suspicion about what their agenda is. Do they truly care about the people they are speaking to or are they just trying to grow their ministry?

I was recently listening to one of my old favorites, "Somewhere I Belong" by Linkin Park and found the chorus to capture a lot of where my heart is now:
I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real
I wanna let go of the pain I've felt so long
I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I'm close to something real
I wanna find something I've wanted all along
Somewhere I belong

Getting back to the observations my brother-in-law and sister-in-law made about church, I wish I could tell them church is vital to their spiritual journey. I want to tell them we weren't made to walk the path alone. I want to say they need us and we need them. I want to say they have value and can be such a blessing to the rest of us. Maybe someday they'll believe it. Maybe someday I'll believe it. Maybe someday the church will believe it. Maybe.

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