All of my past church experiences aside, I really don’t have anything against going to church. I’ll go to church, I’m not afraid of it, it doesn’t freak me out, but I generally don’t want to associate with the type of churchgoers who measure your spirituality by your church attendance in the same way people judge your patriotism by whether or not you belt out the national anthem at whatever redneck professional sporting event is plaguing the community that day. In short, after years of hemming and hawing and trying to think of a way to put it nicely, I just tell anyone who asks about my church attendance….”my only real requirement other than a very basic new testament message is that it’s not a church where people raise their hands”. In my extensive experience, you weed out a vast majority of the dipshits and spectacle seekers that way. People who truly believe that the founding fathers meant for us to have a Christian government, or who think the earth is only 6,000 years old, or that prosperity doctrine is legitimate theology, or that Jesus probably would have been a Republican….. all of those people go to churches where your raise your hands. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about….a sure sign that you and your church are balls-out sold-out and radical for Jesus with particular attention paid to the 2nd chapter of Acts and all things Holy Ghost, is when people raise their hands when they sing, praise, worship, pray, etc. If you’re reading this and you’re someone who loves to raise your hands in church, I’m not singling you out, do your thing…I’m just saying that in my life of experience with evangelical/pentecostal culture, this show of emotion is generally pretty fleeting and shallow and is used more often than not as a tool to “set us apart” from believers who aren’t quite as dedicated to Christ. It’s just not as fun and exciting (or entertaining) to be Presbyterian or Methodist. Even though there is zero correlation between the highly emotional, er, I mean spiritual, outpouring that goes on in evangelical churches and any significant rise in attendance over the past ten or so years in comparison to all of those “dead” churches, it surely is the way Jesus meant for us to be worshipping. The praise teams, prayer teams, those cool plexiglass boxes around the drumsets, those cool plexiglass pulpits and wireless microphones, monster schvantz sized sound systems complete with multimedia presentations where the resident dude who knows Powerpoint flashes the song lyrics for you…..low volume, high volume, slow tempo, fast tempo, build up, slow down, build waayyy up, then slow down fast……yes, I can see that the teary eyes and raised hands have absolutely NOTHING to do with emotional manipulation and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that the Holy Trinity loves to rock the house. Then you do a miniature version of the same thing prior to the offering (bigger if there’s a 2nd offering going to an evangelist or visiting missionary) as well as the altar call…..repeat that every week and insist that even though your overall attendance isn’t really any higher than it was 20 years ago, this is REVIVAL!
Now, I’m NOT saying that if you’re “saved”, that the whole thing is bullshit and it was some emotional lie. I’m saying that I believe salvation and faith are real things, but that everything that goes along with the hand raising can bring with it a very easy escape from thoughtful and meaningful growth. I spent half my life filtering all of my experience through that pentecostal holy ghost filter, and it never gave me a chance to experience or practice real faith. Faith meant you didn’t have to think too much or question anything, because there was always some preacher who was generally ill equipped to make a living in the real world ready to give you the simplest answers to life’s biggest questions. And to question him was to “touch God’s anointed”…a major no-no. Once I got a different perspective that proved to me that there was life outside of that safe charismatic cocoon, at first it turned me into an animal. Many people think that “Bible college can ruin your relationship with Christ”, but that attitude does nothing but reinforce the laziness in thought and spirituality for the person who says it. If I didn’t experience a paradigm shift that completely destroyed my worldview and forced me to rebuild it over time, I don’t think I could have experienced real faith vs. the “take my word for it” type of faith that is a cornerstone of evangelical philosophy. It took a while for me to resolve the worldview I was born into and still hold on to the basic tenets of my faith…and while I realize that makes me lost, or a backslider, or lukewarm in the eyes of the charismatic emotion chasers, I’m happy to be in a place where I prefer the wisdom that comes with my quieter no-hand-raising growth versus the fast food culture revelations that raise the roofs of the mulitimedia and demographic savvy temples where it’s purely a numbers game. I had to go through a period of anger, and zero faith, in order to learn about faith. That’s pretty much at the core of being an “unsaved loved one”… in the eyes of the hand-raisers I’m damaged goods, and while my views are generally politely tolerated there is always this patronizing tinge of hope that “I’ll come back around” and get back on that Holy-Ghost-Upper-Room Train. But when I see what has become of the church today, with the inbreeding of politics and religion, and the tendency to create a definition of faith that has been shaped in response to pop culture issues, I’m happy to have taken the beatings to get where I am today instead of choosing such an easy path that is built on a completely contrived and non-scriptural theory that faith can be built from the perceived martyrdom and victimization that comes from “standing up for your beliefs” in today’s world. All of those dramatic trappings are attractive….they make for good sermons, they are topical and get customers in the door. And while I can’t write off an entire sub-culture for that one hugely misdirected tendency, it’s a false, false, false direction to take because it has absolutely nothing to do with real faith. It has more to do with socialization, how to react to the secular world…”club building”…than it does with getting someone on a path where they can honestly and internally grow in their faith.
As human beings, I truly believe it is in our nature to seek the easier “happy path” based on the worldview in which we grew up. You take that emotional tie to whatever that belief system is and you run with it….filtering the world and your experience within it through that system and that system only. I’m not attaching morals and right and wrong to it at this point…I’m just saying it is what it is. You want to stay within that worldview because anything pushing you to go outside of it causes fear and uncertainty, and part of staying safely where you are at involves linking yourself with those who have that same view. I know I’m making this too retard-level, but I like to keep things as simple as possible and go from there. When it comes to evangelical/charismatic/pentecostal, whatever you want to name it, culture…people get it. They get the fact that you are saying a belief in Jesus is mutually exclusive, therefore it is the one and only way to get to heaven. That’s your happy path. And with modern communication, it comes through loud and clear, and your every thought as you filter modern society through it is pretty well understood….mainly because you have constructed a re-branded version of everything that already exists in the name of this belief…from action films to exercise programs. But here’s the rub…with very few exceptions, nobody outside of this narrow, specific worldview gives a shit. And they shouldn’t because the point of reference you are providing totally sucks. And instead of heaping their disdain upon your shoulders like a martyr, and finding ways to subvert the system and make this a nation “under God”, or in some profoundly perverted way actually believe that your warnings of hell constitutes witnessing…take some time to learn about your relation to your own faith before you expect ANYONE to listen to you long enough to question THEIR happy path worldview. You are asking a hell of a lot from people, but you are too wrapped up in yourself to think about it….even your “selflessness” comes across like it’s just for show.
What I’m saying is- You can school me on the scriptural proof of why Obamacare is evil, go to every length to prove to me that the founding fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation, but you can’t tell me about the most basic kernel of your faith in an unscripted (meaning NOT “testimony style!”), honest way. I can poke your belly and have you regurgitate a million scriptures for a million different answers, but your intent rings false because you make it all sound like some kind of contest where the objective is to simply wear someone down….which makes it all about you and your ego. The plain truth is what makes you YOU is what you do when nobody is watching…and the more you rattle on the more you reveal about that person…and it makes your dishonesty way easier to see, and the belief you are trying to sell becomes more and more unattractive. Finding faith is finding that honest person, that true, bare bones, defective person that you are, accepting it and going from there. But the easy, hand-waving faith says don’t do that…and you go and hide in your dramatic and spectacular misunderstood version of grace with people who will never challenge you. When you hit the altar, shed some tears, and become that brand-new-washed-in-the-blood-hand-raising person, you miss out on a lot if you don’t build your faith based on its relation to your shortcomings and how you constantly have to craft yourself as a human being to live up to that high standard WITHOUT becoming so perfect that you’re unwilling to admit you are still deeply flawed. That is real growth, and it doesn’t happen quickly. It’s not loud, or a spectacle, and it goes completely against the tendency to take the easy, bright and shiny path strewn with every manner of Christ-branded entertainment or pseudo-intellectual pursuit. It doesn’t make for exciting traveling evangelist sermon material, but it does get to the root of why the current manifestation of the church is failing miserably. When you get to the guts of what your faith really means, it will change the way you live and the way you communicate with others. Modern Christianity has severely over-complicated things, when it all really is as simple as John 3:16 and the great commission. When the most stripped down, pre-school version of your faith becomes profound in its simplicity, then someone might give a shit about whatever it is you have to say about it. Or maybe they won’t. And that’s okay. Just stop judging your level of spiritual victory by all of the things you do to entertain, placate, impress or out-do the people who already think exactly like you do.
I guess a lot of this rambling thought comes from the fascination with the hatred of AA I grew up hearing from the pulpit, and the irony that AA helped me get to a point where I can resolve my faith. But church isn’t AA and AA isn’t church…and the whole “it’s secular humanism because they’ll let you make a door knob your higher power” comes from a place of incredible ignorance. Church desires control over a person, AA does not. BUT left to their own devices, if a person works the program correctly they will generally come back to a point where, if they started life with a Christian worldview, much of the time it will come back to them. But it doesn’t always happen, and AA isn’t going to force it to happen….AA is about dealing with the spiritual aspects of overcoming alcohol without being specific. And that’s the problem the church always had with it…despite the glaringly obvious fact that if “their” program was truly effective their numbers would grow exponentially…but they don’t. It’s loosely organized, doesn’t weigh-in to outside social or political issues, there are no appointed leaders…but a whole lot of people are getting better because of it. And people like me are able to intelligently and thoughtfully come to terms with that “higher power”. And of course, saying you are an alcoholic and will always be an alcoholic cuts right at the heart of what it means to be “saved and sanctified”…even though all of the baggage and issues that created the alcoholic still exists under the surface no matter how “sanctified” a person is. There is a whole lot of pride and too much needless work involved in “looking good in front of company”, which makes it easier not to talk about some things, ignore and deny others completely, and focus maintaining an attractive spectacle.
Anyway, just some of what I’ve been thinking about recently. I’m not saying it’s the gospel, or you’re an idiot for not buying into it, but I don’t go to church where people raise their hands. And that cuts out a lot of churches, so I thought it was at least worth explaining myself. I’ve been wanting to write about my take on the much bally-hoo’d November elections, but this came up first. You just see a lot of “people of faith” showing their true colors with all of the political angst of late…without realizing they are the money-changers who should be beaten over the head. Sooooo…it’s fall again, I’m three years out from surgery and need to lose more weight, the farmers markets are about to close and it may be too cold for golf soon….so we’ll see how this all goes.