I wrote this in an old, wide-ruled three-subject notebook at three in the morning. I tried to clean it up a bit as I typed it here, but I also tried to keep it true to the tone I intended/that happened when I wrote it.
“He goes to church every week, therefore he must be a good Christian.” Or so people believe. So easy it is to be “lost in the the house” (credit, Bishop T.D. Jakes): a member of the Church, hopeless, confused, doubting, flailing.
I’ve gone to church my whole life, raised in the Presbyterian (EPC and PCA–there’s some alphabet soup for you) tradition (full disclosure: there was a brief stint in a Free Methodist congregation, but that’s inconsequential). So, when I refer to “the Church” (capital C), I am referring to the people of a traditional-sort congregational body, not the universal Church or the Roman Catholic Church. By “members,” I mean Christians of the Church, not just people who are literal “members” of a certain congregation. And, since I have always gone to a Christian school, for the sake of this argument, I would like to extend the definition of the Church and its members to include members of the Christian community as a whole, such as those at my school.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I was going through an existential crisis (perhaps “funk” would be a less pretentious way to put it) of sorts about “religious” people, human nature, and Christianity/faith as a whole. Why? Unexplainable in the realm of pure logic. Perhaps it is influenced by problems I have experienced in previous churches, certain religious studies/worldview/Christianity courses I have taken/am taking in school, “big questions” left unresolved in my mind, personal folly, and other (unrelated/non-philosophical) issues/factors in my life. But basically, it boils down to this: I see little to no good in the world and Man. Extending this logically, since the Church is part of the world and is composed of Men, how much good can be found there?
But enough about my personal conflict, and back to (what I think is) my main point. One thing that bothers me is the judgmental aura exuded by so many churches, but especially the “traditional/conservative” sort. In no way am I a post-modernist, nor do I promote the general it’s-all-good-whatever-works-for-you philosophy. At the same time, though, I do not support over-the-head Bible bashing or treating “those bad people” badly/differently–aren’t we all equally bad? So often in the Church, it seems that if you become vulnerable about your doubts, shortcomings, or sins, people will treat you differently. Maybe they won’t socially blackball you, but you can tell that in the back of their minds, they are thinking “hmmm, I don’t think he’s a very good Christian; he always talks like he doesn’t really believe” or “oh, she looked at porn–the poor, misguided soul” or “he’s the one who’s always getting in trouble with the law that we always have to pray for in Bible study”. Looking at pornography and breaking the law are sins. But viewing (and treating) other people through the monofocal of their sins (or worse, their doubts–which are not inherently sinful) is not acceptable. When the Church judges, people grow afraid of honesty. Lack of honesty breeds hidden fears, doubts, sins, and estrangement.
And so people become “lost in the house”.
Logically following this premise (judgmental attitude of the Church –> lack of honesty amongst members of the Church) is another problem that frustrates me: a lack of depth of relationship. Of course, some people have great Bible studies or youth groups or prayer meetings, where people are good friends who truly care about each other (and not just on Sunday mornings or Tuesday evenings). But this is rare, and difficult to attain/maintain in the truest sense. For one, people are busy. Sometimes, people just don’t care. But more, people are frightened by the prospect of vulnerability, especially with “religious” friends. We think we fully trust our church friends: we’d trust them with our lives. But would we trust them with our secrets? Our sins? Our doubts? Sometimes, the prospect of living under judgement is scarier than the possibility of dying with our secrets.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the Church. There are numerous things about it that I embrace: the liturgy, for one. Everything about the logic and order, the continuity, the consistency speaks to me. A transition from the busy (and, unfortunately, often aspiritual–if I make take the liberty with affixation) week to the sanctity of the church (lowercase c), a time of reflection, a time of confession, a receiving of grace, a time of praise, the reading of the Scripture, a sermon, a time of giving, the Communion service, a blessing in departure. I cling to the liturgy the way I cling to my micro-managed (to the minute) cross country race warmup schedule–so, tightly. I think that the liturgy is one of the most wonderful “things” (perhaps, “entities”) that God, through Man, has orchestrated in the Church. Of course, I have gone to non-liturgical churches and loved those, too, for other reasons and characteristics, but something about the stately progression of the liturgy always draws me back.
Despite my current antipathy towards church-y things, I recognize that the Church (remember, the people) can do some good actions. We can help an old lady across the street, donate money to help starving children, or comfort someone mourning the loss of a relative. (I could diverge into a discussion about whether it is possible for Man to do anything that is truly good and untainted by evil motives, but this post has enough rabbit trails, so I’ll save that for another time). Regardless Man’s and the Church’s (in)abilities to do good, my faith in humanity is close to goose eggs right now (in shape, proximity to the ground, and fragility). However, one of the most encouraging things I have heard in the past couple of weeks came from a wonderful, Christian, church-attending lady I know:
Look, you can talk to me. I’m here for you, and I won’t judge you.
Every once in a while, I think we all need to hear that.