Photo by chuttersnap
For those of you that go to church for any religion, whats so great about it?
I’m actually looking for answers, here.
My experience with being involved in the protestant Christian church left me jaded and feeling more alone and confused than before. In college, I took a step back from religion (while attending a private Christian college – ironic, I know) to get my thoughts straight.
Since then, I’ve gone back to church only once. It was with my husband, Joe, who grew up Catholic but hadn’t been committed to a religion for years. Here’s what happened.
The second chance I gave the protestant church
It all started when a balding man knocked on my husband’s apartment door a few years ago. He handed Joe a pamphlet and expressed his concern about Joe being “saved.” This man said that if Joe didn’t pray this precise prayer asking Jesus “into his heart” before he died, he would burn in hell for all eternity.
Joe, being the smart man that he is, decided he should probably cover his bases on this one. He said the prayer with the man, who then invited him to a Christian church on Sunday.
After thinking through his options, Joe decided it might be nice to try church again to see if it could help him access his spiritual side. Even though I was skeptical, I agreed that we should go and give it an honest try.
So, come Sunday, we found ourselves walking through the parking lot toward a nude and beige building with a big cross on the front.
“That’s my man,” Joe said when he saw the familiar balding man greeting people as they entered. He gave Joe a surprised smile and totally ignored me. It was awkard but I think he was just caught up in his surprise that his recent convert actually showed up.
He led us into the foyer and with one glance, I felt even more out of place. We were by far the youngest people in the building. By far.
When we entered the room with all the pews, Joe’s door greeter guy lead us to seats in the very center, four rows back. A location my teachers used to call the “splash zone,” as students sitting in the middle near the front are most likely to get “wet” with knowledge.
We politely took two seats next to a woman dressed in a fancy autumn colored dress who assured us the pastor gives great sermons and we will surely be pleased.
I hoped she was right.
Then a small band entered the stage and directed us toward the hymn book, which I was totally unfamiliar with. But Joe, with his experience in Catholicism, knew what to do. He flipped it open and we began mouthing the words, wondering how long this part of the service is going to last.
After singing hymn number 153 and 162 which was accompanied by a tiresome amount of standing and sitting and standing again, it came time for us to fellowship (a.k.a. shake hands and smile as wide as possible) with the surrounding strangers.
I mustered up a smile while the introvert inside me cringed with every handshake.
Once that was over, we were directed to sing yet another hymn. At least this time we were sitting.
We must have been terrible at hiding our lack of interest at this point because after the song, the fancy autumn dress lady explained that they do sing “the old songs” but it’s only because their words have so much depth.
I responded that indeed I have heard some powerful stories behind some of those hymns. She aggressively insisted that the words themselves had enough depth to them. I just nodded and smiled, hoping it was enough to get her off my back.
After a few introductions of the various programs the church offers, we stood to read the Word of God from the King James Version.
I don’t remember a single thing the young pastor said after that. Whoops.
When we approached the door greeter after the service, he immediately informed Joe that the next step was probably baptism.
We were totally taken aback.
I mean, we just came to the thing he invited us to and sat through all those hymns and the first thing he says to us afterward is that we need to go to the next thing?
No “How’d you like it?” or “What’d you think?”?
This guy wasn’t interested in us, he was interested in the success of his new converts. We felt like cogs in some religious machine. Which leads me to my next point…
Why I haven’t gone back
If this church is the answer to my yearnings for love and peace and harmony and relationship, I would rather have chaos.
If sitting and standing when we were told to on Sunday mornings is the answer to my deepest insecurities, then I would rather spend my time searching for another way, even if it doesn’t exist.
If there really is profound and freeing truth in Christian teaching (which I believe there is), I just can’t accept that the facade of modern evangelical church is the best way to get that point across.
I do realize this was just one church, one pastor, one doorway greeter. But I’ve been to loads of Christian churches, and I know that fancy powerpoints and rockin’ worship bands don’t make much of a difference.
No matter what specific programs are going on, it seems like it’s the same ‘ol model: get people from out there to come to our thing, our program, our building to listen to our message so we can grow our congregation.
Who is the church really focused on in this model? It seems to me like themselves.
I just can’t get excited about supporting that.
Many people in my generation are seeing through the system for what it really is: a system. And they are heading elsewhere to find a spiritual path that actually feeds their need for authenticity and belonging.
This doesn’t just apply to Christians, either. Many people from many religions are wondering if there is another way.
Not that there’s anything wrong with religion per se. I actually think religion has a valuable place in our life.
But religion that makes you feel like a cog in a machine, that makes you more scared than when you started, that only has space for plastered smiles and nice clothes, that pits you against other religions? Yeah, I think there’s something wrong with that kind of religion.
My main goal here is to start a conversation about this. I don’t know everything, but I do know my divine disappointment with what I find every time I go to a Christian church.
Do you have something to say in the church’s defense? I’m willing to hear it with an open heart.
Do you also feel disappointed by the church? I surely can’t be the only one.
Do you belong to another religion that is doing something different? How is that working for you?
I’d love to hear your specific answers to these questions. After all, starting the conversation is the first step toward change.
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