Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on Faith, for now...

Dave and I have been on somewhat of a retreat from church. Sure to concern most of our sincere Christian friends, it’s been about 6 months straight since we haven’t been to a Sunday morning service. That’s about 24 times, we’ve intentionally skipped church. At first it was just nice, to rest-having worked at churches since my junior year of college. Not going to church has lead people down many roads, I’m sure…I’ve even read many books about their experiences and thoughts, but I think I’m coming to some conclusions in our experience that may be different from what you’d typically expect.
The first few months, it’s just nice to know what’s really meant by “Easy like Sunday mornings,” no pressure, very little expectation, just the husband and the pups all snuggled in bed-reading and cuddling. I never worried if the nursery volunteers showed up, or if I’d hurt someone’s feelings by not saying hello, or even if the sermon I was going to preach was from God. Nope, I just lay there with my book and our Sunday ahead of us wondering how God would show us His love in a fresh way that day. Some days we talked about scriptures and prayed, most we didn’t. Many days we made breakfast, sipped on coffee, read, and watched movies. It took a few months, just for me to lighten up-be okay with the fact that I wasn’t at church, doing stuff for God. But I’m really starting to enjoy Sundays with my scrambled eggs, bacon, family, and bible.
After a few months of our absence, many good Christian friends expressed concern for us: What about fellowship? Where do you get fed? How do you worship? Where do you serve? You’re so gifted, why aren’t you using that? I was never offended by there expression of love and concern for our spiritual lives, but I never came up with an answer for them. I tried to explain, I couldn’t. How can you explain something that you don’t really understand yourself? I just had this feeling deep down that this is what God wanted for us, for the time being. I always felt badly though because I couldn’t offer an explanation that would satisfy all of those concerns. At times I even felt guilty because the questions made me think maybe we were doing something that God would be mad at us about. Maybe soon our finances, health, or jobs would be taken from us for our lack of faithfulness. I wondered if we were bearing any good fruit in our lives, and if there wasn’t any fruit, how would people see us? What would they think? Would they wonder if we even believed anymore?
There were other things though, we really wondered about church. I mean the purpose, the structure, the leaders …what were we doing? Did God really like it this way? Sometimes we drew conclusions that He didn’t like church or approve of the way it was. This couldn’t be what He wanted for what scripture calls His bride, we thought. Most days, we toyed around with all the ways we could change it-home churches, small groups, anything to be different, and get away from the controlling tendencies of leaders, pressure to perform, judgmental attitude about faith, and lack of love for people. Church appeared to us as a machine, once the places got big enough things had to keep moving and it lost its focus on Him. Instead the machine had to keep working. There are kids to be taught scripture, people to be healed, chairs to be stacked, cars to be parked, space to be found, sermons to be preached, worship songs to be practiced, and bigger and better outreaches to evangelize “the lost.”
It’d been a long time since I’d been moved emotionally by a service. I remember during this "break" I went one night to somewhat of a revival. I went forward because the preacher called up people who were having trouble believing in God. I felt a stirring in my gut, so I went forward, what did I have to lose? It wasn’t so much that I wondered if God really existed, it’s just there were so many things in my life that I’d been taught that seemed to contradict who I really thought He was. So I went forward in my heart saying I wanted to know Him, just Him, not through a preacher’s filter. As I approached the stage, another pastor there asked if He could pray with me, He started speaking words to me about my life (words of knowledge is what they call them-when someone doesn’t know anything about you but hears from God and it confirms in you that He is real) but these words were so off. He even told me to go get a brochure in the back and walk through the steps to get saved. I thought I’d already been saved and I was so disappointed, because I really wanted God to do something Amazing, something that would snap me out of my anti-church funk.
Fortunately, that night did. It’s been a slow process, but what I need from Him-can’t be found in a church. I’d always heard it can’t be found in a friendship, your kids, or even your spouse-but no one ever said it can’t be found at church. I thought that’s where you were supposed to find IT. (Whatever it was to me at the time). The problem is that church is run by human beings. We are all imperfect and so is the church. I had my expectations in the wrong place. I expected the things of God to come through the church experience. It’s not to say that they can’t, but mainly I think the deep things of God come from Him, directly. He shows up in a sunset, speaking deeply to your heart. A song on the radio moves you to tears. A book gives some insight into how He really feels for you and what He wants from you.
No person can be counted on for expressing His thoughts, feelings, and wisdom. It really has to come from Him. It’s much harder to live this way, though. No particular theology or doctrine that you base your life on-I’m sure this statement alone will scare the hell out of people. It’s just no theology or doctrine that’s ever been written down, has ever come from a perfect person. The Bible is the recorded story of God and it's not that I'm so worried about, it’s the interpretation of the Word that concerns me. Entire movements in Christianity have been based on man’s interpretation of the Word. Those interpretations have led to things like the Crusades, Rice Christians, even genocide in Rwanda (I can explain-the LRA). At the deepest part of their heart, somehow these god-driven leaders were convinced they were doing what God wanted; they had a version of the Truth, which led them to actions that hurt so many.
So many churches are run based on man’s interpretation of the Word-and walk down paths Jesus might never have gone down. I am not trying to hurl judgment on leadership here. I am just starting to realize at 29, that I don't know things-deep things about God. At best, on my most spiritual day-I know HIM..I feel HIM, I think about the sacrifice of Jesus and I am banking on that. But I am NOT a judge-a discerner of truth for others-I am not my brother's filter. I am having a hard enough time living live simply-loving God and my brother. I am going to try very hard to not condemn the places I've been, but I want to move on and live my life differently than I used to in those places. Sure, at times I get frustrated and feel like condemning them, but for now...I'm going to try love. Don't expect us at the next service in the area any time soon, but Dave and I hope that people will feel peace, comfort, kindness, joy, love and all the other many blessings we have from God, when they are around us. In order for anyone to give off those things sincerely, we must stop judging. Many places my friends worship are not for me right now, but that doesn't make them wrong.
Maybe all of these thoughts are just too simple, too liberal, too general...whatever they are they're mine and as far as I know I am still His.


Anonymous said...

Great words Julie. Thoughtful and honest. Polly and I are glad to count you as a friend.

Aiden's Momma said...

Love you Ju-Ju!!!!

Tim said...

This is a great post, and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it. My wife and I have struggled for years with church, and for us it has simply become a place to connect socially and find possible friends with young kids like us. For us small groups offer a glimpse of true community, but only glimpses because the spark is usually snuffed out by the "homework" or "biblical topic" part of the group.

I long for just plain community of living into each other, like you are describing as your new Sundays. I long for just living life with friends and depending on each other and loving each other through thick and thin; praying when the Spirit leads, not just to end a meeting; reading scripture together to find wisdom, not just for a forced topic for the week; etc, etc, etc.

I think you are on the right track, and I know how frustrating it is to not be able to explain it to your friends.

On a similar note, I am 2/3 through Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. This book is actually putting into words all that is humanly wrong about the Church that people, like you and I, have been scratching our heads thinking, "Is this right? Why are we doing this?" Now that I know these things, I hope that I can get past them and find something real.

Tammy said...

good stuff Julie. Jamison wrote "The Churchless Faith", and that was the best explanation I've found for this part of my journey. I'm tempted to just tell people who worry about me to read that book. ;) You're right - it's almost impossible to put this all into words, especially when its for someone who has never thought about this idea much before. I remember a preacher who came to my church in the 80s and told us that we were worshipping the book, in place of the person. interesting ...

Jim Schoch said...

love your friendship on this journey my friend

Anonymous said...

Oh Julie!! Could you have said it better? This is where many of my friends and I are at right now. I still struggle between wanting to serve the body that Christ himself ordained and hating everything that it has become because of us. God is doing a new thing I'm convinced. I hope we have our eyes and ears open enough to receive it and ride the wave. Can't wait to reconnect with you...see you on Facebook:)

Karin said...

I appreciate your honesty, Julie.
Eric and I have had to re-build our faith (on our own~ away from the church, the Christians, even prayers which seemed so much from the pray-er and not God) in the last few years and I really understand you here. We are still a part of the church we have been... but I don't do ANYTHING and I'm pretty sure I haven't listened to a whole sermon in the last 2 years... We see many, many things and hear many, many things that don't line up but we're there until we feel the push to go. Eric and I talk about many of the same things you two do and I appreciate you putting into words what I haven't.
You're great :)

deewills said...

Not that you need my approval but your post was well written and I believe I understand where you are coming from.
I just happened upon your post this morning. Yep, it's Sunday morning and I just felt I needed to be here today. A need to rest, to catch up on some reading, and spend some time alone with God. My husband's eyes lit up when I offered to make breakfast in a little while - something we never have the chance to do other than vacation or a holiday if we don't have to be somewhere else. My thoughts in response to your post - I truly believe that we are entering a time of reformation in the church and it can't go from where it is to what it's supposed to be if we just keep doing the same thing. There's so many people struggling with the same type of thing right now. Transition is hardly ever an easy process. I know that Love has to be the motiviation of all we do - and judgement is so easy to fall into if we are not intentional about guarding our hearts from it. That's pretty much all I have to say right now, other than I love you guys and can't believe I've not seen you since you've been with child! I sure hope I get to bump into you sometime soon!