By Summer Lee Carlson
I have to be honest. I like to give quite a few reasons for not having attended a physical church building in a long, long time. Usually I like to tell myself it’s because churches are too much like politicians whose ads are “endorsed by the one true King.” Or that it’s because they seem to be fond of manipulation in the form of media, eternal happiness, entertainment, or security. I love to get riled up about leadership that tries to come up with ways to be more relevant, edgy, and “seeker sensitive.”
But the truth is I’ve been avoiding that which mirrors my own life and heart too closely. Because I realize I have sucked up much of the same mentality. I care more about knowing God, or “living for him” in a way that causes others to respect me, than I do about knowing the true Christ (who consequently, was not always respected). So I am every bit as bad as those churches. Instead of being a building, trying to draw people in, I’m a person, trying to figure out how to fit God into someone I can “follow” while also making me look intellectual, enlightened, and attractive.
And I am doing a terrible job of it.
I grew up in church, and for the first 16 years of my life I doubted very little. But I also wasn’t focused on the church or my religion or denomination. I was just lucky enough to be a little kid who made her own decision to love Jesus, simply because he loved me first. I didn’t have the greatest examples in my family, but he found his own way through. I didn’t worry about how authentic the services or the music or even the pastor were. All I know is during that time God met me, in very real ways, in and outside of the actual church building. I didn’t look at the church as the way to “meet” Him. I just knew I was with a bunch of people who, like myself, wanted to love Him more, and were attempting to do so.
And then I got older, and started worrying about others’ perceptions. Things started getting fuzzier. I started reading heavier books and while I’d always been one who asked questions, I started learning the art of asking questions just to put people on the spot and prove a point. I attended college and things got even fuzzier. The big-gray-lint-that-sticks-in-your-load-of-laundry-and-clutters-up-the-entire-clean-load kind of fuzzy.
I turned the corner from asking questions in a genuine attempt to find truth to this sordid place of trying to make God fit into my worldview. Or into the worldview of others whose opinions I respected, or whose admiration I wanted. The minute someone displayed a “Pentecostal” or “religious” characteristic to their speaking or leadership style I became immediately suspicious.
And now the minute I find myself starting to do it, I become thoroughly frantic and want to quit whatever it is I’ve begun. I worry about the articles and music I write and whether it’s all just a bunch of cheesy rubbish. I worry that it isn’t abstract or lyrically astounding enough. And that it’s quite close to the “bubble gum” Christian radio music I hate (and am afraid to admit I am possibly emulating).
I worry that associating myself with the church or with “Christians” or with any religion in general, would automatically make me seem like an unintelligent, nave, “Jesus makes me happy!” follower. And so my response has been to almost completely pull myself out. I even stopped doing music for an entire year until a friend pointed out that she didn’t know if it was logical to “expect to get closer to God by completely walking away from the gifts He had given me.”
I still think we should question and yes, question everything. But I am finally (albeit slowly) realizing we should question out of an honest desire for truth. Truth that will help us to know Christ, not make assumptions or enjoy the sound of our own theological debates or prove we aren’t like those “other Christians.” Questions can come from so many places: a desire to be intellectual, to be “right,” to point out (what we believe to be) the ridiculous thoughts of another cabal, to defend ourselves or our own religious viewpoints, to assuage our pride at being “put into a box.” But there is another questioning which comes from the genuine desire for truth, righteousness and justice.
And it is that sort of questioning which I am sorely lacking. The likeness of the church today (and myself) to those in Isaiah 59 is astounding. I am starting to wonder if this lack is why, in our own lives, and at the doors of the very places we call the church, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.” (Isaiah 59:14) In many respects my questioning, spun primarily from pride, has driven me farther from the truth and farther from the church; and more importantly the people within the church, whom God desperately desires and loves.
So this is my confession. I am sorry for attempting to abandon you. I still have trouble admitting this, due to arrogance, but I know that I am the church and therefore I am you. I need to be forgiven for my representation of Christ, just as much as I need to forgive, if not more. And just as walking away from His gifts is an illogical way to get closer to Him, so is walking away from His people, the Church, and the lover of the one I claim to follow.
If you liked this article, check out: An Apology to the American Church
Summer Lee is a 25 year old female in Minneapolis, Minnesota who is in her 2nd year of “post college life” and still hasn’t made use of, nor figured out why she needed a degree. Her blog can be read at Aestivus Lee and her music can be found on Myspace.