I’ve moved cities so frequently in the last decade that I’ve developed a well-oiled and flawless routine for getting settled in a new place. I’ve honed it down to three essentials that I have to find to form a new community:
On this move, my 11th in the last 12 years, I’ve found my writing den, an awesome place downtown as well as my own light-filled loft for the times that I don’t want to change out of my pajamas. I’ve also found plenty of places to dance salsa thanks to my proximity to Atlanta, but the last essential find – a church — is eluding me.
Truthfully, I don’t even want to go to church anymore. I’ve become so critical of Christianity in America that I find fault with every church. Everyone seems to be offering a “Jesus +” theology with no praxis. Like, here’s Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, but let’s only talk about it in terms of the white American middle class experience with no practical way of implementing our beliefs. Praise the Lord.
Some recent examples:
My church in California was too white – too aligned with the power structures and civil theology of America.
One church here had a digitized American flag and a “Support Our Troops” flasher on the church marquee – I didn’t even get out of my car to go in.
This morning’s church had flags of various countries hanging in the sanctuary which could have represented the places where they sponsored missionaries but the American flag and flag of Israel hung at the front on the altar on either side of the cross.
Here’s a sampling of the random thoughts that were in my mind in church this morning:
Please stop telling me to say these things to my neighbor. I’ve already told this woman that God is good 15 times.
Why is that woman behind me popping her gum like that?
No, I’m not raising my hand as a first-time visitor.
Why are we holding hands with strangers? Great, I have a teenage boy to my right which means I’m basically clasping his dead fish hand for this ten minutes.
Why is the preacher talking about football and his national championship ring?
I wonder if he played professional ball? Maybe I should google him…
Ha, even the guy next to me just asked his wife: what is he talking about? When is he going to start the sermon?
Why doesn’t he start the sermon already?
*wonders if I am having a spiritual mid-life crisis*
Wait, is he just going to tell us stories this whole time?
*starts writing a blog post in my head about being uber critical (and probably entirely too petty) of the church*
Oh my goodness, I’ve got to get away from this woman and her gum.
I left that church mid-story.
While I am only slightly joking about my rambling thoughts above, I recognize that I am part of the problem. I want a church that caters to the specific things that I like in a church. Like a non-distracting worship band that sings contemporary Christian music (not gospel- because every song last 20 minutes) –preferably all my favorites as sung by Bethel church –led by a worship leader who isn’t overly dramatic and doesn’t wear tortoise-shell glasses. I’d also like a church populated with thirty-something single professionals like myself so that I can form relationships (including romantic ones) with people (read men) in similar life cycles. And I want a preacher who doesn’t seem like he’s auditioning for his eponymous television show.
As I decry the Jesus + theology so frequently preached in churches, I (hypocritically) maintain a checklist of all of the pluses that appeal to me in my back pocket. While the church is, undoubtedly in desperate need of revival — a stripping away of all of those pluses that we’ve added to the gospel –so is my heart.
My lack of desire to attend church has very little to do with the churches themselves and everything to do with me. The faults that I levy at the church are the exact same as those buried in my heart and attending church is very much like looking in a mirror.
I desperately need the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed. The one that liberates the oppressed and sets captives free. The Gospel that gladdens the heart of the poor and marginalized. I need recovery of sight just like the Church. The stripping away of all that is not the Gospel has to start with me.