April 10, 2016

I Went To Church Today

I went to church today. Yup. Church. Me. Today.

This is not some allusion or metaphor about me sitting on a beach somewhere lost in my spiritual ramblings. It is actually what it says: I went to church today. Complete with prayers, hands in the air (not my hands, but there were hands in the air) and the ole praise Jesus and a smattering of amens. Before I get into what it was like, let me start with the why. Several people who knew I was planning on going to church today asked me why, and while I tried to think of some reasons on the spot in the social environments where they asked, as you know I am better at articulating ideas in blog form. So why did I go to church today:

Because I want to be the kind of person who says yes to life more often than I say no. I want to say yes when it is easy and fun, but I also need to say yes when it is complicated and uncomfortable. I want to know, see and feel what other people value before I make judgements, and if I am doing it right I hope not to feel the need to judge at all. I want my ideals and values to be rooted in experience and understanding.

I went to church today, because I am curious about other people’s beliefs and how they think and make sense of the world. I spend so much time glibly proselytizing my atheism that I thought it might do me some good to spend some time in a church. While there, I was thinking that maybe I need to go to a Hindu temple or mosque next, so if you want to invite me I am down to go.

I went to church today because someone who listens and interacts with my rambling asked me to come, and I felt I owed him the respect he has shown my ideas. If I am going to be passionate about my values and ideas- art, veganism, peace, music, whatever it is, then I have to respect other people’s passions and give them the benefit of the doubt.

I went to church today because if I claim to be an open minded person then I have to be open minded in action and not just words. I have to listen more than I talk. I have to take-in as much I give away. I have to learn as much as I teach.

So for these reasons and maybe a few more, I went to church today. What was it like?

It was pretty great. It was exciting, musical, artistic, joyful, passionate, warm, welcoming, intimate, communal and honest. I haven’t been church in a long, long time and the times I have been it has never felt like this. I have always felt uncomfortable and bored and disconnected. But not today. I arrived a bit early chatted with some folks about day-to-day things, had some coffee, listened to a few songs and listened to Hamish give a well researched, interesting, and personal sermon about how to read the bible.

This is not a post to argue or debate the merits of his ideas or beliefs, that is what a bottle of wine might be for, but I appreciated his sentiment, his passion and his skill as an orator. I didn’t always agree with what he said and there many times when in my mind I was saying, ‘’but, but, but….what about…..and…..but, but, but.” I let it go and listened with an open mind. It’s amazing what that can do for your intellect as well as your spirit.

At first I spent so much energy pulling away and judging the people as they smiled too wide or praised Jesus too enthusiastically. It didn’t feel real to me. The cynic in me felt they were faking it. I guess because this type of devotion is not real for me, but I tried real hard to just be there in the moment and relate to what was being said without the need to argue all the time, which is what I usually do at religious events.

Before I go on, let me say that I enjoyed my time at Inspire Church. If I wanted a community of Christians to get to know this might be where I would start. If I created a church, this might be what it would look like. If I needed this type of faith, this might be the place where I would look, but honestly I don’t feel I need it.

It was nice to see these people so happy and bonded and worshiping as a family, and although I could appreciate what it was doing for them, I knew as I walked away that Church is not for me. Not because of anything this church itself was doing or not doing, but I guess I just reject the very idea of faith.

I started thinking about this idea of being consumed by god, jesus, faith, grace whatever you want to call it, during one of the first songs. They sang something like Jesus you are my everything and nothing I have is worth anything without you, or something like that. Which got me thinking- what is my everything? Is there one thing that I pour my entire soul into? One place that holds my complete heart and mind? Do I value anything so much that I consume it and allow myself to be consumed by it?

The answer- I hope not.

The world and the pieces of me in it are too rich, too complex to be poured into a vessel as one-sided as a singular faith. How can there only be one god, one faith, one church? I have faith in so many things, so there is no way I ever want to put one name around it all. If I closed my eyes, and raised my hands and praised any one thing, I feel like I would be doing a dis-service to all things. I don't ever want to see the world through one lens, even if that lens is the all-loving Jesus.

Beyond the stories and the bible and the sin and the language of worship and redemption and all of the devil and god and heaven and hell, my understanding from today is that it all boils down to love. The divine whatever it might look like. Compassion. Peace. Empathy. I get all that. I just don’t want to dilute the image through the lens of faith in Jesus. Those ideas of divinity, in my humble opinion, do not need Jesus, a god or a church.

It's a great story, the story of the Israelites and the covenant with God, but just one in a series of others. I can't, I won't reduce the divinity into such a simple cup.

I hope that it is enough that I live a good life. Try my best to be righteous. Understand that I am fallible and broken and wonderful and in pain and full of love without having to brand myself in any one faith. Or in faith at all. There is no one thing that I feel so consumed by.

I loved seeing the people today so happy and comfortable in their faith in Jesus and their approach was refreshing and made me happy too.

But I think I will keep walking down my own road and looking to see what else I can find. I am not sure what that church looks like or if I even need one. I have met many people on this journey and we have shared many stories and songs and our own twisted sermons along the way. These meanderings seem be enough for for me. Today my searching took me into a church, and I am grateful for the hospitality. And honestly, Hamish I look forward to coming back if you will have me, you have a cool thing going.

But for me the end of the journey can never be in any one church, actually for me there is no end to the journey.


  1. People talk about being open or they live it; lots of the former, you are the latter.

    For Christmas I visited a friend who lives there and he invited me to join his family for the Catholic Xmas eve service (he did offer me an out). Of course I went. So sitting in a ritual that was not mine in a language that was mine provided an interesting experience to understand it from the feel of the room and watching other people. I know there was a sermon in there, but am not sure I caught when it was happening.

    My parents were Jewish I grew up with most of the tradition but I lost touch with it. I do sometimes miss the story and symbolism part, but it's not anything I feel as a faith. Once I got to watch a Hopi ceremony out on a plaza in Second Mesa; I was a bit envious of seeing people with a long lived/acted sense of tradition that goes back too many generations to count, even if it does not jibe with how they live today, it's culture.

    The closest I found to a place I could go was when married we tried Unitarian for a few years. You get a little bit of every faith, great speakers, no creed or doctrine, and the best part was after the ceremony talking to some of the most weird and interesting people.

    But my church is always a canyon or a mountain vista...

  2. Careful. About 25 years ago my then girlfriend, now wife dragged me to a Catholic Easter mass. I distinctly remember standing on the boulevard outside of the building after the mass had ended, looking at it and thinking that while I didn’t completely understand what had happened inside, I knew something important was going on in there. Now, I’m on year two of a four year journey to become a Roman Catholic deacon.

    One point of philosophy to think about. Several times in your post, you talk about the danger of, and of not wanting to be “consumed.” Do you know the story of Moses and the burning bush? Take a look at it if you haven’t read it for a while. (Exodus 3) In our tradition, this event is symbolic of a God who does not compete with us for time or space. God is not the biggest “thing” out there. Faith in God fills us and enlightens us, making us more human and understanding of both the happiness and the hurt in the world, and in people. But just as the bush is not consumed and lost, we aren’t consumed either by faith. In fact, what faith does is - ubi amor, ibi oculus: love gives eyesight. Something to ponder over.