Monday, July 21, 2014

Is Jesus Really In The Modern-Day Church?

"Oh crap, here we go," I think to myself every time someone asks the inevitable question: "So where do you go to church?" And what gets me is that they assume that I am going to a church somewhere.

I feel like I need a t-shirt that says, "YES, I AM A FOLLOWER OF JESUS. NO, I DON'T GO TO CHURCH. LEAVE ME IN PEACE!"

Thing is, I've been thinking about writing this blog post for a while. I've been playing around with different ways to approach this subject. And finally I decided that I wouldn't ever get it out there if I never started. So here I am. Starting.

I know there are a lot of blogs out there on the subject of church and the fact that there seem to be quite a few people (Christians) leaving them. A lot of talk is focused on why Millennials are leaving, which is true and accurate, but there are also people of all ages who depart after being members of a certain congregation for years. I've read blogs that tell personal stories and experiences. Some could have been my own.

Not too long ago I went back to the church I left, the one that I had grown up in, from the time I was about 6 or 7 to when I left at 18. I went back for a special event to see a friend of mine perform. That was the only reason I went. I wanted to be there to support my friend.
On the drive there, as we were getting closer, I started getting physically nervous. I started to get that weird feeling  in the pit of my stomach, kind of like when you're on the way to the doctor. Sort of jittery and queasy. On average I wouldn't consider myself a very anxious person. But this was causing me some anxiety. Now, when I left this church about 4 years ago, it was not under ideal circumstances. There was a lot of hurt involved between my family and some other people and it did not get resolved.
So, needless to say, I had no desire to go back there. But I went.
I didn't plan to stay the entire time, but after the pastor spoke his piece before the intermission, I was even more ready to get the hell out of there.
See, they had apparently begun a new young adults ministry and this event was to showcase some of the gifts and talents of their own young adults. So that is what the pastor was sharing during his brief talk before the intermission. He quoted some statistic about how 3 out of 5 young people wind up leaving the church, and that if you don't believe in attending church then you're taking a huge chunk out of the bible. So basically you're Christianity, your very faith in Jesus, isn't as valid if you aren't going to church. Hmm...

I understand that it's normal for pastors to want to see their congregation grow. They want people to come to their church and get to know God. I get that. I realize that they probably have good intentions. Their hearts are probably in it. But the attitude they have towards people on the outside of their Christian walls, literally outside those four church walls, is not, in most cases, an attitude of love. They might mean it to be, but it's not. It is an attitude of condemnation and judgement. It is an attitude that instills fear in people, both Christian and otherwise, because those who hear it get the wrong idea of who God is. When our example of God is seen through those who proclaim him and preach a skewed gospel with a judgmental attitude, we don't get the true image of who God actually is. Far from it.

I finally got sick of church. I got to the point where I recognized the smiles and greetings for what they were - fake, not genuine, just meant to be polite without any real concern. People would say, "Hey! How you doing?" And just keep walking by. So many times I never replied. They never stopped.
I got tired of the cliques, both in the youth group and in the adult congregation. I got fed up with pastors playing favorites. Those who had the fattest checkbooks got the best positions and the best treatment. New members didn't stick around because they weren't made to feel truly welcome or made a part of the group, because, let's face it, they didn't belong there. There was already a set amount of people. A set way of doing things. We had our organization, our regulations, our rules. Gotta support the pastor. Gotta serve, serve, serve. All the time. All day, every day. Don't rock the boat, don't ask the tough questions, don't let anyone know you're struggling with anything you shouldn't be struggling with. Don't be a real human being - you've got to be a perfect robot who fits in with the expected criteria.
I mean, why would anyone want to leave a place like that?         

This brings me to ask a rather startling question: Is Jesus in the church? I don't mean the Church (notice the capital "C"). I mean organized religion. Denominations. Congregations. A specific group of people who typically gather on Sunday mornings and follow a specific set of standard regulations. Is Jesus there? 

Is Jesus in their monotonous opening prayer that sounds, oddly enough, just like it did last week? Is Jesus in the practiced-to-perfection standard worship service? Is Jesus in the sermon that the pastor preaches that makes people feel guilty and less-than instead of feeling encouraged and hopeful? Is Jesus in the faked community of hurting and wounded people who are too ashamed to admit that they're hurting and wounded?  

Don't misunderstand. I'm not implying that those church-goers don't ever experience God's presence or that God can't possibly be there. What I'm questioning is whether those people are truly finding the Life they're searching for in the church.

One thing worth noting here is that the church, and the Church, are two very different things. Capital "C" Church is defined as the body of Christ. The bride of Christ. All the followers of Jesus Christ. The church, lower case "c," is defined as organized religion. A building. A denomination. A place where people with similar beliefs gather and take part in a set of regulations. People mess up when they use the two synonymously.

I think it is important to have relationship and community with others of similar beliefs and who share the same faith in Jesus. Community is so important. Sadly, it has been my experience that it's one of the main things lacking in the majority of modern day churches. And I think the false sense of that in most churches is because there's no room to be honest with those around you because of the fear of judgment and condemnation. And there is judgment and condemnation because we haven't concerned ourselves with truly loving others. We're more focused on what we're doing, the fact that we need to serve to be looked at as important to God, or to please God. We think we need to win his love and approval. And in that, we lose sight of those around us.

There is so much that could be said on this topic that I just don't have room for in this post. It pains me to see some of the ways in which God's people are condemning those around them, and even each other. Unfortunately, I am at a loss as to how to change anything. Churches have been established for hundreds of years and I don't know if I'll ever see one that I really feel at home in and can see Jesus clearly. Until then, I'm going to continue not going.

Thanks for reading!        

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Pursuit of Happiness

"I'm really happy that..." (Fill in the blank.) 

Right now, in your current circumstances, in your current situation, what are you happy about? Why does, whatever it is, make you happy? 

Now, is that something you could lose? 

I'm not saying that certain things or people in life can't or shouldn't be a cause of happiness. But what I am saying is that I don't think certain things or people should be your sole cause of happiness.
Being dependent on something or someone else to make you happy is not going to make you happy. At least not permanently. It might last for a little while. It might last as long as everything is good and going the way you want it to. But that can only last for so long. It's only a matter of time before something happens that steals your happiness. It's only a matter of time before that perfect boyfriend/girlfriend lets you down. It's bound to happen eventually. And then what? All your sources of happiness in life have failed you.


You see, the way I think of it is, relationships are like roller coasters, unpredictable sometimes from one day to the next; friends come and go throughout life; jobs are not permanent and neither are they guaranteed. And there are an infinite number of other things that so many people base their happiness on, such as financial security and other material things, as well as in other human beings.

The thing about looking to other people to make you happy is...they are people. They are human. They are not perfect. We are all terribly and hopelessly flawed. Even in the best relationships there will be times when those involved mess up. They will screw it up badly. They will disappoint their partners numerous times.
So, is it really fair to expect them to make you happy? Is it really their job? Is it your job to make them happy? I'm not talking about loving and cherishing the people in your life. Of course we should all do that. I'm talking about the source of your happiness.

I believe, personally, that we are all in charge and responsible  for our own happiness, and if we try to put that responsibility onto someone else we will wind up as very unhappy people.

So often, happiness is thought of, maybe unconsciously, as conditional. "As long as my life is going okay, I'm happy." Or, "I'm really happy now that I've found my soul mate." Or even, "I've never been happier! I've got the job, the car, the girl...what more could a guy want?" But, and yeah, here it comes, but, what about if you lose the job? What happens if the car breaks down or gets stolen? What will you do if the girl dumps you? Where would your happiness come from then?

To me personally, it only makes sense to find happiness in something greater. Something that cannot be taken from you. Something that will not vanish.
I think it's important to know what true happiness means, and where to find it.

Your personal happiness can only be found within yourself. It takes determination and resolve. It takes self-discipline and training your mind to see yourself, your circumstances, your life,  in a new way. A healthier way. But if you come to the realization that you're never going to be truly happy if your happiness depends on something or someone other than you, and you take action and make a conscious effort to change that, then your circumstances won't matter because your ability to be a happy and healthy (not necessarily physically healthy) person doesn't depend on that.

Now, please don't get me wrong here, I'm not by any means claiming that even if you do find your happiness within yourself and you don't rely on anyone else to make you happy, that you are always going to feel happy 100% of the time. Because that just isn't true. Life is full of all kinds of different emotions that we were meant to feel and experience, which is good. What I mean is that certain circumstances don't have to always dictate whether or not we can or should live fulfilling, worthwhile lives.

I think a lot of times, and I speak from my own personal experience, once you're okay with yourself and accept yourself for who you are, and actually get to a point where you like who you are, then it's a lot easier to be okay with where you are in your life and circumstances, whether they are the most ideal or not. And I think that's where true happiness comes in.

Note: I know that not everyone believes the way I do, meaning, not everyone believes in God or considers themselves to be religious, so while I think that true happiness has a lot to do with finding it in God as well as oneself, I purposely left this post free from religious references for the sake of making a point that is relatable to everyone.

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