The voice of the pastor is echoing through this large atrium. He’s speaking about race relations inside the auditorium connected to the atrium. If there’s one thing this church is, it’s relevant to current events.
I see well over a dozen large coffee urns here, filled with flavored coffees and hot water for tea to which you can then add skim milk, whole milk, or half and half. Cadres of volunteers keep the coffee urns full, the cups stocked, the sugar dispensers topped off. And it’s all free. I can see how some people might find that a really compelling reason to come here. There’s free soda, too. (Free stuff is good!)
On the numerous couches and chairs scattered about, people occasionally glance up at the monitors which are projecting the service I sat through the first half of.
Most people here in the atrium are engaged with their phones or iPads. People are walking around, some with earbuds in their ears. The woman across from me apparently has some throat problem and she bursts forth periodically with a loud, growling, annoying throat clearing noise. (Comfy chairs and sofas are good!)
Behind me is the large play area where kids can play before, during and after the services. This atrium is open during the week and it is a place where homeless people can hang it and be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The church is on the bus line after all. (Using the building during the week is really good!)
“Only Jesus can solve this problem” the pastor cries, and the auditorium erupts in applause. (Answers are good!)
I’m here today because Kepler enjoys the kids programs they have here and I’m the only one available to take him today. Otherwise, I’d be home.
I remember when I believed in this place and the God they preach. It was exciting and the concert-like music portion was as good as being at a concert. Now, it just seems like a show. (Church as show not so good.)
Before I came out to the atrium, I watched a woman enter the dark auditorium after the service was underway and she walked forward to find a seat. She looked around, but none appeared to her, I guess, so she walked back toward where I was. Across from me, there was an empty aisle seat. She asked if she could sit there, but the person said no. I tapped her and told her there was a seat in our row, which she took. (Saving seats in crowded auditorium not so good.)
How does it work that a person who has an empty seat on either side of her doesn’t welcome this person into her row? I think it’s because the service isn’t about connecting with other people. It’s about the feelings, the experience, the impact. Come to this church, and you are welcome to stay where you are. Sure, fill a box at thanksgiving, volunteer if you’d like, but if you don’t want to, that’s cool, too. (Freedom without responsibility not so good.)
Today, I found myself aggravated before they even began because this place looks exactly like buzzfeed, with consumers filling the seats and nothing being asked of them. I just don’t remember Jesus ever leaving someone where they were when he found them. And it seems to me like a church should be a place where there is a sense of awe, of connection, of awareness of our value. Oh wait, here’s a song about us not deserving anything, not able to do anything good. Whoops, that’s not quite what I meant.
I’m still troubled. I am comfortable with my beliefs, but I do recognize that I came to them after a very long time of following what I thought was the truth. When I look at younger people, even my own children, I wonder; if they decide there is no God, or that the Christian church is a sham, what do they turn to? I was able to realize for myself that I don’t need the promise of heaven or the threat of hell to do what’s right. I can trust myself and allow myself to be perfectly imperfect. But it took me a long time to get here.
Which makes me think that there are a lot of people for whom a belief in God is a necessary part of them becoming whole, except that I no longer see that as something that is accessible through the church today. My experience as a Christian was definitely filled with peril from the get-go, and there were an awful lot of cons, which, even though they didn’t overwhelm the pros, were painful and disturbing, and left huge scars on my heart and mind.
I still believe that the fruit of the spirit, as it is called in the Bible, is awesome. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. I buy into those things completely. But my thoughts again go to the young people. Are they seeing these character qualities ANYWHERE? Looks to me like the predominant characteristics we are seeing in most contemporary movies, books, websites, magazines, and the lives of the rich and famous who occupy so much of the airwaves include anger, rage, selfishness, disrespect, harshness, crudeness, unfaithfulness, and unbridled do what feels good.
So is this a double standard? No. I think people can, in a sense, evolve into individuals who want unity more than they want to be right. People who understand that every person is the best judge of their own choices and lives. But there are stages that everyone must go through to get to that point. Just like there are stages of child development, there are also stages of person development. Religious belief is one of those stages. For some, that is the most comfortable stage to stay in permanently. For others, they find that belief in themselves and a type of radical acceptance takes the place of believing in God.
I do not believe any longer that humans were good until Adam and Eve sinned. I believe that we are still magnificent and capable of much love and goodness, but until we understand that and see a purpose in it, we remain stuck in something less than. My less than was believing that I was fundamentally flawed, incapable of anything good. My less than was a propensity for binary thinking, needing to designate everything either good or bad.
I’m not disappointed in God. I didn’t have some heartfelt prayer that didn’t get answered. As I said, the cons of my religious experience did not somehow outweigh the pros and render me sad and disappointed. On the contrary. They helped me understand that religious faith is an aspect of life and that the Universe seems to be so vast and mysterious that any particular religion can only encompass part of the truth. Like each religion is the blind man describing the elephant — the description is accurate, but only partly.
I love having experiences like being at church yesterday because I was there for the sake of my son. Plus, I learn so much by noticing what I am experiencing. And even more when I write down my thoughts. Thanks for reading.