Friday, November 09, 2007

tired of church

I am tired to death of church.

I am bitter and angry about the narrowness and moralism that have come to pervade evangelicalism in the United States. I am frustrated by the insipidty of the teaching, which has watered down the most radical message ever presented, into a gospel of self-fulfillment, four spiritual laws and a gateway to happiness and success. Most of all, I'm tired of the pretense.

Two weeks ago, the fellow delivering the announcements made the standard pitch to attend one of the weekly "community groups" that our church offers. As he put it, these are the heart of the church, where you really dive into the Bible. The people you get to know there become like family, and they're always there for you when you need them.

It made me furious. It took a superhuman effort not to shout "Bullshit" at the top of my voice, but I have a sense of propriety, and did not.

Dive into the Bible? Here's what almost every Bible study I've ever attended has been like: You have a bunch of people sitting in a room studying a translation of an ancient text they don't understand. The leader has a clear message he's guiding everyone toward, or he's not guiding anyone at all.

Either way, the people at the study simply repeat the things they've said or heard about the passage before, and unless you're new to this Bible study thing, nothing is new. Bible studies usually are limited to the gospels or Pauline epistles, and aside from their entertainment or Golden Book value, no one ever reads the Old Testament stories. (Some studies are topical in nature, and they're even duller.)

As for the relationships, all that really gets any deeper is the pretense. We'll aww and gee-whiz over other people's prayer requests, and we'll even pray for them at the study, but we never actually get involved in a meaningful or personal way. We're happy to listen and to pray, but if you actually need someone's help the response you're most likely to hear is "Oh geez, I'm sorry I can't help you with that. Good luck."

Church itself is even worse, or maybe it's better, depending on how you look at it, because the pretense doesn't run so deep. You know that when someone is chatting with you politely after church that they really don't care about your personal problems, which is why no one bothers to share them after church.

In the end, I wonder if vast chunks of the American church don't belong with all the flatterers in Dante's hell. We actually train greeters and other members of our churches, especially pastors, to welcome people, befriend them, make them feel at home, and treat them like they're someone special, and then leave them cold once they've settled in.

As for the other aspects of the church, I find nothing invigorating, refreshing, or renewing about them at all. The music is so loud it physically hurts, and not just in the ear that doesn't already have permanent hearing loss. I cannot worship to music that makes me want to run away, especially when the songs change every two or three months, after I've just barely learned the lyrics to the latest tunes.

The sermon is well spoken, amusing, and at times even absorbing, but ultimately it is like a can of Coca-Cola. It is filled with empty calories that accomplish little beyond giving a burst of energy and rotting the teeth in my head. There is nothing new, nothing interesting being shared, and do we really need a three-month series on the book of Galatians? I agree that legalism is a problem in the church, especially among those of us who can see everyone else's legalism perfectly clearly, but surely in a state where we're weary of corruption, high taxes, Bruce Springsteen; seeing heightened tension running along ethnic lines; and feeling existential despair over the state of the union -- surely there are other things that will have a bigger impact on us that have not already been preached from one end of the liturgical calendar to the other.

I learn more and have more to think about after reading with my 8-year-old the Bible's account of Jephthah and his decision to sacrifice his only child to the Lord, than I have in years of church attendance. What is wrong with the church?

Surely our children are ready to go beyond Golden Book theology and actually discover the horrors and wonders that really await them in the Bible. Surely they can even go beyond the same old Bible stories and parables of Jesus, and even do things to experience God themselves. What is wrong with the church?

I do not even find that I have anything to give to the church that it wants or knows what to do with. I am tired of talking about God, I am tired of hearing about God, and I am tired of being alone.

I hate church with a passion, and I cannot find it to make myself go.

Copyright © 2007 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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