I promised myself I was going to be a more consistent blogger this year. Sorry, self....
I just attended "The Very Last Next. For Now." (inside joke, lol) this past weekend. It was on the subject of the church. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time whatsoever, you might have already guessed I had mixed feelings about THAT being the topic of a week long church service.
I'm a Christian. My decisions revolve around my relationship with God, revering Him, and reveling in what He reveals to me about life more abundant. I have Christian parents. I even have a few Christian friends. And I attend church 40-something weeks out of the year. I go because I've found a church that offers sound doctrine on the stuff I consider to be "of most importance," the music is both meaningful and enjoyable (not the most common combination), and people who are better than average at being real, welcoming, and lovers of God. But the topic of "the local church" gets me on my soapbox faster than just about anything else, and not in a way that paints it favorably.
Perhaps it's that it's portrayed as being simple. So long as you attend and humble yourself enough to pursue people who may or may not be pursuing you, and convince them to build deep and meaningful friendships with you, and are serving and being involved in the church services and events, and sign on the dotted line to become a member, you should have a strong Christian walk. Lose those things, and you will surely fail.
Each member of my family, my college experience, and many friends are testimony to the fact that it's simply not that simple.
Don't hear what I'm not saying. I've seen people struggle through very difficult spiritual times where they needed a strong brother or sister to be at their side, and because they didn't have it, they lost the battle for years at a time. Cultivating the humility to serve and to be open with strangers is healthy and good for the heart. Having friends serve as a mirror can be extremely helpful if they have the humility to say something, you have the humility to listen, and you had been avoiding the one in your bathroom. It's even true for some that if you sign on the dotted line, it's like signing a marriage contract, and it frees them to commit fully where they would have made excuses and been unfaithful otherwise.
I've just never been one of those people.
No doubt it's due in part to being an introvert. One of the speakers this past weekend spoke of the "summer from hell" where he was doing research in a dream-come-true scenario but with no connection to the outside world while doing it. No friends. And he was MISERABLE. And I sat there thinking... EVERY summer was like that for me. I sat at home and did cross stitch or rode my bike or watched movies or read... there were no friends in my summers. Or my winters for that matter. Springs and autumns weren't great either. Some people react differently to... people.
I also like to think of myself as a thinking person. Analytical, contemplative, slightly above average intelligence according to my standing in high school (although I attended private Christian school, and that might bump my placing up somewhat...). If you are already capable of searching your heart, finding weaknesses and watching for them in your life with the intention of growing in those areas... if you read texts written by and take advantage of the great minds of the faith... if you commune with God and seek His face and input into your life... you have singlehandedly taken care of many of the reasons why "they" will tell you you have to have Christian friends. At your local church. Where you ARE a member.
Is it that I'm so rare that they don't think it's even worth mentioning? Or is it that they're afraid of admitting that there are exceptions because they think people will assume they're the exception and stop meeting with the brethren?
What irks me too is whenever I approach someone - spiritual leaders in the church - they never seem to hear me. What I'm saying is outside the realm of possibility in their minds, and so they either reinterpret what I've said or they discount it as pride or ignorance or even a sign that I might be drifting from God. And they respond accordingly - with care, but with advice and truths that have nothing at all to do with what I approached them about. I'm left feeling like I have no powers of communication, beaten into the ground, and still wishing someone would.....
What IS it that I want? What am I hoping to hear? What is the question?
Maybe I just want someone to tell me I'm not crazy. Y'know, to have one of those people who praise the necessity of wrapping your life around the church to say, "Sure, I can see how that would work for some people."
In the same way that a marriage contract is just a piece of paper - good only to make breaking the promise expensive to those who don't respect it, and good for nothing to those who would have remained faithful even without it - I'd propose that the cut and dried standards they so rigidly set forth as the formula for a prosperous spiritual life ought to be seen as helpful ideas rather than the ten commandments. You won't go wrong if you follow their instructions... but neither will you necessarily go wrong if you have your primary fellowship with believers who don't attend the same place you do on Sundays, if you spend time with C.S. Lewis in coffee shops rather than going to the church ice skating party, if you occasionally skip church to spend time in prayer by the waterfalls, if you spend time with people who teach you about God's love and wisdom and abundant life even though they don't have a relationship with Him. Truth is truth.
Having a church service every Sunday morning was a great idea. We DO need to charge our batteries, get challenged, be reminded of the centrality of our relationship with God. Very helpful stuff. And if you can find a good friend who'll mentor you, hey, more power to you. But while I'm sure pride factors into my frustration, it also causes me great concern whenever ideals are preached as standard and required. It breeds guilt in the weak, or else anger or discouragement.
At the end of a weekend where the message was, "You NEED to make the church the center of your life!" (wait, I thought that was supposed to be God?) they addressed what was probably the vast majority of the crowd - those who "might feel discouraged" by the fact that these ideals were nothing like their own experiences. And that they should not lose hope because God is all we NEED. Wait, what? Double standard, much? The answer I walked away with, the solution that balanced it all out for me, was that God IS all we need. Period. And regardless of what they might preach about involvement in the church, I can rest in the assurance that God loves me. And that His love is all I need because if I DO have any needs that could be provided by relationships in the church, He will provide those relationships. Because HE loves ME. And His love is strong enough to make sure I lack no good thing. If you're honestly living your life in an attempt to honor God as far as your understanding of Scripture and wisdom go, then no one should ask more of you.
If it were good for me, I would have it. And that's enough to wipe all guilt and worry away.