Pre-emptively Wrought with Convention.

What follows is a bit thick. Not because it’s that profound, but because I’m going to leave it unabridged for the hope that it connects, spurs, ignites.I Googled “I’m tired of church” and found Katie’s blogI just read her entry for September 28, 2004 entitled, “Wafflling Religion, Firm Faith.” Here’s my reply.Tonight we attended a concert by invitation of some friends that was hosted by the local Unitarian church (which I was raised to believe full of people who would go to hell). Ironically, inside their building, I had a “now wait a minute” sense that I shouldn’t have been so quick to write them off back in those days. They respect EVERYBODY. They are taught to LOVE everybody.Well, exercising my curiosity, I went to the UU church’s website when I got home and I do have conflicts with their “whatever-works-for-you” doctrine. In fact it seems oxymoronic for them to have ANY doctrine. Kind of like a group of non-conformists getting together to celebrate their non-conformity. They become what they are against, and are suddenly FOR nothing at all.But what I think IS appealing to me is that they’re not quick to judge, and they’re aware of the PRESENT. Plus they just don’t reek of the nascar/proudtobeanamerican/republican/gotowar/don’t read fiction/ christians I find in the conventional churches. Even the “Emerging Church” style movement is the same thing all over again, but with looser social views.So where is God in all of this? How do I eradicate all those farmers-almanac-style bits of simple advice and lifestyle without coring out my relationship and belief in Jesus? Do I start with a clean slate, and read the bible from beginning to end, THEN read some other classics, and derive a new order for myself, and dare I say, possibly for a reformed church?Like you, I just want to learn to love God and be his man. I want to reciprocate what Jesus did for me on the cross. And I want to find community of others I can learn from in that pursuit.Lastly, I’ll say this. There are a BUNCH of us. We need to get together. I don’t mean LITERALLY. I mean, we need to start talking to each other. I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open. Maybe we’ll launch a site or something.Enough with the convention. Let’s find the path together.***End reply to Katie’s blog***I googled that phrase “I’m tired of church” tonight and didn’t have to read past Katie’s thoughts to feel compelled to come back to this sprawling entry. She said it well enough. The thing is, I’m having a snowballing accumulation of those types of conversations with people. And I don’t mean just generally disgruntled churchgoers. I mean SERIOUSLY disconnected believers who desperately don’t want to stop believing.Here’s the litmus test. You’re in the club if you can HONESTLY say the following words haven’t NOR COULD EVER come out of your mouth:(speaking to someone like me) “Eric, there’s NO SUCH THING as a perfect church””Well, are you seeking God?””You just need to pray/read/confess/study/meditate/fast/change your diet/take out the trash…..””God’s only a prayer away!””Let go and let God!”Retyping those cliches even gets my dander up. So. Now that I’ve established that…some of you currently able to say phrases like that or watered-down versions and paraphrases of them, be forewarned. You’re NOT in the club. Yet.Now, back to the title of today’s column…I actually used the Title phrase in a conversation with Rudy this past week. And wouldn’t you know it–I’ve forgotten the SPECIFIC context. But I know generally it’s in regard to our frustration with trying to understand God TODAY when all we have are YESTERDAY’S tools. Or in most “contemporary” instances, imitations or modded versions of yesterday’s tools. And for those churches who are “emergent” or are doing something vintage, I’m a bit reminded of a real-estate developer who would buy an old building in a metropolitan area–one that has 75-year-old hardwood floors that creak and are worn, one with a bar that is actually indented from years of patrons leaning their elbows on the rail, and tarnished brass, etc. Then to have a demo crew GUT the building and he replaces the interior with “vintage” furniture and “distressed” paint/finishing and fake antique artifacts like signs, old toys, sporting good stuff, etc. to give it a REAL feeling of yesterday. Well, it might feel old and authentic, but it’s just something that APPEARS that way. The TRUE character has unfortunately been replaced by something absolutely NOT authentic. It’s close, but we know it’s fake. Rudy and I grew up going to church together, and have both traveled the gamut from “ultra-conservative,” to “throw-the-rules-out-the-window.” I think we both hold dearly the protection we were offered in growing up in that setting, but in the past decade, in our own ways, we have both become PAINFULLY, PAINFULLY aware of the shortcomings that such a black & white mentality has had. I mean, it didn’t take living in the real world for very long at all to discover that things just didn’t fit into such easy boxes as “this is of God” and “this is of the devil” or what have you.In the past few years of our mid-to-late twenties, Rudy and I have both had times when we’ve not understood the subject of God at all, to the point of agnosticism, because it was apparent that He wasn’t showing up to speak for Himself when we asked him to. It culminated for both of us (and to some degree for our wives as well) in being pissed that we couldn’t SEE God or that we couldn’t FEEL God. Yet in the midst of our weekly routines we’re still going to church, sitting through the sermons and singing the songs. Kim’s even said that I was like a “worm on a hook” sitting in church, squirming and wanting out of the situation as soon as possible. She was right! I did and can STILL feel the butt twitch, not out of guilt or some sense that I’ve got “unfinished business.” But out of the disappointing awareness that Church is (HERE IT COMES!) “pre-emptively wrought with convention.” I think what I meant when I said that out-loud to Rudy (and he said I HAD to put the fifty-dollar phrase in my blog) is that when you take a break from church, get that longing to give it another try, and pick a new place to attend, that INSTANTLY, you’re not in a NEW place at all! NO! You’re caught up in a whirlwind of trite, hackneyed ideas. Or so they seem.We’re now attending a new church that we’ve decided to be a part of warts and all. And I’m seeing the warts. But warts aren’t so bad as long as you toss out the magnifying glass. I’m not crazy about it, but I believe it’s a good place. I just can’t seem to shake this smugness that I’m smarter than everybody else I meet at church. Like they don’t even know….like they don’t even know…hmm….LIKE THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT I DON’T EVEN KNOW. How ’bout that? I’m awful! They’re already sweeping us into their weekly “small groups” and I can smell us being sized up for serving according to our abilities. And that’s fine. I don’t even get nervous anymore when I hear someone fire up that strange vacuum all churches have hidden somewhere that’s guaranteed to try and suck the life out of you. We’re going to keep at it. Kim and I are going to keep attending. I’ll tell you what happens in the weeks ahead.In the meanwhile, I want to start to hear from people who are likewise not feeling connected and wondering what it’s all about. Maybe you never EVER had a sense of connection. Maybe someone you know sounds like the gal Katie I mentioned above or like me as you’ve read my writing here. Send them to me. I want to know.

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