Today my boss took me out to lunch. It’s something he does every month or so, because he says I’m underpaid, and he wants me to know how much he appreciates me and all that I do for the department. It’s just another way in which he’s awesome, one of the kindest and most genuine people I’ve ever worked with or known. Because of his kindness, and also because of a GK Chesterton book I spied on his desk, I have pretty much always suspected that my boss is a Christian, something that’s been slowly confirmed as he’s remarked on books he’s seen me reading, or in our conversations about current events, or as I see him interact with students and colleagues. I really respect that he’s a man who lives up to the saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” I respect the kind of person who doesn’t have to give you a manifesto on what they believe in order for you to know what they stand for. They just…stand for it.
Anyway, over lunch we were talking about the South and churches and South Carolina and C-Street. I wanted to be like OMG YES I’VE BEEN BLOGGING ABOUT THAT STUFF, but I didn’t really want to tell my boss all about my blog. Anyway, long story short, my boss is almost as obsessed with The Family as I am, and said he really has no idea what Bible these guys are reading. Which is really how I feel about the whole thing– I can get how, from the Old Testament, you might get the idea that it’s OK to do whatever you want to do as long as you are a powerful man and feel called by God, but I’m not sure you could ever get from Jesus the idea that he sides with the powerful over the powerless, the wealthy over the poor. We both agreed that while these people may claim to follow Jesus, they do not follow the teachings of the Jesus of the Bible–at least not any Bible we’ve ever read.
However, the truly sad part is that in my experience, these people who so loudly proclaim their faith but don’t live it out are far more common than they should be. I told my boss about the summer I spent working in a Christian bookstore, and what a soul-killing experience it was. I was hit on men who were there to pick out devotionals for their wives. I was treated like an imbecile by people buying Bibles, simply because at the time I was operating a cash register for a living. I was berated by old women who cared more about a coupon than how they spoke to the person behind the counter. I was informed by one lady that she didn’t listen to Amy Grant anymore, because Amy had been divorced– as if we carried the music of any sinless artists in the store. And perhaps the worst part of all was experiencing the culture of a business that claimed to be Christian but in reality cared about nothing other than the bottom line.
One day, a particularly hot, humid, Arkansas day, a homeless guy who spoke very little English asked me if it would be OK for him to sit at a table in the airconditioning and read the Bible and maybe have a glass of water. I didn’t really think it took a Bible scholar to decide that the human thing to do in such a situation is to give the man a glass of water and a quiet place to cool off. Not to mention the entire concept of “What Would Jesus Do?” that I was selling printed on bracelets and t-shirts and candy bars. But I got into trouble with management for letting this man hang out in our store because he might “scare” the regular customers. As if the kind of people shopping for devotionals and Thomas Kincaid paintings wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if confronted with one of the “least of these” in a Bible bookstore. Perhaps there is an episode of “Veggie Tales” to address this kind of predicament?
I guess all of this is part of why I’m sort of without a church at this point. We sporadically attend Bible Studies and Community Groups, but have not really been regular church attenders in a while. And I could very easily blame this on Jon’s schedule and say that he works a lot of Sundays, and how that’s made it very difficult for us to find a church to call home. And I could point to the church we attended for about a year, whose services we LOVED, but where, even after a year, we still hadn’t made any friends or found any sort of community. So we spent six months looking for a church, a year attending one that turned out not to be right, and another year halfheartedly attending another church that seems to be about like the one before it.
But the weird thing is that my churchless season has also been one of the most spiritually rich of my life. After a dark period sparked by my grandfather’s death, in which I felt far from God and clung fitfully to my faith, and after a rough first few months in a new city in which I can say pretty confidently in retrospect that I was depressed, I’m actually feeling closer to God than ever before. I’ve been reading books about faith, reading my Bible, and listening eagerly to sermons via podcast. I’ve been spending a lot of time talking with my husband about faith, working out what we think about things together. We’ve both been going through this sort of revival together, and it’s really brought us closer. Strangely, this is perhaps the most spiritually active time I’ve had since high school, and yet it’s all taking place outside the context of a church.
And as someone who grew up in church, this seriously distresses me. The problem is, I’m looking for a group of people like me, like Jon, and aside from a few dear friends (who unfortunately live far away), I’m having trouble finding it. I’m tired of church sermons that don’t touch on the realities of modern life, or respect their audience as a group of people who don’t need to be told what to think, but need to be taught how to wrestle with the moral contradictions of modern life. I’m tired of a church that exploits hot button political issues but fails to feed the hungry and comfort the grieving. I’m looking for a church that challenges my privilege and wealth, that makes me uncomfortable with the things I own, that urges me to give more of myself away. I’m looking for a church that tells me that I’m not guaranteed safety, or comfort, or even happiness in this life, but urges me to live like crazy anyway. I want a group of people to sit around on porches and drink wine and go deep with. A group of people who see my passion and tell me they want to join me in it, rather than suggesting that maybe Jesus died to take away my personality. A group of people to really live out a faith with, to preach the gospel at all times with, to sometimes use words.
Basically I’m fed up with Pharisees. I’m tired of slogans and bumper stickers and the things you buy at Bible bookstores. I want to get active in the renewal of all things.
And I have no idea where to start.