I’ve wanted to say most of these things for a while now, but I don’t for obvious reasons. A person doesn’t just go write what they feel about things like religion, politics, or vaccinations without realizing the very real affects that will take place immediately henceforth.
However, the thing I find most intriguing about this topic is that, while many Christians seem to be quick in posting links to their favorite pet sermon about why everyone should be going to church on Sunday, they don’t seem to have any real idea as to why so many of us are choosing not to. They make their best stab at it by posting something that largely feels like condemnation and the accusal of apostasy rather than just asking us why we, people with obvious spiritual life, are doing what we’re doing.
My theory is that they don’t really quite want to know. It’s like the woman who feels a lump in her breast and dutifully has it screened for cancer but then avoids her results with a certain fervor. “Do you want to know or don’t you?” Because if you want to know, I will tell you some very uncomfortable truth. If you have the gonads to take it, I’ll fill you in. But if you don’t – if you just want us to hear about how miserable we are for not putting on our pretty clothes and sitting in the pews for sixty minutes each week – then I would recommend you not offer the commentary and pre-packaged links to sterile arguments made by Facebook-famous pastors. It really only tells us that you really do not want to know.
But if you do, read on… with caution.
And as a disclaimer, please remember that you are reading “how I feel”. There is no “right” or “wrong” in what is below because it is the 100% accurate feeling of me. Of Heather. It’s not a book or a theory. It’s my thoughts and feeling. It’s not for you to try to dissuade me from. These are my observations and the way life feels in this pair of shoes.
So: read with care… and interject with even more care. Don’t tell me where I’m wrong and how your church is different. The test came back. We have cancer. Let’s face the results and start a treatment plan.
About four years ago, I made some fairly extreme changes to my diet. Nothing processed, nothing refined, all whole, all clean. As time has passed since then, I’ve continued to tweak and add or remove as my body tells me that it really likes or dislikes something. I’ve sought out local farmers for my meat, and we don’t eat really anything that is conventionally raised anymore. I went on this quest because my health was failing and no one could really figure out why. At first, it was a diagnosis of food intolerances that triggered the change, but as time went on, the thing that made me continue to press on and learn more and more and make more and more changes was that, the longer I went without fake food, the better I felt. Things that had plagued me my whole life, simply disappeared. The eczema on my right foot that I’ve had as long as I can remember. The dark circles under my eyes that doctors have told me was “just genetic”. The brain fog. The lethargy. The mood swings. The thin hair. The belly fat. The constant headaches. The burning, aching stomach. The list goes on and on.
I found that the further I got away from anything artificial, the more things in my body began working as they were designed. And further, the more I delved into the world of healing with food, I not only saw bad symptoms disappear, I saw them reverse. Patchy skin was replaced with soft, young, beautiful skin. Thin, dull hair turned thick and shiny and soft. Constant indigestion turned into a calm belly. Headaches went away and my mind sharpened.
Living this way in the good ole USA is actually harder than one might think. So long as I’m eating from my own kitchen and pantries, it’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeasy. But the second I venture out, eating suddenly becomes really tricky. “Hmm, if I eat that, my head will hurt, but if I eat that my stomach will hurt.” Even still, after four years, it’s almost a guarantee that if I eat at someone else’s house or eat at a restaurant – even a good one – I will feel pretty crappy for the rest of the day.
I’ve discovered that the worst offender of all is artificial sweeteners. Boy oh boy do these little obnoxious freaks mess with my system. And why wouldn’t they? After all, they are neurotoxins. They are supposed to mess with me.
It used to be that I not only enjoyed, I actually needed the false high of artificial foods and sweeteners. My food was bland otherwise, and I had no “energy”. I put that word in quotes because I discovered that what was masquerading as energy really was not at all. Once I started cleaning my body out and discovered real true energy, I realized that what I’d been experiencing before was a hopped up feeling of synthetic, manufactured hyperactivity. Real energy is less up and down. Real energy is very calm. Real energy does not crash a few hours later or get shaky when a meal isn’t on hand every two hours. Real energy is steady and peaceful and rich.
Sure, there really is something about a big juicy fried chicken sandwich from a fast food joint. I mean, my taste buds go completely nuts. It’s intoxicating actually. One bite sets off an avalanche of desire for more and more bites even long after I’ve become satisfied and full. I’ve heard it called “food with no brakes”, and I believe that is about the most accurate way of describing it. Pop, coffee, fast food, pasta, bread, candy. It all does the same thing. It feels soooo good when I’m eating it that I can’t even help myself. I think I’m in heaven. I think that I just want more and more and more. But as time passes, not only do I have headaches and stomach pains, beneath my skin is a seriously malnourished girl. And it’s only a matter of time before that malnourishment shows up past my skin
But when I stick to eating rich foods that were grown and raised the right way, my body sings the praises of that nourishment. When I persist long enough, the receptors in my brain that long for the hyper stimulation of fake food are turned off and my body wants, nay craves, the calm peace of whole, healthy food. No additives, no stimulants, nothing to make me want to eat and eat and eat. Nothing messing with any of my senses. Just good ole nourishment. Healthy and rich and delicious.
Almost exactly two years ago, I decided I needed a break from church proper. And if you’re like me, you’re wondering why on earth I’d say “church proper” and then not capitalize the word “church. It’s because I made up my own little way of identifying the difference between “little ‘c’ church” and “big ‘C’ Church”.
“Little ‘c’ church” is that thing that Christians do on Sunday morning. It’s the building. It’s the place. It’s the pretty clothes and the hands raised high. It’s the vacant listeners while one person talks. It’s the cutting edge sermons and perfectly choreographed “worship” time – as if somehow the words “worship” and “singing” have anything to do with one another.
“Big ‘C’ Church” is that body that we who have died in Christ have joined ourselves with. It is not a place. It is not dressed up and fancy. There is no Aveda hand soap in the bathroom or flat screen tv in the sanctuary at “Big ‘C’ Church” because “Big ‘C’ Church” isn’t a place. It’s an organism. A living breathing people. A priesthood. An elected people who are all joined together in the replacement death of the One we call by many Names. We are not a some-thing or a some-place. We are a some-one.
When I decided to take a hiatus from “little ‘c’ church”, I did so without any noise or attention called to it. In fact, I don’t think I actually talked to anyone other than my husband about it for the first full year off. The people who have noted it since have often done so in ways that lead me to believe that they think that by not visiting a “little ‘c’ church”, somehow I stopped being part of the “Big ‘C’ Church”. Which is actually kind of silly considering that I can’t just quit being a part of that. Nor do the two give some sort of “proof of life” in the other. Just because a person attends “little ‘c’ church”, that is not evidence that they are a part of the “Big ‘C’ Church”. And just because someone is a part of the organism of believers commonly referred to as The Church, that does not mean that they will necessarily attend or regularly visit the small ‘c’ counterpart. And when I say counterpart, know that I mean it in name only. The two are as different as different can be. Sometimes Big ‘C’ people are found at little ‘c’, but sometimes not so much. And vice versa. The two have an annoying commonality in the fact that they go by the same name. Oh homonym, you are such a little stinker. Confusing us all with your same spellings and different meanings.
Leaving little ‘c’ has absolutely nothing to do with a hatred of or displeasure toward Big ‘C’, though, if I’m being honest, I must admit that I find a lot of displeasing people at little ‘c’. The kind that judge and the kind that really think they are quite spiritual. The ones now days that find “thinking outside the box” to be especially trendy are the worst. I even heard a sermon once about how Esther never really was a “Christian” (another tricky word that gets misused often). I found myself especially irked that the only person allowed to talk right then was the person at the pulpit. Because, ya know, I’ve studied Esther pretty deeply, and I think his “outside of the box” idea was hogwash. And if I could have, I would have spoken up and asked a question or two. If for no other purpose than to wake the living dead all over the sanctuary who were now writing Esther off as an apostate or something all because Big Man Up Front said so. I mean, I don’t really think anyone went home and tore that one apart like we’re supposed to. I don’t think a meeting followed wherein the Greatly Concerned sat said Big Man Up Front down and told him a thing ‘er two about dear old Esther. Nope, he cast them a worm and a worm they did eat. And no one thought another thing about it. Their chair was occupied, but the more important part of them was totally vacant.
It’s the same sort of vacancy I saw across the crowd during “worship” (ugh – I will have to pass over the urge to talk about that one). The very specific “church dance”, the swaying hand clap, the hands raised high with palms seeming to be asking to be filled. I can’t say that I feel completely right writing it off as ritual only, but one does not need a degree in rocket science or any other aeronautic specialty to see at least some falseness and cognitive absence in the group. It’s not that raising the hands or clapping or dancing in a certain Sunday-morning-approved way is bad. Not at all. I just find myself wondering about the mind inside the swaying body. Are you awake? Because if you just heard the bit about Esther and all you had was an earnest head nod, methinks thou be sleeping.
The plate passes and we put the money in. But where does the money go? I answered that question one Sunday morning about a year before my departure from little ‘c’. The sermon was another that was meant to be outside of the box, intellectual, and edgy. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice in perfect synchronization with its intended moving of emotion made me wonder how many times these lines had been recited in the bathroom mirror over the past seven days to get each pitch just perfect. I mean, how does that work? I get it that it’s “public speaking”, but when did sermon delivery become an art form? Just tell me the truth plain and simple. Then let me poke my holes – like we are told to do – and then let me go home. Don’t mess with my senses. Don’t add music while you are praying. “I Surrender All” feels less hyperactive and manufactured when it’s the calm stirring of the Holy Spirit within me than the carefully calculated instrumental interlude during offering.
Anyway, back to what I was saying. I was thinking to myself what an impressive structure the ceiling of this monster sanctuary is. Having spent just a small bit of time in the world of construction right after high school, I know more than the average about building such a monstrosity. I really loved how aesthetically pleasing it is with all the gorgeous beams and enormous fans. Then there was the cutting edge lighting and sound system, all intricately put into place without even so much as one cord dangling. The infrastructure of probably a million, billion wires were all tucked safely away from my eyes.
The massive movie screen fit comfortably in the secrecy of its little shell, only coming out when it was time to watch something that would likely move my senses and get me to write checks.
The chairs – hundreds and hundreds of them – were comfortable. I mean, really comfortable. Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, nothing’s wrong with that until you ask yourself what they did with an entire church full of pews when they remodeled to this interior designer’s masterpiece. I’ve heard that a pew goes for about a grand. And I’m pretty good at mental math. Sooooo….. hmm. Yeah, not cool. And here I thought my tithe was dutifully going to the poor and to give salary to the Big Man Up Front.
Don’t get me wrong, I know all about business. I know all about what it takes to keep a corporation going. The dollars and cents that no one sees. What business does not struggle under the weight of its payroll burden? This isn’t news to me. But when I face that fact, I feel another fact pushing up against my brain just begging, nay demanding, to be asked. Since when did little ‘c’ become corporate? Since when did sharing the good news become something that required such ornate displays of modern wealth? Why such waste? Why such extravagance? Am I the only one who thinks that the idea of pastors in Escalades is a little disgusting? Haven’t we maybe strayed a bit far from the idea of one man dying for all? Haven’t we gotten a bit off track? When each minute of the weekly 60 spent in this room is perfectly choreographed – from the music playing when I sit down to the songs selected for “worship” to the rise and fall of the rehearsed sermon, I leave with all senses tingling. And this, I believe, is the intended response.
How many times have you heard a fellow Christian say, “Man, that was just what I needed,” or “Whew, it’s been quite a week, I’ve got to get myself to church.”
Why? Because the Holy Spirit who abides within you and goes with you wherever you go and is with you when you sleep and when you wake is not enough to instruct you through your difficulty and fill you in your emptiness?
If church – little ‘c’ church – was a little less… well, aspartame-y, would we all be clamoring for our weekly dose of “feel good”? I don’t think so. If little ‘c’ church was a little closer to what it was meant to be, I don’t think it would be the master soul-mover that it is.
And here’s the deal: I don’t think it’s supposed to be!!!!
Keep your artificial sweeteners, please. Do not “rock my soul” during worship. Worship is not a song. And even if it were, is it something that would likely be accompanied by drums and an electric guitar and a row of the church’s best singers? Or would it be a little less – oh, I dunno, artificially sweet?
And the sermon. When can I tell you that I do indeed believe that Esther was a Christian? Do I need to set a meeting for that? Or could we discuss it together as a congregation as we were meant to? Could we dialogue together and together rightly divide the word of truth? Because a lot of what you’re saying isn’t truth, and I’m afraid we just won’t get to the truth if we don’t all put our heads together and find it.
From sermon to song, from building to budget, the little ‘c’ church these days is filled with artificial sweetening. Things put in place with utter intention to be sure we leave 60 minutes later thinking that the “moving” we feel in us is the Holy Spirit and not just the masterfully woven-together production that just took place. I mean, come on, if you can have the same “knock my socks off” feeling after a rock concert, aren’t we smart enough to ask ourselves if something has gone awry?
I do not intend to continue my hiatus from “little ‘c’ church” till Kingdom Come. In fact, I’ve even said recently that I think I’m close to the other side of what I set out to do when I left in the first place. Much like my departure from the world of the Standard American Diet (appropriately acrostic’d SAD), my break from “little ‘c’ church” has calmed my senses and helped me return to the food that my soul truly craves. The food that is not infused with flavor enhancers meant to make me think that my walk with God is something that even should feel like fireworks and rockets every day.
I have remembered the ebb and flow of just plain, clean union with Jesus. With no gonging cymbals or fancy decoration, what is left is just relationship. Just the personhood of Him and the personhood of me. Just my need. Just his sufficiency. No loud guitars. No completely ridiculous or erroneous sermons taught to minds that have been put on auto-pilot. No offering plate passed and filled to pay the bills of our waste and extravagance. Just one Man who died in my place, who saved me not only from His absence after my physical life is over, but saved me also here and now, from the pain and chains of my sin and from the sadness and losses of life. I do not desire the crutches of an aspartame-infused Sunday morning experience anymore. I’ve retrained my taste buds.
When I was a kid, my parents got rid of our tv. This meant a couple of things. #1. We were forced to use our own brains to think and be creative. #2. Our attention spans were longer than average. #3. Whenever a screen of any kind made its way in our line of vision, we would stand there, mouths agape, like mind-controlled fools.
It was just sooooo much stimulation. SOOOO much over activity. When a person is accustomed to calm senses and natural peace, being exposed to television can be somewhat alarming. Much like flavor enhanced food, it draws you in powerfully and tells you to keep consuming without abandon.
I believe that current, 21st century, “little ‘c’ church” can be likened to something similar. When the writer of Hebrews warned us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together with other Believers, I do not think he envisioned steel stringed guitars, wasteful luxury, choreographed sermons, or music selected to tantalize our senses. Just an honest, clean gathering of those who are joined by the death of Jesus is probably what he had in mind. A mutual desire to read and study God’s word. To live with each other and for each other. To not try to go it on our own.
I still have a lot of figuring out to do about what “little ‘c’ church” SHOULD look like, but I’ve landed square and solid on what it should NOT look like.
And I do not think the answer is to leave it. Even though I needed that for a while, to regain my own footing, to sort through my beliefs about “little ‘c’ church” and its purpose, to reevaluate my own ability to sort through the teachings of a human and hold them up against the absolute truth of Scripture, it isn’t a permanent departure.
“Big ‘C’ People” do meet in “little ‘c’ buildings”. And that does not need to change. But I do think that we will continue to alienate our own at alarming rates while proving ourselves utterly useless to those outside our fold if we keep on with the aspartame. I think it’s one thing to realize that the outside world hates us because we are doing the right thing. If they hate us because we’re being miserable, wasteful, judgmental, gossiping, slandering, two-faced, illegitimate replicas of Jesus, there isn’t a whole lot of glory or comfort in that.
There are a thousand more things that are wanting to be said on this topic. Things about our witness to the world around us and what true evangelism is and should look like. Things about the rampant moral decay of our Christian leaders in America – proven by sex scandal after sex scandal in the “Big ‘C’ Church”. Things about proper dissection of God’s word rather than the Big Guy Up Front. Things about the need to “assemble together”, but maybe not the need to mortgage our gathering place. Things about the pattern of decline that we see plainly taking place almost every time a church decides it needs a bigger building. Things about Escalade driving pastors and gossiping parishioners.
But that’s another blog… or hundred.