the people along the sand all turn and look one way;
they turn their back on the land, they look at the sea all day.

as long as it takes to pass a ship keeps raising its hull;
the wetter ground like glass reflects a standing gull.

the land may vary more, but wherever the truth may be -
the water comes ashore and people look at the sea.

they cannot look out far, they cannot see in deep -
but when was that ever a bar for any watch they keep.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Ain't Nobody Got Time For Dat" - Why She Left

As I said I would, I had a conversation with a millennial about why she left the church, and the Christian religion (as defined by said church).

Here are the pertinent "facts" about her:  
- she's 27
- she graduated with a BBA from a local state university, in 2008  
- she hit the job market right when things went KABLOOEY!   She could not find a job in her chosen field, so today she works as a full-time server at a semi-upscale restaurant  in a "cool" part of town, and she works part-time in a bakery
- she is not married, but she does live with a significant other

Here's the really important stuff:  she grew up in a Christian family who were ardent church-goers.  She "got saved" when she was 7; went through a "rebellious" stage as an early teen; came back to church with an "exploratory" faith when she was 19...and left again - this time "for good" (she says) - six years later, when she was 25.  

"Why did you leave?" I asked her.  

It was horrible, she said.  I actually visited several churches - from the "charismatic" church that my parents attended to a very liberal UCC (United Church of Christ) church in town.  The charismatic and evangelical churches were all about "defending marriage from the gays", and the UCC - which openly embraced gay people - was so boring due to hyper-liturgical services and sermons that were just bad.  There was no in-between.  Plus...I was searching in my faith, searching how to believe, what to believe.  There was no place I found that welcomed true searchers.  You had to search in ways that they endorsed.  

Here are five things we "distilled" together from her sometimes rambling screed against church and Christian religion (BTW - as a "seeker" she was better-read in current theology and biblical exegesis than many pastors I have known).

1.  They don't care about me or what I believe...they want me to believe what THEY believe.

2.  Any variation from the established doctrine, style or "norm" is greeted with suspicion at best.

3.  In both liberal and conservative churches, the "enemy" was clearly was not the devil, it was people who did not believe as they believed.  This was repugnant to me.

4.  There were very few people my age in the churches I attended, and two of those churches had more than 500 people in attendance.  I just did not connect.

5.  Honestly...the sermons were horrible.  Every church I attended focused on the preaching of the preacher...whoever he (or she in one church) was.  And they were all irrelevant, boring and almost embarrassing.  

One more thing she added - many people greeted her on her church visits, but she never felt genuine interest or connection.  "They were predators, I was prey."

Her conclusion:  I have more friends on facebook than any church I attended has members.  I go out with friends 3 or 4 times a week, and friends visit me at home at twice a week.  I help a friend do a garden; I help a friend with childcare.  When I was sick recently...I had tons of people bring me food, visit, call, check in with me.  

Seriously...why in the world would I want to go to church, or embrace a religion that says "you must believe what we say, or else go to hell."  Don't want it, don't need it...ain't nobody got time for that."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moonlight Through The Pines

Years ago, I was lost in the deep, dark woods.  Really.  I was on a camping trip, and had wandered away to look at the moon rising over a lake.  I stayed longer than I should, and before I knew it, the woods had grown dark and I was a long way from camp.  I had "bushwhacked" my way to the lake, which meant there was no trail.  And I had forgotten to bring a flashlight, because I was young and stupid.  

I had to get back to camp, but was not even certain of the direction in which to go...except, in a general way, away from the lake.  So, I turned around and took my first step.  Not having a trail to follow, I was really concerned about how to find my way through the woods.  There were trees, brush, briars, poison ivy, bears, snakes and probably a wild cat or two.  

As I stood looking into the darkness...I saw a light.  It was moonlight, shining through the trees and illuminating a patch of forest about 15 feet away.  The light was bright enough that I could see the area being moonlit, and I could pretty  much figure out how to get to it without hitting a tree or falling in a hole.  

So, I took a step...then another...all the while, keeping my eye on the patch of moonlit forest.  I made it.  I stopped, looked up at the moon through the pine branches, then turned my eyes to the forest again.  There, about 10 or 15 feet away, was another patch of forest washed in moon light.  Away I went.

Each time I made it to a section of moonlit forest, I looked around and found another several steps away.  I kept track of myself, to insure that I was moving away from the lake.  I did not know where I was going, but I just kept going, certain that if I went away from the lake, I would find something.

This went on for about an hour.  Trek for a bit towards moonlit forest, stop, wait, look, see the moon shining through the branches in another part of the woods...and take off.

Eventually, I saw another orange flicker through the trees.  I listened, and could hear laughter and talking. I went to towards the orange light, and walked right in to the campsite.  Everybody was having a good time - nobody seemed to have missed me, and no one noticed I had arrived at the camp by blundering in through the woods without a flashlight.

Right this point in my life...I am wandering through the woods in the dark.  Every once in a while, whatever the spiritual equivalent is to moonlight, finds it way through the trees and illuminates a section of forest.  I head there.  I do not know where I am going.  I do not know where I am.  But the moon keeps marking a place..and I keep moving. day...I will stumble towards the fire.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Kind of Coming Out

I am coming out.  I am haunted by God.  I cannot get past it.  I am yet uncertain about what I believe about God...I am certain about one thing - I will never BE certain.  I am as close to a process theologian as one can get and still not be willing to say I am one.  

I cannot deny my sense of calling.  Believe me, I have tried.  Atheism. Agnosticism (which still holds my membership dues), new age woowoo, quantum mysticism (which is another way of saying that I have used drugs to crack open  my head and see what was inside).  

I am all over the place in my Christology.  My eschatology can be summed up in one word...death.  I hopefully believe in Tielhard's Omega Point.  

Down at the core, my obsessions are Grace, Love and Power.  I don't even know what I mean by that...except to say that I am obsessed with knowing.  

My big discovery...after some recent events that have helped me define and understand myself to this:  

My passion and purpose is to defeat my enemy, and my enemy is the church...not genuine, humble, loving Christian people (of any theological persuasion)...but the religious system that is about money, political power, cultural preservation rather than transformation, comfort rather than justice, consumption rather than servanthood. This "church" exists in every is a mindset, not a place or a person. It has been tolerated in the name of niceness, fellowship, acceptance of imperfection - but in tolerating it, we have given it permission to destroy lives, damage credibility and weaken the power of the gospel (which means "good news"). At its is the continuation of Pharisee-ism...that is, having a "tribal, my god is the true god" belief system based on self-perceived notions of righteousness, correctness and authority. It reeks...and it is one of the things that Jesus came to confront and destroy. 

For reasons I don't have to explain (thankfully, because I probably couldn't if I tried), I feel "called" to confront religion and to challenge its place in the lives of people. My doing this makes them mad, confused and distant from me. That's OK...I have my chickens. I am an only child...loneliness is something I know well. 

I just want you to is not personal. In fact, I believe I have your best interests in mind. You don't need religion. You need grace, and love, and power. You don't need the church to discover or experience grace, love and power. You don't need the church to put friends around you who can help you in your journey to the discovery of grace, love and power. I will keep ranting and raving about the church...I am not here to tell you why you should go to church, but to tell you why you should not. I hope to cause one of three things (1) a desire in you to leave the church, or never go (2) anger at the way the religious church destroys lives and impedes the advance of grace, and/or (3) enough anger at me that it keeps you troubled, stewing over the things I have said.

There...I am out of the closet.  Smells funny out here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Millenials And Church (A Response to Rachel Held Evans and The Virus!) Rachel is 32.  I think she has some good insights about why millenials are leaving church.  I am 56.  I am NOT a millenial...but I have three!  Kids, that is, who are millenials.  And ALL OF THEM have left church...even though they were raised in church and - along with their mom - had the misfortune of being family members of the SENIOR PASTOR (me!) of every church they ever attended.

I know millenials.  All of my kids friends are millenials.  And most of them have left the church.  But let's not freak out.  Millenials have always left the church.  Yes, there have been "millenials" before this current crop of "millenials" - that is, there have always been people who are in their late teens to late twenties (which is what the current crop of millenials is) and they have always left church.

And more than just millenials are leaving church.  When I was a pastor (from 1978-2004 - 26 years!!! longer than most millenials are old) I saw people leaving the church in busloads.  And not just my church!  :)
People have been leaving church for years.

Rachel got one thing very right...the BS factor is strong among the millenials.  In fact, I might say that the BS factor is the Number One reason millenials are leaving the church - along with all the others who have left.  But I am referring to BS that is not about style over substance...I am talking about the BS of Christian religion.

Today, there is a resurgence of intellectual skepticism that is sweeping the planet.  Fundamentalism of any and every stripe is falling apart under the steamroller of skepticism, fueled by greater access (through the internet) than ever before to academic and scholarly and just plain OTHER resources that challenge the traditional narrative of Christian religion.

For centuries, the church has prospered by controlling thought and limiting access to resources that challenge the traditional, orthodox doctrines of Christianity.  As in all propaganda-driven systems, this is crumbling in the face of internet access to thoughts, ideas, research and scholarship that is outside the norm and the narrative.  It is creating cultural and social upheaval (witness the Arab Spring of 2012), and it is empowering people to think differently about the Old Gospel Story.

Sound scholarship is instantly available and interpreted for the interested reader, just by clicking on a link.  Church-goers (especially millenials, who are adept at living in the new paradigm created by the internet) can discover that the majority of biblical and historical scholars do not endorse the inerrancy of Scripture, or even the historicity of Jesus (at most - and at least question the meaning of his life).  They are discovering that other religions and thought streams possess insights to the nature of spiritual truth and community that are just as valid, and ultimately healthy, as Christianity, perhaps even more so.  They understand through their own social media experience that atheists have values (gasp!), community can happen better around a beer in a pub than in a church pew staring at the back of a stranger's head and listening to a man who has been shouting for the past twenty minutes, and that you don't have to be religious to help the homeless.

On top of all of this is the fact that millenials GET science...they recognize how science and technology have brought incredible expansion, well-being and growth to our planet.  Unfortunately, Christianity and the church have been slow to recognize the value of science...and some religious groups just flat-out call science the tool of the Devil, mainly because it promotes evolution rather than creationism.

And to millenials, who know better...this is embarrassing at best and absolutely repulsive at worst.  To call science the work of the Devil when everyone you know is benefiting from it and using it without question is hypocritical and least that is what the millenials are saying.

Rachel notes that sex is an issue.  OK...maybe.  Though my kids are far less concerned about what the church says about sex (if it says anything at all, except that maybe it is bad outside of marriage) and far more ANGERED that the mainline/conservative/evangelical church (which seems to get an inordinate amount of attention) is so dead-set in making GAY people live as second-class citizens with limited rights.  Millenials know all too well how the Christian church did NOT support equal rights for women, and was uncomfortable with granting equal rights for blacks.  And they correctly conclude that the church is more about SAYING NO to people than it is about understanding how the old gospel story may actually be relevant today.

I could go on...but I can summarize everything by saying...Millenials (and others) have left the church because they see better options out here in the unchurched world.  Even faith in Jesus does not necessitate involvement with the Church of the Religious System.  Why waste that time on Sunday morning...and any other day of the week...when so many incredible options exist, most of which make better sense and bear better fruit in enriching life and transforming society?

How do I know these things?  Because this is what my millenial kids and their friends have told me.  I did something Rachel suggested any one in the church should do...I asked, then I listened.  Amazing.