They found me under a church pew.
That’s how the story goes, anyway.
I was two-years-old and church had run long. There was lots of singing and shouting and praising and “Holy Ghost fire” and all the things that make up a “good service” in the Pentecostal world. And in all of that, somehow my parents lost me. I had crawled under a church pew and fallen asleep. That pretty much sums up how I was raised.
Church was our life and our livelihood. Not only did we have church in every kind of church ever built, but we had church in about every kind of structure you can have church in: an abandoned store front in St. Louis, a Masonic lodge in Kansas City, a YMCA in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, a Municipal Center in Detroit, a tent in Tennessee.
I’ve heard the Gospel preached and the word parsed and the choirs sing from rural Mississippi to inner-city Chicago, from the swamps of Louisiana to the tropical hills of Bermuda. My young life, carrying the gospel with my family, was a grand adventure and one I wouldn’t trade anything for. But if I’m being honest, I never found God in any of those churches or any of those church services. I found instructions on how to get there. I found life lessons. I found connection to others. I found nuggets of truth. But I never found God. Not the one I was looking for, anyway. And eventually, I developed contempt for church and church buildings. Maybe I saw it as false advertising.
I did, however, eventually find God…but not until I was far away from the safety of a church or a “theology.” When I’d lost all my footing and could no longer make sense of the world, when I was drowning in questions and trouble and chaos, broken and confused and suffering, when all the teaching, orthodoxy, dogma, ritual, habit and (dare I say) religion was gone, I found God in the most unlikely of places. And when you actually find God…really experience the God you’ve been searching for; all encompassing love and consciousness that fills you with a truth you cannot explain yet cannot deny, you will never be the same.
For me, I had to leave the ranks of “the faithful”…to finally find faith.
Apparently, Marty Samson, a guy associated with Hillsong (the Worship Music factory responsible for bringing you most of your hand-lifting choruses on Sundays) is having a crisis of faith and renouncing Christianity…or something like that. I don’t know Marty and I am unfamiliar with most Worship Music in general. It’s not really my cup of tea. Some believe God listens to his children singing worship songs on Sundays, and basks in the glory of it. Personally, I think God does what many of us do – tolerates the worship team then listens to Beethoven or Ray Charles on his own time. Maybe it’s just me …
This man’s “crisis” is dividing the Christian world into groups: those who understand where he’s coming from – and those who see it as just another sign of the decay rotting the “core beliefs” of the truthiest truth. So, everybody is writing a post, making a point and taking a stand. Nothing is more classically religious than defending orthodoxy.
So now, Marty has basically been traded from one team to another team. He’s gone from the “know that I know” team to the “seeker” team. “Know that I know”ers don’t care much for “seekers.” Because in their view, by the time you name the name of Christ, you should have already gotten all that seeking out of your system. And “seekers” tend to look down their noses at “know that I know”ers. Because how can you actually know the truth if you can’t read the Gnostic texts in the original Greek???
And in the middle of all of our “knowing” and “seeking” and squawking and posturing and renouncing and affirming and declaring, the simple love of Jesus gets forgotten, somehow. The beauty of experiencing God gets reduced to frogs protecting puddles. And we fear the truth will be lost, not remembering that if it can be lost, then it isn’t the truth.
Modern Christianity is becoming a tattered bone, for all dogs to chew. Some say you cannot follow Christ unless you don the red MAGA hat, vote a certain way and get yourself in line. Others chastise the faithful if they support Donald Trump. For how can true Christians betray the faith this way?!?!?
In every facet of life, we overlay what a “true Christian” ought to think or believe or follow. No other religion has so much weight on its shoulders when it comes to culture. “Church” is a loaded word. And maybe that is why I couldn’t find God there. Because it was so busy tending to other things. It’s also why I have wanted no further part of the “Christian” label. It comes with too many surface restrictions and man-made mandates. And maybe that’s where Marty is. I don’t know him and I don’t know his heart. But I do know how you can lose sight of God, when you’re more surrounded by his images than his spirit.
A long time friend reached out to me last week, asking if she was losing her faith because she seemed to experience God more in her local bar than in her local church. My response was that maybe she was actually finally finding her faith. I’ve experienced God in bars. I had one of the greatest “God moments” of my life in a dive, in New York City. I experienced God at Paul Simon concert, listening to The Sound Of Silence. I’ve experienced God driving through the Rockies, thinking I was having a heart attack. I’ve experienced God, watching my son gaze out over the Grand canyon for the first time. I’ve experienced God in smoke-filled rooms, in Vegas and in a dirty hospital, in rural China. I’ve experienced God at an American Idol finale and at my grandmother’s death bed.
And none of it had anything to do with politics or policy or people behaving one way or another or even declaring one thing or another thing. It was deeper and wider and higher than any of that. It was blessed assurance. It was amazing grace. It was boundless love.
Once you truly experience God, nothing will shake your faith or stoke your need to defend it. And you will see people renouncing their faith as children of God on a journey, just like you. And you know that eventually their travels will lead them back to the source of all things; the headwaters of hope and peace and love. And you simply pray for them to find their way back without too much pain.
I can finally play in churches again. I’ve come to see church as a campus of sorts, where learning takes place. And while the students learn about God there, they may or may not actually find God there. And it’s okay if they don’t. Because they will eventually find him somewhere. And they may even renounce their faith and run away and flail around and yell and kick and scream and rebel. But they won’t get away from God. Because he is everywhere, in everything.
And once you actually experience him, you will find yourself so full of peace that you could fall asleep under a church pew.
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