With Love To A Dying Church

I don’t write about religion on this blog. There are many reasons and not all of them are healthy, but I never wanted this to be about church because I have literally been there, done that, and I’m better now. Religion is a topic that divides families and I’m not about that, and I’m too pink to care, and I have other outlets. I rarely delete comments but come at me preaching and no one will ever know you stopped by. Contrary to what some allege, I am absolutely not anti-faith, quite the opposite. Spirituality is essential to mental health and I really just wanted to talk about your Hippocampus and not John 3:16. Don’t worry mom, I’m not going rogue.

I grew up around the Evangelical Movement. I attended boarding school because my local school had no room for me and it was a boom-or-bust oil town; so my parents sacrificed their middle-class savings and I went to the middle of nowhere. Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan may not be the end of the world but you can smell it from there. I remember the first day of grade 10 – we had to go to chapel. I did not know what “chapel” really was, but soon I found out it was Monday Church before class. How quaint, I thought. Then we had to go to church again on Tuesday. You saw the pattern here before I did. Holy Monkeys.

I didn’t come from this. My family went to church whenever my dad had to do the books (he literally missed the service) and he could scrape up the money to bribe us with a Happy Meal. It was a long time ago and Happy Meals were cool so shut up and quit judging me. They had a prize inside, for heaven’s sake (see what I did there?). Oh, and I had a Summer Bible Camp girlfriend. Sorry Connie.

Church came with a Happy Meal. We would stretch out on the pew and have a nap, right there in front of a hundred people. My father would literally put up with anything to get us to a service. My mother didn’t even go, and it took me years to realize that eventually even McDonald’s wasn’t enough to keep most of us in church.

One day I grew up and married into a religious denomination because everyone knows that Christian chicks are hot and I was an adolescent hormone who had to go to Thursday Church. I met some amazing people on the journey and learned what selflessness looked like and tried to play a small part. Everyone seemed to want to change the world.

As a therapist I get to visit many different realities. I am intimately familiar with the nuances of both a crack house and a mansion, occasionally on the same day. People come to Drop-In and tell our counselors things that are unbelievable, but absolutely true. One day last week I heard three horrific stories in a row only to realize it wasn’t yet 10 am. I’m not complaining, my job is rarely work and it turns my crank but it’s staggering, the measure of pain that is in your town.

The world became complicated and my religious friends began to look baffled and overwhelmed. Pastors told me on a regular basis that they “had no idea” how to engage the culture anymore; and when they said this to me it sounded as if they were talking about a foreign country with a different language. Several even had a visceral reaction to their own comments. Words were spoken with grief, not animosity; wonder, not cursing. It must be a horrific thing to feel like an outsider in a world you walk through every day. “In the world, not of it” became for some a mandate to circle the wagons and run from the homosexuals. Churches formed schools, than Starbucks and bookstores and yoga and health foods, and before you knew it you no longer had to talk to pagans at all.

We still need you, church. We need your brashness and your balls, your unswerving and unsuccessful attempts at integrity, your idealism and your faith in humanity. You don’t need to worry, we know you are flawed, but so are we. If only we could put down our weapons and have a beer. Many of the kindest and most loving people in the world are from your camp. The media is wrong, you do have something to bring to the table; but you need to realize that you have become only one voice, a voice easily marginalized when the volume is cranked too high. It is not as scary as you think, out here in the wilderness. Many friends are still asking the hard questions and looking for community and aren’t as angry as they once were. You taught us about hope and faith and happiness and family; and that stuff, when you hear it from someone who actually gives a damn, sticks with a person.

I was giving a talk on Current Drug Trends last week and I offhandedly commented, “There is no war on drugs, we clearly lost.” People who don’t believe that addiction has become a permanent part of our cultural landscape are called Amish. Many of us really really like dopamine and serotonin because they are super yummy and Canadians sometimes do drugs because drugs are awesome, for a while. Being high can be significantly more fun than being sober, especially at work. Many of us smoke pot every single day and then tell our friends that it’s not addictive. The Amish are lovely people with a rich and diverse heritage.

What do drugs have to do with Methodists? Many of my friends in the church are very nervous about having a frank conversation with a society which is often highly medicated and has embraced gay marriage, divorce, premarital sex, pornography, shopping on Sunday, recreational drug use, cheating on taxes, promiscuity, reality television, partial nudity, pluralism, The Long Island Medium, gay marriage, legalized pot, living in “sin”, potty mouth, “worldliness”, abortion, 4/20, yoga, violence and gore, Justin Bieber, and women in stretchy pants that are so tight you can see their bladder. As the world swerves into the Post-Christendom Era it has caught the conservative Christian world with its pants down. I am keenly aware that this can offend but I do this for a hobby and my wife thinks I’m good-looking so I can take it if you can just understand my heart on this.

Our hemisphere is experiencing a seismic shift, yet again.

Many in “the world” are willing to have an authentic conversation and they know you can’t give on a few things because of the Bible but that’s ok, let’s just be real with one another. I can honestly say that I have never had a candid conversation about faith with anyone in the past ten years who was not warm and engaging, with the possible exception of a few faithful.  People love talking about spirituality with anyone who validates their journey and doesn’t tell them what to think. Why is this so hard, church people? People are interested in the conversation, just not the condemnation. Spirituality is incredibly important and when we are easily wounded we shut down the dialogue before it can really bear fruit.

I miss you, the friends of my youth. Some of you were wise and sage counsel and I loved you like a brother or sister. If I could wish for you one thing it would be the gift of not being offended. Priests can’t kill people anymore, so groups who want to get their message of hope across need to figure out how not to pick a fight. Learning to take a little less offence at the obvious blunders and shortcomings of others is probably something from which we could all receive benefit, myself included.

Let’s hang out. I’ll buy you a Happy Meal.

7 thoughts on “With Love To A Dying Church

  1. Church to Scott (via a prodigal daughter who ultimately returned to the fold):

    I appreciate your honesty and understand your perspective but humbly suggest that millions of my members throughout the world are not as easily offended as a vocal few who (sadly) behave more like Pharisees than who they really are, sinners saved by grace. The recent political backlash may have encouraged many members of my body to conduct their business underground, but the reports of my dying are greatly exaggerated.

    In point of fact, church membership is actually growing wherever members are faithful to preach unwavering biblical truths – though in a spirit of love rather than of condemnation. Despite all attempts to the contrary, the Church continues to grow in places throughout the world where persecution at the point of a sword exists, for in such places, faith must be real or not at all. In truth, the Church shall never die, for it is as Jesus said of faith and the Church, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    I pray that you will soon begin to have meaningful conversations with Christians in your own vicinity, Scott. You should have no problem recognizing them if you look for people who are quietly going about the cause of Christ – in soup kitchens, classrooms, nursing homes, parks, doctor’s offices, hospitals and, yes, even in churches – wherever people are in need. Seek and you shall find – if and when you really care to – just as the prodigal who penned this missive did when she finally tired of slopping the hogs. How great did grace abound that day and ever since!

    With love from The Church – Still Very Much Alive in Christ!

  2. Sounds like the conversation we had at abc restaurant for breakfast. Totally agree with you. Church is not a building it’s a lifestyle you lead with those you worship together with and those that need that worship.

  3. Very brave article Scott. This is a topic no one seems to want to address these days. I just recently watched a wonderful movie called ‘Rudderless’, by William H Macy, about a father whose son is involved in a Columbine style shooting. It’s a quiet but incredibly real portrayal of someone searching for meaning when their world has been torn apart. Most of us don’t have to wait for our world to sink into a cesspool to deal with issues of faith, hope and redemption, we deal with them on a daily basis. But often we do.

    I was raised Italian Catholic and on church on Sunday. Before I realized that boys could be fun, my goal in life was to become a nun. At some point, our old church minister was traded for a younger model with modern thoughts and long hair. People talked. A lot. I wasn’t there, but one day he had had enough and he delivered a sermon on compassion and understanding then cut his hair off in front of the congregation. We never saw him again. I never went to church again.

    Over the years, though, I realized I could never not be spiritual in some way. I finally settled into a belief more in tune with developing the basics – love and acceptance, over rites and rituals and rules.

    We are all human, I now realize. Hippocracy and judgement and acceptance and love are things we all have to deal with whether we are people of a particular spiritual persuasion, or none. In my eyes, though, we close the dialogue before it starts if dogma and prejudice get in the way of real understanding. To me, it doesn’t even matter whether we are talking about spiritual, emotional, or physical health. I honestly don’t even know where one stops and another starts. I think we just have to be willing to try to check our beliefs at the door and allow ourselves to be amazed by what can happen.

    1. What an incredible object lesson from a priest, you should write that down or give me details so I can steal it. I don’t mind saying this article was a little outside my comfort zone, so thanks!

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