I am the worst sinner I know.
I find most of my sins are against Christians more than against God. What I mean is, our church had an unwritten but strict code of conduct. You have a beer? Mmm-hmm, you are going on the prayer sheet, but we might be nice and list it as an "unspoken request." It doesn’t matter if the alleged sin is really Biblical or not (that’s an upcoming blog). Listen to non-Christian music? “Garbage in, garbage out! Don’t fill yourself with garbage of the world!” (That’s another upcoming blog post.) I always believed something was wrong because somebody in the church said it was wrong, but can we not make these decisions for ourselves? Perhaps it is more about appearance. Could you imagine if somebody occasionally had a beer, smoked tobacco, and sometimes forgot to wear an American flag pin on their suit? “Sure signs they don’t have Jesus in their life!” my church would say. What if we strip away all these rules that the church has made for us and simply, genuinely strive to follow Christ? No, it definitely all about appearances.
At my old church, it was also all about the stats, as if Christianity were a baseball game. How many people did we dunk in the water this year? How many 5-year-olds “gave their lives to Christ” at Vacation Bible School? How many people came forward to join the church this month? That was always an interesting ritual. See, at the end of every sermon, we would have an alter call where anybody who needed to pray would go down front and do so while the congregation sang all two dozen verses of “Just as I Am.” Of course everybody was thinking “I wonder why so-and-so is down there praying? Maybe they had a beer this past week, or watched ‘Desperate Housewives’ or something pagan like that?” The people wanting to join the church were the worst. Often teary-eyed, they would quietly whisper with the pastor until the hymn ran out of verses. We would graciously resist the urge to hum the "Jeopardy" theme and start over from the beginning of the hymn until that pastor gave the “all clear” so he could then proudly introduce our new church family members. After several services in which we ran out of verses we started having a backup closing hymn, so when some poor sinner was taking too long to make peace with God, we’d slip right into the next song. When you start the second hymn, you start getting mad at whoever is down there weeping at the altar. “Don’t they know they are going to make us late to lunch? That buffet line at Ryan’s Steakhouse is going to be outrageous! The Methodists are going to beat us to lunch! If we go to a third hymn, maybe even the Pentecostals are going to beat us!”
What if I admitted sometimes I have doubt? Would you still want me to go on that mission trip? I remember always being told before going on a mission trip “A mission trip isn’t a time or place to get right with God.” But, I never felt that I was constantly “right with God.” I’m not a Christian that thinks once you have a conversion experience there are roses and sunshine and puppy dogs everywhere and the sky is just little more blue. I feel it has to be a journey. Growth is a process.
Time to check the stats again. How many people converted to Christianity at our street meetings during our mission trip? Only two? “Well, we at least did our job of planting seeds.” Lately I’ve questioned whether we went about the mission trips the right way. Basically, our mindset was “we can’t really do anything for them, except offer them something after they die.” I remember standing on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, a hot, muggy evening. I was a kid, really, young, dumb, and full of Jesus, ready to convert the masses. My white dress shirt and black tie covered in a mix of sweat and dust, I stood on a corner under dim streetlights and spoke into the worn and dented microphone. “Life! What is life?” I forcefully proposed, loud enough to draw a squeal of feedback from the aged speakers. I went on to deliver a passionate, moving three point sermon that would’ve made the divinity students back Gardner-Webb proud. I referenced Psalms and Ecclesiastes and gave a message on how life is only temporary, and heaven awaits those who confess Jesus. I look back now and wish I could go back and say something else. I’m not sure what, maybe something more genuine and from the heart. Over the 5 mission trips to Kingston that would follow, I fell in love with the people. I tried to learn everything I could about their city, they way of life, their hopes and fears, and tried to see life from their perspective. Now I feel disappointed; I feel like I worked so hard to bring them religion. I want to bring them love.
Looking back, I feel disappointed about most everything I’ve done through the church; the sermons, the mission trips, the praise bands, the music and drama. I feel like I did it all for religion and not for love; for Jesus. I want to tear it all down with a wrecking ball, because it wasn’t authentic. I found that I would do what the church wants over what is in my heart, because I’m afraid to share what is in my heart. As a musician, I felt like I mostly needed to play “praise & worship” music, because praise & worship music is safe. Church safe. Oh, how I wish I had known of the music of Derek Webb back then. I want to find a church that isn't judgmental, that understands that we (even us Christians) are imperfect human beings. At my old church, I had to lie and always say everything was going great in order to keep from becoming an outcast. Who would want me to play bass in their praise band if they knew of my struggles? What if I wasn't a perfect Christian? What if they knew I was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication? Good Christians don't deal with depression and panic attacks, right? It must be some fault of mine; something that I’m doing that is keeping me from God’s love, right? Maybe we’ve fallen in love with church instead of God? Maybe we serve religion over Jesus? I want to find a church where I don't have to pretend to be a perfect being in order to serve. I want a church that is more than a country club; that gets out into the community and does "unto the least of these." I want Christians that I can share my fears and doubts with and know I'm not the only one who is not perfect.
I wanted to start a blog about my attempts to change the church; to bring about the next Great Awaking, the next Reformation. But maybe the reformation in happening to me, inside me. I wanted to bring change, but change is happening to me. I haven't posted in a while, but I'm going to start writing more frequently. I just read Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz" and a lot has changed. I'll do a review of it later. Now I'm reading his book "Searching for God Knows What" and next I'm going to read the new book by Rob Bell and Don Golden titled "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile." Oh, and I'm going to a forum by Donald Miller at UNC Sunday afternoon!