Yesterday, we went to church for the first time since Scottsdale UCC, in Arizona before the pilgrimage began.
We actually went to church twice, in fact. Maybe we were trying to make up for something.
Our first stop was the regular kind of church. We wanted to find a progressive church in Colorado Springs, which is the seat of Focus on the Family, and thus, seemingly dominated by conservative Christians. We chose to go to First Congregational Church, a Christian church in the United Church of Christ tradition.
I realized I have not visited an Episcopal church since I stopped working at one, but this is mostly because, to be honest, there is no guarantee we would be safe in a Episcopal church, and frankly, life is too short to sit in a church where I can't hold my lovers hand. I don't have time for that.
And, we did learn that the Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs is trying to leave the diocese over the whole Gene Robinson thing. Rather, the priest and a small group of parishioners have taken over the building we were told. The remnant is worshiping in a Christian church down the street. The man we spoke to seemed to believe it was ironic that the priest had started lambasting the Episcopal Church right after it became clear he was using bequests to the church to fund his children's education, etc. I hope you will pray for them all, if that is your scene.
Anyway, I've begun to think that life is too short to spend it in a church even if you can hold your lover's hand.
Here are my observations about Church #1
1) Church is boring. If we really believe the Bible to be sacred, how is having someone lecture about it for 20 minutes treating it as such? How are you supposed to connect to God at a show with 200 other people?
2) Everyone wants to be Episcopalian except the Episcopalians. I don't know much about the UCC, so forgive me if I'm speaking out of turn, but I gather they're not a very liturgical tradition over all.
But this church stood and sang before the gospel readings and had acolytes and overall seemed to be trying to push toward that more liturgical style of worship. They also hosted a Taize service.
Meanwhile, in my part of the world, Episcopalians seem to long to be evangelicals, in the hopes that it will grow our dying denomination. Who can explain these things?
3) Most mainstream churches are not comfortable with anything but hope and joy. There's no place for lament. And very little room for confession or despair.
It's funny, because we're so good at Lent and we seem to pretend Easter's not there. But maybe that's because we spend the rest of the year pretending there is nothing but resurrection. That death doesn't happen. I do not want to sing Amazing Grace, because I still feel lost in grief over loosing my mother. So what am I supposed to do while a room full of strangers passionately belts out that song?
I found the second church we went to Sunday through an emergent church website.
They're called The Refuge and they say they want to be "a different kind of Christians," that they care more about following Jesus than church and religion.
This month, they are exploring God out of the box, and yesterday they had two people who wrote a book called Jim and Casper Go to Church come and do a talk and question and answer session.
In a twist of irony (given the theme), they were forced outside of the church where they regularly meet, and so we gathered to jazzy sort of music from a live band under a tent with 100 other people and rice krispie treats and brownies and bottled water to hear an atheist and an evangelical talk about how church might need to change.
Here are my observations on Church #2:
1) I liked this church a lot better. Although I missed taking communion (the UCC church did not offer it either at the 11 a.m. service). But instead of pretending a lecture is church, why not just have church be a lecture? Especially since this one had questions and answers!
2) Everything about this church felt more free. People laughed and joked a lot. I was initially nervous about this church because it seemed to be a little heavy on the brokenness when I read their website. But for someone who wishes the church allowed for more brokenness, I had a lot of fun.
I left feeling light and energized. Jim (the evangelical on the right in the picture above. Matt Casper is the atheist on the left) said he follows Jesus because he's the freest person he knows of. If that is true, then church should be a free feeling place, right?
3) The church has a lot to learn from atheists. I feel I could go on forever on this point, but here are three things listening to Casper (the atheist) made me think about:
• Language matters. How we talk about God matters. The exact things that Casper said made him not believe in God, are the things that I use to describe why I believe there is a God. For instance, Casper said that it strikes him as more awe inspiring that we became conscious beings on a long shot, than that a God zapped us into being. It was also a little awkward to hear talk of "non-Christians," the "lost," and "unchurched," in the presence of someone who they were referring to. Those words are insider language and do nothing to create a welcoming atmosphere for someone like Casper.
• Open-mindedness should be authentic. If you are going to e in dialogue with someone you need to realize that they may leave the conversation with a different opinion than you.
• If we are calling ourselves Christians, how we manifest following Jesus in our lives should be 100% more important than putting on a good show at church.
It's a funny and insightful book so far. They travel all over the country to the biggies of mostly the evangelical church world. The back cover sums up what Casper said after leaving church with Jim after one worship service, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do."
I recommend it.