Friday, February 08, 2008

Why I'm Taking a Break from Church

People in my faith tradition love the Bible.

You may think that you too love the Bible, but you're wrong. We really, really love the Bible. We attend Bible class and Bible camp. Our kids learn about the Bible and compare their knowledge in "Bible Bowl". To protect our Bibles, we carry them in special zippered bags. We give one another guilt about reading the Bible. We claim that "we speak where the scripture speaks, and are silent where the scripture is silent." (By "the scripture", we of course mean "the Bible".) We even sing songs about ... you guessed it ... the Bible.

There are some good, historical reasons for this attitude, and very few people know or care about those reasons. Because in our tradition, history isn't very interesting, and neither is Biblical interpretation, really. There is no such thing as "interpreting" the Bible. It simply says what it means, and means what it says ... and what it means and says are what we've always said that it says and means.

It wasn't a bad way to grow up. I sailed along happily, riding this wave of certainty, singing about how I loved the Bible and how I wished someone would give me a Bible and how much I loved Bible camp, until one year at said Bible camp, something happened that roughened the seas a bit.

Every year, at the end of the week, the boys and the girls of each age group would engage in a Bible trivia competition. That year we had been studying 1 and 2 Timothy -- you know, the authoritarian epistles -- and we boys were, like every year, pretty much resigned to losing. The girls always beat us. But somehow, this year, perhaps buoyed up by the writer's exhortation that women should learn "in quietness and full submisssion", we eked out a win.

The girls were downcast. We were jubilant. And in the middle of our celebration, someone (I'm pretty sure it wasn't me) purloined the words of 2 timothy 3 for a victory chant:

"Weak-willed women. Weak-willed women! Weak-willed women!"

We all chanted together, rejoicing in our superior Bible knowledge.

"Weak-willed women!"

Then I noticed that one of the girls was crying, quietly.

If you've ever been a junior-high boy, you will probably know what happens when you see the tears of a junior-high girl who is kind, intelligent and more than a little bit cute.

You're utterly befuddled.

You walk back to your cabin, deeply confused. And as you process the situation, you start to notice that something is wrong. You're not quite sure what yet, but something, you know, is terribly wrong.

After a few years, you figure it out: something must be wrong with the Bible. Friends and acquaintances are abandoning their faith because they can't follow a God who would order genocide, or denigrate women, or abhor gays. And they can't simply ignore a few Bible verses and go on with their faith, because if they learned anything growing up in church, they learned this: either all of the Bible is true, or none of it's true.

But soon after, you realize that maybe nothing is wrong the Bible; maybe something is broken about how you're interpreting it. And if something is broken about how you're interpreting it, maybe something is also wrong about how you're applying those interpretations. Over time, and with quite a bit of help, you begin feeling your way out of the darkness of Christian fundamentalism and the trap of biblical literalism. You can see the contradictions in the text now, but they don't scare you. They simply point to he beautiful frailty of the real people behind the Bible, a frailty that you see all around you every day. As you change the way you interpret the Bible, you change your theology. You begin ignoring those parts of the Bible that endorse prejudice, or misogyny, or genocide. You allow other voices, like science and your own experience, to inform your understanding of God.

Then you wake up one morning and realize that you don't fit in at church. Not only don't you fit in, but you're not really welcome, and you don't particularly like being there.

And that's where I found myself a few weeks ago.

I realized that while my church is admirable in its attempts to pursue social justice and racial integration, its justifications for doing so, and its core theology, were essentially fundamentalist. My church is great in that it has no creeds, no membership, no checklist telling us who's in and who's out, but underlying all of its programs, all its deliberations about church leadership, all its expressions of worship and interactions with the surrounding community was this fundamental, axiomatic belief that the Bible is the infallible word of God. And that made church exhuasting.

Instead of singing, I spent my time trying to translate the song lyrics into metaphors I could affirm.

Instead of praying, I spent my time pondering the moral bankruptcy of a God who would grant any of our prayer requests, while every day, thousands of people starved to death. I tried not to be appalled at people who would follow such a God.

Instead of speaking the standard Jesus-speak, or providing perspectives that would contradict the established church culture, I tried to keep my mouth shut. I mostly failed at that, though, which mostly made me feel like a curmudgeonly bastard.

I became desperately grouchy, because I was always having to define my faith in terms of what I didn't believe, and I didn't have any spiritual mentors who could show me the way to a positive, progressive faith. (Thank God for the Internet, right? People like Paul and Crystal kept me afloat ... I want to kiss them.)

Finally, I realized that being at church wasn't doing me any good. It wasn't making me a more virtuous person, and it wasn't even making me feel good. Going to church was like poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick, and it would probably be better for everyone involved if I just STOPPED POKING MYSELF IN THE EYE WITH A STICK.

So I did. And now I feel better.

In the future, I may return to a church. My roots are there, my family is there, and I'd like to try to help people who are looking for an alternative to fundamentalism. But for now, I have to figure out the next few lines of my story.

I'd like to find a faith community that exhibits the virtues that I hope to learn. I'd like to find mentors who can express their progressive faith in positive terms. I'd like to see if I can learn some wisdom from other faith traditions, because there are books other than the Bible. I've even read a few of them, and while in lots of places they're as scary as the Bible in the hands of an angry fundamentalist, there always seems to be something to learn about love, or people, or God.

And one last thing: for those of you who might be worried about my apostasy, have no fear. God is out here too.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

64 comments:

Indie said...

Been there. Done that. Now I'm an Episcopalian. I had to laugh at the Bible Bowl stuff. I'm a former Bible Bowl champ. I even have a trophy.

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks for writing that heartfelt expression of your faith journey up to this point. That was very interesting.

Good luck in finding something that ultimately works for you.

Jacob Greene said...

Great post, man. I just started a blog the other day as a way for me to express and develop my religious views. In real life, I'm often caught between the Christians, who think I'm a heathen or an atheist, and the non-Christians, who think I'm "churchy." It's a strange place to be, and you're one of the few whom I've read that seem to understand where I'm coming from.

While they may not be in of themselves harmful, I think that fundamentalism and literalism easily lend themselves to harmful mental and behavioral patterns. I'll almost certainly be linking to your blog in the future; I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed that post. I'm new at blogging, and it's good to see people like you out there.

Come see me sometime at http://beyondss.blogspot.com if you'd like. I'd like to know what you thought!

Chris said...

Matthew,

I hear you, man. I find myself in much the same place. My faith tradition probably wouldn't be happy about the choice word I uttered when I read your story about that little girl crying, either.

Thank you for the post, bro.

-Chris

paul maurice martin said...

You're the real thing.

Cody said...

Well said. I wonder how many from our tradition and/or school would echo your story. I know a few.

Wes said...

Hey Matty,

I saw you mentioned on a certain social networking site that you were working on a new blog. Since I hadn't read up on the inner workings of your mind in a while (plus our recent political exchanges---which I truly enjoy) I decided to read up.....and read this post.

Luckily, I read this recent post while also having first-hand knowledge of said week at bible camp......which I can say truthfully that week kicked me in the butt to learn more about my said "faith tradition"---and has lead my constant struggle thru life searching for God's "Truth". Your Pops going toe to toe with a giant "stick" about praying on a toilet (worship or not?) will stay with me forever :)

Before I ramble on my inner thoughts (and feel free to edit if I give away too much personal info about you or me), I love ya brother, and nothing in the following is meant to harm.....but you know that...however, this is a monumental time in your life with this epiphany, hence, sensitive subject. I'm here to support you (and challenge you....hee hee, I love devil's advocate). :)

I wanted to throw in my two cents about church in general, since I have the unique perspective of being a life-long Jesus freak, who went cold for 4 years due to geography and other such constraints. I will tell you while seeing the world, the work experience, cultural experience, and overall life experience were monumental to me, yet the physical separation & lack of being "plugged in" to a church family was destructive.....this was the darkest time in my life when it came to my faith.

I remember a devo/sermon I gave in the land down under about why we attend a church service. The biggest of the points was encouragement via community and fellowship with other christians, which is the definition of a "church". I thought it made sense at the time, sounded cliche and was good "Jesus-speak", which is of course mandatory when you're tagged a missionary. But over the years of slipping further away from faith, I can say from experience that being separated from other people of faith certainly affected me in the negative. Remember your infamous bundle of sticks devo???? that was classic baby :)

One of my main reasons for quitting my old job was to get myself back to a place I felt I needed to be again with God, and I knew I could never get there by myself halfway around the world from the highest concentration of free thinking Christians in one country. I had to get plugged back in, become vulnerable to other like-minded christians, and let the big man upstairs take the reins again. Ultimately, this led me to where I am today, and praise God for his patience with me, and his forgiveness. The love of a Godly woman is also a powerful thing.

I'm not lecturing you brother, in fact, I encourage you to take as long as you need before you walk thru the doors of another church building. Questioning your faith is not sinful, it is in fact encouraged in the bible (I'm not digging up scripture on this one.....I'm on a roll) ;)

I can tell you this.....I'll never be a member of said "faith tradition" because I feel like many people of that faith tradition cannot see the forest for the trees. I'll avoid listing the many points of my discontention since you know them already. I believe the majority of the people of said faith tradition are genuinely great people and devout christians....but those pesky few who metamorphisize into giant sticks in the mud and like to poke my close friends in the eye...

I agree that the bible is not infallible....its a collection of books/letters written by sinful men, and the final collection was determined by a sinful man, and its myriad translations are argued by sinful men. However I still believe whilst sinful men had a hand in it, God still inspired it, and it is thus a guide.....in science speak, a theory not a law. The pages of this guide repeatedly state there is only one judge :) I praise the bible's existence, because the fact the old & new testaments survived history's dark ages, wars, carnage, etc, is proof enough of the power of the words.

I praise the established church of history for passing on the knowledge of Christ to the minds of today, yet I giggle at the demonization of astronomers (the world is FLAT) and the printing press (damn that Guttenberg) Ignorance is bliss (God bless "The Matrix").

Some people use the life-learnings of Darwin as proof of a lack of God....whilst I see his teachings as bucking the established and accepted thoughts of how God works, challenging the literalism of the bible, and seeking out truth.

Some of your thoughts such as: "Instead of praying, I spent my time pondering the moral bankruptcy of a God who would grant any of our prayer requests, while every day, thousands of people starved to death. I tried not to be appalled at people who would follow such a God." I suggest delving into the subject of "free will". I'm not talking about apathy or acceptance, but understanding the beauty (from God's perspective) of free will in the human race. Free will can be ugly, but its purpose is undaunting. I participated in a study of God's purpose of mankind studying Genesis in my college years that focused a huge chunk on free will, and the words & ideas exchanged in that room would make most bible beaters shudder.

Oh, and about starving people....6 months in India can change a person's perspective....if a man likes to crap on the side of the road, wash himself in a ditch full of garbage, watch TV at night in his shanty made of rags with pirated electricity and satellite reception, and is happy living this life, its pretty tough to change his ways. All the benevolence in the world will not rid the planet of squalor/pestilence/poverty/starvation.....people have been poor and hungry as far back as time itself....I believe we should be striving to rid the world of these terrible things, yet reality slaps us in the face. Its tough wading thru this quagmire of a world. This world will never be perfect, and accepting that reality is tough to swallow. Some call me a cynic, but I like to view myself as an optimistic realist...if they exist...the optimist in me hopes they do :)

I think you need to get out of Abilene....that town ain't normal....there are no lack of jobs in the Houston metroplex :)

Anyways, I've rambled enough....but I just wanted you to know that I know what it's like to be considered "of strong faith" and questioning it to the point of exhaustion. Search things out, let the big man lead you, he's not going anywhere, and you'll find the path he's set before your feet.

Be wise brother, and keep on keeping on :)

David M Manes said...

What you said sounds so familiar I could have sworn it was me talking.

It is difficult for me to reconcile my childhood teachings of biblical infallability with my observations of clear inconsistencies.

I like your blog overall, too. Very interesting stuff.

Steve said...

Great post. Thanks for letting us know your story. Whatever you do, please continue to be honest and creative as you have been. Please keep posting.

Matthew said...

@indie:

Hi there. I don't have any Bible Bowl trophies, but I think I have a medal somewheres. Glad you stopped by.

@seeker:

Thanks. Didn't you write a post recently about social justice being distinct from theological liberalism?

@jacob:

Hi, Jacob. I'll surely come take a look. =)

@chris:

Greetings. Glad you stopped by.

Matthew said...

@Paul & Cody

Thanks. =)

@Wes

Hi, Wes! That's a plenty long comment you got there. I'm going to interpret it mostly as an expression of your concern and friendship and stuff.

A few things, though, which may or may not make you feel better:

The realignment you experienced during your world tour sounds like what I was experiencing about 10 years ago, when I did some of my own traveling. I didn't have as much freedom to move around as you did, but I came to some similar conclusions, and like you, I was pretty satisfied with the free will defense.

But within the last 5 years, I've become convinced that the free will defense doesn't hold water: there's too much natural evil that remains unaccounted for, and human will doesn't seem to be free enough, and free will doesn't seem to be valuable enough to justify the kinds of egregious things people are allowed to do to one another. That means that I really do have to give up one of the 4 planks in the classical problem of evil (God is benevolent, God knows about evil, God can do something about evil, Evil exists), and the one I choose to give up is basically the "God can do something about it" plank.

Anyhow, you sound like you think I'm in some sort of faith crisis, when I'm really not. I'm fairly comfortable with the things I believe and don't have a lot of cognitive dissonance, the problem is that I find it continually difficult to grow as a person and maintain my good humor while I'm enmeshed with the church.

So we'll see if this latest move will help me be a nicer person ... I have high hopes. =)

Matthew said...

@David & Steve

Thanks to you too.

And Steve, I really am going to respond to that tag, I just had to finish this post first. =/

societyvs said...

That was very well written - why you wasting time in a church when you should be writing books?

I really loved the story and I can truly relate at this point in my life. I quit attending church in 1999 and haven't truly ever went back - just becuase I also find myself in a very different place than fundamentalism or the idea "God is in a box' we can define. I keep on saying what you are saying 'maybe I will go back' - but it's so hard to do for some reason - I just feel I am not ready for the battle (lol).

Loved the whole explanation you give - a lot of us can relate.

Jared Cramer said...

Matthew, thanks for this post. I echo Indie's story, heck I even wound up in Tennessee about a stone's throw from her.

I hope your time away from church provides what your soul needs. I'm not worried about you at all, like you said, "God is out here too." Or, like one person put is, "Nothing will be lost." Including you. Keeping walking into the Divine Life, I bet there are more surprises up ahead for both of us.

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thomas+ said...

What a great post. Thank you for putting yourself out there.

I personally came from a very liberal faith tradition (I was raised an Episcopalian of the smells-bells-and-Buddha variety). That was pretty much as nutty as your fundamentalist upbringing, but in completely different ways.

I pray that you find yourself in the eternal Love of Christ, regardless of what faith community you end up participating in (or not participating in).

Thomas+ said...

Hey, you live in the same town as my old best friend form high school. He's the pastor at Elmwood West United Methodist Church. I have no idea what that community is like, but Robert Pelfrey (that's his name) is a really cool man.

Matthew said...

@societyvs:

Thanks for the compliment. Now if I could just find some things to write *about*... =)

@jared:

Thanks for the prayer and the link. Excellent.

@thomas+:

Robert Pelfrey, hm? Maybe I'll drop in and say hello. =)

Ingie said...

I just wanted to say that I really liked this post. I have been reading your blog for almost a year now and have enjoyed it! This post especially resonated with me - I had a 5-6 year break from church because church was really hurting me. One of the comments you got above suggests that faith can be eroded by not being plugged into a Christian community; well, it seems pretty clear to me that in some cases faith can also be eroded by continuing to be plugged into a Christian church while one's faith becomes increasingly hollowed out, frustrated and backed into corners. In such cases, I do think it's wiser to step out.

Anyway, that was a longwinded way of saying thanks!

(I am now by the way going to, and feeling nourished by, a feminist liberal Episcopalian church - of the "when-Eve-picked-the-fruit-she-was-choosing-maturity" type!)

Smartiniz said...

Matt,

Yes! I'm totally with you on all this, especially the defining you faith in negative terms thing. That's been plaguing me for a couple of months now. I keep thinking about that story Jesus told about a demon being cast out and then coming back and finding the house empty. The demon of fundamentalism has been cast out, but now something's gotta take it's place...

Which problem has almost everything to do with why I'm against a certain congregation merging with another one. Sure, we'd get older people with more life experience, but how could those particular people possibly be able to mentor the likes of you and me? I get the feeling that following their guidance would be like taking several huge steps backward!

OK, so that was probably an unnecessary rant. Anyway, I look forward to hearing more about how this whole thing works out for you.

Richard Beck said...

I'm up for starting a weekly "Church of Starbucks" for hosting a free-ranging conversation about any and all things. :-)

On a different note, I'd like your take on this: You are a new dad. Clearly, you take away from your faith heritage a mixed bag. Will you want to expose your children to it? That is, will you feel a disconnect with your children if they fail to understand or experience something that has so deeply formed their father? Or will this be a clean break between generations? (I'm just curious about this. Answer only if you want to.)

Cheers. And let me know about Starbucks. I'm voting you as pope.

Wes said...

Matty said:

"But within the last 5 years, I've become convinced that the free will defense doesn't hold water: there's too much natural evil that remains unaccounted for, and human will doesn't seem to be free enough, and free will doesn't seem to be valuable enough to justify the kinds of egregious things people are allowed to do to one another."

I would love for you to expound on those 3 points in greater detail in either comment or blog post so I can better understand your thoughts.

To be honest, yes I am a little concerned, and I wish I knew more about your inner struggle before this past weekend. I'm just saying I've got your back brother. I'm striving to continually enhance our friendship because I feel like I haven't been doing as good a job at that as I should have been in recent years, and that bothers me. It bothers me because you've been miserable, I didn't know about it, and I feel like a crummy friend.

Anywho, I look forward to hearing your explanation :) Me & the wife are thinking Tuesday night (March 18th) @ su casa o casa de parientes.

paul maurice martin said...

A couple quick thoughts:

I wonder if anyone’s ever thought of having a break from church as part of church life. Maybe a "Forty-Day..."

It seems to me that any form of practice benefits from time away from it now and then. For all I know, some denomination has already done this; it definitely wasn't part of my experience growing up in the Catholic Church.

Moving – about the girl in junior high and your response.

y said...

It's so interesting to read this blog today. I'm a first time reader, coming through a post from a friend's blog.

I am a 24 y/o married yuppie CoC lifer who grew up being taught that Biblical literalism had largely been abandoned. How wrong I was. At my young married couples small group last night, the topic for discussion was who believed that God was omniscient, and if He is, did God make a mistake when he created the world, and then had to kill everyone on it except Noah's family with the flood.

My response was that I felt that God knew everything short of what our choices will be, and that further I felt that Noah's ark was largely historical myth. Several people guffawed, asking all at once how I could say that the Bible wasn't true. The leader then asked, in order for me to clarify my thought, if I just felt that the Bible was on par with Aesop's fables.

I tried to explain that I felt that the Bible could be true without being literal, but I felt alone as you talk about here. I don't think I'm going to stop going to Church just yet, but know that there are other folks out there like yourself.

A. Lo said...

I think I might still have a Bible Bowl tropy buried in the little storage room on my patio. Maybe I will repurpose it and turn it into something cool, so be expecting a really exciting Easter basket this year! (Maybe the Munno shirt will even make an appearance?)

Matthew said...

@ingie:

I love lurkers, but I love commenters even more. =) It's affirming to hear that other people have made the same sort of decision and come out the better for it. I look forward to hearing more about you and your church. (Thank God for feminist Episcopalians, right?)

@smartiniz:

Sorry to leave you hanging a bit. We probably need to start a zen church thing, you know, church by not attending church and all that. Maybe we can do the coffee shop like Richard suggests, although if you want to come you definitely have to be the first pope.

@richard:

I'm up for the church of starbucks, as long as smartiniz agrees to be the first pope. Besides, that will totally give us Emergent Church cred. Any night except Sunday is good for me, so long as we start late enough (I'm thinking 9ish.)

Regarding my kiddos, their mother is still much more conservative than me, so they're already getting a healthy dose of fundamentalism. THAT part of their cognitive dissonance is certainly taken care of.

Right now, I'm basically hoping to develop some good, positive ways to talk about things like the Bible and the God they learn about in sunday school, and as they mature I can provide them with gentle questions and helpful alternatives that may make their transition out of that mode less like a noetic breakdown and more like learning a more complex model of atomic structure.

Antipholous said...

I think you just summarized my feelings on the issue better than I ever could. The formulating of songs into metaphors, the prayer requests, the formulating ideas in "positive terms."

The inconsistencies of the Bible have already driven me mad. I've pretty much just rejected it as absolute truth (or even a great deal of truth) but that has left me with no real place to go. I guess you're at the same position.

Hope to hear more from you in the future. I'll see you at Halo church if nothing else.

Matthew said...

@wes:

Thanks again. Like I said, try not to worry. =)

Amy and I are still working on spring break, I'll send you a message within the next couple of days, when we know for sure.

@paul:

Brilliant idea, although I have a feeling that getting people to come back after those 40 days would be a pretty big problem. =)

@a.lo:

That would rock. Trophy me!

@antipholous:

Hey there!

Truth is a tricky thing to define, particularly when it comes to narratives and myth. I'm sure smartiniz has lots of interesting things to say about that.

I still think there are lots of helpful things in the Bible, but more "helpful" than "authoritative". I'm sure we'll talk more about this in the future.

ONEDIA said...

You are on a much trod path. There seem to be many of us out there. My own journey away from fundamentalism began "without my realization" along with my be "saved" . It always felt wrong but I was also afraid to question very much. Ultimately my 40 year journey took me to a point that I didn't feel the need for an organization to belong too and finally felt no guilt about taking a break from church.

Amy said...

every time i hear the words "bible bowl" i cringe. why do we do this to our children? i'm afraid they pick up the hidden curriculum more than the actual Word of God in these competitions.

loved the post, God bless you in your seeking.

can't believe you are writing this from Abilene, our progressive mecca of all places! now tennessee, i would understand.

Anonymous said...

Well,

I just stumbled onto your blog here, but it seems to me that the center of Christian faith is the person and work of Jesus, our relationship with Him.

It's not about a specific view of the inspiration of Scripture, the exact interpretation of Genesis, those kinds of things. Hey, it's about the gospel.

Prayers that God will lead in your life, in new and exciting ways. Certainly think the church needs you. (Here's a plug for those Episcopalians.. :) )

Sounds like you're just being called to a new address, same Lord. :)

Grace.

hillarygayle said...

Wow. Thank you so much for this; it's incredible to know that someone else out there truly is feeling the same way I do. Especially the part about sitting in church, arguing mentally with everything that's said or sung. I'm there right now.

Adding you to my RSS feeds.

David Johnson said...

I'm right there with you. I've been to church on Sunday morning all of twice in the last two years. And I don't miss it. I mean, I miss the little brief moments of interaction with people that I never see anywhere else, but I really don't miss the guilting myself into getting up in the morning (when I don't want to) or the whole near-Bible-worship of the classes and the sermons and the songs.

For a long time it was tough for me to think that any part of the Bible might not be perfectly, literally, historically true. But I know what I believe now, and the focus on those elementary principles (as a reason to do) has made all the difference in the world. Those two things are that 1) God exists and 2) Jesus was something more---something more substantial, more sublime, more that's-the-way-the-world-should-be---than anyone else.

You're certainly not alone, even among those who grew up in the CoC.

Sparkle Pants said...

I got this link from someone on Livejournal and I'm glad you made this post. I don't come from a fundamentalist background but I have enough church drama in my past to fill several blog posts :D

At the moment, I don't plan to return to church and if I do, it will be a Friends Meeting. The thought of walking back into any kind of church really sours my spirit. I've tried a few times but it just hasn't worked out.

Anyway. Hi! I'm going to look at the rest of your blog now.

Anonymous said...

I just happened upon your blog, but I'm glad I did! I'm in the exact same place. I have gone to CoC every sunday morning, night & wednesday night since I was born...up until about a year and half ago. I attended private Christian school's from 3rd grade until my Junior year of college. But somewhere along the way I got burnt out. I transferred to another school and met my boyfriend, who's Catholic. When I started comparing the bible to both Catholic thoughts & CoC thoughts, I became even more confused. I've had a wonderful CoC education and have studied in depth, but after reading Rome Sweet Home (an awesome book!), I've come to think that the Catholics really did get it right. But it's hard to go away from my CoC roots, especially since I fear the backlash of my family and friends. So I'm stuck not knowing what to do. All I can do is pray that God leads me where I need to be. I'll do the same for you.

TCS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
believingthomas said...

I can offer this. I found myself in a similar place a few years ago. I had done what I could, but didn't fit in was on "the concerned list" (no joke). And had no one to mentor me. I was told these internet friends were just malcontents. But I had come to admire a man who I still have never seen face to face. But he came out of (I think our) tradition. Years ago he felt the sting of family and friends damning him for his choice. But through phone calls and e-mails he gently guided me and encouraged me. On of the jewels that he told me was that there are people out there that love God and that love other people. That if I looked he was sure I would find them. He was right.

There is something interesting in the Genesis narrative. God wasn't enough. Man needed relationship with the planet and with other humans. That is not to say get your but back in church. But to say eventually you will need others. I know you know that. getting too long. Peace.

Matthew said...

@y, onedia, hillarygayle, david, sparkle pants, anonymous & believingthomas:

Thanks for the encouragement. Like one of my other friends said, maybe we need to start a church of not having church. =)

@sparkle pants:

That's an awesome name. I kind of hope it's your given name, but kind of not.

Erin said...

I came here through hillarygayle's link, and I have to tell you - I'm feeling the same disconnect, to the point where I no longer describe myself as Christian most of the time. Thanks for affirming my belief that there are more of us out there.

ONEDIA said...

Erin, I have not been able to say that I am a Christian for about 4 years after both personal reflection and some academic study at Marylhurst University in a program of multi faith people. I do however believe in the teachings of Jesus....as well as Buddha and other seers, prophets, and sages over time. I simply have not yet coalesced into something explainable or identifiable as a faith practice.

ONEDIA said...

One more post. Before we left Portland, OR...I loved to take a hike on Sundays ..... walking in those lush forests along waterfalls and streams was my Church. I felt closer to a higher power there since my thinking has become more that of PanENtheism (See Wikipedia for explanation).

Here in the Ozarks I am thinking a Sunday morning Kayak on the river will do nicely as Church.

Matthew said...

@erin:

Howdy. Glad you linked in. Maybe we all need to form a support group.

@onedia:

Hooray, another panentheist! Here's a link to my panentheism blog stuff. There are quite a few of us around these parts. =)

And while I'm sure that going outdoors works nicely in Portland or the Ozarks, out here in West Texas, nature tends to be mostly ... well ... depressing. Maybe I should consider a move.

Paul said...

I guess there are those two aspects of religion - religion as an individual experience vs. a shared one.

For me, the individual aspect has been shared indirectly - in how I've led my day to day life. Working in the public schools as a counselor, I wasn't talking to kids about religion and spirituality. But in hopefully contributing something toward the development of, say, greater respect and empathy for others in some of them, I feel that I communicated matters that are essentially spiritual.

And what my book tries to impact is spiritual life at the level of the individual and in day to day contexts. Reading it wouldn't make anyone tend any more or any less to go to church, I don't expect.

What's church for? What do people do there? Do I want to do that too? I guess those would be my own main questions.

Personally, I do feel that day to day life would be the main point of church life - that church life is about as significant as it contributes toward people leading better lives in the world.

Spiritbear said...

Great post to combat "biblioidolatry"

Michael Ejercito said...

I find nothing wrong with the idea of God ordering Israel to do genocide.

God determines what is right and what is wrong.

Matthew said...

@paul: good questions. I think Richard over at Experimental Theology recently gave some psychological reasons why "pie in the skie" theology tends to hurt people more than it helps them.

@spiritbear: yeah, that stuff's no good.

@michael: hooray, a dissenting opinion! Let's talk about that more in a new post.

Les said...

Matthew: I'm responding to this post having never read anything else on your blog, and not knowing anything about you. All I can tell you is that you summed up my despair with the church EXACTLY. I haven't been to church in a while. I'm now looking for one. Yet I view the bible as you do. I don't need to restate it, because it was as if you wrote it for me. Someday I'll learn to express to my Christian brothers and sister why I don't have to take all or nothing. I'm so WEARY of the ridicule and "logic" that comes from these inerrant devotees. Pray for me. I'll pray for you.

Matthew said...

@Les

Hi, Les! Drop in now and then, let me know how things are going.

Christian said...

The problem as I see it is this:

1. Professing believer's don't know the core doctrines of Basic Christianity, e.g., God's triune oneness in three persons in relation to us individually, His immutable traits of omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, justice, and love versus the limited scope of His adversaries, because adults don't think a child's mind can wrap itself around the concept of a real spiritual Father that makes up for their lack of parenting.

2. Christians do not read their Bibles from cover to cover as they would enjoy any other compiled volume with the understanding of it as God's love story to us. So taking a believer's literature of the Bible class is useful for some people who would otherwise not have an overall picture.

3. Mankind's history is full of diverse horrible examples of man's inhumanity to man including slavery, genocide, child abuse, infant sacrifice, rape, etc. that is increasing not decreasing to this very day. It is not God's injustice that plagues us but our own sinfulness. The Word just points out the harsh Truth of our rotten heart condition.

4. Just reading favorite bits and pieces here and there while entirely skipping whole passages and books is unproductive to knowing God's heart for us. I know professing Christians who have never read certain biblical books in their cultural and historic settings because those books don't appeal to them.

5. Simple memorization of verses out of context in the chapters and biblical books they are found may lead to misapplication and abuse by extremely immature believers whose chronological age has nothing to do with their hearts.

6. While being convicted of imputed, inherited, and personal sin should make one cry out in repentance as an unbeliever or a carnal backslidden believer that is worse than an unbeliever because his/her witness is a poor example to the unsaved, Jesus Christ laid down His life for all of us, so that our sins can be forgiven and we can start life over afresh with the our past lives forgotten.

7. God loves a childlike heart but He gives us intelligence to mature, so we won't be childish. Too many think of church as just another social club and not an apprenticeship to experiential sanctification/holiness.

If the Christian Church isn't getting the above across, it's because we are not holding each other accountable within the Body by discerning spiritual gifts and encouraging the growth of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control among us and loving all people as we love ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about taking a break, but old habits die hard. Stepping away from weekly public worship doesn't mean stepping away from God, I know, but the phrase "glamour of evil" keeps poking into my head. Why is wanting to spend my entire Sunday rock climbing and not in church such a bad thing? Did John the Baptist go to synagogue when he was praying in desert for 40 days? Isn't doubt part of the whole faith journey? Didn't Jesus challenge the rules (and violate kosher standards)? I'm open to suggestions, advice, criticism, and challenges.

Matthew said...

> I've been thinking about taking a break, but old habits die hard.

Heh. I think taking a break has been helpful for me, but in my case, it was a choice between spending Sundays at church and spending them, well, anywhere else. Leaving church for a specific something else, like show skiing or rock climbing ... I don't really know how I'd go about making that decision.

Anonymous said...

I'm asking a more specific question I guess...Did you feel that you were being pulled back when you decided to take the hiatus? I'm Catholic and have to overcome the challenge of indoctrination about "mortal sin theology" - very similar to disfellowship from fundamentalist churches. Did you become anxious, aroused, excited, or unable to sleep before you took the first step and missed the first Sunday? I think I'm also interested in taking the break just to see what a "nonobservation" or "nonreligious" Christian life would be like.

Matthew said...

> Did you become anxious, aroused, excited, or unable to sleep before you took the first step and missed the first Sunday?

No, definitely not, although I would hesitate to call missing the first Sunday "the first step". Maybe it would help to add a little detail to my post.

When I need to think, I tend to escape to the shower. I stand there, wasting far too much water, and gnaw on whatever thought needs gnawing on. On several days or weeks in succession, that something happened to be church. I was trying to come up with ways to resolve half a dozen conflicts, some of which were between me and Christianity, and some of which were between me and other Christians, and some of which were between me and myself. I found myself getting more and more agitated, and all of a sudden, I realized: I don't have to do this. It hurts, and I'm not helping anyone, and I'm not progressing, and I need to just put it the heck down.

So I did, and I think it was the right thing to do. I told my wife I was going to take a break from church, and she took it pretty well, and I didn't go to church the next Sunday, and it was kind of nice. I was significantly calmer and happier and, I think, more able to give other people the benefit of the doubt.

But my break is over now. I've actually been attending church regularly for the last couple of months -- something I keep meaning to post about -- but that's more of a compromise with my wife than my ideal situation. We have two kids and she needs my help getting them to and from and through church, plus I want to communicate to my children that God and spiritual things and other people are important, and I just haven't come up with any viable ways of doing that other than taking them to church.

I still don't feel like I have figured out whatever it was I needed to figure out when I started my break from church, and I don't know if I will be able to figure it out without a lot more help and reflection. But I think that your experiment has a lot to recommend it. After having thought about it a bit, I'd recommend two things. First, if church has been wearing you out, commit to rest. Second, if church has been obscuring things you think are more important, commit to act on those things, ideally spending /more/ time on them than you gain from not attending services.

If you're anything like me, those twin goals of "rest" and "act" will probably serve you well. I wish I had been better at both of them during my break.

I wish you luck in your break. Come back occasionally and tell me how it's going.

JoyceEllaine said...

Thanks for the great post. I just decided to take a break from church this morning, while I was reluctantly getting dressed for church. Went on the internet. Put taking a break from chuch in my search and came across your great post. Now I don't feel so guilty. I am not taking a break from my faith, just taking a break from organized church.

Anonymous said...

These posting really uplifted me. I am a Catholic convert of 13 yr. But i take my young grand daughter to a Christian Church because my church does not have sunday school and it is also 13 miles away. I have been tugging back and forth for several years now. it is tough trying to make 2 services on Sundays, taking the girls and attending adult sunday school while they are in their class. but prior to this attending Mass earlier in the a.m. I really think after reading these posting that i will just continue to take the girls to sunday school and probably church from now on at the Christian Church. the Catholic Church will always be waiting for me later on. I feel more peace now.

Matthew said...

I'm glad you found it helpful. I hope all goes well for you and the girls.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

I wrote before about the "break experience" and my indecision about it. Here I am today, August 1, 2010 trying the experiment again. It's interesting to see what 40+ years of churchgoing can do to your head - much of it is good, I believe. I am still tempted to see what I might be like to stay outside the church for the next few weeks or at least just for today.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

I wrote before about the "break experience" and my indecision about it. Here I am today, August 1, 2010 trying the experiment again. It's interesting to see what 40+ years of churchgoing can do to your head - much of it is good, I believe. I am still tempted to see what I might be like to stay outside the church for the next few weeks or at least just for today.

Matthew said...

@Anonymous

Hi again. I'm still in favor of the occasional break. =)

Hope all goes well for you.

Anonymous said...

Matt,

I've been on my break for the month of August..not sure if I want to go back this soon. I probably will be attending again in a few weeks, if not next Sunday. The time away has made me question what it is that I am "actually doing" while in church. I'm not sure if I've used my "time off" wisely.

Matthew said...

It makes it easier for me, I think, that I have a wife who wants to go. If it were just me, I could probably make better use of that time, but since it's us, it becomes a better thing to do.

I think. =P

Anonymous said...

I am posting again 'cause I took a break in August, went back to church, and have now opted for another break. I am just going to trust that God has something bigger to show me than what I am finding in church right now. Hope you and your family are doing well!

Matthew said...

Thanks. Good luck. =)

Sarah Irwin said...

As someone who is going through this exact same journey it's super nice to know I am not alone! Thanks so much for writing this!

If you find the answer please let me know!

BTW this morning in church the sermon was all about the authority and perfection of the Bible and I just had to roll my eyes thinking "ok this same sermon...again!"

The pastor asked us how many of us would like to hear directly from Jesus, and then slammed us with "well here you go this is Jesus wearing a leather jacket" while holding up the Bible.

I honestly don't even know what to do. I desire Christian community so much, but I can't take anymore of this type of thinking.

I need answers to the tough questions without being told to just "have faith".

I know that God is totally ok with where I am. I just wish other Christians were too.

Matthew said...

@Sarah

Hello! This is a really old post, and overall, a really old blog. I quit writing it once I decided I had nothing to say. But I'm pleased and flattered that you found something helpful in it. The "Jesus wearing a leather jacket" bit made me laugh. (An incredulous laugh, maybe, but still a laugh!) I don't know how I missed hearing that preacher joke, but it was new to me.

Lots of things have changed in my life since that last post. Well, one thing, really: My seven-year-old son, Liam, died in 2012. Today I have more clarity on some things, and less on others.

So I may be in a different place than you are today, but it's still true what you said: you're not alone. I know lots of Christians who aren't satisfied with literalism and fundamentalism, and who are trying to tell a story about the world that has less to do with power and more to do with love.

I hope you find those people.