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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Church Without God and Other Religions

I dream every night that I have to move. I've no car, no moving truck, no boxes. But I have an awful lot of stuff. Some of it is broken, dirty, laying in mud puddles, or piled up in musty sheds. I don't know what to do with it all.

In my dreams I move into and out of different houses. Large, multi-storied, rambling places filled with tapestries, old wood, bright colours, forgotten rooms. Holes in the roof. Water damage.

Small, old houses. Rotting floorboards, ceilings that open up to broken roofs. Rain. Large, expansive sections of floor, entirely missing. Cluttered stairways that lead to nowhere. Tiny openings to other rooms; impossible to access. Roommates I've never met before. Old neighbours within my eyesight, but just outside my reach. Chasms in the way.


And in my waking hours, I drive past the church of my childhood. A strange little building, oddly situated at the edge of a wheat field, without a grain elevator, gas station, or anything. And I miss the days when we "knew the way it was". Church was church, just the same as the school you went to for the first ten years of your academic career was the one your yellow school bus drove you to. You don't make a decision about your school or your church. You just go. Monday through Friday you go east to school; pause for baths on Saturday, and then head west on Sunday morning for church.

The people and the messages were consistent in each case. True was true, even if it wasn't - because everyone pretty much agreed on it. When our Sunday School teachers asked us questions, they were easy to answer. We'd rehearsed all the answers since we were born and born again.

It was reassuring and lovely to grow up like that and I miss it sometimes. But it's not so simple that I could just go back and "know everything again".

I've been in so many churches in the last twenty-five years. And I've noticed some things. I love community, and the concept of people loving and caring for one another. I love the teaching that God is love and challenges us to love our enemies, stand up for the repressed, look out for the little guy, share. I love hearing people pray, read the ancient scriptures, join one another in song.

But over the years I've also seen some other stuff. I've noticed ego everywhere, and I know that's not unique to the church. That's just human nature. I've noticed people say some outrageous and divisive things in the name of Jesus. I've noticed guilt laid on thicker than a March snowstorm. I've seen priveleged middle-class caucasians blaspheme people of other ethnicities and lifestyles with a shocking lack of grce. I've noticed peer pressure, language barriers, (the language of church-ism), power trips, bullying, idealisms, and lack of relevance. I've noticed that it's entirely possible to run church without God. I've noticed that you can stack up ideologies and judgements, ins and outs and not even mention His name.

It's not that I really hold this against the institution of church, per se. It's just that it has been sad for me to notice. Sad for me to feel like I don't have a solid footing to place beneath me and the children.

It's not religion that I want, exactly. I don't need a revival meeting or an episode of laughter that renders me unconscious.

Jesus was an inspirational guy. He was anti-establishment, hung out with all the "wrong" people, and broke the ten commandments. He was a lover of peace, a seeker of justice, a feeder of the hungry.

I just want to be inspired to live like that, and I want my children to have a faith that frees them to live out their lives abundantly, selflessly, graciously, joyfully, and in the name of Jesus.

I don't need religion. In or out of church.

So, by night I'll dream, and by day I'll wonder.

And somehow, by hook or by crook, faith in things not yet seen will just have to prevail.


Judy said...


I'm right there with you.

Even the dreams.

Valerie Ruth said...

ditto. cept the dreams.

Anonymous said...

I sooooo get this, in every way... L-lew

Lise said...

Thank you. I needed to read this.

joyce said...

Thank you for hearing my heart.
It's been hard for me to blog out of my vulnerability lately. I keep getting faces in my mind- people I'm afraid will judge, misunderstand, or *gasp* DISLIKE Me!

ah, we're a vulnerable lot.
I'm glad we have each other.

janice said...


Linda said...

"It's entirely possible to run church without God." Profound and also very true words.

Great post.

joyce said...

(wonder what Janice means by; "this". It's probably pretty profound....)

Thanks, Linda.

Pennerfive said...

I think perhaps Janice was so spellbound by your words that she didn't have the capability to finish. I assume that she was enroute to saying "This.... is the most brilliant and insightful piece of writing I have ever read in my entire life". But she couldn't finish it because she was overwhelmed.

I tried commenting too, a few days ago. I couldn't even type the word "this".

This post was that good.
For reals.

janice said...

I see "this" on a couple of internet forums I read. It appears to mean 'This is great. I like this, I agree with this. I could not have written this any better.' I mean all those things about this post.

I can't remember seeing it in blog comments before. Can I start a trend?

I went to church with Dad last Sunday and it was truly inspirational to see how they love him there. His church is amazing and wonderful if you only go once every 2 years and hang out with his church people in Mississippi at the MDS site. Would it still be wonderful if I got more involved? My nephew, the agnostic, appears to think so.

I have very little experience with church in the last 30 years - perhaps to compensate for 3 to 6 times a week attendance for the first 12 years of my life. I still speak to God and Jesus, and maybe they hear me.

joycie said...

I briefly entertained the version of "this" looking more like an enraged cartoon-type character- someone like Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh.
Sort of a sputtering rage: THIS...

and then a loss for words. Due to the absolute depth of disgust and rage that this piece of church news brought you to.

Like I said; it was a brief consideration. I prefer Karla's version.

Janice, you're a trend setter anyway. Just Embrace It!

Church isn't actually a building or a place. However, it CAN be a great starting place. It sounds like your dad has found a place of refuge, acceptance, love, and all the things we value/idealize/ dream of in a group of flawed people. Flawed people is what church is, actually. And the fact that it sort of works, and even works well sometimes makes me believe in God, and miracles, and grace, and the wonder of it all.

I really like your explanation of sporadic church attendence! Six times, really?? I guess I've been known to go to: sunday morning church, small group meetings, music rehearsal, and some other three things. Maybe I'm just about as embedded as you were!

Somebody once told me that the only people who comment on my online crap are people who agree with me.

Well, thanks for understanding, and maybe even agreeing. I hope we all carry the same hope for church, faith, and loving one another. I do have this faith.

Mary KG said...

Hmm I tried to comment the other day, but fb would not let me. I have lots to say about "church" today, but I'll stick to agreeing with you about faith. I have this faith as well. thanx for being honest. Love it and all the comments it brought.

Brenda Funk said...

You said it very well Joyce! I understand completely what you are trying to say -- having had some very negative experiences with church that have shaken my faith in the institution. And I meet people all the time that have been so hurt by 'church'. I have come to question a lot of things that we were taught as 'truth'. It comforts me to see that Jesus' harshest words were to the church-y people of his day.
But sometimes I think I'm glad that when my children were small, I still knew everything for sure -- it's a lot easier to teach your children a black and white view of life, grey can be so very complex. But much more true. I think as you get older (me!) life's experiences have a way of washing out the black and white, making for a messy shade of grey. But only if you have eyes to see and a heart to learn from life. Thanks Joyce --

Anonymous said...

Joyce...Two questions: How is it possible to run church without God and when or how did Jesus break the ten commandments?

joyce said...

I just typed an ESSAY into here and blogger gobbled it up.


joyce said...

Attempt #2

Thank you Brenda- your words mean a lot because I respect from whence you came, and the powerful impact you had on the spiritual health of people near and dear to me.

Now, my second attempt at a long answer.

Anonymous- thank you for those questions. I've already answered it once, and that got EATEN so I'll try again. Hopefully it will make sense.

In regards to church without God. The institution of church runs in ways similar to business. There are a lot of practicalities to make it run smoothly, to keep up public interest, to offer appropriate "product" or services.
I can really only answer out of my own experience, limited though it may be. I've actually been to church seminars that lecture about projected growth, how to promote it, how to visualize a congregational number and make it happen, how to increase your church's income, how to get bigger, better, etc.

It didn't remind me of Jesus at all.

I've also been privy to advice on how to: get more money for oneself, how to follow your dreams, how to get a better car.

People pursue these interests all the time, and don't call it "church". You don't need God for making most of those dreams come true, and it begins to look suspiciously like marketing a product and just calling it "God".

You can run church without God, same as you can run any business or corporation. It can be a well organized system of services and products. Really good ones, in fact. Nothing wrong with those services and products, and not to suggest that they don't belong in church. I've just noticed that it is possible to do this outside of the divine. Often times, church becomes a small pool for smallish fish to look a little bigger in. That's certainly not to suggest that all churches are filled top to bottom with ego and that God has been squeezed out. I know and am very fond of a current church leader who deals with conflict with tremendous humility and has a very deep faith in God. I admire this. But it is within the realm of possibility to run this sort of organization without actually depending on a Holy God.

regarding Jesus and the commandments.

Jesus really angered the religious leaders of his day by not honouring the detailed do's and don'ts of the commandments. For example, he picked wheat from a field, and healed the sick- all on the Sabbath.

I believe that this is because he understood the HEART of the commandments, and wasn't bound up in the letters of the law.

I often wonder if "we the churched" have become so smug in all our rightness that we aren't the modern day religious leaders. We're missing the point entirely and clinging to rules instead of getting the heart of God.

I'm not sure that I'm being clear.
Please don't hesitate to respond in any way. I think I said this all so much better the first time around....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clarifying. I thought that was an innocent enough question. I understood everything else so I had no need to question/comment on the rest. Maybe if I had added a healthy dose of affirmation you wouldn't have had the need to respond with "I HATE YOU BLOGGER!"

Anonymous said...

oops - I just figured out what you meant when you said I HATE YOU BLOGGER! Sorry! I thought you were referring to me. My bad.

joyce said...

oh my goodness.
I'm not actually into hating people all that much. Doesn't really fit with my ideals of Jesus and all....

;) glad that got straightened out.