As always this is not a book report or a critique. Rather, it is some thoughts that stuck with me while reading “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore” by Wayne Jacobsen.
Without digging through my calendar, I cannot remember the last time I was in a church. I am sure it was for someone’s wedding. It is almost always for someone’s wedding. Yet, I pick up books like these because I want to be challenged. For over a decade now, I have been wearing the title of agnostic like a badge of honor. In the last year, I have been exploring Buddhism. Still, I have some thoughts on how the modern church should function.
As a kid, we attended Trinity Baptist Church in Frederick, Oklahoma. We were there for Sunday school, Sunday service, Sunday evening worship service, Wednesday night youth group, and occasionally my brothers and me would tag along to business meetings. Our lives revolved around church. All our friends were there. We socialized outside of the church with people from church. I spent 18 years inside that building and went through three different leaders. Each one had a different idea about how things should function. The last pastor I had seemed to be less focused on the business of leading a church and more focused on rethinking what this institution could be. Much like the author of the book, he was focused on creating a congregation not solely focused on the regiments of faith but instead focused on building a relationship with God. Of the three pastors I grew up around, he was my favorite.
Then 9/11 happened and my faith began to get shaky. While in college, I would go to churches in Edmond off and on, but as my doubts swelled I found myself longing to be free to question openly and proudly. As I look back and reflect, much of which was initiated by this book, I become disgusted with those business meetings, committees, and deacons. I see men who were standing in the way of truth. I see politics in religion and it disgusts me. While I have chosen a different path than the author, I find it comforting to know I am not alone.
I honestly believe if every follower of Jesus is truthful with you, they can remember moments in their lives when they have had doubts about everything they’ve been taught and/or read. I often hear how their faith saved them from traveling too far down that road. As I said above, I didn’t begin to hear the whispers of doubt until 9/11 and the years that followed. When those seeds were planted in my mind, I decided I wanted to have an honest conversation with myself. If I came out on the other side as a stronger Christian, then so be it. I had to know though. I had to know for myself. I was an adult and I needed to be able to defend what I believed. For me, the only way I could do this was by passionately questioning everything.
I questioned the institution, miracles, the Bible, and the very existence of God. Like this book, I read authors on both sides of the argument. I spent time listening to lectures, talking with believers and nonbelievers, and in deep thought. Finally, I came to a simple but complicated decision. There was too much doubt for me to be sure. I could prove nothing and a reliance on faith alone would never work for me. I decided to call myself agnostic. I continued and still hunt for the truth. For me, there is a lot of joy to be found in the hunt.
A Need for Community
Being agnostic is, at times, a lonely enterprise. I am not spending time with the same people on a weekly basis. We aren’t focused on the same idea. We aren’t chasing the same goal. Instead, my doubts and I are left to our own devices. My questioning of the community to which I belonged left me without a community to belong. The author of this book spends a lot of time discussing the need for community that believed as he did. As I have explored Buddhism, this has become real for me. Sitting alone meditating or reading the teachings of the Buddha is perfectly fine. Still, I have found myself longing for something more. I have found myself longing to be around people on the same journey. Perhaps it is man’s communal nature, or maybe we need to draw close when we ponder life’s great mysteries. Whatever it is, the need for community written about in this book connected with me deeply.
A Passion Other People Can See
I think we are drawn toward the aura of passionate people. Like moths drawn to the light of a midsummer evening’s light, we move toward thinkers and doers spilling over with a love for their purpose. We want to emulate them, learn from them, and walk beside them. To be stuck in an institution without this kind of leadership is disheartening and demoralizing. It will leave you looking for the exits. I say this as a cautionary tale. As followers, we must ensure that we are drawn to the purpose, not the person. As leaders, we must keep those in our presence focused on the bigger picture. To do otherwise is idol worship and conquers nothing. This is true both inside and outside the church.
Be good to each other,
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