Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why I Go to Church, Part 2

In my last post I was thinking aloud about the church. I said a bit about kitchens and bathrooms, that probably would sound pretty funny out of context. I also said I would get back to my thoughts about the church building and its important function. I will say again that people are the core of the church. All Christians are connected, whether they want to believe it or not, all part of the Body of Christ, all "the church". No particular building houses God, or any object that gives us a direct line to Him. But today I am going to discuss the local church building, the individual group of people that gathers there, and some of the reasons we show up on a Sunday morning.

I'm going back to my bathroom analogy, not that it's perfect, but it works for me. I said that relationships with people are the kitchen. Sometimes hot, sometimes messy, sometimes frustrating and even a little dangerous. But it's where you get fed when you are hungry. When people are needy, they need other people. Even when they aren't in a particularly needy place, they still need people. The Bible teaches us that the way people get fed, and clothed, and cared for rests on what people do. It's true that God can do miraculous things, and it's true that all good things ultimately come from God's hand. I believe that. But God has never physically cooked me a meal, taken me shopping and bought me underwear, carried out the trash, or given me a hug. God has always used the bodies of living people to do those things for me.

The problem, in my humble opinion, is setting up shop in the kitchen. People are awesome. They are the very best gift God has created on this earth for us people. The Bible tells us that they aren't just awesome, they are made in God's image. I can't even begin to see what that means...but I am certain it means something really good. We have something in us that is like God. It is so easy to fall in love with people, and spend our lives pouring ourselves out for them, and soaking up the awesomeness of them, that we could forget God altogether. To continue with my analogy, we might be tempted to sit around that big ol' kitchen table, warm and full, and with a contented sigh say, "It doesn't get any better than this."

Can I take a small rabbit trail here? When I was growing up, I was taught that Jesus was THE WAY. I was further taught, that anybody who wasn't living this reality was miserably unhappy. Of course they were probably sinful and bad too. If they didn't look miserably unhappy, and sinful and bad...well, they were just really good actors. Except I knew people who were not Christians, and they were genuinely moral, compassionate people. They seemed happy. They didn't seem like they were faking it. I just could not make sense of this. I think my kitchen theory might account for this. To be honest, I have been tempted at times, to discard everything else in favor of the kitchen.

So if people are what it's all about, and the church is really just people, why not discard the church building, and start hanging out in some awesome person's kitchen? Why not throw away the whole rest of the house, and just make one huge kitchen? Well, partly because I will not buy a house that doesn't have a bathroom. Call me American, but I do love me some white porcelain fixtures. I like the fact that I can go into that quiet room, all by myself, and take care of my private business. I can dispose of waste, that isn't good for me to hold onto either inside or outside my body. A quick flush of water and it's gone. I can wash up in the sink if I'm only partially dirty, or I can take a shower or a tubby if I need a total cleanup. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to live in the bathroom, but I need and want to visit the bathroom with regularity.

Maybe it's a bit irreverent to liken the church building we visit each Sunday to the bathroom. I'm going to take a chance on it. Think about it for a moment. Why do we go to church in the first place? Let me preface my answer with a list of all the reason I do NOT believe we should go to church on a Sunday morning. I do not believe we go to church to get things. One of the biggies that I hear all sorts of rumblings about is "fellowship". And what most people mean by this is socializing. I love to socialize. I love food and coffee. But if I couldn't get any of it, I'd still go to church. I do not go to church to get feelings, blessings, fillings up, etc. Sometimes it happens, and it's nice no doubt. I don't go to church for teaching. I really appreciate a good sermon. I even appreciate a bad sermon that a pastor has clearly labored over. But if there was no sermon, I wouldn't feel as though the filling was left out of my sandwich. I don't go to church to be entertained. I don't have the right to critique anyone's "performance". I don't have the right to decide if the room is too bright, warm, clean enough for my liking. I don't go to church to judge or be judged by other people, whether they are in the pew next to me, or at home sleeping in.

For me, going to church is somewhat paradoxical. I go to be part of something that is communal in nature, yet it is solitary as well. In the kitchen we are shoulder to shoulder, and face to face. In the pew we are all facing toward something other than ourselves. We come to church to worship, which is kind of an alien concept in itself. I read some definitions, and it all seemed to boil down to a sort of adoration for something that is elevated far above us. It is very true that we can worship privately. Nature can cause us to spontaneously worship. Private devotion and prayer can lead us to worship. Communal worship is just downright hard for me.

Think about the rituals we observe. Confession. I sit next to my neighbor, and I confess that I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I have not loved my neighbor. Yes, that person sitting next to me. I have been negligent. I have not done the things that I know I ought to do, yet amazingly I have found time to do things I know I shouldn't do. Communion. I sit quietly and examine myself. I find myself sadly deficient. "This is My body, broken for you... this is my blood, shed for the remission of your sins..." These are not comfortable thoughts and actions. If I could avoid them and remain in the kitchen, it would be more to my liking.

But I need to take my waste somewhere. I need to clean up sometime. I'd prefer to do it in private, behind closed doors. Experience teaches me, it is better for me to do it quietly beside my brothers and sisters. In a sense it is private. In a sense it is communal. In every sense it should humble me. If there is a humble room in our homes, I would say it is the bathroom. If there is an actual, real, literal humble place to go to in our faith, it should be our church building.

Going to church should empty us out, make us cleaner and freer. When I am cleaner and freer, the songs I sing feel more uplifting, my prayers feel as though they soar straight to God's ear, and I feel so much more love for my neighbor. God makes me this beautiful gift of feeling, even when I come dragging my feet (and my feelings) sometimes. Most times. It is alien and mystical. It's probably a whole lot better than a bathroom.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I think this kitchen, bathroom illustration works really well! It even works with my shameful excuse-making at my lack of hospitality and building strong(er) relationships with other Christians. I am not very good in the kitchen. I am pretty uncertain and un-confident and nervous. I am too self-absorbed.

But enough about me, right? :) Great posts!