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Since my blog entry Cast Away supposed Christianity without church, it’s become the third most viewed post on Junkyard Salvation. (These are #1 and #2.) On several occasions, people asked, “So how is that going?” It’s been 3 summers since I left the church I co-founded. So I thought I’d revisit the topic by answering some of the questions I posed.
Are you a Christian?
Yes? …I say yes with a question mark because as usual, I am awash in doubt and second guessing the efficacy of faith. The realness of faith. I still don’t feel like I really “know.” And G.I. Joe says knowing is half the battle.
Do you go to church?
Usually not. I sometimes visit small ministries (“fits in a living room” small). The bigger the church, the less I’m amused. They’re like kids. They’re cute when they’re small. But they get bigger, taller, and hairier, their voices deepen, and they think they know more than you about everything… at which point they must immediately be socked in the face.
Without the constant support of people who believe what you believe, have your beliefs changed?
My beliefs haven’t been changed… only revealed. I’ve become more honest about them. The people who support those beliefs have changed though. New people—help I never expected—met me in the middle of the ocean. Some people from my old church never stopped supporting me on this journey. Others… never started.
Can you still be a Christian all alone?
I hope so. Being a Christian can’t depend on the people you’re with, because people leave. Since separating from church, I’ve seen which teachings truly took root. Stuff I didn’t trust I stopped doing. Things that felt contrived got ditched too. I even stopped tithing. A traditional churchgoer wouldn’t consider me exemplary, but I’m honest. This is why I now say, “I am not an ideal Christian, I am an actual one.”
Deuteronomy says “I have set before you life and death.” Did you choose life?
Not always. I’ve noticed that when depressed or dismayed, I don’t make the best choices. Whether about diet, budget, relationships, or career, I recognize I can be self-destructive. If I can’t interrupt the tendency myself, I usually reach out to a close friend who’s more than happy to slap me around until I get my mind right.
“Keep yourself company… then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage.” —Anne Lamott
How would you know God was pleased with you if no one was around to validate it?
Gotta validate yourself. Dependence on validation from church leaders and members caused a host of unnecessary problems. I have a conscience. I’m learning to trust it. When it pricks me, I try to listen. Doing so tends to steer me clear of regrets, which is an overall goal.
How would you manage to worship if no one lead a group sing along?
I don’t know, man. I don’t really sing anymore. I dated a professional singer and she hated my singing voice. It really killed me inside. It took awhile to get her influence out of my head. In a way, church is that ex-girlfriend. Last August, I wrote a series of posts called Exit Wounds: Song of an Ex-Worship Leader. I’ve been waiting for the right time to let people in on that healing process. I may publish them here fairly soon.
What about “sin management”?
In the absence of weekly reminders of my sinfulness that lead to cattle-drive altar calls, I don’t feel guilt and shame like I did before. I have to be my own accountability and ask often, “If God examined my heart right now, would I be embarrassed about its condition?”
The hardest part about that is stopping… all the way… and looking at your condition honestly. Look as if you want to see. Ask as if you want to know. What you find usually won’t lie to you.
How would you cope without weekly human contact?
Can I tell you that’s been a primary struggle? It’s one part of church I miss. If you’ve read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, one of my primary languages is physical touch. So I get massages as often as I can afford. I even enjoy cleanings with my dentist because she has to touch my face. It’s that serious.
Spending time with family and friends is a lifeline too. Few things are as healing as a handshake, hug, kiss, or time spent with people who love you. There’s nothing like hearing “how are you doing” from someone who cares about the answer.
What could substitute for the psychological needs church attendance fills?
This blog. Truthfully. Usually once I write about something in a way that allows me to feel understood by others and clear within myself, I feel absolved. It’s like confession. Or dancing. Shouting. Crying. Gratitude. Making joyful noise. Any of those. All of them.
After an argument with my roommate where I did not spare the expletives, she came to me the next day and said, “You were nicer back when you went to church.” She’s correct. I was nicer then. But I’m also nicer when you mind your damn business and stay out of my bathroom moving shit into the garage that I specifically asked you not to touch.
But what she said pricked my conscience. And I really had to stop. And look at myself. I don’t want to be mean, frustrated, resentful, and unhappy. Would going back to church cure that? It seems an odd solution when being at church often caused that frustration and resentment.
“When I returned to church… I went back not because of what the church was doing, but rather in spite of it… I needed community, and… thanks to a steady dose of medication and therapy, I was finally well enough to root through the cliché to find it.”
—Addie Zierman, “5 Churchy Phrases Scaring Off Millennials”
There’s much I miss about church, but more I don’t. Whenever the benefits outweigh the detriments, I’ll go back.
- 5 Really Bad Reasons To Leave Your Church (aarongloy.com) — They actually list most of my reasons. Ha! An interesting read nonetheless.
- 5 Churchy Phrases Scaring Off Millennials (faithstreet.com) — The statistics are in: millennials are leaving the church. And nobody seems quite sure what to do about it.
- Spiritual vs. Religious (huffingtonpost.com) — About one out of every five Americans call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Why do they believe that?
- What Sin Is and What Sin Does (bibletools.com) — Certain words get old and tired, having lost their vitality and impact. When they do, maybe they should be retired from active service. Perhaps a prime candidate might be the word “sin.”