I don't want to go to church anywhere, and it's not because I'm bitter or angry or damaged. I just don't want to.
I've realized that all the stuff that you are supposed to go to church for - community, spiritual support, accountability, input - I've already got. While I occasionally miss corporate worship, I don't miss feeling stifled by only getting to partake of one small part of the Christian tradition. [ ...] I don't miss the feeling that there are certain theological boundaries I'm not supposed to cross. I don't miss the pressure to have a particular emotional response to God. I don't miss being surrounded by answers to questions I'm not asking. I don't miss feeling like "I don't know" is some sort of problem. [ ... ]
I like this spot I'm in. I love having the freedom to interact with Christians from various traditions and other people of faith, without having to toe some sort of party line. I love feeling rooted in Christianity, but not confined by it. I love telling the truth about myself with no fear of punishment or being judged spiritually unfit. I love not having to pick one small spot when I see so much that is valuable and so much that is destructive all along the Christian spectrum - and outside the Christian tradition. I love not having to spend a lot of time in a room where everybody thinks the same - or at least pretends they do. [... ]
It finally hit me that I'm following my own path because that is where I find light and life, not because I'm reacting against my childhood and young adulthood or because I'm too afraid to walk in the church doors or because I have a problem with authority. I haven't failed and I am not irreparably damaged. God is fine, and I am fine, and God and me are fine. [ ...] Maybe someday attending some sort of formal church will be the right next step for me. Maybe it won't. Either way, I will be okay
Read it unabridged. Hey Christy, can I quote you in my book?
Here's a related bit from a draft of it:
Traditionalists and atheists are both so confident and articulate and unanimous [ ... ] while the very values we hold most dear – mystery, uncertainty, direct personal inquiry -- leave us at a loss to define or defend ourselves. All we know for sure is what we’re saying no to, and that that “no” is a matter of gut-level integrity: we stay outside organized religion, not merely because we don’t want to stay inside it, but because we can’t. But every “no” guards the nest of a hidden “yes,” and if we can’t finally come out and say what we stand for, others will be free to distort and dismiss us. And we’ll miss the moment we were born for.
As I struggled to begin to find words for the outsider’s “yes,” [a young friend and frequent commenter on my blog], Adam, wrote:
Look at Jesus and Buddha . . . finding the way on their own, going beyond the traditions in which they were raised, forging their own direct connection to the divine. Remember Jesus's 40 days in the desert . . .
I was transfixed by that image of Jesus under the desert sky. Yes! I thought. Jesus has left the building. And he’s not the only one.
God’s first words to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 were Lech lecha: “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house . . .” “The divine command casts Abraham in the role of outsider,” wrote Ismar Schorch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. “He repudiates what has grown conventional, comfortable, and constricted.”
At age 29, Prince Siddhartha Gotama, who would become the Awakened One, the Buddha, left the shelter of his luxurious palace to become a wanderer in search of an end to suffering. Barefoot, penniless, exposed to all the extremes of the weather, he said, “The life of the homeless one is as the open air of heaven!”
Mohammed left Mecca for the desert when his clansmen rejected his insistence on one God. His departure is called the hejira, from the Arabic Hijra, or voluntary exile from one’s tribe -- a radical step in a world where tribe meant not only identity but survival.
Martin Luther protested the corruption of the Catholic Church of his day, ultimately leading the mass exodus from that institution that would become Protestant Christianity. He was asked, where would he stand if the Church excommunicated him? Luther said, “Under the sky.”
Religious traditions wield such weighty authority today, we’re in danger of forgetting that they sprang from the teachings of . . . Outsiders! Look past any tradition to its source, and you’ll find someone who wasn’t building a building, but leaving one -- if not actively demolishing one. Leaving the building is the primal spiritual act. The founders of major religions would likely have been aghast to learn that that was what they were doing. They thought they were getting out under the sky, getting naked to the Truth, stripping down to the quick that had become encrusted with mystique and hierarchy.
During their lifetimes, each one’s “movement” was just that – on the move, radical, light and simple. Only after they died did others begin to build an institution around their memory. It started small, maybe just a little roadside shrine where people could come and lay flowers. Then, shelters to house the growing numbers of pilgrims. Then . . . fast-forward a few generations, and you’ve got a whole new sprawling, soaring edifice of stones and gilt and rules and authorities that someone, someday, will have to leave.
So if you’re ever challenged by a traditionalist who is very sure that you are wrong and she or he is right, you can retort with equal chutzpah, “I’m not following your tradition because I’m following the founder of your tradition -- out of religion and into reality!”
And, “outsiders” wonder, why not stay there – under the sky, on the Way? Is it possible to break the cycle, to refrain from constructing yet another edifice to try to trap the free and elusive truth?