Many people know that I’ve struggled with my faith over the past year or so. It’s one of those things I didn’t really feel like going on about. It’s embarrassing, to be someone as connected with church as I was. I volunteered for years on the production team at church. I volunteered in the pre-K on Sunday mornings. Amanda and I led small groups for about eight years. Most of the friends I made in Wilmington were people I met through church. A number of my clients are avid believers as well.
Given all that, it was, and still kind of is, a little hard to be very public about my struggle.
I’m still not totally sure where I stand with everything. I have a hard time believing in the words of the Bible, literal or not. I’m not in the camp that thinks it was all made up. I believe Jesus existed. I think the Old Testament stories have some kind of factual basis. I’m not even closed off to the idea of there being a god, a Supreme Creator. I just don’t see why the Christian God has much better a claim at legitimacy than some of the thousands of other gods.
I’m not anti-religion. I think organized religions can do great good (though obviously they can do great harm as well). I generally respect the convictions people have, so long as those convictions aren’t getting in the way of other people living their lives freely.
[pullquote cite=”John Pavlovitz” type=”right”]We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.[/pullquote]I will probably explore that more at some point on here as I’m feeling introspective about it. What prompted me writing this, however, was an article I saw shared on Facebook about the problems people have with the church.
The first thing it talks about is all the fancy productions and all. That doesn’t bother me. I recognize that as a way to engage people and get them in the doors. Cool. That’s fine.
It also mentioned church speak, and that is something I was never totally comfortable with. I can see how some people would have a problem with it, but it’s not a deterring factor for me.
The third issue it mentioned was a church not seeing past its own doors. I went to Port City Community Church, and I think they do a great job of looking outwards to not only the local community, but to the world community as well.
Next was “choosing lousy battles”. I don’t think PC3 got too involved in the things that so many Christians in the media get riled up about, but that is one thing that has bothered me about Christianity, or Christians, at large. Too many pointless things to rally around. Just focus on helping people. Don’t feel like you have to go to Chick-Fil-A to show it’s okay to not endorse the homosexual lifestyle. Go because they have the most awesome chicken nuggets and chicken sandwiches and outstanding breakfast wraps. Don’t condemn Harry Potter because there’s magic in it; it makes you look out of touch.
The section that made me decide to actually write was the last point though. Here it is, form the article:
5. Your love doesn’t look like love.
Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
Church, can you love us if we don’t check all the doctrinal boxes and don’t have our theology all figured out? It doesn’t seem so.
Can you love us if we cuss and drink and get tattoos, and God forbid, vote Democrat? We’re doubtful.
Can you love us if we’re not sure how we define love, and marriage, and Heaven, and Hell? It sure doesn’t feel that way.
From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.
On one hand this speaks to the problem I have where, after being a pretty active and committed believer, I don’t know where I stand on a lot of doctrinal issues after giving myself over to deeper speculation. Where it really hits me, however, has more to do with my separation from Amanda.
As I said before, most of the friends I made since moving to Wilmington in 2005 were through church. Some of my best friends. After I left Amanda, they stopped talking to me. Now, I get that I was the bad guy. I understand how friends splitting up can strain friendships, especially when you mainly hung out as couples. I get how people, especially religious people, can have a hard time reconciling that, especially if they’ve mostly been in contact with the affronted party.
The part that I have a hard time with is that some of my friends, people I considered among my best friends, can completely turn their backs.
I won’t say which friend it is (he’ll know if he reads this, but I don’t feel the need to call him out personally), but one I considered a best friend told me we couldn’t be friends or really have a dialog as long as I was unrepentant (there’s some church speak for ya) about my relationship with Tristen. I mean, if he’s not comfortable talking to me because of the relationship, I can’t make him feel comfortable about it, but what kind of friend is that?
[pullquote cite=”John Pavlovitz” type=”left”]We’re so weary of feeling like nothing more than a religious agenda; an argument to win, a point to make, a cause to defend, a soul to save.[/pullquote]At least another one who was pretty upset with me has talked to me some via email and text, although he seems about as open to a real relationship as the other one. He initially made me feel that all I could be was a project though. Someone to be brought back to the fold, someone to be loved on and prayed over. What do I care about any of that right now? I would just like my old friends to be my friends.
The irony of it is that my less religious old friends are the ones who have still been in touch with me. What does that say about religious people? They have a harder time overlooking someone’s sins and flaws?
There is one church couple that is an exception to this. I’ve run into them a number of times and they’ve always been cordial and even friendly to me. To those people, if you read this and you know who you are, I want to say thank you.
I guess my point in writing this isn’t so much my issues with religion and church as it is expressing my frustration at my religious (former?) friends. There are people I haven’t had the gumption to reach out to yet who might prove antithetical to this as well, so to those who haven’t had the opportunity to show the above examples as outliers, I apologize.
Still, to me a friend is a person who is there for you despite your flaws, maybe even there for you more when they’re disappointed in you. A friend is not someone who abandons and shuns you in those times. If that’s how it is for all time, that’s how it is for all time then. I can’t make someone give me another chance, but I pity those people. I’m happier and feel more fulfilled than I ever have. It’s a shame they can’t be here to enjoy it with me, even if the cause is something that makes them uncomfortable, or that they feel they can’t know me like they always have.
I’ve got other friends; some I’ve known as long, some older and some newer, who, if they’re not actively happy for me, will at least still chat with me and joke with me now and then. And really, that’s all I’m looking for.
Did I offend you? Feel free to tell me below.