Anyone who knows me probably knows that I'm not really a 'churchy' person. That's not to say I don't believe in God you understand, just that I'm a person who doesn't feel entirely comfortable or engaged by the traditions and culture that surround church life.
No one could say I haven't tried church life. When I was a kid my parents sent me and my siblings off to a Sunday morning Christian youth group called 'Crusaders.' Now when I look back on their motives I don't think I want to join the dots. Neither of them professes to having faith in any God, so I can only assume that the well-being of our eternal souls wasn't the only reason we were shunted out of the house until lunchtimes on Sunday.
Since those early days, I've attended many a church service. Thus far, I've been unceremoniously expelled from two Pentecostal churches and a dodgy church in London that turned out to be a cult. It's been a rocky road where church and I are involved, leading me to conclude that on this spiritual journey I might need something akin to a dirt bike. I'm willing to concede that I may have just been unlucky in my quest to find something sacred within the confines of 'God's house'. But then as the saying goes, a house doesn't make a home.
The truth is that I've never found or felt God in church. I've been offered all kinds of reasons as to why this is: I'm not listening correctly, I'm not ready, I'm not open, I'm "not on God's road." The list of possible faults that might prevent me from finding God in his own house is, it would seem, almost endless. If it weren't for the fact that God is surely omnipresent, I might cynically suggest that the reason I'm unable to find him there is because he didn't much care for the crowd and instead snuck out for a while.
I picture God returning to his house later after the masses have gone home, only to find a huge mess similar to that of any house party. "Those damn Christians!" he might mutter under his breath as he wanders in and out of the rooms collecting smeary wine glasses with finger smudges and traces of lipstick on the rims. Although it's almost certain that this party wouldn't have been a crazy night of behavior that would lead to regret in the morning, Christians aren't strangers to their own special kind of crazy behavior.
Take for example a Christian event I attended in my early twenties. The crowd had been singing songs for some time already, many with hands aloft and eyes closed. The proceedings had become musically transfixed on the verse of one particular song with everyone singing it over and over and over again. It was while this was happening that the charismatic American speaker stood up and spoke into his microphone in a style not unbecoming of a TV game show host with a glittery jacket. "You want some Holy Spirit?" he asked as if he could dish it out like soda-pop at a children's party. The frenzied crowd of happy clappers responded enthusiastically "Yeah!"
Presumably, the first answer wasn't quite enthusiastic enough, so he asked again. "You want some Holy Spirit?" he shouted, this time getting a much louder response, "Yeah!" But again he asked, now so loud I thought he might explode at any moment in a pyrotechnic puff of circus smoke.
"YOU WANT SOME HOLY SPIRIT!?" Everyone roared and cheered in response with hands to heaven, "YEAH!!" And with his outstretched arm sweeping across the congregation he shouted, "YA GOT SOME!!!" Right then every last person in the audience, including the ushers and the sound guy, simply collapsed in a heap on the floor.
I have to admit I felt rather odd at that moment, like someone who dutifully arrives at their office only to look out over the deserted desks and realize that it's the weekend. God, it would seem, had just knocked everyone off their feet... except me.
Looking back I laugh at the humor of the story. I imagine what it must have looked like from various angles. I picture the expression on my face as I glanced around the room of motionless bodies in a scene that looked like something from the Jonestown massacre. In the end, it gave me nothing but a funny story that I've amused people with over the years.
Despite various efforts, I just can't get comfortable in the pew of a church. But then part of me believes that's kind of the point. Christ told his followers to "go out and make disciples of all men." He didn't say, "Rest up in this new armchair like seats and just listen to me for an hour every Sunday." He said he wanted them to be a "light in the world", yet Christian culture seems to have done it's best to withdraw from modern society retreating instead to the safety of seclusion where the world at large can be held at bay.
I have no doubt that I could fake it if I wanted to. I can get by when the faithful speak in Christianese (church language) using words like "rebuke," "slain," "anointed," and "fornication." In essence, though, I stand and sit (and stand and sit and stand and sit) there feeling like a Muslim in Mississippi, or a Red Sox fan in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium. I'm simply not comfortable in church. Yet I'm undeterred, feeling instead that such discomfort may yet be part of a plan rather than part of a problem.