Dispatch from the fringe of the culture

From Growing Up Goddy on August 20, 2007.  Links to the churches deleted, because of SERIOUS linkrot.

I honestly wonder if it’s fair to call me an “ex-pat” of Christian culture. But I know it’s fair to say I’m not in it.

I’m looking at a church-attending schedule consisting of attending a smallish United Methodist church on Sunday mornings, and a new non-denominational church-plant a county over on Sunday evenings. I feel embraced by the Methodist church, but I don’t entirely fit in, the denomination is slowly but surely aging and dying, and I don’t feel totally invested in it. I yearn and hunger for the spiritual reality I see among the people engaging in the plant, but that depth of feeling isn’t there.

And honestly, I’ve just told you the story of my walk with Christ. It’s a good thing I’m supposed to be an alien and a stranger in this world, and that there is a time in another place where all things will be made right and I will see the fullness of God, because every attempt I’ve made to fit in this world somewhere has fallen flat.

One of the things that the three of us regulars here have in common is education. (And Eaton, I don’t care that your formal schooling isn’t as far along as the other two of us; you’re still one of the smartest and best-read people that I know.) I think between the three of us, we cherish the life of the mind and looking at all things in our world intellectually, including the Christian faith.

And one of the things that’s marked American evangelical culture has been anti-intellectualism. Hey, Jeff, what was that you were saying earlier?

I mean, it can be funny when Fark generates faked up logos and movie posters, but they’re doing it for kicks. Somehow, we convinced ourselves that wearing a T-shirt with the Reeces Pieces logo (but with Jesus, instead of Reeces!) was a daring, culture-jamming act of evangelism. It felt dangerous. It felt cool. In retrospect it’s kind of embarrassing: with two thousand years of history, a heritage of philosophy and world-shaping culture, and an explicit responsibility to care for the poor, is Christianity really reduced to gotcha-marketing? I don’t think so, but heck if that stuff doesn’t sell…

When I claim the title “evangelical”, it implies that I think getting you to buy into the Christian faith is important. It means I really want you to buy in to this idea, however unbelievable, that a man walked 2000 years ago claiming to be God hisownself, offended the religious establishment to the point of getting himself executed – by physically being nailed to a cross – on trumped up charges, and then bodily came back to life three days later. That’s not exactly an easy thing to convince your standard intellectual skeptic of. That’s a hard idea to sell. I still don’t understand how we thought we were selling it with Tommy Hellfighter t-shirts, or for that matter, with Stryper concerts, God bless Oz Fox.

And I still don’t understand how so many churches think it’s getting across now. The old-time gospel sing is a wonderful tradition, but good luck with getting anybody under the age of 50 in the door; there are only a couple of us geeks around anymore who think that music is of any value, and it’s very near time for me to acknowledge that I’m outvoted. Never mind that, even if an outsider wanted to break into that world, those old-school churches are so chock full of country-club exclusivity, dressed up in the clothes of mock humility and proper language, that the breach is too great.

So we go to the rock band in front of the church, and we go to the worship by experience and emotion and hand-waving and, in the right place, even more spiritual mumbo-jumbo. (The discussion of tongue-speaking and prophecy is probably best left for another time and place.) If you’re especially young, it is VERY easy to get caught up in the waves and leave your sense of logic behind. But when you wake up, has anything really changed? Isn’t there the same sense of exclusivity, the same requirement to speak the right language, the same need to impress? Now, instead of impressing by your dress, you’re impressing by your degree of emotional sell-out over your love for Jesus. And if you don’t show exactly the right spiritual gifting, you can be headed for the door here too, stuck on the outside, never benefiting from the deep fellowship that the thing promises.

I guess this wandering ends with me standing with Bono. I really still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I do tend to think that there are people who want to take this person of Jesus seriously, take the implications of Jesus’ life seriously, and actually transform their lives to be something different and greater than what it was before they understood who Jesus was. And if somebody could help me find them, and if we could all agree to help one another get to that better place, that would be awesome. Because I’ve been looking for a long time, and a lot of people say they’d like to be that, but the follow-through leaves a lot to be desired.

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