When I interview people about why they fund, and go, to church (for an upcoming memoir,) the answers I get never cease to amaze me. And in truth, they were my own answers when I was younger. People say things like
- It’s where I find God.
- The friends I see there are my community.
- God wants me to worship Him.
- The music and liturgy are beautiful (usually in more affluent churches.)
- I need to confess and be absolved of my sins.
I became a priest, the worst choice of my life because I thought it would give me the “family” I never had growing up and that the “Father-god” would be the father I never had growing up – a daddy of sorts. . Indeed, that is why I became a monk for a few years as well.
In the first half of our life, we are designed to take. We take knowledge from teachers. We take housing and clothes, food, and money from our parents. We take jobs by people willing to take a risk on a young person with a short resume.
But as we age, we are designed to become givers and teachers. We give away hard-earned money to help others. We give wisdom to younger people. We even sometimes have the emotional intelligence to face our own mortality, aware that all we have will become an inheritance to others when worms are eating us in the dark earth.
Now that I am older, and a tad bit wiser, I have changed my mind. It took tremendous courage to reject the church and her bullying clergy and bishops – to set out on my own with the “God” I still loved but defined differently (and chose not to name or try to explain.) I left the church because I saw, up close, how the sausage was being made and so, in time, I could no longer eat it nor sell it to others. So here is how I see those same fine things now, 30 years later:
- I find God in and all around me, though I no longer us that name for it. I am content to leave it as mystery.
- Seven to twenty minutes after church with bad coffee and worse conversation at “coffee hour” was never real friendship. Real friendship takes hard work. My community today are the friends I make with the very hard work of engagement, story, time, trust and even risk.
- God does not need me to worship it. God has a healthy self-esteem.
- The music and liturgy are beautiful in a very few churches whose wealth would be better spent feeding those without food or homes. We can find plenty of beauty in concert halls and even on television. Let clergy get real jobs and be helpful, not holy.
- It is far better for me to do my work in therapy and in self-examination than to sit in a building with a person telling me that God forgives me, such that I never bother to figure out WHY I was doing this or that “sin” in the first place and so that I reduce my mistakes myself rather than just pay clergy to enjoy life with fat salaries and expense accounts and then just go back to my sinning on Mondays.
One wonders, if the church could ever have gathered steam into the preposterously rich institution it is, if for the past 1,700 years, people could watch beautiful tv, learn from Youtube videos and read books at home. Not to mention how many lives would have been saved by the slaughtering of innocents by the church.
What are you willing to do, today, that is measurable, that will make your own life better and less damaging to others? Can you make your own changes to make that happen? Instead of asking God for things like some celestial butler, can you wipe your own nose? What good in the world could come from ending your giving money to the church in favor of beginning giving money to the poor, as Jesus and other leaders have suggested?