A gray blanket covered the sky from dawn until now, hiding the sun’s rise. Rather than burning off it thickened, turning from the color of a sidewalk to the color of asphalt. It darkened, making me think rain was on its way. In a moment the sun burst through, throwing its light upon me where I sit, a hazy light to be sure. No animals are about, some birds are singing in distant trees, but there are no foragers or hoppers or busy seekers of breakfast. And somehow, this makes a lot of sense to me. I feel the same way.
Right now thoughts of the past fill my mind, thoughts connected with what I am doing, what I wrote about yesterday, which may have sparked the beginning, back in high school, back in junior high school, really.
Mine was not a typical adolescence, especially in the upper middle class neighborhoods I was raised. I’m not really sure how these neighborhoods were my own, for I never really fit. Personality and expectations wise yes, but not economically.
And this is the problem I faced then, that the church literally had nothing to say to me, no help beyond its own upper middle class exhortations. Go to Mexico, take three weeks and minister to an obscure village by doing puppet shows. Meanwhile my mother was dying of a little known disease, and my father was working 90+ hours a week to put food on the table and a roof over our heads.
My parents exceeded their own obligations by leaps and bounds. The problem was that no one else came alongside, no one else offered the peace and joy of Christ to me, no one asked, not a single person asked me in all my teenage years how I was doing with situations beyond human control.
The expectations on me were those of the typical student, whose highest aim is to find a cute girlfriend, or show off in a sport, or get good scores on a test. I would go home every day to a mom who was desperately trying to hold onto life, and coming to terms with a failing body, and be left to fend for myself. I treasure my parents for who they are for what they went through, for they did not have anyone to surround them during their own struggles. The family stuck together, the world, the Church, had nothing to offer beyond continued expectations.
High School groups packed me off to camp, tried to amuse me through silly songs or catchy ploys. What I needed, I realize now, was not any of this. Camps waste time, forming the basis of the lifelong connection between amusement and spirituality. One learns one cannot be spiritual unless coupled with distraction, a pavlovian response forms, so we learn to mistake one for the other. I did not need to play broom hockey in a northern california camp, nor drive a dune buggy in another.
I needed someone to reveal to me the depths of Christ, to care about those issues beyond my abilities, issues which then just seemed part of life… only I didn’t realize others had much simpler lives.
So, the Church couples amusement and spirituality, making youth programs a continual ploy to advertise and attract, which may have worked in the 1950s, but not so much now in our significantly more advertising astute age.
We learned this after September 11 as well. People flocked to churches, gathered in percentages which have not been seen for decades. The church which was so busy in trying to convince people to come had very little ability to say anything once they arrived.
That’s the whole point. The American church is a church for the upper middle class, dealing with upper middle class issues. It has no ability to relate to suffering. No ability to address those deeper problems which afflict people less able or willing to bring in a six figure paycheck. Those I know who work in churches, who were training to work in churches had little more to say to me than the person who never has gone to church, and less to say than the person who has dealt with issues. This is not meant as a complete condemnation… for there are people, wonderful people, who are part of churches who know. These are rarely the leaders, for being hired means being one of the happy people, who either have no major problems or are adept at building a mask to hide the underlying issues.
Embracing problems is not the answer either. I’ve known some who find their identity in their issues, and never move past. No one wants to go to a hospital where everyone stays sick, even the doctors.
To find a difference folks spend their upper middle class incomes to pay for kids and adults to fly to distant lands, where they can immerse themselves in a situation of poverty for a few weeks, ‘doing their part’, though it is significantly more akin to paying admission to a zoo. We do nothing to change ourselves, to forge into the depths so that we have a real message to speak.
I say this not because I am critical of the church as a philosophical point. The thoughts of my teenage years came to mind this morning and I felt the burden of realizing not a single person had Good News to share with me, not a single person acted in a way which displayed community, beyond enticing me to participate in activities far beyond my means, and way outside my needs. For me, I pursued these depths on my own . Others may not.
That all is still the basis of my present church weariness. I did the camps, the short term missions, exceeding everyone in my spiritual resume. And it is of no worth, outside the continual pursuit of Christ into the depths, into the void. I had to learn this for myself, and defend myself against those who master the game I no longer wish to play.
I do not want to have to convert to an upper middle class 1950s Modern in order to become a Christian. Making me play with clay, or participate in the liturgical year, or drive to a downtown ‘urban’ church filled with others making the same drive is not the answer.
What is? That’s I guess what I’m discovering, or waiting for. I sit in the upper room praying for the descent of the Spirit, the Spirit who brings power not just words. Until that comes, I wait, and write, and pray… and occasionally go kayaking in a lake.