In addition to starting a new job this week, last Sunday, I returned to Church for the first time in over 15 years. While I have attended Church in the past for family events (weddings, First Communions, etc.), this was of my own volition.
I’ve known for a long time that being a Christian without attending Church is akin to being a sports fan without a team to root for. It is possible to do, but the experience is not as rich.
Some of my reluctance to finding a Church community has been clouded by past experiences. While in college, I had surrounded myself with people in a parallel life orientation (early 20s, striving towards high education, searching for a stronger faith). Upon graduation, I struggled to cope with the realities of post-college life, specifically dealing with faith communities that lacked the homogeneous nature of a university environment. I did not realize that not all young people did not live as passionately as I do, whether it be love of food, sports, or even faith. After finishing school, I readied myself for the struggle of moving back in with my mother and seeking a new career, but was hoping (even expecting) that Church would be a stabilization point. Unfortunately, the Church that I returned to (and one that I spent in high school) was not the same Church that I left 4 years previous. While the name and the building and many of the people were the same, my perception of what Church was different. I started attending this Church as a 16 year old boy, wide-eyed and grasping at straws for answers to so many questions. I returned as a 22 year old young man, armed with a bachelor’s degree and ready to save the world. Unfortunately, I failed to connect with the majority of my peers, not realizing that the depth and breath of differing life stories colors our faith journeys. In my youthful hubris, I perceived life in very narrow way, not realizing that my pride hardened my heart and prevented any lasting connections from forming. After spending my early 20s committed to a couple different Church communities, I walked away in anger, frustrated by my disappointments and the (mostly perceived) failings of my peer community.
In the years that I have turned my back on Church, the Church never turned it’s back on me. Many of my college friends drifted in an out of my life, but the relationships never dissolved. Several of them have remained faithful and steady in their journeys, and social media and occasional get-togethers have keep me in the loop. The majority of my friends have married, many have children, and a few have chosen Christian ministry for their professions. From afar, I applauded their choices from afar and even supported a few of them financially (even to this day).
But meeting up face-to-face with my old high school and college friends was humbling. While I enjoyed hearing about their adventures, I was never really prepared for the inevitable questions they had for me. While I am proud of how most of my life has turned out (happily married, homeowner, a meandering but never-boring career path), I felt like a failure when it came to being a Christian. I had stopped going to Church and didn’t participate in the greater Christian community. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer at a wedding or reunion, didn’t want to get into depths about the disappointment and frustrations. I just side-stepped the inquiries about Church, offering a wry smile and a remark about not finding “the right place for me,” then steering the conversation in a completely new direction. Over the last decade, I perfected the art of avoiding faith discussions, even among my most devout friends.
Time has a funny way of healing old wounds. I am no longer angry towards Church; instead, there is a lingering sadness, a regret of years lost to arrogance and conceit. But even through the melancholy, the resolve to answer the difficult questions endures. Questions about the intersection of faith and current events, of religion and social justice, and even politics.
Throughout the years, even while avoiding Christian communities, I have never fully turned my back on Christianity. And despite a willful avoidance from other believers, I have realized that I am not a humanist. I am convinced that the problems that humanity has brought into this world cannot be solved solely through rational thought. While we got ourselves into this mess (insert your dilemna of choice here), I don’t believe we can get out of them solely through our own will or best ideas.
As I’ve taken this summer to think about some big issues, I’ve realized I missed talking to like-minded people regularly. While blogging has been good for me, as well as reading other people’s blogs, I miss the direct social interaction that a welcoming church community can bring.
My close buddies know that I’ve been contemplating a lot of these larger issues lately. We had spent a weekend together earlier this year, and I brought up politics after dinner one night. And recently, one of my friend’s church announced a series of sermons called “The Politics of Jesus.” At this point, I was intrigued enough to attend the 2nd service in this series last week. I’m still intrigued enough to attend this church for the rest of the series. This church is not super-convenient for me (about 45 minutes away), but at least I have my foot in the door. I may ask some other college friends who live closer to me about their churches and explore further.
(One very encouraging note that came out of last week’s service: before introducing the main speakers, one of the church leaders said that believers in Jesus should be lifelong learners [very much agree] and that discussions around difficult subjects should make us uncomfortable [also agree]. I haven’t heard sentiments shared like this in a long time.)
I know my expectation for finding the right church community is a lot different than I had in my early 20s. Unlike my college days, I do not desire to find a completely new center for my life. Instead, I’m looking to slowly integrate myself into a group of like-minded individuals, who are hoping to make a positive change in this ever-increasing chaos we call life. I may have already found a home… or I maybe just restarting a journey I halted over a decade ago. Either way, I think I’m on the right track.