Church is Lame, and You Should Go Anyway

Picture a depressing scene. No, no, more fluorescent lighting! More! OK, you’re getting close.

Now make the space like nineteen times bigger than it needs to be. So that the modest gathering seems even smaller than it is.

OK, now, only tiny styrofoam cups to drink from. No, not fresh coffee! Coffee brewed like an hour ago. Now, fill everybody’s styrofoam plates with cold Asian noodles. Somebody made them early this morning.

The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

Now, fill the table with the meekest people in New York. Make them kind, interesting, humble. Give them life stories. Make them devoted to God.

There’s the awkward young guy who does a Bible study for teens every Friday night. There’s the widow who tells you how she organizes her weekly meals and cares for houseplants. There’s Sylvan, whose birthday it is, so she made a cake for everybody.

I told the priest I don’t want to get involved. I don’t want to stay for these things. I don’t want to build relationships. Ever since my own church went full heretic (never go full heretic), I am jaded. I’ve lost hope for what church can be, and should be. I just want to show up, take communion, and go home.

But I stay, because he asked me to, and I’m glad I stayed. I know church is supposed to be much more than a weekly meeting. It’s supposed to be a family, a transformative power. The expression of God on the earth.

And in a little while I’ll probably start to hope again.

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30 thoughts on “Church is Lame, and You Should Go Anyway”

  1. How does the actual church compare to the gym? When I was a kid we sometimes went to a church that was a gym…the parish had money to build a school but not a church, so they used the gym for church and the kids played outside. Later, they had scads of  money and decided to turn the gym into a church. I looked better as a gym.

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  2. The church is the body of Christ.  Made up of flawed humans, it is still divine.  The flaws in each of us is why church community is so important — we need each other, flawed in different ways, to mitigate our own failings.  This is true even for our priests.  He needs the community as much as his parishioners do, and wise priests understand this.

    Hope springs eternal….

    7+

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  3. The Ratburger Creed is quit complaining and change things. So it’s lame, make it walk. People are interesting. They just need a little juice to get going. Ask the right questions and Aladdin’s Cave opens.

    Also I figure any church that puts up with me has to be saintly. I am grateful. (Not as saintly as the one that puts up with Minky but close.)

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  4. Were they rice noodles? I like rice noodles.

    All I get around here is green tea and rice crackers. Good rice crackers but where’s my latte or hot cup of Earl Grey? They all speak with a funny accent too.

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  5. As a lapsed Jewish Episcopalian, I have not attended any worship services in more than 30 years. At one time, as acolyte, crucifer or singing hymns and reciting Cranmer’s iteration of “The Book of Common Prayer,” I felt transported, connected to a power greater than that of human ingenuity. I am sorry to say this connection left me as churches took the political/therapeutic route and I went about the business of career building. I still have the same longings which church used to address to some extent, but I find myself no longer willing to try to find enduring answers. I have given up. Call it grace withdrawn, perhaps. I’m not sure.

    I find it hard to not default to a sense it is all meaningless. A fair number of people I cared about have died recently and I find myself mystified. Can I understand what it means to simply no longer exist – forever? My present understanding is that we are living in a difficult period – an inflection point in human understanding. Before our scientifically-enlightened times, most of the the world’s workings were unknown, mysterious or misunderstood. The universe at astronomic and micro dimensions was known only in conjecture. God and the Church provided ready and eternal answers to all the questions which arose from our ancestors’ vast ignorance. There was good reason for saying, “God’s in His Heaven and all’s right with the world.” It made some sense of the largely-unknown whole (Now, by contrast, we must contemplate black holes).

    The inflection happened when most of how the universe works became demystified from the quantum scale on up. We now know it all began with the Big Bang and will wind down over a long period of time. The Earth and any creatures still living on it will die, probably long after we have either erased ourselves through genetic engineering or merged with or made extinct by conscious machines of our own creation (or some creature, somewhere, will decide to turn off the simulation which is us). The entire universe will succumb to entropy without even a whimper…

    Given such knowledge, it is tempting to default to a sense that it is all meaningless. It is also painful to live in what is best described as a perpetual state of sentient existential angst. On the other hand, one can escape that if one subscribes to the “bread and circuses” ethos so freely dispensed by today’s pervasive ‘church of the state” – just say “numb out.”

    On the other hand, maybe Olive has a point about going back to church.

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  6. civil westman:
    I find it hard to not default to a sense it is all meaningless.

    Coincidentally, I happen to be reading Tolstoy’s A Confession at the moment. Tolstoy arrived at this conclusion in his 50s, which led to a crisis in his life that included thoughts of suicide. The book is a discussion of the issues and his various responses to them. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it but I know how it ends.

    I’m not suggesting you’re having a crisis or that you would find his answers particularly useful but you might find them interesting. My own thoughts on these subjects remain unsettled.

    civil westman:
    The universe at astronomic and micro dimensions was known only in conjecture.

    Conjecture is a bit weak. It’s quite a bit better than that. You could argue that everything outside of consciousness is mere conjecture but that’s a bit too solipsistic for my taste.

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  7. 10 Cents:
    The Ratburger Creed is quit complaining and change things. So it’s lame, make it walk. People are interesting. They just need a little juice to get going. Ask the right questions and Aladdin’s Cave opens.

    Also I figure any church that puts up with me has to be saintly. I am grateful. (Not as saintly as the one that puts up with Minky but close.)

    They let me play bass to keep me sedated.

    5+

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  8. Doctor Bass Monkey:

    10 Cents:
    The Ratburger Creed is quit complaining and change things. So it’s lame, make it walk. People are interesting. They just need a little juice to get going. Ask the right questions and Aladdin’s Cave opens.

    Also I figure any church that puts up with me has to be saintly. I am grateful. (Not as saintly as the one that puts up with Minky but close.)

    They let me play bass to keep me sedated.

    I thought it was because only you can reach notes that low, Minky.

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  9. A philosophical thought. Why do people who have learned more things about the universe seem to find themselves in despair? It is as if enlightenment has led them to darkness. There was a time that people studied science to get closer to the Old One than away from the same.

    As what was written on another thread, one views life from a perspective. The same image or experience is interpreted differently. One sees the hope. The other sees the despair. I know enough to realize both can come from wishful thinking. (Yes, people do like their dark thoughts for some reason. It gives them a strange comfort.)

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  10. 10 Cents:
    There was a time that people studied science to get closer to the Old One than away from the same.

    Yes.  The giants of science, the pioneers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, were in the majority Christians who marveled at the wondrous design of the Creator.

    The organizers and shapers of science, however, were dominated by Darwinist Atheists.  Guys like John Dewey developed organizational systems and categories of study, creating a myriad of silos and building in a bias against spiritual considerations.  Modern universities are an anti-Christian project.

    This is not to disparage science, but to say that the way modern science is bureaucratized was developed with an anti-Christian bias, and this plays out in a number of ways.  It is easy for devotees of science to become confused, thinking that the bias of their organizations/departments/societies/journals must be reliable.   But science, if true to the delineations of those Atheists, should have nothing to say about spiritual matters.

    If scientists are telling you that there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to human life, well, you know in your bones that there is so too a spiritual aspect to human life.  Disregard their scoffing, and pursue the solace of your own soul.

    There really is an eternity.   Hope springs up for you because you were made by a Creator who loves you.

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  11. Olive:
    …the modest gathering seems even smaller than it is.

    Ms. Olive, it does not matter.  No matter how small the group, and no matter how bleak their circumstances appear, you are members of a growing church.  The fellowship of Christ binds you to those who came before you.  You will be together with them in eternity; in the meantime as time passes, the number increases.

    Pray, and do your part.  Blessings will flow.

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  12. Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

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  13. Mike LaRoche:

    Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    3+

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  14. 10 Cents:

    Mike LaRoche:

    Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    Decaf delenda est!

    2+

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  15. 10 Cents:

    Mike LaRoche:

    Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    l’horreur!

    3+

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  16. Mike LaRoche:

    10 Cents:

    Mike LaRoche:

    Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    Decaf delenda est!

    Doctor Bass Monkey:

    10 Cents:

    Mike LaRoche:

    Olive:
    The space is big, like a gymnasium. Because it is a gymnasium. It’s the multi-purpose room of our church building. We are gathered here for after-mass coffee hour. And I don’t want to be here. But the priest asked me to stay.

    Mass? Priests? Have you converted to Catholicism?

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    l’horreur!

    It’s the big city that caused her to lose her way. I don’t know how to break the news to the Hills Brothers.

    1+

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  17. I have often shar3d your perspective.  But as I read your post it also reminded me of a quote from someone else who once shared it.

    “When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; . . . . I disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” – CS Lewis

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  18. 10 Cents:
    A philosophical thought. Why do people who have learned more things about the universe seem to find themselves in despair? It is as if enlightenment has led them to darkness. There was a time that people studied science to get closer to the Old One than away from the same.

    I have never understood this viewpoint.  Steven Weinberg famously expressed it in The First Three Minutes:

    The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

    Now, Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1979) is certainly somebody who has “learned more things about the universe” and apparently come to the conclusion that it’s all pointless.  Maybe he should look up from the equations and look around.  All of this fantastically intricate structure, from superclusters of galaxies to microorganisms, developed from a near-uniform soup of superheated elementary particles 13.8 billion years ago.  At each level of hierarchy which emerged since that time: nuclei, atoms, molecules, stars, galaxies, chemistry, biology, and eventually consciousness, the potential for complexity and the manifestation of complexity have grown enormously.  A bacterium is fantastically more complicated than a star, and a human brain is comparably more complicated than the bacterium.  And yet this universe, once so simple it could be described by a set of equations and parameters you could put on a T-shirt, has developed such complexity that it has produced creatures who are beginning to figure it all out.

    The universe has developed minds to which it is comprehensible.  That’s the point.

    There is no reason to believe this climb up the slope of complexity has stopped or that it ever will.  We are seeing the emergence of a world brain, a true noösphere, mediated by the technology we have invented.  Sometime in this century, humans will create intelligences which surpass their capabilities to the extent they exceed those of insects.  Life will spring forth from the home planet into the solar system and then proceed to bring the galaxy and universe to life.

    That’s enough of a point to me.

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  19. I am skeptical. When ever someone says it is going to be so great in the future I worry that they are missing something. All the good technology can be used to destroy as easily as it could help. I am also skeptical about people believing it is going to be horrible too.

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  20. John Walker:

     

    I have never understood this viewpoint.  Steven Weinberg famously expressed it in The First Three Minutes:

    The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

    Now, Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1979) is certainly somebody who has “learned more things about the universe” and apparently come to the conclusion that it’s all pointless.  Maybe he should look up from the equations and look around. 

    I knew Steve Weinberg when he was writing The First Three Minutes. He’s not as shallow a thinker as implied by this characterization.

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  21. Tom Lindholtz:
    I have often shar3d your perspective.  But as I read your post it also reminded me of a quote from someone else who once shared it.

    “When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; . . . . I disliked very much their hymns which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” – CS Lewis

    Thanks for posting, Tom. Lewis expressed it so beautifully.

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  22. 10 Cents:

    It might be worse. There are rumors she is drinking decaf now.

    “There’s a time and a place for decaf. Never, and in the trash.”

    -source unknown

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