Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What would Jesus flood?

If you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, that everything that happens is because God wills it, then tell me why God would possibly think that flooding New Orleans and Mississippi and leaving people dead and homeless is in any way a good idea.

If you believe that God created the world and everything in it and then went back behind the barn to grab a smoke, leaving us to our own devices, then tell me how that is any different than me hearing the cries of an abused child and doing nothing. In the real world, if I have knowledge that a child is being abused and do nothing, then I can be in trouble with the law.

If you believe that what we need to do now is pray for those flooded out of their homes, I have one word for ya- why? God doesn't know already that whole cities are washed away and under water? Couldn't he have kept this from happening? Didn't he say he would never judge the world by flood ever again?

At times like this the best answer may be no answer at all. It is likely better to just hang our head and say "I don't know" than to try and jam a response into our predetermined theological structure. I don't think the people of New Orleans would care to hear our plastic theology. I think they would rather have a bed to sleep in for the next couple of months, a working toilet and some food to eat.

Far be it for me to say what someone in this kind of event would want, but if it were me? I wouldn't want to hear about the love of God, I would want to see it.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Drive, he said

When I was first saved back in 1982, I knew that I wanted to read the Bible. The Bible held an undeniable attraction to me. I was drawn toward it like a moth to a flame, and that analogy actually fits, because I really wanted to lose my life in Christ. Whatever He would have me to do, that’s what I wanted.

As I pursued Christ I wanted to hear people talk about the Bible, so I gravitated towards media ministries. We didn’t have cable TV back then, at least not right away, so I latched on to Christian radio and whatever Christian TV programs were on broadcast TV. I would wake up at 6AM on Sunday mornings, do what needed to get done to get ready for church, and then watch TV preachers until it was time to go to Mass. This was before the televangelist scandals of the late 80’s, and Sunday morning was filled with shows by Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Falwell. I did what I had to do to hear the Bible preached. I had a passion for it.

Soon that passion became diluted. In my desire to soak in the Bible I took in everything I could find. I was naïve enough to believe that if someone named the name of Christ that they would share the same passion and desire for the Lord, and would want to fellowship with others who did the same. I was about to get a lesson in real life. If I was reading a book by Witness Lee I could count on someone to show me the error of his ways. Pentecostal preaching would be countered by a three point John MacArthur sermon. I brought some Christian rock albums to a Catholic retreat, a place where theoretically people would be focused on the Lord and would want to hear songs about Him, but no one cared. As soon as my back was turned Petra was replaced by the Footloose soundtrack. Catholics and Pentecostals and Fundamentalists were as separated as cliques at a junior high school dance, and no one wanted to break the ice and ask that cute blonde if she wanted to share the dance floor.

It got old after awhile. My feeling was (and still is) that if Christ didn’t establish the boundaries, and Christ didn’t want the boundaries, then why should I respect them? But no one cared. The Bible turned into a weapon, a hand grenade to lob at the fundies when they started passing out tracts, a Scud missile to obliterate the papists who were unarmed, a rifle to temper the enthusiasm of the Pentecostals when they got out of line. The passion I had was replaced by a cynicism that could sniff out a fake from a mile away.

And yet… there was (and is) some part of me, somewhere in the recesses of my soul, that wanted what some of these people had. I began to think of people like Jim Johnson, an usher at Church on the North Coast who has been there for years, long before I started going. What drove him to stay at this church for that long? Why did he always have a smile on his face? Why is it that every few years when I showed up for a visit he always remembered me?
What did Homer Chambers, Bob Madison and Olvin Smith see in the writings of Witness Lee? Witness Lee is a great Bible teacher, but what was it in what he taught that grabbed ahold of them and said “This is it- you’ve found your home”?
Sometimes late at night I like to listen to AM radio. Stations come in from states as far away as Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Preachers filter through, backwoods preachers who have congregations numbering 50, with an average age of 70, who scrape together money from what little they have, just so their preacher can be on an AM radio station at 12:30 at night and preach the gospel to drunks and guys like me who like to pick up something of the local flavor. The piano is out of tune, the soloist will never challenge Amy Grant in a singing contest, but they do what they do because they feel driven to do it.
The enthusiasm of the members of St. Innocent Orthodox Church came out of nowhere and blindsided me. Orthodox? People actually choose to convert to Orthodoxy? I always thought Orthodox churches were populated by immigrants who were pining for the old country, who were too Catholic for the Protestants but too Protestant for the Catholics, who held festivals and made baklava, good baklava, really freaking tasty authentic baklava, but didn’t see the Lord as truly present today, just someone who showed up in a lot of interesting Russian-looking paintings with titles like Christ Pantokrator. Boy was I in for a rude awakening. First off the people were actually friendly. Second, the priest remembered that he had a visitor that Sunday, linking my blog to his website and sending a lot of rabid Orthodox my way. Third, my friend Jennifer, who has seen some of the same parts of the spiritual jungle that I have, is head over heels in love with the place.

Why? What drives her and Father Michael and the beloved baklava makers and the choir members who sang so beautifully I wanted to weep? Is it the same thing that drives Pastor Smale to preach out of the authorized King James Version of the Bible every Sunday and go out of his way to see mentally handicapped people brought into the fold? Is it the same thing that causes some Evangelical Protestants to make a spiritual U-turn into Catholicism, becoming book-worms and tape-worms and following Scott Hahn around from conference to conference like 1970’s Deadheads who want to hear “Dark Star” just one more time? Is it the same thing that drives that one person out of 10,000 to put up the John 3:16 banner because they actually want someone to read the Bible verse and not just to get on camera?

What is it?

And how can I get me some?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Psalm 42

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
"Where is your God?"
When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock,
"Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Cross one more off the list

If you've read this blog you know that I've visited a lot of churches. I haven't even told the story of some of them, just the ones I was involved with for any length of time. When I engage people in discussions about the churches I've been to I like to say that I've been to every kind of church except Orthodox and snake-handling.

This morning I crossed one of those off the list.

The snake handlers of Lorain County meet on a farm in Vermilion, far from prying eyes (and unfortunately for them, far from proper medical facilities)... ah, just kidding :) It was my privilege to attend liturgy at St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Olmsted Falls, part of the Orthodox Church of America. My friend Jennifer is a catechumen there (catechumen being the first stage in the membership process), and has seen a good portion of my journey, having been a friend of mine for the past 17 years. It was her inquiry into why I joined this or that church which began a series of e-mails that morphed into this blog.
Knowing that searching has taken up a good portion of my spiritual life, she invited me to attend a new church she discovered. She waxed eloquently about worship in the Orthodox church and how it was radically different from anything that I had seen before. Isn't that what they all say? Every church is different- that's part of their marketing strategy. In this case, though, Orthodoxy is different; at least, compared to most Protestant and post-Vatican II Catholic churches.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Yes, the smell. Incense plays a big part in the liturgy, and the smell of incense in any church setting send my thoughts to the past. I began to think of my altar boy days, of Easter Vigil masses that never seemed to end, of the monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Genessee in New York. Incense=worship. Real worship that sends my thoughts skyward and inward in one fell swoop, not the kind of worship that makes me wonder how many "la-la-las" can possibly be jammed into a 4/4 chorus, not the kind of praise that makes me wonder when the pom-pom girls are going to do the pyramid.

The structure of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is not that different from any Catholic Mass I've ever been to. Liturgy of the Word, liturgy of the Eucharist, sign of peace- different names, same activity. But the structure is where the similarity ends. Sorry, post-Vatican II Catholic Church in America, but the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom kicks your... oops, probably not appropriate to use that phrase in the discussion of liturgy :) The closest point of comparison I have is the Tridentine Mass, which was celebrated in the Catholic Church from the beginning of time until Vatican II made all kinds of wacky changes. The Orthodox liturgy is in English, the Tridentine in Latin, but that same sense of being a part of something much greater than yourself is present in both.
The choir was absolutely magnificent. The way the choir chanted the different parts of the liturgy... oh man, I can't even describe it. Fantastic.
Beyond that I can't really dissect the different parts of the liturgy, there's just too much there. The standing and sitting confused me, especially when one half of the church stood and one half sat. The Kiss of Peace threw me for a loop when people actually started giving each other kisses on the cheek, sometimes thrice. Kissing takes place constantly. You kiss the icons, you kiss a crucifix (in two places), you kiss the icons some more, you kiss the icons even more. Quite a bit of kissing and signs of the cross (up-down-right-left, not left-right), and the constant motion threatened to make me dizzy. At a certain point I gave up trying to keep up and just let the experience wash over me.
Communion is served to people via spoons. Hmm, OK. I understand that it is probably a means to emphasize the holiness of what is happening, that you are receiving the Body of Christ and not just a snack, but if that's not it then I don't get it. And after Communion there were tables on each side where people took a piece of bread and a drink in a Dixie cup. That was explained to me later, but at the time I thought that the introduction of Dixie cups into a world of kissing, robes and incense was distracting.

Overall it was a positive experience. I am sure I will do it again someday. (Jennifer is right now dancing a jig.) And since my passion in life is to see how people worship, what people do in response to God, how people answer the God question, this is something I had to do.

Now, on to the snake handlers....

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Chasing a rabbit trail

Allow me to part from the theology for a moment to make a suggestion.

Watch LOST. DVDs for Season One come out Sept. 6th; new season starts Sept. 21st.
Watch it watch it watch it watch it watchitwatchitwatchit. Follow the LOST links to the right.

Don't forget to watch it.

Now back to our regularly scheduled theology discussion.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Of people, places and things

I’ve been accused by my wife and my mother (up until three days ago they were 2/3 of my readership) of being depressing. I always write negative stuff, they say. Aren’t you ever happy? My response to that is that I write how I feel, and how I felt at the time. If I don’t have good feelings about a church I went to, I’m going to write that way. If I’m slightly upset at God and need to air it out, that’s what I’ll write.
But… I did have good experiences too. I have known some people who had a positive impact on me. And those are the people I want to write about now.

Dr. Jeffrey Smale- Pastor Smale came into the story late. I had already been a Christian for a number of years when I met Pastor Smale. If you remember the story you know that my wife and I joined Victory Baptist Temple right after we got married. We had been attending services there about once a month for the year prior. The draw of Victory Baptist Temple was that they were the same type of Fundamentalist Baptist church that Laura had grown up in- same hymns, same King James Only beliefs, even the same pictures on the wall of fundamentalist preachers who had gone before.
I knew who Pastor Smale was and had even visited Victory several years prior. In my church black hole of 1990-1996 I had visited several churches just for kicks, and Victory was one. Pastor Smale is as Baptist as the day is long, but he isn’t your typical “independentfundamental” Baptist pastor. In 1987 (I think) the Smales had a daughter, Hannah, who was born with Down’s Syndrome and other health problems. She had frequent surgeries and in 1991 passed away after open heart surgery.
Now I don’t care where you are on the theological spectrum, no on should have to watch their daughter die. You aren’t supposed to bury your children; your children are supposed to bury you. My heart ached for the Smales even in 1991 when I was 7 years away from knowing who they were.
The Smales didn’t let the experience keep them down. They have remained faithful to their beliefs come what may, and I respect that. They also began a ministry to special needs children and adults called Gems and Jewels. As a parent of a special needs child myself, I can tell you that this kind of thing is sorely needed. Churches are radically non-prepared to deal with special needs children, and families are staying away from church because of it.
Laura and I first visited Victory Baptist Temple in the fall of 1997, right after we were engaged, when we were searching for churches. As I related before, the church was very similar in style to what she grew up with. In 1998, a couple of weeks after we were married, we joined, and immediately dove right in to church life. Three services a week. Laura involved herself in the children’s ministry. I became an usher. We started going soul winning, which involved promoting the church door to door and asking people if they had been born again. If not, we had a script prepared- five or six verses from Romans and then “would you like to pray?” I didn’t have much success at it, but Pastor Smale chose me as his partner for several months, which was pretty cool for me. I dug the attention.
Things started to go sour for us when I wanted to visit a Vineyard church. I’ve already related that this was not a popular decision. When the pressure was put on us to “listen to the preacher” (and in Laura’s case, the preacher’s wife) the bubble burst for me and I started looking at the church in a much more critical light. Eventually I saw more bad than good and decided to pull out. We left in January of 2000.
But I never stopped liking the Smales. Pastor Smale didn’t care for my decision, obviously, and we didn’t have any contact for several months. After they began to lose members hand over fist, I began to feel sorry for the Smales. There were plenty of reasons why people were leaving, plenty of valid reasons, reasons which I won’t outline here. That didn’t mean that I should dance on their grave. I wrote to Pastor Smale and apologized if I had done anything wrong when I left. I didn’t apologize for leaving, mind you; but I didn’t want to hurt him either, and I felt like I needed to make sure the slate was clean. It was. Pastor Smale wrote back and we resumed contact at that point.
I consider him a friend now. We aren’t buddy-buddy or anything, and that’s not something I expect. He’s a pastor, a busy man. We do share an affinity for Detroit sports teams, and he has offered me plenty of advice in dealing with Matt’s disabilities.

My point is this. I didn’t see a reason why my not going to his church had to mean that I should be bitter and talk down on the man. If I disagree with his church, there are other churches. I respect the man; out of all the pastors I’ve ever had I’ve not had a closer relationship with any of them. If any current Victory members are reading this you can quote me on that.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The point

If there is one thing I've learned in this great church adventure is that there is often a disparity between what the church should be and what it actually is, and people will fill that gap with a group apart from the organized structure. From 1982-1985 I went to Mass, but for fellowship I planned youth retreats and carried them out. 1985-1987 was Church on the North Coast, but it was also Solid Rock II, the college age small group. 1987-1990- Bowling Green Covenant Church/Fellowship of Christian Students. 1990-1997- the lean cow years. 1998-now- various churches, but nothing on the side. My most enjoyable years as a Christian featured the presence of a small group where the real church took place.
I can't do it alone. If you can, then God bless you, more power to you. I can't. When left to my own devices I will justify my own behavior every single time. (And if you're honest, you'll admit it- you will too.) Which, in theory, is why the church even exists. I need someone to call me on the carpet and say "hey, dude, do you want me to treat you like you're treating your wife right now? I didn't think so." Or "you know what, dude? I love you." And then actually do the love instead of just saying it while they're looking past me to the person who can actually increase their social standing in the church institution.
"Now – here is my secret. I tell it to you with the openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."
---Douglas Copeland, Life After God, page unknown

And this is why I've spent 20 years trying to find a church that fits, and this is why I spend time doing this blog. Forget the pleas for comments, forget the shameless attempts to generate more hits for the site. I need God. If the phrase "born again" actually means what it implies- that you get to start at square zero and get a do-over- then that's what I need. If 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true, and every person that's in Christ is a new creation, then sign me up. You can't tell me that there isn't one person reading this blog that hasn't looked back in a moment of solemn reflection on their life and said "You know, I really screwed up, I'd like to call a mulligan on that shot." Theoretically you can call a mulligan on your whole life, and Christ wipes it clean. And if you screw up after- 1 John 1:9 , baby. Christ picks you up again.

Jesus I love you, but I don't understand your wife
She wears too much make-up and she always wants to fight
In my world of black and gray, she argues shades of white
---Dead Artist Syndrome, "The Bride Song"

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth.... But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right." To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth." It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right." And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth; our selfishness becomes justice and virtue; our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as "truth." What we desire is not the truth, but rather than our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just." This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war. And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.
---Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pg. 78.

Who are you

I put in a site meter a few days ago to show me how many hits I was getting. The website also tells me where people are from and from what page they were referred from (if any). It's been fascinating over the last few days to watch. Obviously most of the hits have come from my hometown of Elyria, especially after the Chronicle-Telegram article came out. But I've had visitors from Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, California, as well as Portugal, India, Taiwan, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The one thing Sitemeter doesn't tell me is who people are. That's what I'm asking you for. If you know me, if you don't know me, whatever- leave a comment. If you've spent more than 30 seconds reading the musings at this site tell me that also. If you're from one of the churches I've been a part of in the past and you radically disagree with my interpretation of events, pass it along. Click the comment link at the bottom of the post and type away.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Just say you'll wait

Hold my hand inside your hands
I need someone who understands
I need someone someone who hears
For you I've waited all these years

For you I'd wait 'til kingdom come
Until my day, my day is done
And say you'll come and set me free
Just say you'll wait you'll wait for me.
---Coldplay, "'Til Kingdom Come"

Link to the Chronicle article

Chris Powell and the editors at the Chronicle-Telegram have given permission to post a reproduction of the article that appeared in Sunday's newspaper. You can find a .pdf file here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Say the word

My thanks to Bryan Bird, one of the other bloggers featured in the Chronicle-Telegram article, who placed a link to my blog on his blog, sending a flood of traffic my way. Welcome to the show, everyone.

In response to my difficulties with modern Christianity as well as my relationship with God, I received the same advice from two different people- Steve, a resident of Elyria, and Carla, a blogger who has two listings in my list of links, her site and the Emergent No site. They both counseled me to get into the Word. Let’s run with that for awhile. When I first got saved the Bible was my food and drink. I couldn’t get enough of the Bible and read it every chance I got. It was within the same timeframe that we first got cable, and the world of TV preachers was opened up to me as well. Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, and lesser known ministers such as Gary Greenwald and Larry Allen took up my TV watching time. On the radio I listened to WCRF and WTOF until the late hours of the night. They preached out of the Bible and that’s what I was hungry for.

I was attending Christian Assembly of God in Lorain, OH at the time (later Church on the North Coast), and they didn’t call it the Bible, they called it “the Word.” “Get into the Word, brother!” I would be admonished. “What is the Lord speaking to you through the Word?” Calling it the Word seemed to make it more personal, more immediate. It was as if Jesus himself were sitting across the couch from me, speaking it to me himself. The Bible wasn’t a textbook but a companion. I read it for food; I wasn’t mining it for ammunition.

There came a point, however, when reading the Bible became less enjoyable and more like a chore. Perhaps it was when I became more aware of the differences between Protestants and Catholics. Maybe it was Witness Lee, fantastic Bible teacher that he was, who saw a hidden meaning in every verse possible. If Paul said “Jesus Christ” instead of “Christ Jesus” in a passage, that meant that a different aspect of Christ’s redemption was unfolding. Could it have been John MacArthur’s anti-charismatic beliefs, discovered as I was attending a series of charismatic churches? John MacArthur was (and still is) a great speaker. How could I reconcile the disparity between what I was hearing on his radio broadcast and what Louis Kayatin was preaching from the pulpit? They both loved the Lord, as well as all of the other preachers I was listening to. Why can’t two people who love the Lord, or three or a dozen or a thousand, fellowship with each other?

It became worse when I started reading books by Catholics who could match Protestant objections at every step. Now this church which obviously had no support Biblically for their beliefs (or so I was told) had to be observed in a completely different light. Jesus’ flesh and blood in the communion elements? John 6, buddy. Bothered by a priest being called Father? Annoyed because the Bible says to call no man Father? Then what do you call your male parent? The Bible became a battleground where thousands of people slung verses at each other, not out of loving concern for each other’s souls but in order to put a butt in every 22 inches of pew. And what is funny is that most of these groups are not that different from each other. Catholic Traditionalists defend the sacredness of a 16th century liturgy; King James Only advocates defend the sanctity of a 16th century translation of the Bible. The Catholics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville may think it a sin to attend a Protestant charismatic worship service- it's not "real worship", after all- but when they want to use worship songs written by Protestants for their services? Oh, well, that's OK. Two of the Baptist churches I attended were incredibly anti-charismatic, but put those beliefs aside to sing songs written by men and women they would never share a pew with. What the heck is going on here?

Finally I just gave up. I quit trying to make heads or tails out of the Bible. I put my Bible up on the shelf, next to the other ten copies that were gathering dust, and grabbed a wrestling magazine instead. I went to see a Kiss concert in 1996 and was swept up in the pure joy of seeing the hottest band in the world put on the makeup one more time. And I thought to myself, if I can be this happy at a rock concert, then such joy is definitely possible… so why can’t I get the same sense of happiness reading the Bible? I'm not talking about fake, pep-rally types of manufactured joy, but the kind of joy that makes you shed tears because the emotions are so powerful they just have to be expressed.

This sense of hopelessness still resides within my heart today. When I hear Carla and Steve implore me to “get into the Word”, some part of me deep within my soul wants to believe that it would work. I so desperately want it to mean something again. I just don’t know how to get there.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Just like starting over

Since I'm hoping for several new readers after the Chronicle-Telegram article appears, let me take a few minutes to explain just what I'm doing here. Andy Warhol once said that in the future everyone would have a blog for 15 minutes. There are a lot of political blogs, and as passionately as I feel about the issues of the day, I didn't want to go down that road. There are blogs that discuss theology to the minutest detail, and I didn't want to go in that direction either. Instead, I just wanted to talk about where I've been, in hopes that someone could identify with my experiences. I had intended to write just a few posts, but when I got going, I really got going. And after going back through to read and reflect, I thought of things I missed :) So in the coming weeks and months I intend to revisit some points in the journey and reflect more on specific events. Jump right in at the beginning or just peruse the archives, and feel free to comment at any point along the way.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Stay Tuned

My local newspaper, the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, OH is doing a story on local bloggers, and they interviewed me for it. Took my picture and everything. Maybe I can finally get more than 3 people to read this. Of course, I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do :) The story is scheduled to appear on Sunday.

Monday, August 01, 2005

This is the end, my only friend... (?)

After leaving Family Fellowship Laura and I really wanted to attend church closer to home. The previous winter had dumped a lot of snow on the area and driving 20 minutes to church became an adventure I didn't want to repeat. We began to toss around ideas of different places we wanted to try, things we wanted to see, things we didn't want to see. I didn't attack the issue with much resolve because at this point I didn't want to go anywhere. I had no use for church and just wanted to have a breakfast sandwich and a Mountain Dew on Sunday mornings while I wrestled with the Scriptures.
There was a new wrinkle in the search as well. In April of 2004 my son Matthew was diagnosed as having some form of autism. He didn't talk, he wasn't toilet trained, it didn't even appear that he was listening to you half the time. He functioned at the level of an 18-month-old. This wreaked havoc on our ability to leave him with a church's childcare ministry while we enjoyed the service- they didn't know what to do with him. He was too old for church nurseries, and lack of toilet training meant that he couldn't be in most Sunday School classes for kids his age. Any church we chose would have to be equipped to deal with special needs children.
Easier said than done. One church asked us to take him out of the 4-5 year old class because of his being in diapers. Another church took him into the nursery but really didn't know what to do with him. A former church of mine flat out said they weren't prepared to deal with him, which in essence was inviting me to not join their church, because this is my son for crying out loud! If you reject Matthew then you reject me.

@#%&^^& Christians.

I had visited an Assembly of God church by myself one Sunday, and on their comment card I rambled on about how my marriage was sinking into the toilet and would they please help? I used church comment cards to guage whether they cared enough to respond, and this one did. The assistant pastor called me and we got together. He was young, mid-twenties perhaps, but that was cool with me. Laura and I visited together and Matt warmed up to their preschool Sunday School teachers. OK, this could be promising. We went to a couple of services. Preaching was decent, music was great. They were starting a new members class and we decided OK, what the heck, we were in.

This is the church we are a part of now. I wish I could say that I was happy here, that I finally found the place where I belonged, that the pastor's teaching spoke to my every need, but it would all be a lie. I attend this church for my son's sake, not my own. The pastor and I have clashed over his beliefs, my beliefs, counsel he gave my wife.... Laura and I should have shopped around more, but we didn't. The one saving grace here is that Matt's Sunday School teachers are going out of their way to learn about Matt's disability, how it expresses itself, and what they can do. Which is good, because our daughter Rebecca is showing signs of having a developmental disability too.

So this is where the story has wound up, August 1, 2005. A lot of loose threads remain. I love Christ, I hate Christianity. I love the Bible, I hate the multitudes of interpretations and the intellectual wars fought to defend them. I can't pray. I just can't go through the motions of asking for things that God already knows that I need. Things will happen or not happen regardless of how much I pray. I tend to think that we miss the point anyway, that the goal of prayer should be union with God and not grocery shopping with God, but that's a subject for another post I suppose.

My plan is to tie together some loose ends in one or two more posts and then... who knows? Does the world need another self-indulgent rambling blog?

Stay tuned.