Monday, September 14, 2015

In Search Of Life

It has been an incredibly stressful six months or more.  But finally, we have some peace within.  

Some people already know what I'm about to reveal. Some people - a smaller number, no doubt - even know why. 

My husband and I are leaving the church. There, it's out. 

No, it's nothing that any one particular person has said or done; in fact, if not for the hope we had from the wonderful hearts of a very few people who love deeply, we would have left long ago. No, we are not angry at anyone; disagreement is not anger. No, we will not reconsider; we have put much thought and prayer and soul-searching into this decision and it is made. There is nothing anyone can say or do to change it. No, we are not going anywhere else. The organized church is the same everywhere - we've tried for years to find anything that is like what the first century believers knew and we have found nothing. NOTHING.  And no, most certainly we are not abandoning our faith. 

We are not just leaving a particular assembly. We are leaving a religious system that says it is based on love, grace and good news and instead is based on judgment, rules, and death. While we are in that atmosphere, there is no way that we can pursue Life. 

This conclusion is based on personal experience going back as far as we both can remember, through various denominations, in various life stages, as children, teens, young adults, parents with children of our own, and all of it operating (or trying to operate) in ministry through the vast majority of it. Throughout our Christian lives, we and our loved ones have been subjected to the most insidious types of spiritual abuse possible (and sometimes blatant bullying) by people who are well-placed in various positions of power in boardrooms, Sunday school rooms, kids church programs, youth programs, church suppers, picnics, special services where we felt sucked dry and left to flap in the wind, and more. Yes, we could cite hundreds of scenarios where the expectations of other people have made us feel belittled, used, burnt out, taken advantage of, and taken for granted. And we would still put up with it ... if there was even the slightest spark of Life in it. 

But ... there isn't. HE isn't.

Yes, I know that He lives in us and that wherever we are [the implication is, together] He is. I know that. But when we get together in an organized, structured setting, it becomes more about controlling people's behaviour (making sure they don't "fall away", whatever that is),  being gatekeepers of morality, and perpetuating the upkeep of the building and the programs than it is about letting Jesus love us, and being filled with that love so much that it overflows into the lives of others just because we can't contain it all. As I've said, I have seen individuals whose lives are like that. But the church? 


About a year ago, a friend of ours made a similar move to the one we are making. She felt that she had to leave her church to be able to hear God's voice, to find out who He really is - because all she was hearing from the organized church was condemnation, guilt, shame, manipulation, should-dos and must-dos. It was all based in fear. Fear of losing what God had so freely given by dropping the ball somehow. Fear that people would stop tithing / giving to the church. Fear that the big bad world out there would somehow corrupt the strict code of morality that the church has embraced for centuries.

She had to leave the church to find God. Interesting. (Here's a footnote by the way: she DID find Him ... and she is deliriously happy!!)

Photo "Portrait Of Pointing Male" by
imagerymajestic at
I will ask a question here - haven't there been many times when you've left church more drained than when you went there? More frustrated, more angry, more drained of hope, wondering if this is all there is?  I had times like that once in a while, years ago when I was involved in a community of believers that supplemented what happened at church... and even that group got bogged down in "organizing the organism" (also known as vivisection: now there's a horror story...) 

Since that time, that horrible experience of futility and burnout, that feeling of being beaten up, has happened more and more often until the point where it is so rare that even when the slightest glimmer of the presence of God shows up in a church service - He is doused with ice water after someone decides that we've had "enough worship" and wants to get to the "real" reason for church - the preaching. (WHAAAT??? Where is THAT written???) The preacher stands up (and here I must say that not EVERY preacher is like this) and starts to yell at the people for "not doing enough." He (or she) tries to scare people into toeing the line. Or shame them into getting out there and spreading the good news. (Really? is it good news to tell people that God can't stand to look at them, but He loves them so He killed Jesus for them, and then expects them to toe the line and behave themselves the rest of their lives or they'll end up going to the bad place anyway??)  It's all DO, DO, DO, with no encouragement to BE, BE, BE. It's like folks don't even know HOW to just BE. They think that unless they are out there, full bore, chugging for the Lord, He's not going to be pleased with them. What bondage.

He DIED for them to prove how much He loves - has always loved - the human race. Oh my goodness, do we think that He will stop being crazy about us just because we didn't read three chapters in the Bible today? or didn't sprinkle oil on the living room furniture to chase the demons away? 

Come on. Is our god really that small and petty?

God is LOVE. God is so much LOVE that He went to the ultimate extreme - becoming one of us - to prove that love. Jesus didn't die to make God stop being mad at us. Jesus died because God loved us so much and we were still drowning in our blindness thinking that He needed to be appeased. So He came to prove His love - and WE killed Him - and HE forgave us while we were doing it!! No condemnation, NONE. Just total acceptance and love. He came and died to remove our blindness if we would ask Him to, our blindness to His love, His light, His LIFE. And then He rose from the dead to show us that we would live forever as well.  In that act of pure, eternal, inexhaustible love, He KILLED the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of good and bad, right and wrong. And He opened the door to the tree of Life.

THAT is the Good News. THAT is the gospel. Not this whole system that is based on the same tree that Adam and Eve ate from in the Garden: the tree of "I'm better than you because I do this and don't do that."  That's the morality tree. It's what put Jesus to death!! He came to show us Love and Light and Life - and the religious system of dos and don'ts, shoulds and should nots, musts and must nots, felt threatened by Him... These religious rulers manipulated the political rulers of the day, and turned His message of Love into a capital crime, when Jesus Himself did not say anything against Rome, or against slavery, or against any of the societal ills of His day.  His only scathing rebukes had been against religion - the system - that rules-based, fear-based, politico-religious system that condoned oppressing the poor, and created a spiritual top-down caste society of haves and have-nots, of those who were "in" and those who were "out." 

The kingdom (kingship) of God is not like that. He turned the top-down system upside down and showed us that WE are the pearl of great price that He gave everything to have, that WE are the friends He would lay His life down for, before we even knew what it meant for Him to do that. He placed Himself beneath us, serving us... to show us how very much He loved us. ALL of us, every single soul down through history ... even the ones that have not been conceived yet. Not just the chosen few.

The religious system grinds people to oily dust and uses that dust to oil its cogs to grind more people up. It is an atmosphere that is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-Spirit. It is exclusive, not inclusive. It shames and does not accept. It is Ichabod - the glory has departed. We are not willing to be part of that system anymore. To us, it is (always has been, and sadly, probably always will be) death, not Life.  

Photo "Sunrise At First Sight"
courtesy of Keattikorn at
We are searching for Life. We know that light-giving Life is in Him (see John 1) and we have only seen darkness and doubt and despair in the organized church. We are not saying that we will never darken a church door again ... but we are saying that such an oppressive atmosphere - for us - does not lend itself to finding Life or to falling in love with Jesus. 

And we understand - and fully accept and love - those who feel that the organization is the place they need to stay in order to have a feeling of community and purpose. We understand that there are people  -  many people  -  who need that structure, who need that place to call home in order to feel safe.  With rare and extremely notable (but temporary) exceptions, we have not found that feeling for ourselves; in general, we have found ourselves excluded, abused, judged, and at best, tolerated. 

So we are going on our quest - and it must happen outside that atmosphere. There have been definite glimmers - outside the organized church system - where we have experienced the organism of the Church (notice I capitalized it), been uplifted and fed, felt like participants in the good things that God is doing in people's lives. These have led us to believe that finding Life is possible, that God will prepare an accepting and loving community for us, and that it will be so very important for us to refrain from jeopardizing that by taking out the scalpel to dissect it and organize it. That would only kill it. There is no way we would want that.

I don't expect very many people to understand ... or to agree ... but I only wanted for the people who know us best to hear the real reasons from us, rather than speculating or gossiping or judging ... and to understand that it is necessary for us to guard our hearts, which for us (right now) means that we practice self-care by removing ourselves from that which crushes us. 

This is a scary thing we are doing. We are not sure what to expect. We are not sure if we'll find what we're looking for. We are launching out into the unknown. All we know is that if we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always gotten.  And we are tired of living like that.  If there is not more, then "the abundant Life" Jesus promised is a sham. But if - as we suspect - there IS something more, we are on the lookout for it. We are in search of Life.  And if we find Life - there will be no question that those who know and love us will be the first to know because we won't be able to contain ourselves.