Saturday, 17 November 2012

Going to Church: my By the Way Column for the Medicine Hat News

In her book, Grace (Eventually), Anne Lamott describes a Sunday which had not begun well. “Then I headed to church,” she wrote, 
“And it was not good. The service was way long, and boring, and only three people had shown up for the choir, and the song they sang sucked. There was a disruptive baby…. I sat with a look of grim munificence, like so many of your better Christians, exuding mental toxins into the atmosphere. I decided that this church was deteriorating. I had come for a spiritual booster shot and instead got aggravation. I was going to leave, and never come back.” (Hat Tip for this quote to Richard Beck here.)

Why does church going so easily become a matter of “exuding mental toxins” instead of worship? Perhaps it has something to do with our expectations.

“God has a plan. I don't know what it is. I think that's the point.” So tweeted Bethany (@bvanderputten), a friend of mine. It’s stuck in my mind. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,” says God through the great prophet Isaiah, “so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9)

Part of God’s plan and one of God’s higher ways and thoughts is the Christian Church, that mysterious and marvelous mixture of well-being and woe. I understand the church plan; sort of; to be the Body of Christ, Jesus with us, his community of faith, until he comes again. But what about all the rest—the aggravation, the denominations, the toxicity, the too loud, the too quiet, the splits, the meetings, the leaving, the music, the irritating people, the sin!? That’s where I begin to wonder about the plan. It’s also when I begin to suspect that what I don’t know, and what doesn’t make sense to me, may be the point.

My job, and yours, is to worship, enjoy and serve God whether or not I understand, or even approve of, what God’s plan is and how God intends to carry it out. What’s more, a key and mandatory part of that process is picking the congregation to which God is calling me and going to church; often; no matter what.

Going to church was never supposed to be easy. Going to church was never supposed to be primarily about me and my needs or yours. It was, and is, all about giving glory and worth to God. The service is always mine, directed to God, following the example Jesus set, rather than the other way around.