Deepening

Cherie recently told me that moving here deepened her faith.  When she said it, at first I was taken aback.  The transition from our church life in Tampa to what we experienced here was pretty jarring.  But as I have reflected on what she said, not only do I think she’s right, but I’m confident that it did the same for me.

Back in our suburban professional Tampa life, we attended the Methodist church in our community. I grew up Methodist so the atmosphere was comfortable for me.  We and the kids dutifully attended every Sunday.  Cherie taught Sunday school.  I was an usher and served on the board.  Church was just part of what we did on Sunday mornings.  It was comfortable and never challenging.  We were good cultural Christians.

When we moved back here, I assumed we’d attend the little country church where I grew up.  I love that place and the folks who go there would do anything for me.  But on a good Sunday there were only about 15 people there and the average age was well over 70.  It just wasn’t a good experience for the kids.

We moved around after that, first to a large Methodist church in town and later to an even larger contemporary “seeker”-style church.  These days we’re on a sort of church sabbatical, but we are part of a small house-church group of folks who are dedicated to community outreach and helping the needy.

But it wasn’t something she heard in church that deepened Cherie’s faith.

Rather, it was being immersed in the fundamentalist culture that is so prevalent here, outside of church more than inside it.  Many of the beliefs that would be characteristic of a person of faith in other places (such as opposition to violence and war, social justice advocacy and concern for the environment) were here considered characteristics of unbelievers.  Cherie has told her story on her blog better than I can tell it here, but being bombarded with “Christian” identity markers that strongly conflicted with her own values (those markers were usually wrapped in extreme conservative politics and/or anti-intellectual biases against science) caused her to begin to question whether she really was a Christian.  So, for the first time, she began to examine very seriously what she believed and why she believed it.  She emerged from that process with a much deeper faith and renewed convictions that her values and beliefs reflect Christianity, rather than conflict with it.  These days she keeps a full plate of ministry and volunteer work.

As usual I was following in her wake.  I was never as uncomfortable in the religious environment here as she was.  Either I was used to it, or I just didn’t think about it as much.  But her discomfort and struggles affected me too.  So I did plenty soul-searching of my own.

Things I heard in church inspired me to dive into some pretty significant social justice work.  I came to realize that it is what happens outside the walls of a church that are the most important. I enrolled in seminary.  I came to realize that farming as we do is a matter of profound spiritual significance.  I have been inspired by the examples of people (especially in Haiti and in the inner city of our hometown) who have dedicated their lives to helping others, even at the expense of their personal comfort.  I ultimately concluded that I couldn’t in good conscience continue in my old job.

The days of putting on a suit on Sunday mornings, sitting in a pew for a sermon and helping take up the collection, are long gone.

If we were still back in Tampa we’d probably still be faithfully attending our old church.  We likely would never had set off on the faith journey we’ve experienced here.

We joke that we’re outside of the matrix now.  And I think that’s a good place to be.

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15 comments on “Deepening

  1. DM says:

    enjoyed reading this post! Wife and I have also been actively involved in a “house church” now since 1999 w/ just a couple of year break returning to the more traditional setting…but I missed the intimacy we experience sitting around the kitchen table staying current with our fellow members.

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  2. Bob Braxton says:

    Sarai and Abram answered the call of God to journey – and church showed up at their tent door in the guise of three visitors – suppose that constituted a minion?

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  3. I visited a church a few years ago that had banners over all the doors in the sanctuary that said “The church is leaving the building”. Despite growing up in church, being a preachers kid, etc, I had never really taken the reality of that message on board, till the moment I passed under one of those banners. It was a huge paradigm shift for me.
    Great post.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve come to believe that a church should be judged more by what it’s doing outside it’s walls than within. Plenty of churches do amazing work in their communities. But sadly, plenty do very little or none. For the first three centuries of the faith, believers gathered in each others homes for a meal and fellowship. Imagine how different “church” would be if that practice had continued and we’d never adopted the “church as a building” model.

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  4. El Guapo says:

    Do you have a link to her post?

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  5. I enjoyed reading this and felt an agreement with your observations. We are all searching. It helps to read others realizations in life.

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    • Bill says:

      Thanks. I agree that it’s a journey for all of us. I’ve found stories from others who didn’t fit perfectly into the institutional model to be reassuring. So, for whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d put ours out there. Thanks for reading.

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  6. shoreacres says:

    The story of my relationship with the organized church is a little complex (aren’t they all!?) but I certainly recognize your path. I was blessed early on to fall in with people who recognized that we’re called to be the Church, not simply go to church. How that gets lived out can differ substantially from person to person.

    And of course, it would be helpful if more people would remember that congregate was a verb before congregation was a noun. 😉

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    • Bill says:

      Good point. The “congregation” should be something more than those from whom the tithes are collected.

      I’ve been happy in congregations that by and large didn’t share my theological views. They just weren’t as important as the fellowship.

      For a while a friend and I were attending the same church in Tampa. He is a pastors son and brother of a well known celebrity Christian. I remarked that I didn’t really care for the music at the place. He surprised me by saying that he didn’t like it much either and often didn’t care for the sermons either. He chose the church, he told me, because he wanted to be a part of the work they were doing at a local elementary school in an underprivileged neighborhood (a truly amazing story, btw). I had assumed he was an enthusiastic supporter of what happened inside the church on Sunday mornings, but in fact those were just things he tolerated because he believed so strongly in what they people there were doing outside the building the rest of the week. I knew immediately that he had it right. I try not to judge a church any more by how the music sounds or whether the sermons are “uplifting.”

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    • Bob Braxton says:

      the church is a people

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  7. Jeff says:

    I came here from Fragments From Floyd – you have a very nice blog. You might be interested in checking out Ginger Hillery’s blog, Land of Milk and Honey. She used to live in Southwest Virginia, near Roanoke, but has moved to Texas. A wonderful writer, Christian, baker, and mom. She’s part of the house church movement and, while I wouldn’t describe myself as a practicing Christian, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her.

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