Maybe it’s the American in me, but when it came to churches, I’ve always figured bigger was better. But not a megachurch built like a Bass Pro Shop.
Nope. Those warehouse structures held no appeal for me.
I’m talking goliath stone walls and wooden pews slick with age. Paintings of saints in darkened oil. Shiny golden things up front that look expensive. Stained glass windows, the more the holier.
I attended services (mass?) at one in Honolulu. South America. The American South. England. These structures were beautiful. The reverence I felt was nothing short of awe. Like Special Agent Molder of The X Files I wanted to believe.
But I couldn’t get past the fact that I’d sweat like a demon as soon as the show started. A touch of dizziness too. Nothing says you don’t belong here like a physiological reaction. And I’m sure you can relate: when you feel out of place, you think everybody around you can feel your deceit.
I’d try until the whole thing would just unravel in my head. I’d usually slink off to the bathroom and then leave. Waking out, the gust of cool air, so fresh so powerful, proof that I just wasn’t cut out for the God stuff.
Talk about a bummer!
Turns out I’m allergic to the incense they burn in that cool little swingy pot. Same thing happens to me if I sage the house and don’t open all the windows.
So, Catholic Church is beautiful and steeped in mystery with its rituals and connotations. But too smokey for my taste.
Once I learned about Martin Luther the Protestant (root word: protest) I perked up. I respected the individuality he brought to it. I mean, scratching out on quill 99 complaints and nailing that list onto the doors of the local Catholic Church? Bam! Bam! Bam!
Wait. You can do that?
I was intrigued. This stirred my soul. Because I’ve never fit in and I’ve always questioned everything. But I’ve also been a lifelong seeker of answers to our existence. Things like why am I here and why did I come with a deep aching part of me that nothing can satisfy for long?
I truly think—on the deepest level—that we need to be free to make our own choices. Explore our own truths. Find our own way. Then just give the brains a break and live life without editing or expectation, for a change.
And this is what made all the difference.
You see, I stopped searching. I stopped intellectualizing (well, paused at least). I got over my “religious perfectionism” and just went for it. Because I was lonely and I was doing a piss-poor job of managing my life. I spent too much time thinking about life at the expense of doing life.
“What’s the harm?” I asked myself. If go to church tonight and it doesn’t get through to me? If I surrender to a higher power and ask for help? If I explore something from the inside that I had mostly judged from the outside.
So I went. It was a men’s bible study. Sitting in my truck in the parking lot the thought came what if I’m the only one there. Oh man, talk about awkward. I almost left. But I got out and walked into a room of maybe 100 guys. It was overwhelming and I almost left again. Thankfully, the man greeting us had more tattoos than me and I just went for it.
It’s been a couple classes now and we’ve barely talked about the Bible. What we are doing is sharing about ourselves and listening as the others at our table do the same.
There is no ego, no cynicism, I was the only one who swore and I knocked that off real quick. We talk about what we think it means to be a man, and why we think that. What examples gave us these beliefs. We talk about what it means to be a warrior, why a man needs a cause to fight for, else he will battle the good in his life.
My church does A TON for the community. So I started volunteering on Saturdays. It’s a free breakfast (with groceries) and a clothing closet for whoever might need it. This program serves 100-400 people a week!
Tell me another group of people you know who manage to feed and clothe hundreds of people every single week, for free and with a good attitude.
It’s big hearts, work ethic, and service here. Not to sound ridiculous, but the Jesus Part is almost irrelevant when you look at the good done here and the important work being done. But the wonderful secret is, all these great people (and little old me too) are doing God’s work. He isn’t found in the Bible for me so much yet; he is found is the magic that occurs after connecting with good people who believe in the power of good.
This “external Christianity” is what makes this religion so fantastic. We serve. We connect on a meaningful level. We want to see the world become a better place and are willing to put effort into that vision.
It’s a great feeling to belong to something helpful and afterward, that warm fullness in my chest, it gets me saying, “Yeah, I want more of that.” So now I am reading the New Testament and it has some great things in it so far. Great things that support my journey into Christianity, thus far.
In a nutshell: What is most important, first and foremost, is my personal relationship with Jesus. Having faith in Him and yeah, giving Him attention through stuff like prayer, and meditation….
“Draw Near to God and He Will Draw Near to You”James 4:8
- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Luke 14:26
- But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Revelation 1:1
- Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-3
- When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Ephesians 2:8-9
- And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Matthew 6:33
- But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:9-13
And it just goes on and on like that. It’s the foundation of all this…belief.
I could be wrong, and if so, someone point out my error. But as far as I know, nowhere does the Bible say the faithful must listen to Christian soft-rock on the radio while driving.
Not every church is going to feel like home. Most probably won’t.
Not every sermon is going to speak to me directly.
Not every Christian I meet is going to feel like a brother or sister at first. We are people and some just aren’t on my wavelength.
And so on and so forth…..
Because here’s the thing: A lot of those people sitting next to me at church feel the same way. Stuck in their heads wondering if they are really Christian enough to be there. If they deserve it. If they actually even believe in any of these fantastical Bible tales.
Here’s the common thread, though. Everybody there either believes or wants to believe. They all want to be better people. Whether it’s overcoming an addiction, forgiving someone who seems unforgivable, or just being less angry, anxious, or hateful. We all want to get better.
And that part of us. That desire to grow into our higher selves. That’s God. He, She, or Otherwise, that’s God.
And when we give our attention to that highest vision of ourselves, that is listening to God. And when we grow into that place: battle the addiction, reach out with forgiveness, work our butts off to replace fear with love, we are walking with God. Talking with God. Building our relationship with God.
And Jesus, he’s a wonderful role model of what it means to be a Christian. To care for others. To become strong enough to see the worst in others (and ourselves) with love. To believe in something bigger than ourselves. To care about others enough to die for them.
So if you, like me, take inspiration from being the best possible you. If you want to see the best in people because it’s better than focusing on the worst. If you want to be forgiven. If you’re ready to be loved for who you are, unconditionally.
You are the real deal.