[edit: the original video I posted got removed, so I updated it with this version]
I decided to write this post while jamming to Marley’s 1979 live version of Exodus, which he performed in Santa Barbara. I suggest you hit play on the video above while you read. If for no other reason except that it’s amazing and probably way better than what you’re going to read here on this page.
On with it!
“Ja come to break down oppression. Rule equality. Wipe away transgression.
Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free!”
– Bob Marley
It has been four years since I left the pearly gates of the church behind me. Well, four years since I stopped working in the church and moved from my home town to Portland, Oregon – which could have been described as an exodus.
Why I Left
Why did I leave the comfort and security (both financial and physical) of working in the church? I think there are a few reasons:
- I did not intend to leave the church, but instead to leave Thousand Oaks (my home town) – the suburbs.
- I was uncomfortable with getting paid to be a Christian. Christianity, whether I liked it or not, had become a job, and because of that it had lost it’s authenticity.
- I was beginning to let go of my exclusive theology of my younger years, and was becoming much more inclusive -which didn’t sit well as an employee of “THE way” or some might say, “THE ONE TRUTH”.
- Through my travels, I knew that there existed many types of people and lifestyles that were very foreign to me that I did not understand, and it was time to get “outside the walls” so to speak and explore the real world.
Throughout this exploration of my exodus from the church, I will probably reference, over and over, an escape from the “walls of the church”. This is a huge theme for me, because I really see the church as being a sort of jail for most of my life. Most of my younger life, I was dragged to church by my parents. We went every Sunday and sometimes one night a week. In my teenage years I went to church for the crazy hot girls (and because I was a good Christian boy, but I really just wanted to make out with girls – let’s be honest). Later in high school I fell in love with the celebrity of being good at contemporary or modern Christianity. Meaning: I learned to play guitar and played in the band (big time points), I knew the bible pretty well and would have good “theological points” in our youth meetings, and I have always been really forthright and honest – which I think made people feel like they were succeeding in witnessing to me and changing me for the better, when really I was just built to be a youth group god. Oh yeah. Youth group was my cult. I went to everything. I got involved whenever I could. It brought me meaning and significance – at least imagined if nothing else. And I felt worthy – like people needed me, wanted me, and utilized my talents. It felt good.
But let’s be honest, you can only take the same drug so many times before it loses it’s potency and you become immune to it. The well of emotional religion can only last for so long before it runs dry – and I can remember the night it did. I stood outside in the cold night with my youth pastor, leaning against my car, explaining that I couldn’t “feel God” anymore. Worship had lost it’s “magic” and I was floating in an open sea with no anchor and no direction. Suddenly I felt lost and confused, and even more so when I went to college and started being introduced to ideas that were so new to me. Other religions. Other ideologies and theologies. Other meta-narratives that, surprisingly, didn’t sound that crazy – at least, not in the least as crazy as Christianity. I began to learn the history of Christianity, the good the bad and the ugly. The really ugly. The nasty even. I began to realize that I would have to read more than the Gospel of John in order to understand Jesus and the gospel. And I began to realize that I really had no idea what life outside the church was like. I had no idea what life outside Christianity was like.
It was about this same time that I started to learn about oppression, reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, racism, classism, inequality, etc. etc. Really heavy topics that…well… church in my early years never really wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. Up until this point, Christianity was ALWAYS about sin – and forgiveness. I was evil, God was not, I needed God, and I should feel guilty for how awful I am and I need to repent and pray. It was mainly about guilt and shame. But when Christianity stopped being about guilt and shame, and the fabric that was God and Jesus and Christianity became much more diversified and in depth – a whole new world opened up for me.
The Gospel became about freedom.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
At some point my theology and the gospel switched from strictly being about sin and the forgiveness of sins on the cross (and life after death and all that), to being all about freedom and the release of captives (all kind!) I began to read the gospel through a different lens. Suddenly Jesus was not hell bent on saving people from their sins – like some apocolyptic crusade to save the heathens from the burning fires of hell in some far off afterlife. But instead, Jesus WAS an exodus from captivity to freedom. He released the chains… yes… of sin… but also the chains of sickness, loneliness, and oppression. His main enemy? Satan? Hell no. The f’ing church. I think some Christians are confused because they look back through time – back through “Christian” eyes. But If you look at Jesus from “Jewish” eyes of the time, you see that he did not claim to be a part of a different religion. He was Jewish. And he was in direct conflict with the Jewish officials – the temple – and those who ran the business of the church at the time (the temple). Jesus was hell bent only one thing – evening the playing ground. Bringing those who had been thrown out – back in (thank you Professor Hauge for that great lesson). I could go on and on about this – but the point is this, at this point, it hit me like a ton of bricks to the face: the modern church was SO similar to the temple at the time of Jesus. It had become political. It had become uniform. It had become about who was IN and who was OUT. Jesus would not be happy with church. And neither was I.
I became very bitter with the current state of organized church. This was after we moved to Portland. We tried a few different churches and ended up at, what felt like in the beginning, a really cool church (not just cool in the sense of hip, but cool in the sense of promising to not just be about who is in and out, but about real honest things like redemption, feeding the poor, loving and accepting all people, etc.). But it soon became clear that this church, despite it’s cool clothing (metaphorically) was actually the same bitch underneath all that makeup (and beer). What I came to realize was that, nothing… not location, or music, or beer, or youth, can cover up inauthenticity. Nothing can cover up the heart of a church. And eventually, it comes out plain and simple that church is about a few main things:
The Church can be a Jail
1. Church is a business.
It has to be. Because most churches “employ” a pastor, or multiple pastors, and most churches meet in a building, which they must pay for. Even the smallest ventures (like the church that met in the pub and only had three paid pastors, and not paid well) need money. And if the numbers aren’t in the black month to month, the church becomes about pretty much exclusively, out of pure need, about money. They start having sermons almost on a monthly basis exclusively about giving (god, that’s the ultimate sign). They start campaigns to get people pumped about giving. They try and sell all their products and services. Because they have to. They are a business, and it takes money to run a business.
Can it not be a business? Sure it can. But it feels SOOO freaking weird to NOT be a business. Ever been to a home church? Yeah. I have, maybe once. And it was WEIRD. Not bad. Not evil. Not unethical or not biblical – just weird. Because, I have been born and raised in the walls of church inc. The company. The business. And it feels SOOO weird to not be in a building. To not have a band. To not have certain things (like a printed bulletin, or a kids program that baby-sits my kids). You know what it’s like? It’s like going organic or farm fed for food. You know it’s probably better for you and you want to try it out – so you go out to the farm, and you are completely weirded out by that culture because it is so opposite of the fast food culture you were raised in. It’s like moving from Southern Californian suburbs to Portland Oregon! SHOCK. HORROR. AWKWARD MOMENTS. HIPPIES! HIPPIES! HIPPIES!. Haha. You get the point.
We are so conditioned to think of church as… well – what do you think of when you hear the word church? A pastor? A building? A band? Pews? Bibles? Kids programs? Donuts and coffee? Etc. Etc. It all hasn’t been this way forever – but it is pretty much all we know.
2. Church is a Country Club
Look, I used to think that this was only true of churches in the suburbs – because most of their members were a part of some gated community or country club and treated the church as the same. But IT IS THIS WAY AT EVERY CHURCH. Let me ask you this? What is a country club? Why do people go to country clubs? To be taken care of right? For a cost you can “belong” to something that will provide you with “status” and “comfort” and “services”. You pay your dues and you get services – you get “perks”. Let me name a few of the perks of going to church (I started thinking of these as we church hopped a while back and wanted to make a blog about it, but a simple list will do for now):
- Free child care
- Free coffee, donuts, or other sugary/caffeinated drinks (unless its a big hip church that has its own coffee shop, then your screwed, you have to pay for that)
- Free entertainment (worship bands, videos, pastors sermons)
- Travel (and if you raise support, you don’t even have to pay!)
- Free moving help (this is huge. I’ve moved almost 5 or 6 times in the last 8 years, and always had church friends to help – pizza and beer is way cheaper than paid movers)
- Free or discounted services (you know, Bob at church? He’s a dentist. Jerry? He’s in construction. You’re in our club so they’ll help you out!)
- Did I mention Child-care for a few hours each week!??! (Ok, I have three kids, this is a big one… in fact we go to church sometimes now, even though I don’t really want to, just to breathe for 1 hour)
I could probably go on but you get the point. If you are honest – you HAVE to admit there are perks for being a part of a church. As there SHOULD be. God fearing loving individuals who are all about community and helping others before themselves will get perks – BUT – most of the time, there is an unsaid rule that this only applies if you are a member of the church. Or at least you plan on TITHING. DUES BITCH. DUES.
(So I think I’ve cussed a few times so far which has probably scared off my parents and a few other devote followers of Christ. Sorry peeps! Santa Cruz will do this to your mouth! It’s not my fault! ^_^)
3. Church is a popularity contest
This actually makes me the most sad out of any other “thing” that the church is, that it probably shouldn’t be. Because like church being a country club, it falls in the category of creating a distinction between who is in and who is out – and that is SO SO SO counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But the church is a never ending popularity contest. You don’t really see it or feel it until you are on the outside, but once you are on the outside, it is so clear that Christians are trying to be… well… good Christians. They try and say the right words, do the right deeds, care about the right things, in order to score “church points” so that – I don’t know – they can feel good about themselves? They can feel meaning and significance? I guess it’s the same things I felt when I was in high school. It gives people an arena to be someone – maybe they are not someone else (work, family, school). So they worship hard, they volunteer, they say the right words, they meet the right people, they try and connect with the celebrity pastor, they stay at the church for a long time so they can be a sort of “local”. And worst of all – they pretend to care about other people (because that’s extra church points too). But these types of relationships are very, very shallow and surface level and eventually are shown for what they really are – and that is when people get hurt. Very hurt.
Authentic relationships happen when layers are stripped off of us and we are vulnerable with each other. If everyone is trying to appear “holy” and “together” and “Christian” – well, there isn’t much transparency. There isn’t much honesty. There isn’t much vulnerability because everyone is hiding under the “God is so good!” shell. And when they come out of that shell?!? Oh boy! P-Circle! Gottta pray for their ass. Because they are being tempted by Satan! They are satanic?!? And they need us (someone start up the movie “Saved!”!!) because we are the love of Christ and through our prayer warriors we will heal this doubt or bitterness or anger or whatever.
But just like those shallow relationships that “popular” people have in high school – popularity church relationships are shown for what they really are and people get REALLY hurt, like I said. It’s dangerous. It’s awful. So stop trying to be cool, church people, ok? Just be real. But don’t be real to gain church points – that doesn’t count! Frick. haha.
Anyway, I should circle back to my main thesis here: Exodus.
I’ll be done with this post since I’m getting tired and my thoughts are not as clear and crisp as they could be. But in my next post, in the future sometime, I want to touch on how my beliefs have changed in the last 5 years, who has changed my mind on certain things, and where I find hope now. That last part, the hope part, is so important. Because I get that there are a lot of disenchanted Christian church people out there who might relate with some of this stuff – but still love Jesus and want to find something to believe in. I know. Me too. And I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud pillar… but only to realize I’m wandering in a wilderness for the rest of my life. (I love the Exodus story for Moses and all that if you haven’t picked up on that yet… brilliant writing. Seriously. Brilliant.)
Ok. More next time. Peace be with you all (Kelsey. ^_^ and maybe Robin. Hi! Oh yeah, and maybe my mom like three months from now when she has the time and actually remembers I linked to my blog from her computer!)
Oh yeah, and here’s a link to Bob Marley’s entire 1979 Santa Barbara concert! Which I have been jamming to for this entire hour and a half of writing this.