I’ve been going to church recently.
Not just to any church, but rather to every church.
This isn’t as radical as it might sound. After all, I was raised in (and remain a big fan of) the Catholic church. I attended Lewis University, a private Catholic school run by nuns, priests and De La Sallian Christian brothers.
And I (and my young family) converted to Lutheranism in 1997 when a still-wet-behind-the-ears, second-career pastor came knocking on our door as part of his and his wife’s plan to start a mission church in Plainfield, which was then experiencing its “Oh, My God!” growth period.
(I kid you not: the pastor came to our house three times before we attended our first service at the new church — insert your own Biblical symbolism here. Being a good Catholic, I initially pushed back, hard, against him and Lutheranism. But we soon became lifelong, close friends.)
Plus, studying how a first century movement around an itinerant Hebrew preacher became a worldwide religious/political/social/governmental system has long been a hobby of mine.
But truth be told, my wife Kellie had a personal falling out when that little mission church started the inevitable shrinkage and was eventually gobbled up by a larger church. (The bigger church “loved our energetic worship style” but loved the land we owned even more.)
No surprise. Kellie, after all was not raised in any church. Her connection to church of any kind was tenuous at best, based more on social and family rather than spiritual considerations. And in the interests of a strong marriage, I stopped going when she stopped going.
However, I have long maintained my churchly inclinations.
So, when Kellie’s work schedule changed early this winter to include Sundays, I decided to return to church. I figured, what else was I doing besides waiting at home alone for the mediocrity that was the Bears this season?
But if I was going to return to church, I didn’t want to just return to what I already knew. What fun would that be? If this church door was open again, I wanted to really see everything on the other side.
Since starting my personal church barnstorming tour I’ve visited churches of nearly every Christian denomination, size and worship style: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran (both Missouri Synod and ELCA), Congregationalist, Unitarian, a couple of non-denominational, and both predominantly white and predominantly African American.
I haven’t worshipped at a mosque yet as part of this adventure, though I did twice a few years ago. Nor have I gone to a Jewish synagogue. But who knows? It’s only March.
To be clear: As I’ve explained to numerous sincere-but-somewhat-overly-enthusiastic-greeters and pastors, I am very firm and comfortable in my Christian faith and my Lutheran religion.
I am not looking for anything but the experience of trying on some new shoes – or sandals, as the case may be.
Observing first-hand what I (and sadly, so many) have only heard about from a distance.
Dipping my theological toes into a different pool.
Running some new spiritual chords over my rusty vocal cords. I’ve mostly been able to muscle through the unfamiliar rhythms and lyrics. However, I sincerely apologize to anyone sitting close by those several times when I failed. (If she’d been there, my wife would’ve told you singing is not my strong suit.)
So, that begs the obvious, good and fair question:
If I’m not interested in changing teams, so to speak, then why go to the trouble of visiting different camps?
Not to mention going to any church at all given the myriad criticisms dogging organized religion of all stripes, most especially the many serious crimes committed by religious authorities and leaders against the weakest, most vulnerable among us.
The simplest (yet,paradoxically, the most complex) answer is, I believe in a higher power that somehow creates and organizes (if not directly choreographs) our lives.
You can call that power God.
I don’t really much care what you call it, or by what name.
Nor do I care what path you take to find it, what book you find it in, or how you understand its power in your life.
Frankly, I agree with the theologians who criticize us puny humans who try to slap any kind of a label on God, or speak for Him/Her/It, or mangle His/Her/Its spiritual role for political power and wealth in our all-too-mortal world. How dare we?
The point isn’t where or how we talk to God. The point is where and how God talks to us. That’s the beauty and mystery and grace of spiritual faith of every kind.
One of the pastors said, “You can talk to (God) anywhere.”
That is true. However, I believe you can talk to God best, gathered together with others who are also trying to talk to God.
It’s like the difference between singing alone in the shower and singing as part of a 200-person choir. Both may produce a beautiful sound, but the former only brings down a little more water. The latter brings down the roof.
Honestly, I don’t know what God is any more than the next person. I don’t know what God looks like. I don’t know what name God goes by, what language God speaks, or even – God forbid — what athletic teams God prefers.
But sussing out those mysteries has been a lifelong passion. (Except for the athletic team part. That’s just silliness of the worst sort.)
How better to do that than to explore all the options with others who are likewise looking? Who knows what I’ll find or learn? The fun is in the search.
So, the Holy Rolling Barnstorming Tour of 2020 continues. Look for me at a church near you.
I’ll be the guy near the front, singing (and probably tripping over a word or two) loudly and joyfully – if slightly off key.