Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Problem with American Christianity

I've been wrestling with this whole being a Christian in America thing for the last few months...years, actually. I'm not 100% sure what stirred it. Maybe it was a combination of the books I've been reading and my trips to the Dominican Republic, but all I know is that it has been a stirring topic in my heart and mind for some time now. Perhaps this scenario really began to brew it for me:

We entered a good-sized chunk of land carved out in the middle of the busy community. Busy, as in many kids, a lot of foot traffic, and the noise of roosters, people, and those kids calling out our presence. A gate opened to a section of property with rocky, uneven ground and a single gazebo in the middle of the surrounding area. We were going to have a church service here tonight.

A bus filled with Dominicans from the city unloaded on the inside of the compound walls, releasing folks with different types of clothes, and I would imagine, different backgrounds in life. They seemed excited to be here, in this property with hardly anything. A band set up their instruments and started playing before the service was to begin. Children interacted with us, and we played games, told stories (with translators of course) and did an Easter craft with them, while parents mingled with other parents. Some kids just came from down the street to check out the fun and the commotion.
I couldn't help but think about this service that was about to happen, and wonder how it would be pulled off. My mentality was always on the details of the power point slides, the worship practices, the timings, the people who spoke and that they said the right things...yet the people who seemed to be in charge here didn't even fuss about anything. There was nothing in the worries of details or the technicalities of this service.

Once the service began, there was a worship set, pumping from the center gazebo, typical of what you'd expect at any American church, but in Spanish. The tunes were familiar, but the words were in another language, still in God's language though. People didn't care if they knew the words or not. They stilled danced and swayed and seemed to lift their hearts up. I couldn't help but think about the glances at home the poor power point guy would get if the words weren't right on the screen, or the leader of the band would get for not following them. They were in a company of believers and that's all that mattered.

The message didn't entail all the flair of videos or pictures. In fact, dark clouds threatened from above, relieving us from the heat. No one cared. Everyone was so thrilled to have this here on a Saturday night. A service they usually never have. The message was from the Bible and there were people listening intently. No one seemed to worry if the message would hit them in "just the right way" or if it meant anything to them. It was God's Word. Of course it meant something to them!
No power points. No videos. Barely "today's hit Christian music" or even the "good ol' hymns". Not even a roof! Just people gathering to be in the company of believer and to lead their neighbors and children to something amazing.

After coming home after this touching experience, I stood in our church the following Sunday, glancing around at the details, as I normally do at a Sunday service. My nerves always high and wondering what people thought of the service. Some sang along with the words, staring at the screens. Others just stared. One or two had a hand up or were swaying. This atmosphere seemed...dead.
Suddenly, I realized I was missing something. Many of us were missing something. My whole life, growing up in the church, I was missing it. I was focused on the details. On the people around me. On what their thoughts were. On my feelings of the church experience. On their feelings of the church experience.
Yet I had JUST realized that in the Dominican at that church service, I hardly cared about my OWN feelings and my comfort. I was in awe of the simplicity and of the hearts that also didn't care what people thought. They didn't wait to sing until a song they knew. Heck, if they didn't know the song, they still were enthralled in the words and the worship. All that this thing "church" was to them was giving back to God, no matter how it was.It was something they invited their neighbors to, and they didn't care what kind of experience it would be either. They just wanted to know more.
And it was at some point after that, that I realized that we are a spoiled nation.
And we are a nation of spoiled Christians.
Blunt - yes. Maybe even enough to send you into a fit about me being unfair, and argue that I don't know your heart. And you're right, I don't. I don't need to know your heart. If you think you are in a good, complacent place with God in your heart, then I'm so happy for you. I don't sing the songs sometimes. Sometimes I leave church unsatisfied, and I'm pretty certain I'm in a good spot with God. But this is a heart matter to me.
The atmospheres are different. People with nothing are happier than us with everything. We're particular about the seats we put our butts on. (Did I mention that cinder blocks were a common seat at the Dominican church?) We're particular about our music. We're particular about our building and the color of it. We're particular about who's preaching and how they're preaching. All are valid and even deal-breakers for people. But when you live in a society where everything is within reach, that is what happens.
The fight is not about the inside of the church. It is about the outside. We are a blessed, free nation with endless resources for "how to do church". The fact is, however, we can do church straight out of the Bible. Yes, that book that sits around until Sunday rolls around. And yes, you can use that book for more than Sunday mornings.
It doesn't need the flair, the particular music, the coffee, or even the roof! It takes an open heart and an attitude of thankfulness to what God has given us. Since when is it about us? This is the mentality that will sink Christianity in a society that continually looks at the "us" factor. Let's heed Jesus' words from Matthew 9:12b-13: "Jesus replied, 'Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” (Message)

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