On ‘Skipping “church” – thoughts on leaving and cleaving’

March 29, 2010

Over the last few years there have been a number of progressive thinkers and writers, as well as musicians and performers, who have helped me grow as a person and human being…and my friends would probably say made me less arrogant and prejudiced as a person who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and calls himself a ‘Christian’. These thinkers have helped me to become conscious of some of the myopia and escapism of organised religion. They have also raised my awareness of other disparate themes within the great epics of  faith and civilisation that once were active in religion and yet over time have become overlooked and forgotten.

The writers I am thinking about often combine the latest insights of modern science and social science with ancient traditions that are like lost treasures. Both sets of ideas can help bring balance to the excesses of the modern way of living – the consumerist life-style. A way of life that, many believe, surrounds us like the water that fish swim in. Fish-like, we can become so used to the economic and technological currents we ‘swim’ and live in, that we lose awareness of their power to shape and distort our existence. Sometimes these ‘waters’ almost take over our lives. In contrast, I have greatly appreciated how certain thinkers have provided nourishment for different thoughts than the mass-media and cultivated healthier emotions in me, and others. I hope in the future to put together a bibliography of their writings for others to see on this blog.

One writer who has stimulated and encouraged me to think more widely and deeply about what it means to be a reflective and more open minded Christian has been Len Hjalmarson, who writes, from Canada, the blog: nextreformation.com

Len recently posted on his blog some personal reflections on leaving the church and living without it and then after some years returning to church in a different way. I posted a comment on the blog and Len wrote a reply discussing a venture he is a part of called a ‘theology cafe’.  The idea of a ‘theology cafe’ is to have an open discussion in an informal settting about some aspect of theology. That interested me and started me thinking. I wrote a long comment in return, which after writing I thought kind of summarised an aspect of how I feel about faith and its need to engage modern society at the current time. I have pasted the thoughts below, I hope they might be of interest and encouragement to some people.   

‘Thanks for the response, Len.

The “theology cafe” idea sounds like an intelligent and valuable development in your community’s varied Christian mission to the World and Church. It sounds especially stimulating for those people whose thinking and discipleship has developed beyond the normal Christian and Church disciplines (which I still believe have real value and meaning for some, even many Church goers) of the sunday sermon and the midweek small group/cell.

I guess a reservation would be, just how far do you extend the intellectual boundaries? The last five years or so for me have been at times traumatic and heart breaking, invoking a deep despair and a profound feeling of abscence from God. Yet at the same time, I am grateful for these years because they have also been a period of great inspiration and enlightenment, evolution and healing, growth through pain and abandonment. But honestly, and without exageration the institutional Church and by that I mean both those denominations considered traditional and from a Free-church background have been of little help and support. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, the Churches and ministers I have known have exercised a deliberate silence on the agony and chaos that God has allowed to happen in my life. Fortunately, I have a very stubborn, resilient personality, as well as kind, supportive, loving people around me (some Christians, some not) and an adamant belief that God – the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father and Spirit – are reigning in love throughout all the world in blessings and in suffering as they participate beside us in all its pain.

My point is that during this period of extreme pain and being ignored by the institutional church, my comforters have been blasphemers and atheists, teachers of world religions, as well as those who have committed there lives to the ending of religious faith.

So I guess I’m asking (and I hope you will forgive the somewhat provocative tone…please, be assured of my respect for the author of Next Reformation and valueing of the important work you are accomplishing and inspiring through this blog and forum), would you have a place for Freud, Marx, Feurbach and Kant? Would you consider reading a passage or chapter or two of Nietzche – the author of The AntiChrist? Or the Buddha and the Prophet Muhhamad or study Shiva and Kali? Bertrand Russell the philosopher and hsi book ‘Why I am not a Christian?’ or Jaques Derrida and Michel Foucalt? As well as the Christian philosopher Kierkegaard for example? How about studying Alan Moore’s The Watchmen graphic novel and the film made about it? Or the exploits of iconic comic book heroes such as Batman and Wolverine (a famous Canadian?!)? In serious art are there painters or musicians that have produced work that might or might not speak of whom God is and whom he isn’t?

I ask these questions not as a ‘Devil’s advocate’ with malign intentions. Neither am I adocating some kind of diluted faith that is in fact syncretism, that is a kind of religious practice where a plethora of different gods are worshipped side by side. Rather, sincerely and without malice, I hope, I ask as an advocate of the historical human being Jesus of Nazareth. I know Len, that you’re a great thinker and theologian with a prophetic insight and gift for communication. I have made wonderful discoveries by reading your articles and relishing your extensive bibliography. For this I am indebted and very grateful to you and to modern technology, that such exchanges can take place even though persons are seperated by literally 1000s of miles. But I ask these question because over the last two or three years especially, these thinkers are some of the many non-Christian authors, thinkers, religious revolutionaries and artists who have kept me believing in God (paradoxically!) when the church has been blind and deaf and dumb to the pain of so many in my generation (I am 36). Nietsche for example has spoken to me many times and has tended to my wounds even though (or perhaps because?) he hated the church.

Is it possible that Christians could grow in discipleship and insight by studying those who have another creed or who even despise insitutional Christianity? I believe it is. Would the Christian members of the ‘theology cafe’ sit down for conversations over a Latte, sandwhiches and muffins with the above mentioned motley crew of antagonists? I’d like to think you would and probably even do! I certainly desire that kind of faith, where we sit down at the table with those who are filled with anger and bile towards the faith, as well as who can offer thoughtful and poignant criticism of Christianity’s blindspots. I guess I feel that way because i hope and believe that that is what Jesus of Nazareth would do and the Father and the Holy Spirit. I also feel it because I have spent far too long of my life sitting in churches where a kind of religious club met and obediently trusting what I was (implicitly and explicitly) told that we the redeemed would be saved because of our virutous confession of Jesus Christ as Saviour, when the rest of the world was damned…I couldn’t help thinking about the friends and neighbours and acquaintances I knew and respected even loved and perhaps more ironically who respected and loved me, who I knew might never ever come close to a church and accept that way of thinking…and honestly, perhaps, with very good reason. I liked those people as I value and am inspired by many atheist and antagonistic Christian writers and artists…. and I have this intuition that won’t go away that Jesus likes them too. I have spent far too many years of my life believing I was following Christ, when I was actually degenerating slowly, yet steadily into a contemporary Pharisee. I have decided, honest to God, I don’t want to live that way anymore…or die that way.

Life is too short.

God’s world too beautiful.

People too amazing…

…and suffering too painful and great for too many.

I have always been inspired and healed by the words of Hebrews 13: 11-13. So, I hope God will forgive me for shamelessly hijacking them and using them to try and support my own argument. I honestly do it with a desire to see the deepening and extension of the liberating revolution set in motion by the carpenter’s adopted child and the Virgin’s Son, the earthy 1st century Jew – Jesus of Nazareth:

11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood…

13Let us, then…go to him outside the camp,… 

bearing the disgrace he bore.



Here is the link to the original post: skipping “church” – thoughts on leaving and cleaving’: http://nextreformation.com/?p=3330


One comment

  1. Short answer before I head out the door )

    i loved James Smith “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard to Church.” One of our first cafes was watching DERRIDA the movie.

    Example see this post

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