Sunday, June 23, 2002

Why I Go To Church

I go to church most Sundays. I belong to the Pilgrim Church here in Lexington. It's a UCC, United Church of Christ church, you can check out the link, but it won't tell you why I go to church.

Let me start with why many people DON'T go to church. I had a really interesting email conversation with Mike Zellers about why he doesn't go to church. If I've got it right, he said there was so much language in the sermon and other parts of the service that he didn't necessarily agree with or believe in, he felt it would be hypocritical to sit there and either not say the words or mouth the words not believing them. Things like, (from my church program this morning) "(Leader) Lift up our hearts. (People) We lift our hearts to God. (Leader) Christ is with us. (People) Christ is in our midst. (Leader) Let us pray."

I get what he means. You might be tempted to stand up and say, "Hey, wait a minute, I'm not so sure Christ is in our midst. I mean, I'm not sure at all. Honestly, I don't even know what that means. And let us pray ... I'm not sure I can get my head around "let us pray." If I can only pray, if I actually believe this thing about "Christ in in our midst," well, you'll have to count me out on the praying part too."

Not a lot of people say this kind of thing at church. In fact, people who think this way tend NOT to go to church. But what they don't know is that a lot of churchgoers have days where they don't believe Christ is in their midst either. Me included. There are days where I could testify that Christ is definately NOT in my vicinity. Heck, there are days when I'm not even sure who Christ is, or was, or if he ever really was at all! But going to church is about more than this.

First of all, it's about going some place on a given day of the week -- not work, not Starbuck's, not the health club -- where you meet people of all ages who want to think about spirit. They are not doing spreadsheets, they are not ordering Cafe Americano Venti with extra ice, they are not doing bicep curls -- all worthy endeavors I spend time on other days of the week. They are trying to figure out how they might love others better and improve the spirits of those around them, and, perhaps selfishly, but probably not, improve their spirit as a result. I particularly like being there among MEN who are trying to cultivate that side of their lives, since most everything in our society pushes men in the other direction.

Of course, I also go to church because Judy Brain, our minister is so excellent. Her sermons are terrific, moving, funny, cogent, relevant, inspirational. I go because I love the hymns and the poetry of the lyrics -- old time poetry. I go because I love the Bible stories and can't imagine reading any American, English or European literature ever written, without some knowledge of this book. I love celebrating the seasons of Christmas, Lent, Easter and the sense of continuity this gives you as the years go by. I love the symbolism of the wine and wafer, the process of communion, the knowledge that people have done this for centuries and are doing this all over the world on Sunday morning at the same time I'm doing it. I go because I want my son to understand the traditions of the church and feel welcome there, wherever he ends up -- praying in a small college chapel, or visiting the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

I go because I have a community of friends there that welcome you no matter what tattered and torn state your soul might be in any given week. They know loss, they know kindness, they know patience, they know love and how to talk about these things. They know everyone will face death of family, friends and self and have ways to fathom these events. I go to give this back to everyone there, since they've been so generous to me.

This morning we sang "Lord, I Want To Be A Christian." -- the very simple classic Negro Spiritual that says: "Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart," in verse one. The next three verses are just as plain, "Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart." followed by "Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart." and finally "Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart." It says it all.

I go to church because I want to feel suffering when I am near those who are suffering, and try to give them some comfort. I go to church because I want to open my heart to pain and joy and not shy away from it. I go to church because I want to get in the habit of choosing love over fear, every time I get the chance.