Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A Church for the Lost

I guess it was somewhat of a good thing that it took me a little bit to actually get around to writing this post. At first, I was inspired to do so because when I was in Brisbane I decided that I wanted to go and visit the church that I usually visit when I am there. The thing is that they have this service at 6:30 pm on Sundays which is referred to as an 'informal service geared towards those interested in finding out more'. As it turned out, I had been to this particular service years ago, when I was in Brisbane for work. You see, the difference between this service, and the one at 5:30, is that the one of 5:30 tends to be more geared towards university students and then there is the morning service, something that somebody like me doesn't really like namely because if I don't have to get up early, then I basically don't want to get up early.

Yeah, it's pretty clear that I don't have, and have never had, kids. I still remember the pain and frustration that would course through my parent's, when at 7:30 am on a Saturday we had bounced out of bed and were running around like nobody's business, and all they ever wanted to do was to sleep in. Then, for some really strange reason, when we became teenagers, and sleeping in became a thing (because staying up late watching Ronald Reagan movies was a thing), they still would get up relatively early. I guess that sort of happens when you spend 15 years of you life being forced to get up early.

So, yeah, I like to sleep in, so really, really early services don't appeal to me, and neither do family services because, well, I don't have a family. Actually, as one of my friends, who has recently discovered the joys of having children, discovered that the problem with family services is that you end up spending all your time running around after the kids that you never actually get the opportunity to socialise. Maybe that's just because kids are so much more hyperactive these days, because from what I can remember, my parents had no problems socialising during the family services.

Anyway, this service seemed to be just right, except it wasn't what I expected. Sure, one of my former pastors had this saying 'I'm not okay, you're not okay, we're not okay, but that's okay', and that our church was a church for 'broken people' who needed healing. Except, the fact of the matter was that it sort of wasn't. Look, don't get me wrong, I love the church that I am currently going to, and have made some pretty good friends here, but if there are broken people in the church, then they do a pretty good job of hiding it. In fact, the guy that says 'I was a porn addict and my wife left me, and God healed me and now I am happily married again' really doesn't know what true brokenness actually is.

Look, that is probably being a bit harsh, because honestly, I wouldn't wish divorce even on some of my worse enemies. yet a part of me feels that maybe, just maybe, this particular person really doesn't get it. You see, until you have seen broken people, you really don't truly understand what brokenness is. Honestly, this isn't a world, and Christianity isn't a religion, that say's 'worship God and everything will be fine and dandy'. Look, seriously, this world is not all sunshine and lollypops, and Christianity certainly doesn't make all your problems go away - just ask the Piedmontese who all got thrown off the top of a mountain because the rejected Catholicism and decided to become protestants, or the Indians who had their houses burnt down, and the police refused to do anything about it.

So, I am sitting there, a little stunned, but quite humbled. In a way, seeing these truly broken people, one of them bawling his eyes out because no matter how hard he tries he just cannot give up smoking, and all that seems to be happening is that cigarettes are getting more, and more expensive.  Seeing the people that cannot live without carers, and a church service that is geared towards people who probably don't, and never will, understand some of the deep theological concepts that are expounded during many of our more middle class services.

Honestly, these people simply do not care about the intricacies of the Holy Spirit, and how it is possible that God can be three persons in one. They don't care about the debate between predestination and free will, and don't really care about it even if we did try to explain about them. In fact these people are the ones that probably never have to worry about greed, because they have nothing to begin with.

Yet, what it makes me realise is that, in some cases, I feel that we may be missing the point somewhere, in our sheltered middle class churches. Such as when we spend more time studying the Bible in groups, than actually going out and helping in the community. Moreso when we are being exceptionally critical of certain behaviours, without realising that some of these behaviours are really not worth getting all hot and bothered about, and by getting upset about them, we are more likely going to push people away, rather than draw them in. In fact, I still remember when one of my small group leaders jumped down my throat when I dozed off during small group, telling me that if I wanted to sleep, then I can go it at home. Well, that was easy then, I just stood up and headed for the door - you can be assured he never used that line of rebuke from then on.

Yet the church is an incredibly insidious institution. Okay, these days, many are spending their time hiding from the world, holding out crucifixes to ward of the incessant evils that they believe are pounding at their doors. All the while they are infiltrating the political sphere, taking over political parties, and using their economic policies not only to drive people further into poverty, but to destroy the world in the process. In fact, some Christians have found huge problems with the fact that on one had their political allies are denying women abortions, and on the other completely destroying the Earth - maybe, just maybe, there is this belief that in doing so they will hasten the coming of Christ and send all of the evildoers to hell.

However, something still bugs me, and it is not just the fact that churches end up becoming your entire social group. There is something about the zealous that really disturbs me, and I am not talking about the fundamentalists, or the cultist either. No, I am talking about some of your average, middle of the road churches. Yet for some reason they seem to be getting pushed further and further to the right. However, it just feels as if there is this fear, this fear that the church will not only be taken over by the world, be overrun by the young hipsters with their pagan beliefs. In a way they treat themselves like havens who send out missionaries into the world to try and bring as many people back as possible, and once they have brought them in to do as much as possible to keep them there.

This is why I would walk out of Bible Study, because I basically got sick of the shit that would be spouted from people's mouths, sick of the hypocrisy, the back biting, the sniping, and the sneers and jeers, they would run back out and draw me back, and then promptly rebuke me for being so childish. Then, when I did finally say 'fuck this for a joke', they would continue to hunt me down, tell me that I was the one that had the problem, and that I was the one that needed to forgive, because, well, we as Christians are supposed to forgive one another. Should I call it Gaslighting? I'm, not sure, but a part of me certainly feels that this is what was going on - or is it blaming the victim? Or is it both.

The first thing that I should point out is that Christians aren't the only people who, when they get together, all start acting like dicks, start playing power games, and start pushing people around. As Aristotle pointed out two and a half thousand years again, Man is a Political Animal, which means that when people get together, they start playing power games, and also start kicking the weakest around. In fact, when somebody decides to call out their bullshit, they will get even more violent. However, we live in a society with laws, and you simply cannot cut somebody down because their bullshit has been called out, so they resort to much more subtler methods, such as attacking irrelevant points, or even attacking character. Another interesting thing is that I've also noticed that some of the biggest jerks are actually half decent people when there is nobody else around.

So, when people get together, people start acting like jerks, it doesn't matter whether you are in a politcial party, or in a gaming club. In fact, I left both types of organisations namely because there were a bunch of people there that were basically behaving like jerks, and playing power games, as well as being completely close minded to any thoughts other than their own. I still remember one particular person at a gaming club, when he was serving behind the bar, went over my driver's license with a fine tooth comb, simply because he could, and also want to remind everybody that this was his domain, and he had the authority to throw his weight around - no wonder the organisation collapsed under its own contradictions.

Yet if all organisations are like this, why don't we simply tell the church to basically get stuffed and walk away. Well, that is basically what is happening, and is what has been happening for the last hundred of so years. When my parents were children there was huge social pressure to make an appearance at church, though more in my Mum's case than my Dad's. Mum would tell me that every Monday morning, if you weren't at church you were called out, and shamed. However, people are walking away from the church, in the same way that they are walking away from political parties, from unions, and even from gaming clubs - they have realised that they are sick of the bullshit and the powergames, and are simply happy to live their own lives with decent people - except there are none. Oh, and who is to blame? Well, the people walking away from the church, as opposed to the church itself.

So, why didn't I walk away from the church? Well, I did, and when I did I found that my life was spiraling even further and further into turmoil. So, whose fault was that? Well, a part of me wants to blame the church, but is it the church's fault? In part it is, in just the same way that a serious injury caused by a drunk driver is the fault of the drunk driver. However, whose responsibility is it? Well, it is mine - do I continue to let the rubbish get to me, or do I move on? Well, I ended up moving on, though it was certainly a pretty hard task to do so.

Why, then, this particular focus on the church? Well, because the church is supposed to be so much better than this. In fact, they try to make it appear that they are so much better than this. Yet, the reality is that they are little different than that gaming club that collapsed in on itself. However, the thing with the church is that they offer salvation, but who do they offer salvation too? The middle class of course. Which brings me back to the broken people that I mentioned before hand. You see, it is so much easier, and profitable, to reach out to university students and business men - in fact the churches that I have been to seem to be full of middle class people - they have the money, therefore the church continues to grow, send out missionaries, and transform the world.

Or should I say destroy it with their neoliberable, climate change denying, economic policies.

But let us get back to this small gathering that was meeting in the basement of the church in South Brisbane. As I sat there I realised that this is what a church is supposed to be - a room full of broken people who fully understood their brokenness. A gathering that is not only welcoming and supportive, but a gathering that is patient with people that may not fully understand what it means to be a part of the middle class, church going culture. It was a church without the flashy lights, stage-managed performances, or even semi-professional musicians - it was just one guy on a piano.

Yet the problem is that many of us who live in a middle class culture, people who do not struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction, or even cigarettes, can truly understand. It is hard for those of us who have never been in trouble with the law, who do not have a criminal conviction hanging over their heads, to truly understand what it means to be broken. In many cases we shy away from these people, not because we hate or despise them, but rather because we do not know how to approach them, how to speak to them, or even how to respond to them. In fact, it can be pretty hard for university trained individuals to even be able to speak to members of the working class, who have either dropped out of highschool, or simply went on to do a trade - how does one who reads Shakespeare in their spare time communicate with somebody who has never read a book since High School?

It is difficult, and it is a challenge, yet it is a challenge that we need to confront, not with the church, but within ourselves. In a way we place ourselves in echo chambers, and in fact disconnect ourselves from the rest of the world - a world that not only we don't understand, but a world that we fear. I'm not suggesting that we change things quickly, but maybe, just maybe, if instead of hanging around with our university friends, instead of using church as an opportunity to network, and to build business partners, instead of using church as a means to find a partner, and become a part of the middle class lifestyle, we instead go downstairs, sit among the broken people, and really come to understand who it is that Christ came to save.



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A Church for the Lost by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

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