Can we talk?
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (and/or if you’re one of the few stragglers left since I moved the blog), you have probably picked up that I live in a sort of irony–a tension between the new and the comfortable. I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about the flaws and inconsistencies of the institutional church system, how I became alienated from that system but haven’t lost my faith, why I feel I can’t go back to it, etc., etc. But I’ve also talked about how my journey out of that system was more one of “kicking and screaming,” of being ejected more than of walking away voluntarily.
Simple: the church was my comfort zone. Even with all its crap, it was a place where I felt I belonged.
And “belonging” somewhere is very important to me. Which is why sometimes this journey is still difficult for me, and why the blogging community has at times been a place of healing because others felt as I do. You see, right now, I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I feel like I was exiled from the one place where I felt like I belonged, not because I really wanted to go, but because eventually the corruptions of the system outweighed the sense of belonging. I was just insubmissive enough to cause trouble, and eventually that resulted in a realization that I was now incompatible with that system.
So I walked away, not just from a church system, but from the only platform for creativity where I had truly felt I “fit.”
Let’s put this in simpler terms.
I’ve been musical my whole life, for as long as I can remember. Early on, I had dreams of being a concert pianist, then when I felt a “call to the ministry” and realized how much I actually liked contemporary music, I dreamed of being a Christian rock “star.” Even when I took a position as a worship leader in a church, I assumed this was just a “stepping stone” to the music industry. But I soon began to realize that the place I felt most fulfilled was not when I was performing for people, but when I was worshiping, and when I was leading others with me into God’s felt presence. That was when I began to believe that my true place was as a worship leader.
For all the crap I’ve been through, there were also these moments of the tangible presence of God that were so real, so vivid, and so powerful that I simply can’t forget them. Something happened to me in those days that was much deeper than just finding a niche, or even a place where I “fit” with people. I’m convinced it was something that some refer to as being “born in Zion,” something more than just being “born again.” It’s an experience of encountering God in such a way that it spoils you for the ordinary forever. You don’t just experience His love–you fall in love with Him. That’s what happened to me. I fell in love with Jesus, and I’ve never fallen out of love. I’ve seen too much, experienced too much, felt His love too deeply. I am ruined. “Christian” isn’t a word that does it justice. “Lover of Jesus” seems more fitting, but at the same time, it’s not a thing that a guy just runs around telling people. 🙂
Whatever you call it, it’s the one thing from those days that has carried over with me into these days–which is why sometimes I feel the loss so acutely. Oh, I can still encounter God in my own prayer time, and I do; but there’s something about the corporate worship experience that can’t be duplicated in a prayer closet. Something about when people come together to worship Him.
Anyhow, I ramble…
I know there are a lot of people–including some I count as friends–whose journey away from institutional Christianity also resulted in a loss of faith, to the point that some even now consider themselves agnostics or atheists. I understand why that happens, and I don’t judge. I just know that for some reason–perhaps for the reasons I just described–my belief in God was never in question. I couldn’t encounter God the way I had and just write it off as an emotional experience. I know, in ways I can’t rationalize or describe, that He is real, and not only that, but that He loves me more than any human ever could. And no matter how far I get from institutional Christianity, I can’t help loving Him back. Like I said, I’m ruined.
And while God has never left me, and is always with me, there are times when His tangible presence can be felt–and I melt every time I feel it. There’s a part of me that still longs for those moments of deep corporate worship with the Body of Christ. Sometimes, I’ll hear a worship song, and it’s all I can do to keep it together. It takes me back to a place of such deep emotion, and I just melt. It brings back a flood of memories, makes me wish for that moment I could go back.
I guess I’m saying with all this rambling that sometimes I get heartsick. There’s a longing, not just to be in God’s presence, but to be in His presence with others. Sometimes I feel like it’s so unfair that I had to walk away from the place of leading worship. I wish it could have been different. I wish that the system wasn’t so broken. I wish we could have the real aspects of faith without all the man-made ones mucking it up and souring the milk. I wish I didn’t feel exiled from that place of belonging–and I figure that’s mainly because I haven’t yet found a new place to belong.
It isn’t that I don’t feel I’m on the right track, because I do. I do see the possibilities in front of me, and I’m excited about them. I know the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and I know my gifts will find their place in this new season. I guess sometimes I just miss some of the good things that I feel I had to leave behind along with the bad.
Can I confess something to you? There have been several times when the longing has been so great that I’ve seriously considered applying for a church worship leader position, trying to get back into that place. But I’ve never gone through with it because deep inside, I think I realize I couldn’t go back. I can’t turn a blind eye, simply forget, and go back into the matrix. I know too much. I hated that I had to walk away, but I do know that walking away was necessary. It just was. And until there is a foundational change in the way the church conducts itself, that place I’m looking for is simply not there for me anymore. It wouldn’t be moving forward; it would be looking back, trying to recapture an old experience instead of actually following God into the new place.
Having now been in this place for several years, I find it interesting how quickly I can relive those moments of deep encounter with God, how acutely I remember them, and how quickly the longing can be revived. That tells me that whatever garbage was surrounding it–the heart of what we were all following after was real. That part is something I can’t ever let go–but at this point, I wonder if I’ll ever be in that place again in this lifetime. I believe I’ll find a place of effectiveness, I believe I’ll make a difference in this world. But that indescribable place of God’s presence in corporate worship with others–I don’t know if I’ll experience that again in this life. I know it happens when people gather to worship, but for me, I’ve become intolerant of all the other trappings I know I’d have to deal with, and I just can’t go there.
But the longing is still there; it still draws me toward God’s presence. I don’t know if I’ll ever find what I’m looking for in this life. But someday, before the Throne, I’ll be in that place once again.