Finding Community / Finding Space

My wife and I moved to Colorado Springs in early June 2013, about six and a half months ago. Finding people has taken longer than we expected in a city of over 400,000 people where you can throw a rock in any direction and break a stained glass window.

The (very) small Presbyterian church that we attend has been a breath of fresh air to us both, but there are exactly three other people there who are anywhere near our age. We’ve gone out and visited other churches, and several of them are vibrant and huge and growing, but it seems like they’re growing because they do everything that my wife and I can’t stand in churches.

The lights flash and the music fights to put you into an altered state of consciousness but in the inanity of it all we look at each other sadly and shake our heads. I find myself psychoanalyzing the lyrics to songs about wanting to feel God’s presence followed by songs about feeling God’s presence, and my wife psychoanalyzes the reasons that they chose the color red for the spotlight (to invoke an emotional response matching the mood of the song).

Then the pastor gets up, pulls about ten or so verses out of context for three points about one thing and goes off about how this church is better than other churches in town because they preach the Bible without apology. Then he (always a “he”) pulls theology out of thin air, injects meaning into the verses that was never there to begin with, and by the time he gets to the invitation my lovely bride is squeezing my hand tightly so I don’t do something crazy like go up to the pastor and tell him to stop lying in the name of God. Either that or he makes some kind of completely horrible claim that drops me into a tailspin of faith and makes me wonder if God exists and if the Bible is a remotely decent representation.

And then, as desperate as I am for community, I can barely speak to the other people in church because they’re celebrating what a wonderful service it was and how God really touched their hearts and I’m in the middle of debating whether we just had two completely different experiences, I have no connection with God, or God doesn’t exist at all, and as bad as the service has been I’m leaning toward option three.

So we go to our little Presbyterian church and live the beautiful Presbyterian liturgy of confession, assurance of forgiveness, hymns, reading of scripture (four passages, I might add), exposition by our pastor who has a Master’s in Divinity from Princeton and a Ph.D in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, followed by holy communion. And we wonder why the standard evangelical faire always disappoints us.

But as best I can tell, most of the people our age are going to the megachurches that make us both crazy. I wish The American Conservative’s article about Why Millennials Long for Liturgy would hold true. Maybe millennials are moving to mainline churches, but they aren’t coming to ours, which for me means that they’re missing out. I love our pastor and the older couples there, but I miss having someone closer to my age and available to bounce ideas off of and talk things through with. The Christian blogging collective I’m in helps somewhat with community, but I want to do more than read articles and comment. And I love my wife, but she can’t be a complete community for me any more than I can be that community for her.

So we’re thinking about going to a Young Adult group at yet another church tomorrow night. I don’t know if I’ll be more disappointed if we don’t go or if we do go and just get let down again. I’ve read their statement of faith and hit my two most common red flags:

  1. Their view about the Bible comes ahead of their view about God, and
  2. They use words like inerrant and no mistakes, and even (in some cases) “verbal plenary inspiration,” which is shorthand for “God dictated every word.”

Saying that the Bible is authoritative because it’s inerrant is like saying that a puppy is cute because it can fly. It sets both up for failure on a topic that’s completely irrelevant.

And then they fill up the statements of faith with things that aren’t in the creeds like “substitutionary death” and spiritual gifts, and things that aren’t in the Bible, like the rapture.

I know what I’m signing up for every time I/we visit churches with statements of faith like this. I always hope to be wrong, but I’m disappointed every time. And here we are, contemplating getting on the roller coaster again.

Honestly, I don’t need them to agree with me on everything. I just wish they’d leave space for the possibility that I just might be a Christian too in spite of our disagreements. I wish I could feel comfortable talking about those disagreements, because I’ve given a lot of thought to why I think the standard opinion on any number of topics is wrong, and I’m afraid that they’re going to try to fix me so I’m like them. I’d also appreciate a more neutral space for dialogue, rather than an auditorium where several hundred people are shouting amen to a preacher who’s saying things that make me want to scream.

Where my peeps at?

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

Author: David M Schell

I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

12 thoughts on “Finding Community / Finding Space”

    1. That made me smile. Thank you.

      But seriously, I really do appreciate that I get to have these conversations with you, you from the Roman side of the aisle and me on the… well, sort-of-not-Roman side, bumping each other and sharpening each other, without judgment but with the occasional playful invitation to come to the other side. Thank you for your friendship and your regular comments. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

      1. You’re welcome! I enjoy reading your comments. They give me something to react to!

        It’s refreshing to read self-critical analyses on the state of modern evangelicalism and the cris de coeur against convenient lies folks tell themselves.

        (Of course, if you’re really up for a recommendation, I suggest some Ratzinger. Don’t get me wrong. My invitations may be playful, but they’re also heartfelt.)

        Please keep me in your prayers! I need them.

        1. I never assumed that your invitations were anything other than heartfelt. You wouldn’t be part of a ministry if you didn’t think it worth sharing.

          I think I, like many progressive protestants, would like to keep my denomination and adopt Pope Francis, though.

          1. What do you mean by progressive? You seem to be on board with orthodoxy when it comes to homosexuality being sinful, the bible mattering, truth existing, the resurrection having happened, God being — as some folks put it — sovereign over the final grace of salvation. You don’t seem to share any of the earmarks of folks who’d call themselves progressive. You simply seem to state these positions in context of others, rather than choosing some to keep wailing on.

            Of course, you might be a bread-and-butter heretic for all I know. What I can say is that I do get the feeling you aren’t a modernist quisling, that you do seem to take at least some of this stuff seriously. I have no cause to believe you’re flippant about any of the rest.

            I also assume the best about folks. That can kind of be a problem sometimes.

  1. I have felt the same way for years, the ugly conversations on the patio afterwards puts me over the top. Since I dont have much to add, I will leave you with two things that I have heard over the years, put together they have meaning to me. #1 my mom said to me before her passing, (place your faith in no man) and #2 I dont know who to give credit to, or its exact wording, but it goes like this, a man is talking with Jesus and says to him, (I have no problem with you, its your followers that I have a problem with) perhaps we expect to much, I hate to think it, seriously, I hate it, and it has driven me from church as a regular event, to bad, as that is where nourishment should be found. You think you have it hard, I tried looking for a church while my wife and I were living together not married, I soon foud out that church is not for sinners, well at least not the sin dejour.

  2. This.
    Great thoughts, Dave. The fact that any Christian group would hold to “verbal plenary inspiration” makes me want to vomit. Not to mention the idolatry of scripture that is clearly present at that “church”…
    I hope that churches like yours experience meaningful growth with the young adult demographic. But in the meantime, I suppose you have to try to make the most of the small community that you have.

  3. I just read the majority of this to my wife as it resonates with both of us. We have asked many similar questions, critiqued theology in car rides home after silently screaming for an hour, and longed for like-minded people. She just said to me – as this has been an ongoing conversation as of late – “Are those of us who see these things the prophets of our age?” There might be some truth in that.
    However, I do wonder what sacrifices, if any, do we need to make? What are the majors and the minors? What does it take to grow old with others? I recently wrote this as we ponder similar things: http://www.missioalliance.org/who-will-you-grow-old-with/
    Praying as we all journey.

  4. @The Ubiquitous:
    What do you mean by progressive? You seem to be on board with orthodoxy when it comes to homosexuality being sinful, the bible mattering, truth existing, the resurrection having happened, God being — as some folks put it — sovereign over the final grace of salvation. You don’t seem to share any of the earmarks of folks who’d call themselves progressive. You simply seem to state these positions in context of others, rather than choosing some to keep wailing on.

    For me, Protestant Christianity falls into three major categories:
    1. Fundamentalism
    2. Evangelicalism
    3. Progressivism

    Fundamentalists, of course, are hardcore “God said it I believe it and that settles it.”

    Evangelicals are mostly a more nuanced version of Fundamentalists. They hold to many of the same ideas, but they generally do it more gently.

    For me, Progressives live in the space more occupied by folks like me. They ask a lot of questions and are more comfortable with not having answers. They allow for Biblical Textual Criticism.

    There may be a space for me somewhere between Mainstream Evangelical and Progressive, because I’ve noticed that the hallmark of many Progressives is their denial of the virgin birth and physical resurrection of Christ, a position that I don’t think I can reasonably reject and still consider myself a Christian.

    Many people who still believe in the physical resurrection of Christ but, for me, seem progressive, have planted themselves firmly in the evangelical position and refuse to move while clearly insisting on things that mainstream evangelicals (at least the ones that I’ve met) vehemently deny, like a rejection of Biblical literalism (which is completely unsustainable).

    As for homosexuality being sinful, I do disagree on that one. I’m not sure that I’ve officially said it anywhere, but I think I at least implied it a couple of posts ago in “And You Welcomed Me: A Story For Advent” and “A Provocation: Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe.

    As a Christian, even though it isn’t in any of the creeds (that I can find), I have to believe that the Bible matters, though, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, I don’t read it the same way as many of my fellow Christians.

    Naturally I believe in truth. I’m a bit more nuanced, though: I don’t know for absolute certain that I have it. I think I’m right, naturally; we all do, but I leave space for myself to be wrong. Islam could be true. I think it’s highly unlikely, or else I would be a Muslim.

    I do take belief seriously, but I try to avoid taking it *too* seriously. I want to leave space for love just in case my beliefs don’t point unalteringly in that direction. I want love to be my highest creed.

    Hopefully my stance on gay marriage won’t scare you away because I like having you around.

    1. You won’t hardly scare me off, not with only that as an issue. Gay marriage is the sort of thing that doesn’t at all fit in a Christian framework, but the interacting reasons why are difficult to explain in such a way that people hear them. Anyone interested in explaining something as emotionally sensitive as that will really have to wait for the right moment, and just enough credibility, to be heard.

      (Direct questions, &c., notwithstanding.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.