How many times have I heard the comment that church isn’t the most important part of the week nor the most fulfilling? That church is something that is done because church is church. But that fellowship, relationship, intimacy and “closeness” are found in other places and at other times.
And despite all that – church is church and Sunday is Sunday and attending church is something to be done week after week – it’s something Good Christians do.
Like work. Like school. Like something to be done because it must. And yes, there are good days, good times, good lessons, good projects, good services. But there is also a lot of dross, boredom, repetition, duty, “must”. But hey … church is church.
My dad used to tell us children that old “lesson” of attendance: that one piece of coal burns bright in the open fire, but should it (we) be spat to the edge of the fireplace and sit alone – it (we) soon burns out – it (we) would no longer burn bright but become cold lumps of ash. The moral was that I need to attend church each week to keep my faith alive and bright.
I need church. We need church. That word again … “need”.
I believed dad’s imagery for decades.
And then I went beyond the bible. Went beyond accepting the bible as literal. Moved to seeing the bible not as “This is God” but as a curiosity. Fueled by different motivations, filled with different agendas, written as a hotch-potch of writings for a certain bunch of people in a certain time – and for a mixture of historical reasons (we mostly prefer to ignore today).
I “spat” myself out of the assembly I had been told I needed.
Except for me that did not diminish the bible – it freed the bible – and in freeing the bible it freed me – it freed me to have a relationship deeper than for decades and decades of never “burning bright” in the fire. And I know I am not alone.
“Church” is not the building. Church is not “Sunday”. Church is not “attendance”. And there really is no edge to “the fireplace” – and there is no burning out. I am not even sure what “burning out” is – unless it is the boredom of tradition and must and duty and obligation (and there seems to be a lot of that in the “fireplace”).
So I wonder today whether what our dad taught is valid ONLY IF the “fire” is the kind of fire you would want on a cold and damp day – a fire of heat, a fire of light, a fire of passion, a fire of energy.
Because if this “fireplace” is built on tradition … “church is church” … so much “that’s how we have always done things around here” … so much “fear of fire” … then this fire is not a fire at all. And maybe it feels and looks a collection of decreasing and tired (m)embers – it is not a bright and living thing.
So maybe being spat to the edge of the fireplace … maybe being freed from the constraints of (m)embership … going beyond the bible and finding oxygen to breathe … maybe all that “freedom” allows a burning bright not possible in the fireplace of (m)embers.
When I talk with those who have attended church for years but find their God elsewhere …
Wouldn’t you ask a few questions as well?