I walk into church on Sunday morning. I see people I know and love, I say hi, I laugh. I walk over to get coffee at the coffee bar, a line standing out to the door like it’s Starbucks on a Monday morning. Parents are toting their kids – some crying, some cheerful – to the nursery located just outside the auditorium doors. I walk through the auditorium; two huge screens display pictures of mountains or birds or what-have-you. I sit down in a plastic chair. I sing songs with some of the worst lyrics known to man, wishing they made me feel something other than ‘cringe’ (which yes, is an entire emotion. Looking at you, Sloppy Wet Kiss). The preacher walks out onto the stage; too far away for me to see his face, but at least it’s up on the big screens. I listen to a sermon. It’s a good one – nothing new or exciting, per se. Nothing that shakes me at my core or gives me a new perspective, but it’s a good one.
I leave the building – a big, square, unimaginative thing built to pack people in several times a morning. Space and efficiency are the names of the church-building game.
This experience has repeated itself in every church I’ve ever attended – with the strength of each element varying, of course.
Many wonder why people – especially people my age, in their twenties – are leaving the church. They wonder especially why they’re leaving the church for things like Paganism and Wicca.
I don’t wonder.
Living in Omaha, I made a friend. His name was Erik, and he worked at the bar across the street from the coffeeshop I frequented. He was the first Pagan I ever met, and I loved him. He was a tall, plaid-wearing, mid-fifties Jack of all trades – if you needed a private investigator, a carving, fresh vegetables from his garden, or a fence built, he was your guy. He would stop and talk to so many people, and everyone knew and loved him, and it fascinated me.
I would stop in at the bar after I finished my walks downtown and back – hot, sweaty, and ready to be refreshed by a ginger beer + bitters. He gave them to me for free, and I would sit in the cool air and talk with him.
He was excited to be a Pagan. We first met because I was reading Norse Myths and sketching, and he stopped by my table on his way out to chat with me about it.
(How often have you been reading the Bible, and had a Christian walk up, excited, to chat with you about it? How often have you done the reverse?)
Rarely do I see someone excited to not just talk about their faith, but to be their faith. He was. And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it opened a line of thinking in my subconscious.
I began to wonder – what if Christianity, as we know it today, was missing something? I’ve always blamed people for not being excited enough about it, for not living it like they should. But what if it was the institution?
And there, I believe, lies one of the main problems. Christianity today is an institution. It’s corporate.
Not far from where I met Erik sits a Cathedral. And stepping into this Cathedral is one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not Catholic – that didn’t matter.
It was magnificent. Every single detail about the building was designed with love and care and imagination. With worship. Inside, the very air you breathed felt like worship. You could tell just walking in – this place had been bathed in prayer. It had been built to do so.
God was there.
Without exaggeration, never once have I walked into a modern American church building and felt that. Never once.
I cried, for no reason I could name. I sat, and I prayed, and I cried, and I felt both convicted and refreshed. Convicted of what? I didn’t know. I just knew that in that moment, something had been planted in the dry soil of my faith.
I had no idea just how big it would grow.