Editor's Note: This is the second installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.
I lost my joy.
I suspect there are a few of you who feel the same way. Not that you aren't happy, but there is this deep place of celebratory joy which you once knew that really doesn't come around much anymore.
There was a time when I was a pretty joyful guy. Not “blind to the world's problems” kind of joyful, just “blessed to be blessed in the midst of this mess” kind of joyful. Lately though, I've found joy to be an increasingly difficult thing to come by.
The thing is, I have every reason to be joyful. I'm lucky enough to be married to an amazing woman — truly amazing. I couldn't be prouder of my kids who, in an age of “be different just like us” are very much their own kind of different simply because they aren't afraid of being themselves. My personal interests, like my blog, just keep getting better. I have some of the best friends in the world. Yet, I'm not the generally joyful person I once was.
It's a dull malaise that I just can't quite shake. I don't like it. Not one bit.
Recently though, I've been catching little glimpses of my joy making cameo appearances in the storyline of my life. I like it. A lot.
The question is, why now? Why not back then?
I can't say that I have the complete answer yet, but I am beginning to have some insights to it. The first glimpse happened at the Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, NC . Frankly, given the setting, I did not believe for one moment that it was where I'd start sorting out my joy.
It was on a piece of tick-infested farm land with temperatures and relative humidity in the nineties. I'd gathered with a bunch of strangers under an oversized, white tent that was purportedly meant to provide a venue for musicians and speakers to present their gifts, but it seemed to be equally adept at trapping the heat and humidity pouring off of all those gathered. Joyful, right? Admittedly, I wasn't so certain.
I was there to see David Wimbish and the Collection . In their own words they “play music that sounds a little like a train-hopping vagabond tripped over a drum-set and fell into the orchestra pit. Their live show feels a mix between Charlie Brown’s band and a live game of Tetris, but in some kind of wild multiplayer mode where everyone can participate in whatever way they’d like.” Having now seen them, I concur. They are sort of like Mumford and Sons to the fourth power being forced to play random instruments. You know — really, unusually good.
The concert started with an empty stage. The guy two seats over from me starts in on his mandolin. (Why I didn't notice that the guy two seats over from me had a mandolin is beyond me — lets chalk it up to the dull malaise). The next thing I know folks scattered throughout the crowd are standing up and singing as they make their way toward the stage. It was like we, the crowd, were the band. Little did I know how important that was.
Mark Sandlin currently serves as the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church  in Greensboro, NC. He received his M. Div. from Wake Forest University's School of Divinity  and has undergraduate degrees in Business Administration and English with a minor in Computer Science. He's an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and a self-described progressive.
Image: Man walking away, by igor.stevanovic /Shutterstock.