I have been thinking about the church of my youth. I have been remembering, if you will, as a guy who has read too much Updike (I'll never forgive him for the Rabbit books) might remember his youth.
There is a melding of nostalgia for what was as well as what might have been. It's a mess, to be honest, a kind of lie that draws me in no matter how often I tell myself it is a lie. Sometimes these lies of memory are the heart's truth.
My story is not unusual. I was baptized as an infant because that what one did with one's children in 1970. Dutiful people like my parents were in 1970 did such things even though, intended or not, we never really did much with church. I recall my younger brother's baptism as well.
We attended church only a little. I remember the corduroy three-piece suit I had to wear. I remember getting it dirty while playing outside. My mother was never particularly pleased with that aspect of my churching as a child. Whatever these memories might indicate, church never became part of our family life. There were always other activities other things to do.
If I were to name the church of my youth, I would have to say it was no church at all. I do not regret this. Please understand that I do not pine for some kind of childhood I would have had if I had gone to church. My parents were both very clear about their own struggles with organized religion. I knew church to be a mixed bag.
And, honestly, I never got over the feeling that church was just weird. It didn't jibe with the rest of my life as a kid. So, I never missed it. In many ways I grew up ignorant about religion (a problem of sorts, but not an insurmountable one) and that was okay by me.
Sunday mornings were for reading and Legos, for fishing and watching a little CBS Sunday Morning. Sunday mornings were for sleeping in when we needed to. Sunday mornings were for that first conversation about Sunday evening's homework. I was spiritual but not religious. Even as a teen I was using that language as so many others have.
I was, however, incredibly curious about religion. Bullfinch's Mythology was a worn out old book as was my edition of Deities and Demi-gods (Yes, D&D led me to Jesus. Get over it.). I inhaled that stuff. Archaeology. Mythology. History. Any horror or fantasy literature that tinkered with the same. I loved it.
That's how I ended up a Christian. Blame Bullfinch. A major in religion at my liberal arts university made perfect sense in retrospect.
Fast forward 30 or so years to today and I find myself missing those days. I am nostalgic for the recollected peace.
Why do I share all this? Well, I have been reading the blog posts of a pastor who is taking a sabbatical from church. He's taking his three month sabbatical to explore what it means to be Spiritual But Not Religious. I am skeptical that he can actually do such a thing and truly get at the SBNR experience. By his own admission, he has always been a church nerd, a consistent attendee, a devoted follower of Christ and all around religious guy. Even though he's taking time off from attending church, I don't think he'll actually get to experience the SBNR experience.
You see, the SBNR person isn't necessarily giving anything up. Perhaps they have left a tradition, but more and more people simply weren't raised in any one tradition. They don't "miss" church. They haven't given something up that can be missed. They don't seek a religious institution because they may not experience any need for one. They simply live their lives and the weekend is the weekend and they sleep in two days in a row. Going to church or synagogue or the mosque is something EXTRA to do.
The pastor is afraid he might miss his church-going. The SBNR may not share that feeling at all. Quite the opposite.
As I age, more and more I find I miss my former Sunday mornings. If I pine for anything it is fishing and sleeping in. I pine for breakfast with my family and wonder if life-long Christians recognize that going to church on Sunday mornings is to sacrifice all the other possible nurturing and beautiful human interactions that avail themselves on Sunday morning. As radical as this might seem to many ecclesial pundits, going to church is to give up community. It is to sacrifice family and relationships. It is to lose time with your spouse.
I get a lot out of church. I have made friends there...hell, some of my best friends, people I treasure more than I can say are friends from church. I learned how to be a musician in the churches I attended. I have been healed by these community. I value these communities of faith more than I can express. But do not understate the Biblical passages where Jesus says he's going to tear families apart. Don't think that when Jesus says, "Come. Follow me." that he isn't taking you away from something you love.
Sometimes going to church is a great burden to me...not because it's a white hot mess of human dysfunction, but because it's not how I was raised. It is not what I was taught to value. It's not what I know deep in my bones. Going to church is a sacrifice I make to my God. It's the new thing I do even after all these years of serving.
Life with Christ is still a life in translation.
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.