Whoa! This is going to be a controversial blog! But, what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t write what is on my heart? The topic of religion is always a controversial one. Just the mention of the words “church” or “religion” can spur the worst in people. There are so many different religions, opinions, beliefs, practices, and so on. Few, even the ones worshiping the same God, will agree on little.
I grew up in a small, white Assembly of God church that sat atop a steep hill. My mother was bedridden, but insisted that I attend church every Sunday morning. I’m not sure why she chose this church. I seem to remember someone taking my brother there a few times for “laying of hands” or whatever it is called. He was diagnosed with Leukemia around the age of 4 years old. He would only live another 4 years on this earth. Perhaps this is why my mother chose this church? Perhaps the visual of the “laying of hands” gave her added hope for a miracle? I really don’t know for sure. All I know is I would walk the approximate 1 mile to church in my Sunday best and sit through the sermons and walk back home. I don’t remember much about that church. I remember some of my Sunday School teachers and how kind they were. Sometimes they would give me rides to and from the church or even bring me to their home to play games with other children and eat some delicious food that they had prepared. But, the sermons themselves seemed to have left my memory.
Several years later my mother passed away. She had fought emphysema for many years before her death. I never remember my mother speaking about religion much, but I do recall her reading and studying her little black Bible daily. She would underline words, make notations, and highlight in yellow what was pertinent to her. Some are probably cringing right now at the thought of marking in one’s Bible. I can’t say if that is right or wrong, it’s neither black nor white, but rather one of those gray areas in life. I can say that whatever she read and whatever she believed gave her peace and comfort. She called each one of her five children into that dreary hospital room on a cold, January evening to tell us, one by one, that she would die that night. She wanted us to know just how much she loved us and that everything was going to be okay. She would be in heaven with Jesus and one day we would all see one another again. There were no tears shed that evening. She had peace and comfort knowing what was to come.
I left that hospital room that evening and prayed the same prayers I had sent up for years. For a 9 year old little girl, I was still sure Jesus would answer my prayer. My mother would be out of the hospital and in the bedroom in front of mine in no time. Only this time, that would not happen. This time, I would be awakened by my grandmother telling me that my mother had passed away. Disbelief ran through my body, as if I had been hit by an electric current. It would be days, perhaps even a week later before the full reality sank in. I didn’t believe that she would die in that hospital room, but somehow my mother did. She knew exactly what lay ahead – and she was at peace with it. Shortly after her passing, I stopped going to the little white church on the hill.
Years later, I would attend church off and on. I never really lost faith. I never questioned the existence of God. I knew He was there because I saw it in my mamma’s eyes. Only an existence much superior to ourselves could give that kind of calm to a mother that was about to leave her five children behind in this world.
After exploring several churches and denominations. I finally settled on a Baptist church in a small southern town. It had beautiful stained class windows, an inviting altar that called to me often, and a pastor that genuinely cared for his congregation. I would marry in this church, be baptized in a muddy ‘ole pond by its preacher, and I would learn what true faith actually is. I attended this church for many years and, for the most part, was there whenever its doors were open. I loved being there; worshiping with our church friends and learning about how to live my life according to the Bible. Life was good. I finally had answers that I had spent years searching for. I finally felt that I had a purpose in life. And then we moved.
We moved several states away. We knew nobody. All the friends that we had once had, with the exception of one, we discovered were really only our church friends. Once we left that church, we no longer received emails, calls, or letters inquiring how we were doing. We were forgotten. Life went on in that little stained glass church, exactly as it had every other Sunday. Life goes on.
My family and I went to several churches. In one church, we sat through the service totally unrecognized. The friendliness was definitely lacking, but the pastor’s words resonated in us, so we stayed. Several years later, we would move again. Again, our friends stayed right in their pews. I began to see a pattern and disappointment sat in.
Nevertheless, we found another church in our new town. This church had a pastor that wasn’t afraid to speak what he felt the Lord led him to say. He also never turned away a single person. In this church, you truly could come “just as you are”. A lot of churches sing this on Sunday mornings, but few actually will mean it. This pastor would let you know when you were doing something not in accordance with His will, but when he was done talking to you, you knew he still cared and loved you. The love and compassion this pastor had flowed though him, without him ever needing to say a word. It was always there, just as God intends it to be in each and every one of us. Another move was in store for us and I was sad to be leaving a church where we had been taught so much. The funny thing is, we landed right back where we began, years earlier.
Only this time, things were different. The little stained glass window church was quite a commute for us, so we decided to look closer to home. In the Bible Belt, there are no shortages of churches. You can, quite literally, find one on every corner. We searched, and what we found was disheartening.
There was a church for everyone it seemed. If you wanted to play drums, sing rock music, go to church at noon (or 8 am or 6 pm), dress fancy, dress casual, read from various translations, dance, read poetry, be a stand up comedian, ride in a skateboard park, visit the coffee shop, ….whatever you wanted, it could be found here in the modern day churches of America. It seemed that over the years we had been gone, the churches grew; some with attendance now in the thousands. They formed committees of every kind. The church literally thought of everything to appeal to every single person. There was something to entertain and make every person as comfortable as possible. The problem is, all this entertainment is overshadowing the actual learning that should be taking place. It seems we have become a society that must be entertained, almost constantly.
After much soul searching, we decided this new, modern day church is not for us. We have not given up our faith, instead we have grown it. We have not given up on the fellowship with believers, instead we now fellowship with true friends from all walks of life and beliefs, and we have not given up our hope that America will one day return to a true thirst for the knowledge and faith that exists.
The church is a building. True faith is in your heart. Faith isn’t a denomination, a building, or a certain religion. We have divided ourselves with denominations. We have divided ourselves as viewing life as black or white, right or wrong. There are gray areas in life and we don’t hold all the answers. Let’s get back to quenching our thirst by delving into the truth with true friends and true worship. We don’t need entertainment, but we do need faith. Only true faith will bring a calm and peace to us in times of need.
Now let me say this, if you have a church and you feel in your heart that you are learning there and your faith has grown, excellent! I am very happy for you! I’m not here to bash churches; I’m truly not. There are some very good ones out there. I’ve just chosen to share my story of why we have chosen to worship a little differently. For my family, it has been an eye opening experience, we have learned so much, and we have grown in our faith by leaps and bounds. That is my hope for each and every one of you, no matter how you choose to go about it.
Viventem in Momento,