Sunday, January 9, 2011

Has God Gone Online?

A topic that has been coming up very often lately in my life is, "Is going to church relevant to everyone, anymore?" I know many people find comfort in the brick and mortar grace, but like (and this might be mildly blasphemous) most retailers, do we need physical building anymore? Specifically, this is something I've wrestled with since going to college.

I guess a little background.

I always hated going to church, but it used to be boredom. It was just a matter of spending an hour a week going through the motions and every now and then there were donuts.

Then I started showing physical symptoms of not liking going to church around 8th grade or so. (There was once, after standing and kneeling during the stations of the cross that the incense literally made me run outside and vomit) I think I can attribute this to my school at the time. Church was used as punishment.

I was in advanced Algebra (I think this is also why I don't like math or science) and it happened to be taught by the religious coordinator of our church. She was basically a sister, just without the formal training. Anytime I questioned God, or the church, or the Bible, I wouldn't get a conversation or an answer from her. Instead, I would get an answer like, "Because that's how it is." And she would see my question as a slight against God. My punishment would be to read that Wednesday's bible passage in front of church. (I was very good at this, which is another reason I think I was "in trouble" so often.)

I don't remember it ever bothering me then. It was more of an annoyance. But I think any psychiatrist would say that's an open and closed case of why now when I go to church I get so tense.

It's a weird tenseness too. Its only during the opening of the service, all the way up to the Bible reading. Which nowadays, most churches spend a good 3-5 songs at the beginning just rocking out and slide a greeting somewhere in there. I'm sure that it eases some people into the church, and that its done good things for Christianity, but its like nails on a chalkboard to me. (I get a similar reaction when I hear the birthday song.)

I also don't like the greeting part. I know its supposed to breed some sort of community with the church goers, but mostly what I see is people shaking hands with a customer service smile, then quickly leaving at the end of the service, only to scream at the same person as they leave the parking lot. I'm guilty too. I shook Sallie's hand today and one guy that had a sweet beard. I can't remember his name. That's one guy. ONE GUY'S NAME! What good has that hand shake done for us?

I don't like the community part of worship. I would love to volunteer with the church and do good in my community, but unless I"m going to be building a house for the poor on Sunday after service, I need to get out of church and get to the grocery store while I still have time.

I tense up to the point where my neck is stiff and I have a terrible headache by the time we're back in the car. I love the sermon, I love the Bible verses, but that music and the greetings... I just can't do it. I've tried taking deep breaths. I've tried spacing out. I've tried not giving my mind any warning. Nothing seems to stop this reaction.

So this week, in one of those classic moments where the movie protagonist stares into heaven and asks God "why!", I stared at my shower head and asked, "If church makes me so uncomfortable and tense, should I be going there? Should I be doing something else? How do I know there's not some evil influence trying to pull me from church?"

I've heard the argument for both sides, "Yes church is important" and "Sometimes God has different plans for your time." It seems to be an argument that changes from person to person. Some say the Bible says church is absolutely necessary. Other's say, "God will let you know what you're supposed to do. Trust in him." Then the retort, "All we know is what's written in the Bible." And then, "Well Paul didn't do anything Christian until God gave him a sign, so maybe you should listen to your body." It seems to go back and forth depending on which camp you're in.

Honestly neither side has convinced me yet. Every time I start leaning one way, the other side brings up a good point.

I didn't think much of it until today. I figured God would give me my answer in one of those ingenious, "A-ha" moments that only someone more wily than you can cause.

You see, I feel like I can get the same message listening to the sermon digitally and reading the bible on my own time.

This eliminates the music quandary I have.

This eliminates touching strangers.

But I figure if the sign I'm supposed to feel is at church, there's only one way for me to see that sign. I must go. So today Sallie and I went.

Please weigh in on this. Here's the answer I got.

The church was packed. We were forced to sit some close to strangers that not even Sallie that is half my size was comfortable.

We got to church a little late today and missed most of the music. Only heard about a song and a half. It was a good amount for me to tolerate. My tenseness was at a minimum. Besides being incredibly tired, I was feeling good today.

We went through the greeting that I described above and then someone came out and read a few passages from Job.

...Then, here's the weird thing (in two parts)

1) The sermon was about asking God questions and letting him answer. Don't just re-phrase the question until you feel like you got an answer you like. So exactly what I've been going through.

but then...

2) As to almost affirm that yes, in today's digital world, Jesus can be as affective online as seeing a live person, the pastor didn't present the sermon live. In fact, I don't think he was in the building. We watched on the 10 or so television screens, the taped sermon from the night before. A full church of a few hundred people, sat in uncomfortable chairs, staring at a television screen to get our message for the week. No one seemed weirded out about this. Everyone responded when the taped message asked for us to read along. Everyone laughed at all the jokes. I swear, there could've been a laugh track involved.

So here's the question I have:

1) Can I get the same sweet amount of savior per week by downloading the podcast of the sermon at the church I go to? I know this sounds like I'm being lazy, but it seems that all of the other parts of the service aren't for me. At least this way, I can reflect, rewind, read along with what's going on. I tend to take in more of the message and retain it for the week instead of just a few hours.

2) OR is this just a case of me asking this question so many times in so many different ways that I finally got the answer I was searching for?

Its something that I have to reflect on. Like with most divine question and answer sessions, there might not be one answer for everyone. I doubt I've gotten even part of the answer by now. That's the thing about God, we're not going to totally know him until we meet him after our Earthly suffering has ended.