October 2011: Why bother with church?

At school, I focussed on maths, physics and chemistry. I went on to gain a degree in electrical engineering, and then worked in the computer industry for 27 years, most of it doing the technical part of selling - presentations, demonstrations, education, special interest groups, and so on. The logical part of my brain that made all this possible has a problem with religion, especially that sort of religion that says, “you have to behave (or believe) like this because we always have”, or, “God says what we should do in the Bible, and we know it’s true because God said it in the Bible”, or “we know what’s best for you - come and be like us!” That part of my brain frequently argues about faith, and wonders why I bother with church. It searches for rational proof of God’s existence, and finds none.

Fortunately for me, my experience of life has led me to another conclusion about God, one that cannot be reasoned away logically. In various ways, and at various times, I have sensed and continue to sense God’s intangible presence amidst the gathered people who make up the church. It’s like that feeling that someone is watching you - it isn’t rational, but somehow transcendent. It overrides my logical brain and makes everything somehow better, like going from an old small television to a modern high-definition one.

I have encountered the same sense of presence when I am alone in other places, such as on hill-tops, but faith doesn’t develop and deepen without discussion and testing, which you can’t do alone. It seems to me that the post-modern notion that we can each develop our own spirituality without reference to each other is missing the opportunity to develop further through dialogue. Faith develops as we tell the stories of our lives to others. Church can give us a safe place to do this story-telling.

As I write, I am conscious of the multitude who have been abused or hurt by church people, and desperately ashamed of those who brought this about in what should have been a safe place; but we still use cars even though there are bad drivers and people die in collisions, and so it is with church, for me. There is more unspoken good than there is bad. If you have been so hurt, I pray that you will find deep healing.

Of course, I’m not saying this sense of God’s presence always happens in church meetings. I have visited some churches and come away with a terrible sense of the absence of God. But it can happen, if we collectively let it. That’s not why I went to church in the first place - that was more to do with Jesus - but it is why I bother with church now: it is among the people that God is to be found. That doesn’t make the people who go to church perfect! Far from it. They go because they know they are missing something, and are looking for that something. God is all about relationships: compassionate, forgiving, tradition-challenging non-judgemental relationships, as demonstrated by Jesus. The humans in church often fail to measure up - but God is there too, more often than we know. And that’s why I bother with church! Will you?

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.