It used to feel really strange coming to a country so full of seemingly Christian language and yet feeling so utterly alien to it all. It was on about my second or third visit to California that I noticed that I felt considerably more affinity with the honest searching and questioning of the hippies, new agers and agnostics that I met than I did with much of the overly-confident, divisive nonsense that I heard coming from a lot of the christians I met. More often that not, the reasons that people had for disregarding all-things-Jesus-esque were reasons that I wholeheartedly agreed with – the sanctimoniousness of so many of the Christians they’d met, the hideousness of how God’s name is invoked to back up all kinds of horseshit in US governmental circles (‘God told me to go to war‘ etc.), and the gross circus-like game show that passes for so many church services here, and all the televised acts of Christian worship I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness…
I mentioned in one of the tour blogs that Downtown Pres in Nashville is one of the very few churches I’ve been to in the US that I could go to again. I’m just trying to remember where the others were – I quite enjoyed the Presbyterian church I went to in Hollywood, and the Catholic church I visited in Orange county, but I’m not sure I’d go regularly to them if I lived there… But neither of them actually left me feeling alienated in the way that some of the others I’ve visited have done.
There seem to be two very different understandings of what church is at work here – the kind of church I want to go to is one that challenges me to love, to care for the poor, to seek justice, to hold the powerful accountable for how their actions affect the powerless. Church should be a place where I’m encouraged to live a life that’s different in as much as I’m focusing my time on what I can do for other people, rather than obsessing about expanding my piece of the pie. A place where I can be honest, where I can be open about my failings, but also not be able to escape the consequences of my actions, where prayer is about aligning myself with the kind of things that God is concerned about, rather than about some screwed-up spell-casting bullshit where I try and twist God’s arm into giving me a good parking space and sorting out my shit life when I’m not willing to make any changes myself. It should also be a place that encourages me NOT to surround myself all the time with people who believe the same things I do – that, my dear friends, is a cult, and having ‘unsaved’ friends just so you can ‘witness’ to them doesn’t count. That’s the kind of freaky double standard that we find so creepy in people who turn up at our front doors telling us how to live (full disclosure – I once did a ‘door to door’ thing when I was in my teens, with the church I was at – at the time I thought the discomfort I felt doing it was just my resisting God’s call. Now I understand I really should have listened to the voice that told me that a 17 year old turning up at your door trying to tell you ‘the Good News’ is just about the stupidest thing that can happen – it would have made much more sense to go round and ask for advice and listen to people’s stories, but anyway…)
Instead, so often the church is full of people who spend no time with people outside of their church circle, who are all implicity encouraged to dress the same (there are few things that annoy me more than the idea of Sunday best – not that I mind people wanting to dress up for church; each to their own – but the idea that you ‘should’ is pure bollocks), it’s a place where misogyny and homophobia are encouraged and entrenched, where nationalistic pride is fostered (I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of crap gets preached in so many US churches around Memorial day and Independence Day, in a ‘US = God’s chosen nation’ kind of way). Church should be a place that challenges our prejudices, our pride and our complacency in speaking out in favour of any oppressed group, whether that oppression is on gender, sexual orientation, race or class lines. Instead all those prejudices are confirmedby