The relentless religious decline of my fellow Americans doesn’t really surprise me — even as I am one who loves the church, claims it as my spiritual home, and wonders why people don’t “get it” the way do. It’s just that I know too many perfectly wonderful people – friends, family, colleagues – who simply hold zero to little interest in going to church or affiliating with a faith that is so often seen as being hypocritical, judgmental, and exclusive, not to mention irrelevant, old-fashioned and just plain boring (or worse yet, overly peppy!!!).
What perhaps surprises me more is that, given the statistics and anecdotal evidence that surrounds me every day, I remain a Christian. Specifically one who goes to church most Sundays of the year. What gives? Why, when so many people have drifted away and found a hundred other life-giving ways to spend their Sunday mornings, do I still choose to drag myself out of bed on a perfectly quiet weekend morning and drive a half hour to my imperfect little church?
Now, aside from the clearly obvious reason that my church is truly remarkable in its progressive vision, preaching and inclusive welcome (still not convinced? no, I didn’t think so), I have a few other thoughts. But first, some brief background.
My church-going life began when I was about nine years old, after my parents moved our family from the Bay Area to Denver. Everyone went to church in Denver. A new playmate of mine was the daughter of a United Church of Christ minister, and we all liked their family a lot, so we started going to their church. First Plymouth Congregational Church in a southern suburb of Denver became our new community. We went to church regularly, joined a bunch of other families every summer for community camp in the Black Forest, got confirmed, hung out in youth group, and socialized, served, and grew with this congregation. My parents and I belong there to this day. I am now adult friends with the men and women who taught me Sunday school and supervised youth group. My brother was married in the sanctuary a month ago. I sing in the choir, I’ve served on the Stewardship Committee, the Mission Team, and am a co-chair of our Web of Care ministry. All of this is to say, I don’t just attend church now and then; I’m committed. And…I really, really love it.
But why? Why am I a Christian, still? I’ve attempted to distill it down into six reasons, purely subjective, deeply personal, and surely eclectic, as to why I stick around when most of my friends have long left the building.
1. When Jesus comes to dance with you, it’s hard to leave the dance floor.
In my late 20s, I took a job at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, serving in the Program in Christian Spirituality. My very first week, my boss sent me on a week-long retreat at Lake Tahoe, where I learned contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and experienced for the first time a God who was imminent and not just transcendent. One evening during communion, as I was singing with my eyes closed, Jesus came to me, took my hands, and began swirling me around and around, like a Dad swinging his little kid in the park. Jesus and I were laughing and dancing; his hair was flowing behind him in this crazy bright sunshine, and he had the biggest, warmest smile on his face. It was the most joyful prayer experience I’ve ever had and certainly the most intimate experience to date with the person of Jesus. It hasn’t happened quite that way since, but when Jesus comes and dances with you — even once – you don’t leave the dance floor.
2. Being Christian fits me with Love glasses.
“And we were put on Earth a little space/ To learn to bear the beams of love.” – Walt Whitman
I believe I care more about the people around me, my community, and the world at large because I’m a Christian. This is not to say in any way that you can’t care about the world if you’re not Christian, I just attribute my own capacity for caring to my sense of being loved by God and being called to return that love. I try to see the world through a lens of love, instead of a lens of fear (hard and daily work). Christianity has taught me to put on Love glasses; my church community helps me not to lose them. And it’s a discipline that I believe makes me a better, more generous, and more compassionate person.
3. When you lose it in church, women come to comfort you.
When I returned to Denver in my early 40s after living in California for nearly 20 years, I went through a painful separation and eventually, a divorce. The first Sunday I returned to the church I grew up in as a new divorcee, I was overcome by a strong grief cocktail of guilt, confusion and despair, mixed with a strong sense of being home and being known. I completely broke down at the end of the service and began sobbing in the pew. Instead of being embarrassed and running to the restroom, I just sat there, letting the tears flow. Several women — some who knew me as a young girl, and others who had never met me — came to me to comfort me with soft words, nods and kleenex. Church was, and is, the place I can bring my grief (as well as joy) in the full hope of being seen, heard, and healed.
4. Church grounds me like nothing else, in ways I never quite understand.
Hiking in the mountains grounds me. Lying in my hammock on a still summer evening grounds me. Snuggling with my scruffy dog, Buster Brown, grounds me. But going to church grounds me in a different way I can’t really put a finger on. All I know is when I miss too many Sundays in a row, I begin to feel untethered. Less… human. My life begins to be about me, and my problems, and my needs, and my desires. Not that having all of those things is bad, it’s just that when “my life” begins to consume my days, they become very small, and shallow, and dimly lit. The church is a magnet that draws my heart back to God, and reminds me of a higher calling and purpose in this world: to love and serve others. And on Communion Sunday, when we all walk forward to receive the bread and wine; the old, the young, the big, the little, the gay, the straight, the brown, the white, I’m moved beyond words as I experience a taste of the Kingdom of God.
5. God keeps calling me back, no matter how far I stray or how much I forget my identity as “beloved.”
Another great gift of my time at the seminary was my coming to know myself as God’s “beloved.” And nothing I do seems to change God’s mind on that! In fact, I sense God wooing me, as a lover might, day by day –through nature, through people, through interactions and events. And unlike most other lovers, God is accessible and interested in me 24/7, inviting me to “please, come love the world, be in relationship with me, see what I see, smell what I smell, love how I love.” This God of second, and third, and fourth chances continues to call me back to life, and to love, and to possibility, when I’m feeling unlovable and listless.
6. Which leads me to… Resurrection.
My beau has watched every episode of every season of Game of Thrones – and loved it. But this past season he got mad; mad enough to stop watching. They keep killing off all the good characters, he says, and it feels like nothing is sacred and there is no reason to keep watching the show. No one you care about survives. That’s pretty dismal. I couldn’t watch that show week after week. I have to see some kind of redemption to go on with the show. I have to believe that death doesn’t get the final bow, that there is something more behind that curtain. And I don’t necessarily mean a Heaven. I mean something more than what we’re experiencing here and now. Something mysterious is occurring behind the scenes. As David Wilcox sings, “There is evil cast around us. But it’s love that wrote the play.” Love has set the stage. And the story of Jesus offers me a glimpse of that, a glimpse of a Love that won’t leave any of its characters – beloved or otherwise – without a final bow. That has been a saving grace in my life, over and over again, and I see it play out in the lives of others, and in the natural world, every day.
So, what about you? Why are you still a Christian? Why do you stay when so many have left? Throughout the rest of the summer, we’ll be sharing our responses to the question here at the Progressive Christian Channel in conjunction with our stellar The Future of Progressive Christianity series, and I’ll link back to your favorite bloggers in this space as they post. And if you’re inspired to chime in with a guest post, send it to me (or send me your link) and you might just wind up here on Faith Forward as well.
More Progressive Christians on “Why I’m Still A Christian”:
- Greg Garrett: Why I’m (Still) an Episcopalian
- Kyle Roberts: Why am I Still A Christian? Because of Hope
- Ellen Painter Dollar: Because the Bible Speaks to My Deepest Longings and Desires
- Teresa Blythe: Why I Remain a Contemplative Christian