Feel free to comment on any of these notes as they're posted, or to
jump back and forth between them all. My hope with these notes is to
advance the conversational ball just a bit, and hopefully give you as
much to think about as you have given me.
(2) "Church" is really unnecessary to spirituality or connection with
God, because He can be found and communicated with anywhere.
Of all the good things to come out of the 1980's one of my favorites is
the music of U2. A couple of months ago when they came on tour to
Foxboro Rita and I had the chance to take in the concert live. I spent
the months leading up to the concert filling up with anticipation on
how great the show would be. I listened repeatedly to the U2 playlist
on my iPod. I even learned some of the new songs because I wanted to be
able to at least recognize some of them when they were played at the
I had been listening to U2 off and on for nearly 20 years, but never in
a live venue. My expectations were absolutely sky high for the event.
And, amazingly enough, they actually managed to deliver on my
anticipation. It was a phenomenal show all around. The experience of
singing along with about 70,000 other U2 fans as we reveled in songs
that we had all, to various degrees, come to know and love was
something I don't think I'll ever forget.
But it wasn't quite like what I'd heard on my iPod. There were times
that Bono's voice was drowned out by the music. There were times I
couldn't hear the Edge's guitar riffs quite as clearly as I can hear
them when I sit down and listen to the music on a CD with all the
instruments mixed just perfectly together to get the right sound. But
would I trade the perfection of the sound I can experience by myself
with just me and the music for the experience of being surrounded by
thousands of other people? Probably not. Did I hold it against U2 that
the guy sitting in front of me couldn't sing to save his life? No. Why?
Because there was, for lack of a better term, an energy in that
environment that the best, clearest music listened to in the personal
space of my headphones couldn't possibly replicate.
For the same reason that I prefer live music to music in my iPod, I
prefer gathering together with others to worship to all of the times I
get to spend by myself. Those times alone are treasured, but I find
that instead of them fully satisfying me, they feed in me a desire to
join my voice and my life with others who want to throw themselves into
the same kind of life following Jesus that I so deeply desire.
The idea of "avoiding church" takes for granted something that I think
may be perpetuated by followers of Jesus – that the building is of
primary importance. I don't think that's the case. I believe you can
(and should) find God in the everyday places. He speaks in sunrises and
sunsets. His voice echoes on the sound of the wave that crashes the
shore and thunders in the wind. When the heavens stretch out like a
black canvas and the stars are sprinkled across it like a cloud of
light, it takes my breath away.
Those personal experiences I have do not, however, replace my own need
for community with other human beings. My "going to church" is not
really quite so important as my "being the church" with other people
that I share my life with. As many times as I have been inspired by
what I see of God in the created world, I have been inspired by the
simple handshake from a person who has prayed for me that week, or the
smile of a person who knows that there's nothing I need more than that
look of encouragement right then. How many times have I seen in the
face of a friend at worship the amazing grace and goodness of God
reflected back to me? I can't begin to count.
The church, when it's about people instead of buildings and budgets,
creates such a community, and fosters those opportunities for genuine
human connection that puts hands and feet and faces to the voice of
God. Are there times that those same hands and feet and faces
discourage me as much as they encourage me? Sure. And I'm sure I've
done my share of discouraging as well. But I wouldn't trade the
challenges of community for the freedom of isolated and individualistic
faith. I'd miss the community too much.
I haven't stopped listening to U2 on my iPod. I don't think I ever
will. It's just that now, when I hear the songs, I hear the voices of
70,000 others singing along. I remember the feeling and I'm inspired
again. I think that the gathering of people to worship, to sing, to
intentionally share our lives together is like that for me. When I
drive home on Sunday afternoon and walk into the rest of my week, those
friends are, in some part, with me. Their voices strengthen mine, and
their faith confirms mine again.
So I'd encourage you to keep seeking a connection with God that you can
nurture everywhere and at all times. At the same time I'd invite you to
not deprive yourself of the voices of others who can inform and inspire
yours more deeply.