Trish’s church presents me with a real challenge….
Let me say this: the body has cravings. A body needs certain things to survive, and it expresses these needs to the mind as desire. I’m not trying to posit some clever point here, I’m just trying to state something we’ll all agree on, so if you don’t like that wording, rearrange it as necessary.
Sometimes you get hungry. You get hungry because you need nourishment for energy to keep on living. I don’t mean to say “every time you get hungry, that time is because you need nourishment.” What I mean, the reason animals get hungry at all, is because they need nourishment, and that craving is a message from the body to the brain.
Now let me go on to say this: people have a need for God in their lives. Again, I’m not ASSERTING that people have a need for God in their lives, whether they accept it or not, and advocating that we go out and add God to people’s lives because they’re ignorant….
They’re not. That’s exactly as likely as someone being unaware that they need food to go on living. Yes, it’s a condition that occurs in some, but the vast majority of people KNOW when they have a need, whether or not they are able to fill that need in a responsible way.
So it is with God, and worship. Worship of God is something imposed on Man by the majesty of his (Man’s) existence, not by the arrogant will of an egotistical God. We need, for health and happiness, to cry out to God in wonder and humility. We need to experience God’s role in our lives, and actively step into his presence. We need to feel the divine blood coursing through us. There is a thirst in Man to experience such majesty.
And here is my concern with organized religion: it meets that need.
How many sermons have you heard stressing that, “Christianity is not what happens in this building…it’s what happens when you go outside!” Why are all of those sermons necessary? If any of them worked, why would they keep getting preached?
If the need to experience God’s majesty is like hunger, organized worship is like candy. It meets that need, in a most pleasant way. It satisfies your craving AND leaves you feeling good…but without the nutrients you need. Most of the time when you’re hungry, it’s not from lack of sugar and chocolate. It’s from lack of vitamins, nutrients, but you can satisfy the craving without actually healing yourself. And so your Mom reminds you, all the time, “eat some vegetables.” You buckle down and force yourself to eat some healthy food every now and then, because you know you’ve gotta, but when you get hungry, your desire is not for healthy food, but junk food.
Church is junk food. That’s why we have preachers telling us over and over again, “Get out there and eat some vegetables.” Church is a spectacle, crafted majesty. It’s an opportunity to CREATE that feeling of being in God’s presence (by just the right combination of socializing and ritualizing and performance, and DON’T get the mixture wrong or your whole congregation will rip apart). The thing is…that’s a feeling you usually have to WORK for.
In real life, you have to devote yourself, day and night, to consideration of God and his holy message in order to get the kind of insight and understanding a preacher can hand you on Sunday morning. You have to step out of your comfort zone and get dirt on your hands helping strangers, helping the poor and sick and needy, to get the kind of spiritual high that church offers with a well-chosen selection of songs. You have to be prepared with an open heart and mind when you stumble upon the most amazing display of natural beauty, to get the kind of quiet joy that church just POURS into you….
An interesting thing about junk food is that it creates its own cravings. You learn to be hungry, not when your body needs nutrition, but when your body wants more junk food. And you confuse the two, and you begin to realize how hungry you always are, and how much that junk food satisfies your hunger, and suddenly it seems like that junk food is an important part of your diet (more important than the broccoli and sprouts that you’re NEVER hungry for).
Church is like that. You hear people talk about how they couldn’t make it through a week without the energy they get from church on Wednesday night. And I always sigh inside, because they’re admitting their surrender. If they didn’t have church on Wednesday night, they couldn’t make it through the week without being HUNGRY for God.
And, I like to think, when they felt that hunger they’d go out and sate it. Not with some cheap, easy fix. Not with artificial preservatives (I’ll have to do more with that line, sometime…), but tracking down and hunting real spiritual food. Actually loving and forgiving neighbors, actually experiencing God in this life, or understanding God’s plan for the next.
I’ve also heard it said (although I can’t personally attest) that when you really start eating healthy, your body starts to crave healthy food. And, suddenly, junk food isn’t even attractive anymore. You can eat a little bit, but it mostly makes you uncomfortable.
I like that part about craving healthy food. I like it within the metaphor — that if we were somehow driven to earnestly serve God (rather than to meet our own needs in a hall of worship), day in and day out, maybe some day we would learn to do that naturally, easy, to walk constantly in the presence of God. To experience his majesty throughout our life, not just in the individually packaged, Fun Size doses three times a week.
All that said, Trish’s church presents me with a real challenge. I’ll explain how another time.