God

11 Reasons I Don’t Go to Church Anymore

If it wasn’t for “church” I wouldn’t be here in Haiti today. Whether I have church to thank or to blame for that is still up for debate but I definitely can’t tell my story of being here without it. When I first came to Haiti in 2007 it was under the auspices of the United Methodist Church and with the financial support of multiple specific churches, some of which still support me to this day. During my early years in Haiti I was even involved in the establishment of a local church here which continues to serve the community. One of my favorite parts of the Christian tradition is indeed the fellowship that we share through the act of worshipping with a body of believers. Church is something that is important to me. As a human being I feel that we each require some sort of organized effort to encourage the pursuit of a spiritual journey alongside other sojourners and the institution of church, in spite of all of its faults, provides, in its own imperfect way, that outlet. I don’t believe that following your spirit through life and ultimately to life can be an individual pilgrimage because we were created to be in relationship to one another, and one way to do that is through church.

And yet, I don’t go to church. Not anymore. It could be argued that I’m subject to the general mass exodus that is happening in the church in general among millennials, which has been written about already to an exhaustive extent by many others giving all sorts of cockamamie reasons to why it’s happening. Ok, fine, some of them are actually legitimate, but for the most part they seem to me like a harried effort to make up ground that’s already been lost for good. They also try to bring succinct analysis to something that’s much more nuanced than that for each individual that is going through a transition in their relationship with church. There are lots of reasons that many of my generation don’t go to church anymore. It might be because there isn’t enough love and tolerance in the church; or it might be because there isn’t enough discipline and holiness; or it might be because the music is fuddy duddy. But because of my context in rural Haiti right now, my reasons are different and there’s not just one. If I was still in the US, I assume I would be able to find a place to attend that I could feel would help me draw closer to God within this world. But at my current place in Haiti I have given up on finding such a place. So here are 11 of many reasons why I don’t go to church anymore.

I want to go, really I do.

I want to go, really I do.

1. Emphasizing the How rather than the Why

I attended a church during college where the pastor would always say that God was more interested in the posture of your heart than the posture of your body. I’ve always appreciated a theology such as that which allows for differing physical iterations of spiritual experiences. But it’s hard to find a congregation here especially that provides the space to worship in your own way. Usually there’s a set list of rules of do this, do that, say this, say that. It’s the same idea that’s reflected in their education system here of memorization rather than critical thinking. I guess I have never believed that the institution of church existed to restrict the spirit, but rather to liberate it. The congregations that boldly set out to explore the mysteries of why we worship rather than bogging themselves down with regulations of how we worship are the ones where I find God the most alive.

2. Prescribing Answers Instead of Searching through Tough Questions

I don’t want someone to tell me who God is or who God thinks I should be. I want a group of people to guide me and walk alongside me as I discover those things for myself. In a society where many people are illiterate and the majority of the rest of the people can’t afford a Bible of their own to read, the distinction becomes even greater creating church leaders who assume to know all of the answers and think it’s their job to shower those answers down upon all of the ignorant underlings with a shameless disregard to their actual needs. What’s even worse is knowing that most of those leaders doing the showering don’t even have any sort of theological training or have very little that would even give them any reason to assume such superiority. Even if I have many questions, I don’t go to church expecting to find the answers, I go to church for guidance and support along the journey with others who have their own questions.

3. Pastors here are jerks.

Sorry for the broad generalization but I have found it largely to be true. From trying to illegitimately throw my roommates in jail, to blaming the congregation for the late start of a service to which they themselves didn’t show up for until hours after it was supposed to start, to shaming families at their loved ones’ funerals for their sins, to trying to guilt me into giving them money because I’m white, the vast majority of pastors here have proven to me that it’s simply a requirement that you’re a complete a-hole if you want to lead a church here.

4. Blaming and Shaming

As referenced in #3, this simply seems to be the way Haitians try to convince each other of something, through guilt and humiliation. And when that pervades every message that the church extends to its members and its community, it’s sickening. If someone doesn’t feel like they can go to church without being judged, they will dismiss the idea that God can offer them something more beautiful and pure than that. In Haiti, you don’t even have to go to church to get judged. I’ve had it happen just walking by a church here. “I’m just on my way to teach an art class, but thanks anyway for informing me that I will go to hell because I have Catholic roommates. Have a nice day.”

5. “Let’s Have the White Guy Stand Up and Say Something.”

Churches here have learned that whenever white people show up they usually have something that they want to say to the congregation. Thanks, mission teams. So it makes it incredibly awkward for someone like me who wants to attend on a regular basis just to worship and follow along. It’s incredibly offensive from the start that the idea that our nationality or our race automatically gives us the superiority to teach the poor black folks something about God assumes us a right to speak in any church we show up at. Of course I hate it even in the States when you’re singled out as a visitor in a church, even if it’s to get a cute welcome gift basket. It still says that you’re different than everyone else there. I like to show up at a church where I immediately feel like part of the family and can effortlessly melt into the spiritual body there.

I'm happy to follow Disco Jesus, just don't turn the disco music up so loud.

I’m happy to follow Disco Jesus, just don’t turn the disco music up so loud.

6. Bad sound management.

I like hearing. So part of my decision to not attend church is in an attempt to preserve that important part of life for me. The idea that you have to have the speakers turned up as loud as they can go only suggests that you feel God is a very long ways away so you have to be as loud as possible for him to hear your praise. I like to believe God is close enough that we don’t have to blast our eardrums out for him to hear us. I like to think he can hear us in the silence and in the whispers just as well.

7. Politics, Politics, Politics

Gaining power within the church here is frequently seen as just one important step to gaining power within the politics of the society. I don’t go to church to be informed about who I (or my friends who are legally registered to vote) should vote for. Nor do I go to hear lectures about social issues that have no place in a spiritual house of fellowship. I want to go to a church where I can be embraced as a brother by those who don’t share my political views because we share an identity in the God that we believe in. I want to go to a church where political division doesn’t trump spiritual unity.

8. Money, Money, Money

It has happened more times than I can count, when I’m talking to friends of mine here about financial troubles, that someone will suggest, “Why don’t we build a church?” Because that’s what churches are seen as here, businesses, ways for the pastors and leaders to suck money out of the pockets of people that might choose to attend usually with a lot of guilt. Churches are understood to be money makers here. As long as you can make people believe that whatever BS you’re spewing about God is the Truth, they’ll fork over their last gourde. Doesn’t matter that the pastor is just going to use it to go woo his mistress or buy a car that his congregants will never be able to ride in or build a house 10 times the size of the homes of his congregants. I’m tired of hearing lies from the pulpit here about what money is for within the Church.

9. Exploiting Religion to Control Vulnerable People

To many people in this society who have already gotten the short end of the stick of life and are suffering from poverty, illness, abuse, disaster, and so much more, they look to religion as their only refuge. So if you take advantage of those people in their moments of suffering and use their current need and vulnerability as a way to make money or to leverage political power in the name of God, well then I sincerely hope that Hell is real and that you will burn in it for eternity because you are the lowest scum of the earth. And you should know, Mr. Pastor Know-It-All, that I seldom wish that Hell is real for anybody, but if it is, no one deserves it more than you. And unfortunately, there are far too many times that I found reasons to wish this upon pastors here for the things that I see them do to the ones that they claim to serve in the name of God.

10. Gender Inequality

In most churches here the only leadership role in a church that a woman might be allowed to have is leading the singing. There are a few exceptions, but any that I’ve found that encourage more leadership from women do so because of their international connections that pressure them to do so. The only single church in my region that has a lead female pastor was started by that woman after she spent almost 30 years abroad before returning here to build her church. There is no movement to show Haitians within their local context why it is a good idea to elevate the place of women in the church. It always comes instead with the disappointing rhetoric of “Look, they do it this way in more developed countries, so we should too.”

Oh, hello God.

Oh, hello God.

11. Interior Design

This is actually a discussion that I had with the leaders of my home church in Iowa a while back, but it applies to Haiti too. If I walk into your church and the interior design looks like it comes from the 70’s I am going to also assume that your theology is old-fashioned, afraid of change, and out of touch with what me and my generation are searching for spiritually. At the same time, if your interior design looks like it cost a fortune or includes too many lights and fancy technologies, but your church doesn’t seem to invest nearly as much into the community and the world in need then I’m going to assume that your theology is empty and shallow. In Haiti, however, it becomes difficult to allow oneself to melt into the divine inspiration of the presence of God when you’re surrounded by bare cinder bricks and the lack of airflow makes it difficult to breathe, let alone worship. In this culture, however, even in the buildings that are nicely designed and adequately finished, it still seems every time that you step into a church building that you’re entering a different dimension that’s out of touch with the reality of what life is like outside of its walls. I’m not such a Hippie Naturalist that I would say something as pretentious as “I find God more easily in the sunset,” but sometimes it does seem like a purer, stripped down, more organic environment outside of the concrete makes sense to commune with the Sacred.

So maybe I’m the one who has the wrong idea about what church is supposed to be. Maybe I’m spoiled into thinking that I’m entitled to a spiritual space that allows me to discover God for myself alongside a group of people that care about the same thing and wish to help each other get there. But until I’m either proven wrong or find a place where that’s possible, I’m going to keep calling the beach my church on Sundays.

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God is a Fashion Diva

Disclaimer: Please don’t get bent out of shape about the gender infused pronouns used in this post. Our English language has its limits and forces us to attach genders to things that shouldn’t be gendered. If I was writing in Creole, I wouldn’t have that problem. I chose feminine pronouns here just because of my choice of the noun “diva”. That does not mean that I think God is a woman or that fashion is only for women.

This is for all of those out there who like to respond to my fashion posts with the irrefutable, “Oh yeah? Well Jesus doesn’t care what I wear, he knows my heart.” I wanted to take a moment and introduce everyone to the God that I find when I read my Bible. She is a TOTAL fashion diva! I understand that part of the divine mystery of God is how She appears differently to each individual that believes in Her, so I realize some people might think I’m crazy for making such claims, but it seems clear to me that God didn’t create humans just so we could ignore the power of Style. It may not seem like the most important aspect of who God is, what with all of the problems in the world that She created, but I can’t read Her Word without being convinced of Her great love for that world so much that she wants her children to look fierce while we’re living in it. For real, She started showing just how fabulous She is from the very beginning with Adam and Eve in the garden.

Genesis 3:6,7 –

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

What was, in fact, the very first thing that humans did when they gained wisdom? Made clothes. The highest priority for those who had suddenly been made wise was not solving math equations, inventing tools, trying to decipher psychology, organizing government and civilization, discerning deep spiritual truths, or even trying to help one another; it was sewing together clothing. Those first few fig leaves sewn together represented the first steps that have now evolved to the highest couture that we see walking the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York. God has shown us that the epitome of wisdom is materialized in fashion design. In fact, it is so important to Her that God just couldn’t see Her precious creations walking around in those fig leaves for long. They were so last season. No, the Lord God is such a diva that She had to show them what the hottest fabrics were for the dawn of creation. Just a few verses later She demonstrates from the beginning the timeless versatility of leather.

Genesis 3:21,22 –

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Long before giving us humans the gift of Her Son to forgive our sins, God gave us the gift of fashion. But this fashion diva doesn’t stop there and let Her people run off and wear whatever short shorts, cargo pants, safari gear, and matching t-shirts that they want without at least some strong advice against it. She continually peppers Her Word with clear reminders of just how important it is for us humans to carefully consider the items that we put on our body. In Proverbs, for example, we see that noble character isn’t found only in the good intentions of the heart, but in the the fabrics that adorn our bodies.

Proverbs 31: 10, 20 – 25 –

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

In this passage we see that charity, respect, strength, dignity, and even joy are inseparable from fashion. If a good heart was all that mattered, then this passage could end after verse 20, where the woman helps the poor and needy, but no, it goes on to show that she and her family are clothed in the finest linens of the most beautiful colors and she even makes sure that everyone else has the fiercest garments and the hottest sashes to wear. As long as you’re clothed like a boss, you’ve got nothing to fear, because God dwells within the strength and dignity that comes from that. She created us to care about ourselves and how we look. She didn’t make us beautiful, extravagant creatures just so we could ugly up Her masterpiece with crappy clothes from the recycling bin. She also created us each to be unique children of Hers in Her own image but still each one different, so why would we ever want to hide that creativity that She invested in each of us by wearing something that matches everyone else or just makes us blend in? She created us to be filled with the utmost joy and goodness but if we believe that, then we must dress as vessels worthy enough to embody such a gift.

Haiti 899

I’m pretty sure this is some sort of lily.

But God’s focus on fashion doesn’t stop with the Old Testament where all the rules are kept. She walks that catwalk right on through the New Testament as well. Even during Jesus’ ministry he proves that he, in all of his tolerance and love, did not come to the earth just so that he could become our scapegoat for poor fashion choices. He was not only frequently criticizing those who overdressed in order to set them apart from the common people, like the Pharisees and kings, but also advised his apostles on specific ways to dress appropriately as they went out into service to the world (Luke 22:36). We may think that Jesus didn’t care about fashion because we’re used to seeing the contrived images of him in big white robes and plain old sandals, but Jesus was dressing in a way that made him most accessible and most relateable to those that the Great Fashion Diva Herself sent him to the earth to serve. He didn’t dress like a king but he didn’t dress like a beggar either. He didn’t dress in any way that set him apart yet still dressed in a way that honored the sacred creation that he represented. Jesus understood that his ministry was to be built on relationships, and warned about the dangers of allowing the clothing you wear to interfere with those relationships. He knew what it meant to consider the lilies (Matthew 6:28-30) which know how to embrace the beauty with which their Creator Diva has graced them with. Many people think that the lily verse proves that Jesus doesn’t care what we wear, but in context of the relationships he was building, this verse seems to show more how he simply wants us to have faith that he will provide what we need to wear in order that we may add beauty to our fabulous Creator’s garden. Of course, we can’t be completely like the lilies, otherwise we’d all be running around naked. Thanks to Adam and Eve, that’s not possible, so we have to find our own way towards achieving effortless, yet dignified fashion that is effective for whatever God has called us to.

Even Paul with all of his rules consistently made fashion a focus of his letters to his friends and churches that were trying to reflect the beauty of God. While encouraging their faith and deeds to speak for themselves, Paul would give specific guidelines as to what to do and not to do when dressing and accessorizing as to not allow their fashion to interfere with the ministry and service that they were intending to carry out in the world. (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It is our job now as the Church in this modern world to take these examples and see how we need dress in ways that do not interfere with our missions to our fellow brothers and sisters. How can we dress in ways that honor the splendid artistry with which we were created and still not distract from our service to others and our reflections of the image of God? How to do carry ourselves with a fearless faith in the Great Fashion Diva who knows our past, present, and future, and has promised to provide for us what we need to carry out the callings that She has placed on our lives?

Because the day will come when we will leave our life in this world behind along with all of the shopping malls and department stores that came with it. That doesn’t mean that the Diva won’t continue to make sure that we will be clothed in a way that represents all of our new found victory, worth, and glory. In the Word She drives Her point home right through the end.

Revelation 3: 4,5 –

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

I’m hoping that I’m living a life that will someday end in being clothed in that final white garment by my Diva God’s side. I hope that I’m living with enough faith that I’m aware of the Spirit’s presence with me even when I’m picking out clothes to put on each morning. Living in a way that reflects her image as the extraordinarily beautiful deity that She is, following the examples that she’s given me and not ignoring the resources that She’s provided us with to make and wear respectful, beautiful clothing. I think that even though She knows my heart because She’s the one that formed it with her own hands, She still smiles when She sees me looking good as I follow that heart through relationships and personal discovery in this fancy, fabulous world. And I smile knowing that She’s there with me through it all, possibly shaking her head and rolling her eyes at the fig leaves that I’ve donned wishing that I would put on that leather jacket already!