Tuesday, March 10, 2009
the FIRST CHURCH syndrome
I thought it was about time that I shared a chapter or two from my spiritual travel log. It’s about a journey I went on several years ago. Kind of like the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, you know; “…a three hour tour… a three hour tour…” I never understood the gravity of my tiny ship being tossed about on the seas of discontent until 41 years later. It was supposed to be a pleasure cruse.
Marooned on a desert island isn’t fun unless it’s Gilligan’s Island. All too often over the years my ship wrecked pleasure cruse, was not like Gilligan’s experience at all.
As I begin to share from my travel log, let me say that as much as I’ve struggled with the persona of my religious heritage, I’ve also spent my life embracing it and loving much of the experience. Friends and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ have made it bearable over the years, but I still have some concerns that need to be released like one of those helium balloons at the funeral of a child.
Those of us that have attended or have been members of any church USA that has the word “first” in its name will hopefully understand what I’m trying to say.
As a child, I was raised to believe that our church was important, very important. So important that it was “first” or “best” in town, so we thought. For most of my childhood and teen years I surely believed that. Sometime in my teen years I realized that a few other churches felt the same way. There were some kids at church camp from another part of the state who thought they were very special too. As a matter of fact, the competition and animosity could often become very stiff and confrontational. I always thought we were “first” so we must be the “best”. Right?
Where did this idea come from? Which one of my spiritual forefathers planned it that way? I ask that because, when I read the New Testament I don’t find that kind of polarity between believers, as a matter of fact I find the opposite.
One thing was for sure, we used love and acceptance like money. If the group liked you, they rewarded you with payments of love and acceptance. If they didn’t like you, you got short changed. You got very little love equity if you were different than the group.
Maybe this happens elsewhere, in other church communities, and communes, and cults, and compounds somewhere out in the Texas desert, but I now realize, that wasn’t the way Jesus intended it to be.
One thing I remember was how the most popular and accepted of the group, had the best clothes, clearest skin, could sing like someone on a record, and were very good at playing group games like Rhythm and Fruit Basket Upset. And most often carried an image that they were very close to God, yet all the while going out after church on Sunday night and sneaking cigarettes at Pizza Hut or making out in their cars behind the church building long after the lights were off and everyone went home.
My personal collision with values or the lack thereof finally reached a pinnacle in the spring of 1980.
I’ll pick up on my travel log later, but one last thought. Being “first” church USA may simply garner being “last” church in HEAVEN. Imagine if we actually took to heart Jesus and Paul’s teaching on love and humility.