Unlike many students at my school, when I give a devotion, my tendency is to complain whereas most others are “singing praises” or reciting some verse that God supposedly “revealed” to them over the weekend.
For me personally, it’s nearly impossible to be moved or inspired by what feels like the same devotion over and over again. You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times…
“Okay, well, over the weekend, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to speak to you guys about today and so I turned to the Word and God led me to this particular verse which says ‘blah blah blah‘ and it occurred to me that I don’t blah-blah enough and I think it’s the same for a lot of us. So I just want to encourage you to blah-blah more and see what God does in your life…”
I’m Christian. I’ll be the first to admit it. But for some reason, it’s so hard for me to relate to sermons or devotions like these when it occurs to me that someone who isn’t Christian won’t relate. If a verse from the Bible is going to inspire or move anyone, shouldn’t it be even more relatable for the person who isn’t a “believer” or who doesn’t assign themselves a Christian belief system? Sure, Christians can learn from the Bible and should, but the Bible isn’t a Christian book. It’s a book for all humanity. It wasn’t written exclusively for followers of Jesus, but for anyone who has ever felt lost, alone, miserable, and disconnected from everything – basically, everyone!
Last Sunday, I ventured to the Vineyard Church in Chattanooga, which had been referred to me by many as “such a cool church” and a place that I would “appreciate” compared to the hundreds of churches in the area.
And I’ll be honest.
I wasn’t all that impressed.
Whether I’m right or wrong for doing it, whenever I go to what is considered a “Christian function,” I tend to play the “may or may not be Christian” role. Because I want to know how I’m treated if they think I might not be Christian. Are they kind? Inviting? Embracing? Is my religious affiliation all they care about or do they show interest in me as a whole person?
At Vineyard, I received hardly any impression at all. I wasn’t greeted, except by those I already knew, and upon closer observation, it appeared that there was a vast amount of distance between those who were regular attenders and those visiting for the first time. Small clusters of people filled this huge room, giving everyone else around them the distance they needed to feel like a stranger. It wasn’t just one group’s fault. It was simply the air that filled the room. Unfamiliar, unfriendly, and somewhat cold. And it occurred to me that everyone there figured that everyone else was already Christian, therefore there was no need to introduce oneself or be friendly. It was a feeling of, “Well, everyone’s Christian here, anyway. So big friggin’ deal.”
What did I like? The worship was nice. Not overly charismatic and not uptight. Generally, the music was laidback and I enjoyed myself during that time. What else did I like? The music used during the announcements. Like Sufjan Stevens, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie… Unfortunately, besides their excellent taste in music, I really didn’t feel like they had much going for them in regards to community. Not just Christian community, but person-to-person community.
I know I’m picky. I know I’m critical. But I have reasons. I’ve seen what it can be like to attend a Christian service and feel like whatever I am, believer or not, girl or boy, gay or straight, that I was welcomed there and there was something Jesus had to offer my life. You don’t have to be a Christian to learn and grow from the teachings of Christ. I’m tired of every sermon I hear being about Jesus being the Son of God, the Savior of Man, the sacrifice for humanity’s sin. Nearly everyone, Christian or not, knows these things about Jesus. But does everyone know Jesus as a teacher, as a friend, as a man? He was those things too! But I feel like the church overlooks those aspects, ignoring those specific details about Jesus that we can learn so much from, which are the things we can relate to. Sorry, but I will never be a savior of humanity, a sacrifice, a prophet, or likely any sort of spiritual figure that changes the face of history. I’m just one person. So what does Jesus, the man, the spiritual revolutionary, have to teach me, a lonely girl, disconnected and afraid? I truly believe it’s these things that allow people to relate to Christ and see themselves in him that lead them to accepting him as their savior. But the feeling I get is that the church is so anxious to “save” people, they neglect Jesus’ relatability.
Regardless of my Christianity, I want to learn from Christ, just like I want to learn from Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi. Because I know that by learning about their time on earth, I can become a better person. Not just a better Christian, but a better person. Before I am a Christian, I am a human, and if I want to make a difference in the world, I have to be able to relate to humanity, not just to other Christians.
The only place I’ve ever experienced what I’m talking about was at Campus Crusade for Christ at Cascadia Community College. I went, almost on a whim, because my heart ached for fellowship. I went by myself, thinking I would slip in and out, unnoticed, but that was hardly the case. I sat in the back of the room, listened to the worship and enjoyed the short bible study, and barely after standing to leave, I was surrounded by more than half the group. Curious about who I was, where I’d come from, what I was studying, how I’d learned about Campus Crusade, and on and on… And the best part? Not once did they ask me if I was “already a Christian” or ask me the same question indirectly. They were just glad I was there and that they had the opportunity to befriend me.
If I could find that again here, I would be flabbergasted. And so, maybe I should turn loose of my distaste for even the “coolest” church here. But I know how things can be and I’ve seen what churches are capable of, with congregations mixed with believers and non-believers alike, all brought together for the same reason, which was that they believed there was something they could learn from Jesus, as well as from each other.
And that’s all I really have to say about that. For now.