Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 2.5

Read part one here and part two here.

This essay cross-posted from Jesus Needs New PR

I am still working on part three of this series, so in the meantime, I thought I’d post a passage from Frederick Buechner’s sermon Two Stories that a friend just reminded me of, from the same collection – Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons – as the Buechner sermon I mentioned in part two. I realize this means I’ve quoted Buechner four or five times in these posts so far, but one reason I do so is because I count myself among those who say they still call themselves Christians, at least in part, because of the writings of Frederick Buechner, and I’ll do everything within my power to convince others to read his work, especially his sermons and his memoirs – The Sacred Journey, Telling Secrets, and Now and Then are great introductions.

This passage quoted below has something to do with the stories of where we came from and where we are going, of where home is. When I first read it, I was reminded of sermons I’d read and heard recordings of by my great grandfather (like this one) about what it took to be “a real Christian,” the first kind of person in Buechner’s story. And I was a bit surprised at how completely I identified with the second kind of person in the story. Two years later, and I’m still feeling the same way.

The Jehovah’s Witness appears on the doorstep, or somebody who’s gotten religion corners you at a party, and embarrassing questions are asked in an embarrassing language. Have you been born again? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior? And yes, yes, you want to say—half humiliated, half appalled and irritated, torn in a dozen directions at once by the directness and corn of it, tongue-tied. You wouldn’t be caught dead maybe using such language yourself, but oh Jesus, yes, in some sense your answer is and has to be yes, though to be asked it out of the blue that way, by a stranger you’d never have opened the door to if you’d known what he was after, makes the blood run cold. To be reminded that way or any way of the story of Jesus, where you came from, is like having somebody suddenly produce a picture of home in all its homeliness—the barn that needs cleaning, the sagging porch steps, the face in the dusty window—when you’ve traveled a thousand miles and a thousand years from home and are involved in a thousand new and different things. But the story of Jesus is home nonetheless—the barn, the steps, the face. You belong to it. It belongs to you. It is where you came from.

3 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 2.5”

  1. I’m having a hard time responding to all of the people who have left comments here and on MPT’s blog. I want to smack the ones who are offering to pray for you and your “struggle.” I’m pretty sure you’re more on-target than they are. I don’t know. I’m also struck by the pastors who have chimed in. It’s funny, but implicit in their comments is both, “Well that’s not true at MY church,” and “I’m pretty sure there are people who feel that way at my church.” And I think the ones who view their job as something akin to keeping a bunch of plates spinning at the front of the room so that you keep watching are the ones with the most to be ashamed of.

  2. Steven,

    I saw your blog posts via facebook and decided to stop in. I really enjoy your writing, very profound and honest. Everything your wrote about hit very close to home for me.

    The years following my time in Word of Life Argentina (I was in the same class as Elisabeth and John) started an undoing of a lot of my faith and all that I had believed in growing up. I had a long rebuilding process throughout college (thankfully in a public secular university where I could freely do so), studying all sorts of theology and authors that I had be scurried away from growing up, moving backwards along the timeline of church history. Eventually I left my parents “liberal” (as you put it . . . hehe) Southern Baptist Church and the SBC entirely, and moved toward Reformed Presbyterianism with some eventual tours in Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

    I haven’t seen or spoken to you in almost 7 years since I left Word of Life, so I don’t want to presume to understand the breadth of your journey since Argentina or try to “fix” your “problem”, but from what little I have read, I can say that I understand where you’re coming from. I’d be happy to share some encouraging voices in books and music that I found along the way.

    I look forward to reading part three my friend.


  3. Thanks for reading, Jared. We’ve both, I imagine, come a long way since Bible school in Argentina. I do get a bit more into questions about other traditons and the reason I haven’t started going to another church, namely, community, in part three, which will probably be posted tomorrow.

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