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It’s beautiful in Portland today, so I went for a walk. When I’m walking, I often imagine dialogues in my head. Here’s one on why I no longer belong to a local church.
“Do you go to church?” she asked, stepping over a branch lying across the bark-chip path.
I laughed. “No, not any more. I do meet with some people for a bible study, but I don’t belong to a church any more.”
“Well, why not?” she asked.
“It’s kind of a long story…” I demurred.
“We’re still walking,” she reminded me.
“All right, then.” I paused to pick up a candy wrapper and stash it in my pocket.
“Well, I definitely believe in God. I’m convinced, based on personal experience, that there is something bigger than us, that binds us together. You can call it God, the Force, whatever, it’s there.
“And I do believe that there was a man called Jesus, and that he was God-Made-Manifest. This is one of God’s greatest gifts to us – that he came to us, and lived among us, and fully experienced what it was to be human. We have a God who truly knows what it is to be one of us!
“He also taught us how to live life in the Kingdom of God. He taught that we should love one another always, even those we call enemies, and that we should always be ready to help one another. He reminded us that we should care for the last, the least and the lost.
“And I believe that he died for us, but not in a tit-for-tat way, like he died in my place so that I can get into heaven someday. I think he died for two reasons: first, to show how much God loves us, even to the point of dying for us, as a parent might die to protect a child.
“Second, to teach us about the way of love. He showed us that the way of love is more powerful than fighting back with violence.”
“You believe all of that and don’t go to church?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Absolutely. You see, that’s what the church should be about, and often these are things the church talks about, but it’s not what most institutional churches really do.
“I do appreciate the church. It nurtured me, both as a child and a younger adult, and taught me a great deal. But eventually, membership in the church became a routine of trying to get enough money to keep the institution going and trying to get more members so that my kids weren’t the only ones in the Sunday School classes I taught (and so that those members could bring in more money). And that’s not the true work that God calls us to.”
“But aren’t Christians supposed to convert other people?” she asked.
I smiled. “We are supposed to share the Good News of Jesus, just as I might share some great news about my family with you, or I might share a really cool discovery, which is what this is – it’s a really cool discovery about something that could change your life!
“But Jesus never said we should add people to membership rolls and have them give money to keep up a church building and get them to volunteer on committees.
“So I’m still looking for a different way to follow Jesus, without the institutional church baggage. For now, I’m just seeking to follow his commands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)