Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Being an outsider

One of the best blogs I've found is my brother Rick's a new life emerging. The more I read him, the more I am convinced we are what Dan Fogelberg called "twin sons of different mothers." He and I are frequently on similar wavelengths, and it has been great to get to "know" him in the blogosphere.

However, his posting on being an outsider is one of his best. (I'll warn you ahead of time that his language - like mine - can get, well, colorful...especially on this post.) I strongly identified with being an outsider in church, but on a number of different levels.

First, in the Lutheran tradition, there are a whole lotta "cradle Lutherans" - folks who were born into Lutheran families, baptized as infants, dragged to church every Sunday, and have never stopped going because "it's what you do when you're a Lutheran." I give thanks for those people, and for their example of faith - but their stories have nothing whatsoever to do with my life after age 13.

These are the people who are 30 and 40 (or more) years old...who attend the same church where they attended as children, where their confirmation pictures still hang on the wall in hallways. Now for guys like me, who attended three different high schools, that level of permanence and institutionality is completely foreign to me. On one hand, I long for that level of anchoring to a place and a community - and on the other, I can't imagine giving up the amazing diversity of experience that I've had by being as mobile as I have been.

Another place where I find my "apart-from-ness" is the fact that from age 17 to age 34 - more than a third of my life - I wanted nothing to do with God, or the church. Admitting that little fact in church gets me more weird stares than admitting that I'm a recovering drunk! People have asked me the strangest questions after that admission - things like, "So what did you do on Sunday mornings?" (as if people who aren't in church just go off into the ether until after services end, and then show up at Denny's or Bob Evans, fighting the "good folk" for tables). I usually give 'em the answer my sister once gave me: "I was worshiping at St. Mattress's" (sleeping-in, in order words). I don't want to tell you how many people have asked, "So where IS that congregation?..."

I've come to realize that this lack of common experience at least partly accounts for the lack of willingness in many mainstream denominations to reach out to unchurched people - because a goodly churnk of "churched" folk can't understand why anyone would not want to be at church! Their attitude toward unchurched people is what I once saw on a drum-&-bugle-corp fan's t-shirt: on the front, To those that understand, no explanation is necessary; and on the back, To those that do not, no explanation is possible.

To "cradle church-goers," the idea of being lost is completely foreign, because they firmly believe that you can't be "lost" if you're at church. They have never understood the difference between being "a churchian" and "a Christian." They've never comprehended the thought I heard first in an AA meeting, that "just because you spend six hundred meetings in a McDonalds, it doesn't make you a hamburger." I know I've quoted it before, but it's still a good set of words from our late brother Keith Green:
The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can't fight
'Cause they're asleep in the light -
How can you be so dead,
When you've been so well fed?
I'm glad that my cradle-church-members have had enduring faith traditions and practices. For a number of people, those traditions teach much about faith practices. I think it's important to teach, however, that church attendance, tradition, and discipleship are three entirely different things - and that you can have the first two without ever coming close to the third. I believe that's why there are so many efforts toward re-visioning and re-vitalizing mainline churches, and why the "emergent church" is such a hot topic...because people are finding out on which side of the churchian/Christian divide they are, and the answer disturbs them.

One of my favorite quotes from Rick's profile says, "Personally, I don't have the guts to follow Jesus, so I often settle for being a Christian." It's desperately true for me as well (although I admit that I would have paid money to have thought up a line that clever, first!). I also think he's a little harder on himself than he might deserve. But I know that I can't coast uphill, only downhill - and that even on a level surface, if I'm not pedaling forward, I'll fall over. So I have to "keep my eye on the prize," even as I know I have a long way to go to "get there."

But I'm grateful to have sisters and brothers like I have met here in the blogosphere with whom I can share the journey from "where I'm at" to "where I'm called to be." And thanks, Rick, for some great inspiration.


MommyT said...

Thank you SO much for your blog! I have been searching for a term to define what my religious upbringing was like so I can explain it to people who don't get it. I was officially a "Cradle Lutheran", although I grew up going to a UCC (United Church of Christ) church. Which is why it was total culture shock for me to start going to a contemporary Christian church almost a year ago. We "cradlers" are used to church being all about the Potlucks, not about God. What an awesome definition you have given me.


Rick said...


I am flattered by your regards on your post. I think you added much to what I had intended and what was happening in my soul.

I seriously thank God for you. I am finding "church" on a blog; imagine that.

Yes, we are soul brothers. :)