I’ve spent the last five years of my life studying religion. To be more specific, I’ve spent the last five years trying to figure out why people are religious. Why is religion important to one person and not the next? Why is religion constant throughout the centuries? What am I missing out on if I don’t adhere to a particular faith? Eventually, I narrowed down my research to interfaith communications, on the idea that, dag gone it, people need to get along. They don’t necessarily need to like each other — none of that kumbaya nonsense — but simply agree to disagree. I mean, I get it, you (religious guy) want them (other religious guys) to follow your faith, perhaps because of their eternal souls and achieving salvation and all that, yadda, yadda, yadda. You’re just looking out for the rest of humanity. It’s positive stuff. I like missionaries, just not the pushy kind.
Then there are those that think the non-believers are out to defame their faith, and will do anything, and I mean anything,to defend it. These are the people I most want to reach out to with that olive branch of peace. I take pride in the fact that I can see through almost any lens and understand why that point of view is how it is. Wait, that was worded strangely, let me start over: I can usually understand why people think the way they think. If you believe God is a mermaid that shoots laser beams through Her bosoms, then okay, that’s what you believe. Through the years, you eventually came to this decision, and I respect that. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I’m okay with it. I don’t agree with racism, but I can understand how a person came to be racist. Maybe it’s because of their parents, their childhood, events in their life, etc. It’s not an outcome I approve of, but I can see how it happened. Capiche?
It’s because of this that I personally will probably never settle on a clear set of doctrine or specific religious mindset. There’s just too much out there. Too many ideas swirling around the old noggin. But more significantly, I’ll never narrow myself down, because I’m too busy finding conflicts with my point of view. Should I become a Buddhist? Love the eightfold path and the idea of achieving Nibbana, but reincarnation? Can’t have it, Siddhartha. Sorry. Should I become a Christian? Big fan of the beatitudes and that Jesus guy, but the works of St. Paul and Revelation? Not buying it. Too negative and too contradictory of that guy you’re supposed to be following. What about Hinduism? Don’t get me started, it’s all just too complicated. It’s hard enough following one god. Mormonism? Sadly, my views are quite antagonistic with every facet of this faith. Can’t be helped. The list goes on and on.
It’s unfortunate that I usually have to dwell on the negatives, but with their presence, I’ll never be able to consider myself a religious person. Every church I attend, I’ll eventually find a reason to never go back. I’m much more adapt at observing, trying to learn what makes people tick. So when I find myself at a new church, I know it’ll probably be a one, perhaps two, time deal; paying attention is pivotal to truly understanding the environment. I’m there to take notes, to focus on the actions of the congregation, on the words of the speakers, on the style of the music and worship. All of this is vital to coming to a specific conclusion.
On this particular occasion, I found myself at Crossroads Community Church. My good friend Lauren usually goes by herself (also the quiet, note taking type), so I asked if I could tag along, see what all the hubbub was about. For the uninformed, Crossroads is your local mega-church, but with a pinch of youthful hipness thrown in. The Harvard Institute for Religion Research (google search, y’alls) lists their weekly attendance at around eight thousand. This seems about right, because traffic was a little bit of what we in the business call a “clusterf$$k.” Standstill traffic kind of ruins any spiritual awakening you may have discovered inside the building. Especially when other parishioners are cutting you off and staring you down like you just called their mother a hobo.
But, honestly, this was the only major negative I found on that brisk Sunday morning, and with a church this size, there really isn’t much they can do to better the situation. And while we’re being honest, I should say that my opinion of the “mega-church” has never been a nice one. I’m of the spiritual mindset that intimacy is key, as is a personal relationship with the congregation. If one wants to connect with God on a deep level, they must connect with people on a deep level. The issue here is can this be accomplished when you’re in a room the size of a basketball arena and you have never met 90% of your fellow worshippers, nonetheless the pastor.
Crossroads began to win me over before I even stepped foot in the building. At their website, under the “Is This Really a Church?” page, I found the following:
We believe a building is just a building and that the true church can be just as small as a few people in a living room or as big as all-the-people-across-the-world-through-all-time-that-have-a-relationship-with-Jesus. But one thing we hold fast is Church = People.
And boom goes the dynamite! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Part of me doesn’t want to get past the fact that, well, you say Church = People, but does that equation still hold up when Church = 8000 People? This is the cynic in me. The church grew to this size on purpose, not by accident. If they wanted to remain a close-knit group, then they would have. But the humanist in me is screaming, “A gathering of people that communes for a positive reason cannot be wrong, no matter how large the size!” This is what stands out for me. A church can be 3 people, or it can be 3 million, the definition still stands. By a technicality, you might be strangers with most of the crowd, simply because you’ve never met face to face, but you’re still connected by one common thread: a devotion to togetherness and ekklesia. This is highly evident in the simple fact that “community” is part of the title, and not “Christian.” Perhaps “Crossroads Christian Church” didn’t sound inclusive enough; who knows but the think tank that chose the name. But what is apparent is this is a place built by strong connections. If you don’t believe in God, then so be it. Just stop on by and make some new friends anyway. Interesting.
As for the actual service, it was, in a word, serviceable. Nothing out of the ordinary, as far as contemporary non-denominational churches go.
- Theme: Since it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the topic up for discussion was……..being thankful! Be grateful for what you have, not angry about what you don’t have. Wash, rinse, repeat. (Side note: the pastor probably should not have said he was thankful for the poor economy, because it allowed him to buy a truck at a low cost. Whoops.)
- Music: Here was another contemporary service with a five-piece rock band as sing-a-long leader. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Speaking of ordinary, I’ve been to a lot of different churches over the last half-decade, and no matter where I am, the same damned two songs are played: “Enough” and “God of Wonders,” by some guy named Chris Tomlin. I hate Chris Tomlin. I want him to stop. There HAS to be more out there that praise and worship groups can play. Give me five minutes, and I’ll write you a new jam. Now give me my royalties. But to be fair, the band was actually pretty good. They put some personal twists on those songs, which were good enough to keep me from jumping off the balcony, John Wilkes Booth style.
- Speaker: Going along with the relaxed atmosphere, the pastor looked like your cool uncle. You know, sweater from Banana Republic, relaxed jeans, boots, cracking jokes left and right. He fit in with the crowd, who were, by the way, also young and hip. It looked like a beard and scarf convention in that place. So, minus the beard (hormone disorder!), I actually felt like I fit in a little bit with my jeans, Urban Outfitters scarf, and biting witticisms. He spoke effortlessly, never stumbled over his words, and managed to connect with the hundreds in the crowd. He managed to include every last person by having them repeat a mantra of gratitude. This begins to prove wrong my theory that a face-to-face relationship is necessary for a strong spiritual connection. Touche, sir. You win this round. One bit of advice, you are allowed to leave the stage when the band plays. Watching you rock out while sitting on a stool was somewhat distracting.
- Christianity?: Oh, Christianity. The 800 lb. gorilla in the room. Some of you by this point (1500 words in) might be wondering, “What does any of this have to do with Jesus?” And you know what, I left that enormous complex not even sure if He had anything to do with anything. There were a few bible verses thrown out here and there, one or two prayers that had the word “Jesus” in them, but did it feel like a praise and worship service focused on Jesus Christ? Not really.
A deep thinking theologian, unlike myself, would have been driven crazy by every bullet point listed above, especially the last one. You will not find a church entrenched in liturgy, or complex doctrine, or deep contemplative thought. Well, this isn’t your Great Aunt Margaret’s First Baptist Church. There will be no rising up with snakes. It’s definitely not for everyone. As someone interested in humanist issues, it’s more so geared toward people like me. The endless amount of free coffee helped, too. I’m not going to take that leap and say this is a borderline Christian church. That would be insulting to the church and its attendees. If you are of the ilk that thinks “liturgy or biblical study = Christian church,” then that’s your bag. Take it and run with it. There just happens to be another set of Christians that follow the “community of Jesus lovers = Christian church.” I can appreciate this point of view. It’s to be admired. Especially since you won’t find anything hateful or exclusive in that building.
Admiration aside, would I go back? Certainly, if I were invited. Again, I’ll never fully dedicate myself to a church, or even a religious faith, so regular attendance is a no-go. Don’t take this as a slight on the church and its followers. Take it as one man’s refusal to make a decision.