It's no secret that I don't attend church regularly.
I used to. But now I'm one of those people who only go
with their families on holidays.
Which offers me a unique perspective
on the church I grew up in
because I remember when it was all
so familiar, but now what strikes me most
is how unfamiliar it all is.
The music from the guitar and the
weird marimba thing and the organ
is unlike any music I ever listen to.
It is strange to me.
The lyrics are familiar.
Christmas carols and hymns.
The usual Christmas Eve fare.
But what it lacks for me now is the very
thing I seek out in music:
originality and real human emotion.
I feel no emotion about this music.
I look around to see if others do.
They generally seem about as bored as me.
So I ask myself: Why do they keep coming here?
Is it obligation?
For most, I suppose, it is sincere belief.
The belief is somehow separate from the
cheesy trappings of the place and the music.
Or maybe they just don't really seek out
new music. Maybe, for them,
the music and the building and the congregation
are somehow comforting.
For me, it is all vaguely unsettling,
because it is so disconnected from my life
or any reality I experience in the world.
Being the kind of person who can usually find
something interesting in the mundane,
I sort of tune out the music and start looking around
at the people, and wondering about their lives.
Like the 50ish guy with the styled hair and Vans.
What's his deal?
Or the old woman with the immaculate hair
and makeup, sitting next to a man
with a disability I can't quite pinpoint.
The man is dressed in green sweats
and he looks pretty disheveled.
Is he her son? What are their lives like?
At one point, two men walk down the aisle
hand-in-hand, and for a moment I think,
Is this church becoming more gay-friendly?
But then I realize that one of the men
has Downs syndrome, so he is
probably the guy's son, not his lover.
But you never know.
Maybe things HAVE really changed around here.
But I doubt it.
I guess the main conflict I'm feeling here
is what I feel every time I go to church,
which is about twice a year.
And that conflict is that I am uncertain.
I find Christian doctrine to be
like all spiritual knowledge.
And what I can't reconcile in my head
is how in the hell those people up
on that stage can have such strong conviction,
can talk about heaven as if they are talking about
a place that definitely exists, like Wal-Mart
or Angel Stadium. And they talk about God
as if they have a direct line to him.
I literally can't understand their certainly,
or at least the certainty they pretend to have.
Because for me, though I love Jesus a whole lot,
I am unafraid to say, "I don't know if heaven exists
or if, when you die, your body just rots and
your brain stops working and that's it."
I am unafraid to say, "I have no idea if Jesus was God."
I am unafraid to say, "I don't know if God exists,
because I can't know. As a flesh and blood human,
that's not one of the things I get to know."
I am unafraid to say, "Although I really do pray
a whole lot, most of the time I feel like
I'm just trying to calm myself down,
to comfort myself in the face of the
angst of suffering like crazy,
every single day,
and never really understanding why."
But, like I said before, I really do love Jesus.
He is my biggest inspiration.
Really. Truly. Unironically.
But, for me, when I feel closest to Jesus
is not sitting in a pew listening to
but when I am
sharing a cigarette with a homeless guy
or playing rock music to a crowd
of drunk people,
or writing another rent check
for my art gallery, knowing
it has cost me thousands of dollars
I will never see again,
but still believing in the community
or a conversation with a student
who is completely lost,
or sitting alone on Christmas Eve,
writing exactly what is in my heart,
or watching A Charlie Brown Christmas,
when Linus says to an almost empty
"Peace on earth,
goodwill toward men…
That's what Christmas is all about,