I love the poetic aspects of the Bible; its place as a repository of the history of the English language; its mythological comprehensiveness and multiplicity of voices. I love its mixture of the earthly and otheworldly, the sacred and the murderous, the sanctimonious and the sublime. I like the way its construction resembles a colossal act of bricolage, yet still maintains a narrative coherency throughout. I'm almost tempted to side with literary critic Northrup Frye in asserting that it is the single greatest work of art the world has produced. I am very fond of dipping into the Bible to read about what that cranky old Nobodaddy hath wrought in His ongoing argument with humanity.
But I can't seem to find a church I feel comfortable attending regularly.
Last night I went with my neighbours to their church on the outskirts of town. It was of the sing-song variety, complete with rock band, overhead lyric sheets, and a charismatic guest preacher with testimony galore. It was a "feel good" kind of service, and I could see that it filled a spiritual need for the people who were attending. The music was quite nice, and I was glad to have an air-conditioned space where I could sit and read the good book, but I started getting tired after the second hour of song and sermon.
The church I have been attending, the one that I actually joined--thus damning myself in a certain sort of way--is more of the "feel slightly bad now, so you can feel better later" variety. But at least the services are focused on a scholarly presentation of scripture, and an earnest attempt to transform one's life through revelation. I enjoy the poetry and metaphor of scripture, and try to ignore the other stuff. But it builds up in my system like a poison, and so I ultimately have to remove myself from its influence and "detoxify" to feel sane again.
Sometimes I marvel at the way spiritual messages make their way into churches despite the outlandish contortions of theology and dogma. It seems that whenever I go to a church, any church, I hear something illuminating, even if it is repeated ad nauseum. At the same time, spiritual messages are broadcasting all the time, from every quarter, if one is so inclined as to tune one's ear to their frequency.
There is a kind of paradox about western religion. Without churches, dogmas and systems the Bible would never have been preserved and propagated throughout the nations; yet the Messianic message points to the ultimate futility of doctrines and systems. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple of the religious tradition in which he was trained, but I wonder if the religion that has developed in Jesus' name would be any more to his liking or not. I wonder if any church could really get it right, or if there even really is a "right".
Thank God there are churches and people who go to them: ardent believers praying for the sins of themselves and others, who look to the coming Kingdom and the return of the King with a sometimes strained but ever sustaining faith. And thank God I am not one of them. But then again, maybe I am one of them. I hardly even know any more.
On the one hand, I am greatly moved by the Christian vision of the City of God, to which all civilization is aspiring--though I doubt I would ever want to see any such vision installed anywhere within visiting distance of my front door (just read Plato's Republic to see what I'm talking about). But I'm of the persuasion that we already live in the City of God (though perhaps we're not always its best citizens), that it really is spread or scattered all around us, whether we see it or no.
There is a Zen saying that sums up the angles of this problem:
The world is perfect, with infinite room for improvement.
I'm an impatient guy, and can't be waiting around for the Son of Man to show up. The City of God is right here, but it requires continual recreation in our hearts and lives in order to remain a mainifest presence. I guess that everyone has to figure it out for themselves, and if we can manage that well enough, then maybe Jesus won't be too pissed if he ever finally does make his way back into the picture. 'Till then, I'll keep lurking in whatever sacred spaces present themselves.