Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

“If I Leave Church, Will I Lose My Friends?”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

For many people, the one thing that stands between their leaving a church situation that is not working for them, or staying within and being unhappy, is friendship.

Afternoon Tea inspirational original oil painting of young woman and child in meadow by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art, Great Big Canvas, and iCanvasART

Friends come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and demographic groups. Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvasART, amazon, art. com, Framed Canvas Art, and Great Big Canvas

Understandably, wherever we spend our time is where we make friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and social connections, and in a society that is increasingly distant and preoccupied, church is one of the major sources of fellowship.

This is a good thing and a bad thing, because while church can function as a one-stop-meets-all source for human companionship, it can also result in a total absence of invitations to holiday parties when we leave.

But staying in a situation that we increasingly dislike, just so we don’t lose all our friends, isn’t the best solution.

So, in answer to the question, “If I leave church, will I lose my friends?” this is what our family, and others like ours, have discovered when we made that final break:

We’ll Lose Some

1) Yes, you will lose friends. It isn’t such a bad thing, at least once in one’s life, to discover who are really our friends, and who aren’t, and many people painfully find this out when they go through a hard time, are publicly excoriated somehow, or leave church.

As I mentioned in Are You in the Process of Leaving Church? this is a natural result of being outside the group, and while some well-intentioned people do not mean to drop us, it’s inevitable that, if their social life revolves around church, and its work parties, small groups, leadership meetings, study sessions and so on, the way yours used to, then they won’t have time to get together, informally, and just be friends — the same way that you never used to have time.

These were never friendships in the first place — they’re more like network association within an office — and losing something so shallow really isn’t much of a loss.

We’ll Gain Some

2) You will gain friends. Don’t give up on your acquaintances from church: freed from the structured hierarchy of the system, some people whom you barely noticed may come forward and actually want to be friends. Realistically, don’t look for anyone from the upper crust leadership level, although there may be a Nicodemus or two hiding away in there.

Golden Opportunity inspirational original oil painting of sailboat on Puget Sound at sunset by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, amazon.com, art.com, Framed Canvas Art and iCanvasART

As we journey through life, we will encounter all sorts of people — some for a short time, some for many years — but all sorts of people from whom we can learn all sorts of things. Golden Opportunity, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed works at Art.com, Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

In our own lives, we have come to know a number of people in our former church — who still attend — in a deeper and better manner than we ever experienced while we were purportedly fellowshipping together. Toward one woman especially I always felt a kinship to, and yet we could never connect, because we didn’t circulate in the same fellowshipping groups. After a number of years, however, God threw us together in a situation where we freely and engagingly connect, and a longterm prayer is perfectly answered.

Define “Friend”

3) You will redefine the term, “friend.” TV, movies, and the public school system give us the illusion that friends are all roughly the same age and economic level. God has other ideas.

In His mind, we are all children of the same Father, and there is no reason that we cannot interact together, but we don’t. One of the favorite birthday parties we threw for our middle daughter featured a guest list of some 12 people, ranging in age from 2 to 65, the birthday girl being 10. They were all her friends, and having them in the same place, throwing water balloons at one another, is a memory that sticks.

In Luke 14:15-24, a man giving a banquet is frustrated by the number of invited guests who are too busy to partake of being his friend. So he tells his servant,

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame,” and when there were still chairs to be filled, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”

Our Lord is not concerned that the socially correct people are at His table, and neither should we so be. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that we ourselves are not socially correct.

Keep your eyes, and your hearts, open. God will bring people into your life from the most unexpected places: they need you; and you need them.

Family Matters

4) You’ll look at your family in a different way. Again, thanks to our public school mentality, we overlook that members of our family — our spouse, children, siblings, parents, cousins, uncles, nieces, in-laws — can be friends as well, and indeed, my best friends are in that list.

“Dysfunctional” has become such an operative word that we assume most families are just that: weird, broken, defective, unfit — words that I would use to describe many peer-related friendships from junior high, high school, college, and the workplace, actually. Dysfunction thrives in a society that distances itself with one another, so focused on being busy and productive, that there is no time to play a game, eat a meal at the dining room table, or just talk, face to face.

If there are other people in your household who are sleeping in on Sunday as well, get to know one another better, and put into practice your friendship on the closest neighbors you have: your family.

Don’t Be Afraid of Yourself

5) You’ll walk alone, but you won’t dry up and blow away because of this. Again, thanks to TV, movies, and schticky magazines, we operate under the assumption that everyone — other than us — has lots and lots of friends, and when we find ourselves alone on a Friday night, or sitting solo at the potluck table, then we’re convinced that we are the only loser God created.

It’s okay to be alone, and indeed, God’s quiet voice is more easily heard without background distractions. Use the time to train yourself to read Scripture (if you are a long-term church goer, you may not know how to do this), pray, meditate, and reflect on God’s beauty, love, and grace.

Only people who have experienced being alone can spot another person, within a group, who is standing alone, and they make the overture of friendship.

Life won’t end if and when you decide to leave church, and if you are patient and merciful with yourself and your situation, you’ll look back on this, 2 months, 10 months, 5 years from now and marvel:

“Why did I wait so long to move? What was I scared of?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where we interact with people everywhere — at the grocery store, in our home during a night of games, over the Internet, on the phone, by letter, at an informal tea, in the garden.

Posts complementing this one are

Unchurched or Church Free?

The Purposeless Driven Life

Alone But Not Lonely

Are You in the Process of Leaving Church?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Leaving church — whether a specific fellowship or the industrial model altogether — is not a decision people make lightly.

Gathering Thoughts inspirational original oil painting of woman wading through ocean surf by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, great big canvas, icanvasart, and framed canvas art

Leaving church — a specific fellowship or the contemporary corporate establishment altogether — is not a decision any person makes lightly. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon, art. com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

Nor is it one that others take well, and if you are in the process of dropping out of a particular body or the entire conventional, establishment fellowship (i.e., multiple weekly meetings at a specific building with a closed group of like-minded people), you will no doubt engender the censure of others. The first, and most frequent verse with which they will seek to control you (often the only one) is Hebrews  10:25:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Corporate church meetings, we are led to believe, is where it’s at — and if you’re not there, you are not only not receiving spiritual teaching and guidance (that you are lacking them now is probably why you’re so strongly thinking of leaving), but you’ll be left bereft, friendless, and alone if you walk away.

Is this true?

Yes, and no.

Church Social Life

If you, like many people, built your social life around church — and this is not difficult because the corporate church model makes so many demands upon our personal time away from work that it’s where we spend a lot of hours, evenings, and weekends — then you probably will lose “friends” when you leave, simply because those left in the circle will still be spending their time and energy in the place you left behind, with little to spare for “unstructured, outside activity” (like . . . friendship).

Nor are those left behind particularly encouraged to seek you out — unless it’s to get you back —  since you, upon leaving, receive an A for Apostate on your forehead, or B for Backslidden, or C for Complainer. Once it is determined that you are serious about leaving, it’s as if you’re infected somehow, and could pass your disease on to others. Better not to talk about, or to, you at all.

While that sounds cynical, it is the experience of many who have chosen to find alternative ways to worship God, be taught of the Master, and fellowship with believers. To be fair, those left in the fold tie their spirituality — their very relationship with Christ — to staying in that particular sheep pen, and that you would leave is absolutely befuddling to them. Many of us who have left have been in that position, and indeed, it’s why it took us so long to make the final break: when we leave, we reason, we’re not just leaving the church, but Christianity altogether.

So intertwined is faith with weekly church attendance that we cannot differentiate between the two.

Worship in Spirit and in Truth

But there is a distinction, and the sooner we can see it, the faster we will walk on our new, narrow path.

“A time is coming,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:21-24, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

Light in the Forest inspirational original oil painting of two women with candles in Celtic forest by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon

We say, “The forest is just like a cathedral,” but why don’t we say, “The cathedral is just like a forest?” As Christians, we are connected with God 24/7. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon.

“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit, and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

After 70 A.D., when the Romans destroyed the second temple in Jerusalem (Solomon’s original was leveled by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.), there was no question anymore about the “right” place to worship God, and how the newly formed Christian sect was violating this by breaking away. The temple was gone, and there was no “Christian” replacement: Christ’s followers — each imbued with the Holy Spirit of God — were not limited in where, how, or when they worshiped the Father, their only injunction being to “worship in spirit and truth.”

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’w will for you in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes the believers — the church — in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22.

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”

None of these instructions require being in a specific place on Sunday — or Saturday — morning, but because so many Christians do find themselves there, when you opt to leave — again, usually after much prayer and supplication to God, and fruitless efforts to speak with church leadership about policies and practices that seem counter to God’s teaching — you agonize further about whether this is truly God’s will, or if (more likely, you fear) you are overreacting and expecting everyone to bend their will to your way.

No Perfect Church

“There’s no perfect church, you know.”

Well, duh. Give yourself credit for accepting that nothing is perfect. I do.

I’m guessing that you’ve compromised for quite awhile; swallowed back comments; and tried to accept that what you’re resisting is good, and the problem lies with you. If it didn’t, more people would be leaving, wouldn’t they?

“Come, follow me,” Jesus told Simon Peter and Andrew, John and James, in Mark 1:17, “and I will make you fishers of men.

“At once they left their nets and followed him.” (See complementing accounts in Matthew 4:18-20; Luke 5:1-11; and John 1:35-42)

Dropping the family business and following an itinerant preacher — especially one so at variance with religious and political authorities (and don’t be fooled into thinking that the two don’t go together) — is insane, but Jesus’s first four disciples did it purposefully and readily, and while they no doubt fielded world-based doubts, they knew Jesus, the Son of Man, and listened to Him instead.

So it is with you, my friend: if your spirit is agitated, and despite your best efforts to stay in the system or your particular fellowship situation, you just can’t settle down and obey the words and rules of men, then listen to that voice that won’t be quiet, and heed it.

“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I and my family have left the corporate church establishment altogether and worship God in an alternative manner, but still in spirit and truth. You may not choose to do this, and that’s fine — just make sure that where you are is where you want to be, and that you are growing, giving (and I’m not talking about money in the basket), and learning of, about, and from God.

Posts complementing this one are

What Kind of People Leave Church?

The Wrong Gospel and How It’s Chasing People out of Church

Why Do We Follow Celebrity Christians?

Are House Cats Smarter Than Humans?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It’s time to bring to a close the age-old debate about whether dogs or cats — and the people who prefer one to the other — are smarter.

Not because the general populace has accepted the final resolution of the issue (easy — cats, paws down), but because we have a more pressing question:

Something for Everyone detail of inspirational original oil painting of cat and dog with Santa Claus at Christmas by Steve Henderson

As mysterious and wise as cats seem, they will react to a fake mouse. Surely, we humans are wiser than that. Detail from the original painting, Something for Everyone, by Steve Henderson.

Are house cats smarter than humans?

I ask this, not because ancient Egyptians so revered the creature that they deified — and worshiped — its image through their goddess Bastet, but because of a recent quote I encountered — in my Cats a Day calendar — by author Neil Gaiman:

“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”

What an apt, but vaguely depressing, observation.

Cats Aren’t Group Animals

Apt, because cats are not group animals — that’s their charm. As my husband the Norwegian Artist, who prefers the dog because she’s friendlier, albeit not smarter, than the cats, commented:

“You don’t see a troupe of cats in a circus, jumping through hoops for biscuits.

“And even when a show uses lions, there’s not a pack of them, and the trainer doesn’t nonchalantly turn his back to light up a cigarette.”

Getting two cats to do the same thing, like sit on the owner’s lap and act as if they are grateful, is difficult. Getting a thousand to stand up on their back paws and meow is, as Gaiman observes, a challenge for the Almighty.

The depressing part about Gaiman’s observation is that getting two humans, ten, a thousand, or considerably more, to do the same thing at the same time is remarkably easy, and it’s successfully accomplished on a daily basis:

Just put a TV in every home. Or set up a religious meeting in a football stadium. Or announce that some electronic device is on “sale” during a limited time period — say, between 4 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving — and get out of the way when the doors open.

One TV Per Person

Quite recently, the Norwegian Artist and I were treated, as an anniversary gift, to a chef’s table at a five-star restaurant, followed by a night in one of the establishment’s suites. It was luxurious, plush (there were bathrobes!), and splendidly lavish — but incorporated within the palatial and stately decor were two large-screen TVs, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, His and Hers, perhaps, and in line with contemporary thought, there was no difference between the two.

Because, after 32 years, the Norwegian and I still like each other, we took 15 minutes to flip through all the channels before we decided, as we always do, that there’s nothing worth watching. It’s certainly not for want of choice — there’s something for everyone, that is, as long as everyone doesn’t insist upon quality, depth of thought, or insufficiency of gentle, and not so gentle, manipulation of the mind.

Lady of the Lake inspirational original oil painting of woman at alpine mountain setting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas

Thinking is a critical, independent activity that cannot be done in a group setting — for this reason, we need to take time, on a regular basis, to get away from the madding, and maddening crowd, and THINK. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon, art. com, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

There are sports channels — which incorporate glitzy sets that look like news rooms — and the charade plays through as commentators analyze teams and players and the season’s potential with the same seriousness as if they were discussing world politics.

And speaking of world politics, there are talk show hosts for conservatives and liberals, pontificating as do the sports commentators, speculating on all sorts of “what-if” scenarios, some of which are quite unsettling, which, I think, is the point. Precious little effort or time is given to reporting bland, prosaic, actual, true, verifiable facts with the intent of encouraging the listener to reach his own conclusions. Good God, no — those conclusions may differ from the ones he is presently prodded to reach — one set for the conservatives, another for the liberals. Libertarians, don’t despair: as alternative news increases in popularity on the Internet, a mass media outlet will be created, and customized, for you.

Did I mention the word “pontificating” in the last paragraph? Religious fare abounds for Catholic and Protestant, high church and holy roller, prosperity doctrine and eternal damnation. Significantly missing are quiet, thoughtful presentations (given without the sing-song cadence of the proverbial preacher) that discuss deep truths with the idea — again — that the listener, when presented with certain facts, is able to synthesize those facts in his own brain, based upon his intellectual ability to reason, and reach a conclusion disparate from intention.

One last thing, touching on the intellectual ability to reason I mentioned above: it’s not really needed — not for the cheesey sitcoms replete with stereotypes, paltry dialogue, and laugh track; “real life” detective movies that are cool and dark; shopping shows obviously aimed at women (love that stereotype: women shop; men watch sports); nature, science, and history programs that waste valuable film time catching the expert walking from his car to his office; telenovelas; game shows that make The Price Is Right look profound — out of 100, 200, 800 channels there is surprisingly little of quality, but this doesn’t stop not just thousands, but millions, of people from watching.

Every. Day.

Going Along with the Group

You cannot get 1,000 cats to sit down, in one given moment, and watch a TV show, but you can get 100 times that many humans to do so.

It’s not just TV, it’s everything: we humans have a fatal flaw of going along with the crowd, believing what we are told to believe, acting in concordance with societal standards that we, as a society, didn’t necessarily set up.

As Christians, we are called to follow God, not the latest media sensation or political darling, and this is not a part time thing, to be slipped in, in between commercials.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others,” Paul says in Romans 12:5.  It is telling that within Christianity, we are considered individuals who join together in one whole — the body of Christ — to worship our Father and do His work. One body, made up of individuals.

But within the world of men, we are called “the masses.”

Seriously, house cats aren’t smarter than humans. Seriously. Let’s act as if we believed this.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage people to recognize their value as individuals, not worker bees and drones who teem busily about while they make honey, er . . . money, for somebody else.

Posts complementing this one are

Mass Manipulation by the Mass Media

Is It So Bad to Be a Lone Wolf Christian?

Why Ordinary Christians Can — and Should — Speak up

 

Mass Manipulation by the Mass Media

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Nowadays, dystopia is the rage. Books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner seem written for the sole purpose of being turned into movies, with a concerted effort to engage today’s youth into the idea that life, and the future, are hopeless.

We're told that it's all harmless fun, but much of what mass media pipes into our minds affects the way we think. So who's making this stuff? Image clip from 1954 movie Creature from the Black Lagoon

We’re told that it’s all harmless fun, but much of what mass media pipes into our minds affects the way we think. So who’s making this stuff? Image clip from 1954 movie Creature from the Black Lagoon

A highly promoted genre, dystopian fare addresses a (theoretically, set far-in-the-future) society characterized by overcrowding, human misery, totalitarian control, and a general feeling of despair.

Humanity has been reduced to squalor — everyone dresses drab — and adults my age are represented as broken down, dejected, and worn out, unable to accomplish much more than getting the gruel on the table.

It’s up to some young person — about the age of the audience the movies and books target — to stand up, out of all the millions and millions of mass humanity, and be brave. A key aspect in Divergent is that the main character, Beatrice, cannot be controlled (like the rest of the population) because she is one of those rare people who thinks for themselves — a divergent.

“All people have the capacity to think for themselves,” my son, of the age, but not the mindset, to have his world view shaped by mass media, observed.  “The premise is ridiculous, but if you say it enough times, people will start to believe it.”

Exactly.

Asking Questions

And then I began to think about two things:

1) Why is there such intense focus on dystopian themes, especially aimed toward the younger generation?

and

2) When I was part of that younger generation, what kind of movies and TV shows were aimed toward me?

Well, that’s easy — too many afternoons of Gilligan’s Island and I Dream of Jeannie wasted time that could have been spent better by  reading a book, taking a walk, or talking to the family dog. My husband, the Norwegian Artist, is amazed, in a flabbergasted sort of way, at my memory for TV characters, the actors who played them, and the theme songs to their shows.

A central message during my youth and young adulthood was the inevitability, and acceptability, of divorce — and don’t hammer me; like everyone in the country today, I have loved ones and friends intimately acquainted with divorce. This is an interesting point, incidentally: in the 6th grade, the “new girl” in the class was from a divorced family — joining only one other such situationally-placed person in a class of 29 other children. We were fascinated by her, as if she were some sort of alien, and asked, “What’s it like — having your parents divorced?”

Nowadays, it is the child with the original model of parents who is the alien — a major societal change effected in just a little more than a generation. Divorce is normal; it’s expected; and it’s considered inevitable, so much so that many young people question whether it’s worth getting married, since everybody gets divorced anyway.

Shaping Young, and Older, Minds

People did not always think this way, but as my Son and Heir observed, if you say something enough, it begins to be accepted as truth.

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl with green hat holding radishes in garden by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, icanvasart, framed canvas art and vision art galleries

Children and young people are especially susceptible to teaching, so it’s practical, and wise, to consider what it is they are being taught. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Vision Art Galleries.

The mass media of my youth — during the 70s and 80s — focused on divorce, and TV shows like The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and One Day at a Time “explored” the concept of this phenomenon, until it no longer seemed like a phenomenon. Everybody was doing it because, eventually, everybody was, and while it is good to have the stigma removed, it’s not so good to accept, and embrace, a bad solution as the only, and best, option.

While Mike and Carol Brady showed me the relative ease with which a family blends, cop shows and detective movies shaped my opinion of the police, and well into my motherhood I told my children, “You can trust a police officer, because they always do right.”

How did I know this so confidently? I had never met an actual police officer, but my opinions were shaped by Sheriff Taylor of Mayberry R.F.D.,  Officers Malloy and Reed of One Adam 12, and Starsky and Hutch. Much of what I learned about life, and relationships, and reality — in my formative, youthful years — I learned from TV and movies.

And TV and movies, as we all know, are supposed to be make believe. But do the people making them believe this?

Out in Plain Sight

So now, the world of make believe is showing us the future, one in which people are divided into set, determined groups and controlled, heavy handedly, by a corrupt, totalitarian government. It strikes too close to the truth, and while some would say,

“Don’t be a conspiracy theorist! If this were really the intention of evil parties, they sure wouldn’t show it on a great big movie screen!”

Why not? Ultimately, the result of the message is a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that it’s all inevitable anyway, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. It’s along the lines of those who believe in the End Times as set forth by the Left Behind movies and books — it’s all going to come to a rotten end before it gets good again, anyway, so why bother?

Such is the message of mass media, pointed straight at the masses, and if you, like me, feel offended at being lumped into a group of easily controlled, mindless automatons, then do something about it, and leave the group. As a Christian, I belong to a different group — a flock of sheep, actually — and rather than allow myself to be controlled, dictated to, and ultimately destroyed by wolves, I’ll focus my time, attention, thoughts, money, and life on the Good Shepherd, who laid his life down for me, as opposed to trying to grasp it in his jaws.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus says in John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

I don’t know about you, but much of what I see on mass media — TV, movies, magazines, newspapers, churned out and poorly written books — doesn’t leave me with a sense of abundance in my life, but hopelessness. Why follow that?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I try to separate the truth of life from the lies of man, many of which are well woven into the fiber of our individual cultures.

Posts complementing this one are

Why Do We Follow Celebrity Christians?

Are You Awake?

Once You’re Awake, Now What?

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