by Tammy Tillotson

“All uncertainty is fruitful… so long as it is accompanied
by the wish to understand.” —Antonio Machado

Dear God:

Hello again. It’s just me, but of course you probably already knew that. Some of your faithful church followers have informed me that my presence is greatly missed on Sundays. I have been assured that you are quite disappointed in me as a result of my poor attendance record. Though I was saddened by the reactions of these followers, I have not changed my decision to rejoin your congregation. I do not expect these individuals to accept my thoughts and feelings, but I felt compelled to share my perspective with you.

My Understanding of Christianity
As a child, I accepted the beliefs of Christianity and proceeded to conform to them, because to some degree, I lacked the autonomy to understand otherwise. I was taught that the concepts of hell and damnation were to be feared, while following you ensured eternal peace and happiness. Attending church regularly was supposed to teach me the values of humility, selflessness, and community. By going to church I would learn to focus on something besides myself, serve and help others, and live more fully within the rules of a community. I also learned that healthy churches consist of people with needs, as the people are the church – the actual building is not important. It is also unrealistic to think of a church as perfect, as it consists of imperfect people. The child understands these teachings, however the adult I am becoming has many doubts and questions.

Doubts and Questions
To better understand my concerns I have attempted to learn why other people choose not to go to church. Potential reasons include fear, guilt, pride, hypocrisy, no place to park the car, and it’s not Christmas or Easter already is it? Yet, I do not believe any of these perspectives relate to my situation. I do not feel that I am scared or too proud to attend, and I do not feel guilty for not attending either. I realize that people are imperfect, including myself, and though at times I may feel some aspects of the church are hypocritical, I acknowledge that is an unfair judgment on my part. If I desired, I could walk a few blocks and visit any of four local churches – parking is not an issue even in my small town. Additionally, I have decided that if a person does not attend at all, then what is the point in only showing up for special occasions? Perhaps I missed the message that you earn extra brownie points for coming to celebrate your son’s birthday. Score one more for heaven – subtract one from hell. Maybe I am wrong, but I do not think such tally sheets exist. I also do not believe attendance in a church every Sunday is one of your mandatory requirements to ensure special treatment later on in life.

Defining “Church”
In the English Bible, “church” comes from ekklesia which is made up of the Greek words kaleo (to call) and the prefix ek (out). This interpretation perceives church as “the called out ones.” Other definitions consider the church to be a sacred building, an assembly, or a gathering of followers. Well, I would like to call out some of my perceptions of human followers.

As social creatures people depend on and learn from one another. Our survival is directly connected and reliant upon our interdependence on others. The church is not excluded from being a product of this, as it fulfills the needs of the people that attend.

In a sense, the inescapable concepts of interdependence that have been experienced since birth prevent autonomy.

In order to accept responsibility for my own learning, I have to have an idea what I am trying to learn and why. This form of autonomy that is learned allows me to interpret myself as free from the control of the teacher (or the preacher), free to choose to remain a participant within the constraints of the church, or free to choose not to learn. In order to do this, I also have to acknowledge my own limitations in ever being able to transcend my personal heritage, as I am not able to truly escape the cultural assumptions and influences that are a vital part of who I am.

In this conscious learning process, I have confronted several thoughts on my understanding of the church. I believe that my concept of reality is a complex conglomeration of man made manifestations, of which the church exists within our own existence. For the most part, I feel people need the church as it is a man made construction that we have been taught to fear. This is complex when we try to understand it, yet simple if we accept the manifestations as truth. However, I do not feel that this constructed world is real. Those who have no desire to understand see mystery and have faith; those that always desire are able to see the manifestations and understand them through their limitations.

Manifestations Within Limitations
My concerns, questions, and desires have led me to see several manifestations of the church that deeply trouble me. The church and religion have become a commodity in society that is advertised to the masses. Internet churches and cyberchurches and quickly becoming the latest innovative non-profit organizations. I am first perplexed by the term non-profit as that is a contradiction in itself. Though economic growth is not a primary goal, there is always a group of individuals that profits from the existence of any organization or relationship – this relates back to our interdependent nature. If we could accomplish tasks alone we wouldn’t be interdependent. Prayer, tax write-offs, or even a clear conscience can be considered possible profits.

Under Siege
Perhaps more unsettling is the manifestation and consideration of the church as “Vital Information Resources Under Siege” – or Virus. Interestingly, the word virus is derived from Latin, meaning poison or venom. In order to maintain its existence, the church is dependent of a viral-like process that is designed to function by self-replication and propagation. An infected agent that is capable of growth, multiplies itself into other living cells, which in response allow the agent to spread as either an exact or modified copy of the original.

In a church, replication is the intent. Once a host hears the message, it accepts what it agrees and disagrees with, and then carries the message to others. This is how the church exists, as its values and beliefs are duplicated by the well-meaning souls that pass the message along. The church relies on people, communication, and connections to spread. Infected hosts become carriers, and in some cases, hosts are unaware that the virus has attached itself to them.

Hosts can also be benign or malignant.

Benign hosts might only display a religious bumper sticker on their car; sport a WWJD T-shirt; print “In God We Trust” on currency, or authoritatively define religious freedom with exceptions and contradictions. Other people still encounter the messages, even if the contact is a passive interaction.

Malignant hosts have a conscious intent to wreak havoc and actively spread themselves. After all, the hell and damnation strategy works well for some. Recently, crashing planes into buildings on suicide missions has also been brought about by religious intent and actions being done in honor of some understanding of the manifestation of the church and some form of omnipotent deity.

Though the effects do not have to be so drastic, they can at least sometimes be a nuisance. There is that nice older gentleman that wanders the local grocery store, but exactly how many times do I have to tell him my soul is saved before I can shop in peace? I certainly do not mind entertaining him, as he is only following what his church has requested he do, yet I wish someone would tell him that milk and ice cream are perishables.

I am well aware of many contradictions to my opinions and understandings, and I do not desire to impose my beliefs on others. I am sure the idea of the church existing as a product of natural selection falls under the completely unorthodox and unfathomable category for the majority of the faithful. I am accepting of that, and accepting of their opposition also. I feel I am merely seeking enlightenment while realizing my own personal limitations.

I do not feel that I learn how to be selfless only at church, for I believe I should exhibit selflessness in my actions and behavior at all times. I have experienced well many profound lessons in humility, and I do value the importance of community, though I feel people impose too many governing rules to abide within that. The governing rules often contradict themselves, and amid so much confusion of opinions, I cannot say I feel united and indivisible. I believe the constraints are imposed to avoid fearful confrontations of admitting divisibility. As long as there are differences in opinions, there will always be separation to an extent. Yet I believe the true voice of humanity speaks volumes when its voice needs to be heard.

Finding My Voice
If the church fulfills the needs of people that seek solace there, then I would have to say that living life itself is my personal church. I do not confine that to a building, a particular affiliation, or a specific group of people. To do so would mean limiting my understanding to manifestations and that would hinder or prevent me from simply experiencing the experience for just that.

When something eludes to great promise or great risk, it is at least a viable option that it is probably just a hoax to make people panic. I am reminded of a forwarded email that I received a few weeks ago with the following message in the body: “DO NOT OPEN this file as it will immediately destroy everything on your hard drive! Please forward this to everyone that you know!” Now, let us consider those thoughts logically. If everything on the hard drive would be lost, so would the file itself. Why would something destroy itself while simultaneously requesting that it live on? Besides, most anything on a hard drive that has been deleted is retrievable if it has been backed-up. If not, things can be reinstalled with a little patience, understanding, and determination.

Learning through confusion in order to understand operates along that same principle. Knowledge is not deleted if it has been backed-up somewhere in a person’s subconscious. The resources still exist whenever that person is willing to reconsider or reevaluate the data.

Though I appreciate the invitation and will continue to keep it in mind, I will not see you on Sunday. While I consciously choose to consider, explore, and experience other life possibilities, I acknowledge that you do not possess a “panic” button. I am certain there is a valid reason why I lack one as well. Thanks God and take care.