I remember as a child, once asking why the Bible, especially the gospels, were so good, and church was so boring and lame. And I remember that my mother’s response wasn’t that I was wrong about church, but just that she didn’t know. I noticed how little the gospels were referred to, and how little the sermons sounded like something Jesus would say. I noticed that, church just seemed to a place to feel good together, with ideas to make you feel good, but not to really change your way of life.
But in the gospels, I saw a Jesus all about changing lives, and living in the Kingdom of God, and being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. I saw a Jesus who was demanding, and changed lives. Jesus was not a life coach preaching about positive thinking.
Of course, churches vary greatly. I visited a lot, and a lot were quite motivating, and even inspiring. But I didn’t feel it lasted. It seemed to me, a more or less empty entertainment, remembering how good Jesus is, and sometimes suggesting he might want to do something in you. What kind of thing wasn’t ever clear.
It seemed to me, Christianity had been made a private matter, relevant mainly to our feelings. It seemed we were told to love God, and always be feely-goody people. And tell others to do so also.
At one point, I thought Christianity was perhaps best seen as a God-given pyramid scheme, where we believe, and must then get others to believe, even though we were only really believing in believing itself. And by this scheme, we get to heaven. It seemed like the gospel we were meant to spread, was that there was a gospel to be spread.
It’s fair to say, I was very confused. But, I applied good protestant logic, and concluded that the churches had corrupted teachings, and I would be better off on my own with a bible. Which, for a good few years, I did.
[I think it’s good logic from a protestant perspective, because if the Church Jesus himself founded with the apostles could be corrupted (and to maintain protestant beliefs this would have to have happened extremely early on), then it seems inevitable that the churches founded by reformers should also be corrupted even sooner. In view of this fact, I believe the fact that protestant churches are as unified as they are, is a testament to God’s care for them]
So, I became an lone sheep, as soon as my parents stopped making me go to church. But I continued to read the Bible and other Christian books, and I think I grew a lot in those years. My understanding of the scriptures became a lot less muddled and confused. I had decided to ignore Paul at first, because I found him confusing, and I found that suspicious. But I returned to him later, and found he made perfect sense when taken in the light of the gospels I had seen.
I was especially delighted that my new church of one appreciated Jesus’ attitude toward the poor. It wasn’t skipping over Jesus words on selling all you owned and giving it to the poor in order to be perfect and follow Jesus. From early on, I had thought Jesus was talking to me when he said that. I wasn’t obeying it (I was still a child and had no idea how to), but I did look upon it as important. I also noted how Jesus spoke strongly of works when talking about salvation (“as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me”). This tendency, combined with more or less independent political thought, brought me to believe in “Christian anarchism”. [I won’t go into my beliefs in this period of time any further here, but if you like, the last year of this period is somewhat captured in the archives of the first year of this blog]
But then Christian anarchism pointed me towards Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement, which is brilliant, which pointed me to Catholic social teaching, which is brilliant, though I wondered about a few points, which then pointed me to Catholic theology, which is brilliant, though it took a lot of wrestling for me to understand and agree, and I just disagreed a lot at first.
It gradually dawned on me, that a Christian is not alone, and should not be alone. And however disappointing I found church, Jesus had put in a lot of effort to found his Church, so I had to go. So, I tried a couple churches on the few Sundays when I was up on time, and was disappointed. Eventually, I tried mass at my little local, Catholic Church.
It was a shocking experience. So much sudden standing, and kneeling, and everyone responding together. I tried my best to go with the flow. I was terrified: heart racing, sweating so much I hate to think how I smelt. I loved that the gospel was read. That really pleased me. In the second half of the mass, what I now know is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I strongly sensed the reverence of those around me, and learned what the word sacred really means. At the sign of peace, I was stupendously happy to be saying, “peace be with you” and shaking hands with those around me, especially the priest when he came down (I suspect they thought me very strange). I didn’t go up for communion, because I didn’t know if I was allowed, and I was unsure on transubstantiation, and whether it could make it a sin for me to take it, if I was wrong about it either way. I remember noticing, that I had a wonderful feeling throughout, after the fear passed, that I had only ever had while reading the Bible. It almost felt like I was in the Bible.
This experience really should have been enough to convince me to begin becoming Catholic. But I decided to wait, and research on my own to make up my mind. I waited far too long. It was at least six months before I asked about becoming a Catholic, and in that time I rarely came to mass or other church (sleep pattern mainly).
I find it funny to think, how the reformation is viewed as rejecting a lifeless institution with a corrupted gospel, to make a better, more biblical church, but I was led to reject what I viewed as weak institutions with a corrupted gospel, in favour of a better, more biblical Church (the one seen in the Bible), and ended up at Catholicism. Ironic.
God bless you