Back when I was going to school in Boulder - after the endless nights of partying and alcohol wore off, but before the cynicism set in - I started attending a church in a suburb of town. It was your classic brand of evangelical megachurch, with the cushioned seats, the big screens on the side of the stage, the light show, fog machine, full rock band, animated pastor, branded logo on the weekly bulletin, and professionally-produced videos. There was no better way to do church. It was exciting and enticing and easy to bring friends along.
I was an intern at the church for a few years- high school ministry, to be exact. I led a small group of girls, I taught lessons & gave talks from time to time. I printed a lot of flyers and came up with a lot of humiliating and ridiculous games. Following Jesus was easy then. Go to class, write papers, listen to Five Iron Frenzy, go to a high school football game, then make kids drink a gallon of milk in two minutes to see who would throw up first.
Following Jesus back then looked like listening to Christian music (check), being in a Bible study (check), and not sleeping with your boyfriend (oops). Two out of three wasn't bad and nobody really asked me hard questions or suspected anything (maybe they did, but they never said anything), so I skipped along on my merry way, content with my life, thinking that I had this Christianity thing dialed. Following Jesus was a checklist and being able to spit out the right answers in the right language. Luckily for me, I'm a type-A personality with an affinity for languages, so checklists and reciting Christianese was my jam.
I had an answer for everything. I could spit out Bible verses about abortion and gay marriage. I could line up all the references to Christ in the Old Testament. I had A Ready Defense for every argument. Or, so I thought. The answers rolled easily off the tongue and they dripped sweet with banality. "God won't give you more than you can handle," I'd tell the girls in Bible study. "If God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it." I wish I had known that I was spewing a bunch of untrue bullshit cliches. Looking back, I probably should have just kept my mouth shut.
Christianity was glossy and pretty for me back then, full of sparkle and shine and promise. I'd be lying to you if I said that a part of me didn't miss it.
I do, I miss it. I miss the thousands of people and the rock-concert worship service. I miss the glitter and gloss. I miss feeling like every Sunday was this incredible spiritual high.
After I got married and we left Boulder, a deep-seeded cynicism set in, and every little thing about that former church were all things I despised about Christianity. I mean, really, WHO NEEDS A FOG MACHINE AND LASER LIGHTS? But now, working through that cynicism and suspicion, I've come to have a tender place for churches like that. The glossy evangelical megachurch is a part of my story, just as much as the more gritty, hipster, urban church we're in now.
But, more than missing the worship service and the big-church feel, I miss having an answer for everything and having a checklist to live by. I miss the Christianity of my younger years. I miss that chapter of my story, and in some ways, I truly long for it. Being naive was so much easier.
I don't really miss the cliches, though.
Now, I have all these questions. More and more questions, less and less answers. The Bible, I'm learning, isn't clear on hardly anything. In fact, when I read it and approach it with a question, I often close the cover with more questions than when I started. It's maddening. Jesus wasn't a magical genie that poured blessings out upon His people anytime they asked. He was a subversive revolutionary, asking everyone around him to defy the religious and social norms of the day, to give up everything and follow him. He said the last will be first, that the poor in spirit would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Following Jesus has become everything I feared it would be, and spent years avoiding: Extremely difficult.
I know now that the glossy church services had nothing to do with my naive understanding of Christianity. That was clearly just my own immaturity. But, I miss those easy years spent in the megachurch. I'm also grateful for the difficult years I'm in now. Even now, with all of my hard questions and doubt and recovering cynicism, I know that I'm truly working out my faith and what it means to worship in the midst of everyday life, absent of the mountain-top spiritual highs of my youth. That struggle and constant friction of rubber meeting road is making me softer, more honest, more vulnerable, and in many ways, more faithful.
I know now that there are no easy answers on this path of following Jesus. Even though that's difficult to swallow, I think that's exactly how it should be.