It's all a matter of perspective.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Why would I start posting to a blog that I have been ignoring for the past two and a half years? Because I finally have something to say, that's why. Also, blogs have become fashionable again. If there is one thing that is true about me, it is that I simply must be up on the latest trends. Everyone I know has a blog, therefore I had to come back. Three years ago it was just me, James Lileks, and Tony Pierce. But now my sweet wife has joined (I would say inspired, but I am biased) this new wave of bloggers that are really great. Check her blogroll for examples. Miss J herself has what I believe to be the best dang ol' blog I have ever laid my medulla oblongata upon. (Again, biased.) Not that I have any readers I can send her, but anyway . . .

But most importantly I have undertaken a project of sorts that Miss Amy H. Amy has suggested would make quality blog fodder. I have started a journey to experience all forms of Collective Christian Worship that one can bless themselves with in my little corner of the Bible Belt. I suppose I should give some background at this point. This is going to be painful. Warning: Honesty to follow. If you are a part of my life and that bothers you, skip ahead to the lighter stuff.

When I first started dating the beautiful Miss J twelve years ago, we were both students at Ouachita Baptist University. I had an extracurricular job cooking at a hotel restaurant. She worked on the weekends in Little Rock for a non-profit called The Shepherds Ranch (now part of this). Since she was working several days in a row, and it was an hour drive to Arkadelphia, and since she was driving a '74 Plymouth Volare, she started spending the night in the guest bed of her Aunt and Uncle.

At the time, they were involved in starting a new church. This was going to be a non-denominational, evangelical, sorta baptist, sorta charismatic, church of other-church castoffs. Miss J thought that sounded right up her alley. I was not so sure at first, being raised Country Baptist and all. But after a few visits I was hooked by the casual feel, contemporary music, open and honest atmosphere, and absence of a hyper-religious, holier-than-thou, hypocritical atmosphere that engulfed most of the churches that I had been involved with. They named the new church Celebration Christian Fellowship, and when they moved into a permanent structure Miss J and I were the first people to be married there. We moved to Little Rock and were quickly integrated into the leadership of this fledgling congregation.

For the next eight years and seven months we were immersed in this vibrant community. This was not the kind of church that has services twice on Sunday and some sort of event every night of the week. It was not a full time job, but we were intimately involved in pretty much every ministry that the church undertook. I played in the Band and cleaned the sanctuary and helped remodel the building when it needed it. Miss J was the first employee of the church besides Uncle Pastor and started the Children's Ministry. She was an important leader in the Women's Ministry and did the announcements on Sunday mornings and was an always at the information booth out front when someone needed something.

This church was not perfect, but it did a lot of things right. We had small groups that met in people's houses to worship and pray and commune. We had a wonderful Christmas service where Grandfather Pastor would tell the Christmas story and everyone would be overwhelmed by the blessing. We had worship times where the lights were down, and the music was being led by something that the people in the band did not understand, and you felt like you might fly right up to heaven. When someone would move away, on their last Sunday they would be called down front where all of the people who loved them would form a scrum around them and Jon Shirley would take the Holy Spirit out of his bluejeans pocket and release it into the room and everyone would close their eyes and cry and pray for these people that meant so much to them. On Memorial Day the whole church would go out to Steve Leopard's house on the lake and eat BBQ and potato salad (Brian Roach style) and play volleyball. At the end of the summer we went out to Ferncliff and swam and paddled and sumo wrestled and baptized and cried and prayed some more and ate catfish.

Well to make a long story short, and to surely offend people who couldn't give a shit about what I have to say, and to perhaps even libel myself and get sued for damages, let me just say that Uncle Pastor lost interest in both uncle-ing and pastoring, but for reasons that I will dare not speculate about in public, decided that he would rather see this church fit into the space that he had time for rather than allow someone else to take the lead and provide what it needed to thrive.

The first step in this transformation was the decision that the church should have no organized activity whatsoever except for Sunday morning worship, and this was best when organized as little as possible. We had videos instead of sermons, question and answer time instead of sermons, Sundays with only music, and the rehash of a sermon we had heard a hundred times. When it finally degraded to the point where He decided he would rather continue as pastor of the church without a salary and without a building while doing another career full time than he would step away and let someone else lead this thirsty group of family, friends, and companions, Miss J and I decided that we had to move on. It was far too painful to watch.

So we left. (We weren't the only ones. Celebration still meets on occasion, with about two percent of its peak numbers.) January 1st, 2006 was our first Sunday at a new church. We have been attending Fellowship North mostly, New Life Conway some, and occasionally Grace Missionary Baptist (The church my dad pastors.) We have enjoyed all of these for various reasons, and have felt the spirit from time to time for sure. But, nothing has been like it was, and will likely never be.

Once I realized this, I became pretty depressed about my spiritual future. Miss J and the kids were fairly happy attending Fellowship North, and they had made friends. I, however am antisocial and have mental problems. Making friends takes a long time and a lot of casual contact for me. Also, I realized that I know almost nothing about how most people worship. I had only attended three churches in my life; The church I grew up in - a small country baptist church pastored by my dad; Celebration; and now FSN. When I mentioned this to Miss J, she made a generous and genius proposition. She and the kids will go to FSN when they feel like going to church, and I will be allowed to attend a different church every Sunday if I like, until I feel that I have been educated My mind should be opened to all of the ways that people in my home town worship the Lord.

I do not plan to go to any Baptist churches, I did that for the first twenty years of my life. I do not plan to go to any Church of Christ, because they are far to much of a strict constructionist in their interpretation for me (and do not allow Fender Guitars on stage.) I do not plan to go to any AOG or Pentecostal or anything too charismatic, because it kinda frightens me a little bit when people loose it like that. Remember the part about me being antisocial and having mental problems?

Where do I plan to go? Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic, and whatever else strikes my fancy along the way. Last Sunday I went to First United Methodist, North Little Rock, and I attended the "Contemporary Service." Hopefully I will have time to write about that before I make my next sneak visit next Sunday. If you are interested, check back and I will try to post about each denomination as I visit them. I will talk about what was different from my previous worship experiences, what I liked, how I was moved during the services, how I embarrassed myself, and how big my pompadour is each week.

Feel free to comment. Please suggest places for me to visit. You are also welcome to tell me that I am theologically screwed and riding in an aisle seat on the fast track to Hades. I welcome all input.

12 comments:

Kimberly said...

Further up and further in, brother. I think everyone in my little community of friends is struggling with "what is church?" right now. Somehow, I think the simplicity and order of the liturgical churches can be more comforting than the overwhelming activity of the more evangelical churches. But in the evangelical church I remain, though I've been spending more time worshipping outside of the church building with friends, trying to learn how to live the church, than I have spent inside the structure lately. I look forward to watching your journey (and that of your sweet wife)!

Becky said...

Welcome to the journey, man. We were in that very place for a long time. Letting go of the safety rope and plunging in the water is scary, unsettling, breathtaking and wonderful, and you will come through it stronger and with a new appreciation of our big loving God, and you will find a home. I think every Christian would benefit from a real time of traveling through all different shapes and colors of Christian denominations and experiences, I wish it were mandatory. Rock on!

tracy said...

Hi Nate ~ looking forward to reading your blog again. Adam says hello & has brought up on several occasions about how much he liked you!

TG

Rosemary said...

Hi,
I got to your blog by reading your wife's blog. I am more into the girly creative stuff, but I found your blog very interesting reading. Your wife is a sweetheart.
I like her, and her blog.
I believe yours is the first guy blog I have read.
Thanks,
Rosemary

Jerusalem said...

Thanks for coming back to BlogLand my sweet man. I love reading your thoughts and I love how you make me laugh, even in the midst of our crazy journey! I agree with Becky - Rock On!

Nathaniel said...

Wow, check out all of these pretty girls that are paying attention to me!

Casey said...

man, nathan, my heart still breaks after the whole ccf/rmc deal. i'm still floating around out there looking for a place that will be home to me like ccf was at one time, and that rmc was for a LONG time. i will for sure agree with you that jon shirley does seem to have the holy spirit on speed dial. . .i miss that boy.

Rabbit Hill Creations said...

Hi Nathan, found you through Ms. J...welcome back to blogland and good luck on your journey. I will definately be back to read your interesting finds. Toni

Amy2 said...

You are such a great writer! I will be checking back for updates on what you're experiencing in all of these worship gatherings...

sarabeth said...

nathan, lovely to know that jerusalem has a wonderful witty husband - I look forward to meeting you and all your mental problems someday...

I love the experiences you are setting yourself up for. I can't imagine how hard this whole thing has been for everyone involved - but it's encouraging to see you and j decide to open yourselves up, it could so easily have been a place to shut down.

Anonymous said...

May I welcome back to blogland my talented writer/musician/computernerd/mr fixit son! The spiritual journey you have chosen to take is indeed a mysterious one. I know that you know that we all know there is no perfect church - at least not as long as they allow people to attend. But there are some good ones out there! So good luck, my son. Wish I were able to go with you! Keep the old man posted....sign me - pops

Randall said...

Nice to run into your blog. I would love to hear what you have to say about any of the Episcopal churches in the area. I myself am 31 and work for the diocese. I am starting a blog also with some of the same questions that I think your dealing with. Maybe some of us can get together for some beer sometime.