After a five-day Thanksgiving break, I visited my personal e-mail and found it flooded with messages from friends: Amazon, Rite-Aid, Staples, Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, Calendars — all the people who bring meaning to my life.
After I had, um, disposed of these missives and checked out the sundry Facebook comments about turkey leftovers and too much pumpkin pie, I was left with three personal messages from actual people who have physically met me and had something to say beyond inviting me to a virtual turkey dinner from another one of those mindlessly endless Facebook games. (On first reading, I thought it was real: that I was actually invited to Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. Tired of Being Youngest took a look and said, “Sorry. It’s a game.” Facebook Friends: I don’t want to play games, literal or figurative. Please.)
Back to my messages: one of them was from Dark-Haired-Bespectacled-Man, whom the Norwegian Artist and I knew 25 years ago when we lived in the broom closet of a tin-roofed alley high in the Andes Mountains of South America. Eighteen at the time, DHBM squired the Norwegian Artist and his camera throughout the town and into places that the average Norteamericano does not get into. In our year together, we did a lot of talking, communicating, and trying to understand one another. We left as friends.
What with the postal situation on both sides and a five-year civil war in the tin-roofed alley region, we lost track until two weeks ago, when, through Facebook, we literally connected with each other and a series of other friends of that year. I will not share Dark-Haired’s message, other than it brought tears to my eyes more than once, but I will say that we are reconnecting with some very unique, important, and incredible individuals at a time that we very much need to hear from wise people outside of our cultural context.
They don’t have the term Black Friday in Sur America, and if they did, it would be connected with the concept of death, not Christmas shopping. Cyber Monday is also missing from the vernacular lexicon.
Christianity, however, is a universal word and a belief system that we share, and, thanks to our innovative cross cultural friends, we now have a way of describing ourselves: “Independent Christians,” as opposed to, “Christians Who Don’t Attend Conventional Church Services Anymore But Who Haven’t Fallen Away and Still Very Much Believe in God.”
Thanks, amigos — IC is a much cleaner and catchier acronym than CWDACCSABWHFASVMBG.
It intrigued me, as well, to see that disenfranchisement with the religious establishment is not confined to our culture, but that Christ’s people everywhere stand up and leave when the alternative is sitting down and accepting a watered down message. It’s not easy; it’s not necessarily preferable, but when the alternative is conforming to committee-led standards and expectations, it is necessary.
Harsh, I know, and before I get slapped in the face with Bible verses, I also know that there are warm and friendly and funny and fuzzy churches out there where members still have potlucks and it doesn’t matter whether you go to Sunday School and you’re not judged by what you do or don’t wear and you are completely and totally accepted for who you are because that is how Christ accepts us.
I know they’re out there, somewhere; I’m just not sure where.
I also know that there is no perfect church situation, and it is unrealistic to expect one.
However, I am at the turning point of frustration with religious establishments that are increasingly looking and acting like -Mart stores, complete with mission statements, company logos, PowerPoint presentations, rotating classes that have “facilitators” as opposed to teachers, and a vocabulary that embraces terms like “healthy authenticity” and “improper group dynamics.”
After years of trying to adapt ourselves around a system that is choking itself upon irrelevancy, the Norwegian Artist and I are opting out of contemporary Group Think — in both the secular and religious divisions — and doing our best to bring our lifestyles into parallel tandem with the message of Christianity — that there is a God out there, that He really REALLY cares about us, that we reach out to others in His name and really REALLY care about them, that our lives will look different somehow because the precepts upon which we build them are majorly weird in comparison to concepts that blur modern secularism and modern religious thought into one sticky, convoluted, unidentifiable, squashy, unpalatable mass.
I want the real turkey dinner — not the Facebook game.