Monday, May 5, 2008

lets be honest, you really don't like church either

so apparently some of my items in my list of things I liked and did not like when I was a teenager elicited some reaction, because I have now received several emails and questions from people wanting to know what is up with me hating church and if I am getting over it, growing up at all, things like that.


we've all got stories. we've all got reasons for who we are, who we are not. for the things we believe, for the things we do not believe. I have hope that I'm changing, maybe even for the better. and in the meantime, I'm cleaning up certain aspects of who I am - I'm learning I don't have to be right all the time, I'm learning I don't have to try and go for shock value to make my points, I'm learning that there are a lot of people who communicate very differently than me and my friends, and I'm learning that I don't always represent myself very well with my writing.

which is why, as regular readers know, this blog has undergone a major overhaul. I mostly post about my photography and my music, and seldom talk about my religious or political beliefs.

I've been enjoying transforming theworstweblogintheworld into a sort of creative showcase, but since it has come up and since I've told a few people I'd probably post something about where BTM is now, I guess I'll do that.

the truth is, I never liked church. as a kid, I dreaded sundays, and as I got older, I couldn't help but question it. the ironic thing is that I've always been really involved with church. mostly because I play and produce a lot of church music, and mysteriously, I really enjoy church music. I'm still figuring that one out, but I think it's because I love music, because music is kind of like my first tongue, and because music that says something is always meaningful, and I think church music, at it's core, is actually saying something. at least it should be. the reason you likely have a low view of church music is because you've been overwhelmed with how bad it can be when it's not saying anything. or when it's saying horrible things.

but when it's good, it's really good. I was in st. louis visiting this church about a year ago and there was this huge choir and this symphony and I don't even know what the song was, and I don't even like choirs or symphonies, but the music was huge and it was saying something massive - I have no idea what the song was even about - but it was way bigger than me, and I knew it immediately, and I sat down and wept. it caught me totally off guard.

and this past sunday, we did a song called "god of my life" at red mountain. it's I think maybe the best song to come out of our little church, even though the version we recorded is not as good as it should be. but this past sunday we sang it at red mountain and it gave me chills, because I think I believed what the song said. if only for a moment. and because the song had so much energy. and it didn't have energy for any sort of contrived reason. it had energy because we all really love that song and we just sort of had to play it. maybe like how I sort of can't help but feel this constant belief pulling on the corners of my dark, doubting soul. you know?

so that's what's good about church. that it is a place where hope and life meet. that is a place for people to come and cling to eachother; to cling to faith. that it is a place where darkness fades to light, if only in moments.

but what is sad about church is all the ways it hurts, all the ways it disappoints, all the ways it is not safe, all the ways it fails. these things are obvious and they are real, and maybe where I get most upset is when I am made to feel like my frustrations and sadness about where the church falls short is immature, ungracious, unchristian, unwarranted. maybe it's true that I don't handle myself as well as I could or should, but since when is it not okay to cry out that things are not as they should be? that something seems off?

and when a place that should be for the broken, the hurting, the poor, the sad, the doubting, the stranded, the lonely, the questioning, the divorced, the widowed, the outcast, the hungry, the afraid, the suddenly all filled up with people who seem so amazingly put together, one can only question how this happened. clearly, this is contrary to the design, isn't it?

I honestly believe that what drives my angst about church and the bible and about christianity is my hope that all those things are actually true and real. I'm not in a fight against anything. at least I'm trying to learn not to be. I think I'm just fighting my own demons, and hoping jesus will show up. god, I really hope jesus shows up.

but until then, I'll keep making music. and I'll write less blogs like these.

and I'll especially make music to old hymns, because the old hymns were written by men and women who looked like me. I am more and more convinced of that.

and I'll keep taking pictures, because photos of empty places proclaim the gospel. I can't explain that. but it's true.


curt chadwick said...

Hi Brian,

i just wanted to let you know that you are not alone in your struggles. im continually amazed how you put yourself out there time and time again, im sure its not easy and its not safe. As its been said, "this gospel that we carry is not safe...but it is good"

Elisa M said...

This is my favorite post that I have ever read of your. And I have been reading for a long time. Thanks for being so honest.

Patrick Sewell said...

Thanks for breaking your "no religion or politics" policy. I really enjoyed this post.

I think it's easy to get the idea that people are put together well when we only see them for two hours per week. Of course, I'm sure plenty have trouble seeing their own poverty (myself so often included).

Daniel Hames said...

I wish I was playing 'God of my Life' right now. Maybe with you chaps.

Love from the UK.


shawn avery said...

i really liked the pretty pictures on this post.

jesus currently works the 2nd shift at a blockebuster off of 37th ave in gary, indiana.


Mary Brocato said...

I wonder if people seem more "put together" at church because Jesus is putting us BACK together, with everyone on the same page of how crappy life can be. It is weird, how everyone seems shiny and pretty there. Usually I feel cynical about it (it's hypocritical,etc.), but maybe there's something hopeful about it. I'm trying to be more optimistic these days.

bruce said...

this post is a lot better than the 'politics and religion' posts that have caused a shitstorm in the past. it is interesting and creative and honest. I can really see from reading your blogs over the years that you have 'grown up' and i defy anybody to suggest that your last post didn't, at the very least, hit on what many people at RMC, not to mention our generation, feel like. So even though I am about to ask a bunch of questions that you could easily take the wrong way, know that I, at least, sincerely respect you and hope that you continue to make music and write blogs and wrestle with the gospel where I can see it for many years to come.

i guess i wonder this - you (and many at RMC - especially the people who have been there a while) have a lot of patience for people who are visibly fucked up - who wear it on their sleeve: their doubts, their pain, their disenchantment. You don't wear yours quite so openly as you did two years ago on this blog, but anyone who has a blog is interested on some level at letting the public know what they think - especially a blog as public as worstweblogintheworld. This impetus is highly unusual in the church today and is to be applauded and viciously protected (as Tom has said from the pulpit 2 of the last 4 sundays).

So why can't or shouldn't you (we) extend that sort of patience to the people in the world who don't deal with their shit in the same way? I mean, guys with big muscles and small brains appeared on both hate lists. But I know guys that fit that category (or in the category of peope who can't admit they don't have it all together) and they aren't really any different than most of our friends - they have all the same sort of doubts and confusions and sadness and divorce and death - they just deal with it in a different way. You might even say they deal with it in a 'worse' way, but if that's the case then at the least we would have pity and patience for them and not hatred.

perhaps, their avoidance of God, of dealing with their shit, looks like filling their lives with short sexual experiences, violent sports, and superficial conversation that begins with 'play golf?' or 'did you see the game.' I don't see how that is much different from people at red mountain avoiding God by pushing the boundaries of 'christian freedom', wallowing in self-pity, or engaging in whatever construct is in vogue at the moment in our circles. In the end we are all spending lots of our time hiding from God and from each other and don't understand the depths to which God had to plummet to save us from destruction. If we did I think that Church would look a lot like both groups and a lot like neither. It's true that we would have a bunch of sinners - but those sinners would neither be moping around in their sin and doubt nor be a bunch of people smiling through the rotten teeth of corpses. It would be a group a people bold in their foolishness for the gospel and humble in their brokenness (btw, not to insinuate that doubts aren't a part of being a christian - they are - but they don't seem to characterize the church on the whole - they seem like just a part). I think that it might even be that our generations rejection of our parents christianity (which a whole lot of this is about at the end of the day) and our parents rejection or our christianity has pushed both groups further away from the gospel and that we need each other to stay focused on the cross.

You know me well enough to know that I am not very good at either. But, I guess my point is this. I have heard people for years, both before we started attending RMC and especially after, rail against the church for being a bunch of whitewashed tombs (to use the old term - there is nothing new under the sun indeed is there!).

Interestingly, when I first came to RMC the railing was mostly against the briarwoods and covenants of birmingham and the world. Now it is increasingly against members of our own congregation. While I know the thoughts and emotions behind a post like yours are real, powerful, and pervasive, does that make them profitable or accurate or right (speaking as someone who often feels the same way!). I mean, Tom's sermon hit on this a few weeks ago and it was really powerful to me - that as the gospel changes us on the one hand we get better at seeing the best in other people and are slow to find them at fault... but on the other hand we become more aware of our own sin and are quick to find ourselves at fault. Is that a good corrective to these types of feelings? Should we (both you and me, among others) look and try to find the best things about the people whose struggles with sin are so deep and horrible that the gospel has only started to crack the surface and they are afraid to let anyone see so they smile incessantly and pretend they have all their shit together?

BTW, I think you should posit some uber-christian explanation for empty pictures revealing the gospel that draws on the Left Behind series.


Brian T. Murphy said...

Curt – thanks man. Good to hear from you. thanks for checking in.

Elisa – sure. Thing is, I think I’m wondering how honest I’m being. That’s what really scares me.

Patrick – yes, definitely. I also should clarify – I don’t think people really are put together. Just that the seem like they are. We act like we are. It’s a criticism I would level at myself just as fast as anyone else. But it’s definitely a big part of the baggage of the modern church. At least it seems like it to me.

Dan – good memories. Every time I listen to the recording, I listen for the british boys. Hope you are well, dan.

Shawn – thanks. And when you are ready to take a road trip to go and meet jesus, let me know. I’m in.

Mary – I appreciate your optimism. I have hope that jesus IS putting us back together. I really do.

Bruce – I think we should extend patience to people who don’t deal with things the same way. Definitely. Also – this wasn’t so much a criticism of red mountain. I love red mountain. More just some general thoughts on modern church, as usual, largely stemming from my past experiences, baggage, and the stories from my friends.

And also, due to unforeseen circumstances, today I have the overwhelming feeling that none of this matters. Absolutely none of it.

Clint Wells said...

btm - thanks for this post. very well worded.

bd - to address your fourth paragraph (geez you had a lot to say) I'm just curious why you see the gospel as something stationary? Something that hovers in the middle of your polarizations that we have the ability to "avoid" or "move away" from?

People who engage their doubts and fears no more avoid God than one can avoid the wind in a hurricane. God is unavoidable. To back away from one aspect of God is to back into yet another. And though some aspects of God's character are scary and hard, they are all safe and all inclusive and all redeeming. And after wiping away the tears they all encourage us towards one another.

Ad I think it's so simple to boil all of this down to a "rejection of our parents christianity". To say that both my torment and my absolute (fleeting) tranquility about Jesus Christ is really nothing more than a bunch of daddy issues? Sorry, but that's ridiculous.

We are all being pushed away from the gospel? No, We are all being pulled TOWARDS the gospel. Let no man separate what God has bound together. Laughable.

Liz said...

brian - you and my husband are the most hopeful and inspiring christians i know.

bruce said...


You don't think we can avoid God? Surely we can't on some level (God is in the depths of Sheol) and can on another (parable of the 4 seeds, for instance or all the biblical talk about idolotry). I am not at all saying all your issues (or anyone else's) are a bunch of daddy issues (it was one sentence in a usually long post from me!). Brian's post was about this certain type of Christian that makes him hate church. I commented that this type of Christian seems to be largely representative of the type of Christian most common in our parents' generation and perhaps in christendom in general and that there is a dual rejection of each other's expression of Christianity (and that the dual rejection is destructive and should be combatted by showing unusual patience with people very different than we are - which is fucking hard - make no mistake about it). Brian seemed to confirm this in his response that what he was talking about hating in church wasn't people actually at his church but was a projection of past experiences and from other churches. To be accurate Brian might say that he hates most churches but loves his church.

I don't know what you mean by stationary. I tend to think (this is stolen from Luther), that being a christian is a lot like being a drunk man on a horse - you are constantly falling off to the right and left. In this particular case I think that the Christian is pulled in two directions that take him off the foward progression to a fuller understanding of the Gospel. On the one hand is sincere desire to believe that God is protecting you and will bless you. On the other hand is the sincere desire to know God and knowledge that knowing God can only come through plodding through the depths of your own sin. The two aren't mutually exclusive - but if we make them so it leads to horribleness of the first order. Joel Osteen focuses exclusively on the former - to the extent that Jesus isn't really necessary in his system, he only really needs God's blessing. The christian who has forgotten that God has blessed him and forgotten that he can rest in his salvation may be focused on the latter to the exclusion of the former (something like this happened to my roommate in seminary and it was terrifying to witness). Jesus isn't in this system either - all that is really needed is crises or searching or struggling (sort of like an incomplete reading of Kierkegaard). But we get a lot of this at RMC - especially when Steve was here - that the point of christianty was the struggle itself. Struggle became an end and not a means.

The way to move forward is to hold these two things in tension and it's freaking hard. To rest in the fact that God has saved you and to try to come to grips with how costly that salvation is. Brian spoke in his last post about waiting for God to show up. He did show up. He came, lived, died on a cross, and rose from the dead. On the other hand we need God to show up and sanctify our souls, redeem our broken relationships, and enable us to preach and live the gospel faithfully.

I should further caveat all this in saying that it's non-specific. There are times when a lot of this goes out the window. But in the specific instance of dealing with hating a particular group in the Church because they don't display their brokenness in the same way we do at RMC (or conversely they avoid their brokenness in different ways than we do at RMC) - I think this type of drunk man on the horse dynamic is going on and that what is needed is patience.

I can't believe my left behind/rapture thesis didn't get a response.


Susannah said...

Sinners are so good at looking put together. I consider myself very good at putting up fronts to the people around me. However, it's overwhelmingly hard to be taken serious when you look perfect, then turn and say "I'm fucked, but God's good."

Natalie_S said...

Wow, loving this discussion.

I will say that RMC is one of the few churches who I feel gets things right. At least...I feel comfortable struggling with actually being myself here and not some grinning bobble head.

ck said...

I didn't want to get into this discussion, but ...

Bruce, while I totally agree with your call to unity, I totally disagree with your assertion that RMC, especially "when Steve was here," was in danger of falling off of the "struggle" side of the horse. Not once have I ever heard anyone in leadership at RMC say or imply that the struggle is the point of being a Christian; or that wallowing in despair is an OK thing. That's a total misperception — albeit a common misperception that a lot of people inside and outside RMC seem to want to cling to.

This idea has festered because of hearsay and speculation and malicious gossip (a particular problem in our circles). It's also a result of people not actually listening to what's being said. Which is exactly what the devil wants to happen in our little church, because that's where division occurs. Fact is, it's still a lot easier to fall off the hopeful side of that horse, especially in our polite, Southern churches. Being a place where the struggling, the broken, and the despairing are welcomed with open arms — and shown Christ — is something quite subversive that we must fight for.

ck said...

Oh dear, I didn't mean to sound so preachy, sorry about that. I did like the other stuff you said, Bruce.
Also: I really liked what Susannah said. It's true. OK, buh-bye.

bruce said...


No offense taking (i mean, you are one of the only true lovers of dragonporn in our whole congregation - solidarity!) and you weren't being preachy. You were being honest and I appreciate it. I would have been wise to leave Steve's name out altogether and I am sorry I didn't. I don't think it is fair to say that it is a total misperception that there is an undercurrent at RMC that communicates that struggling with belief is an end in itself and that RMC is a place where the despairing can come and despair - the end. Nor is it fair to say that everyone who believes that is a malicious gossip.

Try to see this in this way:
If when people bring up the bible and it is denigrated as being a waste of time, if they talk positively about church experiences and they are laughed at, if they don't doubt that God is good and exists and it is cheapened (and so on ad infinitum) - all things that have happened at RMC in more explicit and implicit ways - it communicates that those things are not important. If at the same time those people are hearing that RMC is a place to come for the broken and despairing AND the legs have been cut out of all of the things that the Church has traditionally held up as being a healing balm for brokenness and despair (scripture, church, and faith in the gospel) it is not irrational or malicious for such a person to conclude that RMC is all about struggling for its own sake.

I don't happen to believe any of this about RMC, but I do understand how someone might. I think RMC does a good job of holding this dynamic in tension (and there is a lot of pressure in both directions and one is not easier than the other), it's one of the reasons I love RMC (and it's leaders - especially your husband!). A good sign of this is that both sides constantly bitch about one another! For every post from Brian about his disenchantment with his church experience there is a person at RMC villifying everyone with a guitar for not caring more about reading their bible. My original response was simply that I think both sides would really benefit from relationships with each other. Worstweblogintheworld over the past year has had a number of posts that basically can be reduced to 'man I sure was surprised at how much I enjoyed spending time with X christian music group that I thought I would want to sever my head from my body as an alternative'. That's beautiful.

Group hug,


Brian T. Murphy said...

Liz – not sure how to respond to that. thank you.

Susannah – yeah I’m good at it too. it’s interesting, I notice that I act different levels of “put together” relative to my different social groups. This indicates that I am even more fake than I thought I was. Awesome.

Natalie – you should…it’s partially your fault! Hey – and I think what you said about rmc – about feeling comfortable with struggling and being yourself (especially the part about being yourself) is really important. That gives me a lot of hope for rmc, too.

CK – why didn’t you want to get into the discussion?! Thanks for speaking into the issue of struggle at rmc. I tend to think this issue isn’t as big of a deal as some people like to make it out to be. I think you articulated how I feel way better than I ever could have. You have a big brain, cassia. So strange, for a woman.

Bruce – “A good sign of this is that both sides constantly bitch about one another!” – I think you blow this out of proportion.

ck said...

Bruce -
Ha, dragonporn indeed! Seriously, I hear what you're saying. And I'm probably just out of touch, because I've never heard the means of grace (Bible, prayer, etc) denigrated. I've heard questions and doubts expressed more than anything else. And I've had friends on both "sides" walk away from seemingly innocuous conversations, very upset because they took something away from it that they maybe shouldn't have. When I look at RMC, I see a bunch of very similar people who tend to take offense way too easily. There are no sides, here, not really. We're all just a bunch of prickly hedgehogs. Which is why your main point is so valuable. Group hug!

Brian -
I didn't want to get into it because it seems kind of contrary to your post, or at least beside the point. And yes, my brain is freakin' huge. It's probably because of all the beans I eat.

Jon Black said...

Brian - I like your post.

"because photos of empty places proclaim the gospel" - that's possibly one of the most profound things I've read in a while.

kristen said...

My experience with Steve was so limited, as he left six months after we arrived, but I do feel a difference in the climate and the preaching, and more than just the hope that seemed infectious earlier this year. I am perceiving much more emphasis on forward motion, but not in a shallow way. All that to say, I don't think Bruce is missing the mark.

However, I also know that RMC must hold on to its subversive, gospel-centered welcome for people in states of brokenness and dispair. And I think we will. I don't worry that five years from now, RMC will look or act like every other PCA church in the presbytery. I hope in this movement I feel we're carving out a middle ground between the tensions and factions that are being described.

Jeff and Brandi Koonce said...

a popular RMC quote "I am now free to struggle with my sin instead of struggling to be free from sin" comes to mind.

I think many times in the past i was so content with "being free to struggle with my sin" that i was actually "struggling to be free from sin".

I was in a room of comfort and familiarity where i didn't have to feel like i had to pray, or read my bible, or talk about jesus to friends, and where i felt it was because i didn't want to do these things, and that i would somehow get a desire to. i was joined in this room with many friends and people i loved. and i felt more spiritual because i talked about how i wasn't doing these things, like read my bible and go to church and pray. but,i let my struggle become my life and i wasn't getting out. i was content with the struggle. and the struggle was not making me more spiritual, it was making me depressed.

but after living in this comfortable place, where i did not feel i had too be confronted with praying for my hurting friends, or finding truths in the word that "cut like a two edged sword", i found that i was more struggling to be free from my sin.

i had not taken to heart that i can now struggle with it, but not have to stay there. i could be free. and even from struggle. (not to say another struggle will not come along)

i feel part of the struggle is finding the other end. i am glad i left the comfort of my "struggles" and i now am in a place where i can struggle with my sin through prayer and reading the word. and this place is seldom comfortable, and feels lonely at times, until i realize the lord is there with me.

i am not trying to be preachy, but i feel we should bring the struggles "to the lord in prayer"

maybe this is just me, and thats ok. i just thought i'd share my experience.

and for the record. i hate going to church in the morning with jeff,because i am lazy and want to be asleep. :) and i hate going to RMC at night when i have already been to church that morning, because i am lazy. but when i go, i am always glad i went. i love church. i hate getting out of bed. :)

brian, i feel you have grown, which is shown through your writing.
have hope there are even brighter days ahead.


Emily said...

I'll be honest...I really do like church, BUT I like churches that welcome anyone-----literally ANYONE.

Brian T. Murphy said...

CK – yes, I was thinking the same thing, but I guess that’s the way comment sections go…

Jon – thanks man. Not sure if it’s profound. It just feels about right. Still need to find the right photograph for your album…

Kristen – the only thing I have to say about steve is, I miss him dearly. I still see him and talk to him regularly, but his absence at red mountain is significant. It is something I feel every time I am there.

Brandi – I appreciate your thoughts here. And I definitely hear what you are saying – rmc can seem like a very dark place. I’d say it’s even more dark and haunted than we realize. And at the same time, it’s more beautiful and hopeful than we realize, too. and there’s some surprises, too. like, I’m learning that I actually do pray – that it just didn’t look like what I thought it looked like. But I’d also be the first to say that we do a lot of things wrong at rmc. Definitely.

I love the night service. And I love when you and jeff are with us. brighter and darker days are ahead. I know it.

Emily – yeah I don’t think that exists. I wish it did.

234-92-5659 said...

welcoming people is easy

bruce, you might owe me 12 page down keystrokes

Andrew and/or Amy said...

nice pictures of IPC.

Please tell my you are getting cool shots with a camera that does not cost thousands

Brian T. Murphy said...

234-92-5659: for me, welcoming people is not easy.

andrew - I have gotten lots of cool shots with cameras that do not cost thousands. and I also have, over the years, grown to appreciate my really nice camera. the camera I currently use is pretty nice. I'm not gonna lie.

Anonymous said...

Funny I read through these post and you would think that Christianity is about "self." What "I" like, "my" doubts, "my" struggles with sin... I seem to see a different Christianity in the scriptures. One that says you can't get it together, but God through His Spirit puts you together. You can't learn to Pray right, but the Spirit prays through you. If you focus so much on yourself and not a a God who transforms, I understand your struggles. But the Gospel is not about you... It is about a God who saves and transforms.

Susannah said...

Let me just say this, it is usually my very last resort to go outside of myself in my own trouble. I just don't, it's not natural for me. So, then, I find myself crying in my room without a friend or sibling to whisper a prayer for me, which makes me cry out prayers inside, which is not easy. Is it I don't have friends? Far from it, it's just being open and up front that is the whole problem.

Susannah said...

I just realized that that was probably really off topic, tell me if I'm wrong.

Brian T. Murphy said...

anon - thanks so much for that. very helpful.

susannah - not off topic. your comments are always welcome.

Natalie_S said...

Brandi, totally hear that. I think it's so easy to just say "and that's where I am" and forget that God is actively moving us in another direction that doesn't involve wallowing around in broken despair.

May be a little of a tangent here, but I have really fallen in love with Tom's preaching. Steve was wonderful, but Tom just keeps blowing me away week after week -probably because he keeps painting pictures of what will be. I mean we all know Cinderella had a horrible life scrubbing out chamber pots and whatnot, but we don't read the story because of dirty chamberpots but because of it's wonderful, redemptive ending. I know my life is messed up and that I fail so very often. Tom, wakes me up. Reminds me off the happy ending waiting for me. Gives me a reason to get out of bed and keep trying just because there is a happy ending.