I came across this piece by Gordon Atkinson a while ago, and so I thought I would share it with you this week (with a nod to Greg Schaefer of the Lutheran/Episcopal Ministry at Stanford who found it and thus led me to find it). It’s funny, thought-provoking and kind to Episcopalians. I’m in the mood for something lighter this week!
Gordon Atkinson writes:
So you think you want to try Christianity, huh? You’ve been casting about for some system of belief for years. You have what we might call a spiritual itch, and you’d like to try and scratch it. Only there are a few problems.
First, you aren’t sure if you believe in God. It’s an intellectual problem, really. You just aren’t sure if there IS a God. And if there is, you’re not sure you would trust the Bible to teach you anything about that God.
Second, you don’t know anything about the practice of Christianity, and you don’t even know where to start. What church should you attend? Who should you listen to? What exactly would be required of you? How much would you need to do so you could honestly say you gave it a try?
To start things off, you are now officially one of my favorite people. I don’t know why this is, and I don’t feel like unpacking it right now, but some of my favorite people don’t believe in God but are looking for something spiritual. Perhaps. Kind of open to the idea. Kind of in a maybe state about the whole God thing. Kind of sort of.
I love people like that. And my experience is that they are often incredibly nice, kind, open to new ideas. Just cool people.
I wish we could start things off for you with a big convention of misfit spiritual thinkers. That’s always been a fantasy of mine anyway. It would be mostly agnostics with some seriously troubled and doubting Christians thrown in the mix. We’d get rooms in a hotel somewhere and meet during the day to talk about God, the absence of God, the meaning of life, whether or not there IS a meaning of life. That kind of stuff. No one would think anyone else is going to hell. So we could all relax about that. At night we would drink beer, watch movies, and sit around laughing. We might play some pranks around the hotel. I’m not saying we would; I’m not saying we wouldn’t. But pranks would definitely be on the table and open for discussion.
Yeah, that would be nice. It probably won’t happen though. A lot of people who would want to be there couldn’t afford to go or couldn’t get away. That would bum me out. Plus, I tend to come up with cool ideas, but I’m not so good with the follow-up detail work. I’m pretty lousy at that, actually. I haven’t even picked up my dirty clothes from yesterday. They’re behind the door in the bathroom. So what, I’m going to organize some huge convention thing now?
Still, it’s a nice thought, right?
So anyway, back to the whole “So you want to try Christianity” thing I was talking about. We won’t be able to kick this off with a convention, so you’ll probably need to find a church.
Hoo boy, this is going to be hard. Um, don’t go to a Baptist church. I say this in love, as a Baptist myself, but the odds of you finding a bunch of Baptists who would be excited to hear about your agnostic, quasi-spiritual journey are about a thousand to one.
Try…oh…I don’t know…the Episcopal Church. I’ve always thought they were the smartest Christians, exceptions duly noted of course. And they’re used to dealing with cerebral questions of ontological and existential meaning, like “Should we keep having this prayer service even though no one shows up anymore?”
My Episcopalian brothers and sisters would treat you right. Maybe. Some of them would.
Okay, so I have two suggestions for you on this journey. Both of them are insanely unorthodox, from a Christian perspective. Don’t worry. I’ll handle all the objections and outrage from the brothers and sisters. And you don’t know any better, so you’ll be fine with these.
First, it’s okay that you don’t believe in God. What can you do about that anyway, except be honest about it? Hell, I don’t believe in God myself sometimes. I come and go with that one. Sometimes life seems rather bleak, and I just can’t see it, you know? I want to. Just can’t. But mostly I believe in God now. Mostly.
It’s okay. You’re really looking for a spiritual practice anyway. Whether or not you end up believing in God isn’t important right now. I’ve always thought that what you do with your life and your body is more important than what you say and think. You’re curious and open. That’s all you need, because anywhere you begin is a good place to be.
Second – and this one is counter-intuitive – you should understand that prayer and worship and all that ritual stuff will be very important to you, since you’re not sure if you believe in God. You won’t have any nice, lovey-dovey God feelings to sustain you, so you’ll need to lean into what you have. Show up and do the singing and praying and liturgy stuff. Enjoy the archetypal beauty of it. Let go and be ancient for awhile. Go to church. Talk to “God.” Talk to people you meet. Be about the journey and be listening. You’ll be fine.
And finally, this: If any church doesn’t treat you with complete respect and hospitality while you hang around there, trying things out and listening for any voice you might hear, send me an email. Send me an email….
And who knows? Maybe the two of us will get motivated to organize that agnostic/misfit-Christian convention thing. I’m thinking Chicago would be a nice place.
I would SO be there.