Dying Churches, Interpretations, Faith, and Waves of Energy

Recently, in my own personal research I was conducting surrounding churches and vocation, I stumbled upon a myriad of articles that posed similar data and made similar claims about such data. The data followed churches that were growing and shrinking, and noted that growing churches tended to be theologically conservative, while liberal churches – mainly what exists in mainline Protestantism – is shrinking.

To me, reading this was mildly terrifying. I grew up Evangelical. I used to, at some point, believe in many miracles and mysteries and exclusions and spiritual beings and much more traditionally magical ideas. I no longer do. And as I have grown in college, I could not find a home in the many churches connected to my childhood faith. I left them, conflicted, but found my theological home in many of the liberal Protestant churches in this city.

I did stay visiting a church that did not accept me theologically for longer than I would have because of the close people in my life at that time (it was toxic, don’t keep going to a church that won’t accept you if you have a deep appreciation for theology and find their theology to be dangerous). But, after some time, I found home and life at Marsh Chapel and, since, have continued to live here. It only took me 2 and a half years.

Anyways, the thesis of many of these article and many people – who, often stand in some form of perspective underpinned by a sort of modernism (some kind of Conservative Christian or not) where the world is neat and organized and perfectly understandable and totally not messy at all – is that it is the beliefs of this, often not-literal, sometimes very naturalistic, not exclusive, culturally-sensitive, pluralistic Liberal Christianity that is causing the decline in these churches and no other forces (perhaps the styles and methods of church that these communities exist in).

I cannot say I completely agree with such a sentiment. Does such a religious perspective [a liberal, maybe non-literal one] seize to be mystical, meaningful, or alive? In my opinion, the answer is no. My faith is alive and well – and grounding in my personal life. Every night I still pray and study and consider my faith. Mystical images still buzz around in my head – and the most significant challenges and drivers against my faith have not been the importance of it in my life or struggles with underpinnings of my faith or concerns of its relevance. No, like most people, all of the structures and systems and communities I build and sustain in my life are often challenged and slowly deteriorated by the heavy workloads in my life, challenges to my personal wellness, and the easiness of closing into myself with things like Netflix and technology. I am a human being, and so the narratives and communities that feed my personal meaning and sense of being are undeniably connected to my personal wellness. Each can easily sink each other in some psychosomatic fashion.

I can, in my own life, personally say that the two of the most significant experiences of my faith have occurred in the last two years, much after the religious naturalism that currently underpins my narratives and personal faith began to form in me.

One of these moments, I blogged about last year around this time and connected a bunch of theological reflections with lyrics from a rap by Watsky. I posted that blog before a period of the dark night of the soul I experienced that, honestly, was probably impacted by the weather – it’s dark and cold and wet in March and I missed the sun.

The other time actually occurred a year earlier than that moment, back when I worked in Orientation and was training. We were discussing Martin Luther King Jr’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail, where we discussed the various arguments that King made: namely, his pacifistic ideals that differed from some of his contemporaries and his understanding of the nature of human laws. I remember that specific day and the experiences that surrounded it vividly.

Our discussion was moderated by the Dean of Students, Kenneth Elmore, and most of my fellow Orientation Leaders were excited to talk with him.

As our discussion went on, we began to find that the Dean was pushing against various perspectives of my fellow leaders. The claims that the Dean made were in defense of many of the ideas that Martin Luther King Jr. held in the passage we read. Nonviolence resistance is powerful. These racist and oppressive people are not inherently and irreconcilably evil. Breaking unjust laws is an act that expresses a higher regard for the Law than simply following unjust Laws, because such actions show a regard and understanding of the purpose of the Law.

I cannot outline every counter-argument made against such claims, but I can tell you exactly what I remember feeling and then arguing near the end of the talk. Unfortunately, I was (and honestly still am) not the most outspoken individual and deferred most of the discussion to my colleagues throughout the conversation, but was energetically driven to speak near the end.

I saw, in the writing of Martin Luther King Jr., the relevance of the theological points held in my heart. I also saw in these writings a deep line of energy and systems reverberating throughout history from early ancient Judaism to myself seated there in that seat in the Metcalf Ballroom.

I felt a heightening in my heart and in my senses – and a sense that it was no longer solely me speaking there in that room. I sensed in myself this energy moving like a wave, or a vibration within, stirred by words moving about in that room – the words of Martin Luther King Jr – that fed into another wave crashing in my heart that contained words of C.S. Lewis, and Rob Bell, and that preacher a few years ago in a stuffy hotel ballroom where this contemporary Christian church met, to words from mentors, to words from Rachel Held Evans and Martin Luther and John Wesley and Moses and Paul and Peter and Jesus buzz and immediately these words all crashed into and against each other and I saw the energy and life in the humanity of the stories of the Gospels and this sense that the vibrations stirring in my heart are drops of larger vibrations that reverberate throughout human history and, there, in that room, the vibrations moved through me, vibrations made by humans throughout history and words of sentiments that came from a human who, in death, in loss, in grief, in failure, and in ministry, modelled the New Being, the Christ. This individual lived in theological rawness and humanity – and in that showed a sense of the divine within this humanity.

And there, sitting in the back left corner of the three row circle of students around the Dean, the energy of these human stories short-circuited my lack of social courage and I stood.  Words on the purpose of the Law’s service to humanity mirroring words of sages exited my lips, to sounds of snaps. No, laws that oppress should not be maintained – even if for order. These laws should be broken – for Laws serve humanity. The breaking of these Laws, and the possibility to expose such injustice within shows a truer understanding of the nature and purpose of the Laws – the serving and flourishing of Humanity. I turned to another colleague who just criticized Pacifism. From within, words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn buzzed in my head and conversed with theologians and mystics over millennia. The songs of worship within me stirred in my heart. The liturgies, the stories, the narratives, the communities and the captured experiences of them reverberated through me and shook my being. I stood there and defended a perspective on humanity and a claim of humanity – one that I felt pushing through from within this large system I immediately felt myself become a small, ignited, part of. There is no one who is beyond saving – the divides within humanity are not within social classes, or ethnicities, or nations. No, they exist within every human heart. In those who stand for justice, there still exists a little bit of evil, and in those who fight to hurt and oppress, there stands a little bit of good. In nonviolence resistance, we can appeal to the better nature in our fellow humans, and not deny them their humanity…because nobody is so far gone that they can no longer change…..nobody is so far gone.

I sat down – and I honestly do not remember much more beyond that conversation other than some quick conclusions and some brief meaningful conversations after. I then remember walking to the dorm I had to live in at the time – during training we lived in Warren Towers for two weeks – and the entire time, as this connection I felt to the waves dwindled back down to the normal state I sense, I felt my internal thoughts constantly repeat: “These conversations, these stories, these communities and narratives matter.”  I sensed an urgency in the movements that stirred within me from the faith I carried. Like others, I am a human being, which means I am an individual carrier of stories, and of energetic waves that have moved throughout history – and I know and see these waves today as I did years ago and as I did as a child with different semantics and underpinning epistemological ideas about nature.

One Comment

nedyas posted on June 22, 2023 at 4:26 am

Whether people’s faith is increasing or decreasing, you should ask the preacher and religious scholar.
I think religious scholars have the most important influence on your faith and mine…

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