Why I Can’t Imagine Leaving the Faith

Let’s have a moment of honesty. Sometimes, I doubt. Not really little doubts either. Really big doubts. “Is this whole Christianity thing really true” size doubts. I’m not plagued by them, but every now and then they crop up. Last week, though, I pursued the question a little further: if I suddenly realized that I didn’t think it was true, what would I do?

bread and wine #1
“bread and wine #1” by khrawlings

That question prompted this realization: I cannot actually conceive of leaving the faith. There is one big explanation for this inability: the Church herself. I grew up going to church and have never really stopped.

I certainly didn’t realize it at the time, but that repeated attendance, the endless sermons and the liturgies (every service is liturgical regardless of background) has drummed its way into my imagination, the framework through which I envision the world.

In other words, it is because I have gone to church that I can never imagine leaving the Church. Some might look at this as some form of brainwashing, but the reality is that this is simply the power of any liturgy in our lives. Secular liturgies drum into us the importance of success and winning such that we struggle to conceive of the sacrificial life to which the Gospel calls us.

In light of this realization, it seems bizarre that so many (including my peers) are leaving the Church to find the Christian faith. This seems the most counterintuitive move to make. It is only as we are formed by the Church and its liturgies that our imaginations are captured.

Sometimes we find good, Godly examples outside of the Church. They serve to inspire us, certainly. But inspiration does not form our imagination. Inspiration is fleeting and passes; imagination is formed by years of repeated practices, reminders of what we believe and how the world works.

To steal an analogy from Ian Morgan Cron, being in the Church and practicing the faith is like a rope tied around our waist, keeping us anchored to Christ himself. Cron, in his book Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts tells the story of his first experience of taking the Eucharist:

“[The Bishop] placed the Host on my tongue and put his hand on the side of my face, his fat thumb briefly massaging my temple, a gesture of blessing I did not see him offer to any of my other classmates. And I fell into God…That day, Bishop Dalrymple, sweat dripping from the end of his bulbous nose, tied a rope around my waist that was long and enduring.” – p.44-45

Let’s go to Church. Not because it’s what we Christians do, but because it forms us and our imaginations in such a deep way that we fall into God, tying us to him in times of joy and in times of sorrow.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Imagine Leaving the Faith

  1. Thanks for saying this Matt. Sometimes I think I’m brainwashed, but then I realize how many times I’ve questioned and come through it. And I get so sad for those who do leave the church

    1. Yes, it can be hard to differentiate between “brainwashed” and “shaped.” Too often I think our generation is getting these mixed up!

  2. What I especially appreciate about this piece is the way in which you have noted how the church has impacted, formed and captured your imagination. Though I am dedicated to going to and being part of the church I often struggle to reconcile who I understand the church to be both theologically and intellectually with the weekly experience of church as she is. I am herein encouraged that the gap that can sometimes exist between our understanding, experience and hope for the church is best held in paradoxical tension via the imagination. In the same way I am glad that I, in my sinfulness am as far from perfection as God may hope for me, I am also a work in progress of His imagination. Thanks for this Matt. Much to muse on here.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts Mia. I think we can definitely become disillusioned if we reduce Church to merely what we experience week to week. It is the formational realities and the theological realities that underpin it that give me encouragement.

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