This is one post in a series called “Finding God.” You can read Chris Day’s entire series here.
I’m not alone. Not even close, in fact. I would be willing to bet that there are more people out there who feel jaded by church experiences than I could even count. If I’ve heard one story about how attending church has ruined someone’s spirituality, I’ve heard a hundred. What’s even worse? Many of the people with those sad stories still attend a church simply out of duty and, in some cases, still attend the very church that sent them into the downward spiral of doubt and discontent. Humans. We are definitely a quirky bunch. But because we’re so quirky, and confused, and irrational at times, and overall messed up, we need answers. And what better place to find the answers to the big questions in life than inside a church? So it begins. The perpetual cycle of seekers. I was one. I am one.
I use the word “church” in my writing much like a fourth grader would. I realize the word itself is meant to describe the people, the body, the group of followers. I realize that I tend to dumb the word “church” down to a remedial meaning of simply a place. A building with pews and hymnals and magic water and candles and reverence. I understand that this is a blatant misuse of the word, but for the purposes of this writing, my condescension needs to be felt. So when I say “church,” think simply of that pretty brick building in your town with the white columns and the massive steeple. You know the place. The one with the ever-changing marquee sign out front that currently reads something to the effect of:
“SEVEN DAYS without prayer makes ONE WEAK”
On my eighth birthday a new Jim Henson movie came out and I was beyond excited. I would have used words like “radical” and “bodacious” at the time to describe how I felt about seeing this newest creation from the mastermind Henson. However, at that point, eight-year-old me had no idea who Jim Henson was. Maybe I had heard his name but never connected any dots. All I knew was that there was this totally bitchin’ movie coming out starring elf-like creatures, and monsters and magic crystals. That was enough for me. I was sold. I watched Dark Crystal with the awe of a grandparent seeing that grand baby for the first time, or a sixteen-year-old boy who discovers a Mustang parked in the driveway with a red bow on the hood. I was also creeped completely out. I mean, have you seen that flick? To a kid, that movie is definitely the stuff nightmares are made of. But I didn’t care. The amazingness and wonder far outweighed the fear.
Several months later I turned on the television, stretched out the remote control (at that time it was still a corded box about the size of a small typewriter) and clicked through the channels. I happened upon a “behind the scenes” look at the movie Dark Crystal. SWEET! Finally I could learn the secrets of the movie. Where did they get the magic crystals? How did they find the elves to play these parts? Where was this spooky land?
Within thirty seconds of watching, everything I knew changed. One of the first scenes was Jim Henson and Frank Oz with their arms up the back of puppets, standing about four feet below what I would have known as the bottom of the frame in the movie. My utter confusion quickly turned to anger. As I finally put the pieces together, I realized I had been duped. By Jim Henson and his Kermit the Frog-esque everyday speaking voice. By my parents, who were obviously in on this elaborate ruse. And primarily by my own mind, which somehow didn’t allow me to see through these puppetry shenanigans.
I was only eight, but my mind then began racing through everything that I thought was real in my life. What else was fake? Who are these people that I lived with and called my family? Paid actors? Was my life a movie set? Was school simply some cruel joke, and at the end of college, someone would jump out and yell, “Gotcha!” If Dark Crystal was fake, anything could be fake. Heck, even Santa and the Easter Bunny could be made up. I was a living, breathing, completely jaded, second grader. And it was only the beginning.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Dennis Jarvis