I should have gone to church today. I’d planned on it. And even though I woke up late I had time.
But I just couldn’t do it.
Instead I went to a coffee shop and started writing. I guess in some ways that’s my church—it’s not the same, but there’s more similarity to it that most people probably realize.
Because writing, at it’s best, is about telling the truth. Hemingway knew that–which in my opinion is why he’s still one of the best to have ever put pen to paper. He said in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” If I even make anything of myself as a writer–that’ll be why–because I’m telling the truth.
At it’s best religion is that way too—or spirituality if the term suits you better. The truth of the human experience. In fact, it’s the very concept that makes me nominally a Christian (albeit not a very good one given that I’m in a café and not in church)–the basic truth of what Jesus was saying, and even some of what’s in the Old Testament. In fact, I have one of those truths tattooed on my left shoulder.
For those who don’t know me (or just don’t know), it’s an old German wood cutting of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (you know, the one Adam and Eve ate from), a snake coiling around the tree with the sun on one side and the moon on the other. Original sin. A concept no one can deny, even if you believe in the deepest recesses of your soul that there is not a God (or whatever being(s) might take that role) and the entire creation of the world/universe can be explained by matter colliding with itself, gravity, circumstance, and luck.
For we are all flawed, are we not? No one’s perfect. Everyone has some dark secret in their heart. We know it, even if we don’t say it–perhaps because we spend a lot of time covering up for that fact, or try to forget it entirely, the closer we get to wealth and our sanitized suburban streets, manicured landscapes running up to what any previous generation would call mansions, shiny SUVs in the driveway, kids who attend private school. We forget, because walking out of the Nordstrom Rack or the Cheesecake Factory, we don’t see the consequences.
But they’re there. Like the two brothers I overheard in the restroom at the movies last night. The older one helping the younger, reminding him to wipe and then helping him wash up, holding his hand on the way out.
I don’t mean that was a sin, because it wasn’t. That was love—the brothers.
But the fact those boys didn’t have an adult helping them, whether because their parents weren’t a part of the picture, or more likely because they were working and couldn’t afford a baby sitter—whatever it was—that was a sin. That we live in a society where children have to take care of each other because of poverty, abandonment, addiction, or whatever. It’s a sin.
And that’s where the separation happens. Why I hesitate to call myself a Christian. Because so many who adorn themselves with that title don’t see that sin. Or don’t care. Or worse.
No. They see dirty brown immigrants who don’t speak English. People who don’t belong. People who aren’t following the rules. People who are interrupting the sterilized white society they need to feel comfortable. And so they say things like “Make America Great Again” and “Build the Wall.”
“Christians” say this.
That’s not why I didn’t go to church—the pastor at the one I rarely attend is a wonderful person who understands Christ’s message better than anyone I’ve met. He begins (at least, the last time I was there) by stating that everyone is welcome. That everyone is worthy of grace and forgiveness.
But the fact so many “Christians” have forgotten what it means, at baseline, to be Christian? There’s a separation. A hole that’s been created. Not just for me. For everyone.
Because if Christ’s message is one of love, compassion, charity, service, and goodwill—if His Truth is that we need those things to have a virtuous society—who’s now doing that work?
Not the “Christians” who want everyone to own a sidearm, who troll high school kids who’ve experienced a school shooting, who look the other way and vote for a senate candidate’s who’s preyed on young girls, who lack the moral fortitude to stand up to a leader who consistently lies to them and appears to have broken every standard of moral conduct any decent person, let alone a Christian, would claim.
Today they sit in church and pass the collection plate and pray and worship, but it’s just an act, a gesture absent of any real conviction. Because the story they’re telling isn’t true.
Stories don’t have to be real, but they have to be true.
It’s why the movie I saw last night, Ready Player One, was a huge letdown. Because it was clear from the get-go corporate Hollywood had their hands all over it, stripping it of the original—true—content. The story works—in the book—because it’s a deep dive into the nerdery of the 1980’s. Like: Dungeons and Dragons, Anime, Atari, etc. Most of it was so obscure I’d never heard of it, along with a large dose of 80’s music and pop-culture.
But the content of the movie was completely different. Same concept—different story. One that, unlike the original, wasn’t true. And just to be clear, I don’t mean it wasn’t true because the movie wasn’t true to the book. I mean that the movie told a story I couldn’t believe. A story that didn’t feel true.
Deep down we all know it. We know when a story isn’t true. It’s why having beta readers always makes my stories and novels better.
And I guess in the end, that’s why I do call myself a Christian—why I believe in Jesus Christ and what He had to say. Because it’s true.
Because we are all flawed. We all need grace in our lives. Because we’re worth more when we teach, heal, feed, and love one another. When we work together.
You don’t have to believe in God or Jesus or any other deity or pantheon to think that’s true. Hell, you could be an atheist.
It’s true because it’s true.
And sometimes it’s important to remember what sets us apart. As humans.
It’s not our big brains—it’s language: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Again, whether or not you believe in God, the human experience is based on language. It forms the basis of nearly everything we do in this world. Language is the root of who we are: it forms the basis of our souls–a sort of divining rod. And when it comes right down to it, we know when the words we hear or read are true. We know when stories are true. And we know, just as surely, when they’re not.
I’ll go one step further: when we accept the untrue—when we pretend something is true that is not—the disharmony that causes rings discordant through the core of who we are as long as we accept it, making it possible for other untruths to be accepted and adopted, each one adding to the imbalance.
We know when someone’s trying too hard. We know when people are pretending. It doesn’t feel right. And going along with the untruth doesn’t make it any better. It makes us frauds.
So to bring this full circle, I didn’t not go to church today because I’m upset at most of the “Christians” in this country, or because I didn’t have time, or any other excuse I might give.
I didn’t go because in the end, I didn’t want to. Because it was easier not to. That’s why.
Cheers! And as always, thanks for reading.