I have not been to church in 6 weeks.
First, it started off as a result of preoccupation with my summer job. Then, I reached a state of complacency where going to church did not seem as urgent as it did before. Now, my absence from church almost feels normal, as if I never went to church ever in my life. The effect 6 weeks can have on my spiritual well-being can be overwhelmingly transformative. 6 weeks ago, I attended two church services each Sunday, devoutly praying for my Lord and savior. Since then, my identity as a Christian has been compromised to the point where I am quite uncertain where I stand in my faith.
In a societal framework, however, I am transparently a Christian, and my mannerism all point to Christianity when I am engaged in a conversation with a church member. I have Christian friends, attend a Korean-American Presbyterian Church, keep a Bible of my own on my desk, and am a member of the Amherst Christian Fellowship. All these man-made coalitions to legitimize the status of our own Christian beliefs, I am a part of. And most of the times, we are so immersed in the moment of exonerating our sins to the Lord that we forget to stop and think about what we are thinking in these times of repentance, fellowship, and evangelism. To put in honestly, Christians devalue the concept of meta-cognition, and this paradigm needs to shift.
Couple months ago, I attended an unofficial praise night hosted by my church partly motivated by my desire to reconnect with my peers. When I walked in, the dim stage light and pious looks of my friends’ faces greeted me. In this sacred room where all my friends felt secure in the name of the Lord, I felt as if I stumbled into a foreign territory. Like a mirage on a scorching day, everybody in the room seemed so tangible yet so ephemeral to me. It took me a while to exactly pinpoint how I was feeling, and when I did, I refused to admit it to myself. But more than ever, I felt lost in that moment.
As the praise leader reached the apex of his worship, I looked up from my groveling self to look around the room. In the dimly lit room, I saw my friends kneeling down on the ground with their arms pointing towards the stage platform. Once my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, I started noticing the uniformity of everyone’s body positions. It was as if they were following a formula in the art of worship: one must have his/her knees bent, head bowed at a 45 degrees angle, arms raised ever so slightly above their comfortable positions, and mouth moving rapidly to incite the prayers in one’s mind.
I got scared and promptly underwent an existential crisis, in which I kept asking myself what everybody was doing in this room. Here we were, all methodically praising a deity that we believe in because of this idea called faith and this book called the Bible. I felt forlorn in this strangely cult-ish atmosphere and wondered if any other soul in this room felt the way I did: confused and disillusioned.
The fine medium between religious conformation and spiritual individuality is a difficult one to locate, let alone understand. There are so many instances where ordinary people (I do not wish to demarcate redemption to only sinners and criminals) find liberation through the form of religion or – in my case – Christianity. But today’s practice of Christianity seems to put such heavy emphasis on the nature of bureaucracy and homogeneity. In a sermon, there are rarely any listeners who raise their hands to ask questions about the sermon. Why is that so? It’s because when a listener asks a question to a pastor, it doesn’t translate to simply an individual talking to an individual but rather an individual speaking out against an institution. In a metonymical sense, the pastor is the church, and the church is the pastor. Vaguely 1984-esque, huh?
With all this being said, I always tend to gravitate towards Christian organizations and confide in my Christian friends more than my secular friends. I have qualms about the church – and any bureaucratic organizations in general -, but I also believe that people’s lives are saved and changed daily by the church. Five years ago, I remember a fight that broke out between my mom and my dad. I earnestly prayed to God that the fight will cease, and within minutes after my prayer, my mom apologized to my dad. So, on September 5th, 2010, I made a solemn acknowledgment to myself, saying I take Jesus Christ as my savior.
Maybe my criticism towards Christianity stems from how far I strayed away from this innocent attitude I had. As I grew older, my world got bigger, my vocabulary more complex, my thoughts more metaphysical, and my views more cynical. To quote The Little Prince, I would now be in the demographic of people that would see a hat and call it a hat, not an elephant engulfed by a boa constrictor. Coupled with this mental growth was the ability to ask more questions about my identity, and the first question I asked was my identity as a Christian. But if I dig into the essence of Christianity, it’s quite simple: God loved us so much that he gave his one and only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins.
Christianity is a beautiful love story, and I wish the story stayed untainted and pure. I want to tell this love story to other people unabashedly and proudly. I want to feel how I felt on September 5th, 2010. I want to relive the moment where I felt so audaciously compelled the proclaim my life to the Lord. I want to stop making deceitfully affirmative responses to friends who ask me how my walk with Jesus is. I want to accept Christianity for what it is and not what it became.
First step in solving a problem is to realize that there is one, and in the past 6 weeks, I’ve become numb to the convenience of not identifying myself with a religion. It’s time for me to start trying.