Breaking Free From The Shadows

Apart from the physical, there are no clear boundaries in the stages of life. You don’t really know when your childhood is over and the teenage years had come. It’s not really clear when adulthood starts, when maturity has begun, when a sense of responsibility has grown… It just happens. And we just realize the changes after the fact.

This is why I appreciate journals. Cameras take snapshots of what light reveals about us physically. But journals take snapshots where light could not go. 6 years after I started this online journal, my appreciation only increases as I revisit it from time to time over the years. It gives me snapshots of my thought processes in the different stages of my life.

This journal has recorded the time when I rediscovered writing. It recorded those years when I was most active with a local church, when I couldn’t go a second without blurting out Christian clichés. It can take me back when I worked in laid-back provinces and then how I reacted to a toxic urban environment when I transferred to Manila. It captured how I was as a sales person in the field and then when I started leading a small team. I’m seeing in my writings my own maturity develop.  From an idealistic, superstitious, positive, eager-to please individual – into a pragmatic, skeptical, and shrewd man.

And now, I’m yet on another crossing, I think. There are no apparent signs that I’m going over a certain border. I only have this strong sense that something has died in me and something else had grown to take its place. I’m writing this not to dissuade myself from changing. I think its too late for that. I’m writing this to acknowledge, accept and, perhaps, celebrate this new era I’ve stumbled into.

If you’re a friend of mine or a family member, don’t worry too much, I’m not going to be an atheist or an agnostic. My belief in God is firm. That much I’m sure of. My relationship with Him has changed many shades, yes. But my faith in Jesus is secure. It would take a lot more for me to lose it…

It’s my faith in us Christians as a movement- His people and His Church-  that has died. And along with that, my wish that I could ever be a functional, productive part of it, has died too… But this doesn’t mean that I won’t be a church goer either. It only means that I’ll be more vigilant and skeptical of every church. And that I would be insensitive to the man-made standards that it imposes upon me.

The reasons… The reasons are plenty. Thinking about the things I’ve written in this blog, I think I’ve pretty much covered most of them over time. From the prosperity gospel that has infiltrated most churches, to reckless pastors and priests we’ve put on pedestals, to selective interpretation of the Bible, to us Christians who are all full of delusions of grandeur (we all believe that we’re Elijah or even Jesus), the bubbles that we’ve built around us, the extra rules that our leaders create along the way to advance their own preferences, our inability to stay out of politics, our hatred for those who are not so different from us, our squabbles across denominations, the exposed double-lives of the leaders we rush into the front lines, the insatiable greed for money – oh, excuse me – we’re supposed to call them ‘love gifts’ and ‘offerings’, our lack of compassion for the unchurched (I remember someone made up an acronym for BUSY: Being Under Satan’s Yoke… Imagine if you’re a struggling single mom trying to make ends meet, you finally try church and then you hear that)…They’re just… too many to mention.

It seems that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Christianity is moving more and more into the sidelines. These are just some of the reasons why the world has turned us into a punch line. And we Christians have no one else to blame but ourselves.

Personally, in the almost 3 years that I have been inactive in the church due to my transfer, my old Christian leaders never reached out to me without asking for love gifts, donations or service. And I’m not even rich. There was also a time when a prominent American pastor I once followed on twitter enticed me via PM to be prayed upon by him because he sensed that I was “destined for greatness”, but first, I had to donate a certain amount to a foster home in the US they supported. As if this same blessing was inaccessible if I opted to donate to the poor here at home who are probably worse off… So in my own small world, I can’t help but think twice about the time and emotions I’ve wasted in the present church. There’s that worry that if I do it again in a new church, it may happen all over again. And then I’ll end up being treated like a wallet again by my supposed brothers and sisters. And I sense this happening everywhere and not just in isolated cases.

But then, I was supposed to have done all that for the Lord, right? I’m not supposed to question what happens after my giving of gifts and surrender all to God, right? I would most likely be accused of having a “quarrelsome or rebellious spirit” if I asked too many questions. But the thing is, I think God gives us powers of observation for a reason. I see my money and talents being used for the poor and helpless more quickly when I give them to non-profit organizations or when I give them directly to the people who need them. Most churches, in fact, are impotent when tragedy happens. Because the helpless are simply not in mind. All we give out are “thoughts and prayers”. This creates in me another layer of hesitation to help churches without ready facilities devoted to the poor and helpless- people that the God of the Bible states that He cares so deeply about.

I don’t think church-planting activities would do it for me anymore. Because I notice that most of these churches are planted in neighborhoods that can fend for themselves anyway. I’m having doubts whether some churches really plant daughter churches for the lost souls – or really just to compete for the tithes, offerings and untapped financial partners in a certain area. And I don’t think it’s done to channel the offerings from the rich to the less privileged either. If it is, only a fraction of it goes to humanitarian aid.

If I’m a believer and I’m feeling weary of the church, I wouldn’t wonder why unbelievers would want to stay as far away from the church as they could. It only goes downhill from here. Maybe this is the start, or maybe even the middle, of the church’s death-spiral on its way to the bottom.

But then, that’s just me. I’m aware that the Bible teaches not to give up on the church. However, I’m also aware that I’m free to take a break from it all without condemnation from God. Fortunately for me, I’m not a key part of any church. Maybe it’s my failure. Maybe church, at its current state, just isn’t my thing. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist and introvert for it. I just can’t put my faith fully anymore on a single church or a pastor just like that. I’m fed up of scammers and leeches hiding behind God’s grace. I’m decided that if I ever find another church/es to help, I’ll do it with open eyes and that I’ll be unchained in my loyalty. I don’t know yet how I’ll proceed, but I’ll figure it out with His help. My loyalty instead will be to the global movement of the God of the Bible wherever I see it. Inside or outside the church.

The church, being full of modern Pharisees, will probably label this stage in my life in ways I think I can preempt. Not openly of course, but in whispers and in the small groups or prayer meetings. Disguised as “prayer items”, maybe. They will probably call it, “backsliding”. They might also call it, “becoming lukewarm” and “worldly”. They may go as far as labeling me as being “demonic”.

I, however, call this stage of my life as, “breaking free from the oppressive fanatics who only seek their personal gain without even knowing it”. That’s too long a title though, I should think of a better description. But it has been a long painful process and will all the more be in the future. Because most of these fanatics in my life have been my loved ones. And I forecast that I would probably receive persecution and even godlike condemnation from them in the following years as the resulting changes come. Some, I think, already have.

I think I’ll shift my focus instead on all the good things: on family, on newfound friends, in shared moments, on love, on compassion, on communication, on being a better human being, on my strengths, on being healthy, on whatever work or hobby I could put my hands on… I’ll think less of what most churches would like to focus on: on being perfect and keeping up that image, on trying to be every prophet or apostle, on being lambs to the slaughter, on forgiving all who have wronged you without retaliation or at least confrontation, on cramming theology into all acquaintances, on hating others who may be different, on draining my bank accounts and my life for their buildings and salaries…

I don’t expect you to understand. But its going to be different for me. And I think the best days of my life are still ahead because of this change. I actually look forward to it.

As for those who may say that God will now surely be against me and will surely strike me… You know what, I think He gets it. And I don’t think He’ll leave me or anyone who may feel this way. Because, you know, He really is a God of love, goodness, justice and grace. Unlike some who profess to be Christians but then stand for greed, elitism, condemnation, pride and hatred. If you should be concerned about someone, worry about them.

I will always have respect and love for any church. They still are a light source in this dark world. The problem is that some shine brighter than others. Some, sadly, give off darkness instead of light. I think I’ll use this brain that God gave, a lot more, this time around; to distinguish one from the other. Blind faith isn’t applicable in the present-day church. Maybe it once was. But no longer today.

I don’t usually post Bible verses in my blogs anymore, in an effort to not ward off those who have grown allergic to the usual Christian. But a few comes to mind right now. And, I don’t know, but I feel like leaving it here in the end. It’s probably nothing. But I’ll end with it, anyway. Thanks for reading.

“The glory has departed from Israel…” Isaiah 4:22

“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit…” Matthew 7:15