I left the church two years ago. I thought I was just retiring but now I see I left it in more ways than one. I haven’t been back since—to that one or any other.
After 42 years I’m glad I could leave a strong, vigorous, and kind-hearted congregation behind. I’m proud to have had a hand in cultivating a community with a reputation for courage, creativity, and hospitality. I’m grateful to have left behind a “garden” that’s growing and thriving.
People ask, “But don’t you miss it?”
I miss the people. I miss the children. I miss my co-workers. I miss the tilling, the weeding, the harvest. I don’t miss the God that came with the turf.
A woman tilled and cultivated her garden day after day, year after year. Her pious neighbor noticed how luscious that garden was. One day he called out: “The Lord sure has blessed you with a beautiful garden!” The gardener replied, “Well, you should have seen it when the Lord was tending it on his own!”
The gardener didn’t expect God to make the world a better place. The neighbor apparently did. I’m with the gardener. A God that saves some but not others just doesn’t make sense to me anymore.
I’ve left that God behind.
And I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of God Jesus left behind in the third temptation. “Jump and God will save you!” said the devilish Trickster. “God will save you! It says so in the Bible!” (Yes, the devil quotes the Bible! Often on television!)
No, thank you, replied Jesus. I don’t trust in that kind of God.
Neither do I.
Darwin left God out of the natural world and saw truths not seen before. I now read the Bible through the eyes of Darwin and leave God out of it. It makes more sense that way. Which is to say: humanism makes more sense to me than theism. But just to be clear: either without compassion is worthless.
A God who only saves a few (raptured, I guess) makes no sense to me, either. And what are athletes thinking when they accomplish something in their sport and point to the heavens, as if God had made it possible? Wouldn’t a God of love be too busy worrying (or crying over) about children dying in Yemen than whether some overpaid baseball player hit a home run? The God I see (however imperfectly–and I’m sure it’s very imperfect) is one of infinite love and compassion, infused in all of creation. And when people start defining God, I always think of St. Anselm’s brilliant definition, “That beyond which a greater cannot be conceived.” And because we are human, there’s always something greater, some greater compassion, some greater love we could tie into.
Great post. That class sounds interesting too; I hope you expound on its theme eventually in this blog.
I’ve known a couple pastors besides you. To be successful, a pastor has to be a good businessman, mental health provider, marriage counselor, educator, project manager, and a lot more. Everything depended on your judgment and caring attention. What a responsibility! To have done so well for so long is a real triumph.
Randy, you are a brave soul to speak what many of us think and believe. Like you, I am with and will remain with the gardener.
Maybe a little brave. Would be harder in a Taliban theocracy! Come to think of it…
I guess I was around 17 years-old when our family pastor excoriated Transcendental Meditation in a sermon, after The Beatles helped to popularize an interest in Eastern mysticism. His thesis was that unless one was a professed, preferably a baptized Christian, hell would be your just reward. I never understood how only one path to God could ever be possible. Yet, this man was a master gardener. Sadly, I never had a chance to ask if he truly believed the spiel he expressed on that bright Sunday morning, finally driving in the last wedge between me and established religion. I always wanted to thank him.
Randy, you never cease to amaze me, though I don’t see why I should be surprised. I am glad that you are continuing your communication with our Community. I am interested in where you go when not restrained by your employer. Bon voyage, my brother. Thank you for your counsel.
And thank you, Bradley, for your companionship along the way. No one gets very far alone. And we’ve yet many miles to go before we sleep.