Hard Truths on the Spiritual Experience

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I feel as though I am about to sound a bit harsh, but please stick with me.


I saw this meme recently, and it made me think, "What is it that truly makes these buildings different?"


Aside from the obvious differences in the structure, I was always raised with the knowledge that "if two or more people are gathered in His name, He is present." I certainly agree with that sentiment, however, I think the shopping-mall-corporatization of church is not helping the image of Christianity, nor is it helping the congregation or the community.


The difference, is a difference in experience.


I recently read an article on a popular Christian website that was describing the recent trend of Christians abandoning modern, evangelical churches for traditional Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Their explanation was that people are wooed by the art and beauty of the churches. The article had a negative tone about people having a spiritual experience as they were in the presence of the architecture, art, and ceremonies of the older churches, suggesting that these people are wrongly feeling the power of God. The article went on to point out, that Jesus had multiple run-ins with religious ritualists, and these ritualists are the same who crucified Him (which is true) and also pointed out that on the day we stand before God, what will matter is not that we’ve performed religious rituals, but that we have worshiped God from the heart (which is also true).


However, I disagree with the negative tone of the article in reference to people having a spiritual experience in the presence of the old architecture and art. Art is a deeply spiritual experience in itself, and there is no problem with relating to it on a spiritual level. God gives us all different gifts, and the most sacred gifts are in the creative realm. People, using their artistic ability to create environments rich in spiritual power, are some of the highest forms of art. And I would venture to say that God sees it as good.


If I were the owner of a modern church, who had members leaving due to having a spiritual experience elsewhere, perhaps I would take a good look at my church, and note whether or not it feels like a place of worship, or whether it feels like a cold, empty shell of a corporatized storefront.


Now, before I get corrected, I am absolutely aware that the building doesn't make the church, the people do. However, when I say "it feels like a cold, empty shell of a corporatized storefront" I don't just mean aesthetically. That cold, empty shell, is created by the people in it. I feel as though people have gotten too comfortable simply "going through the motions" and downplaying the experience, as well as downplaying the role of the church. Just because you go to church, doesn't mean you are living in a Christ-like way. Evidence of lukewarm Christianity is all around us, and I feel that the corporate-storefront church is start of something negative.


I know there are many reasons people build churches the way they do, and I know budgetary concerns are at the forefront these days. What matters the most is the people. However, we should do our best not to forget the reason these buildings exist... They are healing centers.


-On the Modernization of Churches-


The modernization of churches started when the younger members of the congregation became disinterested in the model of the church. Waking up early on a Sunday to listen to an older person give the same boring and uninspired sermon they gave this time last year shouldn't be appealing to anyone. Why would younger people want to be a part of that? Here is a tip: They don't.


So what was the reaction? Churches started having coffee shops in the building, and poorly mixed rock-concert-variants of hymns with laser light shows during service, and projectors with animations and videos... This sort of stimuli works on the weak-minded, and unfortunately, many Christians are fooled by it.


I realize what I just said, and I ask that you allow me to elaborate. Attending a church like this instantly causes anxiety and distraction. Overwhelming electronic interference, lights, fog machines etc. Its not unlike being on a movie set. A facade. There is plenty of evidence illustrating that electronic interference is not conducive to healing, but rather a state of hypnosis and sedation (which can easily be confused for having a spiritual experience). Being in a place of worship that is tiled over with this kind of "flair" adds nothing, if not takes away from, the experience.


Let's not forget the financial routing of these churches, especially large ones. I will go ahead and say that I am in full support of people seeking success in America, and pursuing a path that feels right to them. Where I struggle, is when I see church leaders reaping massive financial benefit from the people who tithe. Also, these bigger churches that have "boards" and "committees" who are somehow employed by the church and reap vast sums of money from those who tithe, are also an issue to me. One of my more interesting experiences was a dialogue with a preacher at a large church back in Arkansas. In his defense, he was a nice fellow. His heart appeared in the right place, and he did seem to care about his work. Among other things in our conversation, we discussed his $70,000 car and other "blessings" in his life. He was under the impression that God wanted him to have these things. We discussed this while sitting in his upscale office, near his golf clubs. It doesn't feel right does it? Reminds me of Joel Osteen's jet.


So what can we do? We must remember that churches are vital parts of the community, and we must be reminded of the multi-purpose nature of the church itself. When is the last time your church opened its doors for the poor? When is the last time it let the homeless sleep there? When is the last time it had an open kitchen to feed the community? When was the last time you could really feel the healing power of your church? These are important questions to ask. Unfortunately, my recent experiences with finding a church have been disappointing.


I have a desire to someday construct my own church, but my vision will have to wait until the time is right.


-The REAL Church-


We can discuss what we want from a church all day. The best church, however, was designed by the greatest artist and architect. The unrivaled art and beauty that can be found in a natural setting is unparalleled, and is truly the most sacred place. The natural world is God's fingerprint in this realm, and it is the real church.


-On Ritual-


But what of ritualism? Is at all bad?


The Old Testament is filled with ritual. Many modern Christians seem to think that the Old Testament simply became "stories to tell" post-Christ, and many seem to take it less seriously. I feel as though the Old Testament has some keys for us in the present moment that we should explore deeper. The main one being that ritual was a method to quiet the mind from earthly distractions, much like a meditation, and focus one's attention to God.


Ritual, is something we have lost, and replaced. Modern people (especially Christians) associate any form of ritual with pseudo-spiritual woo woo, or even evil, in some cases. This is ironic, as we, as modern humans, participate in ritualistic behavior every day. Our rituals start when we wake up. On average, we wake up, we check our phones to see what we missed in the last 8 hours (a deep cultural ritual), we go to work, we come home, we eat, we sleep... Daily schedules are common, but what we do is we ritualize our technology usage and media input without a second thought. This is because we face addiction, and the ritualistic, compulsive nature of our tech use is one of the reasons.


Our minds have been clouded with ourselves. Our egos, our cultures, and our media have shrouded our vision. In a way, the people of the Old Testament were in a similar situation. Ritual was used by people to remind their inner selves that they were serious about their purpose, and serious about God.


Of course, these rituals became twisted, and the golden calf problem of ritual became realized. Obsession with cultural trends and rituals affected the people of the Old Testament, just as they affect us today. Doing what you are told, whether by your culture, your church, or your "leaders," can lead to an unnatural comfort. Life is so easy when others can do the thinking for you. When the golden calf was being cast, do you think everyone was onboard with that plan? No. And out of all the people in favor of it, how many were were actually considering the implications? Probably not that many. Yet they went along with it, and 3000 of them died. This Bible story is incredibly multidimensional.


Ritual is a double edged sword. It can easily fall into nonsense, but it can also be a method to realign ourselves with a spiritual path. The point is, one must follow their heart. God works in each of us differently, and if you feel called to ceremony and ritual, by all means. If you don't, this is fine too. Just be weary of others telling you what is correct and what is not. The only person that knows what is best for you is you. What matters is what brings you closer to God and the beautiful life he has blessed you with. In the end, what matters is your heart.

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Composer, Filmmaker, Truth seeker

Your Favorite Circle
Your Favorite Circle

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