The initial rattlings in my brain that are ultimately culminating in this post began doing their thing a little over a year ago. That’s not to say that it’s something I’ve been perpetually thinking about, but it does seem to have been coming to mind a bit more frequently of late. In 2017, just after Thanksgiving, I took a trip out to Burbank, CA, where I had lived for a few years. I wanted to see some of my friends, and I was also really excited to go and visit the church that I had gone to during my time there.
When I had first moved to Burbank (actually, I guess at first I was in Glendale, but, same general vicinity), I knew basically no one. I didn’t have high hopes to find a church that I thought I would like, because I’d tried for years here in MD and was constantly disappointed by what I found – so why should it be different in CA, I thought. Well, as luck, or perhaps divine providence, would have it, my web search yielded a result that sounded pretty promising. I decided to go and check it out.
I immediately fell in love with the place, and the people that I met there. The very first service I was invited to go watch a marathon of the new season of Arrested Development. In a move that was actually pretty uncharacteristic of me, surely driven by my desperation for human contact at the time, I took up that invitation to hang out with a bunch of people that I didn’t know at all – all of whom would become friends of varying degrees for the next few years.
The entirety of my time in Burbank, I considered that church to be a godsend. It was exactly what I needed at that time in my life – and I’m quite glad it was there, and for the friendships that I had, and, in some cases, still have. I needed a place where I was free to doubt. I still need that. It was a place that seemed pretty accepting of everyone, no matter where they stood. There were times during my time there where I felt maybe they leaned a little too heavily into politics, but for the most part, I felt they did a good job of not preaching politics and just helping people to wrestle with their faith.
My memories of the church were very fond, and then, last year, I went to visit. I actually intentionally planned to be there for 2 Sunday mornings because I wanted to go to 2 services there – I was super stoked to go. I tried to make sure that people knew I’d be there as well, so they could plan to come to the service if it were at all possible. So, I spent the first day with the friend that I was staying with, and then went with him to church the next day… which is where my disappointment began.
The first thing that I noticed was that the message seemed to be considerably more political in nature than they had been back when I was going there. It still had some of the challenging theological content that I always enjoyed, but seeing the political intermingled with it was distasteful to me. One thing I am quite sure of is that Jesus did not come to endorse any political message – in fact he seemed to avoid it whenever possible – he dealt with humans at an individual level, and left the government to its own devices. It was disheartening to see this. And from the handful of video streams I’ve watched parts of since then, it’s only gotten worse… every time I’ve tried to visit in with the church online, I’m struck by how every week they seem to go after evangelical Christians, and also conservatives. These are the people from whom I actually learned concepts like “othering” – treating people who are different than you as less than, or as the enemy. These are the people I constantly heard talking about how this shouldn’t be done, who criticized evangelicals for doing it to homosexuals, etc. It seems so painfully obvious to me that they are otherizing Christians with more traditional beliefs, as well as conservatives, and they are completely blind to it. I see Facebook posts where some of these people assume to know the hearts of conservatives, and seem to assume the worst possible intent.
The other disappointing thing while I was there was that some of the people who I thought would be excited to see me, or want to talk to me a bit at least, didn’t seem to. There were really two that kind of hit me hard… I mean, it wasn’t like it made me depressed, but I was really bummed by it. One was the pastor, who I had hoped to grab lunch or coffee with – but I’d have settled for just a longer than a couple minute small talk chat during one of the two services I was at – but, that didn’t happen either. The other was one of my friends who I had considered to be one of my closest friends while I was out there – I had let him know well in advance I was coming, and so I was hoping he’d make a bit of time for me – but, again, didn’t happen so much. I’m not saying he’s a bad friend, it’s entirely possible I just always considered him closer than he considered me – I mean, he was way more established out there than I was. It just made me realize that the world has changed, and whatever I had out there really is no more.
I don’t know what the point of writing all this out is, but… I guess maybe just to reflect on what was.