I had a friend tell me the other day that he'd like to talk a little theology with me, just based on things I've said and things we've touched on in the few months we've known each other. He's about 20 years my senior, or so I estimate. He attended a college that is affiliated with a major protestant denomination. I imagine we have a few similar ideas about life and religion, but I have never studied the Bible or theology. I don't know how this conversation he is interested in will go, aside from agreeing with each other about prefering a traditional worship experience.
Here's the deal, this is going to be honest, and it will likely be long, but maybe by saying some things here some of you who know me personally and some of you who know me via the internet might come to a better understanding of some things about me.
I'm 37 years old. In December of 1988 I went on a youth retreat and got swept up in the excitement of the weekend and decided that I was going to accept that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he is the one way to a relationship with God. It seems pretty simple, right? About 2 months after that retreat, things kind of settled down and life was more or less on track the way it was before my decision. That June (1989) I went on a week-long retreat with the same organization and again decided to commit my heart to Christ. With some guidance I started reading the Bible (got through a few books in the NewTestament) and I decided as I was now starting college to volunteer with this organization and be a counselor to other teens.
Life went on. I did not do well in that first year of college as I was distracted by my work with this group, my work with the student newspaper, and my lack of great interest in the courses I was taking. I should probably mention that during that Fall semester my mother moved to FL, taking my younger brother with her, and leaving me in the house with my father (whom she was divorcing) moving back in. He and I did not get along, and our relationship has had and still continues to have its ups and downs. I took the opportunity to leave that following Summer and I continued to work with the youth group and I enjoyed myself. I tried to find a church but felt I was lost in a larger traditional congregation. I later found and joined a new church that was meeting at an elementary school. I was pretty active there, helping with the youth and singing in the choir. I even took some training and was certified as a Lay Speaker, a non-clergyperson who is authorized to lead/speak in services.
I became active in college campus ministry when I graduated community college and started my major work at the University of Central Florida. By 1993 or 1994 I drifted away from working with the youth group and was pretty well involved with the ministry of my denomination on the college campus. We had weekly meetings and a few retreats and life went on.
I don't remember the year of the move, but we left the part of Orlando we were living in and we moved to a new neighborhood about a mile from the UCF campus. I had graduated from UCF in December 1994 with a degree in Liberal Studies. I had actually been on track to graduate that May, with a degree in Education and the plan to teach High School English. I had trouble with my second teaching internship and was actually released from the program for poor performance. With a more-or-less useless degree, I took a job with Blockbuster Video as a customer service rep. and I rapidly advanced into management, being transfered about every 3 months or so to help at different stores with different challenges.
A personal decision regarding time off granted and then revoked lead to my quiting BBV in order to spend Easter (1997) with family in Atlanta. I returned to Florida and found work with Planet Hollywood for about 5 months and left them when an opportunity working for my mom at USA Today presented itself. It was a good job, but it was long-term temporary because I was working in my mom's department. I eventually transfered to another department to ease any issues, but I found myself working for people who did not like my mother and whom she did not care for professionally. By December 1998 I was laid off from USA Today. The had a need to cut a position, and the continuing conflict between departments and how I was being used made me an easy choice.
I decided to go back to school and I managed to go back to Blockbuster as the District Manager had changed in the two years I was gone. I was working on about 11 classes I needed to earn a second Bachelor's degree, this time in Communications, Advertising/Public Relations. I enjoyed these courses, especially learning about photography and event planning. As I was back on campus and we had moved 30 miles from my small but growing church, I once again got plugged in with the campus ministry and started attending a church closer to our new home. In fact, I was going to the church that my last pastor (Bob) had once lead and currently had an associate minister (Jack) who was the husband of our new campus minister (Anna). Eventually Bob changed churches and became the pastor of an established church that was even closer to our new house, so I started attending there. Nothing dramatic happened for a while. I did attend a special retreat through the UCF ministry which had a pretty good impact on my understanding of GRACE. I became involved in helping run this retreat the two times a year it was held and I was feeling pretty good spiritually.
A couple of different things happened over the next few years that had some influence on where I was and how I got to where I am now.
In 1998 I started dating for the first time. Now, I was born in 1971, so that made me 27. This was a little late for most people, and it was not a choice I had made, it was more a matter of circumstances, but I met someone online, and we dated from May to September. The following March I went on a mission trip to the Tennessee mountains. As I had been on the same trip the previous year, I volunteered to be a leader and driver. We took a 16-passenger van and my Jeep and on the drive up I spent a lot of time talking to a girl I knew through the ministry. As a good listener and decent talker, we started dating. I thought it was potentially a long-term relationship, but she broke it off by May. As soon as that happened, the girl from 1998 (who I had minimal contact with) appeared on the scope again, but just as a casual date from time to time. I met a few other women during that Summer (1999) but nothing that became significant. I was enjoying the confidence I felt knowing I had options, as at one point I was going on dates with 3 or 4 different women at the same time.
I had graduated again in May of '99 and, while working for Blockbuster still, I started interning as a promotions assistant with a radio station and really enjoyed the work and the busy schedule I was keeping. I was still active in Bob's church and I was still working on those grace-centered retreats. About a year passed, no major changes in work or dating status. During the summer of 2000 I changed jobs, working now for a company a friend I knew through the Parrotheads of Central Florida worked for. I was able to travel a good deal, and I still was employed by Blockbuster on a part-time basis. As I completed a year of interning with the radio station, I parted ways as the promotions director was leaving and no new opportunity for a staff position was offered.
My major change came around August of 2000. I was chatting online with a girl I had met in May and had emailed a few times. We agreed to meet in person and had a nice date. I decided to pursue this one and we continued dating. She was a nurse, new to the area, and looking to meet people and learn about churches and shopping and such. In early November I spent a long weekend in Key West with my Parrothead friends and came home on Sunday to do laundry and pack for a business trip starting Monday. I had been planning to ask for Amy's hand in marraige around Christmas or our birthdays (which are both January 15). On the spur of the moment, I decided to ask her that Sunday before my trip. The next day she took me to the airport and gave me her answer as I was about to board the plane. It was yes.
So a few months pass, and in February I am laid off again, this time the small company I was working for was trying to make itself more attractive to a buyer so it was a last hired, first fired scenario. I found unsatisfying work with a gas station/convenience store company selling beer gas and cigarettes. By June I had a new job to start on July 1, training to be a manager for Family Christian Stores. I was really happy with this, even though I did not know a great deal of the product. I learned fast and found I enjoyed helping people make decisions on books, Bibles and music. I finished the training and went into a pool of managers waiting for assignment. On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was told I had been assigned to a store in the suburbs North of Atlanta. Our nation was under attack, I was due to get maried in 25 days, and we were going to be moving from Orlando to Atlanta.
So we get married, and we move, and we start church shopping. Isn't that a great term? Do you realie this? Churches today literally market themselves. I mean, they mostly all have outreach to the unchurched or to new people in the community, but in the modern day they have mailings advertising offerings, they have billboards, websites and even newspaper and railroad advertisements. We found a home at a church I learned about through people I served at work, and we became members which REQUIRED (yes that was in caps to emphasize it) that we be baptized by emersion. I had been critened as an infant and confirmed as an adolescent, but like I mentioned in a comment on another blog earlier today, there are RULES and REQUIREMENTS that churches make you comply with if you want to enjoy the benefits of their ministerial offerings.
The church we chose was the first fully-"contemporary" church I had ever atended. The services featured a rock-format band (multiple guitars both acoustic and electric, drums, keyboards, bass guitar) and with a "praise team" which usually is a group of 3-8 individuals who are cast according to their singing talents to perform in front of the congregation and lead them in singing the worship songs. Blue jeans and casual wear has replaced the choir robe. Khakis and polo shirts have replaced pastor's robes and even the suits and ties that were long the standard among the Southern Baptist churches.
I've struggled with a lot of things regarding the changes in the church over the past few years. At first it was a matter of the casual environment in Florida, but it has either migrated North or there has been a widespread change, and I am seeing it is more the latter.
I struggle a lot now with what to accept in life and in interacting with other people. The shift to politcally correct actions and words has seeped into the churches of America. Where in general life it is politically incorrect to criticize anyone or anything least they or it (as a body or organization) might be offended, the same has happened in churches. You can not say you do not like a style of worship because it might offend the person in the congregation who does like it. There are extreme opinions that make it seem that even if 98 of 100 people do not like a particular element of a worhsip "experience" the defense of the 2 who do like it will take precedent over the desires of the others or the opportunities forfeited to make those 2 happy.
Think of it this way. A guy owns a restaurant and on the menu he has a pork and peanut butter sandwich. There are only a fixed number of spaces on the menu for different items and he realizes the 2 people a week who order the PB&pork sandwich really could be keeping him from making more money if he could offer a PB&Banana sandwich (shout out to the Elvis fans) which more people would buy and more people would come to his restaurant to enjoy. If he chose to remove the PB&pork, there would be an outcry equivalent to saying, you can't stop offering this sandwich or the 2 people who eat it will starve. The masses ignore the fact that those 2 could be equally nourished with other menu offerings, or another restaurant might also make PB&pork, or perhaps they could make the sandwich at home. Any way, the guy should be able to cater to the most-profitible option. In the church this is not happening. Instead the response I get is that if the 2 people who say they get a great spiritual jolt are here, we need to cater to them, and if you don't like it, you can go find another place to worship. A counter argument could be made for the 2, but the same could be made in defense of my position. The shepherd who leaves his entire flock because one is lost could be seen as the church catering to the minority group, but though I am part of the large group as a whole, it would appear that I too am an individual at risk of being lost because I am not being shepherded while the keeper is out chasing after the other lost one. That got a little long and circular, but I hope you are still with me.
So here we are, and it's 2008. I'm 37 years old now, married for 6 years and two jobs further down the road since Family Christian. I was more or less run out of tha position. I quit on my own accord, but it was due to the fact I had a massive sword hanging over me by a pretty thin thread for quite a while that I was there. I found out after I left that there were several times they planned to replace me but could not due to other circumstances within the district. I had become a bit disenfranchised as a result of the push for money over ministry and the constant threats that if you don't get X% of the guests who walk through your door to make a purchase (and they counted the number of bodies passing through the door electronically), and if Y% of those making purchases can't be made to take and maintian a frequent shopper card, AND if you can't make Z% of those who made purchases and have a card purchase an additional item they did not come in looking for at the $5 sale price, THEN YOU WILL BE WRTTEN UP AND PROGRESSIVELY DISCIPLINED, and you'd better be able to make an employee earning $6 an hour care about making all three of those things happen or you should fire them or face being fired yourself!
So, I left Family Christian in October of 2004. I had lined up a job with .....
long phone conversation just ended (over an hour) and I'm not so much into completing this now, or maybe ever, we'll see