Bounce Houses and Boujee Coffee

Apr 30, 2021

I was invited to church last Sunday. I haven’t sat my ass in a church in a year. Having lived in eight cities over the past thirteen years, I’ve done my fair share of church shopping. One might accuse me of being a church whore and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Oh boy, there have been some real doozies along the way.  Like the pastor that asked me to turn to my neighbor, hold his face in the palm of my hands and declare his perfection, all while looking deep into his eyes. I turned to a short, heavyset man wearing a Dallas Cowboys shirt and red Nikes. I held his face in my hands and said all the nice things one can say about a person they met only fifty seconds earlier. His eyes began to swell with tears as he squinted. I thought our awkward intimacy genuinely moved him until I realized he too was a visitor and had mistaken this as some sort of spiritual no-blinking contest. 

How about the pastor that told a room of mothers that if they have small children at home, they need to stay with their men, even if they’re emotionally abusive. They explained that mothers are sleep-deprived and hormonal. They aren’t in a state to assess their husband’s behavior. It probably isn’t as bad as they think. She told us that as women we are fickle and can’t be trusted to listen to our instincts and inner voice, specifically when still we have babies. 

Now, I don’t love walking out of church in the middle of service, but I’ve done it and will likely do it again. It’s one of the reasons why I dress up for the first few visits. I feel better standing up and walking out in protest in my favorite tan leather knee-high boots and a flattering pair of skin-tight jeans.

If one is bold enough to turn their back against the crowd,

they ought to leave them with a view they’re sure to miss. 

Yup, there have been some doozies. Still, in each new city, I immediately begin visiting the nearby churches searching for my tribe, like Shel Silverstein’s wheel, searching for the missing piece.

I’ve been blessed by a handful of churches where I found comfort, community, and compassion- places where I was drawn to be part of something bigger than myself. They lifted me from grief and confusion to joy and gratitude. If gratitude was out of reach, I at least found acceptance and often, that was enough.

Now, I looove me some worship music. I was likely raised in a Southern Baptist church in a past life. I’m the first to stand up and the last to sit down. I raise my left hand to the sky to receive God’s love pouring through me, while resting my right on my heart, feeling the music as it reverberates off my chest wall. The loud music quiets my busy mind, bringing me into the present moment. I feel it to my core, taking it all in and singing it all right back out. Then, the music fades and we are asked to take a seat. 

This is the moment I say a simple, sweet prayer for the pastor. You know, a prayer that he doesn’t say anything stupid. Yes, even pastors say stupid things. I say a lot of stupid stuff. I’ve reached expert level dumb-assery. I’m just saying, I’m allowed to judge.

“Shea, what could they say that is so stupid” you wonder.  Oh, you know, ignorant, discriminatory things like gay people are unworthy of love, respect, and children. 

Should we not first look at the quality and character of the person one chooses to take to bed? Or why they choose to lay with another in the first place, gay or straight.  Is it to attain wealth, social status, feed an addiction, scratch an itch, piss-off an ex, impress friends or simply too many tequila shots? Or maybe it’s to fill a God-sized hole in one’s Spirit, a desperate attempt to feel whole again.  Hey, I just realized the oxymoron of whole and hole. That’s something to think about, isn’t it?  

The moral question asked from any pulpit should be why you are laying with another, not who. The focus on matching body parts is downright ridiculous.

(I’ve spoken with Jesus, and he agrees wholeheartedly.

We are each charged with the decision to serve a God of compassion, love, and grace or a God of judgment and condemnation. If we still took the Bible as gospel, then black people would still be obeying their masters. Have we not evolved from that? Have we not, as a civilization, decided that portion of the Bible was incorrectly written and based on that author’s narrative at that time in history? What about where the Bible states that to touch a pig’s skin is an abomination? I’m guessing the author of that version was pissed he got passed-up for season tickets to his favorite football team.

If you open the first page of any Bible, you will see that it clearly declares that it’s a version of the Bible. We have yet to locate the original. The Bibles we have read for thousands of years are man’s inspiration on the word of God. They are simply not God’s word. It’s a two-thousand-year-old game of spiritual telephone, where what one hears is subject to his perspective (and, note that it’s “his” perspective and never “hers”) in the given moment and then passed on to the next listener.

Then there are the slacktivist churches, filling their seats with people dressed to the nines—a place to see and be seen. Message after message encourages them to be more, do more, and have more but rarely give more. Oh, they encourage them to give money. Don’t you worry, they got that shit dialed in.  Tithing is giving of your time, talents and treasures.  For many treasures are the easy part.  It’s the time and talents that they hold on too so tight.   The church leaders don’t genuinely push them to live a life of service to others in need. That’s not the kind of giving they need the most.

“Give us your money, and we’ll distribute it as we see fit. No need to give up your precious free time, drive anywhere, get your hands dirty, or your heartbroken. We’ll handle that stuff.  But, don’t miss your yearly trip to the food bank and of course their is the yearly Habitat for Humanity event. We’d hate for you to miss all the fun. 

This year we are doubling the size of the bouncy house for the kids, and we’ll have both a taco and BBQ truck. There’ll be lots of great picture opportunities, and we’d hate for you not to be in the video. Yup, giving back is a cornerstone to our church and we make it fun.” 

Okay, okay. I might be paraphrasing that but I’m gonna say it straight (as if I know any other way) If your church lures you in with bouncy houses and free boujee coffees each week, you are likely being groomed to be a slacktivist.

“But Shea, my church has bounce houses,” you exclaim.

Okay, twice a year bounce houses are just good fun and community building, but any more than that, and there’s your telltale sign that the content of the teaching isn’t enough to keep you coming back.

“What are the other signs of a slacktivist church?” you ask.

There are a few indications. It isn’t any single one of these but rather the combination of them together that defines a slacktivist community.

 -Do you leave church feeling like it’s time for another round of Botox? 

 -Has your pastor become your motivational coach.  Do you go for your weekly dose of confidence or are you often brought to your knees and humbled?

 -Do you simply donate money or are you also called to give of your time and talents in ways that will push you out of your comfort zone?

 -Did your pastor never speak out against our previous, deplorable President, out of fear they would lose members, or are you encouraged to use your voice to speak out against injustices, indecency, violence and cruelty? 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  – Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Here’s one final indication that a church is brewing slacktivists.  Does the church frequently encourage the congregation to foster/adopt children in need or at least have a foster family ministry where one can support foster families? Did you know there are 1,000 ways to help children in the system besides fostering?  Contact me if you are interested.

We have over 400,000 children in foster care in the US alone. Let’s put a visual to that. The typical college stadium seats 50,000.  It would take over eight stadiums to fit all the children who don’t have a home to call their own. Arizona alone has roughly 14,000 children, with only 3,730 foster homes.  Each year the number of children rises and the number of foster homes drop.  In the past six months alone, we are down 262 homes.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela

If your pastor doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone in the name of service, then he/she may be filling the seats with warm bodies, but sure as hell is not leading disciples of Jesus, I can tell you that much. 

Now, another way to lose my attention is to have no women in leading positions. Please notice I say women in leading positions. I’m not looking for women to be the lead of something. It’s common to have women as the lead of children’s or women’s ministries. Women are hella-hard workers, and a church would be foolish not to have them running their busiest programs.

What I’m talking about is leading. To be the lead is a noun, but leading, well, leading is a verb. Leading has the power to inspire others to dream more, do more and become more. It’s putting your words into action while others follow you. I’m looking for a church where women are leading the congregation to the same extent as men. I don’t want no backup singers here.  I wanna see women holding the microphone, front and center.

 I’ve come across a few of these gems but they aren’t easy to find. I often wonder why this is. Are some annoyed by the sound of a woman’s voice affliction when she speaks with conviction? Or, maybe the work of leading a congregation is too many hours and deters women who are commonly mothers?  I suppose there are lots of reasons.

For some, it’s about the money. Men still make the majority of it in our society.  That means it’s the men they need to attract to pay the high rent.  Bring in the women, and the kids will follow, but bring in the men and the money💰 will follow. It seems pessimistic, but this is undoubtedly true for many.

I have had a handful of phenomenal female ministers inspire me through the years. Here’s a little secret, one such minister encouraged me to pursue a life of ministry. Try not to laugh too hard; it’s still on my bucket list.

My life has been blessed by a few churches that have been instrumental to my growth. Though I have been a member of those who lean on Jesus Christ, I have also been drawn to Unity churches and those of the like. They have no set dogma and no required rituals. Their faith resides on simple philosophies; God is present everywhere, we create our life experiences through our way of thinking and to give it to receive. By these simple yet profound standards, they welcome and embrace all races, genders, generations, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientations.

It’s been four years since I’ve had a church to call home; four years since I’ve had a tribe of genuinely like-minded people with whom to gather. I continue my church shopping while missing the gems I’ve had to leave along my journey.

So, for now, I suppose I will rest in the wisdom of Rev. Ed Bacon, who touched my life each Sunday from his pulpit at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. He taught me that God cares more about one’s character than their religious affiliation and more about their contribution to others in need than their contribution to the tithing basket. Most importantly, he taught me that I too can connect with God anytime and anywhere.

With that said, I have to leave you now. I’m grabbing my tea and gonna head out to sit in the sunshine of my back porch. I have a date with somebody special who loves to hear the birds chirping just as much as I do. They say that religion breeds fanaticism. Call me a fanatic as I glory in God’s most divine church.

Blessings,

Shea

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