Meeting God Where He Isn’t Supposed to Be: in which I visit one of “those” churches

While traveling Way Down South recently I visited a church that, were it to be measured against the standards of today’s loudest progressively sympathetic Christian voices, should have been fully devoid of the One True God, the Resurrected Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It had no stained glass. No middle aisle. No pews. No hymnals. No narthex. No prayer labyrinth. No organ. No choir. No robes. No passing of the peace. No Eucharist. No liturgy. No church-calendar readings. No congregational responses. No worship folder. None of the things, in fact, that 50 years ago people poo-poohed en masse as being the killers of real faith, only to now become the frame from which people poo-pooh the other end of the tunnel from whence they recently evolved.

Instead, this church had a coffee bar. Comfy lounge chairs. Three large screens. Two Hollywood-caliber cameras. A sound-booth. Head-sets. Stage. Stage lights. Fog machine. Full band (contemporary worship, mind you; not marching or concert). Plexiglass cage for the drums. Projected lyrics. Advertising-flyer style bulletins. Lots of denim. Lots of middle-aged white people.

But: also lots of non-middle-aged non-white people. Lots. Lots of people who should obviously know better than to attend a non-traditional non-sacramental non-denominational pseudo-psycho-church that caters to contemporary styles and issues in a way that leeches the gospel dry of all its power and beauty and meaning while also robbing the kingdom of its beautiful diversity and mystery.

Right? We all know that churches like this have sold their souls to something devilish, have nothing of substance to offer anyone, and are entirely bereft of anything sincere, heartfelt and holy.

We know this because people have told us this. In no uncertain terms. Over and over and over again.

This church was so obviously the quintessential failure of 21st-century Christendom – nothing but a deep pit of hypocrisy hiding behind a shallow facade of religiosity guaranteed to suck the very life out of any who are stupid enough to cross its threshold.

And if that weren’t bad enough, the preacher was a partially balding white dude with a hipster goatee, wearing distressed jeans and a dress shirt, both untucked at the bottom and unbuttoned at the top, who started his sermon with a funny personal anecdote. Somewhere out there, his name is probably entered into The Book of Those Who Are Inherently Patriarchal and Entirely Obtuse (especially in regards to all significant social issues of both his immediate context and the larger world; tantamount to a Pharisee of the worst kind even on the best of days).

Here clearly was a full-blown loser of a church, a gathering of people that exemplify all that is sickly wrong with God’s kingdom today.

So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed the congregation’s diversity, both in age and ethnicity; you can imagine my shock when, after parking in some remote out-lot, the middle-aged white guy who stopped to offer me a ride in the official people-mover turned out to be quiet, kind, self-unimportant, and entirely gracious; you can imagine my confusion when the loud and foggy stage music was overshadowed by the passionately engaged voices around me; you can imagine my bewilderment when the (obviously self-centered, attention-seeking, power-hungry) preacher opened his Bible to the book of Luke and began reading, then exegeting, the Holy Scriptures; you can imagine my surprise when I heard about the various satellite campuses, each with its own distinct preaching pastor (because, um, Livestream of the Famous Guy?), each committed to the spiritual formation of its younger members; you can imagine my disbelief when there was not a single mention of the straight-to-hell-ness of certain members of society; you can imagine my incredulity when the pastor asked for personal responses (while eyes were closed and heads were bowed) just once before quickly moving into a meditative benediction; you can imagine my skepticism when there was not a single self-promoting self-congratulating self-righteous declarative pronouncement from the front (or back or side for that matter).

And I hope you can imagine my delight and joy when I met and sensed and heard from God at that supposedly God-forsaken place, worse (they say) than all other God-forsaken places precisely because of its claim to being God-centered. You can imagine my deep satisfaction at having worshipped in spirit and in truth in that warehouse-ish block of a building that is (they say) obviously bereft of anything sacred or profound. You can imagine my humble chagrin at having realized I was not in a church that is (they say) indubitably infused with deep levels of insincerity that beckons and then subsumes the vapid souls of its automaton members.

I hope you can also imagine my utter self-disappointment and disgust when I realized I’d been ready to blindly accept the well-crafted and distinguished-sounding words of a few people who project the intellectual ability and spiritual discernment to accurately pronounce scathing judgements on all the other people.

Perhaps one of the things that is most wrong with the church today is how swiftly and thoroughly so many of us are willing to loudly point out what is most wrong with the church today. (Perhaps that is exactly what I am doing here…)

There will always be things wrong with the church. Always. There will always be need for honest examination by individuals and selfless reformation by congregations. Always. There will always be a journey of additional sanctification and wider revival. Always.

But I doubt whether we need many more analyses, diagnoses, assessments, or indictments of the Church-at-Large. There is plenty of ill-will to go around already. What we need is more evangel, in doses and degrees that only the Spirit can provide, and only when the people of the church invite and embrace it.

Let’s get to it, shall we?


Sorry, but C. S. Lewis never said that there (in which I begrudge the alarming glut of authoritative misquotes)

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different… – “Prince Caspian”

This pithy quote, attributed to the pages of Prince Caspian, the second installment of C. S. Lewis’s Narnian chronicles (that’s right, second, no matter what HarperCollins says),* appears all over the authoritative world wide web.

And when I say all over I mean ALL OVER. 


Pinterest. Tumblr. Facebook. Goodreads. Yahoo answers. Etsy. Twitter. Finance blogs. Focus on the Family. Amazon. Numerous self-published books.

And approximately 6 million other pages.

It is quoted in mainstream publications. It is quoted in AP History presentations. It is quoted by pastors. It is quoted on every Lewis-loving-blogger’s blog known to humankind. (I hyperbolize.) It is quoted on every quote site in existence. (I exaggerate.) It is even quoted by C. S. Lewis himself on his personal Twitter account. (I joke not.)

At the risk of bringing down all the authoritative walls of Jericho, Google, Yahoo, and Bing in one fell swoop, I regret to inform all the many millions of people who have lauded this quote as meaningful, life-changing, heart-warming, wise, inspiring, eloquent, and other empty blathery things, that C. S. Lewis did not write these words in Prince Caspian, or any of the other Narnian Chronicles.**

It’s true that when Shasta, Aravis, Bree and Hwin race against time across the desert, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they trot-walk-trot-walk-trot-walk.

It’s also true that when Pole, Scrubb, Puddleglum, Snowflake and Coalblack climb up from the underworld, the view behind them seems to stay the same no matter how long they clop-clop-clop-clop carefully uphill and underground.

And when Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Reepicheep and the others are on the last leg of their outbound voyage, it seems that little changes except for the inherent essence of the sun.

Too, when Peter, Susan, and Edmund are finally wise enough to follow Lucy who is following Aslan who is invisible to all but her, it seems like forever until the other three finally see his golden self walking in front of them.

But the confidently posted, quoted, blogged, tumbled, tweeted, grammed, and pinned quote is no quote at all. Not Lewis’s quote, anyway.**

Still, it has become a 6-million-hits-authoritative fact. No one questions it. No one bothers to look it up. No one takes the time to confirm or fact check or wonder if just maybe – since the quote is never referenced by a page number or given a context or framed within a larger narrative, it might be, well, FAKE – FALSE – UNTRUE – MADE UP – CONTRIVED – NONSENSE  – BLATHERY FOO FOO.***

Confession: I do admire Lewis and love his books, and can tend to get unreasonably bothered and bent out of shape when people toss around his words and ideas without ever having read more than a handful of his 50-plus books and countless articles, notes, letters, reviews, and other writings. (“I’ve read Amos and Jude. Let me tell you everything you wanted to know about God.”)

But this isn’t about Lewis. (Okay, maybe it is a little – but not mostly.)

This is about language and thought and reason and creativity and honor and intellect and caution and so many other things.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly something becomes accepted fact.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we swallow what the Information Age grazers and snackers share with us.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we jump on whatever train is currently barreling down the cyber track.

It’s about how quickly and carelessly we discard and surrender our brains, assuming someone else has already done the necessary thinking for us.

Wrong. No. Bad form. Dumb idea. Stop it. Now.

All of us. Just stop it. Else our brains, rather than making thoughtful, adventurous, mindful, and exhilarating use of the vast knowledge now at our fingertips, will simply shut down and take a snooze that soon eclipses mere laziness and instead threatens our very ability to reason, to think, and therefore to be.

Quite frankly, as much as it irritates me, a wildly popular Lewis misquote is nothing more than a symptom of something much deeper, something that should worry us all.

And when I say worry us I mean worry us greatly.

Greatly, indeed.

© 2015 Crystal Kirgiss

* Reading order (also known as “publication order for as long as Lewis lived and beyond”):
Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Silver Chair
Horse and His Boy
Magician’s Nephew
Last Battle

** I am 99% certain that I have never seen this phrase in any of Lewis’s books. To be fair, there are some I have read only once (English Literature in the 16th Century, Excluding Drama, for example). I would happily stand corrected about this quote, by way of a specific title (including publication date, edition, and page number), which would then force me to self-rant about the dangers of publishing a blog post without first meticulously reading and exhausting every possible counter-response.

***Dishearteningly, I have even found uploaded book report about Prince Caspian that include this quote. Dear me.