One of the things I’ve noticed is how IN LOVE we all are with choice, and we associate the freedom to make ANY choice (to do anything we want) with the freedom to make IMPORTANT choices (to be able to worship freely or not). If you doubt my assertion, please visit the toothpaste aisle in your local super(size)market the size of ten football fields. It is now absolutely impossible to discern what’s the best or yummiest product to use on your teeth. And oh how we’ve extended this insatiable desire for choice. If you doubt that assertion, please contemplate the arguments for abortion rights, all kinds of odd sexual proclivities, and income tax evasion. I think that’s what happens when one of a country’s founding documents contain the language “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I don’t believe those three are inherently equal to each other.
How does this apply to Orthodoxy? Good question. Here’s how.
Western Christians (particularly American Evangelicals/Protestants) have taken this love of choice to religious heights. If you doubt that, please visit Beliefnet and check out the interview with the illustrious head of the Crystal Cathedral, Dr. Bob, who said the church experience should be similar to that of the shopping mall. (Somewhere in heaven, venerable foreheads are being smacked by venerable palms in sheer frustration.)
But that’s how America does church in this postmodern age of Baby-boomer enlightenment. We like our Christianity on the Jumbotron, with some film clips, and a good rock and roll band. We do not like Creeds, we don’t like statements of faith that are too exclusive, and we don’t like to be told that there MAY BE A BEST way to do this thing, as opposed to the way we want to do it.
We couch the argument in language of seeker-sensitivity, in the need to be “relevant” and in the desire to approach people where they are.
I heard all that. I thought all that, once upon a time. But I can tell you when I lost it. It was about two years ago, and I had managed to push the truth of Orthodoxy into a small box in the closet of my mind, while I continued to justify to myself why it was ok to go to the easy churches. But I was fast running out of places to go. A friend suggested I check out her church, a new church, meeting in a cafeterium in some middle school on the north side of the city where I live. So I dutifully checked it out. I was looking for a church called Pathways, but pulled into the parking lot of the wrong middle school, and in the wrong cafeterium found a church called Crossroads, and I could not, for the life of me, tell the difference.
I felt like I was shopping for spiritual khakis, and all I needed to do was find the closest Gap or Anne Taylor. But I realized, again, that this had to be more than finding whatever pair of pants fit my soul the best. This was much too serious for that.
I know this sounds weird, because I can go into any Orthodox church, and with a few regional/cultural differences, find the service to be almost exactly the same as the liturgy performed at St. John Chrysostom Antiochian Orthodox Church every Sunday morning. It’s easy to say it too looks like just another toothpaste on the shelf. But I guess the difference for me was this: the Orthodox church stands there every Sunday morning, doing the same thing it’s done for centuries. It’s not trying to be relevant. It’s not too concerned about being seeker-sensitive. It is preaching the truth, as it has done for 2,000 years. It is not a franchise, nor does it say that if you can’t find the size you like here, you can try another one on next door.
I could not make church come to me on my terms. I could not be a consumer with my spiritual life, nor should church exist to make me as comfortable as possible, like some kind of flight attendant on life’s little journey. Nope, church is CHURCH. It is stepping into the presence of the Almighty GOD and worshipping Him, on His terms. It is above me, it is beyond me, and yet, in a strange way, it is me. And because I make up that church, I want to make sure I’m at the right one. I want my worship to be as true as possible, as right as possible, and as close to that of the angels as I can get it.
It’s a bit more than choosing between Colgate’s latest whitening formula and Crest’s fancy flavors. It has to be.