The Stranger: A Month of Sundays

Fairly recently The Stranger put out a piece titled A Month of Sundays wherein 31 reporters (and I do use the term somewhat loosely) took to the streets of the Seattle metro area to attend 31 different churches of various flavors.

Seattle is godless.

We are, rather famously, one of the least churched cities in North America. It seems that most of us have better things to do on a Sunday morning than go to church. Seattleites would rather take a hike. Or nurse a hangover. Or fire up the bong.

We’re just not that into Him.

It’s true. I don’t contest that at all. It seems like this could have been an extremely interesting and insightful piece. But it wasn’t. Those of a skeptical nature may say that I feel that way because I am of a religious sort and happen to disagree with the large majority of the authors and what they reported. Well, that may be the case, I don’t deny that I have a bias. That being said, after reading the article I didn’t feel that the churches were necessarily doing anything wrong, but that Seattleites aren’t as open to spirituality (or any of the things of God) as they let on to be.

Liberal Seattle: open to beliefs of all kinds… unless you have to actually pick one and live by it. After reading each entry I was left with the distinct impression that the majority of the writers went in with this: “I am going to find this absurd, irrational, mockable, and a waste of my time.” You will be shocked by their conclusions: “This was absurd, irrational, mockable, and a waste of my time.” Now I am being somewhat harsh as some did have some decent insights and humorous moments, but by and large, they went in with some preconceptions and, low and behold, they were confirmed.

I was hoping for more. The premise was sound. But where was the open mind that people claim to have? Let me share the entry on Mars Hill because I think it exemplifies the article as a whole.

I have only been at Mars Hill for 30 seconds and already I’m laughing. The house band has just started playing, signaling to everyone mingling in the lobby to come find a seat, and the opening bass part to the song sounds almost exactly like Bush’s mid-’90s hit “Comedown.” I haven’t heard that song since Endfest 1995. Hi-larious.

Pastor Tim gets on the mic—wait, Pastor Tim!? What the fuck!? Where’s Mark Driscoll? Where’s that round-faced dude who blames infidelity on fat wives? Where’s the Jesus-loving blogger who once compared homosexuality to cancer? That’s the dude I wanna see! If I’m gonna mock anyone, it ain’t gonna be some half-assed Pastor Tim who’s too busy pimping his band’s upcoming CD to lead the crowd in prayer!

Lucky for me, Tim was just doing the morning’s introduction. Phew. After a few more shitty worship songs, they beamed Driscoll in from West Seattle via live video feed. He was flashing across five large projection screens.

Driscoll wasn’t as insulting as I thought he would be—he basically said men are the backbone of America and men need more God in their lives in order to lead, teach, and love their families. Because, you know, women (who are more likely to be Christian, he says) aren’t capable of that shit. “It’s good to be a man,” Driscoll preached to all the young, single dudes in his congregation. “To get married and make babies.”

At that point, Pastor Tim’s worship band got back onstage and they started the whole booze and crackers thing—but I bolted. I could see all the single guys scanning the room for single ladies—and the last thing I need is some sissy Christian boy trying to knock me up.

So where to begin? Personally I don’t have a big problem with them mocking Driscoll, I am not a fan, to say the least, but the writers have a few hundred words to enlighten people about the church. How was this reporting? How was this going into the church with an open mind? Shouldn’t the goal have been to try and understand what the church was about? The last part made me laugh (because I know how true it can be), but was it really helpful?

I know I shouldn’t expect more from The Stranger, it isn’t like it is a high quality news source, but I was hoping for more. Essentially the article confirmed its initial statements and said that “those crazy Christians [or other various religious folks] are still doing their crazy religion thing, since we suffered through the services, now you don’t have to.” Not that I would suggest ever using The Stranger as a positive source of information on any topic, but what if someone was actually curious what the religious life was like for those that did attend church on Sunday mornings? Is this representation anything like reality?

Well yes, I suppose it is. If someone is completely opposed to religion, of course they will have a negative opinion of a religious service the went to. The fundamental nature of religious services (even liberal ones) is that statements are made about the nature of truth and reality. By definition, religions are exclusive. The problem is that non-religious don’t seem to understand that, while exclusive, Christianity is also completely inclusive. But I suppose that is a discussion for another time.

Until someone is willing to actually seek for answers (and not just giving lip service to that pursuit), they will never feel anything close to comfortable at a church of any kind. And honestly, I don’t know if there is anything a church can do to be “relevant” to folks of that ilk. It is one thing for a church to be “seeker sensitive,” but someone has to actually be seeking before we can even talk about how to reach out to them. This article was not a representation of those seeking at all. What I would like to see is an article written with the same premise but by 31 people who are actually actively seeking answers to the fundamental questions of life and hear about their experiences.

There were a few authors that seemed to get something out of the experience. They weren’t profoundly changed by any means, but there did appear to be hope. From one author’s experience at Bethany Presbyterian:

The magnitude of devotion in the hymns was daunting. But when the time came to get up and sing, I stood. My voice emerged from its lair and blended with the other voices. Everyone was singing—I mean everyone. The Presbyterians were emphatic about participation. The prompting was warm and welcoming but impossible to ignore. Earlier in the program, everyone was urged to get up and greet the people sitting nearby. The sense of community was acute. The detachment I had brought with me, and was so carefully trying to preserve, detached, and hung around my ankles as I arose to sing “Open the eyes of my heart.”

I feel like that person at least was trying. They were at least trying to see what the church was actually all about.

I would say that you should read the article, but take breaks if you need to get away from the Seattle godlessness. There are insights there to be sure, I am just not impressed by the “reports” from around the city.

I think I had more to say about the article, but it is nearly 2 here so I will leave it at that. Does anyone else want to chime in here? Are you a seeker? What have your experiences been? Are you an atheist that went to a church just the see what it was all about? What did you think? How did the experience compare to your preconceptions?

Maybe I could challenge a few people to go to a church service this Sunday and report back about your experience! Any takers?

  1. June 24th, 2007 at 10:42 | #1

    Ok, the problem isn’t you, it’s the extreme right wing that has hijacked Christianity, and made it a dirty name to the rest of the world. Of course, those guys would probably say you’re not a Christian, at least in their eyes. Confusing? It is to the rest of us…

  2. June 28th, 2007 at 10:28 | #2

    A fellow-Seattleite here-and a strong believer. The Stranger’s article probably does accurately reflect the attitudes of a significant segment of our city. But, lol, I’ve never been under any illusion that we’re living in the Bible belt. (And really, would you want to?) We’re UPCers, but I’ve posted on Mars Hill Church in this week’s Christian Carnival. A decidedly different viewpoint than the mocker above. Take a look when you get the chance. Blessings.

  3. June 28th, 2007 at 17:26 | #3

    kip152, while I understand what you are saying and I largely agree with you, I don’t think any particular group can hijack Christianity. They may give it a bad name at times, but it is still up to individuals to live up to what Christianity really is. The old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” still applies. If someone doesn’t like Christianity because a few that claim the name (which I understand is a huge problem), it is still that person’s choice.

    e-Mom: your note that “the Stranger’s article probably does accurately reflect the attitudes of a significant segment of our city” I think is probably spot-on. Which is a sad statement to make. It is definitely one that the devout have to take seriously.

    That’s a great post on Mars Hill and what they are doing there. They have definitely been doing a lot of great things over there. Personally it isn’t something I could ever be a part of as I have fundamental differences with some of Mark’s theology and am not a fan of him in general (but I do definitely respect what he is doing there). I went to UPC for a number of years during my undergrad days! I think Earl is an amazing expository preacher and count him among my favorite pastors.

  1. April 2nd, 2013 at 22:02 | #1
  2. April 2nd, 2013 at 22:02 | #2
  3. June 27th, 2007 at 21:03 | #3

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