Although nature does remind me of God's vastness, recently it has been churches that are pointing me to that fact. As I've been visiting churches around Hong Kong, I've been reminded of my dormant fascination for church differences.
Over my lifetime, I've been in involved in a huge variety of denominations. When I was really little I went to a Presbyterian church, but I suppose I can't count that since the only thing I remember about it is its huge courtyard and the plastic cake they'd take out if any of us kids had a birthday. After that I went to an independent Bible church where about half the ladies covered their heads. After that, my family moved to Colorado and started attending an Evangelical Free church, where I was for most of my growing up years. In high school I started going to an independent youth group called CORE that had charismatic leanings. I also became good friends with several Catholics and a Greek Orthodox. We often dialogued about our differing theology and practices, and I even attended several of their services.
In college, I went to a non-denominational church for several years, until senior year when I attended an Eastern Orthodox church. During the summers I worked at a restaurant on Sunday mornings, so I went to a house church that met during the week. Besides that, I have talked with people from all sorts of denominations. I feel like I've had pretty good exposure to the different facets of Christianity.
I know that it's common for people to bemoan denominationalism, seeing it as a fracturing of the faith. I agree that it can lead to disunity, but I think it's sometimes necessary. I think it's ok to worship God in a place that you're comfortable and in a way that touches your heart. I love worshiping God to ska and screamo and rock, but I understand that some (ok, most) wouldn't feel very worshipful listening to it. To some people, standing still doesn't let them adequately express their passion for God's goodness. To others, the constant passion and emotionalism can be draining and distracting. I can understand all of these sides because I've felt those things myself at one time or another. So sure, everyone should worship God in the best way that they can.
That said, I think that clinging to one denomination without even looking at the others can limit our view of God. Don't you think there's a reason for all of the differences? There are SO many ways to worship God, but we're all worshipping God! Sure, that could say something about us, but maybe it also says something about how big God is! He's the God of house churches, or cathedrals, of basements, of stadiums. He can move in so many different places and different ways. Basically, God is vast.
I feel like we have a tendency to grab onto one piece of God (like passion or justice) and focus on that. We tend to pour everything into our chosen area, which can be good, but it can also limit our view of God and how to relate to him. God, in his great mercy and understanding, meets us there. He accepts our worship, however limited it might be.
I've often struggled with this because I don't want to be limited. I am attracted to so many aspects of God. I love Orthodox incense and crossing. I love charismatics' passion and faith. I love evangelicals' theology and hearts. I want it all! But I know that in this imperfect world I can't have it all. There is no church that combines all of these elements. But that just makes me long for heaven where our blinders are lifted, where we can see God in his fullness!
So what do I do? I write a poem of course. Feel free to laugh at my skills. I was always sorry that I couldn't take the poetry class at JBU, so I have to struggle on alone. Still, despite my lack of training, I do enjoy writing poetry and feel like it's a good way to express myself. So here is my latest literary(ish) creation.
A small name for such a confounding concept.
Do we know him,
Know more than the flannel-board Jesus,
more than the booming voice from the animated clouds?
More than the name?
Of course. Haven't we put off childish things?
Then why is it always big against small, old versus new,
a never-ending menu of denominations?
Pick a side--you must choose.
God, the Alpha and Omega, our alphabet,
encompasses all language, culture, history, nature.
He is in the hymns, measured and firm with meaning,
and the pews that encourage wakeful piety.
He is in the megachurch, the massive family,
and its cell-groups and stadium seating.
He is in the a capella chanting, crossing for the Trinity,
the weary feet and incense-air.
He is in the passionate worship, the dancing, hand-waving,
the sweat of emotional praise.
He is in babe-sprinkling, bad coffee, and basements,
in icons, icthus, and intimate confessions.
He is for the teenager, for the old,
for families, for those alone,
for all of squirming, thriving, failing, gasping humanity.
Personal, yet too big to comprehend.
Merciful, for we cannot take him in.
We pick him apart, keeping only pieces we understand,
clinging to what we choose as worship.
But must we choose?
Isn't he what's vast, what's full, what's free?
Please, let us truly see