Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Explanations

Alright. As you can see, no church again this week. A lot has been going on behind the scenes of Church Hop, and that is what I would like to talk about today.

For better or for worse, this blog has recently gotten some attention from several groups and individuals. I'm not going to mention names or groups for a number of reasons, the most important reason being because I feel I need to respond to all of them at once.

I would like to start with some general defense of this blog. At this point I would like to state that I am speaking for MYSELF-- Bradley, my brother and co-blogger, doesn't even know I'm writing this right now, so leave him out of it.

1. I have done the best job I can to keep this blog open. Comments are enabled and I have responded to almost every one individually. My e-mail address is easily found on my profile, and I have responded to e-mails personally. I leave the URL at every church that I visit, so that I am not sneaking behind their backs and "picking on them"-- they have access to the blog immediately, and they are just as able to e-mail me and comment as anyone else.

2. I gain nothing from this blog itself. We don't advertise, we have no sponsors, no one is paying us in any way to do this project. What I gain from Church Hop is personal, which leads me to...

3. ...My journey. I am being criticized a lot for going into churches with no intention of finding God. That, dear readers, is your assumption. What "agnostic" means to different people varies greatly, but for me, personally, it boils down to a search. I accept that there might be a God. That's one of many options to me, and one that I feel is worth exploring.

I come from a small, close-minded town. I grew up without religion, and no one laid the options out for me. The people I knew who went to church "chose" that church because that's where they had been going for all of their lives. What I wanted for both myself and for my younger brother was a chance to get a feel for what different churches were like, first hand. I wanted him to make his decisions based on experience, not based on habit or discomfort with exploration. That's where this started-- a small town where you have to seek out diversity and new opinions.

This is my "church." My idea of church is visiting different ones, meeting different people, getting a look at how different people praise their different ideas of God (or gods or whatever they believe). It is no more ridiculous than your ideas, no matter what they are.

4. I have been as honest as I can be while still being diplomatic and open-minded. If at any point I have been critical of an aspect of a church, I have done my best to re-state that these are my opinions. I am entitled to them, just as you are entitled to have your opinions of this blog. I have been crystal clear that I am an uneducated church-goer, and I have nothing but first impressions to go by.

5. The rating at the beginning of each entry (which will be going away soon, as noted over a week ago) expresses Bradley and my comfort level with a church. Not how good a church is, not how right their ideas are, but how comfortable they made us feel while we were there. All churches are different but they do have one thing in common: we have to make the first step into their doors. I guess I can see how you might think this is "judgment," but to me it is putting a number on how I, as a person, felt in a church, based on a number of factors.

6. I have never asked a church to change, nor would I ever do that in the future. The only reason I have pointed out the blog to them is so that they don't feel I've been doing something secretive and back-handed. I never leave it as a "here's what you're doing wrong" hint. I am a firm believer in "to each his own."

7. As a rule, we only visit churches that say "Welcome" or have their service times listed on the marquee. Maybe they're assuming that it says "Welcome Christians" or "Welcome if you're already certain what/who God is," but that's not how everyone reads it. We all have to start somewhere, whether we're 15, 23, or 140 years old when we decide to make our major life decisions.


That's all I have time for right now. There will almost certainly be an "Explanations Part Two" when I get a little more time. For now, that should give you something to react to.

To the people who criticize my blog and/or me as a person: say what you will. That's the joy of the internet, to me. It's what I'm doing and I would be a hypocrite to ask that you only say nice things. But I also invite you to say them here, on the blog, so that I can respond to them and defend myself once in a while.

Also, I ask these same people to scroll back one entry to where I asked for feedback. If there is a way that you think we can make this blog more fair, more of an exploration for everyone, please let me know.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Erica, I just discovered your blog yesterday and I find it fascinating. I am part of a discussion board that you may be referring to however, do not consider me a critic. I really appreciate what you are your brother are doing.
I think your blog is getting the attention it is from this board because we happen to be a part of the denomination of what appears to have been your "most uncomfortable" church visit (Church of God/Cleveland, TN).
Honestly, pentecostal/charismatic worship comes in many different flavors (you can possibly compare that visit with your visits to the Assembly of God and Vineyard churches you have been to). In the Cincinnati area, you may want to check out Princeton Pike Church of God. It may be a better representative of our denomination as a whole.
Keep doing what you are doing. I appreciate your comments here about your own spiritual journey and the comments from a previous post (East??? Community Church -- maybe?). There you discussed how you appreciate that the field of science is more willing to change. I would only want to suggest that a person CAN have an authentic Christian faith without disregarding scientific facts and possibilities. Perhaps you would be interested in a book by Tony Campolo called Speaking My Mind; note especially his chapter "Are Evangelicals Afraid of Science?"

As far as suggestions for this blog I would offer two:
1) Keep the rating system; maybe you could switch to the Beta Blogger version and categorize your visits by the ratings (and/or denominations/religions/etc)
2) Fix the template...I hate when the sidebar is at the bottom

If you have the time feel free to check out my own blog and my current dilemma in "church hopping."

Sincerely,

Peter Zefo

Eebs said...

Peter-- Thank you for your feedback. Positive or negative, I appreciate it from anyone. I would be an idiot to start a public blog and then get offended when it found resistance.

I will pick up the book soon, certainly. Thank you for the recommendation and for taking the time to read, think and comment.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Erica. I, too, recently discovered your blog. I haven't read all of the posts, but of the few I have, you seem to make pretty fair comments on your impressions. I'm sorry you've been catching flack, and I hope you keep blogging. I think what you are doing can give churches some incredibly valuable insight into what they are doing and how they are perceived.

Ryan said...

Erica,

I think this Blog is a great idea. Churches have been far too willing to rest on the idea that "God will bring whom he will" and far too sparse on the idea that people are the number one reason others come to visit.

As a pastor at a church here in Cincinnati, I appreciate your perspective and your journey. It takes someone bold to say, "I'll explore and see what I find...".

Thanks for the hopping posts and I look forward to reading more in the future.

Anonymous said...

Erica,

We have e-mailed each other several times. I believe that what you are doing is great. I will start this with an apology on behalf of those who do not understand the search that goes into finding God. They have been steeped in their traditions and beliefs to the point that to question them is to doubt God. Often they do not represent the love for one another that Jesus said should characterize those who follow Him.

You are kind enough to share your honest perceptions of the journey with those willing to read. Those who don't like it should just hit the "next" button and move on to reading another blog.

You have been fair in the way you handle things. Your rating system is good (keep it) in that it is based on your subjective experience of the service. You are fair and balanced. I liked the honest evaluation and genuine searching that you seem to be doing.

Sometimes the truth hurts. It is like someone picking on a family member. When it is you doing the picking, it is okay, but if someone else starts picking on them all hell breaks loose.

Keep it up.

Gail said...

Hi again,
I've said it a couple times before, but now seems like a good time to reiterate that I really enjoy your guys perspective on what you see and feel during your church experiences. I think it helps us in the vocational church world examine why and what we do from the vantage point of someone that doesn't have the same connections as we do. I think that's very cool. Even when we may not have the same opinions, I still think it stimulates me to think about the experience and how it can be perceived. I enjoy reading your blog and hope to continue to!
Thanks for your work on it!
Gail

Jenny said...

I think you make it abundantly clear all over your blog that this is a personal venture, and does not in any way judge a church. You're trying to explore and experience different things. You're merely noting the things you, personally, like and don't like. I don't think you mean for this blog to serve as any sort of church-rating system where others can come to look for a recommendation, and so I don't think you're doing anything wrong.

I think churches, whether they have been rated or not, can learn a lot from looking at what you have to say in your entries. I would think that any church would want others to feel welcome, because they would want to help more people become close to God. You've mentioned positive things churches have done that I've never thought about but think would be a great idea (like a Visitors' parking space). You've also mentioned some things that rubbed you the wrong way that I never would've even thought would make someone uncomfortable because to me, they're perfectly normal. It's almost like the church is a different 'culture'- it's hard to see what an outsider would see if you've always been in that church.

I don't think the rating is inherently bad, but maybe you should offer some other ratings besides just the one. There's an increasingly popular thing lately based on surveys and such called "Natural Church Development," I think, that has 8 characteristics of a "quality church." I don't know if they're biased, but I think they're meant to apply to most churches (not sure about synagogues & such), regardless of denomination. Looking at the characteristics, or even just back at previous Hops, might help you think of more things you could rate?

Anyway-- I think it's interesting to see what you find. It makes me think. Even if I didn't know you two, I'd want to keep reading this blog. :)

Travis Johnson said...

Eebs,

In addition to the personal notes I sent to you, I wanted to affirm what you are doing with a public posting.

Any time you step into a public arena, you will have critics. So, from an outspoken pastor with a few of my own critics, I want to welcome you to the club. Thank you for keeping a very interesting blog and for challenging us all to be more welcoming and hospitable.

Keep up the good work.

Travis Johnson

Eebs said...

Wow-- I head out for an hour and come back to an onslaught of messages. Thank you all very much for taking the time to respond-- it means a lot to me.

I love this blog and the project in general. I love the opportunity to grow as a spiritual person, despite the resistance I get from time to time. It's nice to know that I'm still being supported-- it's easy to just hear the bad stuff sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to read a post that offends me or concerns me in any way. Your journey is not only important, but crucial. You're searching, which is more than what most people do. I'm sorry people are making assumptions (we all know what that makes...)

As someone who works in a church, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate hearing your thoughts. You are fair, balanced and you are honest about your feelings. I think it's great.

Glenny said...

Well, people do get pissy if you don't love what they love and believe what they believe, don't they? I say screw 'em. This is your blog and you can write whatever the hell you want. That is the essence of blogging. It's also your journey - your personal experiences. Nobody else's input really matters. Including mine.

I think you should keep the ratings system. It's high time churches woke up to the fact that they are supposed to be serving people just like you, instead of just preaching to the choir. I'm painting with a broad brush here, but the Christian church as a whole is really hurting, largely because they're unwilling to change and become culturally current and (truly) outwardly focused. If you help with that in any way, that's awesome. It should be welcome, not threatening.

Confession time: I work for a church. If you were to criticize it, I would probably be defensive. But at the same time, I think it is incredibly valuable to have someone give this kind of objective feedback. I would love to have it from someone every week for my own church, if that were possible. In fact, I'm considering how to do it.

You go, girl. Keep giving it your honest best, and Godspeed.

J. Stephen Conn said...

Hi Erica & Bradley,

I love your blog! You are doing a very valuable service to churches - even though not all of them recognize that fact.

FYI, I was a pastor for 35 years, and have preached in 500 churches of more than a dozen different denominations, all over the USA and abroad. From my viewpoint , your reviews come across as very sincere, honest and insightful.

I retired from pastoring 5 years ago and moved to the Cincinnati area. Since then I have been a church hopper myself. I've tried many churches in the Cincy area and am still looking for the one where I feel that I fit.

So from one church hopper to another - keep up the good work!

Stephen

Kevin Shuller said...

Eebs,

I don't know if I can add much of anything to the comment thread that I have told you in person. Just remember what Heraclitus said so many years ago and what people like me have been paraphrasing for years, "Dogs bark at what they do not understand," so if no one gets upset with something you wrote, you aren't doing anything new. Then again, I don't think I had to tell you that.

I think Glenny hit the nail on the head, though - People just get defensive. People take criticism of their beliefs (and any tangible manifestation thereof) as a personal attack. Regardless of how constructive the criticism may be, it will be perceived as an attack. It all depends on how each individual person responds to being attacked. If you are dealing with the people who are secure in their faith and in themselves - like the readers who have commented here thus far - then you get debate and discussion that all benefit from; you with better understanding of the church's POV and decision makers who can take your ideas use them to improve their church and it's impression on worshipers. The ad hominem attacks stem from insecurities. The people who are attacking you for what you say merely wish they had the convictions and open-mindedness that people like Peter Z. and Travis do.

Much Love

russ said...

I have been reading your blog from here in Texas since the beginning. I am a committed Christian and devoted to growing the church. And I love your blog. It reminds us of many things - mostly the importance of invitation and hospitality, and the challenge of the church today. Your writings have never spoken of a critic to me, but of an underlying desire for something more in your own life. I hope you find it some day, in a church that will care for you. In God's good time...

Grace for the journey!

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Barb and I am from The Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. I am so happy that you visited our Church. The only regret that I have is that I did not get to meet you while you were there as I like to meet visitors. We welcome everyone to visit us whether it be one time or many times. The week you visited was a rather lenghty service which is not the norm. I just pray that you find a church you can be happy to attend on a regular basis as I have found it very nice to have an extended family. But please remember, just because we go to church we are not perfect. If we were we would not need the church. The church helps keep us walking in a straight line with God. I'm not a very good speaker or writer but I hope I expressed my feelings to you. Good luck to you and your brother in what ever you do in your lif. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Hi friend ... sorry that we haven't caught up lately -- lots going on with family, husband, etc. right now. I echo what I've said before -- this is a very important project, and I love what it is doing. Just the responses to this post alone make that clear. Let's catch up soon.

d-mc said...

Surfing and came across your blog! LOVE IT! Being raised in church it is impossible for me to visit any church with an "outsiders" perspective. I love reading your thoughts. If you are ever in Oklahoma City I would love for you to visit my church (I just attend-not the pastor) and hear your thoughts.

If I wasn't so plugged in at my church I think I would take a few months off and do some church hopping of my own!

I posted about your blog on mine. God bless!

http://voyageministries.blogspot.com