An old friend called this afternoon. We caught up on everything we'd missed about each other since we last talked: careers, family, he talked about conflict resolution initiatives he was helping with around his city, I talked about our new house and Coffeeson. And then he mentioned that he and his wife had started attending a Unitarian Universalist church.
I was surprised, but I wasn't. I've compared him before to Larry in W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, whose travels around the world lead him to explore multiple facets of human existence, including faith and truth. I even gave him a copy of the book for his birthday one year.
He described his reasons for attending, not the least of which was that it felt right to him at this point in his life and in his faith journey. He described his appreciation for a diversity of opinion around the table in the search for truth.
And then he said, "I was just tired of hearing it."
"The sound of church. You hear it every week, and it's all you hear, and it made sense to listen to something else."
I found it a wonderful phrase that I've yet to fully comprehend: "the sound of church."
Some don't really hear it any more, whether out of habit or genuine appreciation.
Some hear it, and put up with it out of necessity or because there's at least some part that still makes sense.
Many hear it, and are tired of it. And they want to hear something else.
And, of course, there are some who want to change the sound. But it ain't easy. And it involves figuring out what the sound of church is to begin with. To a lot of people, it's a weird sound or a less appealing sound or an annoying sound or a wrong sound, if a sound can be wrong. It sounds hokey, or dishonest, or cheesy, or unbelievable, or insane, or goofy, or stupid. It may be the sound itself or the medium through which it runs, or maybe there isn't a difference.
I sometimes notice the sound of church, and I sometimes notice that I don't like it much, either.
But I like it for plenty of reasons, too.
So I don't begrudge my friend for his decision, because it sometimes makes sense to get away from the sound of church.
But for me it also makes sense to stay and keep listening. And not just because I'm a pastor, but also because I still find a lot of truth in Jesus and the kingdom of God, and those sounds still make plenty of sense.