"Keeping the Faith" McBrayer says: 'It's time to hit the road'

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nothing screams "summer" like a family road trip. Even with the explosion of easy-access-information, human beings still long to explore their world. We aren't content to merely "Google" our surroundings and accept that as a genuine experience.

So, families get up, get out, and get going; especially during these sacred months of warm weather and long days. To the beach, the mountains, the grandparents, the roller coasters, or the local state park, parents and children stream, their SUVs laden with fishing poles, tents, Weber grills, and luggage.

Moms and dads relax, at least a little bit. Kids get sunburned, a lot actually. Relatives get visited and hugged, even those we don't like. And gallons of ice cream, lemonade, and soda are consumed by thirsty hands and mouths as sugary-sticky as duct tape.

I love these road trips as much as Clark Griswold and Cousin Eddie. I always have, though when I was a kid raised in a poor family, "vacation" consisted of a hot two-hour ride in a rattling station wagon to Aunt Francis' house, an afternoon at a Civil War Memorial, and dinner at Bonanza. Still, I loved the road, and it felt like a great adventure (believe me, with that station wagon, every trip was an adventure).

I'm traveling more and more these days, not so much out of love for the road -- I like sleeping in my own bed -- but out of love for old and new friends; out of love for what is happening all across North America. In Atlanta, Peoria, Detroit, Dallas, Paducah, Tucson, and everywhere in between, I find and spend time with people who are over-churched and religiously over-worked, but who are under-graced and under-gospeled.

The practice of their faith has become an albatross around their neck and they want to be free of it, not because they suddenly have given up on faith or hate Jesus, but the contrary: They so love Christ and so value their faith, that to retain these things they love, they must let everything else go. They want simply to worship their God, follow Jesus, and help their neighbors. They hope to do this without all the ecclesiastical machinery we have created.

They meet in coffee shops, in store fronts, around dining room tables, in pubs, and yes, sometimes in church sanctuaries. They have come to understand that church isn't a place we go. It's something we become. Church isn't about buildings or organizations or sacraments. It's about people and relationships. Church isn't an institution that should complicate our lives further. Rather, it should set us free and focus our lives on Christ.

I once heard Phyllis Tickle say that every 500 years or so, the church has a rummage sale. Paraphrasing, she said every few centuries Christians scrounge through everything we have stockpiled in our attics and collective storage boxes. We start sorting through it all and discover that some of it is too precious to ever let go. But much of what we find stashed away in moldy storage units has to be moved to the curb.

After all, Christians are a pilgrim-people. This world is not our home and we are built for the wandering, open road. Hanging on to anything beyond what is truly essential will only weigh us down, and hanging on too long will cause us to sink roots where we do not belong.

In my own travels, this -- this -- is exactly what I discover all over North America: People of faith who have had their rummage sale, and who are now neck-deep in the journey away from religious institution and toward becoming grace-filled, Jesus-following, baggage-relinquishing explorers. They are now light enough to hit the road, living out the great adventure of faith.

What do you say a few of us get together along the way? A cup of coffee down at the corner, a pint at your favorite watering hole, Sunday morning at the red-bricked church-house: You just let me know when and where. I'll meet you there, and we will hit the road together.

Ronnie McBrayer is the author of "Leaving Religion, Following Jesus." He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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