This post is the second in a nine-part series from Joshua Murray on his reflections on baseball, on his grandfather, and on finding God in every blade of grass. For Part One, click here.
I gave up on church when I was about 25 years old. I am 31 years old now.
I grew up going to church my whole life. Multiple times a week. Then when I was 18, I went to a Christian college, where I was asked to attend chapel three times a week and I was expected to go to church on Sundays as well, and a Sunday evening service called Jacob’s Ladder, which we quickly referred to as Jacob’s Blabber because of the high rate of tears strewn about the place each service.
I didn’t walk away from the church in the normal sense of thinking it was all wrong or because I didn’t believe. In a much deeper reality I left because of how much I believed as strongly as I do. It wasn’t about hypocrisy or judgment the way we often hear about people leaving the church. There is a great love I have for the Bible—I remember getting my first bible when I was in second grade. Thin with gold edged pages. Onion skin. Black vinyl cover. Red lettering. I remember my mom telling me about how when she was a girl she would highlight and underline things. Everything I read I wanted to underline and highlight. Everything seemed important. I remember the times before we look behind the curtain and church seems beautiful and the people friendly. It feels full of love and promise. But once you see it…it can’t be unseen. I remember petty arguments over wanting to grow the church building so we could fit more people and how against it people were. Because they didn’t want outsiders. I remember bringing a friend to church who was asked, “I’m sorry, can you not sit next to us?” just because he wasn’t white. I remember timidly standing up at a congregational meeting to remind people that the Bible says that the church is the people, not the building, so it doesn’t matter what happened to the building, because we are the church. And they laughed at me. And an old woman stood up and asked why there were so many kids in the church now anyway. And then pastors I love were pushed out, and their families that I loved like my own followed them. I went away to college still hoping to fight through all of that and make it through to the other side. Be a pastor myself maybe. To read the Bible and grow. But as the years went by I felt more and more chipped away. Then my own family was stiff-armed out of the church we all grew up in. Mom and Dad and my sister and me. Even then I tried finding a few more churches. Younger churches—but those made me feel as if I wasn’t learning anything I didn’t know already. Older churches were full of biblical teachings but cold and boring. I was lost. Stuck between stations. Church after church let me down. Wasn’t worth the drive. All the notebooks I used to keep notes and references were now filled with drawings I used to doodle to fill up the time until the end of service.
I started to question. Not my faith, but just what the hell I was doing, what’s the point of church. I felt silly. It seemed pointless—everything seemed corrupted. I remember listening to a track from Jesus Christ Superstar and Judas sings “…it was beautiful but now it’s sour, yes, it’s all gone sour.” And it hit me hard. Everything was sour. And I would hear a lot of my friends who don’t believe or who are self-proclaimed atheists and I would listen to them talk and all I would hear are issues with the church. They equated “the church” with God of course—but in their words they weren’t complaining about any teachings of the Bible they didn’t agree with, or issues with God’s word. It was always things related to the church and the people in it.
Everything IS sour. Church, in my eyes, was the worst thing to happen to Jesus and to God since…well, since ever. And I thought of what Jesus told us, “If they were to be silent, then the rocks themselves would cry out!” and then to me, in a flash, it made sense.
We are living in a time where so many people are talking, but everyone is silent.
I’ve been looking in the wrong places. The rocks and stones are crying out and I haven’t been listening. If all Truth comes from God, why was I thinking I could only find it if it came out of the mouth, or writing of a “Christian” or a “church”—anything in the world that is True, isn’t that God’s voice? God’s teaching?
And so I left the church and never went back. I haven’t even looked back too much. I started a new campaign in life to find, or try to find, God in everywhere I look. In anything I read, whether it’s fiction, or a movie. A song. Or the game of baseball. I’ve found teachings of Jesus in the bleakness of a Cormack McCarthy novel or the words of Hemingway. In the actions of friends. In jiu-jitsu. In yo-yoing. Everywhere. I stopped looking at who said what, and instead I saw the Truth behind the words. I would read the poetry and fables of Islamic Mystics and see Jesus. I would look at the pitching of Sandy Koufax and see God. I see my grandfather in the game of baseball, and think of him when I watch it and read about it. And I saw God in my grandfather. And I see him in my memory of him. As my friend Aaron says, “In every blade of grass, Allah, Allah, Allah, in every blade of grass.”
Maybe in that sense it is no coincidence that in the novel Shoeless Joe about the legendary outfielder, he tells the main character that what he loves about baseball…”is the thrill of the grass.”