Running faster than I have strentgth.

You'll be happy to know that I went to church today. I haven't been since I came to Paris. Drew and I used to go to the same church in America and I didn't want to explain to him that I don't really go anymore so I got up early and I took a shower and I put on a tie. At least I looked the part... I grabbed my old travel bible and we went to church. The church was across the street from the Centre George Pompidou on the Rue Sainte Maire. Drew and I were running late already when we ran into a little roadblock at the Hotel de Ville. When I say roadblock, what I mean to say is that the Rue de Rivoli was actually blocked. It was the Paris marathon and the street was filled with a river of bodies, moving and bouncing and sweating.

Drew: What do we do now? Do you think if I just step out in the middle and hold my hand up they'll stop for us?

Me: I have an idea. Follow me.

I did have an idea. Looking back, it wasn't the simplest solution. That would have been to take the underground passage for the Metro stop at the Hotel de Ville, the one that exited on the other side. But in the moment I was pretty focused on crossing the street. I started running and Drew followed. I ran with the marathon for about half a block drifting through the ranks of runners until I reached the other side. Drew was having a harder time navigating the human river and didn't make it across the street for another block. It took some searching to reconnect but before too long we had found each other and it was off to the church house. I had to wonder why all those people were paying to be there if you can just show up and start running for free like I did. Maybe they enjoy feeling like they are part of something, like they belong there... or maybe they are just in it for the t-shirt.

We were both impressed by the diversity at church, being from suburban areas of America that were largely populated by white people we were both used to spending our Sunday mornings with a chapel full of WASPs. By contrast this congregation was nearly one third African. There were a number of older French people, some other Americans, a handful of French singles between the ages of 20 and 35, a few Latinos, a brother and sister from Iran who had recently converted to Christianity, and Nico, a Finnish kid from Spain in his second year at university in England who was doing an internship in Paris.

The services were in French and I found it difficult to pay attention. That is until Drew, who couldn't understand a word, asked me to translate. With great difficulty I was able to give him a rough idea of the subject of the sermon. It was something like a metaphor comparing Christianity to a great boat, kind of like the ark of Noah I guess. The point was that there is room on the boat for all types of people, from all sorts of lifestyles and cultural backgrounds and political systems, and that all we have to do is stay in the boat and have faith that God will lead us to the promised land. 

I thought that was bull-shit.

I would have preferred a more active metaphor. Rather than everyone just sitting around in a boat waiting for God to do all the work, I believe that if there is a God then he is going to show us the path but make us walk it on our own. In that sense maybe Christianity is more like running a marathon. The path is clearly marked, we just have to keep running until we reach the finish line. This doesn't bode well for me. My experience with Marathons is that I only run far enough to get where I am going and then I leave the other runners behind. And the truth is that while I may find this a more appropriate metaphor, if the speaker would have used it instead I would have gagged myself at the cliché.

Truthfully, I am in no position to criticize sermons... but that doesn't keep me from doing it. And it's not a new thing, I've always spent my time at church criticizing the speakers, thinking about what the sermon should say instead of listening for what I should hear. Maybe that's why I jumped ship. One benefit of church is that it does seem to make me more self reflective... now if it could only make me reflect on someone else I might start getting somewhere. But I guess these things need to be taken one step at a time.



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