Purified Jesus Dispensers

Ash and I went out on the town last night. Our plan was to have a drink and a bite and then see Poseidon. (We saw X-Men: The Last Stand on Friday and were hoping for a palate cleanser. Chad, you were oh-so right.)

Perhaps God was on our side, since we never made it to the theater to see Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell and Andre Braugher — my fourth husband — try to rescue helpless luxury-cruise-ship-in-a-tsunami victims. We got as far as the drink/bite, and got into a pretty intense conversation about church. (For those of you who know us, intense conversations about life, God, the universe and U2 and/or Petra happen about 63 times a day.) We were sipping our margaritas and people-watching at a bar on Main St. in Ventura, and Ash wondered aloud how many of the people passing by on Saturday night would be in church on Sunday morning. (This was mildly laughable, since Ventura is what some might call “pagan”…I think something like 14% of people attend church. Venturans are religious about surfing and spiritual about everything else.)

Anyway, I started off on one of my tequila-induced philosophical rabbit trails in which I unilaterally declared church over, we don’t need it, blah, blah, bloo-blee-bloo. “Look at us! We’re both Christians, and only 50% of us will be in church tomorrow.”

Just as I was working up a good head of steam, we were joined by Lorien and Gary, who came outside to have a smoke. We had not previously met them, but thanks to Ash’s sign and my diminshed inhibitions, we shortly made their acquaintance and found out all about them. Gary is a carpenter who has lived in Ventura all his life, and Lorien is an artist who spent her youth traveling the country, doing a lot of hallucinogens (“I tried this stuff from South America like 17 years ago, and I swear the sky has never looked the same.”) and finding herself. She has a pretty crazy story, and there’s nothing I like more than hearing somebody’s story, crazy or not.

We ended up hanging with Lorien and Gary for almost 4 hours. It was wonderful. They’re both remarkable people, trying to figure out how to live well and right. They have a deep love and respect for each other, and are dedicated to parenting Gary’s three young boys with that same love and respect. Lorien is learning how to be a stepmom and said, “Kids make you take your attention off yourself. They teach you so much because you have to see the world through their eyes if you want to really know and love them. You can’t be jaded.” (In my mind: Huh, Lorien…you sound kinda like, I don’t know…JESUS.)

As we were driving home, we continued our church conversation in light of our experience with our new friends. The thing is, Lorien and Gary don’t need church. They’re already paying attention to good things, Kingdom Things: loving their family, creating beauty, practicing hospitality, sharing with hurting people. Yes, Lorien and Gary need Jesus. But that’s the dumb thing about our current church system: we’ve set up church as the Purified Jesus Dispenser, and you have to come to church with your empty bottles and some dimes in order to get any. Or alternately, we come to you and hand out small, sample-sized bottles for free, and then invite you back to the Mother Well where you can drink real Living Water, portioned out in pre-packaged, chemically-treated, vacuum-sealed rations that ensure there’s enough to go around, nobody overdoes it, and nothing taints the purity of the product.

Well, I’m tequila-free this glorious Sunday morning, and I’m over it. Church, that is…of the Purified Jesus Dispenser variety. I don’t believe Jesus needs to be measured out and bottled up and stored in a cool, dry place. I kinda think he feels cramped. I think he’d like to get out once in awhile, maybe make a night of it with Lorien and Gary. They already have a lot in common, and I think they’ll get along great.

10 thoughts on “Purified Jesus Dispensers

  1. Jason

    That was fantastic. Thanks for sharing your evening in such detail. You know where I stand on dispensers. You summed it up well. I wonder if big churches will ever see this progression coming and not try to change programs to some thing more “hip” or “relevant.” Or defaulting back to cursing those that have “fallen away” from church, but who are still in love with Jesus. I think I know the answer, but I am willing to be optimistic about imagining how this change could impact our nation in a positive way if people got back to the “non-dispensed” Jesus.

  2. Daniel Semsen

    You’re right-church we probably don’t need–but we do need community. If you can do that with these folks, then you’re RIGHT on track.

  3. Lorna

    but we are baptised INTO church and desperately need godly fellowship, which it seems that you got last night. I think it’s simply our definition of what church is, and can be, that needs to change. Scripture tells us that God gave us church so we cannot outlaw it, but we can go back to basics – and the Great commandment.

  4. harmonicminer

    You’d be hard pressed to find a person more cynical about human institutions than me. The short take: I consider them to be a sort of meta-lifeform with no central intelligence to speak of, but lots of survival reflexes.

    But: while institutions often do tremendous harm, it takes institutions to do tremendous good.

    Consider: what if a hundred of us all pile in our cars and drive off to aid Katrina victims, working as individuals? Compare to the great effectiveness of the Salvation Army, using the same resources and personnel.

    So, disappointed as I am in our institutions, including many churches and church-related institutions, I think they’re the only game in town.

    Put it this way: if I’m ever down and out, I’ll call a church. If you aren’t part of one, how will anyone know to come to you?

    Part of this problem is the alienation between people in modern urban culture, and the separation of church life from local community. If I drive 20 minutes to get to my church, and I don’t routinely see the same people as I live my life in other ways, what kind of community can I have? Compare to small town life… you get the idea.

    It’s a lot tougher to keep up the “prepackaged religion” thing when you see the same people all week long… but that’s distinctly not the norm in modern life.

    But don’t through out the institutions just yet… we desperately need them to do large bits of good in the world. We just can’t sell our souls to them.

  5. Gretchen

    I can’t help feeling a little sad that church has left such a bad taste in your mouth. I think I am battling my own cynicism about the “act” of worship and church, especially in mega-church settings where the service is literally produced, and that production is supposed to cause an emotion that I should call “God”, or a feeling of faith.

    However, I am also loving our small church community. I love how real the people are (sometimes, a little too blunt) and how the body of believers we are surrounded by genuinely care for Mike, Sophia and I. Especially Sophia. I want her to grow up around multiple generations, and not just her relatives. I love that 200 people care about her and want to support Mike and I in raising her to learn to love Jesus. This is something I can’t do by myself at home.

  6. Karen

    I have been thinking about this all weekend. I think both Phil and Gretchen hit on how I am feeling though. We go to a mega church in the Bible Belt and there are times when we are genuinely disturbed by being there because of the mass produced manitpulation of feeling God there. We are good friends with several couples from our connect group but we all live at least 20 minutes away from each other. We are really more in community with our neighbors that need Jesus than our friends from church but due to the wonder of email we have at least 30 couples praying for us if we send in a prayer request. Unfortunalty or forntunatly for our next door neighbors they have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from us. Anyway, I am just rambling now. Even though we go to a mega church we have friends that love us and our kids and are willing to sacrifice for their friends and live life with us.

  7. aly hawkins Post author

    I probably should have chewed this post over a bit more before yarking it up all over Addison Road…sorry!

    I’m a big fan of Christian community…BIG fan. We are part of a house church that’s been meeting together for almost a year, and it’s the greatest thing ever. We’re at different places in our faith journey (a couple people are in the same space I was in about 18 months ago: What if it’s all a lie??), but there is a real spirit of being co-journeyers, of seeking together after Truth and longing to live in It.

    So I’m not anti-Church (people living life together for the sake of God’s kingdom). I think I’m just over the modern evangelical church iteration of Church, largely for the reason Phil mentioned (alienation from one’s neighbors and local community) and also because I see Jesus being horded in a way that (I believe) is antithetical to God’s kingdom.

    This is old news — the emerging church was birthed out of this same disenchantment with/deconstruction of the modern EV church, and I’ve been processing thoughts like these for 10 years. But I think meeting our new friends on Saturday night brought it home in a fresh way, evoking a new grief that Ash & I were the “first Jesus” that Lorien and Gary had met, while 1200 people go to church across town.

  8. Chad


    This is a terribly provocative post, and I am glad you have brought it up. I think there is something at the core of this issue that no one else has gotten to, so I think that I am going to have to bring it up. I’m really sorry to be the one to say this, but I think it has fallen to me, and me alone.

    You were going to cleanse your movie pallate with Posiedon? What the hell are you thinking? MI:3 is still the best ride in town. Sheesh. Get your stuff together, woman.

  9. harmonicminer

    Aly… it takes some courage to just put your thoughts and reactions out there, for the rest of us to mull over at our leisure. I think sometimes it’s worthwhile to share a “snapshot” of feelings in a certain moment, acknowledging that they represent part of a journey, and not a fully developed, carefully reasoned perspective.

    I don’t do that a whole lot, myself. I’m too chicken to put something out there that I won’t be willing to defend in detail later. I’m too concerned with what people will think of me, and whether I’ll look or sound foolish. (As if that ever stopped anybody from forming the same impression anyway!)

    I kinda think the ideal church size is somewhere between 6 and 1200. Assuming no organized persecution by government or something, if it isn’t big enough and known enough to be findable by the needy (physically or spiritually), and big enough to do something about it when the needs are identified (depends on the needs, yes?), then it’s too small to qualify as “church” in my world, though it may certainly be “part of the body”. It can get too big really quickly, though. Most really large churches would be better off splitting (maybe in more than two pieces) and doing it again. But that is distinctly not the norm, though there are pleasant exceptions here and there.

    It’s too hard for lots of people (in and out of church leadership) to release the good feelings they have about how big their church is, and just let go of it.

  10. Beth Henderson/Hoffman

    Aly: I stumbled across this site a few months ago and that night I read every one of your posts. Excellent stuff – and so fascinating to come acrossh a friend from RVA and be allowed a glimpse into some of your thoughts. I will be back frequently; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything you’ve written. Email me if you want to – it would be good to catch up.
    - Beth (Henderson) Hoffman

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