I once got talked into going on a Men’s Retreat that my then church sponsored by a friend of mine. It was held at the Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s grounds (unbeknownst to my church, my brother-in-law ran the camp, so it was also an excuse for some family bonding time). I’ve spent over a decades in singles ministry, so maybe I’m sensitive to these things, but rightfully, the Men’s Retreat should’ve been called the Married Men with Kids Retreat. All the issues discussed were struggles of the husband/father. Luckily, I guess, I was married and my friend engaged, but that didn’t help any of the single men that went. Thus, it was also more evidence in the case of how the church often makes “the family” and idol, a golden calf by another name. The church’s raison d’etre is not to secure the family, but that’s another rant.

My rant du jour begins with me taking my copy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War with me.

We were encouraged to bring books with us, along with our Bibles, and I was reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I have no problem being real at all times, but I figured why be overly provocative and tote anything with the words Stephen and King to the church retreat. So one time I find myself at a urinal stall, minding my own business, and this older gentleman sidles up to the adjoining stall. He sees my book then comments, “That’s not very Christian.” To which I respond, “I don’t think that it was meant to be. It’s an ancient war treatise.”

Keep in mind, I’m not one for bathroom chatter. I’m there to do a job then move on.

He then goes off, speculating on whether “they” used this book’s strategies during–what I could only assume from the names he rattled off–his tour in Viet Nam. I thought about debating the fact that most military people have read the book, and that the tactics espoused in the book were similar to those used by King David, but chose the better part of valor and frantically washed my hands and left.

And vowed to never attend another Men’s Retreat.

I bring that up because of a book that I’ve recently decided to pick up again. Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses. You see, ideally, the book governing the running of a church should be the Bible. Yet I’m convinced that this other, not very Christian, book says more toward the practical running of the church than anything else. Nothing proved more discouraging to my faith than getting caught up in the nuts and bolts running of a church. This was when I was a pastoral assistant, not even dreaming of one day helping to start and run a church. It’s one thing to go to church on a Sunday morning, enjoy the singing of praise music and a sermon from a gifted speaker and feel good about the church that you’re attending, as if that was all there was to a spiritual life. It’s quite another to see things up close and personal. To see elders squabble and debate, each trying to move their agendas or give voice to their constituents. To see different people vying for a greater role in things. To realize that this thing that I love so much is ultimately run by men. Very fallible men.

Sometimes I think that it’d be easy to be a Christian … if it wasn’t for other Christians. Or, as Ghandi put it, “I would become a Christian if they lived it.” I know that I seem like nothing but a church critic. That’s because I love the church and know that it is supposed to be a blessing to the world. I’m saddened in how poorly we’ve gone about being that.

All this was brought to mind as I am on this path to help start a church and how political things have gotten. Tread lightly here, if we hope to get money. Don’t speak to offend over there, lest no one join us. And be careful what you put on your blog, lest someone out to have evidence of my heresy print it out and wave it around at the next elder meeting.