The Sunday morning scene was familiar. As Sally attempted to get herself and the children ready and dressed for church, her husband Phil leisurely sipped his coffee and read the paper dressed in shorts and hiking boots. While Sally and the kids would spend the morning at church, Phil would be up hiking in the foothills. This was a pattern they had developed over the years and Sally had learned to rarely challenge the arrangement, but this particular morning she felt compelled.
“Why don’t you come to church with us this week?” she asked sweetly.
“Hon, we have been through this a thousand times. You go to church and I go hiking,” Phil responded.
“But I don’t go to church for fun or exercise, I go for spiritual reasons,” Sally retorted.
“That is exactly why I go hiking. I have told you that before. I feel more spiritual in the mountains. Communing with nature is a religious experience for me.”
“Going to the mountains is not the same as going to church” Sally said.
“It just isn’t; everybody knows that.”
Phil paused, breathed deeply, and asked, “Tell me again why you go to church?”
“Well,” Sally hesitated, “I get closer to God there. I learn about him and grow in my faith journey.”
“You keep using the same argument over and over,” responded Phil. “By your definition of church, I am experiencing the same thing in the mountains every week that you experience in church. I can do exactly what you are doing in church by myself in the foothills. I experience God there, through nature, and subsequently grow spiritually. I am quieted and centered there. I am a better person because I hike weekly! Until you can show me how church is uniquely different, I don’t see any reason to put on uncomfortable clothes and sit in a state of boredom two hours every week.”
“Well hiking isn’t church, no matter what you say,” Sally said, not hiding her exasperation.
“The mountains are my church and I’d love to have you and the kids come to my church every Sunday, but I don’t make you feel guilty when you don’t want to come,” he chided. Phil kissed her gently on the cheek as he headed out the door.