Sunday, March 05, 2006

Something I Should Say Even Though I Have No Title

Today I thought quite a bit about being broken.

I decided very quietly a few days ago not to give up something for Lent. I decided instead to do something. I decided to go to church. Like I said, I decided quietly. I didn’t tell very many people. Probably because I wanted to leave myself space to back out but also because I didn’t want a rush of invitations. Those invitations are always awkward for me because although I love them and make a mental note of them, I don’t know when I can make good on them.

For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I am terrified of attending church again. It started years back and the years in between have seemed to always solidified that fear. Maybe that’s because (as the Rock Man said on the Harry Nillson album, The Point) “You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear, you dig?”. Here’s the list as best I can articulate it.

  • I have watched my home church slowly implode. They are working and scrambling to find the perfect program that will bring in the “right kind of people” and have in the process managed to decrease attendance and look really stupid. And, oh yeah, they fired my dad and then lied about it.
  • My Mother is a compulsive church-goer. She has given some of the best parts of her life to a congregation who doesn’t appear to appreciate the gift. As a result, we miss those best parts and the people who get them don’t seem to care.
  • I don’t fit the church demographic as I have known it. I’m single and I have yet to vote Republican. Sometimes it has felt that there isn't a place for me.
  • When they have places, they are singles groups.
  • And singles groups are by nature creepy.
  • Because I am not trolling the churches for a husband.
  • But plenty of guys are trolling the churches for a wife.
  • The bit of depression I deal with has done a number on my self esteem and sometimes it’s terrifying to put myself “out there” to new people. I do far better getting to know people when we work together at something I am good at
  • And I am not good at church
  • Because (and this is the most definitive answer I can find) church has always been a place where you have to be perfect
  • Or at least really, really, good.
  • And lots of times, I am just not.

I can give an answer for every single item on that list (so don't try to give me any, please.), but at Sunday morning wake up time, none of them hold water.

So I stopped going. I have stopped a couple of times. Once it was when some dear friendships came crashing down on me and a Sunday School class sort of dissolved simultaneously. Another time, there was a church split and change in pastors. There’s never been a great reason to leave, just somehow I would loose interest and spend a year or so out of the habit. This time, except for a two month stint visiting a church, it’s been about four years since I have regularly been to church. What’s funny is that I have managed to grow outside of the church. I have at times even felt so fulfilled that I tell myself I may never go back. Most of the time, however, I tell myself (and others) that I am “between churches”. Somehow, even though I have no concrete plan to return, I believe that.

So for Lent this year, it just didn’t seem right to give up some form of junk food. Sure, I need to go on a diet, but I don’t want to spiritualize my weight issues. I liked the idea of doing something positive for the season, so I decided to go back to church.

Somehow on the first Sunday of Lent, I didn’t wake up vomiting at the thought of going back. I wasn’t excited and I thought about staying in, but there was none of the vomity fear. So I got dressed (despite the wee sabotage I set by not planning my wardrobe) and headed out. I didn’t want to cash in on the several invitations that were extended. No one would mark “visitor brought” on their offering envelope on my account. No one would get points to their heavenly toaster oven (the one I am convinced you must win if you get me to your church). Today it would be private. I thought about visiting a new place, but the denomination would be new to me and this didn’t need to be the Sunday to think about when to sit or stand or say “debt” in the Lord’s Prayer when everyone else said “trespass”. I visited the last place I visited on my own because I had already broken the discomfort barrier there. They sing the songs we sang when I was a kid (and liked church) and it’s easy to slip in the back and smile back when people smile at me. They’re friendly, but they won’t come knocking on my door tomorrow night to have me join the women’s ministry. You might have something to say about whether that’s the type of church to join, but it’s a good one to visit when you just need to sit quietly with Jesus for a while.

So I did. I sat with Jesus for a while today. We’re talking about some stuff and I’ll tell you about it soon.


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

In addition to being a teaching, I'm an ordained minister--and church drives me more than slightly crazy too. Like you, I have yet to vote Republican. I'm glad you've been sitting with Jesus--the perfect democrat (small "d"). He's pretty companionably, isn't he? No pressure there, that's for sure. Do let us know, when you feel like it, what you learn from those intimate conversations.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

And, of course, at this hour of the morning, I can't spell either. I am definitely not a "teaching," but a "teacher"!

Streak said...

What’s funny is that I have managed to grow outside of the church.

I hear you.

Anonymous said...

what a wonderful post.
You have a nice soul.
God has something good for you
how exciting to know that!
single groups ARE creepy.

sweet potato.

Blair J. Andress said...

I totally understand. Like TeacherGuy, I am an ordained minister and a teacher. At the present, I am not serving a church... heck, we can't even find one to attend, much less work with. Thank you for being so open and transparent. The lack of similar openness and transparency is why I am so frustrated in many churches. Yours is refreshing...

The Queen said...


educat said...

Wow. I seem to have hit a nerve. I honestly have put words to some of this in my head but hadn't shared it. It's gratifying to hear all of this.

I will check out the blogs of the new commenters here and decompress from my day before I speak of my chat with Jesus. Quite frankly, I have had a day that has had me calling more to the Old Testament God to rain down fire upon my mean class. Let me get some air and I shall be kind again.

Jim Jannotti said...

Re: Your list of reasons. I hear ya.

Unknown said...

as a pastor, i have some real issues with the church, especially when it fails to be christ-like (which is often). being with jesus, however, is always good. spend as much time in his presence as you can and church will become, if not tolerable, at least less bearable : )

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I've felt more "Christ-like" after having left "organized religion" (insert melodramatic timpani beats here) than when I was there. Forging your own path is certainly lonely, whether you're single or not.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Sheridyn sent me here... and she was right. You succinctly & carefully lay out the fears, hurts & hopes of so many folks when it comes to dealing with institutionalized church.

As a pastor, I just want to apologize for our tendency to vallue conformity over authenticity and perfect exteriors over transformed interiors.

At the same time, I encourage you not to give up on church. It's kind of like sex. (Really... not kidding. Let me explain!)

Sex was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes a marriage more than simply a promise of respect; sex morphs marriage into an intimate alliance shot through with physical & emotional vulnerability. And we have managed to reduce it to a physical act/exchange of bodily fluids, casually used & abused & downgraded to an instinctual response used to sell hair care products & beer.

By the same token, church was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes following God more than a personal act of will; church gives us allies/friends/compadres to explore the physical & spiritual world with... iron that sharpens iron and, at it's best, brothers & sisters who mourn with those mourn & rejoice with those who rejoice. There is a tenderness & grace & vulnerability in an authentic Biblical community that make our hearts beat quickly & our spirits soar.

And, as you so beautifully related, we have managed all too often to reduce it to an elaborate play where we all wear Greek comedy masks, reciting lines we barely believe at each other. No wonder it sucks people like your mother dry... church can be a people-eating monster rather than a community of Christ-followers.

Well, didn't think I'd go off quite like that when I started this response. My prayer: that your Lenten experiment helps you find a place where there are no scripts, no masks, and the Director comes complete with grace, truth, & holes in His wrists & side.

educat said...

Thanks again for comments. I am noticing from my hit counter that several of you have arrived here via email links and that my story is being passed around as "a real look into the mind of the unchurched!". I welcome you to my mind but in order to really understand, I need you to scroll up this page, click the banner, and visit the home page.

See, this entry by itself isn't the whole story. Please read from the home page the entry on "Where I'm Starting" and "Extending The Metaphor". You need context and the continuing story. So don't let me see hits to this page from an email message and then no other hits.

Because I'm just not that simple.