Friday, February 22, 2013

Losing a friend

It was at the beginning of a comment, the offhanded phrase that left me stunned at its unexpectedness from that quarter: I don't believe in God any more.  I was off balance all day, literally; I kept catching myself on walls and desk corners.  Whenever there was a quiet moment, I was melancholy, more deeply saddened than I would have thought, at this loss.  We will remain casual friends who knew each other better once, but something is different now, like a missing tooth.

I asked what led her to that decision, and the answer was reason.  She found herself with some new premises and realized that if she believed them, logically she couldn't believe in God.  This seemed weird to me because it's not really how I'm set up, but when I thought about it in relation to her, to how she operates, it made sense.  She has always been a person of fact over emotion and logic over experience.  It makes sense that thinking logically led her away from the God of the Old Testament who surely seems a being of emotions (many of them negative).

I am reading Ezekiel right now, and there are definitely times where I feel the cultural gulf and the discomfort of an alien way of thinking.  I read certain passages and think, well, this part probably really offends this group of people.  I wonder, how do I reconcile this?  Then I go to bed and pray for people. 

Perhaps this means I am an intellectual coward, someone too afraid to dig in mentally because I think my faith will be lost on the path of reason.  Perhaps it means something else entirely.  Perhaps it means that I am able to see the Old Testament as story told by man about God in a different way than she does.  Perhaps it means I can divorce what the New Testament God says from what He says in the Old Testament (which took place in very different times).  Perhaps I don't really know what it means but am glad for it anyway.

I find myself wondering what she thinks of the God of the New Testament.  I understand how people read these two collections and think there must be two different beings involved because the one in the Old Testament doesn't seem much like the one in the New Testament at all.  In the New Testament, He is embodied, walking among us, teaching different things about how we are to live our lives, and then there are letters from those who knew Him and/or those who followed his teachings.  And then there's Revelation (equally as mind-blowing as Ezekiel).

Anyway, I found myself thinking about how we refer to people who no longer believe in God.  They have "strayed from the path" or "lost their faith."  At first I thought I didn't like these phrases; they are Christian cliches, almost devoid of meaning.  A former classmate of mine has refused to ditch Christian cliches as worthless and has chosen instead to study them and remake them into meaningful communication again, to find and redeem them.  In the interest of following her example, I decided to do the same, and I realized that even though people usually say these cliches as an end (as if once you are lost or strayed, you are as good as dead), I think they really could be seen and used as hopeful.  If they have been on the path, there is a possibility they could find their ways back; if they are lost, they can be found. 

I pray it may be so.

Monday, February 18, 2013

There is no going back, only forward

There's a man in my small group who is older than me and is one of those sunny, happy, jolly, slightly oblivious people very much like good-natured, adolescent puppies.  When some of us begin talking honestly about the flaws in our church, it makes him sad.  His wife says that before he met us, he was unaware that our church had any warts.  And that is okay.  I think it is just fine for him to see and praise the positive things in the church, to be so focused on what he can do to help that he doesn't notice that things aren't even close to perfect.  People that see the church like he does are necessary to keep the church body from exploding under the forces of cynicism and discontent (or continue to splinter until every building was its own denomination).  Frankly, I sort of envy him his way of looking at the church.  I wish I could go back to the time when I was that positive about the church.  I liked myself and the church better back then.

I want to go back before I thought that my church was too big to be a family, too wealthy and suburban to give a crap and organize to help hurting and broken people in need inside the body and in the surrounding community.

I want to go back to the time before I tried to make a difference and got involved and became a member and tried to fit into the communion of the saints even though it was more like the brunch at the country club, before I tried to improve things and got stonewalled or tried to participate but couldn't stand the crappy Baptist choir CCM after all that glorious Latin in the mini-cathedral at my previous doctrinally unsound church, before I joined a small group of very nice young ladies who were single and very nice and as bland as a Scandinavian casserole and so shy and slow about saying anything real or honest that I just couldn't take it anymore, before I gave up on attending Sunday services at all, before I despaired of ever being able to minister in any biblical way in my local body and accepted that "leading" a small group of quirky, interesting people was all I was going to get from this fellowship. 

I want to go back to the time before I picked my current church because the doctrine they preached was acceptable to me and would pass muster with my alma mater in case I got the chance to try to teach there and because it was so big that no one would bother me when I snuck into the back always late and dressed shabbily and no one even noticed me because there were just so many people who attended and because it didn't demand anything of me when I had absolutely nothing left to give from the bottom of my well of chronic pain, exhaustion, and discouragement. 

I want to go back to before I had to leave the beautiful neo-Gothic church with the amazing organ and the outstanding chancel choir, before the organist got booted even though she was incredibly talented and passionate because she was "too high-church" for the powers-that-be, too invested in beauty and the meaning of rituals to let things slide, before I realized that I couldn't stay in a place where they preached doctrine that just didn't jive with the Bible as I interpreted it. 

I want to go back to before college, where the church choices were limited and terrible for shy folks without vehicles, before it became somewhere I went because I didn't want demerits, before it became a soul-sucking experience you survived, so you could go to Sunday lunch in the cafeteria, which was always excellent. 

I want to go back to how I saw my church before all those crazy, passionate, Jesus freak college kids got older, before they took down all the lovely and rough art created by congregation members, before they redecorated so things looked expensive and fancy (including the chairs), before everyone grew up and moved away, and there were only strangers there. 

I want to go back to the time before I had to avoid my best friend because she didn't want anyone else to know we hung around a lot outside of school and church, before our pastor committed adultery, before I realized that the other churches in our town treated ours with derision because it was founded by a bunch of fumbling college kids who got saved in the Jesus movement and tried to follow the Bible by making a church, man, because they were so in love with Jesus and His people. 

I wish I were back in that time before I knew too much, back when church was just a good and safe place full of adopted, extended family who loved to sing and praise the Lord for hours and pray for my mom for years while she was dying and make terrible pasta dishes for us when she was in the hospital and just generally generously help each other. 

I want to go back. 

But the only way out is forward and through. 

And I was not called to be successful, just to try, to keep trying, to keep going and never completely lose hope in this beautiful, messy, too-human, flawed, filthy, in-the-process-of-redemption body of which I am part whether I really like them or not.  (Family is always like that.)  Sometimes, it's just really hard. 

Maybe it's a good thing that I am pathologically incapable of quitting forever.  Maybe that just means I grind myself down faster against the rough edges of the folks around me. 

Maybe it means I long for heaven, for future perfection, for complete redemption that much more.  Some day.  Hope.  Keep walking forward, one foot in front of the other.  Be glad when when people walk beside me.  Be gracious when they fall and trip me and send me sprawling (and pray they do the same when Ifall).  Don't spend too much time looking back.  Walk on.

When church membership is more like country club membership

When I became a member of this church (so I could work at my alma mater if I ever had the chance), the folks interviewing me seemed very anxious to tell me that they didn't have any expectations that I would serve within the church just because I was a member.  Most people spent their time supporting ministries outside of the church, and that was just fine with the church, they assured me anxiously, like they thought I would leave if I was actually expected to DO SOMETHING (in addition to all the work I had to do to get to that point).  They sold it like a benefit to get a candidate to take a job when there was another comparable offer being made elsewhere.  It made me pretty uncomfortable, to be honest.  What church lets people join and says, "We don't expect you to take your membership seriously or, like, do anything biblical or anything"?

After I expressed my frustration about this recently, a friend who has had lots of struggles with church people said maybe the church wasn't where my ministry would be.  I had pretty much reached that conclusion myself.  I've got two really attractive options I've been looking at for a while.  I made one last try at my church, and apparently there are no orphans, widows, or single parent families (which frankly seems to be the modern equivalent) in my church who need my gifts.  You know what?  That's a lie.  I call shenanigans.  I know there are people who could use my help, my gifts, my talents.  I just have no way of connecting with them, and the church leadership apparently does not consider them a priority.  (No lie, the leadership decided that they wanted to put all their efforts and money into nuclear family ministries, so tough noogies for singles, couples with no children, poor people, single-parent families, and everyone else outside of that particular group.)

Is it really so wild for me to feel like my church should be doing things for the orphans and widows who attend?  Like actively seeking out the members and knowing them and knowing their needs and doing something to help since the Bible is pretty clear about our responsibilities to these groups of people in our midst as the church.  I mean, is it really outrageous to think it should be standard for a church to do biblically commanded things like take care of their orphans and widows?  Or am I being silly and stubborn and unrealistic by demanding this happen in/through the church when I could just as easily go to a place where these needs are addressed by civil bodies?

I want to do the right thing, but it seems like my church just isn't interested.  Obviously, this means I'm in the wrong church.  (I'm looking for other options.)  I'm just so disappointed that these fallible humans have failed me again.  : )  Is this like the fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, or is that really too cynical?  I know we are strangers and pilgrims not of this world, people just passing through, but it hurts when the church only intensifies that feeling.

Maybe I just need to think of it as getting side-tracked on a quest and needing to get back out on the road in search of other opportunities.  Maybe that can keep me going for a while.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Breaking up is hard to do

I'm trying to compose a break-up letter to my school to explain why I won't be making any more charitable donations to them, but it's surprisingly hard.  I don't want to sound petty or unreasonable.  This might be difficult because I'm still not convinced I'm not being petty and unreasonable.  Am I acting like the child who feels betrayed because he has discovered that adults are fallible humans or am I behaving like an adult who has looked at things rationally and decided she would rather give her money to organizations that aren't behaving (in her opinion) shamefully.  Am I being like my mother and being more concerned about appearances (the school's behavior is embarrassing me, and this is how I can punish them) or more like myself (taking a principled stand against unprincipled behavior)?  Am I being reasonable, or am I carping about the Emperor's New Clothes in the middle of a nudist colony?

Who knew I was such a coward about breaking up?  It's been three weeks since I made the decision.  I'm tired of putting this off, trying to think up the perfect way to explain, avoiding the internet because I don't want to read any more about these disasters and their aftermaths.  I think maybe I will just tell them I'm discontinuing my financial support.  If they want reasons, maybe then I will write up my list.  Maybe.