***DISCLAIMER: What follows is not meant to offend anyone, but I’m well aware that this subject--religion, faith, whatever--can be touchy. If I say something that offends you, please accept my apologies and then tell me. I don’t want to hurt anyone in these pieces and as always, I am ALWAYS up for a good discussion if you feel like there’s something specific you want to address. It’s best to approach the situation like this--to quote one of the greatest theologians of our time, “Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man...” (Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski)
If I never went to another traditional church service for the rest of my life, I’d be happy. It’s not that I think church is bad per se, but after spending the first eighteen years of my life going to every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, Bible study, prayer meeting, church garage sale, church clean-up, Easter play practice, Christmas play practice, youth lock-in, youth lock-out, weekend revival, church camp, weekend retreat, and potluck dinner ever offered, I can safely say I’ve served my time. (I continued to attend--and serve!--in churches on a regular basis throughout college, and until the last year, I would have always considered myself a regular attendee, even if I did miss a prayer meeting or potluck here or there.)
|FYI: You should always pray in cowgirl boots because you never know when you might need to round up some demons.|
My “spiritual life” (whatever that means) has undergone significant changes (as I believe everyone’s should over time) and in the last couple of years, I’ve shed my Protestant guilt and allowed myself permission to be okay with not going to church. Don’t get me wrong--I have MANY fond memories of my time in church. Of the eight people I chose to stand with me as attendants and Scripture readers in my wedding, seven of them were “life-long” church friends (the eighth was my husband’s sister). To this day, the first people I call after my parents when anything significant (good or bad) happens in my life are the friends I grew up with because we attended the same church.
On the other hand, it has taken me YEARS to work through some of the feelings I have about other people I went to church with and about “the Church” as a whole. It’s not so much that I’m bitter or harboring unforgiveness--I have just been frustrated and disappointed too many times to count, and despite my efforts to give the Church the benefit of the doubt over and over and over and over and over, nothing seems to ever change. (I should make an important distinction here--God and I are still tight--I’m just over being used and abused by his people.)
|Um...this might also have something to do with why I have issues.|
My willingness to forgive and start over in the church world has actually been the definition of insanity on some level. I have tried to approach my relationship with the church delicately and with as much love and grace as possible--I’ve tried going to small churches, big churches, and megachurches. For most of my life, I described myself as non-denominational or interdenominational, but in recent years, I don’t necessarily appreciate the stigma that sometimes gets attached to those words. For what it’s worth, I’ve been a Presbyterian for the last five years (the denomination in which my husband was born and raised).
There is obviously a much longer story to be told, and I’ll probably eventually talk more about who and what brought me here, but for now I’ll just say this. My frustration stems from both the actions of individuals and the attitudes of the collective. I have witnessed abuse of power, “moral corruption,” lack of social responsibility, hypocrisy, and intense hate on such a phenomenally grand scale--and all from an institution (made up of individuals) who purport to love God and love others as themselves.
|Youth pool party or Dr. Pepper ad? Not sure. This was back in the day when we went to summer camp to meet nice Christian boys. I kissed one, but she married the camp counselor--hahahaha!!!|
The reason I’m blogging about this is two-fold. I don’t write about anything because I think I’m unique--I write from the hope that someone else out there will say, “Hey! I’ve been thinking that too lately!” I know without a shadow of a doubt that there are countless people who will connect with this on some level (which makes me really sad).
The second reason I’m blogging about this is to highlight a bright spot in my “spiritual journey” (again, whatever that means). As I already mentioned, I have been attending a Presbyterian church for the past five years here in Charleston. We originally started attending the church because I found it in the Yellow Pages, and it had the same name as the church my husband attended his whole life. (That makes as much sense as any reason to try a church, right?)
The services are waywaywayway too traditional for my taste, but the church is very active in community outreach, which trumps what kind of music they play any day. (I rarely have to sit through a service, anyway, because I was usually working in the nursery at first and then helping with other various projects later.) There are also a lot of old people in the congregation, so any of the activities involving food are AWESOME (which is reason enough to become a member of a church, too).
|My first Sunday school class. I'm the one in the red tights. I officiated the wedding of the girl on my left this summer.|
Something new to me was going to Sunday school. Raised in evangelical churches, we didn’t have Sunday school in the traditional sense after elementary school. So, for the first time ever, I joined a Sunday school class--one that meets before church on Sunday morning, made up of people around the same age and stage as me. After some of the negative experiences I’ve had at this church, this Sunday school class is essentially the reason I haven’t left the church completely. (This, and the fact that Will’s Sunday school teachers and the nursery workers who watch Ben are modern-day saints!) To me, the relationships I’ve built, the support I’ve received, and the way we have been able to live and serve together is what church should be.
I was feeling particularly negative about the situation in general right before Christmas when we went to dinner with some friends from our Sunday school class. I told them that when we returned from our visit home, I just didn’t think I was going to be able to keep coming to church every Sunday. With Scott gone, I didn’t have anyone to make me get out of bed, and the negativity I felt in being around certain people was just too much for me to handle. We would just have to meet outside of church for dinner and play dates for the kids.
However, once we went home for the break, I started thinking about how it might be harder for me to not have that constant contact with some of our closest friends while Scott was gone. Then, I got an email with the details about what we would be studying, and I decided I better give Sunday school another chance (even if I didn’t go to the regular service).
For a significant portion of my life, I was a daily Bible reader. As a child, any time I woke up early, I would find my mom drinking coffee in the living room, her Bible open before her. I grew up in evangelical churches, where “daily devotions” were very much a part of everyone’s Christian walk. It’s been several years since I practiced this habit, but I believe that reading the Bible, when done meditatively with an open heart can be life-altering or at the very least, a great start or finish to the day.
Our Sunday school class decided to follow a Bible in 90 Days plan for this semester. When I heard, I felt torn. I’ve read the Bible in its entirety maybe ten times? Fifteen? Who knows? Did I really want to commit to doing that again? And did I want to do it in 90 days? I mean, that’s pretty serious. But part of me was actually really excited for the challenge, and what better time to do it than when my husband is gone, leaving me with all kinds of free time? I texted the guy who was leading the class and asked if I needed to pick up any materials ahead of time. He said to just show up, and I’d get everything there.
So, we started the study on January 9th, and my plan for the next 90 days is to blog on Sundays about what I’ve noticed/learned/laughed about/gotten mad about during my weekly readings. We are literally reading the Bible straight through from cover to cover, so we’ll see if I can actually finish. I mean, I’ve certainly got the time, but geez...there are some parts that are going to be tough.
Last week, our class met, and I would say that 4 out of 25 people had read the Bible in its entirety. Several people said they had read most of the New Testament, and several others said they had read a good portion. A few people said they couldn’t find any particular book of the Bible if their lives depended on it. The class is probably made up of a ratio of 4:1 women to men (no surprise there), and we range in age from 30s to 70s. I am really looking forward to completing this challenge with such a diverse group of people.
Here’s a breakdown of some of my thoughts from this week’s readings, which included the books of Genesis and Exodus (from this point forward, the rest of my posts in this vein will basically just be what is from here down):
- Okay, the creation story was always one of my favorites when I was little--the images are so vivid, and I love the idea of “something” coming from “nothing,” one “day” at a time. I always kind of pictured it a little like the cinematography in What Dreams May Come. As an adult, I still enjoy the narrative, and the “scene” where God asks Adam and Eve “Where are you?” gets me every time. He’s not asking because he doesn’t know--I mean, he put them in the garden of Eden, but he’s asking because he wants to know how they got from a place of innocent bliss to realizing they’re naked. It’s such a personal moment. Unfortunately, this story is tainted for me because of the way it is used to a) fuel angry arguments about creationism vs. evolution, b) define male/female societal/maritial roles, c) and condemn gay people.
- I just don’t get why people want to use the Bible to “prove” their opinion (most of the time to people who are never going to change theirs) about how the earth and everything on it was created. I have friends who LOVE to talk about this. I just think it’s a colossal waste of time.
- I could fill pages and pages and pages and pages about my feelings about gender roles in reference to the church, but for now, I’ll just say this: women are not inferior to men, and nothing makes me more livid than theology that supports a (c)overt agenda that says otherwise.
- Also, if you have ever said something to the effect of “it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” we should probably not be friends.
So, to get back to my original disclaimer, I just wanted to share some of my observations. One thing I’ve realized is that reading the Bible this quickly does not leave a lot of room for reflection or searching for lessons in the way reading it more slowly would. I mean, if I got any lesson out of these readings, it would be: don’t make God mad because you never know when he’s going to smite you, and make sure you’re hanging out with the right people because sometimes he smites people just because they hang out with the wrong people. Oh, and don’t beat pregnant women--I picked that one up right around the part where God tells us how to treat our slaves. (What do people who have never read the Bible think about this stuff?)
Next week, we’re reading Leviticus, Numbers, and.........................oh sorry, I nodded off...part of Deuteronomy. Wish me luck! (Whose idea was this???)