Its with some fear and trepidation that I begin this post. Sybil is upstairs screaming that people may misunderstand my heart on this one, but its something that's been brewing in me for some years now. Soooooooo, here goes.
About six years ago, it became my steadfast prayer that God would lead me into the truth. Of all the prayers that have gone unanswered, this one could not be counted as one of them. It's not been answered simply, or without pain that I never heard anyone at a conference warn me about. Do I have a handle on truth now? Do I have my mantra and theological statement neatly printed, bound, and tucked under my arm for easy reference? This is the greatest mystery of all. As mentioned several trillion times before, the more I learn, the less I know for sure. And what I know for sure is that He is good, likely bigger than I'd imagined, and probably controversial. I know its not my place to decide if I'm right, or you're right, or if they're right. Even if I had the whole theology thing tidy, and I'd take out my pointer for you, it would be entirely a waste of time unless that pointer would be held in a trembling and sweaty hand, knowing that the words coming forth were done so simply because I'd offered myself up as an intrument.
One of the themes along the way these past years has been hearing of people's sense of disillusionment with the organized church. Too showy. Too churchy. Too fake. Too hypocritical. Too happy. Too morbid. Too boring. Too isolating. Too pushy.
Then there was the church's frightened comebacks: the floats in the Saturday morning parades filled with ridiculously happy people dancing to loud Christian music and waving plastic palm branches and placards about determinedly. "So, you think church is boring?" they screamed, hoping to convince the dirty commoners below that they did indeed know how to have a good time. One or two of them might have worn a "Coors Lite" t-shirt, just to prove how easy they were to relate to. I wanted to squirm and duck. I felt embarrassed that our insecurity was that obvious.
If the peppy music didn't bring them in, how about small groups? This one made a bit of sense. People could meet, be relational, help meet one another's needs, bring others into community by living out the concept of loving your neighbor. I'd always wanted to have the nerve to use my former life as an eating disordered shattered person who learned how to put the pieces back together, so I optimistically packed up and headed out to Calgary for a huge "Small Group Conference". (Woo Hoo!!)
Once there, I waded through rooms and rooms full of literature that decoded every little thing God had ever said or even thought about saying or thinking. I ran into a woman I recognized from life-before-kids. She had hated me then, but now she was all grown up and leading small groups in her church with her husband. I signed up for some seminars. I'd come here for direction and chose my discussion groups accordingly. I had to run to the bathroom a great deal since I was pregnant with our third child. From within the stall, I overheard grown-up small-group leader tell her pretty friend something nasty about me. My first sigh of many.
We filed into the sanctuary to begin the day with worship and singing. I immediately recognized the leader as a man who had been busted for cheating on his wife, so he'd vacated town and church quickly and quietly, shaking our dust off his sandals as he went. I didn't remember any resolution to that minor lapse in morality, but it seemed that he'd found his way back to pointing us all to God. *sigh*
Off to my first seminar. An hour in, I wondered if I should go and recheck the label on the door. This was all about projections, visualizing, and then making things happen. We saw impressive mathematic formulas of how many times we'd have to do fund-raisers in order to build wings onto our church buildings. Growth, growth, growth, is what this thing was all about. And personal growth was not a prerequisate for this kind of gardening. It didn't sound as if we'd need a big, controversial God in any of this either. It was a lot tidier than that, all laid out in formulas on the whiteboard. I excused myself to go have a nap on the empty nursery floor. The smell of baby wipes and dirty carpet had a more honest scent about them.
I never was much of a small group leader.
The deeper I dig into this church post, fearing that I may begin to choke on my foot, fearing that I may be buried alive.... the more I recognize that unless you've come here to read a novel, there is no way that I can write this and call it a "post". We'll have to call it a mini-series. Maybe we could have a cell group about it or something.....
I actually LOVE church. For the first eighteen years of my life, I went to the dullest, most legalistic, drab, uninteresting church in the history of homo escapeons. And I loved it. I loved the familiar, the richness of tradition, roles, consistency. I loved the sincerity that I caught glimpses of there. I loved the swish of ladies in their girdles, squirming, sweating, staring at the wall clock and worrying about the chicken dinner over-cooking. I loved the tidy pews, the unused choir "loft", the tone whistle that the farsinger used to start us off on an endless hymn with no notes. The sermons were dreadful and dull, but I loved watching the man, farmer by week, preacher on Sunday morning. I enjoyed hearing his wife's loud snoring as well...
I went some years without really going to church that much at all. It was all so complicated. The preachers were having affairs, and lying about it; the people were all very pretty and talked about Jesus a lot but they were terribly hostile and intimidating. Then if you got involved at all, you became subject to long speeches about "commitment" and how to "just DO it" and developing "leadership skills". Sometimes you'd get sent home to change for coming to worship team practise wearing the wrong colours. Tiresome really.
That's all behind me now. Now I'm to the point where I also tire of hearing people fight about God's love. I just don't get it.
I go to church now, and I cry whenever possible. The cheaters and the fat people link arms with the pretty people and the faithful ones. We laugh and cry and eat together. Sometimes we'll bring a pizza to someone who looks hungry. Or maybe we'll throw some money into a dish to pay for a funeral. When we sing, I let my arms do what they want to. I sing with my whole body: the sound of the mysteries fills me up and overwhelms me. I wish this honesty for the cheating preacher, the horny music pastor, the self-righteous small group leader, the business men from the seminar.
I volunteer for nothing organized. I listen to that still small voice and shut my ears to propoganda of being so godly that more people will want to come into church and we could build a wing in red brick or something.
And my heart aches for all the misunderstood, broken, passed over whom the church has trampled over to reach those almighty projected numbers.