Enough time has passed since I’ve written about religion to revisit it, right? I usually imagine blog readers running for the hills at the first whiff of a controversial subject… but controversy is not what I’m carrying around these days. Instead, I’m wandering through new spiritual territories with a backpack of honesty and little else, and you’re more than welcome to come along.
Church was one of the first topics I wrote about on this blog, and though we’ve changed continents and denominations in the meantime, little has changed. Our current church fits me like a glove… on my ear. A few of the points make actual contact with me—for instance, the friendly people and the bustling social functions—but the rest flops senselessly off the side of my head. Nothing about the services connects with me, not a single song or prayer or message. The only bit of liturgy I find meaningful is the entire congregation sharing a glass of wine and a loaf of bread. I love the unity it symbolizes (and relax, no one that I know has contracted a sanctified strain of mono as a result), though I think the original intent of the Lord’s Supper would translate better to sitting down to a meal together and reminiscing about Christ. (Side note: Dan and I once suggested doing that at our home in the States, which, heresy alert!!! Apparently, bread and Jesus are only compatible within church walls, officiated by an ordained minister. Our bad.)
The thing is, one can’t exactly be picky about churches in a country with extremely limited options. Unless we want to attend a Catholic church, which studies show would turn me into a prune within the month, we’re left with a missionary-run Baptist church (no offense to missionaries or Baptists, but ::shudder::) and ours—part of the Italian Brethren network. It is sincere and brim-full of warm-hearted people I’m thrilled to know… yet my Sunday mornings still trickle down the drain.
Here’s what I don’t need one drop more of: scare tactics, sin management, crucifixion details, calls to repentance, shadows of doubt, words found in the King James Bible, theoretical sermons, fire-and-brimstone, self degradation, righteous anger, controversy, squabbles over which side of the stage the piano is placed, “preacher voice,” hard-backed pews, clichéd sentiments (“God is in control,” anyone?), or legalism.
And here’s what I’m parched for: conversation, open minds, collaborative creativity, practical messages in a practical format, spontaneity, field work, fresh ideas, meaningful-now traditions, questions, answers (or at least journeys toward answers), committed honesty, acceptance without conditions, extravagant generosity, and a tribe of soulsiblings (as Rachelle would say).
Is sitting through three hours of Same Old Religion every week worth the friendships I gain as a result? I think yes, it is… but I sure wish I didn’t have to feign participation to be part of our church group. The role of charlatan doesn’t suit me. I think often about a friend of ours, a former pastor, who caught this strain of religious disconnect and couldn’t keep up the pretense. He publicly announced his doubts about God and left the church under a shower of criticism I can only imagine. I find his choice incredibly courageous, incredibly sad, and incredibly not for me; I’m not ready to cut loose from the church, no matter how it fails to inspire me. But what other options exist for those of us with hearts and minds split down the middle, wide open and raw in the fresh air, unsure where to go from there? If and when I ever figure it out, I’ll be sure to put up a trail marker.