Monday, October 28, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 3- Searching for the Church

Start with part 1  "When humility is destructive" and part 2 "How I left him and the church left me"

I walked out the door determined to find another church to attend. I wouldn't be so un-spiritual as to fail in attendance because of this, I thought, not realizing that this was merely parroting the ideas ingrained in me for so long.

Another "thing people do to prove they know God." Oh, the weight of living up to expectations! I was still wondering how to impress them, and they certainly expected me to attend somewhere even if they couldn't see fit to accept me themselves.

Some of my friends found me to give unexpected hugs and express shocked grief over the leaderships' choice. Others tried desperately to change my mind, fearful that I might accidentally destroy my relationship with God by following through. I even received a threatening, accusatory letter from a woman who I had always deeply admired for her sweet nature. I wasn't sure which of us was more surprised by the new insight into the other's character, but her words were like wildly flailing knives in my heart.

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My parents had given me a home to escape to, and they also kindly went with me to check out various churches. Each congregation had its own flavor, but they were all the same basic recipe.

My heart cracked further every time we walked through a new door. Sermon after sermon highlighted some element of the widespread mentality within the church. True Christians act like this ... or that ... no matter what, OR ELSE God would judge or condemn or destroy. I thought God didn't need to have much to do with this process, since the church had it well in hand.

A plastic smile became my guard against the all-too-cheerful greetings and questions. Genuine people looking for someone to convert to the faith? Could they make me like them? Would I join their community and become one of them? What was hidden behind these social niceties? Had this woman been abused earlier that morning? Had this man screamed at his wife in anger only hours before?

I told them the truth when they asked why I was visiting their church; that I was looking for a new place to worship after being asked to leave my prior church. It was interesting to watch their expressions go blank. Perhaps it was a bit cruel of me to shock them, but I didn't want to pretend to be a wonderful, plastic Christian. If they were going to despise me, they might as well just do it up front instead of coming at me from behind, later.

Eventually I settled for a large congregation where I could show up or not, without being noticed. I would find individuals and make friends, I thought. I'd be okay.

Only I wasn't okay.

Every preached word of misplaced judgement, negating each mention of love, and blocking potential understanding (words that had once slipped past as if I were mist) savaged my heart. How could anyone accept this angry, misaligned god who stood in threatening posture over the people, demanding they be content?

When the preacher actually said, "Jesus died so God could love us again," I stopped trying to attend, finally realizing why some very faithful people that I've admired don't go to church. I was spending all my time in services sorting through cluttered theological positions, all the while dripping blood all over their nice, clean, spiritual spaces. And nobody could possibly notice unless I stood in the midst of the congregation and purposely proclaimed my situation, loudly, to make sure they knew.

All my healing and growing was happening elsewhere, in a Church without walls or time-limits, within long, spiritual conversations with friends and strangers, and a constant flow of excellent blogs and books. I felt more interlinked with God than ever before, even without the local church structure. In fact, the church structure seemed more and more contrived, false, and fake the longer I searched for the reality. A lot of the love didn't seem so loving. It was very one-size-fits ... anyone who can squeeze between the restrictions.

I decided to live Church instead of looking for a box with that label to stand in.

Still, I wondered where I might find a church group that looked like Christ? Out among the wounded. Healing. Restorative. Welcoming. Kind. Protective of the abused. Standing in vocal and active rejection against pharisaic traditions and self-interested leaders.

The love shone in individuals within churches, but not in the overall teaching and atmosphere. I found it in individuals outside churches, too, as I constantly looked for that you-shall-know-them-by recognition.

Not all of them call themselves Christian, yet most seem to question God directly whether they believe or not. All seem clear about their imperfections and failings, yet focused primarily on simply doing what they can for others in spite of their limitations. Those I've found tend to be personal, awake, interested in life, non-judgmental, real ... exceptionally real.

I keep refining my vision of what Church should look like, then questioning whether I am living that way myself. It is so easy to want others to live this way toward me and the world around us without looking at my own actions and interactions.

Perhaps all I can do is be the Church I want to join and appreciate any good I find, wherever it may be.

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Starting next Monday I'll be posting a series on Fleeing Self-Contained Certainty, where I examine my observations and the tools I have been given to be/come the Church ... well, those I've discovered already.