12 December 2006

Christian? Churchless?

Things I don't generally talk about with my parents (besides some of the obvious like my vices, and what turns me on about my husband):

1. Tattoos

2. My first two years as an undergrad (which included a considerable amount of partying and indulgence in vices, not much studying, and a very ugly incident between my mother and me. After 15 years, still makes me physically ill to think about it. Barf. Next subject.)

3. Church, even though it figures prominently in all of our lives. This is mostly between my dad and me and is mostly about the fact that I left the church I was baptized in. I can only gloss over what is not said between us on this subject on a public blog. If you know me and want the whole story, I'll share if you have an hour and a box of Kleenex.

I've covered #1 here already. If my parents read this I'm screwed in the breaking taboo conversation silence department.

I don't think I can say much more about #2 without gastro-intestinal disturbances at this time.

But I'm feeling all confessionally today, so let's talk about Church. The other day I said out loud that I was a Christian. I can't remember the last time I actually verbalized it. To think it and feel it is is one thing, and admittedly when I think and feel it there's a big question mark at the end there. But when I said it, I wasn't asking anyone. And while it felt good to say it with certainty, it felt strange, as if I just got off a plane at a destination that felt like home, but didn't look like home.
But there it is. The Jesus-following works for me. It's comfortable. It's homey. I grew up with it, I know the holidays and the rituals. It makes sense. I don't need to be initiated, and Jesus' basic message of love and humility makes for a happy life. It's not a unique message, but it's tried and true to me. No matter where my faith seeking takes me, I always come back to the fundamental belief of my youth.
But there's some discomfort in saying out loud "I am a Christian", even though I think it and feel it. In a nutshell, I struggle with the divinity of the Christ. I can't really articulate more than that, because I'm knee deep in the struggle. Even still, I'm still a Christian--not in a crisis of faith, but in a constant state of renewing and trying to grasp that faith. Ain't nothin' wrong with that, is there?
The other source of discomfort is that the church I've been attending for the past 4 years is in a state of chaos and disunity, and I feel most in communion with the Divine when I'm worshipping with others. They don't even have to have the same beliefs as I do. I just want the act of being in a community--helping your friends, loving your adversaries, bringing comfort and joy to those you touch. I've had a hard enough time finding a spiritual community, so it's hard to say whether I need to let go of this one, ride out the storm, or jump in and fix the foundation. I just don't have the spiritual energy to jump in any more. I need to focus on my kids and their spiritual needs, and I don't think they need a broken community right now.

I doubt my parents intended to create a seeker with a tendency to wander so high and low, but they did by giving my the choice to seek my own spiritual path. What a gift. My mom is Catholic, my dad is Church of Christ. They still go their separate ways every Sunday morning (and every Wednesday evening for my dad) My mother was raised a Baptist, but my grandmother converted to Catholicism as an adult, and so did my mother, one of her brothers, and one of her sisters. While my dad is not the spiritual wandering type, since my mom had been there, and was not about to convert to his faith upon marriage, they left the church choosing up to me. I went to Catholic school until 4th grade, and went to both churches all the time, sometimes twice in one day! There was a spell when my dad didn't go to church much, so when I wanted to go to his church my aunt took me. That church was in New York City. Who wouldn't want to go to New York City for church?, I loved church and Sunday School. I loved Mass when I went with my mother. I loved Jesus, and singing worship, and the Bible. I was baptised in The Church of Christ when I was 13. It was my choice, however influenced it might have been by others. The security of being baptised and formally initiated into a strong community stayed with me.
When we moved to Memphis, I said goodbye to that community. Every Church of Christ is different, and the ones we visited in Memphis were very different from Manhattan Church of Christ. They were either all white or all black, and they were much more conservative. So basically, once we moved to Memphis, I left The Church.
In that time I've tried on too many religion hats, none of which fit as well as the simple, ever questioning Christian of undetermined denomination. I majored in religion in college (post party years), which just made me a cynic. Not an agnostic or an atheist, just a cynic. Still, I don't think I ever stopped thinking of myself as a Christian.

I married a non practicing Quaker. I enjoyed Quaker meetings, but the lack of singing and the total silence just didn't feed me, and I didn't get much warmth from the congregation. That may have been a New England thing. I may have lived in New Jersey for a spell growing up, but at least 85% of me is a loud, huggy, smiley, Southern Gurl (who says "y'all" and "fixin' ta", and other Southernisms, especially when fuelled by alcohol.) It can't hurt y'all stoic Yankees to say "come back and visit" once in a while.
Then I started going to our local Unitarian Universalist church, and I was home. Then we got rid of our minister. I was on the Board at the time, and while a coup can be hard to define, his departure seemed to be egged on by a vocal minority, unfortunately. Things don't feel so homey any more. It sucks. Just when I thought I found my community, it turns dysfunctional. Part of me says, take a hiatus from church, commune with the Divine through other means. And that would be all well and good if I didn't have children who deserve a stable religious community.

There's a Church of Christ within walking distance of our house. I don't know conservative they are. One thing I am not is a conservative Christian. It would make my dad so happy if I went there, but this is something I just can't do to please someone else, no matter how much I love him, no matter how many walls it would break down between us. I guess if I don't go, I'll never know. But I don't want to go (see bottom link).
There's also an American Baptist church near Bea's school that's I've heard good things about, but I've heard nothing about the Sunday School. There's also the Catholic church, but I like going to Mass when my mom is here, Palm Sunday, and Ash Wednesday. I go for nostalgic reasons, and I'm not into the pope thing. I could also try the Episcopal church, and they have a good Sunday School program, too. I could shop around and find another church, but a community is its people, functional or not. I didn't choose my church for its dogma, or even lack of one. I chose it because of the people. Granted many of them are leaving, too.
To cut and run feels wrong. To stay the course is impossible, because there's no course. Bottom line, my kids need a stable, safe spiritual community, where they can be free to question, and disbelieve, or totally believe, so I guess I'm taking the year off.

This site may explain the reluctance and anxiety I feel when considering going to the type of church I was baptized in.
This one, too.


Parthenia said...

Here's an interesting article!

Philip said...

What a fantastic Christian upbringing. That would stop you getting 2 narrow in your beliefs!