Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Church Lady Gone Bad

I love blogging - you (sort 0f) meet the most fascinating people. Today I've found an excellent blog by an Episcopal priest (http://thinkbenzen.blogspot.com/), who has a way with words and an unexpected reading list that goes from theological philosophy to sci-fi. My kind of Guy of God.

Side-note: My last two books aren't exactly in the same suit either: Bump and Run by Mike Lupica, and No Mercy: A Journey to the Heart of the Congo by Redmond O'Hanlon.

It made me consider my own theological life, which has been pretty quiet lately. I usually like to hook up with a church when I move to a new town. I like to talk about God, drink bad coffee, eat potluck food made with hashbrowns and cheese, sing in the choir and avoid babysitting duty, so I usually fit right in. But past events have really dampened my enthusiasm for trying new churches, so since I moved from Tualatin, a suburb south of Portland, Oregon, to downtown Vancouver, on the other side of the Columbia in Washington (Washington state for you geography drop-outs), I haven't really bothered looking for a suitable church.

When I was just a little bug, one of the babysat, my parents went to a great church (and by great church, I mean the community, not the baby-blue building with the faulty locks - fodder for another posting) with a great minister. Great as in having all the requisite qualities of a true man of God: 1) a grasp of the Bible received through extensive education and not just from one-on-one conversations with the Big Guy, 2) a questioning, open mind, and 3) an aura of, I don't know, not holiness, but love - maybe just a genuine fondness for people.

An early memory will help illustrate my theological upbringing: I remember asking my dad once, when I was snuggled up in bed, about why the Bible says we came from Adam and Eve, and the books I was reading (okay, I was a little precocious) said we evolved over millions of years. My dad, bless him, said that the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible were told over the years to explain things to people in terms that they would understand. And just maybe the story in Genesis wasn't so much a news story describing the true events leading up to the forming of man as much as God's way of explaining true things about the nature of man. This is the sort of theology I was exposed to as a young'n, and one that has stuck with me ever since.

I, as I was a midget at the time, have only a murky vision of what went wrong at the church. What I know is that our great minister resigned so that the church would not fight over him anymore.

It seems to me that it is usually number 2 in the list of prerequisites for great pastors (a questioning, open mind) that usually kills the buzz that you can sometimes experience for a short time in a great church. There are always those in a congregation that equate a questioning mind with doubt. And doubt with a faulty faith.

Anyway, that sort of hippy theology has understandably narrowed my choices of churches over the years. When we settled in a town in Central Oregon, I found another great minister. He had all the prerequisites with a bonus of a wonderful way with a story. I'm telling you, that first sermon, when he both quoted parts of the New Testament from the original Greek, and then wove in an analogy using The Velveteen Rabbit, I was sold.

I joined the church, even though my liberal-tinged views did not always mesh with the views of the majority of the other church members. I learned a lot from the parson, and was happy singing in the choir and taking notes during sermons.

As with most of the protestant churches during this period, the congregation got older and started worrying about the death of the church. And instead of, oh, relaxing the rule about women's role in church services (the joke was "sure, a gal can be behind the lectern, as long as her voice is going up and down"), or maybe not singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" (scary and evocative of Crusaders galloping towards another successful slaughter) so much, they started talking about a youth minister to bring in a younger crowd. Knowing full well that our church could not afford both an "old" minister and a "new" minister, our parson took an early retirement. So much for learning at the feet of the master.

The new youth minister did not have the same educational background, or storytelling skills, or fondness for people. Church became a rather schizophrenic mix of groovy worship songs (use Cartman's recipe: take a love song and replace the word "babe" with "Jesus"), old organ music, old men, and sermons, energetically given, but thudding to the carpet like dead birds. I checked out.

The next church in Tualatin? A promising minister, but with a church community so clubby, clique-y and cemented in place, Drew and I could stand around for the full coffee fellowship hour without so much as making eye contact with any of them. It was excruciating.

So here I am, two years later and no church. It's just too risky. And church hunting has never been a team effort. Drew is one of those people who, maybe because of an early near-death experience, or maybe because he chats with God under his fire helmet, or maybe because he just doesn't think so much, feels so confident in his faith that he feels no need to sit in church and prop it up for another week. I do not have that sort of faith. Without a little weekly strengthening, my faith tends to slide, which usually leads to sleepless nights, thinking dark, ugly thoughts. But am I ready to try again? No. Maybe not for a long time. I don't know why going to the wrong church is so icky. It just is. So instead of dressing up and trying again, I will annoy you. Sorry. I'll stop.

In the meantime, though, I've found a killer sermon on a blog. Thanks, Ben. See you in heaven. I'll save you some brownies.

5 comments:

Ben said...

You're welcome, and I look forward to brownies, especially now that I've given them up for Lent (one of those mostly silly, old-church things that I find ironically meaningful).

...e... said...

Church lady, you can join Blogging Episcopalians, I won't tell if you don't. You'll probably find some more cool stuff there (more stuff, not more cool :-) There's a link on Ben's page.

Dean said...

No shame in finding your own path; whether it's around the world, around your brain, or towards the chocolate at the end of the rainbow. Also no shame in asking for a guide (regardless of supposed directional ability). Don't let anyone hold you back from finding what you need.

Roger said...

Been there, done that...
May God bless you on your journey!

Scottishpeace said...

Hope you'll stop by for a visit! Love the title of your blog, and the content!