May 19th, 2006

andromeda

church chat

Marc and I joined this group at church for new-ish members to discuss how our church is doing, and it's got me thinking a lot, and it's cool. One of our discussion topics this week involved having everyone share their history of going to church (or not going to church) and how different churches handled their needs (or didn't handle our needs) at different times at our lives. What it did was remind me why I picked the church that I did.

In high school I was really spiritual and involved in the youth group at the church my family had selected. I liked being involved because I'm a doer, really, so youth group was great for that, but that was all it was great for. I was reading the Bible at the time... I'd started with Genesis, which, for any of you wondering, is a miserable way to read the Bible, but whatever.

The deal there was that I had a LOT of questions. The more I read, the more questions I had. Why would God promise never to flood the world after he did it, does that mean he regretted it? does that mean He's not perfect? Why are all the women only judged based on their ability to have sons? Did God make our whole half of the population to be so many steps down on the ladder? What's with all the anger and wrath?

I am not the first person to ask any of these questions, but nobody at my church was really interested in talking about them. They basically told me I was thinking too much, and the important thing is that the love of Jesus saved us all. "You're saved! Don't worry, you're saved! Isn't that great? You're saved!"

Okay... when it comes to my retirement plan, that's a good enough answer. I'm putting in money, I put in about what the rest of the population puts in, I don't really care how well it's doing or how it all works, someone else can handle it. But I'm not comfortable with that answer when it comes to religion. There were deep, nagging issues I had, and I didn't feel like anyone at that youth group cared a cent about what those issues were.

Flashforward ten years... I'm at my new church. It's smaller, in a less wealthy area. I'm in my sunday school class and we're talking about money, and I confess to the group that money is one of those major religious issues for me. I had a 600 square foot apartment all to myself with furniture and a stereo... in a lot of countries, there's no way I'd get that, I'd be lucky to be sharing it with seven people, but just because I'm an American, born to parents who believe in college, and born with a brain to get the job I have, I get all this. Everything I bought for that place made me feel awful, even though I was donating to the church, I knew that Jesus called people to give everything up, and just because no one else is actually taking that seriously doesn't mean I'm doing the right thing.

So I brought this up in my Sunday school class, around a lot of people who actually own houses and have a nicer car than I do, and I was so afraid they'd give one of the two stock church answers: 1) "Don't worry, you're saved! God knows you're doing your best!" (even though I'm not) or 2) "Just give the church money until you feel better." (that's almost the answer the christianity people gave me here... they were like, "Well if you're so rich that you had to worry about this, you're right, you might be in spiritual trouble." They're using COMPUTERS to tell me this, mind you, computers that if sold could feed and educate a dozen children in a third world country. it really pissed me off.)

But these people in my class didn't say that. We had a long conversation about balance and giving and by the end I really felt like I wasn't so alone anymore. In fact, after class, one couple came up to me personally and said, "Thank you for bringing that up, we struggle with that, too, it's not a simple answer. We do our best to try to live as examples in the sphere we're in, with the tools we're given, and we're not kidding ourselves about the fact that we could give more and live on less, but we're looking for a balance. We know that buying a house and inviting church friends to it doesn't mean we bought the house for godly purposes, even if it sometimes gets to serve as that, we're honest with ourselves. Maybe we should give up our nice jobs to go live off the land and sew our own clothes... we don't have a good explination for why we don't do that, but we think about it, and a lot of times the struggle is what counts and tells us we're doing something right."

I told that story to my group this week and everyone nodded, and said, yeah, we all have that in common, that need to ask questions and not be ignored or written off. It's about more than being saved... it's about wanting to be more than what you are here. And maybe that's why we're not all jumping on the wagon to save the homos and keep the teenagers from having sex... in the long run, those are shallow issues, and we're not here for that.

Marc said the weirdest thing about our church was that he'd been invited, not told, to come. Really, I was just like, "If you want to go to church with me, you can, I think it's a neat place." and I didn't think that was so weird but apparently it's the first time anyone's ever said that to him, everyone else has just told him to go to church or else he'll go to hell. And that's where it ends. He was looking for something a little deeper, too... it's nice to have that in common with someone I'm so close to.

I've since learned that this idea of being allowed to ask questions and search and struggle is a big pillar of the Methodist denomination... John Wesley wanted every single person, no matter what their age or socio-economic class, to go on this journey. Finding a group that stays true to that isn't easy, but it's made me appreciate his original goal, even if sometimes maybe he wondered if it was possible. there are going to be shallow groups out there, no matter where I'm at. Marc and I are officially not the first people to want a little more.