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Posts Tagged ‘church’

Assassinating cynicism

In Choosing to see the wonderful #CTSTW, Encouragement, Friendship, Happiness, Thoughts on Christianity on January 21, 2014 at 3:28 am

I hate cynicism. It’s snide and snarky only as a veneer to hopelessness and unkindness. But, I really like Conan O’Brien.

So, I’m a hypocrite because I have been feeling very cynical lately. The hypocrisy has nothing to do with Conan.

I rarely “talk” (that is, in person with audible words) about church or Christianity. I rarely talk to people with whom I used to go to church. I rarely enter a church building. It didn’t hit me until recently that when I talk church, or go to church, or associate myself with anything that brings up church….cynicism takes over and I become someone very unlike who I actually am. I become mysterious, closed, cowardly, inarticulate, distrustful, and angry.

I’m not that person.

Have you seen Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop? It’s literally quite an interesting documentary. I remember Conan when he first started with Late Night. To this day, he is as he was then: funny, sharp, sarcastic. Then, he got fired or he quit. Let’s meet in the middle and say he quired. He gave a lovely farewell speech. Apparently, he also hates cynicism. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/22/conan-obriens-heartfelt-f_n_433954.html

Watching him work through the anger and the disappointment of leaving the Tonight Show was overwhelming because at every turn, I could literally feel him beating back the cynicism in a triumphant process full of hard work and trying moments. He spent time mulling, then he put together a comedy tour, hit the road, rocked Bonaroo, and played guitar with Jack White.

I don’t play guitar. But, recently, I have seen or heard from several of the teenagers I used to work with in teen ministry. It’s been so refreshing. For so long, I questioned my purpose for having been there. I questioned whether or not we did any good. I questioned whether or not I had been helpful. I questioned whether or not church as it is has a legitimate and meaningful place in the lives of today’s teens and young adults. Notice I said church–that weekly religious gathering. I had questions, but not a lot of answers.

Getting hugs and e-mails and text messages from these people has not really given me the answers. I have realized, however, that the questions I am asking are not that important. I cannot allow the sadness and pain of the present dim the truth of what happened in the past. Allowing the present to color the past inevitably leads to cynicism about the future. I worked with some great adults and teens to try to provide a safe, healthy, loving environment for teens to come and learn about Jesus. We laughed and cried and laughed and preached and laughed and prayed and laughed and travelled and laughed and fussed. We laughed a lot because we enjoyed being together and we found joy in talking about Jesus and in loving each other.

Thanks to Conan, I know that just because I left doesn’t mean that I have to harbor bitterness. Just because I felt pushed out of that church doesn’t mean that I can’t find a place in another church. It’s pointless to rehash the past. It’s done. The hurts are there. The wounds are there. Healing is process that looks to the future.

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C.S. Lewis makes me smile

In and other uncomfortable topics, Encouragement, R[evol]ution, Thoughts on Christianity on October 7, 2013 at 12:02 am

I love The Chronicles of Narnia. I return to those stories at least once a year. They refresh me. Therefore, I have always had great respect for the author, C.S. Lewis. He was a great writer, a great thinker, and a great Christian. He did radio broadcasts in Britain during World War II to help keep the morale of the British up. His books are mainstays for theologians, apologists, and anyone looking to find out more information about Christianity. He married late in life, and his wife died after a prolonged struggle with cancer. In the days and weeks after her death, he kept journals.

Oddly, these journals are the things that have made me smile.

Lewis later published these journals under the title A Grief Observed. He grapples, transparently and despairingly and courageously, with the loss of his beloved wife and the delicate nature of his faith in God. Lewis says things that many people are too scared to admit about faith.

But go to Him [God] when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘so there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.

Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.

And, I smile not because his wife, Joy, is dead. I smile not because he is suffering in these pages. I smile because his path of grief that is so sharp and so different from anything I have ever known, reminds me that I am not alone. His grief reminds me that sweeping away my feelings and telling myself to buck up, man up, and put on my big girl panties is nothing. The missive “hold on to God’s unchanging hand” is not something that I have to do. I believe in God, but I think that anyone who tells me to hold on to His unchanging hand doesn’t quite understand. God does not change, true enough. But, what I understand about God changes. I cannot hold on to His hand…that is a part of the journey of being human and separate from God, yet with the ability to unite myself with Him.

My faith, in plain speak, is shattered and it has been for some time. I am thankful to God, I love God, I believe in God, I appeal to God, I worship God. But, I no longer understand what it means to be a Christian. But, surely I am a Christian–I believe that Jesus died on a cross to make right all my sins.

In this world of church politics and genocide and Twitter and great poverty thrown against great wealth—-no. Let me cut straight to the chase rather than do this whole poetic list. Between church politics and my stance on LGBT issues and my (bleeding heart liberal) politics in general……..I’m just not sure where I fit anymore.  Like Lewis, I’m not afraid that I will quit believing in God or Jesus. I’m afraid that I will realize, ‘This is what it meant to be Christian all along.’ And, then where will I be? A woman who believes in the Creator, in God, in Christ, in the cleansing of sin, in eternal life….but without Christianity? Without church? That’s blasphemy or something like it.

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down. (–C.S. Lewis)

And, I smile. My faith is knocked down. I am winded. I am feeling alone. But, I am still moving. I feel alone, but I know that I am not. I smile. I am in the process–and if even a man like Lewis got mired for weeks and weeks I know now not to despair at being mired for months and months. Maybe what I have been involved in and what I have given myself to for all these years has not really been Christianity, but only my understanding of Christianity that looked very much like Christianity but just wasn’t. Maybe Christianity means something that I don’t quite understand yet. Here is one of the shortest, strongest, and truest sentences in A Grief Observed:

I NEED CHRIST, NOT SOMETHING THAT RESEMBLES HIM.

Waiting for Autumn

In Thoughts on Christianity on August 27, 2013 at 3:11 am

The day after I said something sad, I was driving to work. It was a steamy August day in Georgia and I was wishing that the weather was cooler. As I wondered in dismay at the puny output of my car’s air conditioner, it hit me: WAIT FOR AUTUMN.

I could have said that the Lord spoke to me or I “felt something in my spirit” or that the scriptures opened up. But, to be honest…it wasn’t that fancy. I do believe God placed me in that situation to realize that one simple thing for a reason. But, don’t go picturing a burning bush and wheels within wheels.

WAIT FOR AUTUMN. Each season does what it is called upon to do. Summer in Georgia is called upon, apparently, to scorch. I don’t have to ask to be (unreasonably) hot in Summer. Things grow, even without encouragement, under the heat and rain. I have to be patient for the cooler weather–it comes even without encouragement (from me and the rest of Georgia). Oddly enough, I never question the coming of Autumn or think that it’s possibly not coming.

The growing season is not less important than the harvest season is not less important than the fallow season is not less important than the planting season. The work for each season must be done IN THAT SEASON or the next season won’t be as meaningful. Summer is all well and good for growing things, but if you didn’t plant anything during the Spring: farming fail.

And maybe my life is like the coming of Autumn. Right now, I absolutely feel sad about the current location of my spiritual journey. I keep asking WHEN AM I GOING TO GET OVER THIS? When will I move on? When will find a place that I fit?

The answer: that time will come, even without encouragement, at the proper time. But, right now I must do the work necessary for this moment.

Novel: Dredging up the past

In Encouragement, Novel, Thoughts on Christianity on June 22, 2013 at 4:50 am

Here is a link to the novel that I am writing one page at a time.

I intend this story to be a way for me to walk through a number of emotions that I am trying to put into perspective and sort out. I want to write the emotions in regular words, not emotion words. I am wondering how much it will help me to forgive and contextualize if I dredge up those emotions so that I tackle them head on. Some of these emotions have been hiding, disguised as something else, in my life. Right now, I am dealing with self-loathing and self-hatred. I am dealing with loneliness and isolation.

The other day I cleaned out my car–I did a pretty awesome detail job. But, I had so much stuff from my time as a ministry worker. Forms, offering envelopes, tons of pens, worship and praise CDs, bible study notes, bible study ideas, clip boards, notebooks. There was so much stuff that I didn’t think that I would be able to sort through it all. But, I went through every bag and every scrap. Some of it I kept. Much of it went in the trash and the recycle bin. And, it was sad to see that so many things that once had meaning for my life were now meaningless. But, it also felt great to put each thing in its proper place. It felt great to have a clean and near car that has plenty of space for new adventures.

I’m thinking I can do something similar with my heart.

Church Foul Balls

In R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant..., Thoughts on Christianity on June 5, 2013 at 9:03 pm

It’s been around two years since I’ve been in a church. My desire was to draft this entire post with a positive spin on my perceptions and beliefs. But, I still have so much hurt surrounding the issue of church that I am going to give myself permission to be hurt for a minute in the hopes that I can get closer to healing.

The reason I can tell that I am hurt is that when I mull this stuff over in my mind, the word “fair” comes up A LOT. In my heart, I KNOW that “fair” has very little to do with reality. Fair is something I think about when I don’t understand what’s going on or when I don’t want to think about what is going on. Fair and unfair are temporary labels I slap on thoughts.

I think about how it’s not fair that church involves politics. I think it’s not fair that I can’t be broken and in need of fixing. It’s not fair that I can’t be honest about my flaws and weaknesses. It’s not fair that my weaknesses can be thrown back at me. I think it’s not fair that the wonderful and mighty name of Jesus is thrown around and misused to inflict pain. I think it’s unfair that my time is not valued. I think it’s unfair that I am supposed to put myself second. I think it’s unfair that it should hurt so much that I decided to leave. I think it’s unfair that I haven’t discovered a way to process these losses.

And, they are losses. I left behind the people I had come to love and care for. I literally just walked away and never came back. There is no way to explain, hey…this is what is going to cause the least damage in the long run. It was unfair to them. But, the greatest loss? I am no longer certain that there is a place for me in ANY church…ANY gathering of Christians. It’s unfair for me to walk into a church with that big of a chip on my shoulder. So, I haven’t. Maybe I never will again. Maybe I will this Sunday–I rather doubt it, though.

Church Refugees

In Encouragement, R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant..., Thoughts on Christianity on November 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I know you are out there. Maybe like me, you’ve been a part of church for a while. Maybe like me, you’ve been Christian for a while. Maybe like me, you believe that your relationship with Jesus Christ is the most profound and affecting and effective relationship you have.

Maybe like me, you are not actively involved in a church. I am not going to go into all the details, but I truly do feel like a refugee from the church (notice I say “church” meaning the gathering of people, rather than Church meaning the body of Christ). There was too much going wrong, too much pain for me to remain where I had come to feel at home. So, I left. No one put me out. No one asked me to leave. I left.

And, I felt lost. To be sure, I had arrived in a new place. A place of quiet. A place of predictability. A place, honestly, of sleeping in on Sunday morning.

But, surely, that couldn’t be right. I could not and should not feel at peace. I was worried about finding church again before I lost my way.

Today, this song reminded me that all things come together for His Glory–even though I may question why and how. His answer is just watch and pray. I was reminded that since I have left church, I have found Christians and Christ-lovers in all kinds of places. Since I have left church, I have new ways to talk to people about the love and grace and acceptance that all find in Christ. Today, God sent me a quiet message that I need only keep my eyes on Him and give others the compassion, kindness, and love that He has filled me with.

It’s not about finding church, it’s about being a part of the body of Christ. I have no doubt at this point that someday I will find myself in a church again. But, for today, I am listening to the voice that leads me. For today, I am His and I am enjoying this place of renewal and peace and quiet. For today, I am loving the family and friends that I am surrounded with. For today, I am at home in Him.

Maybe like me, you needed to hear that, too. We are not refugees because we have never left behind what we know to be true.

Sensory Deprivation

In Thoughts on Christianity on September 9, 2012 at 7:28 am

There’s a fairly popular bar in Atlanta called The Graveyard. I’ve been a few times. A hearse, loaded with a coffin, is parked in front of the joint.

Here’s the thing. The Graveyard is a sensory deprivation tank. It’s dark. It’s loud with voices and music. It smells of cigarettes. And, for crying out loud, you kinda don’t want to touch anything (given the pervasive darkness). The last time I went to The Graveyard, I was so hopelessly freaked out by my inability to interpret my environment using my five senses that I shut down. I crawled on top of one of the high, wooden booths and sat there (smiling and nodding at my friends so they wouldn’t think I was losing it). I felt lost. I had no idea how to begin to enjoy myself.

I wonder if a person might feel like when she walks into church. She can’t talk to anyone, except to sing. She can only listen to the songs and the preacher. There are people around her saying things she may not understand. Church is not necessarily a realm of the five senses. Church relies on different senses: the spiritual and the corporate. School doesn’t teach those, and everyone doesn’t learn those at
home.

No wonder people, particularly new visitors and young people, shut down in church. They cannot use the senses that usually interpret the world. They feel lost, and have no idea how to begin to enjoy themselves.

How can churches help visitors and young people to interpret the spiritual and corporate environment around them?