Sunday, March 29, 2009

Church?


I don't go to church. I never have. I was raised in a secular household by a woman who was raised Catholic, rejected it wholly, and had me baptised in the Episcopal church as a nod to tradition rather than a statement of and commitment to faith. I don't know if my birth father wanted me baptised, but I do know both grandmothers would have wanted it done. By the time my brother came along, though, there was a new dad and she didn't go through the motions. He was never baptised...I don't know how his father (my dad) felt about it. I've never asked. As for me, I can't lie to God, so I've never baptized my children in this church or that. I know that is shocking to a lot of you, but truly it is okay.

Here is the thing. Growing up in a secular household, I wasn't part of a church tradition, but I was always taught to listen, to hear the divine guidance I was being given. I was always allowed to tag along with friends to Vacation Bible School or other open church functions. I've also been to Jewish temples and Indian naming ceremonies. I wasn't taught that I needed to go to church to hear the word of God, but that the word of God was there for me every day. To me, churches are man-made institutions that are often elitist and divisive rather than inclusive and uplifting. When women greet you with "Oh, so what church do you attend?" in the same tone that used to be reserved for "What side of the tracks do you live on?" I think churches have a problem. Church should be a place where you can learn, question, and grow, not a club that helps determine social status. I don't want or need to feel superior to my neighbor, nor is that what I think God wants of us.

Again, maybe because I've never been a church member, it is all so clear ot me, but there are amazing people who attend all different kinds of places of worship, as well as amazing people who attend no place of worship. On the flip side, I've seen many, many not-so-nice people explain away their behavior by claiming affiliation with this faith or that and telling me they are saved no matter what. We used to refer to these people as "Sunday Christians". Are you familiar with the phrase? Do people not believe that God know what is in your heart, regardless of what you say?

Many, many people are confused by my failure to go to or belong to a church...they say it doesn't match my lifestyle, my morals, or my values. One dear friend even looked at me with a slightly confused look and admiringly told me I was a Proverbs 31 wife. (I'll confess now that it has been many years, dear friend, I had no idea what you meant and I went to learn about it after our conversation and I was so complimented by your assessment of me!)

My sister jokes that I like the word journey as of describing life, but she's right, I do. Each of us has a unique journeythat we're on and, if you believe that God is omnipotent, each journey is not a mistake or a deviation from his plan, but rather a fulfillment of his plan. Another dear friend sat with me one night and told me she found comfort in her own faith as she's thought of me. Why? Because she understood that the journey I was on was part of Jesus' plan and that she was to have faith in the outcome. It was the first time I'd felt a kindred spirit...I felt blessed by her understanding that I was doing my very best each day to live according to the plan for me. You see, she understood I have a deep and abiding faith and a clear recognition that I have been blessed in my life. I have gratitude in my heart and soul. No, I might not be able to quote chapter and verse from the Bible, but that doesn't mean I don't study, learn, think and pray.

So, why this full disclosure post? I mean why "come out" to the world about my non-church going ways? Don't I worry about what some of my readers will think. In a word: Yes. But, I think my journey is evolving yet again and I find it compelling and powerful that the women I've connected to in the bloggy world are either pastor's wives or devout church go-ers. Then, I recently discovered that a girl I went to Jr. High with is a famous Christian writer, very well published. I just saw a face at the library and recognized it immediately as the girl I knew all those years ago, sent an email and there you have it, another sign. All of these things point me in a new direction. I feel my journey shifting and changing...getting broader. Just as I don't think church-goers should make sweeping generalizations about those of us who don't attend services, I need to stop making sweeping generalizations about churches...too many wonderful people I know are devoted to their churches as places to reinforce their faith. My faith isn't changing, but maybe I'm learning a new way to explore it.

I know what I believe and who I believe in and I have a peaceful heart, but that doesn't mean that my journey is supposed to stop here.

6 comments:

generationsgoneby said...

Erin,

A church is just a building. But it's also a body of believers. I have heard people say the most wonderful church services they ever went to were under trees in Africa.
My church family is there for me not only every Sunday morning at 9:15, but every minute. They pray for me, they love me, they bring food if I need it. My church family isn't just the church family that attends in the same building I do. They are people from my childhood church, people from my parent's churches, my Christian relatives, my Christian friends online, Christian friends that I have in my community.

The reason for the church as a building is for us believers to come together and worship God. Some people forget that is the purpose of the building. It's easy to get caught up in the practice of going somewhere each week and forget the reason you go.

I work at a Christian Church (non denominational), I am Southern Baptist. The best worship service I have been in lately was our chapel at preschool last Wednesday. 85+ children singing and dancing and praising God and they really got that they were worshiping God. And you could feel His presence in the building.

That's the problem with some church buildings. The church people inside have forgotten what it's like to be lost and how they felt when they weren't any longer. They forget the feeling of singing and dancing and praising God for what He's done and not going through the motions because its 10:30 on Sunday.

The problem with that is that lost people look at us and say "why bother?" Until church people remember why they are there worshiping and take that into their every day lives, the buildings will just continue to be pretty buildings.

But I must say, it's not about where you are baptized at, or where you attend or not. Salvation is about faith in Jesus Christ, that He is who is said He was (the son of God) and that He died on the cross for you to pay for your sins. Or as we teach at Vacation Bible School: A-Admit that you are a sinner, B-Believe that Jesus is God's son, C-Confess Him as your Savior and Lord forever.

Just that simple, building or no.

Antonia said...

If I may put an addendum: D - Do your best, E - Endure to the end.

Erin said...

Thank you both for your food for thought (and your support)...I'm taking it with me today as I run my errands...I'll be back later...

loveaphid said...

I too was raised in a very secular household. Originally I was raised in the Greek Orthodox tradition but after some upsetting mistreatment of family members bu both the parishioners and the clergy we stopped attending the church. As a result we never really embraced a religious life. I have a great deal of respect for those people that have chosen a path of faith, regardless of the faith they choose. For me faith has always come from within. I have my own belief system and my relationship with a higher power is mine alone. I appreciate the community and sense of strength and belonging being a member of a church, synagogue, mosque or any other form of community worship. It provides, support, traditions, connection to the past, rituals of rights of passage and a myriad of other wonderful things. For me however, it has also been a place of harsh judgment, dogma and idealism that was contrary to my heart and my understanding of goodness and kindness. I strive every day to be a good person, not because any one has told me to be, not because there might be a bad outcome when I leave this mortal coil, but because it is the right thing to do. I do it because to live any other way is contrary to my deep and abiding respect for all people in this world. Sometimes I am not always successful. But I believe if I try and Tread softly and do no harm. Then all will work out as it should. I think that this is pretty strong faith, it is my faith.

LaVonne said...

I applaud you for posting such an honest blog. I have been a church goer my whole life. It is important to me and my family. And yes I have met many people in different faiths that are wonderful and people that don't attend church that are wonderful. God's people are everywhere. It is easy to look at the people in church who don't "live up to" a true Christian standard and get discouraged. (For me at least.) But I try to remember the way Jesus lived, the morals, the values, and the love he had. That's what I try to focus on the most. Not denominations, not people, pastors, books, but Jesus. He was radical! Your blog is very nice! I lived in Western Washington for the first 20 years of my life. I miss it immensely. Thank you for visiting my blog. Come back again anytime!

Erin said...

LaVonne, thanks so much for taking the time to visit. I loved what you said, that you focus not on denominations, not people, pastors, or books, but Jesus and how he lived, the morals, the values and the love he had. That was powerful.