I went to church yesterday for the first time in a long time, because I promised my son. He’s having to make some pretty big adjustments at school and at home and he just really needs me to go with him right now. I wish you could hear him trying to process the Gospel in the context of his young life. It’s unbelievable. So anyway, you probably know that I strongly dislike going to church, I still can’t fully articulate why, but obviously it’s directly tied to our 2006 departure, right after my boy was born, from the faith tradition in which I was raised and the church in which I’d spent the bulk of my adult life. I don’t talk about it anymore, BLAHBLAHanytomDICKorharrycanmasqueradeasapriestBLAH.
Anyway, church yesterday was fine – this is the church my husband shopped for and chose nearly 2 years after we left our former church because we realized if we didn’t take our kids to church, they wouldn’t go – and it made my son and my husband happy to have me there. I’m sad that its still so hard for me to go, but I was there today for Boy, and I will be there one Sunday at a time as long as I can keep it together. I’m trying to explain the whole thing to him but it’s ugly and I want him to have church without the ugly. Anyway, the music was really good – so different from what I grew up with but I actually like most of it now, when before it just made me cry – and I found myself wishing that church could just be that, the music. Drop in, enjoy some praise music, give a few hugs or high fives and leave.
Anyway, I saw two women I really like, women I’ve been in various small groups with over these past 7 years. I ended up dropping out of the most recent small group they invited me to join, so I don’t see them much at all anymore other than when we randomly bump into each other like yesterday or on FB. There was nothing at all wrong with their group, all really good ladies, just too many of them or something. I don’t know. And I was DEFINITELY the token liberal doubter in there, I stuck out like a sore thumb. They LOVED me with a capital L, but it didn’t seem like I had anything to give them, nothing they seemed to need from me anyway. I just didn’t want to be in that setting anymore, me apparently needing some sort of repair or adjustment and I certainly wasn’t going to become more like them because the doubt is as big a part of my faith now as the faith itself and truthfully, their collective faith was unnerving me. I just couldn’t tolerate it anymore, it scared me. On some level, I’m still attracted to what they have, I miss it, being a church lady and having my closest friends be church people and all, but ultimately I don’t want that anymore because it feels kind of dangerous to me. Almost cultish. It’s me, not them, I know. It’s my past experience, not them, I know. I simply do much better one on one or in unorganized, informal, more diverse gatherings or randomly dropping into church when I feel moved to or reading folks like Anne Lamott. Obviously I’m still listening to that voice that SCREAMS caution at me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in constant conversation with God because trust me, I AM.
One of the main reasons I keep going back to Jesus at all is that I get sick of being depressed about injustice and how horrible people can be to one another. I need to believe that there’s meaning in the suffering. Or something. But it’s definitely more than that. You might not get this given how much I dislike organized religion, and I can’t tell you why exactly, but not only do I still believe in Jesus and in who He is and what He did for us, I also really dig Him, love Him actually. I can totally get behind his basic teachings which boil down to this: 1) Love God 2) Love People. That’s it. The SparkNotes version. Simple. That’s all my deeply flawed human brain and heart can handle. And maybe I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure that’s everything. The rest is open to interpretation and debate and I really don’t care about the details and the rules because more often than not it seems to me we hide behind them and/or we use them to make ourselves feel better or superior or we use them to advance our agendas and hurt and oppress and trick people IN THE NAME OF GOD and then the LOVE part gets lost which totally must make Jesus weep. And don’t even get me started about the church as an institution because I don’t trust it anymore which I realize complicates things because church is supposed to be a spiritual hospital and maybe it would be awesome if it wasn’t so often perverted by humans. And the related phenomenon of THE CULT OF PERSONALITY? And the associated inevitable abuses? Terrifying. And I cannot stand that dogmatism is valued over humanism, especially in hierarchical churches. It’s UNCHRISTIAN. There. I said it. Apparently I’m supposed to be able to navigate all of that and still feel spiritually nourished and safe but I can’t anymore, not yet anyway. But Love God and Love People? Good. I can get behind that and spend the rest of my life trying to do better at it because that’s a project. The rest? Shut up.
Both of my kids are spiritual in their own ways, not sure how that happened but it did. Boy believes as much as an 8 year old can and also questions a lot and tries so hard to make sense of it all, while Girl is quite solid in her belief. They are both respectively comforted by their understanding of their faith and I hope they always will be. I think it’s hard for them, and for Husband, to watch me struggle with my pain around the institution of the church and how that impacts my faith – I just can’t seem to fully separate the two – but we talk about it and we get through it.
Girl and I recently got into a long conversation about ways in which we’re different, which are so often wrapped up in my skepticism or pessimism and her optimism. It started when we recalled an incident that happened on a NYC street this past summer. A dude got pissed off at another dude and threw a big fat thick hardcover book at him in the middle of the crosswalk but the book didn’t hit his target, it hit me instead. I was stunned and then went up to the guy and told him he hurt me and asked him why he did it. I have a voice now and I USE IT. That was dumb, I know, because he was enraged. But anyway, he said the dude he was trying to hit had tripped him a block back and he wasn’t going to let him get away with it. All I kept thinking was damn good thing he didn’t have a gun. I was so shocked and didn’t really know what to do with it all. Girl just wanted me to move on, to shake it off, to forgive, to believe the dude didn’t mean to hurt ME. It wasn’t personal. She didn’t want me to see or hang onto another ugly thing that might further darken my view of this hell hole I think we live in because LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. And I was all WTF are you talking about because it doesn’t matter who he meant to hurt. I was incredulous that she seemed more concerned with me immediately forgiving him and accepting it was an accident because his target was someone else. As if that should make me feel better or absolve him. It felt like she was making so many excuses for him that she had no compassion for how hurt and scared and angry I was. Or that what the dude did was WRONG and dangerous. I bet if a cop had been around he would have been arrested. She observed shortly thereafter that the incident screamed out our differences in that I lean heavily towards justice and she leans heavily towards mercy. And we bitched at each other about it for a long time until we arrived at a deeper understanding together. She further noted that the thing is that either one in excess or in absence of the other – justice or mercy – can be a destructive thing and we both experience that in our own lives and in our relationships, including with each other. Yeah, amazing kid, I know. So anyway, apparently only Jesus – who is NOT neutral – knows how to apply justice and mercy in perfect and equal measure which I guess is one of the reasons this world we live in is so messed up, which totally pisses me off but whatever.
Yeah, so anyway. Why? WhyWhyWhyWhy? I ask that question of God all the time, I know He’s listening and that He’s there but He constantly annoys me by not answering. Not in a language I understand anyway. And truthfully, I don’t trust Him fully because it feels like He’s missing in action sometimes. A lot of the time. And it feels like He’s sitting up there saying I don’t have to tell you WHY because I’m God and you wouldn’t understand even if I explained it to you. So just Love Me, Love People, keep your side of the street clean, keep working and keep trying and keep waiting no matter what happens and I’ll be here to catch you every time you fall in My own perfect way which you won’t understand either. The point is that you must never give up and there are better things ahead, maybe not until after you’re dead, or alive again, or whatever, but still. If you lean on Me, you’ll feel better so just do that. Because I said so. And I do try…but obviously I give Him a fair amount of hell in the process. He doesn’t take care of shit the way I would, that’s for sure. Ha. And yet even though I don’t get Him most of the time, I do still trust on some level that He loves me more than I can wrap my pea-sized brain around and that He’s hanging in there with me and THAT is a freaking miracle.