Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sunday Sunday

As Sunday approaches each week I feel excitement and a need for nourishment. Of course, one can converse with God and find their spirituality any day of the week, any time. But I desire and need community. It's which community that's always in question. For the past few years I've been a frequent church hopper. I always have thought I'd know my spiritual "home" when I found it...that I'd feel intrinsically at home in the right place. The problem is, I feel comfortable to a degree in many places, but never completely at peace in any one place.

I've been to Sunday services at mainline Protestant churches - Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Congregational, United Church of Christ...and I've visited the Roman Catholic parish in my community (perhaps it is here that I've attended the most). I've participated in services at several non-demonimational Christian churches. They've varied from mega churches to small "house church" style communities, more traditional services to modern rock concert versions of "church." And I attended my first LDS service a few weeks ago (that will be another post).

Here are a few of the issues I've encountered (and they are mainly things I likely need to resolve within myself):
1. I find myself (for the most part) a Democrat. While this, of course, does not necessarily have anything to do with finding a church home, in a way it does. I feel a pull towards social justice, helping the poor, providing support for a community, believing what Jesus taught was radical at the time and called for social change and peace. Many of the churches I've attended - especially the non-denominational churches - are conservative politically and socially. I do have moral values and stances that are conservative, but my social/political bent has generally been more liberal. Where does that place me if I attend a church that preaches extremely conservatively? Does it matter if I'm finding spiritual community there? Or will I feel alienated there forever? I love and support diversity, but I'm also looking for structure and guidance. I don't want to feel like I'm floating out alone at sea with no spiritual raft or direction. I like structure. I like some guidelines. I like to have a moral framework I can live my life in accordance with. I believe everyone needs to find their own direction spiritually and what may feel right for me may not feel right for others. But I want to find that path. I crave direction.

2. This may sound superficial, but I want to look around my spiritual community and see myself represented. I don't want to be the only person under 40 in attendance on Sunday. I want a flourishing children's ministry. On the other hand, I do not want to feel like the oldest person in attendance. I'm not looking for a college church.

3. I'm not sure what kind of service style feels the best. I grew up in a traditional church service style of hymns and sermon. Visiting contemporary style services feels awkward for me a lot of times. I really appreciate the effort to have the church grow and be relevant with the congregation. I've felt a lack of connection between many sermons and my life, believe me. But all of the Christian rock songs and everyone's hands waving high in the air to Heaven feel more like a concert or a trip to the mall rather than a spiritual experience. Maybe it's just not what I'm used to, as I'm sure those people are definitely feeling the Spirit. I've been attracted to the ritual and spirit I find during Catholic mass. But having not been a cradle Catholic, even it feels like I'm trying to fit into someone else's skin at times.

I realize no church service will be perfect, but I am just hoping at some point I'll feel at home somewhere. So I continue to church hop, and this Sunday I think I'll be heading back to my local Catholic parish. But still searching...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Here I am

I could start at the beginning, but where the beginning actually is depends on which story I'm telling, how much one already knows, and where I plan on going. Right now I'm just on a faith journey and where that journey takes me is much more important than where I've been. But since we're all part of a story that doesn't begin today or tomorrow, but is built upon our past stories, I'll be pulling on memories and experiences and opinions from all points in my life up to now, as they relate to my current story. To put it briefly, I'm on a journey of faith. I've already begun this fact I've been on this journey my whole life. But the importance of faith in my life is growing...and so are my questions. I don't know where my journey will end, and perhaps it will always be a journey. But I do hope to find some answers, as I build a life for me and my family.

I am a Christian. I was raised in a Protestant family in the western part of the United States. We were only semi-regular church attendees, but I did attend Sunday school regularly in my preschool and elementary-school years. My church was a mainline Protestant denomination and our church was fairly progressive, too. I went through confirmation as a middle school student - although, I never had a deep conviction about the experience. Like many children growing up in church, I have many memories of drawing pictures on notecards in the pews, singing hymns that I didn't understand, and feeling bored many times. And noticing that while I wasn't the only church member my age, I certainly wasn't surrounded by young peers. However, I did feel passionately moved during holy day services and I longed for a deeper religious experience even from an early age.

My earliest conceptions of God, Jesus, and religion included:
  • God as a kind, powerful Grandpa in the Sky. Capable of anything. Answerer of prayers. Healer. But also a bit of a Santa Claus with the "naughty or nice" list. He loved me, but I'd better watch out, better not cry...
  • Jesus as a sandle and robe wearing pacficist. He loved me, He loved all children. He was the Son of God. He taught people to be kind. He loved the poor. He loved sinners.
My idea of Jesus as the ultimate in love was a point that somehow was really ingrained in me. In contrast to my earliest fears of making a mistake or accidentally taking God's name in vain and suddenly not being a "good girl", my idea of Jesus was one of ultra-acceptance and love. If you made a mistake or sinned, he loved you still! In fact, he maybe loved you even more. There was no one in the world he did not love or accept. So, when I visited a Baptist church in town one Easter with a girlfriend and her family when I was 10 and I heard the pastor asking the congregation whether or not they had "proved" themselves to God, I was confused. Of course, I was only a child at the time, so I could have misunderstood what he meant, but still I found it shocking. My version of God by this point in time had melded with my conception of Jesus - lover of all, accepter of all. He may not approve of a sinful act, but He always loved the person. I ran into a similar experience on a church retreat that I attended during my teenage years at a different friend's church. She attended an evangelical church in town. At some point during the weekend retreat - after a few rounds of Pictionary and Scattergories - some brave teen asked the homosexuality question. The youth pastor didn't skip a beat, but declared "God hates homosexuality. God hates the homosexual. You will never ever get into Heaven if you are gay. Period." I didn't regularly attend this church, or any church that outwardly discussed this stance, so once again I was shocked. What? Didn't the Bible say that Jesus and God loved everyone? Even sinners? Especially the sinners? Weren't all who loved Him accepted into Heaven? I was a very shy teenager, but I was brave enough at that point to confront the pastor on this subject. Where in the Bible was this? Didn't God love everyone? He quickly pointed out a few anti-homosexual passages in the Bible, but I pressed - but what about His unconditional love? Even if someone was broken? No go, is the response I got. And perhaps that began my confusion in my faith. The beginning of my faith and convictions unraveling. Prior to that my only real questioning had been when my Grandmother had died of cancer when I was just 7 years old. I'd prayed for a year for God to heal her and save her life. When she finally passed away, I was furious. So God doesn't answer our prayers after all? What was the use then? thought seven-year-old me. And while I began to have an enormous fear of cancer and some anger towards God, I still believed in Him. After the high school incident, I still believed in God, although I started to doubt some things and started to feel lost as to what the "truth" really was.

My journey has led me through periods of deep questioning, an interest in Mormonism and the Quaker faith, a conversion to Roman Catholicism in college, an appreciation of Buddhism, and years of on-and-off church hopping...and fast forward to today where I am deeply interested in religion both for myself and as a mother raising a young child. So I'll be using this blog as a way to chronicle my journey and sort out my thoughts and experiences. It's mainly for my own personal journey, but if you stumble upon this blog and want to share your experience, please feel free. Spammers and ill-wishing commenters, please go elsewhere. We all need more joy in the world!