Sunday, June 12, 2005

what's it all about?

i kinda debated writing this, but the compulsion was strong, so here i am. If you've read a few of my blog entires, you know that i like to keep things on the light side, that i love to find the humour in life. This post, i'm not sure now what it will shape up to be, but i guess it will be me attempting to take a lifetime of familial and societal conditioning, pick it in up, turn it around and try to see if from all angles. I welcome you to share your own experiences, your thoughts, your critiques. The subject? CHURCH.

I hear voices *maybe its the blog etiquette fairies*? in my head saying "don't write a therapy blog", "don't get personal", "don't write a 'this is my day' blog" don't, don't don't. . . . so i'm rejecting those labels and turning a deaf ear to those voices and i will do, do, do what i like! here goes. . .

do you ever get to the point in your life where you start really thinking about things? about why you do the things you do? do you take a long, hard look at your motives? Have you ever felt like one of Pavlov's dogs? dingdingding!!! SLOBBER, DROOL. My focus is admittedly narrow here, its only 1 word - but its a word fraught with layers of meaning wrapped in layers of mystery - an enigma, a riddle. what IS it? where is it? who is it? and why??? We could totally play 'word association games' till the cows come home with this word. . let's have a go! church = boring, church = conformity, church = hymns, church = community, church = hypocrisy, church = social club, church = charity, church = building. . .

i grew up in church, me and my sisters were taken to church by our parents. In my early days church was : our mother drawing little stick figures on a notepad to 'keep us quiet' in church. . it was plastic containers filled with cheerios, shreddies etc. to keep us quiet, it was dressing up in uncomfortable clothes and sitting on hard pews and being made to keep quiet. I always felt that we had to leave our 'real selves' in the parking lot on Sunday mornings. Not just us kids, but grownups too. Sunday mornings in our house were chaotic! I hated them. Our parents were stressed, we kids didn't want to dress up or miss cartoons, there was yelling! there were tantrums a generally rotten mood pervaded the house. One Sunday morning i had my 'church clothes' on, i had my little Bible in hand, whose cover depicted a smiling Jesus and happy children and I made the mistake of saying to my mother : "I HATE GOING TO CHURCH!" what I really meant was "Why isn't our family like the cover of my Bible?" I hated that it wasn't. What she seemed to hear was: "I'm a chromosomally deficient axe murderer in the making" I got the biggest spanking - we went to church, but I could barely sit down for the throbbing sting. . ouch! You know what that taught me? Honesty will be punished. The notion that i wasn't acceptable seeped into my young soul and to this day i still feel that way, at least in regards to many of the authority figures in my life.

When i got older i went through my 'i don't give a crap' stage. . i know its tedious, how many stories of teenaged rebellion must there exist? As a member of my church i had done my stint of jumping through hoops, i was involved in the things that young church members were expected to be involved in. Sometimes I felt like a trained seal. But sometimes I had moments where the hoops faded into the background along the expectations and judgement and I had glimmers of THE 'who' and 'why' of church, Him. . . God. My mind was so young but sometimes i had these peeks behind the facade and I really, really believed that Jesus was so loving and good. I remember being at summer camp -- music camp-- when i was young. I was so glad to be away from the 'stuff' at home. Here i could have fun, SWIM, live in community with lots of other kids and eat dill pickle chips and coffee crisp bars every day! We had chapel meetings on Sundays at camp, and we learned about the Bible every day. . i have to say that i didn't fully appreciate this, i was too busy being immature! But on the Sunday the camp leader talked to us about God, about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He was really good at speaking to kids. I was actually listening.. and suddenly i was aware of my own badness, hey it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that we are all fighting the 'dark side of the force'. . ha ha!! but for the first time I was helped to understand that God still loved me in spite of this. I didn't know what that felt like, i thought God was like my mother who only seemed to tolerate me when i fulfilled all their conditions or when the wind was blowing in a favourable direction. So you know, my heart was kinda bursting outta my chest, thinking about a love like that! I decided that i loved God, even though i couldn't see him and I wanted to belong to him. It was a rare moment, quite overwhelming and I think if i had not been there at the moment in time, I might never have known God and I might not have come through the ups and downs of my life with my faith worn, but intact. When the end of that week at camp arrived, back home i went. The drive home was hard. . my mother's 'dark mood' polluted my newly found heart. Maybe she didn't want me to come home, i reasoned. Finally we got home and her mood had not improved one iota, yelling and screaming at all of us, about what? i can't remember. . i was wishing that i could go back to camp to live and i had this picture of Jesus that I pushed in front of her face and screamed 'WHAT ABOUT JESUS?!!" Honestly, i draw a blank after that. I don't know what she said. I cannot remember. I was too young to understand the complexities of her mental pathology, other than it was horrible to live with and confused us girls and i'm sure it confounded our father. Jesus was my champion. I didn't know it, but I was seeing hypocrisy and even sickness in action and maybe because of that i was amazed at how my new feelings for someone I couldn't see or touch or for that matter fathom could help me through the quicksand of family life and in fact every part of my life.

I thought once thought that church was a building. I thought it was about being quiet and pretending that you're someone other than yourself, "Sunday smile", "Sunday clothes", "Sunday behaviour", it didn't jive with the rest of the week!! I thought it was about not going to a store on Sunday, not doing yard work on a Sunday, in fact we children were ordered to rest on our beds after lunch on Sundays. We could not go outdoors, we could not raise our voices. geez louise. . .Sunday "day of rest" to the 'nth' degree. Later i went through the stage when I thought it was a set of rules about clothing and 'deportment', it was about what not to do, not swearing, not drinking, not gambling, not going to movies, not dancing, not wearing jewelry or makeup ad nauseum. Some of these 'no nos' were good for me and I am even grateful for them, but others are preposterous, man-made rules. I thought church was about music, learning to play a brass instrument, singing, going to rehearsals, having musical programs with other church musicians. I guess when i think of all the things I thought church was. . i was thinking what i was told to think and there was no room for independent thought, thinking was to be done in the box and in the box only. IN THE BOX!!!!

There's probably lots more i could expand upon, but i think thats sufficient without belabouring. So, fast forward . . . today is Sunday and now, today this is what I think church is: people and God. that's 'the church'. . simple. its living together through everything, lending your "everything" to others - your hands, your heart, your mind, your money, your time, your compassion, your talents, your tears, your will and having them do that back to you; binding you all together is God. You all make this circle. Does it sound cheesy? I don't want it to. Its not about exclusivity, about creating a counter culture so far removed from reality that it cannot possibly lend anything to anyone but people like themselves. . . its not about rules, though life rules are necessary, but rules without love are like iron shackles -- why did Jesus have to die to free us, if we were meant to turn around and chain each other? are we saying that we know better than He does? oh, i'm getting long-posted, as usual. When i started to write this, i had no idea of what i was getting into!!! I was even gonna scrap it, cuz i think that I had definitely bitten off more than i could chew. . but i hope that it made some sort of sense.

Here are just a couple of examples about what I think church can be:
*giving some money to a dirty, legless, fingerless, stump handed man and getting a hug and a kiss on the cheek in return.
*going over to a neighbour's house and having a one on one talk.
* sponsoring a child
*having your heart broken by someone else's sorrow.
*doing a kind thing for no other reason than you want to.
*sitting still and talking to God

what do you think about church? good experiences? bad? indifferent?? how has it shaped you? hurt you? built you up? what is it to you?


Tracy said...

For me, just seeing the word "church" makes me want to shut down and go hide. Even writing a comment puts me at risk of receiving a sermon from someone out there. "Church people" are always trying to push their ideas and opinions and way of life on you. Yes, I admit, not all of them, but it sure seems like the majority. So at the risk of receiving that sermon...

I've never had that at camp experience of yours. It may have appeared that I had at one time, but I'm a good follower (more so than a leader) and can look like I conform when I don't. I got to where I felt like I had a split personality - church Tracy and the other Tracy. Church Tracy was such a loser, just doing what she thought was expected of her and never questioning it, just following everyone else's lead. The other Tracy was hopelessly lost and confused. Luckily for me, tucked away deep inside I found the strength to take charge of my life - apparently something I should have done (somehow) even before I was christened in our church. I continued to go to church, although I was no longer involved. Then I got married and Sundays became fight day. (sigh) Even now, so many years later, Sundays are still uncomfortable days for me.

So where was I going with this?

Unfortunately for a lot of us, I think, "church" comes with it's own load of crap which overshadows the whole point of going to church. I don't get why people feel so compelled to go every week. Isn't God with them everywhere every day? Can't you do that stuff at home?

Anyhow, all that said, I'm still glad I was brought up in the church - I think it made me the good person that I am. And having an excellent set of parents didn't hurt either! And the clincher - will my son be brought up in the church? Let's put it this way - he can go with his grandparents or his aunt and uncle every now and then, and I might even join him sometimes, he can even try out Sunday School (even though those children's songs make me cringe now), but I am definitely not keen on him becoming entrenched in the system.

Now I'm feeling like you were in the beginning Kathy, unsure that I should publish this comment at all! Oh well, here goes. Nothing to lose, really.

supersimbo said...

tracy what you say about your son being "entrenched in the system" saddens me because people have screwed up what you think of church by making it a "system" like kat says by making it a list of "things you don't do."
i'm gonna post on my blog about my own experience when i gather my thoughts.........please stop by and, tracy i like what you say about "church people" always pushing their ideas etc. tis true though

Tracy said...

Whenever I go into the church that I grew up in, I feel like the heart, soul and life of me is being sucked out. The place doesn't want to work with me, it wants to change me. I like the me that I've become (and that's taken a lot of work to achieve), so I'm not cool with that.

I'm going to add your blog to my list Ally, so I can see what you have to say!

Kathryn said...

i'm so sorry to hear that Tracy. You know what? I like the you that you've become too! I thought it best not to 'get into' the hurt and betrayal i have felt from that church, as it was my church too. . i am crushed beyond repair and sickened and saddened and every other crappy thing. . i have lost sleep over the place, cried over it, sweat and toiled and prayed and hoped for an amazing transformation for that place, but finally there came a point where i knew that if i remained there one more second that i would die in my spirit. So i just left. I won't tell you what was said, done, but it was bad and I am scarred beyond belief; there were many incidences of horrid things that have been done to us and said about us. . . I am baffled as to why anyone wants to be there?

i am deeply disappointed in that place, and in general with 'church' of any sort. . I long to sweat blood and pray and work and give my all to join a group that is DOING something good for this community and loves its people. . all of them!

Tracy said...

Hey, I'm good. I'm really happy about where I am right now. I don't feel that I'm lacking anything. And I know that when that time comes, I am surrounded by people who would love to help me find the place (you could insert "church" here) that's right for me.

Finally we're all learning that SA Cambridge is not the "be all and end all". Going to church with Glenn & Sherri showed me how different it can be.

Lindsay said...

There are definite "churchy" stereotypes and associations: when I think of church,I think dressing up, songsters, band,singing antiquated hymns mechanically complete with approved clapping rhythms,ministers emoting at the pulpit and at the altar but behaving quite differently off duty, etc. As a kid, I hated sunday school(they were so sexist, only giving the boys blue pencils while we got stuck with the pink ones! Once I got so mad that I broke my pencil, only to have them give me another pink one...) but I kind of liked church - my grandma gave us candy and brought pads of paper for us to draw on(another incentive to keep quiet,lol!)

Sherri Lavender said...

Your blog made me think of the book that I finally have just started reading called "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller. You might remember downhere mentioning it on their podcast. You should pick it up. Heck, you can borrow it when I'm done. I've gotta give you one quote though... It's just too good to make you wait for it:
"I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious. If he can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God."
I'm gonna do a blog entry, hopefully soon, on how church often emphasizes rules and doesn't teach enough about God's character. I want to make sure I don't "do that" to Jonah, you know?
Anyway, I think we're kinda doing church right here in blogland.
4 girls in Canada and a guy in the UK... insteresting combo.

Kathryn said...

yeah, you're right! we are 'having church' here *interesting bunch for sure* !! a cool one. . I had a dream the other night that Will Smith was leading a 'home church' in our basement!! ha!!!

I would love to borrow Blue Like Jazz. . . have you read his next book? I have that one if you want to borrow that! thanx for the quote. ". . . if he(the devil) can sink a man's mind into habit, he will prevent his heart from engaging God." wow. . .

he's good at doing that! I have had all 'habit' stripped away from me. . i got nada. .as a result my thoughts have been flowing, and i have been stretching and growing and understanding God in a far different way from when I was on the 'hamster wheel' of 'church'!!

Tracy said...

If Will Smith was leading the service, I'd be there! :)

I wouldn't mind taking a look at that book either Kathy. I've read Glenn's copy of Blue Like Jazz already. There were several times while reading when I had to say to myself, "that's exactly how it is, he's got it down in ink exactly". Talk about being honest and bold!

Being in a hamster wheel is an excellent analogy Kathy. One that you can't see out of!

Kathryn said...

I will definitely lend the "Lavender Ladies" my book! I look forward to reading Blue Like Jazz!

Wil Smith!!! ha ha!!! i think all of Cambridge would crowd into my basement if Will Smith was leading our home church!! that would be so fun!

mh said...

Church, to me, is the "happy clappy","name it and claim it", "purpose driven", "seeker friendly" circus we have been trained to think we must become a part of to live a life devoted to God.

For me, I have chosen to abandon what I think may be a sinking ship...I would rather experience God, daily...not weekly...

I speak for myself only...I am on a journey...much the same as Abraham and David...!

May you be blessed along the way...


Kathryn said...

wow, thanx mh. . peace on your quest too! you are so right. .that type of 'church' is a circus. I hate circuses AND sinking ships! I have often likened my former church to the Titanic. I want a REAL experience !!! I will never again allow myself to be squashed, pushed, hamstrung, punished, held back in a time warp or mistreated.

thanx for your comment!

Sherri Lavender said...

I think we're missing something here though. There must be a purpose for "church". Why do we need it? Biblically, what does it look like?

Kathryn said...

i didn't want to start quoting scriptures, cuz not everyone who reads this is a Christian . . i have family and friends who may not want to dialogue about such an important subject if i lapse into Christianese or start quoting scripture. You're right though Sherri, but do you know what i'm saying?

it sounds like a short 'addendum' is in order?!

Sherri Lavender said...

Not sure what's needed here. I guess I'm just thinking that we're talking about negative church experiences and yet there is a glimmer of positive in some comments too. Just trying to think about church... do we really need it if we are followers of Christ? If yes, then why, and what does it look like? What are the necessary components and what can be done away with? Is singing necessary? Is sermon? Whatever, you know? But, alas... let's just call this food for thought and a topic for someone else's blog. Ha ha.