Saturday, November 22, 2008

Joining

I never thought I'd attend a church service even once in my life, let alone show up regularly.  I have always been a critical thinker, more prone to disagree than agree with much of what I hear or read.  And I have never in my history been a team player or a "joiner" of any description.

I figured that any religion required handing over one's brain on a silver platter to the clergy in charge.  I've never, in my adult life, been able to believe something just because someone told me to.  There was no way I'd be able to suspend my critical thinking and substitute the dogma supplied by a religious authority.  I couldn't even participate in any secular clubs when I was in university, because their rules seemed stupid to me, and their sense of superiority pissed me off.  I always ended up lonely.  I figured that was the price I had to pay for my integrity.

When a series of personal experiences convinced me that Jesus is real, here, now, and present in my life, I kept it a virtual secret for six months.  I prayed alone in my bedroom.  I downloaded episodes of 100 Huntley St. and watched them, alone.  I had other reasons to feel uncomfortable with organized Christianity besides my anti-joinerism, and it all added up to keep me isolated.  

However, eventually I had to give in to the message I kept hearing: following the example of Jesus means loving others and being in community.  Eventually I had to push myself through my fears and out into a church.  

In preparation, I had help from a dear friend, the only practicing Christian I knew at the time (many thanks, Logan!).  I also called one of those toll-free prayer lines, the one offered by 100 Huntley St., to see what kind of reception I would get.  It was scary.  I felt extremely vulnerable.  But I was encouraged by these interactions, and so I was able to find the courage to go to church.

I am comfortable at my church, because no one has asked me to hand over my brain on a platter.  It's OK for me to have questions.  It's OK that we don't all agree on every point of scriptural interpretation.  Nobody has interrogated me in depth regarding my theology.  And when I offered a critical opinion in a Bible study group, I was actually encouraged.  The pastor leading the group thanked me for my contribution.  Then he told the other pastor, who made a point of telling Ken and I that it was a good thing to bring lively discussion to the meetings.

Of the congregants, some of them got very quiet when I offered my critical opinion.  But others engaged with me and offered some very interesting points of view.  We definitely understood each other better by the end of the discussion.  

So, all in all, I think my church is pretty cool.  And I have learned something from this experience.  I've learned that being part of a community doesn't mean agreeing 100% with everyone else.  In fact, there are probably no two people in any church who agree 100% with each other, not even the pastors.  We start with "good enough agreement" and good intentions, and then we grow from there.

15 comments:

whatigotsofar said...

That's a very good way to look at it. I think most churches, regardless of religion, just want people to be happy and involved without wanting to dictate every thought and decision the church-goer makes. It's the fanatical churches on the fringe that give the rest a bad name. In my Catholic upbringing, I've never met a priest who wasn't an open-minded person. I was never told "It's this way, or no way. End of discusssion."
I used to work with a couple of guys who were very active in the Presbyterian (I think) church. One was studying to become a minister. They were both willing to listen to other people's interpretations of religion and faith.
You believe what you believe and I'll believe what I believe and it's all good.

Nicole said...

Sounds like a good place to go.
I could never imagine myself there, but what you tell sounds good & would maybe get me checking it out too :)
I'm glad you had the courage to go & that you feel so good there!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Sounds like a good place. My experiences are limited, but they were always the hand your brain over you won't need it sort of places. I don't play like that :) I've always thought that we were given the ability to reason and question because that is what we are supposed to do.

Karen said...

Being a part of a community is very important. You can only grow so far on your own. The input and encouragement and challenge of others is vital to reaching your best. And that is not just in religion, but in all part of life.

At least in my opinion. :)

Keera Ann Fox said...

Times have changed. I think today's churches - and their ministers - are more willing to allow for questioning and doubt. I never got that impression when I was a kid, which is why I gave up pursuing the Christian faith. The church was represented by strict, authoritarian men or people who already had a rock-solid faith, and so it held no appeal for me.

Still, I follow your story with interest, because the way you describe yourself (constantly questioning, not a joiner) is how I describe me, so I'm curious about what you make of it all.

desi said...

Cool. Very cool.

Sparkling Red said...

Whatigotsofar: I'm actually shocked to find out how much questioning goes on within almost all churches these days. I've been following some online religious news sources, and there are all sorts of stories - like priests questioning homophobia, or women challenging the barriers to their ordination. Not just in the Catholic church, but others also. It's a real eye-opener.

Nicole: I had my own prejudices that I wasn't even aware of. I'm really glad I had the chance to find out that I was wrong. Or at least, not 100% right.

Ron: Totally. I couldn't turn off my critical capacity if I tried to. I think I'd have a mental breakdown if I tried to force that on myself.

Karen: I completely agree with you. :-)

Keera: Times are a-changin', and "the church" isn't what it used to be. Thank goodness. It's a real adventure exploring organized religion. Stay tuned. There will most certainly be more stories!

Desi: :-)

Nilsa said...

I think the best communities are the ones who are open to other lines of thinking. The contrary can be quite dangerous, in my mind. Glad you found your open community!

Jenski said...

I am amazed at the number of different churches out there, even within the same denomination. It sounds like you have found a place to be that is very open, at least most importantly, the leaders of the church are very open. I think that you can not learn or explore anything, especially spirituality without thinking. The Bible study group sounds like a great place to bounce your ideas and questions off others. Congratulations on pushing through the challenges you have had with this journey! It is inspiring.

Sparkling Red said...

Nilsa: Definitely, closed-mindedness is dangerous. Truly good ideas can stand a challenge and proper debate. :-)

Jenski: Thank you! The congregation at my church is composed mainly of very sweet, intelligent people. I have found a good, safe place to explore.

Dianne said...

I am so happy that this church gives you want you want and need - and lets you give as well.

that's important and powerful.

I feel so honored to share all these experiences with you - I remember that first post when you were apprehensive about sharing your journey. I am so glad you did and continue to.

You give me lots to consider and I appreciate that.

unsigned said...

Alone is sad. Together is better.

Sparkling Red said...

Dianne: I appreciate your thoughtful comments. When I feel shy about sharing, I think of my loyal blog-friends and that gives me the courage to be honest. :-)

Usigned: Amen to that!

jameil1922 said...

i've been going to church all my life and those services scare me, too sometimes. and i have also been known to do a bit of wide-eyed gawking sometimes. happens to the best of us. i celebrate my love of God a little more quietly and i'm okay with that.

Aurora said...

I have always loved the community that churches offer. And I think a community really is the best place to air different opinions, either in or outside a church. Otherwise you're literally talking to yourself, which can get lonesome.