Sunday, March 28, 2010

Breakup Blues

I've been thinking about it on and off for months. But it's finally time to do the deed. I'm breaking up with my church.

It's a huge weight off my shoulders, now that I've made the decision. But it's also tough to let go. The church was a safe place that became a dead end. I won't miss the majority of the people there, but there were a few that were really special to me. Yes it's possible that we could stay in touch, but I kind of doubt that's going to happen. We were all so busy that even after being friends for two years we only found time to see each other at church events. You know how it is. People always say that they'll stay in touch, but it rarely happens.

It took me close to two years to get up the nerve to walk into a church in the first place. I had all sorts of baggage holding me back. I had always identified as a Jewish agnostic. Finding Christian faith due to a miraculously answered prayer unexpectedly plunged me into an identity crisis. I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I walked into that church, and when the pastor's wife kindly welcomed me, I burst into tears.

The first year was like being in religious kindergarten. Everything was new and fascinating. I studied the Bible, which was not at all what I expected it to be. I attended services. I got to know the congregation and made friends. Ken and I were baptized.

During the second year, I started to feel more at home at the church. I started volunteering in the nursery, and sang with my friends' musical group. I knew lots of peoples' names by then. Ken and I got married at that church, and our "church family" came to witness our vows. Good times, all.

I had some niggling concerns, which I wrote about on this blog. I'm too lazy to go look up all the posts and link to them, but if you want to see them just look up anything labelled "church" and "spirituality". Anyway, these little things started to add up.

I could not take the Bible as literally as the church as a whole did. I couldn't accept certain things without asking questions. One time I attended a Bible study, and was seriously scolded for criticizing the teaching. I never went back again. There was also the matter of homosexuality. I will never be convinced that loving, committed relationships are wrong, regardless of the gender identities of the people involved.

There were also style differences. You might remember the time that my music group got in trouble after leading a service because we were "almost dancing!" Exuberance was frowned upon by the majority of the congregation. I don't get that at all. How can true worship be anything but unrestrained?

And finally there was just a sense I had of being judged all the time. The people at church were well-intentioned, but everyone was always checking themselves and others against a strict yardstick for attendance, behaviour, dress, choice of words, choice of music, etc. I was always worried about what to wear to church. I didn't make the jokes that popped into my head. I realized at a certain point that things were never going to get any more comfortable.

It's like a relationship. When you make a new friend, for a while you're on your best behaviour. Then you start to relax a little, but you're still on your guard. Eventually, you get to the point when both of you just relax and you realize you don't have to try anymore. You can just be. You can hang out sometimes and not talk, because there's nothing to prove. You can rest and recharge from the friendship.

This church is never going to be relaxing. There's always an undercurrent of fear and reservation running underneath all the good intentions. It's draining to have to try so hard there. I try hard at work all week. Sometimes I have to try hard, really hard, with my family. If I'm taking time for my spiritual nourishment, it has to be able to support me when I need it.

I realized that I would never be able to just be myself at church. I'd always have to try. And on top of everything else in my life, it's just too much. So I'm letting it go.

There may be some other church out there, in this big city, where I might fit in. Someplace liberal and honest, where it's OK to think critically.

But for right now, I'm enjoying taking some Sundays for myself. I started reading spiritual books again, and I find I'm getting a lot more out of private contemplation and prayer than I was by trying to stay awake through the boring, repetitive sermons at church.

I am grateful to my church and the people in it for all that they offered to me: a warm welcome, learning, and a unique experience of community. I will never forget my church. Partly because I got married there. Partly because I still have to walk past it on my way to work every morning! But it's time to move on to my next phase. I'm pretty sure that's what God wants for me.


Jameil said...

Fantastic! There's nothing worse than dreading a place of worship and going anyway. Well I'm sure there's something worse, but that's not fun AT ALL. Saying, "This church is never going to be relaxing," is clear that you've made the right choice for you. Sometimes it helps to get some church suggestions from people really happy w/their spiritual home. And sometimes it's great to recharge away from the stress of searching for a church. And when you're ready to look again, refer back to this list of things you must have and must not have to feel comfortable. I DEFINITELY have to have a pastor who's not boring and knows his Bible! What did you think the Bible would be like?

LL Cool Joe said...

This made me sad, but I understand, plus I agree because my church is very narrow in many ways.

I hope you find another church that is more suitable and feels like home. Really I should do too. I walked out of my church today because I didn't like the way the service was being lead.

whatigotsofar said...

the following isn't meant to insult or demean but to offer up personal opinion.

you see, religion exists to provide answers to questions that just maybe should be unanswered

faith is a personal thing, different for everybody. church is the removal of individuality towards faith. in church, it's "you gotta do it this way and here's why." well, for some people, that's fine and dandy, but for others, not so much. unique is the opposite of uniform. church endorses (smiles and hints because enforces ain't christian) uniform because, well, church got rules. basis of the religion is 10 specific rules, first of which being "I'm the boss. You got that? Good." unique is viewed as against the rules aka rebellious to authority, rule numero uno.

G said...

Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do, to maintain your peace of mind.

Studying/contemplating/worshipping at home is the best alternative to going to somewhere where you don't really belong or fit in.

Move at your own pace and find something that will be a good fit you. Because all that really matters is how you comfortable you feel about a particular place of worship.

Sparkling Red said...

Jameil: I thought the Bible would be full of wisdom, compassion, and inspiration. In fact, the vast majority of it is violent, unforgiving, and threatening. I actually started reading at the beginning and got as far as Kings. Yes, the New Testament is an improvement over the Old one, but Christianity holds the entire Bible as God's sacred word. A few nicer books at the end isn't good enough to redeem the first 800 pages. I'm happy to call myself a Christ follower, but not a Bible follower.

LL Cool Joe: Good for you. I've never walked out in the middle of a service, although once I came close. I guess I knew that if I had to walk out once, I would probably never go back, and I wasn't ready to make that decision yet.

WIGSF: I agree with every word that you wrote. I've been wondering if I'll ever be able to commit to one institution of worship. Although I was never a believing Jew, I was raised with Jewish practices in my family. We got together to perform certain rituals to cement our group identity and community. I'm realizing now that in Christianity it's not enough to show up and do stuff together. You're actually supposed to all believe the same things. I'm comfortable with the idea of getting together to share in worship through special activities, but I cannot and will not ever be able to believe exactly what someone else tells me to believe. And I can't feel at home somewhere when I feel like the Thought Police might find out my "sins" if I say the wrong thing. I don't know if there are churches out there that aren't patrolled by the Thought Police. I guess eventually I'll go looking and see what I can find.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I've never really understood church. When I was younger my mother took me and they always seemed like a show where nobody was themselves. They alway had to be better than the "sinner". Heck, I am the "sinner". I sort of think that God has no problem with a church of one person so that's how I roll. Or maybe a good church is simply good friends that encourage you to find your own way without judgement.

Karen said...

I always say that I don't have the gift of blind faith. I am inquisitive and logical and the pure unquestioning beliefs are hard for me too. Instead of walking away or giving up, I pray for strength in that area because that is my weakness.

There are some aspects of my religion that don't sit well with me - homosexuality and divorce being two specific areas. So I just feel it is not my right to judge anyone's lifestyle or relationship with God. And I just try to live in line with my understanding of what my faith dictates.

But I recently switched parishes becuase I wanted to be involved in a more active and youthful parish.

Kate said...

I'm not altogether sorry to see this post. As an ex-church worker with her own resentment issues, I work on my spirituality daily and work for forgiveness that I know is a long, long time coming. But I sensed how stifled you felt. And I think that's because I walked it myself. Girl, God does not exist in a building. You know that. You've experienced many things that "the church" could not have accounted for. God is walking with you everywhere you go. He doesn't care what "naughty" words you say. He/She doesn't care what you wear or what you do. God loves you. Period. Read The Ragamuffin Gospel. It will change your life. And enrich you in ways you never knew was possible. It's the story of the God I always knew but never had the words for.

NicoleB said...

I'm sorry to read that it didn't work out for you in the end.
I understand your questioning of the Bible totally.
That and our hardcore catholics in Germany were what got me out of there as soon as I could make the decision on my own.
I'm sure you will find a liberal place there where you guys fit in.
That still is close to nonexistent in Europe though.
Oh well, I've never been a group person anyway ;)
Best wishes for you!

Jenski said...

I'm sorry you had this difficult decision to make! The church I grew up in was always a fun, social place where our bell choir director (the pastor's wife) led the bells in Phantom of the Opera (renamed something like "The Spirits' Dance" for the service) because we had learned it for a non-church event and it was great. :-) As a result, I have never been able to read much of the Bible because I think of it as a source of lessons and not something I need to read. Is that bad? :-) I hope if and when you look for a place of worship again that you can find a place that more closely matches all of your beliefs! If the United Church of Canada is similar to the UCC, there should be ways to search churches on initiatives in which they are participating (such as "God is still speaking" here). In the meantime, enjoy your relaxing Sundays at home!

Sparkling Red said...

G: By nature I'm not a fitter-inner. At this point, I feel pretty much done with church. But you never know - there might be someplace out there where I'd feel at home, if I can get motivated to go looking.

Ron: Some of the people at my church were heavily caught up in neurotic, spiralling thought patterns, constantly checking themselves and others for "sins", and either feeling bad because they weren't good enough or feeling bad because they were feeling pride at how good they were, which is a sin. How can they accomplish anything real when they're so self-obsessed? It's just a big mess. I agree - friends who give you reasonably unconditional love create the best spiritual environment.

Karen: One of my favourite pastors, Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House (sermons available online) says it's healthy to run up the ramp of reason before making the leap of faith. So while there are certain thing that I believe that can never be proved, I wouldn't define that as blind faith. That's what works for me.

Kate: You have put into words a lot of the things I've been thinking about, like how God doesn't live only inside churches. And if I can hear someone say a four-letter word without getting upset by it, why would I expect God to be worried about it? I guess people don't think it through: either they believe that God can only see them on Sundays in the sanctuary, when they're all dressed up and on their best behaviour, or they feel that it's up to them and their neighbours to be more judgemental than God. The former is not much of a faith, and the latter is downright awful.

NicoleB: I've never been much of a group person either. I had a close group of friends in high school, and after that I've never found another group where I comfortably fit in. The truth is that I love my alone-time. There's a lot of value in peace and quiet.

Jenski: Yes, the United Church is probably the most liberal church in Canada. If I went looking for another church, that's probably where I'd start. The bell choir sounds great. I got to participate in one at a demonstration in high school music class one time, and I still remember how much I liked it.

NicoleB said...

I didn't even have them in High school, just a few people. Too many give me headaches ;)

DarcsFalcon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DarcsFalcon said...

I think - based on some of those other posts you mentioned - that this has been a long time coming. I'm actually kind of surprised it took you as long as it did.

Sparkling Red said...

DarcsFalcon: I stayed so long because I loved singing and I loved hanging out with the babies in Babyland. It was a church with great fringe benefits!

Claire said...

Sounds like a good decision for you, sweetie.