Monday, April 5, 2010

The "I" in Church

I had a sinking feeling the other day. I started to wonder what Miles had been told about Easter at school. He goes to a Christian preschool, and I suddenly realized this meant that, most likely, the Crucifixion story had been...covered. So one day last week, on the couch being silly, I asked him what he knew about Easter.


Nothing? Didn't they talk about it at school?

Yeah, but I don't want to talk about it.

Oh. Why?

They put nails in his hands and feet in wood and I don't know why he had to do that.

(Long pause while I was think think thinking fast.) I rub his little hand and I say,

Honey, it's okay that you don't understand. I don't think you're supposed to understand because you're four and your brain isn't ready to understand. How about if you try not to worry about it for now and if you have questions, we can always talk about it.

I said this all calm and reassuring like, but to be honest, there was a tornado in my head and heart. An angry tornado.

He is FOUR! He's scared and this will take a long time to undo. Anyone who doesn't believe that needs to take some time to consider the development of a child. Before they are old enough to own who they are, they are asked to give up who they are. That's what Jesus did for you, now you need to give your life to Jesus. But how are they to know what they are giving, or how?

Some think this teaching at a very young age gives roots and a foundation and I can't begrudge or judge that...I need to simply consider what I want to do for my boys.

I want to be so careful about what those roots are buried in, and with what that foundation is made of. Fear? Guilt? Shame? Or hope? Trust? Joy?

When thinking through his relationship to church and God in his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, "Perhaps it was because my Sunday School classes did much to help us memorize the ten commandments and little to teach us who God was and how to relate to Him, or perhaps it was because they did and I wasn't listening."

I'm sure it's much of both in my life. As a child, I wasn't very good at listening. Like most kids, I wasn't ready to sit and soak in things that were, for the most part, above my developmental head. And so, the stories and rules for life fell a bit flat, and then they were heard so many times, they became background noise.

This is my fear. When all that pressure is on, at such a young age, it solidifies what is already true of children...I am the center of the universe. We do that in church. In an effort to teach a person, to get them to take responsibility, to see their sin, we focus focus focus on not only the do's and dont's, but almost soley, in nearly every church I've ever entered, on ourselves and our lives. We sit around trying to perfect our own faith.

It's all about me. Am I getting this right? Am I getting this wrong?

Of course we do need some focus on these things, right and wrong. We need to learn. I'm not saying there's no place for it. I'm saying something else I'm not even sure I can articulate. Maybe simply that we focus on it more than anything else and in my mind that's too much.

After I quit drinking I had an email conversation with some Christian friends of mine. They were not at all judgmental, just curious, when they asked, "As a Christian, how did you keep drinking when you knew it was wrong?" Well, that turned our email conversation into quite a long one. Part of that conversation had to do with being brought up in the church. I told them that one thing I've seen now, after quitting, is that there is more unconditional love in a meeting of drunks than in any church I've ever been in. And beyond even that, there is more holiness, more redemption, and more freedom than anywhere I've ever been in this life. It is just so full of the bigger picture of hope.

I read this today, and it helped to solidify my thought process:

People often ask what makes (this program-12 step meetings) work. One of the answers is that (this program) works because it gets people away from themselves as the center of the universe.

A person cannot sit in these meetings and think much of themselves. It's nearly impossible. It isn't about shame, that's not what I'm saying. It's about telling the truth, exactly as it is, and knowing you're safe. When you witness people doing that, there is no room in your head and heart for yourself. Not in those moments, because the whole truth is full of holiness, and in holiness we experience moments of freedom from ourselves. And then it becomes a practice, a meditation almost. I will just sit here and listen, that is all I will do...and we will find true fellowship in honesty and then we will see the face of God and know Him. In mercy. In acceptance. In forgiveness.

What happens next is what keeps us sober. We listen...and then we help not with 'you must do this' and 'you must do that,' but in sharing what has worked for us. Sometimes we help by simply listening, and then mostly by encouraging. In this moment, you are in the right place. Tomorrow you will think of tomorrow. Yesterday is done, and you are here and that is good. That is enough. Judgment isn't allowed and it doesn't come naturally because no one there is pretending to be anything. We are in a position that forces only one issue: we are all the same.

In short, this experience brings me closer to an understanding of who God is and how to relate to Him. And other than that I don't even know what I'm trying to say. I'm thinking out loud. I'm processing.

What my children's faith is rooted in is extremely important to me. They can turn into good kids who follow the rules and talk the talk and even walk the walk, but if their faith is rooted in self and the fear of that self, it is empty. The road to spiritual maturity will be that much longer, and I know exactly what that's like. I still have so far to go, so far, and I cannot deny that I'm starting to recognize why.

Am I blaming the church? No. Am I recognizing that we have to be careful how and what we teach and when? Yes. We do so many things, teach so many things, from programs, ritual and religion. I am desperate to experience something different and even more, I'm desperate for my children to experience something different. And I don't know what to do.


Have you thought about this? If you grew up being taught in the church, what do you think needs to change? What are the benefits in your mind? If you don't do the church thing and yet you're a believer, why don't you go? Please think along with me and let's refrain from judgment. I'm not looking for concrete answers, but simply, a conversation.

I am not at all trying to turn people away from church. I realize it is not about what you get, but what you give, but I do think there can be a tone that stunts that. I want to go. I want my family to go. We go. I know that many good things come from going. But to be honest, I've only attended one church that had me feeling like I belong. It was a life-giving and unconditional place. The diversity had a sameness to it. There was a spirit to the place that I can't describe...something that is missing from any other church I've attended. That's just the honest truth, but maybe it's just me.

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