I went to a different kind of Christmas service tonight, a Blue Christmas service. The concept is to acknowledge that not everyone finds this to be a joyous season for a variety of reasons, and to give those people experiencing loneliness and loss the opportunity for a time of “remembrance and reflection”. And for this year, it was more meaningful than pretty much any other service I could probably have attended.
There were only two Christmas songs. The music was a man playing guitar and a woman singing along. Simple. Calm.
I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. Things at work, mainly. I thought. But there’s more to it. As the service progressed tonight, we were called to remember those we had lost. It wasn’t this job and the people who’ve sent messages there that I’m not a part of the team that I remembered.
Seven years ago in 2009 I lost my church, and every friend I had there, plus every friend I thought I had or wanted so badly to have. I lost hope that I would ever fit in there, that I would ever be accepted. I lost confidence in myself, and I lost faith to a degree as well. Not at first, but over time, year in and year out as I faced additional rejection in nearly every church I attended, through three moves and five job changes, and finally even from some of those friends I’d thought I made since leaving who called themselves Christian. And now at work, while a coworker who sits near me says the same things I heard in church: ‘You’ve got to trust God and just leave it in his hands. You can’t care what’s happening. Toughen up.’ Don’t feel. Don’t care. Don’t love? Wait, that’s not God. When did Christianity come to this place?
There is nothing wrong with hurting when people hurt us. And when people hurt us, it’s not because God wanted them to. That would mean God wanted them to sin, because that would mean God wanted them to do something unloving.
I’m not sure I ever allowed myself to completely grieve the loss of the friends I left behind in my former church. I miss them. I want to know what’s happening to them. I definitely haven’t given myself an opportunity to grieve the loss of the positive things I left behind in my former church. So perhaps the fact that I haven’t felt like celebrating this Christmas is a good thing, a way to move forward. And then maybe I can celebrate again.
This is reposted from 2011.
Today has been a day full of shocks and a pleasant surprises… from the deacon who gave me a nice Christmas gift for helping him greet on Sunday mornings to the woman who asked if I’d like to take her place as church clerk (still praying about that one, but it was a compliment to be asked) to getting to ride in the front with the driver of a horse and wagon ride on my SECOND (and free) trip of the night. And above all that, a new take on something in Jeremiah. Hopefully I can write about that tomorrow. Notes are in the car and it’s too cold to run out and get them tonight!! 🙂 Jer 29:11 is a promise given after God warned them to straighten up for 23 years (Jer 25)… and they didn’t do it. That promise came after they were sent into exile. So was exile a punishment, or what they determinedly went for even after being warned? If a child is told not to put his hand on the stove and does anyway and is burned, was the damage/hurt/pain the result of the parent’s punishment or the child’s willfulness?
I was taught that God was holy. And He is. I was told that He was just. He’s that as well. But to base a knowledge of God on those two attributes is to overlook several things. Yes, God is holy and just. But He is also merciful, gracious, and loving. He isn’t just holy, just, merciful, gracious and loving, though. He IS love. Not everything that happens is a result of God being angry at us or punishing us. Many times, He warns us to protect us. Not from His wrath if we disobey, but from ourselves, and from the pain we will face as we learn why He said no to begin with (like a child touching a hot stove).
When we disobey, though His holiness and justice demand punishment, but very often His love outweighs justice, and He promises-and plans-to bless in spite of our willfulness. That’s grace. That’s mercy. That’s my God.
I just never expected to find that in Jeremiah.
I had a dream last night that I was back in a church like the unhealthy ones I’ve been part of. In the dream, though I didn’t really know anyone, I was asked to “do” a banquet–big decorations, some of the food, all of the set up. In my dream I accepted because I was being chosen to minister. As I was decorating, other were coming to interrupt, telling me they needed things. I told them I had to complete my tasks. (The things they were asking for were petty and whiny, so I still don’t have a problem with having said no.) I drug stuff all over the place, decorated everything, cooked three dishes, got the plates and food ready to be served… and no one would eat. The pastor’s wife then announced that she had prepared individual plates of food already which would be of more interest. I felt like I’d failed at ministering to everyone because they wouldn’t eat.
When I woke up, I realized something that it’s taken nearly 30 years for me to realize. NEVER, in all the times I was asked to serve in any capacity that was beyond what should have been asked of me or was beyond my talent, was I being looked at for ministry (which is what I’d always hoped, that I’d somehow become part of the inner circle). Ministry at these churches was considered being a pastor, pastor’s wife, church leader, singer, musician, or great speaker. I was (and never would become) any of those.
They didn’t choose me for ministry because there were plenty of people to speak and sing and do all of those things. Those came with position and recognition and praise and were far more sought after. Besides, others got a better emotional response from people. They were respected more highly for ‘letting the Holy Ghost move through them so powerfully.’ I wasn’t good at evoking emotional responses from others, but even when I did, they said it wasn’t enough. Instead, they asked me to do the ‘dirty work’, the behind the scenes, often overwhelming tasks that they either didn’t want to do or wanted to show me or others they could do better, whether I was any good at them or not. It never once occurred to me that whether anyone said it or not, I was letting the Holy Ghost work through me every time I bent over backwards trying to do everything that was asked of me with a right attitude, and every time I did these things because I loved those I was serving.
I’ve been to churches that took the spiritual gifts assessments since leaving my unhealthy group, and I’ve run away fast. I don’t want them to know that one of my gifts is giving. I don’t want them to see that I’m a responsible, ethical, independent person who will do way more than any one person should be asked, just to get a job done and just to ‘help’. I know what happens when the wrong people find this out, and I know in the end I feel wrung out and walked over… and too often put down and insulted because I either ‘didn’t do enough’ or didn’t do ‘it’ right.
The thing is, no gift and no ministry should be about someone tagging you to do EVERYTHING. No gift or ministry should leave you burned out and used up. Gifts and ministries are meant to be used cooperatively with others’ gifts and ministries and should leave all of you feeling energized and complete, even if you are exhausted (which sometimes does happen in a good way).
Still, my former church had it wrong. They would say of singers and speakers that ‘the Holy Ghost move through them powerfully’ when the crowd had an emotional response and overlooked those whom the Holy Ghost moved through powerfully not for a few minutes but for hours and days as they poured themselves into their tasks and into others because they loved God and others or even just because they were willing.
…It’s not a matter of whether I love God, but of whether I know he loves me, and what my understanding of that love is.
If you love me, let go of the hurt.
No, let go. Do you not know that as deeply as you are hurt right now, as angry as you are about the injustice done, I am more? You are my child. Give it to me. Let me go seek out the troublesome one. Let me take care of this for you. I love you. I don’t want you to hurt. Just as the father would seek out those who hurt his daughter, so I will seek out those who hurt you, my daughter.
I’ve never known that kind of parent.
It’s ok. Let me be that father to you. Let my love flourish in you, cover you, protect you, heal you. Let go of your right—
But I do have a right!
Yes, you do, as a human who was treated unjustly. But you do not have that right as my child. As one who is truly mine, relinquish that right. Just as a bullied child cheers her dad for going and dealing with the bully for her, let me be your hero. Let me take care of this. Yield it to me. Trust me. Let me love you. In our relationship, the right is not yours. It is mine. And that is also love.
I saw this and had to respond…
“Dear God, Things are getting bad here. Gas prices are too high, no jobs, food and heating costs are too high. Some have taken you out of schools, government and even Christmas…”
As I was reading, images poured through my mind. Of famines in Africa and thousands of starving children. Of children trafficked in Asia. Of places where there are no cars to fill with gas, where a good job pays $3/hr… or even less. Where many would dig through trash heaps to sell what they find, and consider this their way of making a living. Of people who would give a day’s wages for one healthy meal for their family with hearts full of thankfulness at God’s great provision… I have to wonder if the problem is really that people have taken God out of schools or government or holidays, or if the real problem is that we’ve forgotten him, have, in our pursuit of things, removed him not from our schools but from our hearts, and forgotten to recognize his many blessings in the midst of what most of the world would consider our extreme wealth. We are truly blessed.
I’m sitting at home this Sunday morning, enjoying the birds’ songs, petting a cat, resting. I’ve visited a number of churches in the last three years but haven’t felt at home in any. The sermons are fluffy. The adult Sunday School teachers and students know very little about the Bible and leave no room for questions or opinions other than their own. Some talk more about their brand of politics than Christ. And I’m tired.
The problem may come down to “relevant church”. Sermons about Katelyn Jenner or the latest commercials may be their way of relating to people “on their level”-being more relevant. The problem is, I’ve rarely heard someone complain that they just couldn’t relate to a sermon, much less an entire series. What I do hear far too often is that sermons are “fluffy”, that the overwhelming sugary-sweet (and almost invariably fake) greetings, smiles, and hugs are… well, like choking down an entire Cadbury egg in one bite, without a drink. Even the thought makes my teeth hurt. Like those eggs, corporate church is extremely sweet, but not rich. There’s a bolt of sugar and then… nothing.
There is shallowness hidden behind the smiles, the parties, the greetings, and yes, even the sermons and lessons and the beliefs behind them. Church doesn’t need more relevance, it needs more real relationship. Relationship with the God they tout but who is too rarely mentioned in their songs and sermons. Relationship with others-as in true caring and compassion, not empty smiles and hugs and new Facebook requests. I’ve been told they’re too busy to do things with each other, and that’s understandable. But they wouldn’t need to spend time together frequently to love those they share their Sunday pews with.
A woman in the church I spent the most time in within the last year or two messaged me this morning. “We miss you!” I stood for months’ of Sundays trying to join conversations, trying to develop relationships, feeling like I was just hanging out on the fringe, in the way. I asked the pastor for more information about the church’s terminology and beliefs in consideration of membership and was told someone else would answer those questions. It took three weeks and several emails on my part to get those answers, and even then no one ever followed up, no one asked my thoughts on the answers I’d received or asked if I had any more questions. Not once. I’d go weeks without more than a passing, rushed “hi”. Until I stopped attending as frequently and talked of moving closer to work. Then suddenly “But we’ll miss you! Don’t leave!” became the recurring theme. I felt pressured, but considering my experiences in the months prior to that, I did NOT feel loved.
It was a relevant church. But church doesn’t need to be more relevant, it needs to be relational. Because when it becomes relational, it will be truly relevant, since it’s through relationship that we can meet people where they are.*
*1 Cor 13 states that where there is no love, there is a hollowness, a purposelessness. Without love our words are like “a resounding gong or a tinkling cymbal.” Our words and our actions are nothing without care and compassion, without love. When we opt for video clips from popular media, harp on political soapboxes, and disallow questions or concepts different from our own, our words are empty. We are not meeting people where they are. We are not loving them.
I’m bored with church. I sat there this morning listening to the sermon. Three verses and the pastor jumped to a commercial that was supposed to somehow back the scripture. Sorry, scripture does not need to be backed by the Koolaid Man. It’s become a frequent event, this idea of scripture followed by a TV break, and it’s not the first church I’ve seen this in… or that I’ve left when this happened.
This morning he jumped into the Koolaid Man commercial. I phased out. The next thing I heard was a brief lecture on how some of us are just attending for entertainment, and that when we stop being entertained, we leave. This church puts a lot of emphasis on faithful, local church membership. I refuse to become a member for a couple of reasons. However, I don’t attend for entertainment. And if I leave, it won’t be because I’m seeking entertainment, but because I’m sick of it.
I understand that Jesus used parables to teach the people. However, he used every day, real life situations to teach them, not entertainment systems. He incorporated the teachings of the scriptures into everything he said. He didn’t go on tangents about how funny a commercial was. And the people listened.
I’ve been told too often that people today aren’t interested in deep Bible study. But everything I hear from others shows that they are as tired of the entertainment in sermons as I am. The Koolaid Man doesn’t belong in a sermon.
I had a dream this morning that I was attending church on Easter. It isn’t my church or one I’ve ever been in, but in the dream I’d been there before, because I knew the music was going to be different.
Before church I heard people talking about how they had come because the candy was better at this church. As the music started, people started crying and laying down on the floor. I wasn’t scared, but I was disgusted. The music was awful. The second song was supposed to be special. It was heavy rock. I moved so that I wasn’t in front of the speakers. The third song started, and was announced to also have a special instrument involved… a chain saw. At the same time, people were coming to the front, crying and praying and having hands laid on them, while altar workers stood with clickers, counting the number of people ‘saved’ or who spoke in tongues, I’m not sure which. One was from my first church, and the altar worker and a friend of hers were fighting over whether she should be counted.
The friend walked past me as she went back to her seat. She recognized me and saw my pants (not allowed in her religion). She told me she’d just had a sobbing moment, because she wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas with me because I was obviously lost, wearing pants. We hadn’t had plans; we hadn’t spoken for ten years!
And then I noticed what the congregation was singing: Your love like a river flows through me.
Gimmicks. Candy, special songs, special instruments, encouraging people to worship more ahead of time, counting responses… all are gimmicks. They can be used, within reason, to encourage people to come to a church (or to any other sales event) but they aren’t about God. They’re marketing techniques. But what disturbed me most was not the gimmicks in the dream (not even the chain saw music) or the rejection of my former friend, but the fact that in the middle of all the gimmicks, the fight, and the rejection, the song being sung repeated the words “Your love like a river flows through me.” That’s what haunted me as I woke up. The hypocrisy.
I’ve heard these words many times through the years, associated with communion and the cross… and have always considered them associated with forgiveness as a result. It is, after all, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that offers forgiveness to us all. But is this what the broken body, the broken bread, represents?
The blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. It was the blood of the Passover lamb spread on the doorposts that showed the angel which homes to pass over, or spare from death. The lamb was slain and eaten, but it was the blood that made the difference in Passover. It’s the blood that signifies covenant. What is the significance of the broken body?
I’m sure there are several good and varying answers, but the one that struck me today is fellowship. Breaking bread in that time was a sign of fellowship offered and accepted. It was a symbol of shared social class-a slave and master wouldn’t normally break bread together, but one would serve the other, or at least I would assume. It also meant relationship. So, by offering the bread for them to share, Jesus called them into fellowship with each other, but more, back into relationship with himself, not as they had been, walking together on earth, but more deeply.
‘By his stripes we are healed.’ Healed how, of what? There were healings before Christ’s sacrifice. Perhaps the healing was that which God first saw, the healing of broken fellowship with him. The healing of relationship, first broken in Eden. And if so, perhaps the cross is about much more than forgiveness. It’s about fellowship with God, broken and restored. At least in American Evangelical tradition, forgiveness is about us. But restored relationship is about Him.
As some of you know, I moved a year ago and again this year. Last time I never did really find a church, and this time I haven’t found anything yet either. After yet another really irritating situation (actually two) on Sunday, I’ve been thinking….
I’m bored with denominational churches. Not because there’s a lack of “anointing”, not because I miss the outward worship… truth be told, I was bored in FT, too-although whether or not there was much anointing in that is debatable-and even at conferences and camps (think day services, I’m not the only one who didn’t go because something else was more interesting, I think). The difference between FT and denominational churches, then, wasn’t anointing or outward worship or truth. What was the difference? Part of it was the fear of admitting that those supposedly “awesome”, “Holy Ghost filled” services were boring, and the lack of honesty or words to know they were boring… and the larger part may have been that I had the ability there to do something else if things got boring. So a Pentecostal service got boring? Try to figure out who the preacher is talking about. Get up and run the aisles, say amen, clap, dance, whatever. Think about what everyone will do after church. See what people are wearing. Watch the visitors. Start praying and moaning. Work yourself up.
It doesn’t work as well visiting denominational churches. And so I have time to think about how boring they are. Especially if they don’t have WiFi. (In WiFi churches I jump online and tune out for awhile.)
But why am I bored? I think there’s a mix of things. Too much “fluff”-feel good, self help speeches, a lack of interaction of people during services (no discussion, not even amens), a lack of thought at Bible studies. “Dumbing down” of theology, rather than deep discussions or sermons. A tendency to do three points and two illustrations rather than speak from the heart-and the irritating tendency revealed in that to neatly categorize people’s difficulties and Christ’s sacrifice.
Christianity isn’t a compartmentalized institution. Following Jesus isn’t nice and neat and tidy. It’s actually a bit chaotic and a lot messy at times from our perspectives. There aren’t easy answers for everything. Some things don’t even have hard answers. But ‘churchianity’ doesn’t seem very willing to acknowledge that.
Does that mean we should give up on church? No, maybe not. But I do think it’s the reason church is frustrating to me.
I picked up a book last night that was in my ‘to read’ pile. I couldn’t put it down. The book described me, describes most of us. We’ve asked some hard questions and realized that what we’ve been told about the Bible and God doesn’t answer the questions and doesn’t even fit what we’ve seen in the Bible, and that church isn’t what we were told or expected.
So if you’re looking for a church and finding it frustrating to find one, please realize you’ve been through and done something most people in ‘churchianity’ have never dreamed of-you asked the questions, faced a decision on whether or not you would believe and what you would believe, sorted through a lot of bad teaching, and come out on the other side. And as a result, at least for me, I can’t just “do church” or “have church” anymore. Not without a few yawns and a little time on the internet, at least.
What really made me realize how bored I was:
This past Sunday the church I went to had a nice, tidy three point sermon. I can’t remember what all the points were. The message was taken from James 2, but it only covered a couple verses and was very fluffy. Do this, do that, love Jesus, the end. *Yawn* I went from that to looking for a Sunday School class. I went to the first and asked what they were studying. The man I asked looked at me and said, “We’re all older here.” I went next door to the next class (both were for “mixed adults”) and asked the same thing. Two women told me they were all–I stopped them and said I didn’t ask WHO they were, but WHAT they were studying. They responded that they were all married. Huh???
So I did finally attend a class, though. And in that class, there was a lengthy discussion on whether we should give money to bums. I tuned out. I’ve had that discussion several times. I’ve looked into it myself, considered several perspectives, and arrived at conclusions. The discussion later turned toward whether God was biased for choosing Israel as His people. It wasn’t a “Let’s open the Bible and look into that” sort of thing. It was more of a “was not-was too!” type thing. Again, I tuned out. For awhile. Until they really started getting on my nerves and I looked up from the internet long enough to interject that we should keep in mind that the Bible was written by, for and about Israelites, but that didn’t mean that God didn’t have others serving him as well. Followed by deathly silence. I went back to the internet and they changed the subject.
So… I’m bored because I go sit inside a box with people who think inside even smaller boxes, but I’m still thinking outside the box, and even wondering why we’ve made the boxes at all.