Monthly Archives: March 2014

The main problem

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I can’t write straight. Because I can’t think straight. Because I keep bouncing from book to book, from webpage to webpage, in a desperate attempt to find something I can salvage from my faith. I never, ever realized, except in the most academic sense, how central my faith was to my Self.

I never realized how easily I used to just lean on it in times of need. Read a quick Bible passage, send up a short prayer, ask a Christian friend to pray for me, listen to a worship song. How it was woven so tightly into the tapestry of my life. I didn’t know that when I looked for answers to all my long-held questions, that I was yanking on the the warp threads holding said tapestry together. Now all I’ve got is a pile of tangled thread all over the floor.

If faith helps point you in the right direction on life’s map then I’ve got a problem. I haven’t just lost true North – I’ve lost the whole damn compass. I keep reflexively trying to do the things I’ve always done, but they don’t work anymore. I try to read the Bible – but as I read I remember the similarity it has with all the other ancient faiths and myths. And suddenly I feel like I’m trying to gain comfort from Shakespeare or Homer. Which suddenly strikes me as pointless and ridiculous.

I try to pray in times of need, or before bed. But now that I know that I may have only been hearing my own thoughts inside my head, it seems quite silly.

I’ve been trying to learn new ways of being spiritual, such as meditation, but I’m not very good at it yet. I get monkey mind – a lot. I’ve done yoga a few times. It helps me relax and be more flexible, but I haven’t found it particularly enlightening.

Running helps. Sometimes, when I’m pounding the pavement to the beat of a favorite song, I feel like I can outrun the demons in my head. But they always come back.

Weaving a faith into a persona seems like a great idea, a way to keep both person and faith strong. Until the faith is questioned, and the person is left with an enormous hole where her young Self was supposed to be forming.

I can see so clearly now what I could not see back then. How my faith picked up the slack and became my coping mechanism. And it was a very good, very effective, socially acceptable coping mechanism. But it came at a very high price. As I found myself drawn farther up and farther in to the evangelical minded form of my faith, as the seeds were gradually planted here and there, the plant of my faith turned into a kudzu that gradually took over every aspect of my personality.

At the time, I thought this was a good thing. It gave me a purpose and an identity. My family approved. My friends thought me a little odd, but admired my fervor. And when “God” brought new Christian friends into my life, well, my fervor was vindicated.

I never noticed though, that this faith of mine was gradually shaping and changing my personality. That it was shaping my goals and my dreams, and inserting itself into my life plans.

And now here I am, with the life created by the choices made “under the influence of God” wondering how I’m supposed to cope without the faith that helped me make them. Some of these choices I would likely have made with or without a faith of any sort. I would likely have attended the same college. Most likely would have met the man who became my husband.  I would have joined some of the same groups that I joined – like the two choirs I sang in. Probably would have majored in the same thing. None of those things were ever really “faith things”. They were the product of choices made by my real Self.

But oh, the dreams I left by the wayside, in the name of “seeking God’s will”.  And inserted in their place, church, church, and more church.   Ad infinitum.  Ad nauseum.  More books about God.  More Bible studies.  Christian rock music out the wazoo in an attempt to “keep my eyes on the prize”.

I worked so hard to keep “going deeper” in my faith I accidentally dug to China and came right out the other end.  Out of faith.  Bewildered and blinking in the daylight wondering what the heck just happened.  What a very odd place to be.  It’s like waking up one morning not understanding the language of your homeland.  I hear people use the same words and phrases they’ve always used, that *I’ve* used for so many years, and they don’t make sense in my mouth anymore.

I want a faith – some faith – any faith.  What’s a person supposed to do?  Shop around?  Do a cost comparison?  Choose a new faith from the cornucopia as though choosing produce at the grocery store?  There aren’t any guidebooks for this sort of thing.  Many people who’ve done this, who have undergone a similar journey, simply leave faith by the wayside.  I admire their courage, but I don’t want to follow in their footsteps.

It’s a puzzle that won’t leave me alone.

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My Church Problem

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It’s Sunday morning. Church time. Or would be church time if I was still going to church. Instead I’m sitting here drinking coffee and writing a blog post. The guilt still nags at me, like a good Jewish mother. Even though it’s been almost 5 years that we attended a church regularly, the guilt still nags at me.

Old habits die hard, I guess. Not that I wanted this one to die. Just the opposite, actually. For the first year or two after leaving the Very Evangelical Church I fervently, feverishly searched for a new church for our family. I researched the possibilities online, narrowed them down, and visited the ones I thought might work. I’m in the South. There’s *lots* to choose from. I tried to be realistic. I wasn’t expecting to find one right away. I wasn’t expecting to find a perfect fit. However, I *was* expecting to find one – eventually.

Well….there was one factor in my church hunt that I forgot to take into consideration. Me. My newly open, questioning self doesn’t resonate well (if at all) with the old church model. Like trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole, I kept finding the old adage to be uncomfortably true – “Wherever you go, there you are.” I kept *noticing* things. Things like dying congregations who were desperately rallying the troops just to keep the church building open and functioning. Things like new church plant congregations which were basically personality-cults centered around a charismatic preacher. Many of these were also Nepotism Central – with father as the preacher and various family members filling the other positions of leadership. I had been in one of these monstrosities twice now, and vowed never to darken the doorstep of another again.

I began to see, in some ways for the first time, exactly how much many churches (at least in my immediate area) are truly like families – dysfunctional families. In one or two cases, the dysfunction was obvious enough to be almost a miasma hanging over the congregation. Ick. How could I in good conscience subject my family, my children, to that?

I’ve attended churches so big that a person was practically just a number, and churches so small that everyone had to wear half a dozen leadership hats just to keep the doors open. I realized I was just….DONE. Finished with the whole outdated, outmoded thing.

I knew I was burned out when I left. That was *why* I left. But now I was discovering that I was burned out on more than just service to the church. I was burned out on the whole idea of pledging all of one’s (scant) free time, not to mention money, to an institution that seemed to take more than it ever gave.

This new spirituality, this newborn calling within me, doesn’t fit anymore within four walls, no matter how ancient or modern.