Saturday, September 27, 2008

all the right/wrong reasons

I was raised Lutheran (ELCA). It was pretty much an unsaid rule in my house that Sunday School was a must. Until my junior high school years, church services were like torture. Well, except when I got to sing. I was the star in our congregation (which, at its prime was probably well over 400 on a Sunday, no small feat for a ‘country church’). I was the lead in every church musical. I sang solo after solo. I was the special music for every major holiday.

Sometime around Junior High I started taking church more seriously. I’m not sure if it was that it was a safe, social thing to do (as a whole, I was a loser during my school years) or that I really felt pulled, spiritually. Looking back, I think my motivations were based on the church kids being more accepting of me; after all, Jesus loved everyone, right? I wasn’t annoyingly Jesusy, I don’t think…

Much to my parent’s chagrin, I went to the before-school Bible study, youth group, sang with our church’s worship team, went to some other church functions, spent time online in Christian chat rooms, etc… other than orchestra, it was my social outlet.

Again, looking back, I think my intentions were mostly pure, though maybe my motivations weren’t. I think I got “saved” twice or maybe three times during high school.

The day after high school graduation, I packed my car and moved to Kansas City. Though I could expand hugely on this story, I met some Christians while there, and found myself joining what some label as a cult – the International Churches of Christ. The next few months introduced me to the darker side of Christianity – where people abuse and control others using the Bible as a weapon. At the point I realized what I was involved in, it was too late – I was already broke, depressed and completely convinced that my departure from the ICC would spell certain damnation.

But I left.

Over the next few years, I tried desperately to hold to the good parts of things I learned in the ICC. To love others, to love Jesus… I started an organization that helped others get the gumption to leave the ICC and gave them support once they left, I met my husband (he’s also a former ICC member), I believed my call was into full-time ministry to others in some capacity. I was trying so hard to fill that space in my life that was so controlled by an organization, I lost sight of God. The experience I had in the ICC spiritually scarred me. And those scars I have to this day.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was really na├»ve. I believed that Christians were only there to help me, to support me and to love me – and I, them. But I found most of my experiences to be one-sided… with a whole lot of taking from them and not much giving – except from me. I did a short stint in Bible College, but honestly, I felt the whole thing was contrived. I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit more of a head case back then, but Bible College, like most churches I’ve been involved in, wasn’t about ministering to anyone except themselves.

At the same time, I had an obvious void in my life because of my love of church and, whether a product of or vice versa, God – so I filled it with more church, more church activities. I went into full-time ministry as a youth director and worship leader. I was on paid church staff, worked at church camps and dedicated my time and energy to God’s work. It was troublesome, though, that the imperfection of God’s people became an excuse to treat people badly – because people were imperfect, it made it somehow ok to treat people like total crap.

At one church, I was accused of stealing money from my own youth fund – over $2000. Though I managed to prove beyond all “reasonable” doubt I was not the thief, a few angry parents managed to convince the Christian education board not to remove anyone from suspicion. I resigned immediately upon receiving the letter that was sent out to the entire congregation, on a Saturday afternoon, leaving the church with no worship leader or youth director for the next day. Then there was Fellowship Church – who made me one of only 17 worship team members in a church of 15,000. Until my career (my work on an Oprah-esque website) and my weight made me unfit to be on the platform… I was removed from being a worship leader. Then there was COS, where the gap between the traditional and contemporary worship styles was not to be bridged and traditional “won out”. Then Bear Valley – my last straw – where I came in at the right time, when the founding pastor’s wife wanted a break from leading worship/playing keys… but when she was rested up, and when I voiced my upset after being treated badly at a retreat, I was removed from the worship team – I guess I went out at the right time, too. Their time.

I have just watched too much horribleness at the hands of Christians to look past it and to find a way to get past it to go back. I’ve watched as dear friends have been told that they aren’t good enough to be Christians, much less church members. I’ve watched as my friends on church staffs have been abused. I’ve watched as people have been used for money, talent and their giving hearts. I’ve watched as Christians use Jesus and God as an excuse to get out of sticky situations – God as a scapegoat – nice.

I truly believe that churches are nothing more than businesses – they have products and services to offer and a congregation that works for them – so that the leaders can get richer and gain acclaim in Christian community. Numbers are all that matter – whether offerings or membership or conversions.

I don’t want to be one of them – I don’t want to be around them… and I believe they are more the rule than the exception.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that I do have a void in my life. I realized that in some strange way, at those moments I was on the platform, in front of a congregation, leading worship – those were the moments I connected with God. It was never about being in front of anyone, it was never about there being a group of people hearing me or watching me… in those moments, it was completely and totally about me and God. It’s not a connection I got being in the congregation, I didn’t find it when I was rehearsing or in Bible study or anything like that… but there was an inexplicable connection for those few hours a week – where it was just what it was supposed to be: me connecting, truly, with God.

I’m not saying that was it – but those were the times I was keenly aware of God and His massive part in my life. So aware and tuned in – that I think it became a craving… a strange drive to make it from those moments to those moments… which made me have more drive between those moments to fill them with service to Him.

But that’s not enough – that “feeling” or that “awareness” to convince me to go back to church. Quite honestly, the thought of going back to a church makes me physically ill. You see, I can’t just go – I have to be involved. And I can’t be involved without people in the church being involved in my life. And I can’t be involved and lead worship without being a member. And membership comes with the necessity to let people into my life.

I don’t want anyone at any church to be more than casual acquaintances. I don’t believe have anything to glean from them, and they probably don’t have anything to glean from me because, frankly, I’m not willing to offer anything. There’s enough of Christ in the folks I know outside of a church, for me. I see more of Christ in those in my day to day life that I am friends with and am close to. There’s enough accountability and discipleship and all those Godsquad buzzwords without faking it and lying to be able to get that connection I miss.

So that’s it… the void and what to do about it. I want all the right reasons… but it seems the reasons are really all wrong. If I go back to church, I will be forced to lie to others. If I don’t go, I’m lying to myself.
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Dr. Zoom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Zoom said...

What all of this has to do with the beginning of the "Little Red Corvette" video, I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Hey there :) No baby...yet. We're trying, though. Miss you!

Anonymous said...

HA! Just got your comment. Thanks for trying to read it at least. That wasn't directed at you, but you probably know that. LOVE YA!