Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting something off my chest...

So, there's been this "thing" rattling around in my brain for awhile. This "thing" is difficult to talk about because I'm afraid that it might hurt some feelings, or rub some people the wrong way. This "thing" is church. Now, I know that most of you that read my blog, know me. You may or may not know some or all of my history in regards to church and religion. Some of you might have attended the same church as me, or still attend the church. While, I have never been hurt or persecuted for my beliefs, I haven't always felt comfortable with the part that religion played in my life.

For instance, growing up, church was never a decision that I made for myself. For awhile, I was driven to church , because I was too young to make the decision. I liked it...I got to hang out with friends, and be a "part" of something, even if I didn't know what that "something" was. I did have a few issues and struggled with a few different teachings. Two in particular really scared me. I grew up Baptist, and my best friend attended church next door, which was Catholic. On more than one occasion, it was said that "our neighbors (insert pointing gesture to the Catholic church) may not be in heaven when we get there, because they a.)put too much emphasis on Mary, b.) don't believe in the same things that we do or c.) have not been saved". Now, to a young kid, this was hard to grapple with. So, what I am hearing is "I won't get to spend time in heaven with my best friend?" The other issue I had scared me even more. After my great-grandmother died when I was only about 10, I realized that she never really talked about going to church, so...did this mean that she wasn't "saved"? Was I really never going to see my Great-Grandma again? This was really heavy stuff for a kid to deal with.

Moving on toward high school, I remember feeling lost and left out because I went to a public school. I didn't feel like I was a "good enough" Christian, because I didn't attend the Christian school. I even begged my parents to send me to the private school for my Senior Year. (thank goodness my mom said no!). I dated boys that were not Christians, and brought them to church with me. It was always tough...I never felt like we were "welcome", nor that it was OK to date. Church still wasn't an option for me, other than something that I was either forced, or guilted into. As I look back, I don't think that attending church was ever a decision that I was able to make for myself. To this day, I still feel horribly guilty if I choose not to go to church when I stay at my parent's house. (Let me interject, that my mom was never a part of the pressure, in fact...she was just the opposite).

When I went away to college, things really started to change. I started thinking that things didn't "jive" with me. Specifically, I struggled with the pro-life/pro-choice debates and the anti-gay stance that the home church had. When I moved in with two male friends for a summer, and was told by a few people (and heard other rumors about me) that originated in the church, I knew that the church wasn't for me. I felt judged for doing nothing wrong. I felt like an outsider, and was made to feel like a bad person for living with people that made me feel safe. Seeing petitions at the back of the church, and hearing the anti-gay sentiments further confirmed my belief that I could no longer be a part of the church.

Now, being a part of the church was not all bad. I've met some really great friends, and people that I look up to. The late Mrs. Simonds, Mrs. Anderson, and Mrs. Dobbins are still some of the most caring and honest people that I have ever met. All three of these women were strong in their own ways, and regardless of their beliefs, lifted each person up. I have a lot of really fond memories of my times at church, but very few of these memories have anything to do with feeling "good" about what I heard from the pulpit, or feeling "moved" by the various testimonies. The reality is that with as many friends that I met through the church, there are just as many, if not more, people that I really struggled with. I had a really hard time with the gossip, back-talking and overall meanness and guilt.

The church that I grew up in split twice. The first time was in 1987, and while I don't remember much, I remember that there were a lot of hurt feelings and animosity around the split. When it happened again just a year ago, I couldn't believe it. I won't go into the reasons for the split, but I will say this- If you love your Christian brothers and sisters in the church as a family, then allowing another church "split" is never an option. It's the opposite of's selfish.

I've realized a lot lately. I realized how imperfect people are. I look around everyday. I read the news, and listen to the radio. I watch TV, and interact with friends, neighbors and family, and see imperfections. I see how we people have harmed our planet, and hurt each other both physically and emotionally. I see how we have interpreted the Bible for our own good, and use it against one another when convenient. I see how people judge one another to make themselves feel better, and, how mean we can be.

On the other hand, I witness God's perfection every day. Each time I look at Avery, or feel my belly move from kicks, I know that God is perfect. Or, every time that I see the rain, or my tulips pop through the ground, I know that God knows what he is doing.

It always seems to be a little arrogant to assume that imperfect people can understand a perfect God.

For the past few years, my dad has said repetitively "you and Chris need to find a church", or "Avery is really smart, she needs to be in a church" My response has been "I'm not hiding from God, but I am in hiding from the guilt, judgment and people that inflict these things." I know that my dad is doing what he thinks is right, but that doesn't mean it's right for me. I don't think he has seen or realize what I've felt or gone through. All he cared about was that I was in church. I'm a little tentative to jump with both feet back into a situation that didn't feel good before. I'm definitely going to protect my daughter from feeling the same way that I did. She will never be forced into something that she doesn't feel. Church and religion is something that I have to come to on my own terms. I will give Avery the chance to make up her own mind too. I have a lot of religious baggage to shed before I can open myself back up to people in a spiritual way. My relationship with God is still's his people that I don't always trust.

With that being said, I decided to attend church yesterday. It was the first time in a LONG time that I decided ON MY OWN to attend. I wasn't pressured into it, but walked in with my eyes wide open, and was still skeptical. I did a lot of research ahead of time, and talked to a lot of people about their experience. I had a great time. Mars Hill is HUGE, so I can disappear when I want to, and be involved when I want to. I don't have anyone looking to see what I'm wearing, or if I'm singing along. As the pastor said, they "are aggressively non-partisan", so I won't see any petitions, or watch any anti-gay skits there. The church is focussed on Love and Service to all people (not just loving and giving to other Christians). It was refreshing. I liked to look around and see everyone in jeans and dreadlocks, and piercings and tattoos. Apparently, there are about 11, 000 people that attend the three services every week, so there are LOTS of different people in attendance. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I'm not prepared to put my name on any member rosters yet, but I might go back...or I might not.

Either way, it will be MY decision this time.


JessLitLvr said...

I'm proud of you, Michele, for posting your feelings and beliefs in such an honest and sincere way. Furthermore, I respect you and love you for it, sis.

Heather said...

I read this entire entry to Sophia (I hope you don't mind). She sat quietly through the entire entry and clapped for you with such force I thought for sure her hands would turn black and fall off.

I have some of the same views and experiences of church that you do and I admire you're boldness to share that with the world. I have made the same decision for Sophia... We (I should say) want to let her choose.

However it has been said (in my family no less) that if we don't get Sophia baptized she won't reach heaven should something happen to her..... what are your thoughts? Mine weren't very nice.

Willo said...

Amen! Is Mars Hill the church that NOOMA comes out of? Because I love that series!

MLDB said...

Heather- I was raised to believe that baptism comes after you're old enough to decide about your relationship with God...and that while you're a child, you sort of get a "free pass". Mars Hill has a statement on their website that explains their beliefs (basically that parents can dedicate their kids, but baptism comes later). I don't know if I'm down with either idea. If I were ever to dedicate Avery, it would be to promise to raise her with good morals, values, and the ability to make hard decisions with responsible guidance. Other than that...I'm just as lost as you;) If Sophia isn't in Heaven because of baptism, then she'll be in good company with Avery and I.

MLDB said...

Willo- Yup, Rob Bell is the founder and pastor, and does the NOOMA videos. I just watched Rain last night, and cried. I also love the one called "Flame" about love.

amanda said...

Great post Michele. I've had similar struggles myself. And I still feel very unsure of how or if (organized) religion will play a role in our family. Even if we never find a church for us, I still think I can raise my kids to know God and to be a "good" person.

Mes Yeux Seulement said...

I'm proud of you too, Michele, for expressing how you feel so honestly and openly. It's definitely not easy to do, especially with such loaded topics!

Hootah said...

I struggled in college too and now find that church makes me angry. So hypocritical. I haven't gone to mass outside of a funeral in ages. Actually, make that five years, when I attended with my family last time I was home for Christmas. Big surprise.

tania said...

I attended Mars Hill for a couple of years when I still lived in Grand Rapids and felt very much at home there because it was the first time I'd ever attended a church where the pastor said it was okay to question God and spoke openly about the fact that life is hard, and it's painful, and sometimes it just plain sucks. Since moving to San Diego we haven't tried to find a church because I feel like the majority won't be a good fit for me - I need to belong to one that is progressive and open-minded. I've considered asking some of my gay friends who are spiritual where they attend... but I'm not in a hurry because I don't think that a relationship with God is defined by whether you show up to this building called a church once a week. It's much more personal than that.

p.s. - The NOOMA videos are fantastic. Such a great way to reach out to this generation of people who want to explore their faith.

Kristy said...

Michelle- If you read my blog, you will know that I go to a church every Sunday, and will raise my children there. I echo alot of your same feelings, more often than not it is people I find myself grapling with and not God himself. But, I think that you nail the issue right on the head when you said the people are not perfect and when we set our selves up to see them as perfect(or the try to act as if they are) we set ourselves up for failure.The church of our parents: gossip, back- biting, and protests are not the church of today. And although I agree with the anti-gay stance my church takes, I also know that if a Gay person walked in the doors of my church they would NOT be shunned or presucated, because God says love the sinner and not the sin. Religion, Church and Salvation is a hard topic to talk upon based so much on our "baggage" that we have as children. Sometimes, our parents just did what there parents did based upon the sole fact that it seemed right. I am so thankful that we live in an age that we have parenting, moral and value resources at our finger tips.We do not have to raise our kids as we were raised. I believe in Church, God and his Son Jesus and they impact who I am as an adult but I applaude your efforts to make sure you know what you want and what you believe based on you instead of doing it just because your parents did. I love my church, and I hope that you and your family find one that you love & enjoy just as much and that will help you find the answers that you need.

Steph said...

Amen, sis! We connected on this topic right away, remember? Reading and hearing about your struggles has helped me so much. It's such a relief to know that someone else gets it. And as I understand it, church is about fellowship and connection, so in a way, our experiences (even the worst ones) have brought us together. Congratulations on your courage! Looking forward to finding our way together.