Church Shunning & My Attempts to Move On – Part 3

…When you’re born into trauma you grow from it
But when you experience a trauma later in life you grow toward it.
A slow move to an embrace
An embrace that leaves you holding tight.
the beauty wrapped in the grotesque
an embrace that becomes a dance
a new dance…

-Kevin Kling “Tickled Pink”

I wish I had a better ending to this series. I worry about the disappointment that comes from the anti-climactic or from realizing you would never do the same thing.

I want to leave my church so badly.

I feel like I’ve been aggressive in avoiding it and trying to make another church, any church, work for me. But like sand or glitter…you still find my church on me in the most random places refusing to let go. Family has a tendency of having that affect on people – good or bad.

Why can’t we let each other go?

We’ve begun to circle around an ELCA church in the suburbs of Chicago. The head pastor isn’t from the United States, and for some reason that makes him a loophole in all of our minds.

I’m having a serious problem pulling the trigger on membership – or even regularly showing up. I’ve also begun raining on people’s parades when it comes to their churches. I feel like the lone man on the corner with his microphone and cardboard sign preaching that the end is near. Only I want to warn people not to give their hearts to their churches. Don’t trust anyone or anything.

Yet, in spite of all of this, Bennett will be baptized in the ELCA. For some reason, it never crossed my mind to baptize him elsewhere. He belongs with his ancestors both living and dead, even if his mother can’t handle the home which they all live.

I want it all to change. I want to wake up and give my full heart back to the church. I want us to go back to the way things used to be…but that’s not going to happen, is it? The church is human. I’m human. And humanity has a track record of really jacking things up. It’s what we do best.

It is not ideal, but at this point I’m just hoping for a truce. Maybe, just maybe, if I embrace the brokenness in myself and those around me who I can’t seem to let go, something delicately beautiful might begin to grow someplace somewhere in the future.

Or maybe not.

But on this Tuesday in August of 2016, I have a small glimmer of hope that it will.

Church Shunning & My Attempts to Move On – Part 2

“Once I got some distance from my church, I found it impossible to return. For years I felt like a spiritual exile, trapped by a religious past that would not let me go. In a way, the intensity of my religious upbringing ruined my search for a new church home. I was so used to an all-consuming tradition that every church I visited seemed like playacting by comparison. I was like a young man whose first love was so passionate and turbulent that I doubted I would ever fall in love again. I could not go forward, but I also could not go back.”

-Stephen Webb

It took me longer to pick up that people didn’t want me around than it should have.

Hindsight is 20-20.

I look back at the stares, whispers, and the people who cornered me with insensitive questions and wonder what took me so long. Somehow it even seeped into my Methodist graduate school community. What do you do when you’re the hot new gossip? To be fair, I don’t think most people realized that what they were talking about included me. Does anyone ever consider the real people behind church gossip…or any gossip?

It was awful and it seemed like it would never end. Honestly, it still hasn’t. An old professor that I was incredibly close to literally turned and walked the other way at AAR/SBL last year.

I quit going to church (or any religious function). I remember my family went to a Lutheran Good Friday service a year later and we had to leave early because my mom and I were crying so hard it was becoming disruptive.

Eventually, though, I wanted to give church – any church – a try. My conversations with God were becoming more complex and I yearned for the community that I had for so long. Unfortunately, finding this is next to impossible.

I tried the Methodists, but my theology just didn’t fit. The best way to explain this is how a student declared to me that the thing that was wrong with Lutherans was that they were too obsessed with the cross. I was also told that my “obsession” with the Trinity was oppressive. As lovely as the UMC is, it wasn’t working.

I tried the Quakers. They scratched my social justice itch and their lack of hierarchy made it appealing after mine left my family burned. I also loved their search for a more mystical, individual relationship with the divine. However, again, my deep love of the Trinity didn’t fit.

The Pentecostals were wonderful, but I’m not known for being okay with losing control.

Evangelical churches that I visited were either too conservative on issues that I refused to compromise, or they were too liberal with theologies that I find essential….like the Trinity (seeing a pattern on this?).

I looked at starting a house church with just a few mainline (probably Lutheran) young couples, but either the people who were interested moved or mainline churches have a weird aversion to house churches.

I finally found a church I really loved. Old Saint Pat’s Roman Catholic Church, in the West Loop of Chicago, was so much of what I was looking for. Diverse, social justice minded, actually believed in the Trinity and many of the theologies of the creeds/early church, and (as a refreshing twist) was thriving.

Quick sidenote: one of the reasons I found this refreshing was not that the pews were packed (which they were. Often with standing room only), but that this church wasn’t letting the message that the mainline is dying hang on them. They were reaching out. They were missional. In so many of the churches that I visited, the idol of “we’re dying” or “why aren’t we as popular as we used to be” hung on the congregations like a stink. It’s depressing and it infects everything. I know house churches of 12 people who have made massive differences in the world. I know one fellow seminary student (at least) who has turned the world upside down with her ministry (that she does solo). Size doesn’t seem to matter, but the mentality of the church is horrifying.

Alright. Off my soapbox. I’m back.

I loved Old Saint Pat’s so much I decided to become Roman Catholic. I signed up for their classes (you have to take like 6-9 months of classes before you’re welcomed to the church on Easter Sunday) and was wondering how I was going to tell my centuries old Lutheran family that I was officially out.

Then, for some reason, things seemed to fall in my path. Obstacles were showing up and everything started to become harder. The night before my very first class, I had odd dreams about time not being right and brick walls. The next morning I threw up right before the class (this was Bennett saying hello via morning sickness).

I called it all off. Something wasn’t right. I was really falling in love with so much of the church, but my sub-conscious was telling me something. This wasn’t right for me.

Next week….where am I?

Church Shunning & My Attempts to Move On – Part 1

Peripeteia: a turning point; the movement at which everything you have trusted collapses under you.

There’s no good place to start.

A lot of people leave their religion for a variety of reasons. Yet, there seems to be this small contingent of people who would love nothing more than to go back. To go back to a time or place when their church family loved them as much as they love their church. Or did love their church.

It is my hope that what I say might speak to this small population, but maybe it’s all too personal and there comes a point when your scars are just yours.

I guess I should count myself lucky that for a few years I felt the overwhelming love that comes with being among a real religious community. I was ride-or-die for my denomination. My ultimate dream was to dedicate my entire life (personally and professionally) to this church. My parents had done it, my grandparents, uncles, aunts….this church not only symbolized my participation within the church catholic and all that that family entails, but also my heritage and loving embrace of my own nuclear family and their decisions to be pastors, theology professors, Christian counselors, Christian publishers, church organists, missionaries, etc. etc. etc.

I LOVED my church and, for a while there, my church loved me back.

The circumstances don’t matter. What matters is that one day the earth went cold. So few questioned. So few doubted. Many believed the worst and the rumor mill was at its best. Friends and mentors invited to my wedding – people who comforted us when my grandparents died…they disappeared. Best friends went quiet.

Where did my Christian community go? Why did they go silent in the face of troubled waters? Wasn’t the Bible full of teachings to do the total opposite of what we felt was happening to us?

I know there were a few who had ill will, but most people just felt uncomfortable. In many ways I saw us as lepers or scapegoats…and you know the thing about lepers and scapegoats? All the community desperately wants is for them to just go away so that they can move on with their lives. It doesn’t matter what your belief or ideology is – human nature has a tendency of winning out, and our base instincts don’t want to live around suffering and what has been discarded.

It was and is the worst pain I have ever felt.

It was only recently that I could walk into a church of my denomination without breaking down into tears.

Years later and I am still in denial.

I remember thinking, “how do others survive this?” I know they are out there – the ones who have been kicked out, shamed, shunned, rejected, silenced. Some for good reasons and others for heartbreaking reasons.

But how do they move on? Can you ever really move on from the deep cut of being rejected by your church?

Next week I’ll talk about my attempts to rebound…

A Call for Good Gossip

There’s this Ole and Lena joke I heard when I lived in Minnesota that I think hints at what I’ve been thinking about this week:

 

Ole and Lena had been married twenty years and Lena was getting worried that Ole might be seeing someone else or might want a divorce, because she couldn’t remember the last time he even told her that he loved her. She tortured herself thinking about it and finally confronted Ole saying:  “You never tell me you love me. Is there someone else? Are you unhappy?”

Ole replied, “When ve got married I told you I loved you. If I ever change my mind I’ll let ya know.”

 

Why don’t we like sharing the good things we hear about others?

Why don’t we like sharing the good things we think about others?

When I was in college and seriously thirsty for affirmation (still an issue I’m working on), a friend of mine pointed out that while I was quick to complain that no one ever said nice things to me, I rarely shared when I heard positive things about others or even told those around me what affirming things I thought about them.

She was totally right.

I’m not always the best as this, but since then I have really tried to at least let the people around me know when someone has said something positive about them, because odds are that that person hasn’t and won’t tell them themselves (especially at work/school).

Yet, since I have become a mom, I have noticed this gap of affirmation just gets bigger. I see three main camps:

(1) bad-mouthing a mom.

This is classic and there are numerous hilarious videos that make fun of this. We see a mom – I don’t know – breathing a certain way, and we either quickly tell those around us or (if you’re incredibly confident) the mom herself how research or opinions tell us how her choices and instincts are wrong/stupid/dangerous.

(2) parenting style support groups

How are you raising your children? Tiger mom? Helicopter parent? Self discovery? How are you going to sleep train? Ferber? Co-sleeping?

Whether online, in books, or in person, these groups can either give you a much needed information boost when you feel lost, or make you feel like mud when you don’t fully commit. I have never felt more like a bad parent than when I’m a part of these groups. It’s amazing how being the most informed parents probably in the history of humanity has made us the most miserable and so lacking.

(3) well-meaning old guard

This one is tricky because new parents can really use the knowledge of those parents around them with whom they trust to give them advice, correct blunders, and pass on the knowledge that they learned themselves (usually the hard way). This is invaluable and I really hope that most parents have a few people surrounding them that they really trust to go to for advice and to help prop them up when they feel like it’s all too much. However, I think these relationships quickly fall into the pattern of new parents just hearing what they’re doing wrong or what they need to fix. I asked some of my fellow new parents and they all agreed that they had rarely heard (if at all) what others thought they were doing right – what they might actually be good at.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I know that if brought up, 98% of those around new parents would be SO quick to point that the new parents in their lives are doing incredibly well and that they are indeed great parents…..they just never share it.

Just like people at work rarely get to hear what their co-workers think they’re really good at and spouses rarely express those moments of gratitude and love that happen in the everyday wear and tear of life – I think those overtired, lost, desperate new parents could also use a few kind words on how attentive they are to their babies or how they are champion diaper changers.

And just in case my readers think that this is the ultimate fishing expedition for compliments – that is NOT my intention. I’m fine. I have a great support team around me.

Instead, what I really hope for is a ripple effect in which people start to tell those around them (especially women and new parents) when they think that person is doing something pretty great.

It will feel awkward at first (“Wow! You’re really good at burping a baby!” “You know, Aunt Rachel told me the other day that she thought it was really great how you make your baby laugh so much.”), but I promise that it makes a difference.

 

In My Sights This Week:

  • The Netflix documentary on Tony Robbins, I’m Not Your Guru. I didn’t know about this guy. Seriously fascinating!
  • After reading this article about some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, I seriously need to add this book to my list.
  • Catching up on Gilmore Girls, ya’ll! Can’t wait for the show’s return
  • Always and forever, Real Housewives of New Jersey.
  • This little truth bomb made me cackle