I sometimes attend my husband’s church in South Dakota. The Pastor there has a quiet and unaffected wisdom, and because of his kind and well-considered perspective, I hear him. I remain protectively un-involved and happy that way. But I am out of state reconciling parent stuff, so I went church exploring. The church was HUGE, with police, greeters, signs and lights, and wings for children’s ministries, women’s ministries, men’s ministries, outreach, even a gift shop! I didn’t know where to go, but asked and was directed to an overflow room with three large video screens and a live band, where I took chair on the outside aisle. The man speaking on the screen(s) gave a hearty and buoyant greeting. With his next breath, he began promoting a Grand Canyon trip – it will set you back about $1,400 dollars, he said. But you get a bus ride to the Grand Canyon, then a helicopter ride to the bottom, where you camp and have guided river tours for two days. If you ever doubted the existence of God, he said, or of the Great Flood, then this trip and the tour guide would put those thoughts to rest. And our youth, he emphasized, will be going to colleges where secular instructors have an AGENDA – they will present theories that deny the Great Flood, and we need to give them the ammunition they need to withstand this onslaught to their faith. Really? Is this how faith is built? The kind I need? The kind those kids need? I understand the inspiration of nature, and family vacations are important – worth spending money on – but what was this???
I stood up, returned my Bible to the table, smiled and nodded to the greeter. I put the women’s ministries brochures back on their table. I left. From where I sit, investing that kind of money in defending the flood epic doesn’t rank on my AGENDA.
When I was little, I received some religious education…not a lot. Mom prayed with me at night…”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” She didn’t want to scare me, so she changed the verse to say, “If I should ‘respire’ before I wake…” Predictably, it eventually left my innocent mouth as “If I should ‘PERSPIRE’ before I wake…” (Perhaps the source of my first religious misunderstandings?)
My parents went to church – not regularly. I remember counting the lines in the sidewalk as I walked to Sunday school, with my dime offering tied in the corner of a handkerchief, then being read to from a children’s bible book, and pasting pictures of Jesus on construction paper.
I believed in God. No question. I also prayed, and had an idealized image of someone sold out to God. In my mild protestant exposure, there was no such example, so I wore my mother’s black party dress and long necklace as I pretended to be a nun. (Quite the habit: black taffeta, tulle, and sequins! LOL!)
I remember the church we attended in Laramie, WY, USA, a high plains ranching and college town located at a 7400 foot elevation. It was said that Laramie had only three seasons: July, August, and Winter! I think WIND could have been a fourth season – year round. The church leaders decided we needed a new sanctuary, and visited all attendees at home to raise funds, even from those who had no money to spare. The new sanctuary was grey, sweeping in a long, smooth arc up to a peak, looking much like a shark fin, or an overturned, deep-hulled boat. My parents weren’t impressed, and even at age 10 or so, I understood that, in a bitterly cold and windy climate, the maintenance, heating and cooling on such a beast made it a poor investment. Thanks to Google, I checked to see if it is still there. It is:
See what I mean about the shark fin?
As a young teenager in Phoenix, AZ, I began attending a youth group. I had my “born again” experience by myself in my bedroom, asking Jesus to come into my heart, and prayed and read my Bible early in the mornings before I went to school. I thought Solomon was wise to pray for wisdom, so I prayed for wisdom. When asked to draw a picture of God, I drew a loving bearded man of all races (and was told this was a rather primitive view of God). LOL again! Before long, I heard that the church was replacing the sanctuary window, for around $40,000 (around 1972). This didn’t seem consistent with other messages. So I asked the Pastor if that huge amount of money might be better spent bussing volunteers from the church to help people in less privileged areas of town, to tutor or help with other needs. He smiled indulgently, and said that I had an idealistic view, but that people really needed an inspirational place in which to worship. It didn’t ring true. I stopped going to church and fell away entirely until my conversion (re-conversion?) when I spoke with Pastor #1 (http://wp.me/p2GxIs-1l).
The “new” stained glass window remains. (In locating the photo, I found that this pastor designed the window. It IS 6 stories of BEAUTIFUL! He also initiated a state of the art non-profit residential facility for aging adults, which includes more wonderful, enabling, expanding options than I have seen anywhere else – which is REALLY BEAUTIFUL – and where my parents may soon live!).
Since then I have visited or regularly attended other churches, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota. Large buildings, small buildings, store front, urban, rural. Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Foursquare, Christian Alliance, Lutheran, Assembly of God, Mennonite….possibly more. My personal favorite was in a store front with folding chairs (and a drummer who could open the gates of heaven…GLORY!). I don’t really care about the building. Aren’t people the body of Christ? More or less. I remember being asked by a classmate in High School what religion I was. I said Christian. No, I mean what RELIGION. She meant what denomination. I wouldn’t tell her, because I didn’t want my faith defined that way, even then. I still don’t. Such as it is.
Interesting aside: After my divorce from Peter, I wasn’t as involved in church. I no longer taught – I was divorced. (I know better now, Joe!) I gradually stopped going. Too many sermons on the evils of divorce, the ideal marriage, living righteously. Too many questions asked just to make sure I wasn’t acting in error. After a while I received a form letter from the church, stating that since I hadn’t been attending regularly, I had been removed from the membership list. The reason for this, I learned, is that they didn’t want occasional attendees voting on church issues. Another aside: I had previously listened exclusively to Christian CDs: Michael W. Smith, Jaci Velasquez, Salvador, Stephen Curtis Chapman, etc. , but didn’t listen to them as much so decided to donate them to a local, church sponsored, second-hand store. When I took them in, the woman receiving donations scrutinized them, and asked what church I went to. I told her. Oh, she said, I don’t think we need these.
Does this make anyone but me….tired? One blogger friend asked why I encounter so many weird things! Maybe it is my mission in life. Relating the not so funny version of church bloopers. Kidding, kind of.
But today I DID go to church: I read posts by blogger friends who speak of their own faith, forged in something more real than fancy buildings and hype, and who ring true. Thank you for a sermon that says something. Thanks for being friends, respectful of where I am with my faith and with God. Thanks for being The Church to me, since so many churches are out to lunch! With all due respect.