Monday, March 02, 2009

Always be waiting for you

Mom's hands, as seen by Sophia

So early in Lent do I stumble. Oh well. Mistakes are not the point. The point is to keep going, and to not use the mistakes as excuses. Maybe I’m stumbling because I’m not sure I have much to say, or maybe it’s because I’m trying to purge the negativity from my life. Trying to not let it affect me.

Maybe I should just blog about that. One of my big problems with the Christian community is not faith itself, not doctrine, but peer pressure. Didn’t Gandhi say something about loving Christianity except for the Christians? I know, as all of evangelicals did growing up, that no one could choose their faith based on their companions, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about just how difficult it is to maintain one’s independence..

Dogmatism is never good. Ever. Most churches I’ve attended are the kinds of places where a person can’t even express a divergent view, let alone have it honestly discussed and debated. One of my favorite quotes from college was that “the church is the only hospital that kills its wounded.” There’s this internal pressure to believe everything that everyone else believes, even if it doesn’t quite make sense, to not express doubt, to not rock the boat.

In high school, I remember my endless torment during Faith Fellowship, our on-campus Sunday morning service. Should I raise my hands during the praise choruses? What did it mean if I did? What did it mean if I didn’t? Was I doing it honestly because I was praising God? Or because I wanted people to think I was more spiritual than I actually was? Even if I was doing it to truly praise God, was raising hands something that people should do at all?

What the debate did was draw me completely away from any sense of worship, from any connection with God. It made me angry and frustrated. It still does, when I go to raising-hands kinds of churches. Didn’t Jesus say to hide in a closet when we prayed? I had the same feeling, the same utterly angst-ridden and crippling self-doubt, whenever we would pray as a group in our dorm. We were supposed to pray out loud “as the Spirit led,” but what did that mean? If the Spirit was leading me by making me completely uncomfortable while we all sat in silence, or if the Spirit was leading me by making me feel guilty because I hadn’t prayed out loud in two weeks, then maybe the Spirit was leading me. If not, then maybe our praying out loud had a lot more to do with showing off than it had to do with communicating with God.

I still worry about what Christians think, and I worry about what everyone else thinks, too. I worry about what you think reading this. I worry about what atheists think and what fundamentalists think. I wouldn’t go to church in ripped jeans and a dirty sweatshirt, with greasy hair, not because I don’t believe God would accept me, but because I don’t believe my fellow Christians would In the last year, I’ve spent more money on clothes so that I can feel comfortable in church than I have on any other apparel. Is that right? Of course not! It’s exactly the people in the stinky sweats who should be welcomed at church with open arms. Jesus made that perfectly clear. We all know it, and we all know that they aren’t.

So what does this mean for my faith? I didn’t go to church this morning, even though I desperately wanted and needed to, because I have a morbid terror of coffee hour. I want to meet God. I don’t want to justify my existence to a bunch of strangers.

I know that’s harsh. I know a lot of it has to do with my resistance to participating in any kind of intimate community, and maybe with having been forced into too many strange Sunday schools as a child. Ultimately, it’s irrelevant. But other Christians are still a huge obstacle for me. An obstacle I have to acknowledge and move through.


Anonymous said...

I so totally agree with your post that I could not resist the urge to tell you. I am spiritual, but have always been baffled by organized religion. I loathe the pressure I feel when someone preaches to me and tries to make me believe what they believe. I grew up going to Sunday School, and loved learning about the bible, but as an adult I find the pressure to conform for the sake of being 'one of them' distasteful. I have not gone to church for many years, but this does not mean I do not have faith, it just means I am more comfortable worshiping in private. I think if we lead honest, respectable lives and follow our heart we cannot go wrong. Forget about what others think, what do you think, that is what counts. Have a safe and beautiful day.

kolinko said...

hey Melissa,
Do you still use your aol account? I'd love to email you. I'm impressed by your beautiful honesty and want to know more.

Melissa said...

My faith blogs seem to be hitting a nerve... When I opened up my dashboard today, after two days spent traveling and coming down with the flu bug that seems to be going around, I had eight comments! It's really hard to be honest about my faith, but I hope I can shuffle through the negativity, and come out stronger on the other side. (Roni--great to hear from you! Yes, I do still use my aol account and would love to hear how you're doing.)