Friday, June 27, 2014

Church...to Go or Not to Go?

Hey readers! I'm flipping the script this week and posing a question to you:

Church: Yay or nay?

Let's backup a bit. I was raised Lutheran. Lutherans are Christian, meaning they believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins on the cross. I like to say we are similar to Catholics only we get to wear jeans and sing shorter songs. I remember tracing the outline of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible with my finger over and over again. I could prolly do it right now on a piece of paper....which is kinda amazing because....

I haven't been to church in years.

I can't exactly pinpoint the moment I stopped going. I'm pretty sure I went every Sunday all the way through Jr. High and maybe a year or two into high school...but then, college years, nothing. I was married in the church and attended services at a little chapel in Germany while he was deployed. I remember feeling pretty religious for a while there...even picking up some Christian novels and daily quotes to read each morning. When we returned stateside, however, we didn't make church a priority. And then my marriage took a serious, serious turn for the worst...and I decided I didn't ever want to go back.

Now, almost four years later, the wounds of my past are healing. My marriage is renewing itself...very, very slowly, and with substantial setbacks......but it's getting better each day. My faith, however, has not yet healed - I hold grudges like a muther trucker. But I'm a mom....and if there's one thing I'm pretty decent at, it's considering my children when making decisions.


See, I have really good memories from church. We had this pie fest thing around Thanksgiving. Everyone would bring a pie, we'd do a short service, and then we'd stuff our faces with pie until we about died. I think my love of pie came from church. True story.

And then Advent....Christmastime decorations, crafts, the music, and a month-long message of grace and gifts and good things. I remember coloring pictures, making a bird-feeder pinecone with peanut butter, and decorating gingerbread ornaments with my baby sister.

There was this picture of Jesus in the church hallway. I would stare at it every Sunday. I thought he looked beautiful...dark-skinned, long-haired, peaceful. I loved that painting. No uber-creepy, bloody head of thorns I would see sometimes in other churches....no nails and crosses, sacrifice, or blood. Just peace.

My church had a kickass youth group. We'd camp and go on scavenger hunts and take trips to the Ozarks and cliff jump into bright blue water. I went to my first concert (Supertones) with my church youth group. The concert was, in all honesty, way more trippy than you'd think a stone-cold soberfest filled with Christian ska bands would be. I remember standing there, under a dusky sky, staring up at a brightly-lit stage, surrounded by hundreds of almost-adults, all screaming the lyrics to every song, and dancing like we were alone in our bedrooms, feeling completely accepted as we were, flawed, gawky, most of us never-been-kissed. We hummed with potential, like an untapped spring, filled with raw, crystal-clear faith. It felt joined to everyone else - completely included, like one collective spirit, hundreds of voices and bodies moving with youth and joy - and it was all our own, pure and untouched by drugs, alcohol, or fear. I was a foot off the ground, floating on the buzz of life. Coulda been dehydration, coulda been Jesus, but either way, it was a memory I'll never forget.

I loved singing. Man do I miss the singing. Did you know that about me? I love to sing. I had a few solos in church - botched them, for the most part. I am a very nervous, shy singer. I can belch like the best of 'em but ask me to sing by myself and I turn bright red and want to run. Singing in church was different. So many other voices. Sometimes my pastor would walk down the aisle and stand right next to me, loudly singing the hymn, bolstering my strength to sing louder, not be afraid.

My pastor was like a second father to me. He helped me through my parent's divorce. He taught me how to train a hunting dog. He took me ice fishing. He gave me my first sip of beer (that's the Lutheran way! haha!). He took care of me and my sister when my mom was sick. He was the only positive male influence in my life for many years. He officiated my wedding....and then retired. He did not baptize my kids. They'll never have the chance to hear one of his sermons. Makes me sad...but also a bit motivated.

I want my kids to have the opportunity to make memories like these. I want them to have a foundation of faith - something they can choose to build on, or not. I want to give them the option of knowing God, knowing a Higher Being is all about. I needed my faith quite a bit when Aaron was deployed. Regardless of how much I waver in my faith now, it was strong and held me up back then. Maybe it could do the same for my girls? Maybe they will one day need it like I did?

But then there's some stuff about the whole church-going thing that doesn't agree with me. Like the giving stuff. Church always made me feel this intense amount of pressure to give more....more money, more time, more than I can. It became more about doing for the church than doing for God, in some instances...and that bothers me intensely. I'm happy singing songs in a open field or wooden hut...why do we have to spend millions of dollars creating McChurchMansion? And why are those who give the most money considered the "Committee on High?" The only thing worse than governmental politics is church politics. Puke.

I also take issue with some of the Bible-bound laws and regulations. I believe in the ideas behind most of them....be good to your neighbor, don't cheat, don't lie....but the God I believe in doesn't send a sick, sick person who committed suicide to hell. And I know with ever fiber of my being that love is love. The God I know would never condemn a man for loving another. And I think respecting nature and celebrating the seasons of the moon and sun is good, not evil or "devil worship wiccan" stuff. The Harry Potter VS Narnia debate makes me shake my head. I do not believe in a Fire and Brimstone Lord. I think Jesus was a cool cat, but I have problems with the literal translations of the stories and miracles most Christians covet as 100% fact. Science fascinates me and I think all things, even humans, evolve.

So you see, putting me in church is like flicking water onto a frying pan. When the congregation is cool, I can hang out and enjoy myself. Turn up the fire and brimstone, however, and I evaporate real fast. My relationship with God is MY relationship with God. Man shouldn't be defining any part of it.

And then there's my husband. He was raised by the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister. He had a good foundation of faith growing up but lost most of his faith during his deployments. His disgust with the hypocrisy and extreme actions of "religious people" reaches so far, he wants nothing to do with a church. He, too, wants to do right by our kids, but he doesn't have the same memories I have.....and in his mind, doing right by the kids doesn't mean taking them to church. As a matter of fact, he suggested once maybe keeping them OUT of church might actually be more beneficial.

And can we please just talk for a minute about the early-morning Sunday thing. I am a selfish, selfish woman. I crave time with my family to the point of tears. I will never, ever be an every-Sunday type of gal. I kinda feel like God is smiling at me when I tickle my kids and eat muffins in bed instead of yelling at them to hurry up so we can get to church on time.. and then being crabby and resentful for the rest of the day. The early-morning Sunday commitment frightens me not because I'm worried about what God will think, but because I'm worried about the judgement of everyone else at the church.

I'm at a crossroads. Church or no church....teach Jesus at home or try something new. I think it would be best for my kiddos to at least try it out....but what about the united parental front? If mom goes and dad doesn't? What kind of message will that send to the kids?


Come at me, readers. Tell me about your experiences. Do you go to church? Do you not go to church? Why or why not? I realize religion is a very personal subject - but I can't help but feel somewhere out there, someone is sitting there asking the same questions I am. So let me have it, Bible-lovers! Tell me all about it, Amazing Agnostics! Lazy Sunday Morning People - I want to hear from you!

Full disclosure: I like having a globe full of Buddhist, Hindus, Jews, Atheists, Christians, and Islamic followers. I think diversity makes our world go 'round. All opinions are welcome here, assuming they are not outwardly offensive to others...which they obviously won't be because let's face it, I obviously have the best readers ever. Don't even know why I typed this. Stupid disclosure. 

And as always, thank you so, so much for reading :) Have a happy weekend!
Jen


22 comments:

  1. This is such a good topic. I just told my husband today that we are going to church tomorrow after a long hiatus from the holy place. I think the problem for me is the religion we were raised, Catholic. I don't agree with a lot of their doctrines now that I'm a grown up. Specifically that they are opposed to birth control and IVF.

    I think you have to find a church that's right for you and your family. It took me awhile, but I settled on a non-denominational smaller Christian community. But after my 5 year old proclaimed "I hate you" this morning - I knew it was time for some structure and discipline. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you Kristen! I'm with you - some of the more devout, strictly-adhered rules and regulations seem very out of place in today's world. I'm thinking we're going to be like you guys - a smaller, more progressive or contemporary congregation would prob be best. Thanks for the well-wishes and for stopping by :)

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  2. Wow. So glad I happened upon your post! As a pastor I am indeed biased, but let me just say, the church that Jesus started was never meant to be a building - it's a community of people on a journey together. So much of what you said you miss about church centers around that. I love that my kids have adults in their lives that care almost as much about them as my husband and I do. They are truly part of a family beyond who lives in our house. Life is hard. Jesus loves you. Community is good. Go to church;). And thanks for your transparency. Great post.

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    1. Pastor Jen! Best name ever! There's gotta be some kinda subliminal messaging beneath that! HAHA! I think Jesus is my homeboy because honestly - I've always felt like the "building" undermined the actual lessons and reasons for going to church. Good to know He felt the same and didn't tell us to go build bigger churches in the name of the Lord.

      You make a really good point about other adults having good relationships with your kids - that is an awesome thing to have. I remember it quite distinctly from my youth...the other adults made me smile.

      I'm so glad you took the time to comment. Life IS hard and community IS good. Perhaps we need to go to church! Have a wonderful weekend Pastor Jen :)

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  3. Yes! So awesome. Glad I took the time to go through link after link on SITSgirls LOL. I've blogged a few times about how my husband and i's different beliefs means our marriage was "doomed". " Do not be unequally yoked and all that. But I'm working my way through it. Trying to learn I won't be judged for marrying him. Currently, though, I cheat and watch services online. Baby steps, right?!

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    1. Right??!!!? Those "laws" are so discouraging. It makes it hard for me to feel anything other than guilt. I know my husband's heart and God knows it even better than I do....so why should a group full of people who've never met him have pre-meditated judgments against him? I think I need to find a good, safe place to worship...maybe TV HAHA! Thanks for stopping by :) Happy SITS Sharefest day!

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  4. I go to church with myself and my two year old while my husband stays home. I go to escape the violent TV he watches but to be honest I also love baby bible class and chatting to the other moms. I also have great memories of youth group. I am also against the whole hell and brimstone stuff but I think there's more to church than that. My main dilemma now is which school to send my son to: the church is also set in a school which is very close to my home BUT do I want him raised fundamentalist? It's a tough one.

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    1. Yes! Networking with other moms is a great reason to go. As far as hell and brimstone, some of them are pretty set in that mentality. Others are far more progressive...which is what my family would obviously need. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  5. Our feelings on religion and spirituality sound very similar. What I can tell you is that there are churches out there that focus on loving people, not condemning them, and that don't elevate anyone based on how much money they can give. Churches are filled with people and people are human and make mistakes, so a bit of politics is inevitable. But it is possible to take the good church-going has to offer while not getting caught up in the bad.

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    1. That is good to hear Katie - thank you! I think as the world changes and becomes less traditional and more liberal, churches need to be more accepting and less judgmental. Hopefully I can find the perfect church home :) So glad you stopped by!

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  6. I was raised Catholic - even attended parochial grade school for a year. I went to church so often growing up; I like to joke with my boss who is a weekly churchgoer that I'm still deducting from that pool. I attended church regularly through my first year of college then stopped going for no better reason than I wanted to sleep in and haven't been a regular church goer ever since.
    My siblings are raising their children Catholic and I do enjoy attending their baptisms and first communions, but never enough to return to the church.
    I did have an interesting conversation with a devout Lutheran once. He told me the difference between Lutherans and Catholics is that Lutherans are taught Jesus will always love them no matter what while catholic masses were all about not sinning. He said it is easy spending an hour attending a church service each week when your goal is to praise/thank Jesus for loving you.
    Curious to learn your thoughts on his analysis.

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    1. HAHA still deducting from the pool - that's hilarious. And I completely agree with the Lutheran breakdown you heard. I grew up in a church that made me feel loved no matter what. We definitely focused on love, praise, and gratuity - not so much on sin, penance, and confessions. I also think it depends on the church, too. I've been to a few Lutheran churches that operated more like Catholic churches. I've found non-denominational churches also focus on love and feeling good (not guilty) when you attend worship.

      I kinda love that guy you talked to. What a positive outlook on his religion. Makes me proud to have been raised Lutheran!

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  7. Hi Jennifer, I found you through the SITS link-up, and I'm so glad I did. I'm a pastor's wife, which means I've seen the good, bad, and ugly side of the church. I forgot to mention - a Lutheran pastor's wife. My husband has served churches, but currently he is on staff at a Seminary.

    You make excellent points. Churches are full of hypocrisy, because like everywhere it's full of sinners. We all need grace and a safe place to land. I hope you can find that. My suggestion would be to keep visiting churches until you find that place where you and your family feel blessed.

    There are also many churches that offer Saturday night services or live-stream on-line. Those might be a place to start.

    I'd love to hear more.

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    1. Deb - thank you so, so much for your kind words. Finding grace is something I want to do very much. As I mentioned, my faith has been lacking quite a bit as of late. I want to feel closer and more established in my religion because I remember how much love and happiness I received from it (selfish, I know). I want my kids to feel that too.

      We went to church yesterday :) It was interesting, a more contemporary worship, but everyone left feeling happy and uplifted. I think my favorite part was when I got my 8-year-old out of Sunday school. "How was it?" I asked. "Uh, mom?" she said, "Can we go back every Sunday? I loved it. I really did."

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  8. First off Jen, the way you write and express yourself is so fabulous! I hope you are doing it professionally.

    I was raised catholic and took my boys every Sunday to mass. My two older boys were alter boys. We live in a tiny community so the experience was great for them.

    I have not been to church in over 12-13 years. That was when I got divorced. The way the church treats you after you are divorced is different. I didn't like it so I stopped going, but that has never rattled my faith in God. I know he is by my side and hears my prays and praise all the time.

    I love Deb's advice for you. Visit different churches till you find one that fits. Kind a like a pair of shoes!

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    1. GAH! Thank you Suz :) You're the best - your compliments make me glow!!

      My mom was divorced and I absolutely agree with you - there were some significant issues with her and the church once she divorced my dad. She felt like an outcast...everyone in church had their partner, everyone was "doing the right thing" and sticking it out in their marriages. She struggled. But she kept going, for me and my sister, always sacrificing. My mom is the best :)

      And you know what? Churches as shoes totally takes some of the pressure out it!! HAHA love it!! Just like I love it when you stop by :) Have an awesome week girl!

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  9. I personally find church boring and don't get much out of it. But if you think you will, yes, you should go. I might end up going if my kids want to experience it.

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    1. Right - that's what I'm thinking too. My daughter is currently doing the VBS thing and she freaking loves it. I'm trapped now! Can't deprive her of that smile!

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  10. What a thoughtful post. You expressed so many sentiments that I feel about going to church. I adore the music and I miss it when I am not in a church going phase. I like going to church and do love the feelings I get there, but then something always ruins it and sends me into a non- church going phase. The politics...the money...and frankly sometimes the non-Christian (IMO) attitudes and thoughts that can be expressed on the pulpit and by other members. It gets too much for me. I see-saw back and forth. My last church going phase lasted 3 years...and now we haven't been for about that long. Blergh. It's complicated. --Lisa

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    1. Awww Lisa can't fault you there. I lost my faith close to four years ago now and am nowhere near getting it back again. It's complicated!! And the hypocrisy makes me batty. Sometimes it's just the way a pastor delivers a sermon that makes me run for the hills. Here's hoping I can find a decent church place to maybe call home....minus the creepers and stone-throwers.

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  11. I'm a Christian who does go to church regularly--and churches can be frustrating, I will tell you that wholeheartedly. The church we attend now is a very wealthy one--I don't feel totally comfortable there, but we're moving in a week and then we'll start the church finding process over again.
    I don't think it's possible to judge Church or Christianity or God Himself by the actions and customs of specific churches--humans fail so much, which I why I don't expect any individual church to be perfect, but I feel so blessed when I find a congregation who really, truly lives out what they claim to believe (and they do exist).
    I don't go to Church because I think it's a 'good thing to do'--though I know that can be part of the culture in the USA. For me, I go to church because I believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible and I want the opportunities for ministry and showing love to my community in practical ways that the church offers.
    Oh--and the reason churches always "ask for money" as most people say is because in the Bible God asked for a tithe--the first 10% of all income is supposed to be given to serving God's people (charity, providing for the needy, funding ministries and meeting the needs of church staff). Obviously no one knows how many Christians actually practice tithing--and sometimes churches don't use tithe in the ways they ought to--but that's why they feel no shame about asking for it, because God says the first 10% is for Him.

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    1. I agree with you completely - it's the people who make it imperfect, not God and Jesus. I guess that's one of the reasons why I forgo the church thing completely - I don't need to be in a building to praise! I like what you said, tho, about the opportunities to show love for the community. That is a HUGE plus - churches are groups, and groups can do more together sometimes than an individual by his or herself.

      As for the tithe (thanks for explaining it, PS!)....I feel like Bible day moms didn't need to work to pay for daycare.....or pay for gas....or health insurance.......or mortgages. Food, clothing maybe, but Bible day culture was way more self-sufficient. I guess it would be wrong to request an updated percentage, including all these additional costs we now have to pay?? Hahaha can we do away with the women-shaming and stoning while we're at it? :) God doesn't need money - he needs me...right? What does He care about money?

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