Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Church"

On Sunday August 27th we discussed the direction of the Conversation. As a relatively new member and because my time is winding down here, (I'm relocating in 3 months), I was reluctant to voice any thoughts. As ideas were contributed, someone mentioned that perhaps the time slot of our meetings prevented some people from attending because of obligations to their church and perhaps we should consider an adjustment. Someone said that what we do on Sunday morning is church, bringing a sudden sting of tears that surprised me: I thought I had resolved all matters relating to the "Church".

Having left my previous religious organization for several reasons but chief among them the promotion of intolerance and the invocation of God's wrath on those who dare to disagree with the narrow interpretation of the Bible being hurled from the pulpit, I felt dread at the mere mention of the word "Church".

I struggled to compose myself, embarrassed at the rivers that flowed down my cheeks, resisting the urge to flee. I listened as various voices talked about the meaning and purpose of church, battling with my ghosts of misogyny, racism, homophobia and suppression of my curious mind, all that I thought I left at the alter.


I struggle to get to the Conversation on Sunday because, backslider that I am, Sunday morning for me is: late Saturday nights and a lazy morning of tea and the paper, CBS Sunday Morning News, NPR; my self constructed "Church". The tears I shed on Sunday were a mixture of guilt at abandoning my roots, the invalidation of my opinions my some members of my family ("...well you know she don't go to church no more...") and the fear and trembling at the thought of the Conversation resembling anything at all what I was taught was "Church".

My roots are in the church, my family is in the church (4 brothers are ministers), my trust was in the church and much of my pain has come from the church. A strange potpourri of love and distrust, faith and disappointment, hope and anger; the "Church" continues to pull at me , call me, and challenge me to balance my love of God and Spirit with my rejection of "Church" as I know it. Yet even in that rejection is the longing for ritual, songs, the comfort and hope in the Word.

However the question of "Church" is addressed in the Conversation, it will call upon a extension of trust by myself, an opening of my arms to embrace and trust that the people who choose to forgo what others deem "Church" and come to the Conversation are peculiar enough to frame "Church" in terms that will embrace everyone that wanders into it's circle. As I write this I realize that I have been reticent on most Sunday mornings that I am at the Conversation: grappling with becoming fully part of a circle that has welcomed me with out qualifications or reservations, and has stimulated my mind and spirit as had been before, and on a Sunday morning. Please forgive and be patient with me for not yet fully engaging in what has been given to me by all of you: a space that allows me to simply be me.

Addie

p.s. forgive my grammar and comma slices also!






2 comments:

asiangoddez said...

Hi Addie,

Thank you for sharing with us something that is hard to form into words and images. Our experiences, especially those from childhood, impact us so deeply. It's not easy to follow the roots to the source of why we feel a certain way.

I spent many a morning on a church pew as a child. In what is supposed to be a welcoming environment, I never fit in. As the only person of color, one of very few people from a broken home, and someone who spoke up about sexual harrassment from another church member, I never truly fit in.

I turned to find solace in the outdoors where the world seemed much bigger than my church of 100, and I still try to return to the outdoors when I have the time. It is often a Sunday that I find myself with the time to make a trip to the mountains. The solace and relaxation I receive from this retreat is what renews me and keeps me in check. Unfortunately this means I sacrifice attending "The Conversation".

In the coming months as the nice weather dies down I hope to make more of an appearance and find that welcoming environment I never received as a child. Your willingness to share your experience is a sign that my definition of church may be changed soon :)

Kristina

Marla said...

Addie,

Thanks so much for your words that so accurately express my thoughts whenever the word "church" is mentioned. I, too, grew up in the framework of the traditional black church and a religious family; my mother starting out as a missionary, then evangelist, and finally becoming an ordained minister. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and seemingly most people I knew all firmly ensconced in the pews, even if everyone was not as fervent as my mother and grandparents.

From the very beginning, the church was a place I felt uncomfortable, where my questions went unanswered as I was admonished to have more "faith" and discard my impertinence, where hypocrisies I saw went unexplained, and where racism, colorism, sexism, and homophobia were excused, often given an explicit pass and sometimes passed off as God's word.

I remember as a child struggling to believe and never quite being able to make myself believe in a God unseen and unfelt, no matter how much I prayed. Oh, how I tried to feel him and give myself over to his mighty power, so I might be saved and feel the same comfort that my mother and other family members seemed to get from their religious experiences. Somehow it always escaped me. I remember feeling, at age 12 or so, like God, if he existed at all, had forsaken me for some unfathomable reason I would never be able to understand.

As I grew, I left the church of my birth and sought solace and belonging in many a Christian congregation over the years, but never found a place I truly fit in. I searched outside of the Christian faith, and had some interesting experiences, but certainly did not find a spiritual practice that I truly felt comfortable calling my own.

So, as someone who might be considered agnostic and close to being an atheist, thinking about The Conversation modeling itself as anything that resembles "church" fills me with skepticism. I certainly understand the analogy, and am not opposed to it - certainly The Conversation is the closest thing to "church" (meaning a community of like-minded people that could become my family) that I have ever experienced. I just hope that if spirituality is incorporated into our Sunday conversations, that respect for all religious traditions as well as those who do not believe in God and his/her various permutations is maintained.

Marla

P.S. If we do become a "church", Dexter could be Saint Dexter of the Blessed Conversation.