Monday, March 21, 2011

Me or The Other?

Lately I have had a lot of anger about religion. For so long I battled with how to reconcile my life with how I used to experience religion, not faith really, but the church. The people. I have been part of amazing and loving communities, but I have also seen a serious deficit of grace in my experiences with what I consider, “the church.”

When I set out to write this my thoughts were in a different place, but putting my thoughts to pen (or keyboard) brings up a different side of the story. I cannot help but think of the amazing people who acted as shepherds in my life. The beauty I saw in their hearts and actions. I knew there were exceptions to the un-named and general mass of people to whom I have assigned my anger, but I had not thought of how many. I guess this is to the faceless, the generic crowds that I have encountered, some specifics, but more to the experience with groups of congregants.

Perhaps my anger is also at myself.

I was judgmental. Perhaps it was having to defend myself for simply not agreeing with others who often "defended" themselves by saying that I must be judgmental and narrow minded. It was a ridiculous circle. And all I wanted was for it to be simple, black & white. Good & bad. I wanted life to make sense. I knew it wouldn’t always and it was messy (hence the name of this blog), but I needed some semblance of order to function in this crazy world.

Now I could go on forever so I will narrow my focus here: Anger at how people change in the church. Anger at how it was me who did it first.

1. When I was 19 I had not gone to church in a while, but when I went back I asked a friend for a favor and I expressly remember what it was. I asked my friend Kat to tell me if I became someone else. I knew that I had the habit of disappearing into a church. I knew that I loved being connected so much that I would leave behind my friends (who did not seem to fit), even though I loved them. I think she tried to tell me, but I wasn’t listening and at the time she was changing too. She was busy falling in love. I was busy jumping head first into a culture in which I felt I really fit; I spoke the language, I got the concept and I had things in common with people on a deep and fundamental level.

But over the years I changed. My life took dramatic changes that were not always good and up until 2005 God and I always seemed to work it out. But then we didn't. Well I didn't. The girl who had judged person after person with the goal of loving them could no longer look herself in the mirror without shame and self loathing. And even when I got passed that, I no longer felt that I could "fit" within a church community because I no longer put "right" & "wrong" in clearly labeled boxes. Now logically I knew that wasn’t “required” but I could not connect. I did not know how to live within that world.

2. Other people. I know I am not the only person who has done this. I have watched countless people come to the church and leave behind perfectly healthy friendships because it is so hard to maintain what felt like multiple lives. And while there is so much beauty in faith and it is wonderful to become part of a community, is it any wonder that people dislike Christians? People who get cast aside because they don't fit? Yet as I am watching someone else do this - or believing that this is what is going on - I wonder if it is anger towards "other people" or anger towards what I have done to other people that is gnawing away at me.

A friend became a Christian not too long ago, well, got involved with someone who is Christian and now is actively involved in a church. I feel awkward and in many ways horrible for not being anything but happy for them. But my unhappiness is not a lack of support for their new found faith, but in their changes and their leaving behind people they have been great friends with for well over a decade.

The worst part of the whole thing though, for me, is that they are living up to my judgments.

As many people know I am very protective of people I love and often get angry on their behalf, even if they don't want me to. In my protective nature I become kind of mean and very judgmental and while it comes from a very good place it turns ugly pretty fast. And apparently when it connects to religion it is bad.

My friend's partner did not make bids at an actual relationship, even though I had. Which is generally fine. But then they both began to invite us to church, continually. No relationship building or maintenance, just church; which frustrated me. The friend started cancelling plans, over and over. My judgment and some deep seeded frustrations with Christian communities set in. I said that the sad reality was that as this person became more involved with church that they would leave behind their non-Christian friends. That even if they had been friends for years and years it wouldn't matter because I have seen it happen and I have done it myself.

And then it happened. I was right. Or think I am. And I don't want to be right. I have spouted on and on about my frustration that they were trying to convert me but that if they were my friend, they would know that I do not need conversion.

This sounds convoluted. I guess it is a question of who I am angry at, rather legitimately angry at. Myself? Them? Their church? This is of the type of church that I do not want to attend and have what are apparently very negative feelings about. Am I angry at God? For letting us be such a closed people? At “the church” which I cannot fundamentally agree with in so many ways? At my sentiments that I have become some sort of religious pluralist because I cannot reconcile so much?

I don’t know. I just know that I am sad. I have seen my own bitterness grow, I have felt the call to return to being connected to a church community (one specific Episcopalian one - the denomination with which my heart and beliefs seems to align with most), and my anger at “the other.” The other that I am not supposed to judge but so harshly do. Based on my own feelings of exclusion and disagreement?

What do I do? Do I pray? Do I go to church? Do I confront the friends with whom I am not that close but someone else I care about is? Do I just let go? Do I find a way to breathe out the anger? I do not like how angry I have become at “the church” or how distant I have become from my own faith. And yet I do not feel that I am committed enough to change anything. It feels futile and selfish. That was what I wanted to do for lent, to be a less selfish being. To connect to God. To open my heart. But I didn’t. I haven’t.

I feel stuck and in my own way.


Anonymous said...

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Shannon said...

Your place is fine. The extension of our perception of "The Church" and those who strive to conform to it being a reflection of God and the faith instilled in us is grossly inaccurate. Christ, himself, had the same objection. So, perhaps reconcile yourself knowing that your anger is righteous indignation and at the same time there is a call for grace. While Christ indeed felt outrage, he also offered grace. The need for inclusion and community is strong. We were created for it. I think that as people grow and mature in their faith exclusion and inclusion will no longer be two sides of the same coin. It takes people who are sensitive to the larger picture to lead the way.

Kristie Vosper said...

This is a challenge I face often it's easy to love those who love others, but harder to love others who don't love the people I love. Seems following Jesus is about loving both. Ugh.
I wrote this blog post in Oct called "Everyone?" :
I think the root of what I hearing you say is the same sand that gets in my shoe. I am so hurt when others objectify me. Does that resonate with you too? I don't want to be a number, a conquest, a triangle that someone tries to make into a square. I want to be seen and valued as I am. I am so grateful for the communities of Jesus-following christians out there who do march to a different's my salvation I believe. How do I love the guy who tells me women aren't to teach and preach? How do I love the person who disagrees with me about how we talk about "homosexuals" (ug!)
A messy life this is...but beautiful too. Thanks for sharing your honest words and if I ever hurt you in this way...please forgive me. I don't remember.

a work in progress said...

Thanks. It is a struggle, but a worthwhile one. It is true that it is a challenge to love in both ways, and that it is a journey to find, seek & share grace.

One point to clarify, because I think I blend things together a little in this post. While I do know what you (Kristie) mean & can resonate with that feeling, in regards to the friends to whom I refer, I believe that they don't have any intention to objectify; I believe it comes from a good place - whether I interpret it correctly or not.

I guess a lot of it is my history that haunts me and makes me both sensitive and suspect (in general). But my overall desire is to have authentic relationships, and I think that with that is my want to feel seen & heard, especially before something as personal as faith or church is broached.

And my dear Kristie, you have nothing to have forgotten. If that makes ANY sense! haha Oh! And I remember that blog! I actually thought of it when I was writing this & thinking about loving people who love people. How funny! I spent a lot of time thinking about religious pluralism & my own beliefs after that - but that's another story.