For a person that moved every two years throughout my entire childhood, I managed to find a church home with the Methodist church, whose motto is, “open hearts, open minds.” I love this. I really didn’t settle into the Methodist church until high school, while living with my grandparents (a story for another day) in Oklahoma in the mid 90s. I liked the church itself because it was a traditional old stone building with beautiful pillared outdoor halls, a steeple and stained glass. The pews were red velvet, and the aisle, red carpet. The hymns, for the most part, were the same every week, and the songs soon became memorized. There was the standard Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”), “He Lives,” “Eagle’s Wings,” “Amazing Grace,” and a handful of others, that still, to this day, leave that bittersweet, emotionally nostalgic reminder of those tender years of learning about Christ.
I also took “Bible As Literature,” in my English BA studies at the University of Oklahoma. This was an objective, non-religious study of the Bible and its history, books within, and background as a text written by humans, for humans. (Remember, the Bible was not written by God, but was written by humans as interpreted over many centuries, to spread the word of God.) The reason I took this class was two-fold: First was a more egotistical reason: I wanted to be able to say that I had read the Bible from cover to cover. (Truthfully, I can now say I have read a lot of the Bible from cover to cover – there were some parts we didn’t look closely at – for example, the lineage chapters). Second was a more important reason. I wanted to study the Bible objectively, because I wasn’t learning much from it subjectively in church. It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning about God and Jesus in church; it was that I wasn’t learning much about the Bible. It sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.
In church, I sat and listened to the sermon, but if I’m being honest, there is not one sermon I’ve ever heard while sitting in a pew, that I can recollect in some life changing way. What I can recollect are all of the times spent in Sunday school, talking about life, and how Jesus lived, and where we were caught in what we believed vs. how we were living. The fellowship of group prayer before a church meal. The preaching about someone’s life at a funeral. The words spoken during a wedding. It wasn’t the doctrine that brought me to church. It was the people. The celebration of life and the source of life.
Fast forward almost twenty years. I am at a point now where I’m up in the air about what I want to do with church. I’ve been going to the same church for several years (with the exception of when my family and I moved away for 2 years), yet I find a dichotomy in my belief structure. I unquestionably believe in a higher power, and a source for life. I unquestionably believe in the teachings of Jesus. But everything in the middle is very murky right now.
Observing the behavior of humans, this past decade, which I suppose is a decade of time where I’ve evolved into a full-fledged almost middle-aged adult, I’ve noticed that I’m not sure who to trust anymore. Because some of the humans I don’t trust are the ones spewing religious dogma and doctrine, expecting me to follow. Other non-traditional spiritual people who’ve left the door open on choosing a particular religious path hold me captivated with how much I see God in them and their actions. Some are in between.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have no doubt that every one of us is a piece of this puzzle, and that the light that burns within us, once we peel back the layers of ego, flesh, and exterior noise that has made us who our earthly person is, is in fact, God. This piece is what exits our body at the time we die and goes to the place of light. But it also stays in the energy that is transferred in this world, which is why I find comfort in know that those who pass before me, are very much still here in a new transitioned way. I say I know this, but I don’t really have any facts to prove it. I just feel it deeply in my heart. What I do know is that there is so much more than we can ever comprehend.
For the past year, I’ve been fluctuating back and forth on my decision to stay with a church. Part of me wants to because I love that my children are being exposed to the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught us how to live in God’s footsteps, to do for the greater good. To not judge, be giving, kind, accepting, forgiving, inclusive. All of the things I want, and almost need my children to be. The things I strive to be (some days it’s an uphill climb). Part of my issue is fear. Fear that I’m exposing my family and myself to one way and by committing to church, is that stating that it’s the only way? How do we really know? We are only flawed humans, and there is so much beyond our comprehension.
The past several months, I’ve hit the pause button on attending, and gotten really still with finding what’s meaningful to me about church. I have read a plethora of books on the subject from (mostly women) I find trustworthy. These authors are not all Christians, but they have all taught me something, which is to do good, find my purpose, and follow it. Just recently I arrived at some semblance of a conclusion, at least for the present: my instincts are to surrender and lean in. This instinctual message started with a sign from my 5-year-old daughter, who one day looked at me out of the blue and said “Mom, why don’t we go to church anymore? I really like church. I really like Jesus.” She has a thirst for something I have the ability to expose her to. At the young age of 5, with only a handful of years exposed to the church, she has a thirst for more.
My husband and I talked about attending other churches to explore our options, and then select the one we see fit. He clarified that he would be fine with staying with the one we are members of, but was willing to keep an open mind. So, after months of not going to our regular church, we attended a service at a church one town over. It was a lovely service, and the worship music was incredible. But it also showed me that I missed the church home my family and I had settled into. I’m not sure if, much like the church I went to in high school, it was the smell of the building, the beautiful stone architecture, the lit steeple at night, the feel of the place at Christmas, the warmth as we walked in, the familiar faces and smiles. I don’t know.
Maybe it was Jesus telling me to stop trying so hard and look at what is right in front of me. My heart tells me that our church is a broken place right now. Maybe all churches are. My heart tells me that Jesus wouldn’t want me to walk away from the broken. He never did. He walked toward the poor and underprivileged with open arms and healed them. He serviced those hurting and in need of grace. My heart tells me I need to walk back to the place we committed to, and give it another chance, and become a part of making it a better place. Like everything else I’ve been figuring out for the past year, I can’t just go searching for a magical perfect anything. I can’t think that it’s just sitting out there, waiting for me to find. It’s 100% within my control to touch and be the change I want to see, to paraphrase Gandhi.
So this year, we are going to lean in. We are going to help, and we are going to see where this goes. This year we will give our children the opportunity to be exposed and learn the teachings of Christ in the church we selected years ago. This year we will do our very best to help a small local institution grow and heal. But I will also always leave the door open to explore what makes our hearts and minds crack wide open. I believe life is so far beyond our comprehension, and Jesus would want us to be thinkers and doers, in his name and teaching, for everyone. Not just the ones under our collective Christian roofs. This will always require reaching beyond church walls. Not to convert, but to spread love, because God is love.