Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"It's Complicated"

You ever see this phrase on the "relationship status" of people you know?  Rather than "married," "single," or "in a relationship", they have chosen to describe their relationship status as "It's complicated."

It does make you wonder what could possibly be going on in that person's life.  There are things they can't talk about.  There are things they probably feel like they can't explain to outsiders.  So they just say, "It's complicated" and leave it at that.

Sometimes I think, "It's complicated" could sum up my relationship with the church.

I just read a little article by Lillian Daniel about people who are spiritual, but not religious.  She seems to sit next to a lot of people like that on airplanes.  As a pastor and a life-long church church member, someone who was both raised in the church and intentionally decided to keep belonging to this community, I resonated with her critique.  How much easier it is to have deeply spiritual thoughts and never have to sing next to someone whose deeply spiritual thoughts are very much different than yours.

In faith communities, it happens.  There are people in my community who are probably relieved that we might have a believer back in the White House in 2012.  And others who are pretty sure we have a believer in the White House now.  And still others might be tempted to remind us that Martin Luther once said that he'd rather be ruled by a "smart Turk" than by a "stupid Christian." 

In my church, though we are all Lutheran, I'd bet we have some pretty firm believers in Christian Universalism, as well as some who would perish the thought.  We also have some people who think that the pipe organ alone is God's instrument, as well as others who think a jazz piano, or an electric guitar, or even an accordian would be nice. 

So, I resonate with Lillian Daniel, at least at first.  I mean, I get tired of the people who think things have to be perfect, and they won't ever be.  The music won't be perfect.  The preaching won't be perfect.  The people won't be perfect. 

But then, on the other hand....

I actually know people who won't step inside a church, and not for all of the usual reasons, like, "it interferes with my football games."  They won't go any more because they have been deeply wounded by people who claimed to be representatives of Jesus.  They won't go because they were abused.  They won't go because they were driven out.  They won't go because they didn't experience much, or any, of the grace we talk about, and that some of us can't live without.  They won't go because they've been at a church that everyone said was so "friendly," and no one talked to them.

Sometimes, it is true about the church, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

The thing is, if the church isn't perfect, neither am I.  And if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I have been the one who has said the wrong thing, I have been the one who has sung off-key, I've been the one who didn't welcome the stranger.  I've been hurt sometimes by the things people say and do, and I've been the hurt-er too.  It's tempting to go someplace where my flaws and vulnerabilities don't stick out so much.  Maybe a cave.  Or a beach.  Or something.

But then, like Peter, I end up saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

Like I said, "It's complicated."


CJWille said...

When I have been in a valley of my faith, people ask if I'm apathetic toward belief, but it's more like "ambivalent." If I abide long enough I hear or witness a call back to community that restores that hope. I would say that faith is not a linear path...

Lauralew said...

For years I was one of those folks who was so wounded by church I wouldn't step in. At first I didn't have good enough clothes. Then this nurse worked on weekends--"I'm praying for you to lose your job!" Then I was divorced. Then I was remarried. Then I was a woman in the military. Faith communities who wished to exclude me found tons of reasons. I kept trying because I wanted to worship in community, but seemed as if no one wanted me in their community.

Only after I realized I was looking in the wrong communities could I come back to church and not be abused for who I was.

My husband says that the church I now attend is "abusive" because he has to listen to sermons with which he doesn't agree. Now he's on the "I don't need to go to church--I see God in the trees" tack with the implication that something is wrong with me because seeing God in the trees isn't enough. So I sure get the overall meaning of the article you cite, although her tone was a tad bit off putting.

You're right--it's complicated.

Elaine Dent said...

Love it. Thank you.

Terri said...

Yes. Ditto what Lauralew said...I've been in similar places as she....and also found Daniles' article to be a bit harsh.

Fran said...

It is VERY complicated and I think that you express some very important points here.

For the record... for many years, MANY YEARS, I was "SBNR" and quite happily so.

Ultimately I think what you are taking from this makes a lot of sense. Sadly, the piece from which your post springs just smacks of arrogance and disdain to me.

Once I say "please don't bore me" I have done nothing to invite you into community, but rather, pretty much set deeper in stone that persons desire to stay out of it.

Maybe that is just how I see it, during this early hour...

I do think that you are on the right track, it is the source that is problematic in the end.

Diane said...

I think that Lillian Daniel is reacting to an arrogance she perceives in the people she meets. I know that's out there. I get that. However, she reacts in an arrogant gone, and I'm not sure that it is helpful.

I remember talking to a former Catholic turned Buddhist once long ago. He seemed to think that the fact that I was still a practicing Christian was so quaint and unenlightened.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was very open to his spirituality, but that he was totally not open and actively dismissive of mine.

Robin said...

I do understand Lillian Daniels' point and tone -- as you say, it's difficult when we are open and interested in another person's POV and experience, but are ourselves dismissed as quaint and unenlightened. Or, my particular favorite, being told that "religion is fine if you need a crutch." Obviously some people do not understand the respective definitions of "crutch" and "challenge."

But I agree that her irritated and tired sarcasm is more off-putting than helpful.

What surprises me (still) is how many people, having been introduced to me over the or'deurves (can't spell it) hasten to tell me that they are atheists. There are usually many other conversational topics available, along the lines of "How long have you lived here?" - but that's the one regarding which they want to stake out their territory.

Marsha said...

Excellent Diane... I think most people, regardless of their position, are just trying to do the best they can and we all need to understand that it is our own relationship with God that is the crux of the matter, not what anyone else says or does... sounds simple but oh my how hard it is to resist the temptation to judge.