Monday, March 18, 2013

Church 2: Some Wee Clarifications

The trouble with such a big topic as Church, especially through the eyes of a personal history, is the inevitable gaping holes left that can cause questions and the raising of eyebrows. As the majority look much better with our eyebrows calmly settled in our faces I thought I'd revisit the topic. Now that the dust has settled 'round the corners of my mind I find myself with a bit more to say. I did try to change the topic entirely, go back to paint colors or a poem about mountains of lovely snow -- or something equally benign -- but it wouldn't let me. So I succumbed.


The first wee clarification is the line about disillusionment with church being a "go-to topic of conversation for those brave and enlightened enough to face the reality". Now I meant that almost entirely tongue-in-cheek. There ARE a lot of people, generally Christians, talking about this. But I'm not sure about the level of courage involved here, and the "enlightened" part is most certainly in jest. Tinged with a sarcastic hue, even. It seems that those talking about disillusionment with church are either bemoaning the mass youth exodus, complete with statistical charts and blame flying here and there, or conversely, standing with arms folded and eyes rolling...and blame flying.
Frustration about going to church, and especially criticism of the conservative evangelical "old guard", is a hot topic of conversation. It sells Christian magazines. Books on the subject are popular. I'm not brave or enlightened by discussing it, but it does resound with me, and there are reasons for that which may be able to shed some light.

Matters of Size

A lot of what I've felt about the small local church is precisely because it IS as small, local, church.
Small means there are a lot of jobs to do and not many bodies to do them. It means you might be teaching Sunday School, shoveling the sidewalks, and playing the piano all in the same service. It means that you wash the dishes by hand after a potluck meal, scraping a hundred dirty plates and running after people in the parking lot saying, "Hey! I think this is your casserole lid."
It means that if you aren't there, you are missed. Mm-hmmm.
I've attended much larger churches, and one mega-church, in different places we've lived. You're not likely to get worked to death, and not likely to be missed. Not at the 9 o'clock service? Well they probably went to the 11 o'clock. Or the Saturday Night. It's easy to go to church and not see a single person you know! Oh the FREEDOM! Ha ha.
 I did teach Sunday School and was involved in a home bible study and Women's Ministry group at the mega-church, so I know if you put in a bit of effort you won't get lost or over-looked. I am not critical of big churches, because their bigness almost always means they were doing something right, something needed, and were blessed with the huge responsibility to care for those who came.  

The Good Stuff

The church was where I heard about Jesus and how God sent Him to take my place, to pay for sin. I heard about the cross and how He was willing to sacrifice it all, His very life, so I could live in freedom and hope. At the age of 5 I understood what I needed to understand, and I told God that I believed Him and thanked Him. And so I started my pilgrim's progress there, upstairs in a cold, too-brightly-lit Sunday School room.
The church pulpit, a monstrous wooden thing, is what I stood behind when I read from my Bible these words, "Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day".  I was shaking with nerves; it was the day of my baptism and I was 12 years old.
The stage is where I stood to sing my first solo, "Jesus, Name Above All Names", when I was 9.
I took lessons at the piano as a teenager, puzzling out the intricacies of hymn harmonies and chord progressions. (It's a puzzle I've never exactly put together. Why change chords for every syllable?) Later as a young adult I brought choruses from far and wide and introduced them at that same piano.
I could go on and on. It's special stuff, life-changing and important, and I remember. I honor the loving and caring people who looked after me in Sunday school and Jr. church, who gave me a Kleenex for my runny nose and sacrificed their time and energy. Perhaps they too, were wondering about why they were there. Or their mind miles away, thinking about what they would rather be doing.
In my personal disappointments with church I do not want to show disrespect to those who served me or those I am serving now.


So What?

This church actually sounds pretty good! What's not to love?
It is healthy to have some honesty. You can temper it with kindness, but just say it. Is church a safe place to be yourself? Can you actually say a real and honest sentence to anyone there? If you can, then that is great. I do not doubt that there are people who truly love going to church, they do feel like themselves there, and it is the highlight of their week. I haven't experienced joy in church for a long time myself, but I know it's out there.
But if not, when are the layers going to peel back? If we immerse ourselves farther and farther into programs and "getting things done" and never ask (or listen to) some hard questions, I think death by drowning is inevitable. The next generation will be dealing with our bloated spiritual corpses. Or we'll be dealing with theirs.
If you have a real problem, would you go to your local church for help?
Why not?
For some former church-goers and others, the wounds are too deep. They can't be wrapped in phrases, verses, or even good arguments from a blog. Your pain is real and you feel it like a slap even driving by a church. Layers of disgust and mistrust wall in your heart, a concrete barrier that would involve some demolition to break through. Church is the very LAST place you would go if and when your world falls apart.
What if a few of those I just mentioned are sitting in the pew? Sitting there in body, standing for the songs, but so far away...
What do we do with that? Do we provide the space to feel? To ask an unanswerable question, raw with implication?
I'm thinking out loud. I don't know exactly how to change it.  
Except for that saying about doing things the same way and expecting different isn't always better, but it could be a start.
What are you going to do with your hard questions?
I'll tell you what I did. I stuffed them away so far and deep down I thought they'd never have the nerve to surface. And they leaked out over the years, poisoning me, toxifying my soul and hardening my heart.
 Don't do that; it's so destructive to everything you love or will love. Find someone you can be true with. Tell that safe person what you really think.
Do you think God is not leading and guiding you this very minute? His Spirit speaks. He draws us, loves us, puts seeds of hope into our minds and hearts, counsels us along paths that, though strange and foreign soil, are leading away from dark, shadowy hollows toward marvelous light. He knows shortcuts through and away from the enemies of our souls.
The church is not meant to feel like prison.The church is meant to be Love shown on earth, an open doorway. A place of peace and truth. Where the lost are found and the wounded can heal, and those with ice-cold hearts and concrete walls begin to feel.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Church - I'm Not a Fan

To be perfectly honest, I haven't been a fan of church for a long time now. Since I was about 12, actually. Many people are disillusioned and tired of church these days; it's a go-to topic of conversation for those brave and enlightened enough to face the reality, and a secret shared between those who are there, smiling, week by week, but who are living an inner world of frustration and a desire to have a good scream.
To clarify, I mean the typical evangelical church, with pastors and singing and sermons and sunday school.


I think it began slowly as I helped with various tasks...nursery, children's church, sitting through morning and evening services, stacking chairs, doing dishes...and that all seemed to be so important. I really did enjoy it at the time, in a way. Then I began to play the piano, help with the singing. One time I recall being very ill-prepared to do an offeratory, and still had to do it -- I failed miserably and was good and humbled. Another time the music leader was unavailable and I had to lead the singing, last minute, with a bad cold and no accompaniment. The word "chagrin" comes to mind. I desperately wished I could crawl under a pew and disappear. And so, gradually, I started to be nervous when we went to church. I dreaded Sunday as the worst day of the week, and would bite my nails to the quick on the way there.
(I seriously feel so guilty saying all this, but I'm going somewhere with it, wait and see)


But what about the experiences of others? Why don't people like church these days, particularly those of the younger sort? I'm not entirely sure, and I'd like to hear from people about it. However, opinionated soul that I am, I do have a few theories:

1.  "It's just not my style"

We are extremely focused on the individual, and our individual needs in society today. A phrase I've heard often is "what's best for me and my family". And so if the church doesn't have a very good children's or youth program, we'll leave it. Or what-have-you. Basically, if something doesn't appeal, that's a good enough reason. I don't like sushi; I don't eat it. I don't like church; I don't go.

2. "There are a lot of other ways to do church"

We are also surrounded by post-modernism and relativism. Deconstruction. Everything is new, and better. We are enamored with equality, and don't feel anyone should have the right to "preach" at us from the pulpit. So we create services where it's more of a conversation between the...umm...leader up front and those...welll... not up front. So everyone is right, and no one is right. Absolutes, authority, willingness to be taught...those are SO last year. Last decade, I mean. And I can watch some guy on TV, or sit in church and look up a better sermon on my iPhone, for crying out loud. Who has time for an inferior product?!?

3. "I've been hurt in or by the church"

People have genuinely been let down or really injured by other Christians. I don't really know many who haven't been. Callousness, condemnation, hypocritical attitudes abound, like a game of minesweeper. It's sad, but you're bound to get blown away by someone, sometime.

4"I'm tired and I could care less"

Yeah....mostly, this is me. Everything is meaningless, says the teacher. Now I surely don't have the wisdom of Solomon, but I am starting to know when I'm worn out and can't take anymore. All the programs, the potlucks, the meetings, the stacking of chairs and scheduling of ladies to run around after small children, meaningless. Half the time that the phone rings, it's someone wanting me to do something at church. WHY? So we can just keep the thing going? Keep everybody happy? Keep everyone IN by keeping them BUSY? Aha. It took awhile, but I've caught on.
Now you can tell by the prolific use of capitals that this one upsets me. I don't buy it. Getting people in the church and then getting them busy to KEEP them in is a nasty, nasty business. It may seem right, but it backfires magnificently.

Now to Explain. No, take too long--let me Sum Up.

(huh, huh? Where is that quote from? First prize to s/he who knows!)

It may sound preachy here. Let me say that these are just my own musings on church, filtered through my own little brain, and I'm only talking to myself. Perhaps I AM only talking to myself! That's A-OK. At least I got it in writing.

NUMERO UNO -- We need each other. Drive each other nuts, often, but we need the friendship and accountability of others. Just because we don't like it, doesn't negate the facts.
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  Hebrews 10:24, 25
This was  originally to the early Christians who had good reason to avoid getting together, as they were undergoing immense persecution.

Number TWO -- New is not better. Well, sometimes it is. But rarely in the case of meeting together to worship God and hear about Him. There is a reason for preaching. It may not be great, the preacher may even be a pompous donkey, but there is a reason for preaching. Hopefully the preacher is humble and can communicate. Paul says to the young pastor Timothy:
"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, and to teaching." I Timothy 4:13
"It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, that that the body of Christ may be built up..."    Ephesians 4:11, 12
Incisively, God's word cuts through the fog of postmodern drivel. It almost burns my ears, because I've been taken in now and then. My rebel heart thinks there must be a better way, a TRUER way.

"If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction..."   1 Timothy 6:3-5

Ouch! If those words make you kinda mad, that's where the bullet is. Dig it out; get the medics.

Number 3 -- We are going to get hurt regardless. Not to belittle this point, at all, but we get burned in the world, out of the world, in the church, in the street, in our homes, in our favorite coffee shops. People hurt each other, and leaders mess up. The church is called to be a place where sick people get well, and sometimes it's a place where you pick up the Norwalk virus, or something equally disemboweling.

So to NUMBER FOUR, my favorite. My pet peeve.
I don't want to feed and water this thing until it grows into the monster in my backyard. I know I can't avoid church or be forever a church zombie because of this thing, being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

First, where did I get the idea that to say YES to everything is the most holy way? It's not. It's just the people-pleasing prideful way. I believe that Holy Spirit filled believers will NATURALLY overflow with love and service, and will know WHEN and WHERE and HOW MUCH. The exhausting thing is the guilt, that always pushed me and pushes me now to do what I shouldn't even be doing. So I gotta just let it go, say no sometimes, and even take a season of resting and not DOing much at all. The church may actually survive!! EEEP!!

Second, I'm part of the Church whether I want to be or not. The Church is more than a bunch of eccentric people sitting in a building singing songs they may not know or like, listening to a sermon that may put them straight to sleep, or helping in a room full of tired, runny-nosed toddlers. It's GOT to be. Jesus calls the Church his BRIDE, the one he loves, the beautiful one He is coming back for.

We are part of this messy and often annoying preparation for the final walk down the aisle, where it all makes sense. He loves us, and all those people who drive us around the bend, who don't get it, who don't understand us and who are even fake and ridiculous and hypocritical. He knows what we would rather be doing. David says in the Psalms that "he knows our frame, he remembers that we are dust."

I still don't look forward to going to church. Not much.... I have to stay honest here. I know that what we BELIEVE will drive what we DO. And I do believe this stuff. I hope that it keeps trickling down from my head and into my cold-ish heart, and maybe even one day, down the road, Sunday will be the best day of the week for me. We shall see.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My ABC's are Red and Blue

Guess what interesting thing I've learned recently? I am a synesthete! Yeah! What in the world is that?
A few weeks ago a friend heard me say "I think in color" and she replied, "There's a name for that!"
I see things in colors, like words and letters and numbers. When I was a kid I thought I was super weird! Nobody seemed to understand what I was talking about, so after a few hesitant attempts, I decided to never mention it again. Case closed! 

Well anyway, I looked it up and it seems I'm not so weird after all....let me rephrase...I'm not so alone in being weird. Ha ha. 

Here are some quotes from two sources that were helpful in defining what synesthesia is.
I am mostly the "common one", color-graphemic.

Our friend, Wikipedia
(also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, plural synesthesiæ or synæsthesiæ), from the ancient Greek σύν (syn), "together," and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), "sensation," is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.
 In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.

The American Synesthesia Association (ASA)

Erica Goode wrote in the New York Times in September 1999, "Most people experience the sensory world as a place of orderly segregation. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are distinct and separate: A Beethoven symphony is not pink and azure; the name Angela does not taste like creamed spinach. Yet there are those for whom these basic rules of the senses do not seem to apply. They have a rare condition called Synesthesia, in which the customary boundaries between the senses appear to break down, sight mingling with sound, or taste with touch." Copyright © 1999 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with permission.

Now in 2005, we believe that this ability called Synesthesia is perhaps not as rare as it was once believed to be. Though synesthesia has been known for the past 300 years, it is only in the last two decades or so that it has been seriously studied by scientists.
(from the ASA website, About Us)

Here's how I see letters and numbers. Basically. There aren't enough shade choices, but you get the idea.


a b c d e f g h I j k l m

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The color-grapheme thing was obvious to me at a young age, and when I went to school I was confused because I was being taught the letters in a different color than I saw them in. This was tough, but I kept quiet about it. The curriculum that was being used taught each letter on a large card with a colored letter and a corresponding animal.

I managed to convince myself that the letter was supposed to be the color that the teacher showed on the card. In trying hard to do this I became mixed up
and some letters that had been very clearly a certain color began to change or shift. I still to this day struggle with the exact shade of a few letters.

The first confusion was that the letter was "wrong".

After my first year of school the letters all "came right" again, or reverted back to the original color I saw them in. In thinking back, part of the confusion was because the letter color and the animal color seemed to collide, or not match.

For example, we learned the letter S with a sunfish. But a fish to me was dark blue or grey. And the letter on the card was yellow. And I saw S as cherry red. Also S was masculine and the sunfish was characterized as female. The meaning and the sound was a struggle, with these competing colors before my eyes. I learned fast though, reading at an early age, and I got over it.

The other interesting thing I remember about learning the alphabet was that I thought the color and the animal were just as important as the shape and the sound of the letter. I could not separate the animal and the shape of the letter from the sound and color; they were all mixed together. The letter M was always a mule, always, whatever word he happened to be in. Oh yeah and the letters have genders....and even personalities. An interesting phenomenon that I always assumed was normal for everyone.

So! How about you? Any other synesthetes out there? Don't want to admit it? Come on, it's a sign of genius.

Well, not actually, I made that up. But it COULD be, for someone!

Some famous or more well-known synesthetes were/are:
  • Vladimir Nabokov (author)
  • Franz Liszt
  • Richard Feynman (physicist)
  • Billy Joel
  • Nikola Tesla (inventor)
  • Tori Amos
  • Duke Ellington
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Stephanie Morganstern (director)
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Eddie van Halen
  • Michel Gagne (cartoonist - eg. Ratatouile)
Good company, I think!
I'm not ashamed of it anymore, I think it's awesome. Let the world be in colour.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

While I'm Waiting

Most of the time I rush into things impulsively.

Even important decisions, especially in my gradually fading past.
"Seize the Day!" was the mantra of the time when I was setting out in the world. I was like a munching, colorful Hippo in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos (not my most flattering analogy), grabbing at opportunities as they flew by, trying to fill my resume and my log of experiences faster than the rest, trying to "win" the game.

One of the wonderful things about youth is the heady mix of confidence, naivety, and optimism that pervades. It wasn't as easy as I'm making it sound, of course. Tough decisions, some of them, a lot of thinking and changing my mind, all that. I also knew this was a short time, this burgeoning out into the world. Not wanting to miss any opportunity, I snatched at them as they sailed by; "Mine, mine, mine. And that one! I'll do that!" The opportunity itself was not as important as taking it.

At this point I could launch into a lot of stories...a LOT of stories...but let's just say some of the experiences were exciting, some valuable, some horrific, and some plain hard work. Did I grow? Yes. Did I come out the other side wiser, more seasoned? Generally. Would I do it all again? Well, mostly, to be honest. But I did get myself into some rather sticky situations. A few were sticky like toffee, a mess and a hassle to get off, but still pretty sweet. Others were sticky like tar or hot glue, and left scars.

I'm not so quick on the draw these days. Rather gun-shy, to keep the analogy going.When an opportunity presents itself, I tend to walk around it, gingerly taking in all the angles. What is it that's being "sold" here, and who is hoping to benefit? O careful cynicism. How far have you come from the land of Carefree!
Now, in my little life, I'm waiting -- and non too impressed by it. Lots of waiting in life, we all know that.

I'll tell you what though, it's hard to wait impulsively! "Here I am, just doing some spontaneous waiting. Yahoo!"

Waiting for what?

Well, waiting to know what to do. I'd like to be sure. I'm guessing I probably won't be.

The opportunities that used to bounce around like the white marbles on a Hungry Hungry Hippos game...they're hiding, now I'm near the end of the game when all the players are trying to munch one slowly rolling ball as it slips past. That's what it feels like, anyway! I'm quite aware that there are a ton of opportunities out there, but not for me, not right now.

Waiting to feel better, to feel whole. That might never happen in this lifetime.

Waiting to understand. What am I here for?

Waiting to want to. What if my basic desire is for everyone to just leave me alone? And yet, scared that everyone will? Yeah, that's some raw stuff.

Waiting for others. Not alone on this journey. Where I go, my fellow travelers go. Are we going to go in the same direction? Well, yes, we have to.

The last week I've had a song going through my head, "While I'm Waiting" by John Waller. It's not my favorite style, but boy there are some powerful lyrics. Have a listen!!

Funny, all my careful cynicism disappears while I watch that video. It's kind of a nice feeling.
So, while I'm waiting, I will try to trust God, and worship, and serve...and try to keep running the race. You can, too. I feel rather hopeful about it.