Posts Tagged ‘ucc’

Because leaving is the answer to the Lenten riddle

March 15, 2015

This year has been an odd Lenten journey.  With an early Easter and the snowiest winter in Boston history, I know the grey piles of snow will abound on Easter morning when for (I think) the first time in my life, I will not be attending an Easter service.  I’m not sure if I’ll return to the church (that being said, I know I will go with a few people on specific occasions) as a member.  A few reasons, if only to clear my own mind:

  • You asked for membership dues. No, I am not kidding.  I pledged.  My pledge is my offering to the church for the operating budged.  The membership dues should be a fixed line item on the budget.  I understand the need for campaign funds, grant challenge funds; I gave to those as well.
  • I need ritual. Yes, this is a “free” church tradition but free-church does not mean the absence of ritual.  The extended dance version of the passing of the peace is not the only ritual.  Our liturgies are full of rituals.
  • Ok, look, I get gender inclusive language is a thing in the church right now. But like changing the national anthem, the changing of the words of The Lord’s Prayer ranks among one of the “traditions” that will make me scream internally or on social media.  Maybe I just have an advanced degree in feminist thought, but as a lesbian, I am not oppressed by the prayer.  Just don’t ask my Greek professor to relate my translation (it was pretty funny).  There is something sacred and holy about saying the words that your great-great-great grandparents said in worship.
  • I watched you embrace people into your church: you know, the young, married couples with/without kids, the couples, those under 30. I understand that churches (in general) see these as “growth” opportunities.  But I am still me:  I’m not sorry I come without a child, some days I wish I had a partner.
  • Every year, I checked the boxes saying where I was interested in serving in the church. Every year, I’d read about the nominating committee having a hard time finding people to fill positions (often ones I’d learn at the annual meeting, I’d expressed an interest in).  I was never asked to participate.  The one time I did participate, I was not re-appointed.  No reason given.  No feedback.
  • The extended dance version passing of the peace is the singular most hellacious experience I forced myself to endure for over 150 weeks. It is not introvert friendly.  It is not visitor friendly.
  • I have been to church twice maybe in the past six months. The minister called, we set up a time to talk.  The minister cancelled.  We rescheduled.  This went on for a few times.  I gave up: none of the reasons for cancellation were for pastoral or personal emergency.  It might be unfair on my part, but I felt like I was not valued.

I still think you are nice people.  I also think you are a clique.  It is sad.  I had hopes for you.  But as an introvert, you’ve left me with a few scars.  I use a lot of energy to attend church (probably due to number 6 above) and what I’ve found in this year’s Lenten journey is that my faith was not nurtured by your organization.

When Extreme Liberalism Finds the Touching Point of Extreme Conservatism in a Church Function

March 31, 2014

Hopping mad. Like the Easter Bunny had nothing on me. That was how I drove home last night in the pouring rain. I attended a book group meeting. I had not been for the past few months (for obvious reasons). We are reading Saving Jesus from the Church which I happen to like. Like as in I haven’t stopped reading it out of boredom or over reliance on dead German theologians. I left about ready to punch a wall. Preferably brick. Preferably hard.

Why? I was lectured on “white privilege” by a white, heterosexual male who is working on his PhD at a university that starts with H and has a yard you (can’t really) park your car in. Excuse me? If anything defines white privilege MORE than an Ivy (or Chicago or Stanford) degree, I’m a bit surprised. Somehow we wound up on the topic which basically brushed up against a personal example of shibboleth. And that is where the extreme left met the extreme right in the Christian realm. I mostly kept quiet: I’m in that state of having beliefs challenged and rethought. I’ve always questioned the dichotomy of heaven and hell and the idea of forgiveness then mix in my mom dying? I was pressed a bit. I said, I’m not out to question anybody’s religion. I’m Christian because I was born to Christians, raised in a fairly liberal church but if I was Jordanian, I’d probably be Muslim. Shrug.

It doesn’t bother me. I lost track of the conversation as it was veering to the point that my lack of interest became apparent to the host. It isn’t fair when the host is a law professor. She asked me what I was thinking. I said the words that REALLY aren’t welcome in a lot of gatherings. I’m not sure it really matters to me if Jesus was a real person or merely an archetype or a narrative of a movement. Silence. What? One person said but the gospels were only written something like thirty years after Jesus died. (Never mind life span, the fact they contradict each other and John I swear was written after drinking some wine). I said it didn’t bother me if Jesus was real: it’s the message. I don’t know about works versus deeds. Or predestination. Or the bazillion interpretations we have all seem to come up with when reading one part of a correspondence and how the structure of the church doesn’t have the entire sacred text read in a 3 year cycle. It doesn’t matter to me. I can very easily profess my faith without having to know that.

You would have thought I had traded David Ortiz.

The PhD in ethics want to be said something like “how can you not feel called to seek justice” (uh, I didn’t say I didn’t) and how can I be ok with not being bothered by religions that are not tolerant to women or LGBTQI people? I said, well, if that bothered me I couldn’t be a Christian.

You really would have thought I had traded David Ortiz to the Yankees.

I pointed out he was ordained Southern Baptist and they don’t allow the ordination of women, let alone non-heterosexual individuals. How could he stay in the church (apparently he’s working for change which since he works for on UCC church and attends the same UCC church I do, I’m NOT really sure how he’s going to change the SBC)? I said it wasn’t my place to call somebody out for being a member of a tradition I disagreed with: maybe that is my deep belief in The Constitution. I don’t care if somebody holds different beliefs than I do: I do care if they seek to harm another. But I’m not going to go up to an Amish person and criticize their beliefs as much as I’m not going to say to a Catholic friend how I don’t see how she can stay with her church to a Muslim friend, you know, your sister shouldn’t have to wear a head scarf. The wide swath of the middle of really almost any faith tradition is fine with me. Fringes cause the problems.
I know I’m cranky. But I don’t need a guy telling me I need to be offended because something oppresses women: I think I can navigate that one on my own. I don’t need to be told I should work for the tolerance of LGBTQI individuals (no, really, I LIKE being a second class citizen with the perks and all).

Madder than a rabid Easter Bunny? Yeah, that is where I was when I left. And I am still irked today: we don’t get anywhere by telling people WHAT to believe. We only get there when we work to removing barriers. And I don’t know of a tradition that call for oppression of people. But then again, I won’t have a degree from that side of the river.

Proudly Spiritual, Never (again) Religious

September 2, 2011

Lillian Daniel wrote a daily devotional on the United Church of Christ (UCC, aka the Pilgrims) website that caused a bit of back and forth on my Facebook page.  I found her shortsighted and snarky in (to say the least).  I can give or take most comments/devotionals but one section grabbed me as probably one of the more broad brush strokes I’ve read in a while: “Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”  Can somebody show me where this appears in a religious text that conversations like this can only appear in a house of worship? Maybe I’m just fortunate,  I have a wide circle of friends, including a former-Marine dyed in the wool Libertarian.  We disagree on a ton, we agree on a ton: and we met by me yelling “Bullshit!” to her in the middle of a class our freshman year of college.  It was hardly a house of worship.  Using the Christian tradition of community, it is comprised as more than one: so my conversations with my friends are community, they are hair-splitting, they are wide-ranging and they are difficult conversations.  They are hardly religious but honestly? How many people actually attend a house of worship that has distinct political views/ethical views that they hold?  How many dyed in the wool liberals would attend, let alone join, a church that forbids card playing, dancing, alcohol?  How many dyed in the wool conservatives would attend a church that not only allows LGBT individuals to openly worship but openly ordains them?

I graduated from seminary. I (somewhere) have the diploma to prove it: I certainly have the debt.  Among my myriad of frustrations was the lack of engagement IN the difficulty of faith.  Start with the Revised Common Lectionary: it doesn’t even COVER the entire Bible.  What? In the 3 year calendar you can go to church every Sunday and not hear every verse of scripture read. Yup.  And the ones missing: the hard ones.  The ones that deal with rape, the ones that deal with social codes that are illegal in most parts of the country.  The part where a baby’s head is bashed against the rocks? Missing.  In my preaching class, I was dinged for not ending on a happy clappy note.  The text was the prodigal son: and I mistakenly challenged the congregation class to think about how they would react in two weeks (it would be Easter Sunday then): would we welcome those who attend once a year with open arms? (like the father) or would we react like the son full of disgust for not doing the work through the year.  It was an open challenge to think, think about faith, journey, how people might come back and the only comment from the professor was “Peter Gnomes wouldn’t like that ending.”  (note: I really don’t care.  Yes, Peter Gnomes was an amazing preacher but really? Who cares?).  I’m not interested in a sermon that is “we are wonderful because we are religious and not just spiritual!”

The more I stewed on Daniel’s piece, the more I realized one of the reasons I found her missing the point.  I heard a post-op transgendered individual say she didn’t attend church anymore.  She didn’t feel welcome.  Before her surgery, he had been active in his denomination.  After surgery, she asked that her Baptismal certificate be re-issued with her new name.  The Bishop refused (not a Catholic bishop, an Episcopal Bishop).  More interesting? The refusing bishop is gay.  For me, one of the most painful moments was when she said on Christmas Eve, she made herself communion and read the Christmas story at home.  She didn’t feel welcome: I’d say she was both spiritual and religious but Daniel’s would disagree.

A longer article appeared in the Christian Century.  I found her comments about the person who walked away from religion a bit disconcerting.  I vaguely remember something about not knowing how Christ will appear.  Her response? “Of course, this well-meaning Sunday jogger fits right in  to mainstream American culture. He is perhaps by now a part of the  majority—the people who have stepped away from the church in favor of  running, newspaper reading, yoga or whatever they use to construct a  more convenient religion of their own.”  I’m not suggesting the person sitting next to her is/was Christ: but the call to those in the Christian tradition to minister in the midst.  I find her comments regarding an individual’s commentary on his child more perplexing “But when you witness pain and declare yourself lucky, you have fallen way short of Jesus’ vision and short of what God would have you do.” So, according to Daniel’s God would have us do certain things: based on the tenants of her faith (and her denomination), she falls short.  I’ve watched love ones battle cancer: and I’ve felt lucky.  Does that make me shallow? Or does it make me human?  If I offer to help that person in any manner I can (asking friends of faith to pray, sending cards, bringing a meal) does that automatically make me a Christian? Jewish? Muslim? Buddhist? Or just a human who was raised with sound ethics and morals?

I’m not in the mood to hash out why I’m not a Daniel’s definition of religious.  Suffice to say there were 3 churches involved all of the UCC variety in different parts of the country. Do I read random theology books (including Barth?)? Yup. Why? It interests me.  Would I call myself Christian? No.  I’m not interested in what I see in action by that religious tradition.  I’m not interested in a religion that can’t even agree ON a creation story!

What upsets me the most about Daniel’s is that every once in a great while I float the idea of going to church in my head for a bit.  I was at that point: her piece reminded me why I left.  The Amish have a walk about year where youth leave the community for a year (or so) before joining the church to see the wider world.  It is part of their tradition.  Maybe sometimes you have to leave to see what you miss: and maybe sometimes you have to leave to see what you saw was a mirage.  And really? Sometimes people who write articles and blogs that are widely read need to remember that words do have meanings, and maybe all really aren’t welcome in her church or denomination.  And maybe, just maybe, some people struggle with the Christian tradition because of the judgement.  Even from the liberal side of the aisle.