Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Community vs. Me, Myself and I

I went to church on Sunday.

One of the only reasons I went is because I wanted to receive Communion. I wanted that solemn sacrament that I hear other Christians talk about, the body and blood that reminds them tangibly of Christ-here-and-now but I don't think I'll find that outside of a Catholic or high Anglican church. That's ok for now, but I really want that.

Sitting in church is becoming less fraught with wild emotions as time goes on. I sat there without a tinge of anger, indignation or guilt, which is a nice change.

I'm learning to embrace the kaleidoscope of ways in which people act out our faith and structure their services. There were no pews, only tables with chairs all around the outside, like a dining room for the hungry souls that we are. It entailed lots of eye contact and back-and-forth conversations with complete strangers. I liked it.

One of the songs had a line that referred to god as 'faithful friend' and I had to stop myself from crying, although I don't think I succeeded very well. No other part of that song moved me like that one brief line.
A fantastic woman spoke about community, and our irrepressible need for one another. About how we get closer to god the closer the get to one another.

And about how the more we cling to religion, the further we get from one another, until we are both of us crouched in opposite corners of the room, isolated. Alone.
I totally get that. I get how religion can change people who would otherwise be free and joyful with one another into being suspicious and distrusting with all but the smallest words of greetings and how are you's.

And isn't that a shame? Isn't it shameful how our belief in one radical god-man who commanded love to be our banner has turned us against one another? It makes me ill and I don't blame the world for being repulsed when the religious discussion gets going, when the Facebook statuses get strident and verses get lobbed about like hand grenades.

Boom! The Bible says....................Boom! It is plain and clear............................Boom! A true Christian........................

.........and the shrapnel reaches places far and wide and lodges itself into hearts and minds and we go about our merry day satisfied that we have done the Lord's work. We have 'reached out'. We have 'not compromised'. I am guilty of this too.

So when that fantastic woman spoke about our need for one another, it pierced through my muddy thoughts and I knew I had to listen even though all I want to do is protect myself from the discussions and the arguments and the silent judgments but I know I can't.
I know that I need a community. I need people, messy, beautiful, crazy, difficult, hilarious people to live this life with. And I want that, I really do.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How I see God

I see God first of all as the stereotypical, stern grandfather of the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient one who can see everything and anything He likes, including me, even when I'm not aware. A Santa Claus figure, a Zeus-like character.

My first words, in Romanian, was the name for God or Lord which is 'Domnu' and my baby talk translated it to 'Nomu', much to the delight of my church-going parents.
But then my first words also included the words for milk (lapte) and lollies (bomboane), so maybe I shouldn't read too much significance into them at all.

But then again, knowing this makes me feel less distant from God when I remember that he had been there since my birth, or really, my conception, and that he knows me.
This is radical stuff when these days I'm not sure what he's really like, since the messages about him from other Christians range from the God who pre-destines people to hell, all the way to the God who embraces every single human - the disabled, the homosexual, even.........women, as sons and daughters.

And they all have Bible verses to back them up, so it does mess with one's head at some stage.

I see God as the best-friend-Jesus-who-will-never-leave-me and the 'buddy ole pal' who I can stay up chatting to all night, like a girlfriend at a sleepover. He's the non-threatening God of my teen years, when perhaps I needed that most. He's the God that wants me to DO BIG THINGS and CHANGE THE WORLD and makes me feel less alone, more sure of the ground under my feet, and pity for those who aren't 'saved by the blood.'
I think I know this God inside out, and am quite happy feeling that there's nothing that will shake my faith. Until eventually I find myself doing less BIG THINGS and more ordinary things like loving my husband when it's hard, or being patient with that student who is constantly high and aggressive, or forgiving friends when it hurts.

My faith is rock-solid, my feet up on the rock, isn't it?
Until it gets shaken. Or perhaps stirred, like the wind across a placid, stagnant lake stirs the surface and causes ripples to fan out into faint whirls. And the fragile, shakily built house on the lake that was my faith is blown to pieces with a whisper, the walls crumble, the windows collapse, the roof folds in.

The paternal grandfather God and the best-friend Jesus don't quite match up, and the incongruence makes my head spin and my heart falter and the 'hallelujah' on my lips fall away.
But I am faithful, I am strong. I surround myself with Bible verses, prettily scrawled out on paper, blu-tacked to my bedroom wall and mirror, reminding me of everything I know.

And yet, it seems I know so much, assent to so many intellectual propositions, hear so many verses, but feel so little inside. What was once alive in my chest, a burning conviction, a simmering slow heat of certainty is now a smoking pile of coals and ashes (and already I can hear the phrase 'ashes to beauty' resounding my head from the Old Testament). But it's ok.

My faith isn't gone.

The god of grace and unfathomable welcome isn't dead - he just doesn't look the same anymore and it is scary. He is not scary, but the unfettered view of him is.
He is better than I thought, he's the best type of god I could ever imagine but the god I see now looks very little like the god of my childhood and it is not easy to adjust my eyes.

Even typing the word 'god' without a capital letter seems a tiny act of alarming rebellion, but it's not. It's a symbol to me of the freedom I've found. It's a reminder that he won't reject me if I'm not perfect, if I literally don't dot my i's and cross my t's.

I see God as the one who is the essence of goodness and beauty and truth and he is slowly letting me become acquainted with him the more I adjust my view.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

stuck in limbo land

It's funny how this blog has turned from a 'fashion blog' to a space where I can type out whatever's uppermost in my mind.

I guess that means that when I started this blog, I was much more preoccupied with fashion and exploring the world of vintage and op-shopping than I am now.

Now, all that keeps swirling around in my mind are thoughts about church, God, feminism, marriages, exclusion, theology, inclusion, purpose, truth, pastors, denominations, worship styles, sermons, change, brokenness, goodbyes, friendships, etc.

It's all I can think about and it's quite maddening at times. I can't stop.

Four years ago, I don't think I really ever questioned or spent much time ruminating on the whys of how I lived my life; I was quite content in knowing simply how and where. 

I was a 'leader' at church - specifically in young adults/youth ministry.
I was at church every Sunday, sometimes twice a day and at connect groups every second Tuesday.
I would pray and discuss and worship and sing and lift my hands - the higher the hands, the more pious the Christian.
I would view everything through the prism of middle-class, married, Pentecostal eyes.

I wouldn't ever really wonder what it was like on the margins. An outcast, someone not privy to the important and heavy machinations of the church service, or connected to the pastors, the leaders, the key players.
I never really cared how it felt for the long-time single person when a sermon focused on the glory of marriage.
I didn't consider how a gay person would feel during each service.
I was so sure of the rightness of this particular way of being a Christian, that this was the most authentic, historically true, faithful and correct way of living out Christ's teachings.

You don't have sex before marriage.
You don't drink.
You don't swear.
You preach to anyone/everyone and always be on the lookout for 'evangelising'
and you come to church every week without fail.

That's how you 'serve'. That's how you prove the truth of who God is and that is how people will be shown the light.

And yet.

There is so much more.

I never knew how much more there is !

But it is so frightening and so lonely at times. Because leaving that comfortable, familiar, familial tribe was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and yet so viscerally necessary that I couldn't stand one more minute of exhortations to lift my hands higher to prove that I was really 'serious about God' or hearing about more and more programs to attend to 'grow in my walk'.

And if I sound 'bitter' or too harsh, I'm not. I'm not saying that it is wrong - only that it is too small. At least right now.

In our search to liberate Christians from old rituals, we created new ones. In our desire to create a free space for people to worship in, we suggested only one, or two, ways to do it - and any aberration outside this norm is either suspicious or simply not seen as holy enough.

Eyes closed, hands raised, clapping loudly, hearty Amens, one or two hallelujahs.............................. and there we have it!
The really faithful are separated from the not-so-faithful, the 'backslidden', the not-so-serious about God ones.
We all know what row you need to sit on, who you need to speak to, who you need to be friends with to be truly 'influential'. We all know that the value of 'excellence' is first and foremost, and your scratchy, flawed and very human voice is not needed in this ministry of excellence, thankyouverymuch.

......what am I saying.

I don't know. I know so little these days, and I have so many questions.

Four years ago, I knew so much and had so very few questions.

But I think, I guess, I feel, I intimate that this right here is going to force me to grow..........to change.............to live a true life.