Friday, February 4, 2011

When The Church Is No Longer A Refuge: A Brief Follow Up

The previous post was something that I wrote a few years ago while processing through my decision to leave that particular congregation and heavily influenced my decision to return to a more liturgical tradition. It's a very personal story and not one that I share easily. I was not a soldier or a rape victim. My trauma sprung from involvement in a severe fatal multi-vehicle accident. As such, it's not as understood as trauma caused by more extreme experiences. To be fair, it caught me off guard as well. I wanted to share that story, because I know that there are others who have found themselves in similar circumstances.

I've heard many different stories of people who have left churches and regardless of the reasons, they all seem to share a common theme: the loss of one's sense of safety. For me, once I heard the preacher openly deny the existence of my experiences and saw members of the congregation agreeing with him, I not only felt like I would never be understood, but any sense of emotional security I had was stripped away. I felt vulnerable. I felt as if I could never let anyone know and if they found out I wouldn't be able to bear the pain of having to be accused of not trusting God enough all over again. Ironically, given the bad experiences I'd previously had with a Christian community over the same issue, just the act of going back to a church was a major step for me in trusting God.

I believe that experience was a large part of what led me to a more liturgical tradition (in my case a Lutheran Church, which is what I grew up in). I know that many find liturgy to be bland or dry and some wonder how you can still engage with words you repeat every week. Liturgy doesn't just provide phrases to repeat, it also moves the congregation through the church calendar and establishes the Bible passages to be used for sermon texts each week in accordance. I think liturgy helps to keep us more focused on the person and work of Christ, which is the center of our faith. Most Evangebapticostal churches do not utilize liturgy. In those congregations it is up to the pastor to decide what he/she feels the congregation should hear. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it often leads to pet issues being given prominence. How many of us know of churches where the pastor speaks about tithing/repentance/evangelism/sexual immorality at least once a month? In doing so, think of the percentage of time each year that is being dedicated to more minor theological issues. How is that distorting the behavior of the church?

I love liturgy because it doesn't go off on tangents about where man has failed God or what is wrong in our society. Rather it reminds us of the work and example of Jesus which challenges us to examine our own lives and behavior in light of such.

When I read the Gospels, the only people I see that seemed to feel unwelcome in the presence of Jesus were the fundamentalist religious leaders who couldn't understand why he would associate himself with the "unclean" masses. Their churches, like many of ours today, might as well have had a sign post out front reading, "You must be at least THIS holy to enter." But Jesus never seemed to use a spiritual measuring stick on others before deciding if he would interact with them. We read of him associating with tax collectors, adulterers, the poor, the disabled, the doubtful, and even the judgmental religious leaders themselves. He didn't just preach at them either. We read of him asking thoughtful questions, listening to their responses, and encouraging a dialogue that would make them think about things for themselves. His open arms were not paired with judgemental eyes. All were welcome. Can the same be said of your church?

For those of you who feel unsafe in most churches or in the presence of many Christians but still desire to seek God, don't give up. That's not a true reflection of Christ or what Christianity should be.  There are people and churches that aren't like that. And they are worth finding.

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