Monday, November 7, 2022

Fitting In

Right now I'm in the church I go to. Note that I didn't say I was in a class or in the worship service. I'm in an empty room with my earbuds in while the service is going on about 200 feet away. 

I'm in here for two reasons. One is that my stomach really hurts. I would rather run out of here than run full speed out of the sanctuary if I suddenly feel a lot worse. 

The other is much, much more complex. 

I won't name the denomination or the church, but it's the denomination I grew up in. I would consider it a "high expectations" denomination, one built around following rules, with a lot of emphasis on "doing good works" for God. 

Throughout my 54 years, I've questioned a lot of those rules, always trying to figure out what is a cultural expectation/tradition versus what God really wants us to do. 

It makes me really angry when I hear all of the guilt trips that are a part of church, at least all of the churches I've attended. These range from not giving enough money, to not giving enough time, to a multitude of other expectations either verbalized or implied. 

Today's focus was on having what many Christians call a "quiet time" - a time set aside every day, usually first thing in the morning, to pray and read the Bible. 

During class as this was being discussed, I looked up Jesus' example in the Bible. Now, I know that I'm not a Bible scholar, but from the small amount of research I did, Jesus never had a quiet time. 

Instead, He communed with God constantly. 

Yes, there were many times that He left the crowds, the disciples, the needs…  in order to be alone and pray. 

One more thing you need to know about me…  I HATE confrontation. I can be extremely meek on the outside while boiling inside. 

However, through my many years, I've started learning to speak up for what I believe. That's part of the reason for starting the Spotlight on Stigma blog, in fact. 

So this morning, I decided to speak up. I brought up my earlier point about Jesus not setting the example of getting up early, getting out His Bible and a highlighter, and having a quiet time before everything started for the day. 

I didn't mention it, but that's something man made up. Growing up (and possibly still in many churches today), reading your Bible every day was something you got to check off on your offering envelope or get a star for on the Sunday School chart. 

Feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, praying for healing for those who were sick… those were not ever included with the boxes to check.

I have to give my Sunday School teacher a lot of credit… He didn't argue my point but agreed with the part about Jesus not doing that. He did still say that it's good to set aside that time every day. And honestly, I'm not saying it's not a good idea. 

What I am saying is the issue is the guilt trip that goes along with emphasizing having this quiet time, especially when it's implied that we need to do it because it's what Jesus did. 

I was already having a rough time physically before this happened, but the nervousness I built up while wondering whether to say something against the status quo kicked my stomach issues into overdrive. 

My husband and I (I'm still having a hard time referring to him as my husband and not my boytfriend!) haven't been able to come much the last couple of months, with the wedding, going out of town one weekend, and me not feeling well several weeks. We were already here. I decided to try to attend the main church service after Sunday School. 

It started out okay. I found out that it was "Impact Sunday" - basically a commercial to give to the missions offering. Then an old hymn was sung (which can trigger me greatly). 

I couldn't make it. I had to leave. Like I said earlier, a big part is that I want to be able to get to a bathroom soon if my stomach gets worse. But honestly, that's not the main reason I left. 

Our denomination believes in patriarchy and following all the rules set up by the church. Straying into the beliefs of another Christian church isn't allowed. 

I've heard some horror stories about this denomination no longer funding missionaries who broke these rules or (God forbid!) allowed a woman to have any part of a pastoral role overseas. 

I am a giver. I give time, money, and other donations to Christian and non-Christian charities. But I don't plan to give to this missionary organization, knowing what I know. 

As I wrote that, I realized that it's entirely possible there's a lot of crap in the groups I give to. In fact, it's probable. I guess in this case, ignorance is bliss. 

You may be thinking at this point, "If she has so many objections to this church, then why does she go there?" 

The answer to that is "community." Maybe it's because growing up and my most of my adulthood, my best friends were all from my church. Maybe it's because I'm not big into any clubs or group hobbies. Maybe it's something else. 

But after moving back to the city where I grew up about 6 or 7 years ago, I know that I've only made a few friends and none are couples. 

My husband and I wanted to find a place to worship and a place where we could potentially meet others to sometimes hang out with. We are part of a small congregation within the big congregation. (Today is a "big congregation" service where we all meet together.)

I'm here mostly for the small congregation. I'm here for the love that I feel for that group - and for those we are slowly meeting in the big congregation. 

I'm not here for the worship service, especially the joint service. I'm not here to hear more man-made rules and to be guilted into doing them. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm a Christian. I love Jesus and am thankful for what He's done for me. I just think that the lines have become extremely blurred between what God told us to do and what others decided we needed to do. 

The service is ending. I'm tired of this struggle. Sometimes I wish that I was what my husband and I call a sheep - someone who follows the crowd and doesn't question everything. I wish I could come to church without all this angst. 

But at the same time I'm thankful that I do question. And I'm thankful that I'm here. I just need to reconcile how to do both. 



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