On going to church (or not), church, connecting to God, and prayer

prayer

Prayer

How to make yourself crazy on a Saturday morning. Well, why not? The task is researching whether or not I’m required to go to church according to God and not humans, and looking for unbiased information. I don’t want to be wrong if I don’t go. But not wanting to be wrong is the wrong motivation. I should be compelled to go. Add to the recipe that I understand there is no perfect church, or perfect people, or perfect elements anywhere in any church. Somehow, this is not consoling.

One thing I seriously miss from church of decades past is the quiet meditative time. A hushed introit. “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silent.” Reverence. I miss hymn singing where the congregation could actually hear each other, and everyone holding that same hymn book. That was communal. There was a delicacy, a sensitivity about church back then that, to me, was respectful. As every school teacher knows, quiet, silence, focuses the classroom.

A church is the people. The obvious groups get together. At least they do on Sundays and at some other prescribed times, if not during the rest of the week. The moms and families find each other. The old people act old together, herded by somebody slightly younger. The kids and teens have the stuff and activities the churches set up for them. Some churches have young singles groups. The church I’ve been attending doesn’t, as far as I know. But this town is more families than it is singles. So that makes sense. And the very, very old people are usually “noticed,” minimally. Some people take care of the aged when they show up in their walkers. It looks good when you help a person to their seat or to their ride. A good Christian would do that. A few very good souls actually do remember the very, very old people the rest of the week, and help them.

But there are others in the church who don’t fit any of the usual classifications. To me, the measure of the church is how the church – the people – step up to see to it that those who fall through the cracks are not neglected. Or, maybe those who don’t fit are so few that they don’t represent much of a loss or gain to the institutional church. When a church is primarily concerned with numbers – how many in the congregation, how many in the choir, how many, etc. – maybe the church is too concerned with numbers. I realize that the institutional church is a business, and it needs to be supported. It needs people to feed the coffer. But maybe an institutional church that is sweating the numbers is more concerned with being big than it is with being a church of people – the people who are right there, worshipping, right now.

So, I don’t know what to do. I am a believer in Jesus Christ, though faith is an ongoing struggle for me. Some bits of the story don’t quite sit well with me. And some bits of men’s interpretation of the Bible don’t sit well with me and I doubt they ever will. Probably has something to do with lots of life experience affecting my attitude and opinion. The biggest offenders in my life have been the purported strongest believers. Have they been a test from God to see how much pain and misery I can handle, all mixed with heavy doses of twisted scriptural interpretation, and still believe? Are they my David’s Goliath? And am I less saved if I’m more liberal?

More guilt and shame heaped upon me. How is this right?

One important person in my life literally had me in a destroyed heap of elephant tears when he said he couldn’t spend time with me because of my not being 100% about a couple of major components of the story of Jesus. An hour or so later, he said he could spend time with me anyway. But I know that he and my church would “dis” me (disassociate, dismiss, disrespect…) for these views – which to me is no way to help me grow in my faith. I know what they’re thinking – if they’re thinking anything about me. Unlikely. And this particular church tends to turn very passive when someone is having a faith struggle. I think they think God will work it out – or not. But it isn’t their place to have any part in the mix. Convenient. And they pray. A lot. Of course, I don’t want them gushing scripture or admonishments or lessons at me, either. I admit it. I’m a tough case. I don’t take well to the blatant, easy, and obvious. But that’s because I’m not a simple believer. I want the real, unbiased truth of Jesus and God. I’m a concerned member of the family of God. I’m just a person, searching, seeking, wanting desperately to find. How many people who did great things in the name of Jesus and God started from this same place?

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.   Soren Kierkegaard

I worry about my status. I wonder about my fate. Do I believe enough? Have I been whatever I’ve needed to be enough? Will I ever have enough of it right to ring the doorbell on that pearly gate?

Another recent crazy-making project was trying to find a readable, reasonably priced Bible featuring the direct translations from Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. There is where the truth of the Word of God resides. I’ve read a few bits of literal translation. It’s hard to sift through. But the subtle differences in meaning are remarkable. I found one Bible that had some of that for a hefty price. I’ll probably end up buying it. My gut – or maybe it’s my Maker – tells me that this is what I must do.

I’ll probably not make a friend of anyone who might read this. But my one daily friend is THE Friend, with a capital “F.” He has to be. Tag. He’s it. That said, my intent is not to make enemies. My intent is to figure out what to do about finding my tribe. Or maybe I have to learn to accept some tribe that doesn’t exactly fit me – if this is, in fact, a real requirement – no matter how uncomfortable.

God loves you as though you are the only person in the world, and He loves everyone the way He loves you.   David Jeremiah

Groucho Marx famously said he wouldn’t be a member of any club that would have him. I say I wouldn’t be a member of any club that “wouldn’t” have me – with my flawed belief system as it is now, and with the knowledge that it might not ever change, and without harboring the notion that they can ever change me. And not shutting me down or shunning me if I make my feelings and beliefs heard. Ay, there’s the rub, Shakespeare. But, to me, that’s being Christian.

I’m not the devil. But I’m not a puppet, either.

Ministers always say, we want everybody here – gay, drug addicts, porn stars, wife beaters, poodle dogs in tutus. I would say their best bet is to hope for a bus load of poodle dogs to appear. The gay person is unlikely to arrive, because they know what the church really thinks. There’s about a 2% recovery for addicts – church-going or otherwise. And I’d say the porn star is second to poodles in the line of possible converts, because they might be tired of being a piece of meat and want a more positive lifestyle.

I understand that churches don’t want to bend doctrine if they don’t accept certain lifestyles. But people know when they’re being worked on. Since a majority of people are not poker players, their faces show their judgement. So, it’s tricky. Who are we to judge? There’s a fine line that’s difficult to define. Keep your values. Lose your judgement. Love unconditionally. Don’t rush your words or actions. Lead by example, not by lecture. As with anything done well, the work of loving and accepting without judging is detailed, difficult, requires introspection, humbling. (Wait. Am I prejudiced? What’s motivating me? Am I suffering from doctrinal tunnel vision? How to hold true to the Word and treat this person as I would treat any other person?) How many churches are actively practicing that?

To hurt me, someone once said that I’m alone because I don’t put up with things. Things covers a lot of territory that nobody should have to put up with. My answer to that is, life has taught me not to settle. Now, I make tons of concessions every day. I miss my noble boundaries and lofty aspirations. That’s life. But settling for whatever dried up meatless bone is tossed my way, in every aspect of life, has brought nothing but despair. When it comes to my relationship with God, it’s too important just to settle. There’s nothing more important. God, please help me. Guide me. Give me strength, courage, knowledge, wisdom, and a stronger faith. Give me a clue about that going to church thing.

And, by the way, we needn’t say amen at the end of every prayer. It isn’t necessary. Prayer is an ongoing, mindful state of being – a WIFI connection to God that never shuts down. And the “Dear Lord” and “Amen” might even take away from a heartfelt talk with Jesus, God. No form letter required.

A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer was listening.   Soren Kierkegaard.

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