Friday, October 7, 2011

When I Wanted to Quit the Church

Have you ever wanted to quit church?  Perhaps you never started.  Here is the story of why I wanted to quit church and why I ended up staying.

Seventh grade was the worst year of my life. 

Fourth grade had been the worst year.  New school, new city, no friends.  Even though I loved the quiet area where we lived, I felt like I was drifting through life, like I was being done to rather than doing.  I wasn’t yet old enough to see the light ahead. 

Following fourth grade, fifth grade was the worst year of my life.  New school, new city, no friends, and a densely populated area.  Life was horrible at home and I only wanted to hide under my desk at school.  My walk from school took me past a library.  I hid in my room and read books.

After fifth grade, sixth grade was the worst year of my life.  Same school, same city, no friends.  I grew my hair long and continued to cart home as many library books as I could carry.  In school I hid behind my long hair and at home I hid in the books I read.    

But seventh grade was the worst of all.  Same city, new school, no friends; it was the other changes that brought new lows.  I no longer passed a library on my walk to school and I was expected to go to school dances and participate in school  and church activities. 

The high points:  I had a poem published in the school paper and I met a friend.  It wasn’t a particularly good poem and we were friends for all of the wrong reasons.  We were the kind of friends who never spent the night at each other’s house.  So what made us friends?  We were the ones who didn’t fit in.  We went to dances and agreed not to dance so neither of us could feel bad that we weren’t asked.  We went out for cheerleading knowing that we both would fail.  This friendship of avoidance and failure ended when I left that school after two years. 

The low point:  my search for meaning.  I was enrolled in catechism classes that year.  They were taught by the pastor of the church.  I loved church.  I loved the music, the liturgy.  It was a place of safety and security.  The one place with the promise of “all is well and all will be well.”  My heart leapt with the words of the Te Deum Laudamus (We Praise Thee, O God) which we sang as a sort of chant. 

We praise thee, O God :
    we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee :
    the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud :
    the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim :
    continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy :
    Lord God of Sabaoth*;

Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty :
    of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world :
    doth acknowledge thee. . .

But the same man who led that church couldn’t be bothered with the questions of pre-teen girl  searching for meaning.  I don’t remember what I asked; nor do I remember the response.  I only remember that his response ridiculed me in front of the others in that catechism class.   I begged my mother to let me drop out, but she refused.  I begged to stay home from church, but she refused that, also. 

I finished the class and to this day remember only these words:  “I will fear and love God,” a phrase that appropriately states the ambiguity of faith.  But I had no room for ambiguity in my life; fear overwhelmed love.  I finished that class without asking any more questions, donned the white robe, and was subsequently accepted into the church, a church that was no longer safe and secure.  A church of hypocrisy and fear.  

And yet, I knew there was something more. Somewhere. 

Now an adult,  I know that all churches are filled with the same types of people we find anywhere else:  the broken narcissists, the depressed hypocrites, the maudlin pundits.  (Yes, I had to throw them in to lighten this dire non-diatribe.)  But the churches I respect most are those where the people realize their own lack and look to Jesus, where they acknowledge that we live in a stasis between what is and what should be, and where none of us is bigger than God. 

Yes, I said “we” and “us.” I cannot leave the church because, as it hobbles along, its crutch is Jesus and that’s the same secure aid I need in my life.  And the people hobbling with me are the ones I need to be with in my worst of times and my best.

But I will never stop searching; not for the best church or the best people, but for the best life lived in Christ in his church.  I want to stand in the church of the here and the yet to come, the church of the crumpled and crushed, the church of the damaged and destroyed, the church without pretension.  As part of that church, I am part of something bigger and more important than an Ohio State Football game and its fickle fans (no pun intended.).  As part of that church, my life has greater purpose than I could have ever envisioned.

Church is the place of the holy ones of God who are called together through wars and hardship, wins and losses, struggles and pain, to lie prostrate, kneel, or stand and worship the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Here is where I join the saints, angels, and martyrs to shout, sing or whimper, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Here is where “the saints go marching in” and I do, do, do “want to be in that number.”

We are trav'ling in the footsteps
Of those who've gone before,
And we'll all be reunited,
On a new and sunlit shore,
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the trumpet sounds its call
Some say this world of trouble,
Is the only one we need,
But I'm waiting for that morning,
When the new world is revealed.
Oh When the new world is revealed
Oh When the new world is revealed
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the new world is revealed
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Does your heart cry to be in that number?  Do you feel outcast, rejected?  As I was writing this, I happened upon a video that may say it better.  And no, going back to church doesn’t have to happen on September 18, December 25, or any other propitious date.  Whenever you go, it is the right time. 

If you are looking for a church like the one in the video or the one that I want, don’t be afraid to ask me for a recommendation.  Here are two I recommend:  Vineyard Church of Columbus, Vineyard Chillicothe.  And there are many others.  Please leave a comment and let me know whether your pain kept you from church or brought you to church. 

I leave you with a lighter song from the early 1980’s.

*Sabaoth is the Anglicizing of the Latinizing of the Greek of the Hebrew word for “armies.”

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