Monthly Archives: April 2015

Appetizer

Lutheran Church

Pros:
– Pastor actually knew everyone in the church (greeted people personally) and welcomed you without implication (that you would or should be there ever after). Followed up with email WHEN WARRANTED (e.g. no “form letter” just because you showed up, but when I shared difficulties I was having, he followed up on them through the following weeks).
– Bible study wasn’t scripted (no “answer these questions” forms), and the pastor demonstrated quite a bit of respect for what was said. He did try to gently guide back people who were trying to bring something into the text that just wasn’t there, but especially seemed to have a lot of respect for the older/more mature members.
– Holy reverence would be a word I wold feel comfortable using to describe this setting.

Cons:
– Terrible exegesis. I wish I could say something more constructive than this, but it just often seemed if the thoughts presented were only very tangentially related to the Scripture at hand, and often times seemed to miss the point of the passage entirely.
– Pew warmers. Almost entirely elderly people, and for the most part everyone showed up at that last minute and left in a hurry. There was little to no opportunity to gather with people outside of the service.
– Party-liner’s. These people weren’t “Christians” they were “Lutherans”. It was unsettling at times.

Notable moments:
– The pastor asking an infant child if it renounced all the ways of the Devil. Derrrr. . . I struggle with all views of infant baptism, but I really didn’t get the point of pretending to ask a writhing infant if it would declare a renunciation of all the ways of the evil one.
– Speaking during Bible study about something I thought was going on in the text and having an elderly member of the church whirl around with pointed finger and declare, “Now THAT is some excellent Lutheran theology!” There were quite a few very intelligent, well-studied/educated gentlemen there, who I miss, but I never was making a Lutheran point and I never was prepared to be congratulated on it.
– When the pastor realized I wasn’t showing up (and hadn’t mentioned going home, etc) he sent a very nice follow up email, just letting me know that I was missed and that he hoped nothing more disastrous had come upon me (it had been a very disastrous Summer; he had right to be worried). I explained I was troubled by some of the persistent Lutheran beliefs, and he simply offered that if I wanted to, he’d be glad to meet with me and discuss them. I never took him up on it, but I find I regret it.

Baptist church:

Pros:
– much better exegesis, e.g. recognizing the centrality of Christ throughout the entire Bible.
– much more diverse congregation, and many more opportunities to gather besides Sunday service.

Cons:
– FEAR. GUILT. SHAME. FEAR. GUILT. If nothing else, you should repent of not feeling ashamed enough. All interactions with people should be based out of FEAR they might not get to heaven.
– Canned gatherings. When you meet, you need a church approved agenda. Your homegroup leaders will be reporting back to leadership.
– Face. Let’s keep it all looking good. Including with neat little shows of “humility”. Everyone should be involved in everything. Heaven help us if the sinners don’t see us being joyful enough. I began to feel that God got a lot of lip service but began to doubt how hallowed He was.
– Pride and false humility. It is at times subtle, but pervades everything. The church is run like a business, with leaders being personally invested in the success riding on them and their name. It needs to be ever expanding. References to authority are not to “Luther” but rather to “the pulpit.”
– An emphasis on the “gospel” that leaves the “church” in the cold. I met so many people who said they’d been going to that church for over 5 years and still didn’t know most people; meantime, we are “church planting” on the other side of the world.
– Money. It requires frequent mentioning from the pulpit. Everyone should be giving sacrificially, and more sacrificially. It is part of the constitution. If you become a member, you have to agree to give regularly, reliably and sacrificially.

Notable Moments:
– I went the Lutheran church for about 2 months. The pastor, I am confident will still remember me. I have attended the Baptist church for over 6 months. I’ve never actually met the ring-leader. Although I suspect he has heard several reports on me.
– The conversation in which the homegroup leader asked me what I thought about church going, now that I was. I answered honestly that I thought there was a problem with any arrangement which didn’t allow for members of the body to be ministering to one another, and that it was boring and meaningless to just show up, shut up, and sit down. He said that I was right, but that in order to support the mission, the church had to get bigger–and still must get bigger yet!–and logistically, there was just no way to have meaningful interactions with such a large group. He then tried to convince me I just needed to get more involved with scripted activities and “serving”.
– The financial meeting in which the ring-leader said that the churches main responsibility was first the church and then to the unsaved, and the preceded to cut funding to anyone who wasn’t on board enough with saving sinners.
– Watching a women attempt to share a concern for THREE WEEKS in a row, but being sidelined every week because there “wasn’t enough time”–there needing to be time for the pastor to read the announcements of “ministry” happenings, and lecture us all ad nauseam of the subject of his choosing. (Her son had a concussion from which he was not recovering well from.)
– The hands and feet of homegroup: people were there when I needed prayers, there when I needed to talk, there to feed me meals and send me home with leftovers, there to help me with car problems, there to invite me over at times when I should be with family that was too far away. How I needed that – and how sad when I realized it wasn’t ever getting any deeper than that, and that I felt more comfortable discussing spiritual matters with friends who had no professed religion than I did with homegroup, who’s thoughts were not their own.

Methodist Church:

Only went once, so only some off the cuff observations:
– Like the Lutheran Church, it is a very peaceful sit-through. This was a smaller gathering, and the church was older (it was a good deal scenic), but like the Lutheran Church, it was full of grey heads and not much else. This perplexes me. I would think if you didn’t really care, you would want to show up some place pleasant that doesn’t make your head hurt, but of which the Lutheran and Methodist Churches were and the Baptist Church decidedly was not (plus, the Baptist service is at least a full twice as long).
– Because it was such a small gathering, literally anyone and EVERYone who wanted to add prayers to the congregation could and did. The pastor would repeat them aloud so that everyone could hear the request or praise, and then say, “Lord in your mercy–” and the congregation “hear our prayers.” I really liked that part of it. It was a good way to share prayer with a large gathering. (And much better than listening to someone go on long-windedly and still managing to tie in guilt and fear and shame and pride.)
-Exegesis was still pretty mediocre, but that was one sermon, so it’s hard to know. At least he got to his point quickly.
-Apparently (e.g. everyone else knows this but only now do I), most “high” churches are “in communion” which they use to mean, among other things, that everyone uses the same “lectionary” or system of readings from the bible. The more “higher” you are, the more special circumstance you need to deviate from the pre-chosen text; in the Episcopal Church, you need the Bishop’s approval. In the Methodist church, you can choose to follow it or not, but usually do. I can’t help but wonder if this part of the reason why so far every “high” sermon I’ve heard has been very superficial and flat – following a script of readings can be limiting.

Episcopal Church:

Again, only went once, so just some brief thoughts.

-Life is a play, and everyone played their part. Granted, it was an Easter service, but the pomp, ritual and ceremony was so grand to the point it was hard to take it serious. At least for me. It was like a caricature, making you want to giggle; or, if you took it seriously, creepy. Very tall Bishop with his very tall hat, and even taller and more majestic shepherds crook which is obviously beyond the symbolic and into “likely has hidden powers.” Lots of singing in Latin, and even though it was a modern concrete structure, they’d done the architecture right to get that echo-y church sound.
-It was neat that they were explicit in their programs that kids were free to wander. There was no expectation that the kids should get shipped away, nor that little kids were expected to be statues for the entire time.
– The Choir Master clearly loved his job, and loved leading us in a round – truly, a round with over lapping parts – of joy and thanksgiving. In Latin.
– When communion was handed out, everyone gathered at the front loosely, and the people handing out the elements circulated around. I liked this arrangement better than the Lutheran “come up and kneel while I hand it to you” and even more than the Baptist “let’s all sit twiddling our thumbs while we pass everything through the whole seated congregation.” Granted, we would have been twiddling our thumbs while the people passed out the elements to the gathered people, but, hey, if you were bored, you could sing the Latin refrain.
– The sermon was lame. Truly. If this is what passes for leading the flock, you can understand why it seems like anyone and everyone should be allowed to teach and lead. Nothin’ to it. Say a few words. Try to look holy. Remember to look up a lot.

Some over all thoughts:

– Passion does not equal truth. I think the people at the Baptist church were more passionate (maybe that’s what brought people there, not the long service times and the moral to be fearful and ashamed?). I got the feeling that a lot of people liked the feeling of always being busy with church things, that by their activity and emotion they were “doing something” about it and were more real and true and RIGHT. It is said, though, not that we will be known by our emotion or activity, but by our fruit. To which I am sure at the Baptist church I would be pointed to head-count and church-plants as evidence of said fruit, but it no where says, “by your head-count they will know I am among you.” Far from it.

– The Episcopal church was one of the places my landlady had me take her while she was unable to drive. Sometimes she and I talk about spiritual or religious things. One of our differences is that community is VERY important to me, but she feels the opposite. She doesn’t need a community. She says she just needs a place to come in holy reverence. We’re both introverts, and to a certain extent, I understand what she means. We don’t need people, people, people. But the difference is, I don’t need to go to a structure with a figure up in the front to feel like I’m satisfying being in the presence of God. (I am hesitant to write how she feels, since our conversations are often all over the place and not delving too deeply in a certain area.) When I am coming to a church, it’s not because I need or want the administration of a religion; it’s because I want to find other people who are seeking and worshiping God, and to have fellowship with them. It doesn’t mean I want to be doing it every day of the week, morning and evening, because I am and introvert, and I am wearied by people, people, people. All of these endless “ministry” gatherings just make me want to cry. I’m interested in the people and God, not doing “churchy” things and listening to endless strings of speakers and spiritual small talk of how we can notice God more by making craft boards we write things down on. And I’m not really interested in pomp and circumstance, although if you made me choose, I’d pick the solemnity of the Lutheran and Methodist settings over the self-righteous and false-humility I see in the Baptist setting.

– I feel like I have a better understanding of how people get pulled into cults and some of the reasons why people find religion and churches to be creepy. People say all of these nice things and do all of these nice things, and maybe you don’t have anyone else in your life who is doing nice things or saying nice things to you. At the end of it all, though, most people seem ungenuine, and you start feeling more and more like you’re someone’s project. But you want to make it work, and who else do you have? I don’t feel like that is my position, but I feel like it so easily could have been me, had my situation be just a little different.

– I am not done looking/visiting/going to churches, but I feel like I have been reminded that in many ways, this is an academic/experiential activity. I’m not likely to find what I’m really looking for in established churches, any more than one is likely to find a good hearty meal in a pastry shop. I may find other individual Christians I can grow with, but not any institution, and I would do well to remember that.

– “home church” or “non-denominational” is in no way a sign that things are better. Every “non-denominational” I’ve looked into so far is hardly related to the original word “Christian.” Someone who was well intention added me to a “home church” group on Facebook, which has been hair-raising. I’ve been watching things go past in the spirit of academic awareness, but if all I knew about home gatherings was what I saw there, I would run far, far away and never come back. I expect to be removing myself from that group shortly.

– There has been a massive logical fallacy committed on a huge scale that since “church” in the NT usually refers to a “local gathering”, you need to pick a church and stick with it. I think the point was that you are in fellowship with the people who were around you, since the only way to discuss a more global church was by these long letters called epistles or by hazardous and unreliable travel plans. Considering that sectarianism was explicitly condemned, using the call for “local gathering” to justify why you need to consistently gather at one of the 20+ power-struggling denominational gatherings is beyond absurd. It’s also an absurd fallacy to assume that since we are told not to forsake gathering together, there must be something magical about sitting silently in pews saying nothing together for hours on end. Besides the end of the verse (and the previous verse and THE WHOLE DARN BOOK) that implies there is more about it than just existing in the same physical space, there is also the reminder that “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” The point is not where the gathering is, who is “in charge of” the gathering, or how perfunctorily the gathering is attended. The point is not forsaking one another. And to my understanding, sitting coldly in a pew listening to one man talk counts as forsaking one another.

I am always a bit hesitant to post these sorts of things, as since they can be deeply touchy and personal subjects, an off-the-cuff handling of them can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. Still, I need a place to think about and consider these things, and right now. . .I’ve yet to find local people I can do that with.