Save The World

You pull me by the arm, tell me what to believe.
Tell me that there’s only one way, one way to see.
Whatever faith you choose may not be for me.
How can I be saved while being forced to believe?

– Rufio, Save the World,  2000 *

I’ve mentioned … mostly in passing … my struggles with the church I, for all intents and purposes, married into. But I wanted to dive a little deeper, because it KEEPS COMING UP.

I was raised Lutheran. Left my childhood church over ever-changing, ever limiting moral guidelines (when they decided they were going to side with the “Being Gay is an Abomination” crew (no, not Westboro), I was done).  Started attending an area non-denominational church with a friend. Fell in love with it, felt at home, felt closer to God than ever.

Then I moved. Looked, but couldn’t find a church I felt as comfortable at. Resolved to drive the 50 miles each way, each Sunday.

The husband, on the other hand, was raised very strictly in a relatively young (it was established in the 1920s) church. The teachings are Christian, and vaguely Protestant …. and so far I haven’t found anything that I disagree with in the doctrine. His dad is as close to a pastor as one can come in this church (they subscribe to the old no-clergy rule), so it was pretty non-negotiable for him growing up.

Then we got engaged, and I moved clear across the country. And by default, we ended up at the church he’d been attending while in school.

I have to say, up front, that I’ve met some lovely, lovely people through this church. People I’ve grown close to, and people I admire a great deal. The things I am about to say have nothing to do with them.

Right away, I felt something was off in this church. Over time I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing wrong, it was just my gut reaction to something so SO different from anything I’d ever experienced. For example: prayer is out loud, and done in call-and-response style (you know, “AMEN” after every sentence). Those not singing are encouraged to loudly read the words of the hymn while everyone else is singing. The terminology used is often the original, or a different translation (for example: “prophesy” in place of “testimony”.) Emphasis is put on the origin of something, not the intention (for example: Christmas – the date of celebration is believed to have been chosen to correspond with the winter solstice and the pagan celebrations then, therefore, they believe Christmas is a pagan symbol and is not be celebrated. Blessing someone when they sneeze – originally done because of the belief that you sneeze your soul out, and need to be blessed to ensure  the demons running rampant don’t snatch it up. This is still not common practice within the church, even though now it’s become the polite thing to do and has nothing to do with demons. And so on.) Sunday meetings (services) aren’t led by one person in particular, anyone can get up and speak.

There’s nothing WRONG with any of this. But, that last point leads to most of my problem. If anyone can get up and speak, anyone can say whatever they want. Including the man who, during a discussion of prayer, said that if you don’t pray in a certain way, it doesn’t count. He went on to say that most new believers are mistaken if they think they’re praying at all.** Or the gentleman (who I actually like quite a bit, even if I don’t agree with him) who insists that if you don’t worship in the manner he chooses to, you’re never going to be as close to God as you could be. Or the woman who forcefully told me (several times) that my baptism “doesn’t count” because I wasn’t baptized “into The Church”. I stayed away from church for 3 weeks last December (Christmas and the Sundays before and after) because I was so worried about what people would say. (I wasn’t the only one who did this, I later found out.)

I realize, after much thought (it’s been 2 years at this point) that it’s not the church I have difficulty with, it’s the people. I can recognize that what so-and-so says is their personal viewpoint, and not something this church promotes. But it’s difficult to hear someone telling you what you believe is WRONG, that it doesn’t count, that you’re misguided.

The husband has suggested I talk about my concerns to someone I trust, within the church. To someone who will understand what I’m talking about. But the thought that these people I trust would look at me and find me lacking … that my disagreement would turn into “oh you poor thing, you need guidance” … holds me back.

We recently had a discussion about the fact that while I, as an adult, can realize that “oh, that’s just Joe***”, I would not be comfortable raising children there, when “Joe” would be the one teaching them. Children don’t know the difference, and it would make it very easy for that misguided principle (the prayer one, for example)  to become their belief. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. That being said, we don’t currently have children … so I just deal with it.

And then we had a new addition to our Monday night bible study group (a group of 20 and 30-somethings). He has an incredible testimony, and we were thrilled to have him. But then things started coming up. In a pretty intense conversation on where we wanted this Monday night group to go (split into smaller groups, continue as one big, take the focus off the “study” portion, focus on it MORE, etc.) he spoke up and said “Everyone’s talking about what THEY want. But it’s not about what THEY want, it’s about what GOD wants. He wants us to worship him, not focus on ourselves. We shouldn’t be chatting, we should be praying, nonstop.”

Wise words, but it felt like he was scolding us. I thought about it for the next week, and then when the discussion picked back up the following Monday I said “I’ve thought a lot about it, and I cannot presume to know what God wants. But I know without a doubt that he DOESN’T want me to come to a meeting where I’m not focused because I’m not into whatever we’re discussing or doing. It’s counterproductive to go through the motions when just because we HAVE to, if we’re not feeling it.”

Nearly the entire group agreed.

I wasn’t trying to argue with him, just to express what I’d decided. Not one to be disagreed with, he launched into a  lecture on how even when we’re eating before the bible study, we should be focused on God, not on “earthly things like work, or how you hate your job, or how this coworker has it out for you.” And on and on and on. All the while, staring straight at the girl who’d spent dinner catching us up on her difficult work situation (at our request).

That settled it, he WAS scolding us. I was NOT a happy camper, but I let it go, so that the night didn’t turn into one big argument.

But then this past Monday he shows up … and promptly comes over to tell me thought my dress was awfully low-cut, and did I really think that it was appropriate for church?

::blinks::

First off … the dress was not at ALL low-cut. In fact, I’ve worn it around some VERY conservative (morally) people and been told how lovely I looked. Secondly … WE WERE NOT AT CHURCH. We were at someone’s apartment, getting ready to eat dinner. And for that matter, I HAVE worn it to church. Thirdly … BACK. THE. EFF. OFF.

I desperately want to be able to say, like I do about the others, “It’s just him. No one else thinks that way. Don’t worry about it.” And I know that’s true. But after a lot of thought, I finally put my finger on it … I do not want to continue in an environment where he feels comfortable enough to say things like this, and act this way. An environment where he assumes everyone will agree with these thoughts. All it does is hurt my faith, and that is the exact OPPOSITE of the point.

I told the husband this, and he agrees. But now it becomes tricky. This is very important to him, and it’s also important to him that I be happy. But I know, if I don’t go with him, if I find another church, he’ll be disappointed. And I don’t want to do that to him.

::sighs::

What do we do?

 

* Ah, Rufio. Do you guys know them? If not, look them up, and welcome to Rancho, circa 2001. This was the music of my college years … and the band was made up of my friends. Their first album officially came out in 2001, but I’m saying 2000 for this song because 1. I know when it was written and what it was about (the girl the lead singer desperately wanted to date was Mormon, he was not … half the album is about her) and 2. I have a demo, with this song on it, from early 2000. And 3. I can claim partial credit for the band, as I was at the bassist’s house (his younger brother was one of my closest friends) the day he came in with the lead singer and asked us if we thought they sounded good and should try and do something with this band. They recorded their demo, on our prompting, 3 weeks later. So there.

** I seriously almost flipped my shit right there in church. In my book, “you didn’t pray right, it doesn’t count” is among the VERY WORST things you can say to a new believer.

*** There is no Joe. Well, maybe there is, it’s a big church. My point is that this is the first name that came to me.

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3 Comments to “Save The World”

  1. I’m going to email you rather than clogging up your comments with my long saga, but the short version is that Jason and I went through this exact same situation (just reversed – he wanted to find a new church, I didn’t) the second year we were dating. It was HARD, but we did work through it. So I totally sympathize. Will email soon!

  2. Oh, I’m hugging you tons because I grew up in and out of churches like this (we church hopped). Lots of times, churches either split over things like this, or they lose members.
    Dude. I’m so proud of you for standing up in that moment.
    The only way I’ve found to really be spiritual here without running smack-dab into doctrine is thru a UU church, and to do that I had to shrug off the non-Christian focus on it. I just appreciate that their moments of silence mean I can pray to whomever I want to, and I’ve felt nothing but love, acceptance, and the urging to be the best I can be thru the sermons. This reminds me that I need to be more faithful about going.

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