Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sex, Church & Blogging

What follows is my comment on another person's blog - a person I don't who goes by the blogger name of Ramblin' Educat. She posted last week about deciding to go to church - you need to read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt for you lazy folks:

I decided very quietly a few days ago not to give up something for Lent. I decided instead to do something. I decided to go to church...

For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I am terrified of attending church again. It started years back and the years in between have seemed to always solidified that fear... Here’s the list as best I can articulate it.
  • I have watched my home church slowly implode. They are working and scrambling to find the perfect program that will bring in the “right kind of people” and have in the process managed to decrease attendance and look really stupid. And, oh yeah, they fired my dad and then lied about it.
  • My Mother is a compulsive church-goer. She has given some of the best parts of her life to a congregation who doesn’t appear to appreciate the gift. As a result, we miss those best parts and the people who get them don’t seem to care.
  • I don’t fit the church demographic as I have known it. I’m single and I have yet to vote Republican. Sometimes it has felt that there isn't a place for me.
  • When they have places, they are singles groups.
  • And singles groups are by nature creepy.
  • Because I am not trolling the churches for a husband.
  • But plenty of guys are trolling the churches for a wife.
  • The bit of depression I deal with has done a number on my self esteem and sometimes it’s terrifying to put myself “out there” to new people. I do far better getting to know people when we work together at something I am good at
  • And I am not good at church
  • Because (and this is the most definitive answer I can find) church has always been a place where you have to be perfect
  • Or at least really, really, good.
  • And lots of times, I am just not.

I can give an answer for every single item on that list (so don't try to give me any, please.), but at Sunday morning wake up time, none of them hold water.

There's more to her post than that... like I said earlier, you ought to read the whole thing.

I responded with:

You succinctly & carefully lay out the fears, hurts & hopes of so many folks when it comes to dealing with institutionalized church.

As a pastor, I just want to apologize for our tendency in church to value conformity over authenticity and perfect exteriors over transformed interiors.

At the same time, I encourage you not to give up on church. It's kind of like sex. (Really... not kidding. Let me explain!)

Sex was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes a marriage more than simply a promise of respect; sex morphs marriage into an intimate alliance shot through with physical & emotional vulnerability. And we have managed to reduce it to a physical act/exchange of bodily fluids, casually used & abused & downgraded to an instinctual response used to sell hair care products & beer.

By the same token, church was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes following God more than a personal act of will; church gives us allies/friends/compadres to explore the physical & spiritual world with... iron that sharpens iron and, at it's best, brothers & sisters who mourn with those mourn & rejoice with those who rejoice. There is a tenderness & grace & vulnerability in an authentic Biblical community that make our hearts beat quickly & our spirits soar.

And, as you so beautifully related, we have managed all too often to reduce it to an elaborate play where we all wear Greek comedy masks, reciting lines we barely believe at each other. No wonder it sucks people like your mother dry... church can be a people-eating monster rather than a community of Christ-followers.

Well, didn't think I'd go off quite like that when I started this response. My prayer: that your Lenten experiment helps you find a place where there are no scripts, no masks, and the Director comes complete with grace, truth, & holes in His wrists & side.

Evidently, I'm not the only person who was drawn to Educat's story... and she responded later in the week with two posts, one about the effect of the service she attended (Where I'm Starting) and one that more specifically dealt with her frustration of being used as a poster child for "the unchurched" (Extending the Metaphor). Again, you ought to read the whole thing, but here's a taste just the same.

Mark made the observation that church is like sex. To simplify, when used right, it's good. When society gets hold of it, it can be used improperly and hurt people.

I'd like to kindly extend the metaphor, if I may.

Let's say someone is hurt by sex. She was abused or something like it. Let's say lots of well meaning people who love her tell her that the solution to her fear of sex is to find the right partner and enter a physical relationship. Those people counsel her. They talk and talk to her about her problem and try to get her to date lots of people so that she will find that healthy relationship and experience something that will strengthen the relationship as an expression of love that will also serve as a means of procreation.

I have had some bad church. I don't know if abuse is fair, but for whatever reason, I've got issues. Lots and lots and lots of well meaning people have told me that the solution to not liking church is to go to church. They've told me over and over how good church is and to "get back in there".

It hasn't worked yet. Here's what's worked (to the extent that anything has).

I've watched people in good relationships with the church. I've watched people who I know have been hurt go back and risk more hurt. Sometimes, though, they find the right match and form great relationships with the church that strengthens their relationship with God and serves as an encouragement to others. They don't talk it too much, but they've done more for my will to come back than any Monday night visitation ever has.

It wouldn't work to overtalk our sexual abuse victim. She probably needs to just watch relationships until she finds someone she trusts and to enter a relationship when the time is right.

The moral of the story is, let's not overtalk this. I have heard over and over that the "good church" is out there, but I don't need to hear about it. I need to see it. So give me time, I'm watching.

Which brings me to my final point to those of us on "the inside" - how do we live "good church" for the sake of Educat & and the millions like her? Isn't it time to stop hounding people with guilt & the Chinese water torture of visitation and instead spend our energy living out the community Christ called us to?!


educat said...

Thanks for showing the whole (such as it is) story as I have it now. I am not the fairest example of "the unchurched" as I have stayed pretty in touch with church folk and--for good and bad--church culture (most of my friends attend and are active in churches and a few are even pastors), but the idea of actions speaking louder than words is a fair one.

I replayed the exchange to my sister (who serves on staff at a church) the other night to check myself and see that I was fair and kind to you as that was my intention and she offered another perspective. Maybe those involved in good churches want to show that their churches are different. Fair enough also.

Either way, your conclusion holds true.

And I'm still working on it.

Anonymous said...

I guess I didn't know what I was starting with this! Reading Educat's thoughts reminded me of many of our early "I was calling for Mark, but since I got you..." conversations. (And honestly, they reflect many of the feelings I still have.) Thanks for taking the time to share it with others.

'PeachBelle' said...

pastor guy, you're cute, you're smart, i'm watching you... have a good day : )

davej said...

yes, indeed...rock on!