Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

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Image from nakedpastor.com (David Hayward) and used with permission

Dear Church,
We’re breaking up with you. And here’s why:
For approximately 10 years we’ve tried to fit in. We’ve attended Bible Studies, Life Groups, Book Clubs, Dessert Nights, BBQ’s, volunteered in various capacities, etc. and ad nauseaem.
The Bible Studies/Life Groups we’ve attended have either not been a good fit, or have folded. We asked to join the last small group we attended and were “allowed in.” The group folded thereafter, save for monthly social events.
A recent invitation extended to myself to a women’s breakfast was given, I suspect, purely because I’d overheard discussion about same and asked about it. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed when the main organizer of the woman’s breakfast conveniently (and, purportedly, accidentally) kept leaving my name off the email list for same.
The life groups, BBQ’s, dessert nights, etc., to which it appeared only a select few were invited or welcome, continued. We’d only hear about them in passing, and at times we’d wonder, firstly, why these events were not publicized to the church at large and secondly, why we were so continually left out.
Church, to us, felt less inclusive and more exclusive.
Slowly, we found little community within your walls.
We had few people we could call friends.

All Take and No Give

I’d hurt my back quite significantly in 2008 and requests for help went almost completely unanswered. Yet you were happy to take from us – including our money, and my time spent volunteering. Often, the only phone calls we received were calls to help out, not invitations to connect. Because I work both out of the home, and am a homemaker, the assumption seems to be made by you, Church, I have scads of free time just waiting to give to the church.

Sharing Not Acceptable

In 2013 – 2014, because of the death of my father and two beloved pets, as well as additional health challenges, I’d been going through a rough patch and thought I could share the same with the life group. Silly me. In response, I’d get the usual Christianese “propaganda”. [Seriously people, can I make a suggestion: just shut up if that’s the best you can offer.] Its notable there’s no room for true heart sharing in most life groups—only the “safe” prayer requests like health or job or family concerns are “allowed.” And God forbid you show emotion when requesting the same. Stiff upper lip: the hallmark of evangelicalism, western religion and culture.

Our Responsibility, And Our Fault

One lady and I did become friends. When we tried to discuss the situation with her and her husband regarding the lack of friends and community, we were told “you aren’t always there on Sunday,” “you’re not reliable,” and the latest comment was along the lines of “we had unreasonable expectations.” Further, they intimated, it’s up to us to reach out. Comments like those seem to imply that it’s both our responsibility and our fault that we have so little connection.

Pastoral Change

Our beloved lead Pastor left last year and several people left likely as a result of that. At this point, it’s a small church of around 100 people.
We’ve now been over a year without a lead pastor. An interim lead pastor was eventually hired. The interim pastor’s sermons have become so legalistic my husband nearly walked out the last time we heard one. Further, this interim pastor appears to be complementarian [he stated, first sermon he gave, that women can’t be in leadership positions in the church], does not seem to believe in being a welcoming church to the LGTBQ community, and his approach comes across rather patronizing, condescending and extremely authoritarian.
Meanwhile, back at church, I threw myself into more volunteering, adding more and more responsibilities, and thinking I’d find connection & community that way. Yeah, not so much. There were interactions of course during certain volunteer activities but beyond that, nada. Few invitations, few initiations to connect, and all I’m left with now are feelings of sadness, fatigue, and burnout.
We all have areas in our lives that need improvement: I struggle with communication and listening skills, fight constantly against self-absorption and making conversation all about me. This is not a negative trait or a trait that needs improvement; however my husband is an introvert. It’s with disbelief I ponder: could those traits be the reason for an entire church community to turn its’ back on us?

Beliefs Not Congruent

We are an older couple without children who do not have family in the area. We’re grace-based, non-fundamentalist, don’t believe rules and legalism ever changed anyone’s hearts, or drew them to Jesus. We don’t believe in the guilt and shame of focusing on our sin (and sinful nature) with daily confession, and guilt trips from the pulpit about how awful we, as Christians, are because of “sin”. We believe in showing love and acceptance to our fellow man, not judgment.

We’re the misfits – too liberal for the conservative churches, yet not liberal enough for the liberal ones.

It’s telling that there’s no community for us at this church after 10 plus years , but what it’s telling us we still do not know exactly why. It’s also telling there’s more community in a secular Facebook group I’m part of than at our church.
So, we’re done. Done trying to fit in, done trying to be the square pegs in the round holes, and done trying to figure out why this has happened. The next church we attend, if there is one, the plan is to start over, keep expectations extremely low, and our conversations light and fluffy.

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Light and Fluffy – like Cotton Candy. Cotton Candy, as you know, melts in your mouth, maybe because too much water from the saliva in your mouth breaks it down. It could be said water is the stress that breaks cotton candy down. I wonder, is too much authenticity the stress that breaks down community at church?

Not Quite Welcoming

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We participated in a book club discussion recently at church that discussed the book “Welcoming but not Affirming, an Evangelical Response to Homosexuality”.  That discussion sure revealed there were two camps in our church body:

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number One:

The fundies, who believe “sure homosexuals can come in the door, but oh no, they can’t  become members” (so, only so “welcoming” I guess). However, cynical me says these same fundies are probably happy to take their financial offerings!   Anyways , to continue,the fundies in our midst that morning further thought that once a homosexual set foot inside our church, we should descend on them like a pack of wolves to try and turn them from their “gayness”, including, but not limited to, forcing a Christian, committed, gay couple – even a gay couple who was abstinent – to live apart. To which I responded that was a non-starter if that’s the first thing we do the minute a homosexual enters our midst, they will walk out the door and never return.

 

(I suspect these same fundies would force a heterosexual couple who started attending our church and who were living together – whether they had children from that union or not – to move into separate dwellings until they married. And membership? Well, forget that.   That’s right, rip a family apart.)

 

“He who is without sin let him cast the first stone.”

 

But I Digress..On To …

Book Club Discussion, Camp Number Two:

The second camp – the one we were in (which was a pretty lonely place, just my husband and I and maybe one other person) – believed, as the author of the book seemed to state, that we are to come alongside homosexuals and love them and accept them and let God /Jesus/Holy Spirit sort out the rest.
Thanks to said discussion, we contemplated revoking our church membership.
Sigh.
We have been a part of that church community for approximately ten years. Leaving anything one has been a part of for that long — be it church, job, a relationship, or a community — is not any easy decision to make, yet is one we are contemplating.
Nonetheless, at the moment our decision is to stay, to continue to help out in small ways, attend occasionally, and discontinue going to church meetings. I believe in our food distribution program our church has for example, and have taken a larger role in that recently.
We feel like we don’t belong anywhere, church wise.  It’s clear we don’t fit in with the fundies (which is most of our current church) because we are quite progressive, and yet we are not quite liberal enough in our beliefs to attend other churches.
Rock, meet hard place.
Jesus loves all, accepts all, died for all, and rose for all.  Both those who identify as insiders (i.e. believers) and those who identify as  outsiders (non-believers). Isn’t it time to end the “us vs. them” mentality so prevalent in Christian circles?
All means all, people. Wouldn’t it be nice if this Easter if the fundies could finally get that?

What I Wish I Knew (When I Graduated From High School)

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I’ve accepted that gauntlet thrown down by our pastor to speak at our church’s graduation night this Friday, a night where we honor our high school grads. This year, there’s one high school grad. However, at my behest, we are also honoring our three class of 2014 university grads (of which I’m one).   The university grads have been asked to speak on “what I wish I knew when I graduated from high school”.

This is my speech:

Back when I graduated from high school…

  •  Dinosaurs roamed the earth
  • Apple was just a piece of fruit
  • An “I-Pad” was something you put on your eye if it hurt
  • Personal cassette tape players were all the rage
  • And a cell phone was what you used only if you were arrested!

Graduation from high school, for me, was a hard place to land. I was 17. My foster parents were moving to the US. I was not. Panicked, I married the guy I was dating. I was frightened of the future, and self-preservation kicked in; I needed someone to look after me. (Our marriage ended in divorce four years later). I only share this to provide a bit of context.

Five things I wish I’d known when I graduated from High School:

  • God is a god of grace, love and forgiveness – not just rules.
  • A high school diploma does not a great job make.
  • Career testing – at least the kind I had – is not terribly accurate or useful.
  • A teacher or guidance counsellor taking me under their wing and giving, well, guidance would have been extremely helpful.
  • Apple and Microsoft would achieve world domination. (Apple’s first stock offering was in Dec., 1980, just 1.5 years after I graduated. Microsoft’s followed in 1986.) Honey, we could have been rich!

[name of graduate], in the words of that learned scholar, Dr. Seuss:

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind.

And, one final thought from Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

I think what Roosevelt’s saying with that quote [name of graduate], is simply: GO FOR IT. Whatever you choose to do, you’ve a soft place to land with your family always, in success and in failure. If I’d had a soft place to land when I graduated from high school, who knows what I might have accomplished?