On going back to church

church-cartoon1Prior to this month, I hadn’t attended church in close to five years.

As the daughter of a church pastor, I’d grown up attending church every week and I even attended my denomination’s university. My Sabbath and Holy Day-centered denomination changed radically when I was a young adult, and one of the things that gave me was the freedom to explore mainstream denominations. (It also gave me a large and healthy dose of skepticism when it came to any church claiming to have all the answers.)

But my last experience, the one that ended abruptly five years ago with a succession of unfriendly, corrective e-mails and Facebook de-friendings, was a bad one. My beliefs were evolving at the time — growing and expanding — but the poor people with whom I shared a Sunday School class were not ready for that. (Bless them – now that my feelings are no longer raw, I do understand.)

Five years away from church did not leave me dying on the vine, however – with all that we are able to access over the Internet and in books, and with like-minded people to talk to, my spiritual life grew in leaps and bounds. I was doing just fine, and for the most part, so were my kids.

I didn’t want my kids to go to church and learn the things that I had had to de-program myself from in adulthood. I wanted them to skip that part.

But then I read Franciscan priest Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life and learned that kids do much better in the long run spiritually when they are permitted to experience the first half of life in all its indispensable muck and glory. No one gets to the second half of life without first making mistakes in the ego-driven first half.

That started me thinking.

And then this summer, my 8-yr old daughter attended a Lutheran summer camp because my stepdaughter was a counselor there. My daughter came back enraptured by the experience, singing all the songs I remembered so well, and talking about how great God was. She absolutely loved it.

And I realised, okay…it’s time.

But where to start? I looked around at the people I knew and there were two fellow homeschool moms who had heard my not-always-completely-orthodox views and they hadn’t run from me screaming! They attended the same church. It looked like it had a terrific program for children. So I thought, let’s try there.

And we are. So far, so good!

As for me, I’ve learned a few things since the last go-around that should improve my chances of this being a good experience.

  1. It’s best to focus on common ground. Just because I find something exciting and paradigm-shifting doesn’t mean that everyone around me is going to have the same reaction. We all have our reasons for holding to certain views and they are sensitive and complicated. It’s not my job to try to shift anyone’s views. I’d learned that the hard way before by thinking that something that was so wonderful and had changed my life would change another’s. But it didn’t. All it did was tragically destroy the relationship. I don’t believe this is something a God who prizes true relationship over all else ever wants.
  2. I don’t have to agree with everything said in church to attend there. I teach a weekly literature class to 8-10 year olds and something we are beginning to do is look for “signposts” in literature. One of the signposts is called the “Again and Again,” where repetition of an element occurs for a thematic reason. In church last Sunday, I saw the theme of the “angry Father God” repeated a few times, subtly, and mostly in the song service. I thought to myself – there it is, the mythical angry, retribution-hungry Father God: Again and Again. Another signpost is “Contrasts and Contradictions.” I thought to myself, there it is, God the Father characterised one way; Jesus another: Contrasts and Contradictions. But…the moment I stopped assessing (and there was a distinct moment) was the moment I felt my heart soften. And I thought to myself, what does God want? For me to feel smugly “right,” or for my heart to be softened by the people around me, pouring out their hearts to him in their fashion? The answer was clear. Which leads me to…
  3. I’m not right about everything. In truth, I’ve never felt that I was right about everything. I am aware that as humans, there is so much we don’t know and don’t understand. We could all use a lot more humility in our dealings with one another. One of the quickest ways to damage or even destroy a relationship is to say, I’m right, you’re wrong. I dabbled briefly in the anti-tradition “unfundamentalist” movement, and honestly, I found it to be just as legalistic and excluding as much of evangelical Christianity. It seems that the more people feel they are right, the more they get the relationship aspects wrong. And again, what does a loving Triune God value most?  

So we’ll see how it all goes. As long as I live, I will miss the sight of my dad behind the lectern. As imperfect as my own upbringing in the church was, there is a great deal of it I am so glad not to have missed. I am optimistic that the same will be true for my children.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock


3 comments so far

  1. stevejansonblog on

    Thank you Jeannine!
    You have a wonderful way of turning a mystery into the blatantly obvious!

  2. jcooperforpeace on

    Great post! I am a former pastor in the Worldwide Church of God who has been called back to his roots in the Roman Catholic Church. I follow Richar d Rohr’s meditations also. Thanks for sharing your beliefs!

  3. […] Buntrock, J. (2016, September 29). On going back to the Church. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://trinityandhumanity.com/2016/09/29/on-going-back-to-church/ […]

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