Friday, February 08, 2008

Getting back on the bicycle

I have been struggling, since getting to Ohio, with a number of things. One of the things I struggled with that never really ever floated to the top was the idea of finding a new "church home." In fact, to be honest, I struggled with it from the time I left my real "church home" in Kansas in 2003.

In seminary, we were always going where we were told for church. This visitation, this "ministry in context" site, this special project. Seminary was a place where I started falling in love with most of the theology of Martin Luther, even as I was falling out of love with the traditional ELCA Lutheran church. I saw worship as rote performance, worship as theatre and showmanship, but somehow had missed sincerity and humility in all the places I'd tried going.

I know it's a sad commentary for a man who intended to spend the rest of his life in church on Sunday morning - but except for Christmas and Easter, I've been hard-pressed to get fired up about going to church. In a way, I've felt the pull of demanding work and demanding family, and Sunday morning was the one morning I didn't have to be anything for anyone. No demands, no nothing. It felt pretty good.

And, to be honest, it seemed that the whole "committed to serve" thing that I had for the church just kind of flamed-out when I had to drop out of seminary. So many times, becoming a member of a church means becoming fresh meat for the church activity meat-grinder. Sunday mornings - sometimes all morning. Choir, Sunday school teacher, church council, prayer team leader - as a dear professor of mine once said, "The church is an addictive institution, and their drug of choice is over-commitment and overwork..." I have to admit a certain fear of being sucked back into the co-dependent "they need you there, Steve" syndrome.

And, to be honest, I haven't wanted to deal with finding a church that I can attend with my significant other and feel welcome. It's a tragic thing to say, but I really didn't want to be bothered with the struggle. Call it being conflict-averse, call it avoiding church closets, I don't know. Any more, my feelings about church has been a take-off on the old cigarette commercial: "I'd rather switch than fight."

Two things have kicked my church-aversion in the pants. One was the incredible richness of worship at the GCN conference at the beginning of January. I was completely overwhelmed by the power of the worship, and sense of being "a part of" that it brought me. Deep inside, I'd missed that sense - even though the blossoming relationship I'm in has brought a great deal of that back for me.

The other thing happened on Wednesday. I was at the Budapest Restaurant in Toledo Wednesday night, at a "145th anniversary" party for a friend. He turned 70 late last year, celebrated 45 years as a Catholic priest in December, and passed his 30th sobriety anniversary on Tuesday. So he invited all his friends to dinner on his dime to celebrate all 3 anniversaries. And after that, I went to an AA meeting downtown at a GLBT-friendly Episcopal church.

As we were walking up to the church, one of my fellow AA's said, "What's happening at the church tonight? Why's it so busy on a Wednesday night?" And that's when it hit me.

It's Ash Wednesday - that's why. The start of Lent. The beginning of the countdown to the Three Days and Easter. The church would be busy on Ash Wednesday, wouldn't they?...

And for the second year in a row, I wasn't in church on Ash Wednesday.

How the hell did that happen? How did I manage to ignore the ads, the big push to sell pazckis (Polish pastries sold before Lent, pronounced "poonschki," for reasons not readily apparent), and all the other signs of Mardi Gras and impending fasting?

How did it turn out to be Ash Wednesday, and I'm not there?

The enormity of it about blew me away. Something just cracked - just enough to let the idea of going back to church back into my head. And when I talked about it with a friend, he said, "Well, it's a lot like riding a bicycle - once you get back on, you'll remember how to ride..."

So we're going to try, this Sunday. There's a "church for people who don't like to go to church" not far from us. So I think Chris and I will try there, first. We won't go in waving the rainbow flag or anything - but we'll see what happens. And I'm trying to focus on what we heard so much at Christmas: "the reason for the season." The central reason why people should go to church, rather than all the other BS reasons we often come up with.

I know we'll have to deal with a bunch of Christians when we go. My hope is, we'll find some followers of Christ too.


Poor Mad Peter said...

Then again, you might not, Steve man.But it's worth the try--we need community, all of us, and not just online.

God bless your searching.

brother said...

Please report back how it all goes, Steve. As you know, there are a lot of us out here who share large portions of your path - including the wandering away from church.

Some call themselves "fallen-away" Catholics. I'm a "runaway" Catholic. AA meetings are the closest thing I've got to a "church" experience, and those are certainly spiritual rather than religious. And I really like it that way!

Michael said...

The late (RC) Bishop Kenneth Untner once said we should be no more surprised to find sinners (homophobes even) in church than we should be surprised to find overweight people at a Weight Watchers meeting.

I hope you and Chris find a place that is full of sinners like you -- who know that we're all in this together, and that the invitations to the feast were sent out by SomeOne else, not by the local waiters union.

For what it's worth, the word verification is pndshyek, which is probably some sort of Polish pastry, too.

Happy Lent!

Thomas said...

It's really great to read from you again, Steve!

Poor Mad Peter said...

So, Steve, how dit go?

hennhouse said...

You have a fantastic gift of so clearly articulating what is most often a confusing set of feelings. To go or not to go. To fight or let it roll. To continue to ride the way that burned you out-- or to buy a new bike. Praying for you.

Ed G. said...

peace to you, steve f.

bob said...

I just found your blog through nightwatch. We are all in the same boat (fortunately Jesus is in the boat with us). The only reason I go to church, and I didn't go for about 5 years, is that my wife wants me to go. Having said that, God has used my church attendance to get me to meet some people (followers of Jesus) through that.

If the Holy Spirit is prompting you to go then you better go. If not, stay home and spend time with the Father. God in that respect is like a child. All they really want is for you to spend time with them.

Let me know how you made out.

In Him and Him in me.


Diane said...

As a pastor I struggle with what you say about worship. I don't think it's a matter of style -- traditional or contemporary. but how can it be a living vehicle for people's worship?