My apologies for the eleven-day gap since my last post. It’s not that I haven’t been writing (got another couple of chapters of Iron Man fanfic completed), or that I didn’t have anything important to write about, or even that I was just plain lazy (this time). In fact, I had a few seemingly important issues to tackle, some or all of which I may write about in the coming weeks. But every time I wanted to forge ahead on one, I got distracted or tired or my thinking started getting foggy, and in the end nothing was done. Maybe it was the hand of God, maybe it was an attack from the devil. I don’t think it was the latter.
Anyway, one of the issues came to a head over the last few days, and I’m going to address it here. It has to do with my own spiritual/religious life, my social life, the history of the Church, and the regimentation of individual churches. And if God (or anyone else) wants to stop me from writing this, they’d better move fast, ’cause here I go …
As you know if you read a lot of my stuff, I don’t attend an institutional congregational meeting every Sunday. It’s been about two and a half years since I attended one at all, shortly after the end of my Congregational Journey in early ’09. I believed (still do) that the Lord had told me to stop trying to find a congregation in which to settle. Shortly thereafter, my son took ill and could no longer go, and I stayed (first at the hospital, and then at home) with him. My wife and daughter attended every Sunday until late last year, when the situation where she was going became intolerable for both of them. Since then, we have had a Bible study at home every Sunday morning (except for a couple of weeks, when it was Saturday evening), just the four of us.
The last several months, though, I’ve been kind of missing the congregational atmosphere. I guess mostly I’ve been missing the interaction with other Christian people — what little the activities of Sunday morning allow, anyway. And every so often I run into someone at the store that I knew years ago at one congregation or another, and they always ask where I’m “going to church” now. When I say I’m not, they react roughly as they might if I’d told them I was cheating on my wife, usually followed by some of the shibboleths I noted in a blog post last month. It’d be nice to avoid that awkwardness.
On Friday while grocery shopping, I had one of those encounters — ironically, with someone whom in my experience attended services maybe one Sunday out of three, but that’s beside the point. The combination of my own religious loneliness and my Christian brother’s unease was enough to send me running back to God and asking once again, “are You surrrrrre this is where I’m supposed to be, Lord? Just double-checking …”
What I believe He told me was, “wait.” Which He tells me a lot, me being an impatient cuss. But then He added, “wait one day, and it will all be clear.” So, one day. Okay, I can do that. Hmmm, wonder what’ll happen on Saturday?
What happened on Saturday was that my longest-standing friend stopped by for a visit. I’ll leave his name out of it, as he’s a rather shy fellow, but we’ve been friends for 24 years, since our freshman years in college. This is despite (or maybe because of) our spiritual journeys taking us in roughly opposite directions. My friend grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist-ish congregation, whose teachings he eventually rebelled against; nowadays he’s a practicing agnostic, and a left-leaning one at that (he used to be a member of the Socialist Party — no joke). I grew up low-church Episcopalian (more on that later), gave my life to Jesus in a Pentecostal campus group, took the evangelical ball (including its right-wing politics) and ran with it for almost 20 years before it finally became clear to me that on many of its beliefs, evangelicalism’s caboose wasn’t connected to its engine. And now I’m Outside-the-Camp, but still heavily informed by Pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and to a much lesser extent conservatism. (It’s hard to sustain conservatism once you’ve spent a few years below the poverty line; you start feeling like you’re working against your own best interests.)
We’ve had rough patches and at least one honest-to-goodness yelling match over the years, but we’ve come through it and enjoy each other’s company still. But he lives up in Sacramento (50 miles/80 km north of Stockton) and doesn’t own a car, and I’ve been very busy the last few years, and we haven’t seen each other that much. So when he e-mailed me saying he was renting a car for a trip to Modesto (40 miles/65 km south of Stockton) and would like to drop in on the way back, I said “sure, bring it on, dude!”
And he did. He came by around 2 p.m. Saturday, and we talked pretty much non-stop for three hours — about his job and my lack of one, about my family and his lack of one (he’s a lifelong single), about movies and television and books and personal projects and whatever else came to mind. We had a great time. After he left, I couldn’t believe how great I felt.
Then it hit me — oh, THAT’S what God must’ve been referring to! Only … well, we weren’t exactly debating theology the whole time. Nobody (intentionally) preached a sermon. No one burst into song. My friend did burst into laughter at one point upon noticing the VeggieTales calendar I keep up in the office (a Christmas gift from the Supermodel), but we didn’t discuss it in depth. None of the people who’ve jammed me up in the last year about my Sunday morning non-attendance would have likely found anything deeply spiritual in our conversation. Heck, I have trouble finding anything spiritual about it, other than just the connection between two friends …
I realize now that God was showing me where my true need lay. I wasn’t hungering for a trip to the local congregation because I missed the music or the preaching or the activities. It wasn’t even primarily that I missed having a pat answer to give brothers and sisters in Christ when they asked me what I was doing with Sunday morning. What I missed was the relationships I’d built over the years before, between and after those meetings, in those increasingly small times around the formal “church service.” What I needed was, in the truest sense of the term, fellowship — that was the reason, or at least one of the reasons, for my case of Liturgical Fidget (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis).
And yet, I’d just been in fellowship, for three hours, with someone who’d be about as likely to join me for a full Pentecostal worship service as he would to show up for the next presidential inauguration in the nude. And it was just what the Great Physician had ordered.
Still, my desire to (maybe) (if God wills it) check out a Sunday meeting again hasn’t totally gone away — though it does feel less desperate now. And in the past few days, God has had me dealing with another aspect of my Liturgical Fidget — namely, the concept of liturgy itself.
(Blogger’s note: I’m already over 1250 words here, so sorry for the cliffhanger, but I’m going to make this part 1 of a two-part entry, to be continued most likely Thursday. See you then …)
(Blogger’s further note: it ended up being Saturday before I got it written, but here’s part 2.)