Should I Quit Church?

Should I Quit Church?

 

“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.”

— Woody Allen, from the film Annie Hall

 

 

 

(Trigger warning: This post is kind of spiritual-ish)

 I’ve been thinking of quitting church.

imagesTime out: I’ve mentioned before that I go to a Unitarian Universalist church, and promised to write more about it because, although it’s been around over five hundred years, a lot of people aren’t really sure what it is. Many of those people are UU’s, actually, which is part of our marketing problem. It boils down to this: we welcome everyone who comes in peace, we value freedom and work for social justice. If you want more details, you can go here, and maybe here.

Ok, so—

I joined this church back when my boys were three and five years old, because not only did the modest building have a huge banner outside that read “Standing on the Side of Love”, (referring, then, to the fight against the ban on same sex marriage in California that was raging at the time), but they also had an old school playground with dangerous “retro” equipment, like one of those metal carrousel things where kids propel themselves around until they throw up or crash into the dirt. There were big wooden climbing structures full of splinters and the occasional black widow spider and a sandbox that needed a good sift, if you know what I mean.

“Can we play here?” My son, then five asked.

“I think it’s for the church people,” I answered, looking through the chainlink fence, woven through with jasmine.

“Let’s be church people,” he said. He was little. He had no idea how loaded a statement like that was to an expat from the bible belt, like myself.

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (probably not), but I just had a feeling that these could be my people. Raising kids these days can whip you into such a frenzy of hyper-vigilance, that it not only zaps the fun out of it, but it can make you a little nuts. The lure of this playground, with it’s promise of good natured hippies who weren’t afraid of gay people, lawsuits or cat poop, was enough to get me through the doors.

We found community.

We took part in traditions like Passover, where my non-Jewish husband had an unlikely star turn as The Burning Bush in the seder play, and a Christmas Eve service, where my son, age six, was welcomed into the pageant dressed as Spiderman because, “Who knows who really attended the birth of Jesus?” said all the happy UU’s.

We got involved. UU’s are nothing if not crazy for social justice, and the church gave me a place to learn more about issues I cared about and pitch in where I could.

My relationship with church was great,

until several years passed and then…

it wasn’t.

As my boys got older, life got busier, and weekends were especially precious real estate on the calendar. The church got a new minister that didn’t take, and when he left after a few rough years,  it caused hurt feelings and a flurry of gossip that poisoned the positive vibe I’d loved so much in the beginning.

So I did something I’d never done and made an appointment with our minister. I needed to know: Is it possible to fall back in love, or had I let my relationship with church become stale, like a bad marriage, and was it time to pack up the kids and move on?

Talking to my minister was a lot like talking to a shrink. She asked questions, nodded and and listened with empathy, but mostly it was on me to suss it out.

“Maybe I just need a break,” I reasoned. “A spiritual sabbatical. That’s a thing, right?”

Again with the nodding. I tried to make my case.

“Then, when I come back, it will be a choice, not out of some, you know, obligation.”

“MmHm.”

We looked at each other. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. She listened, but I wasn’t going to get her stamp of approval for bailing out, and I wasn’t going to get a guilt trip about it either. Either of those would have given me the green light, but she wasn’t biting.

I went home confused.Why was it so hard to walk away?

I curate my life pretty carefully, picking and choosing what fits best, minimizing discomfort as much as possible. I shop at the grocery store I prefer, even though it’s not in my neighborhood and I have perfected my Starbucks order to a t. What can I say? I like things the way I like them. giphy

Maybe it was the voice of an angel (it was), but I started to wonder  if the problem wasn’t with church, but with me. If I did the work of showing up, even when I’d rather do something else, what might happen?

Which brings us to Easter Sunday.

My family and I woke up late, had toast and chocolate rabbits for breakfast, and made our way to church. All the familiar faces were there, and familiar songs were sung. As always, instead of eggs, we hid cans of food for the kids to find, to be donated to a local food bank, and participated in something called a Flower Communion.  It was, in the words of David Byrne, same as it ever was.

But it felt different.

Why?

I hate to say it, but I think it had to do with faith.

It felt like a leap of faith to show up, because even though I’m going through a phase where that place is working my last nerve, there’s something I need there, even if I can’t name it. And as annoying as it can be to get my ass out of bed and serve a community that sometimes asks too much, it is working on my insides, changing me for the better.

So, I guess I’ll keep going because, hey—

I need the eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

When I’m Scared, I Do This One Thing

To state the obvious, it’s a scary time for a lot of people.

I won’t pretend to have new insight or valuable commentary on the political climate that is fueling many of our fears, because I’m not nearly smart enough to do that. But I do know a few things about fear, seeing as how I’m a scaredy cat from way back.

Just for fun (yours, not mine) let’s just list a few of the fears that haunt my mind on a regular basis. I think it will give me some credibility on the topic.

A short list of things that freak me the hell out:

    1. botulism

    2. port-o-potties

    3. heights

    4. head lice

    5. speaking in public

    6. losing my teeth

    7. water moccasins 

    8. sleeping with anything sharp near my bed

    9. marionettes

Conspicuously absent is any mention of harm coming to my husband or children because I am too afraid to even put it on the list. (Dang. See how it weaseled it’s way in here? Crafty little bugger.) But, to make it an even 10, I’ll add this:

    10. writing about things that really scare me and, as a result, making those things happen 

Ok, so we’ve established I’m scared of a lot of weird shit, in addition to the stuff that  scares most normal people. Which brings me to The One Thing I do that helps me when I’m, say, watching my sons try on all the costume pieces at the renaissance fair— including those hats that everyone and their preschooler has put on. (WTF???)

I do this:

I stop my anxious fiddling and just get quiet for a second. Then I put my right hand (it can be either hand, but using my right hand tends to relax me while using my left feels like I’m checking for a heartbeat) gently onto the middle of my chest. I name what I am feeling, in this case, Fear. I just say that silently to myself, and allow it to be there. The result is that the fear that had felt like part of me is now just a thing with a name. I’m not chasing it away, or trying to outrun it. I’m not justifying it or minimizing it.

It’s such a relief.

So, there you go. One thing.

It may seem overly simple, but it has saved me on many a bumpy take-off and landing (which would be #11 and #12). I do this when I’m a little scared, like when I have to ride a glass elevator, and when I’m fucking terrified, like when I read the Sunday Times.

It helps with both.

Oh, and by the way, I didn’t make it up. At least I don’t think I did. I probably heard about it, or a version of it, from this guy, or this gal, both of whom have lots of helpful tricks for living in a world where people are always blowing up.

 

love-826936__180And let’s be very kind to ourselves. This isn’t easy.

xo