Choosing freedom to let go of beliefs and imagery others painted, and giving myself permission to sense into an essence I hoped lived beyond and beneath all the words and chatter I'd heard from parents, pastors, church services and creeds, and even the Bible, over a lifetime was liberating. Did something resonate as spiritually real? Truths began to emerge that I didn't associate with world views and behaviors I attached to Christianity. This was freeing and introduced new hope.
Was there a spiritual wholeness that could serve as a continuing path, an overflow if you will, from my personal recovery program, to take me further and deeper spiritually?
Had the words and beliefs that felt oppressive caused me to skip right over the essence of something deeper that would actually feed my spirit? I wondered if I was missing a richness in the symbolism and story because it was too familiar. Had calling in the four directions of native American tradition seemed more mysterious, making it feel more spiritual and mystical? Did the beat of the Shaman's drum speak to a more primal place than reciting a creed had? The image of a God sitting on a throne on a heavenly cloud with Jesus seated at his right was an image I no longer believed - but thought I was supposed to. We've been so confused by what we're told to believe is literal, and what is symbolic or originates from what linguists call mythos language that we haven't known how to process it. At least that's my experience.
It’s ironic that through all the years I’d given up on finding a church I could call home, I always had faith.
The anger and discord inside me came from not being able to resolve the literalness church people associated with it, making me feel as if i was doing it wrong when my soul screamed it wasn’t; and the disconnect between what I ‘felt’ was true and the church’s unwillingness to talk about it in language that made sense - and felt honest. It angered me, mostly.
I intuitively trusted there existed a meeting place that might reveal the same heart for God - and the same experience - if we let go of some words and legalities.
An example might be a creed. Saying the Apostles Creed to someone no longer accustomed to it as an adult, and having memorized it as a child is a challenge. As a child, I believed it literally. Jesus was sitting at God's right somewhere out there. Not surprisingly, this imagery included chairs, likely thrones. How else would they sit? I suppose it might be pillows, making them Indian or bohemian, which seemed out of character, but they surely sat on something if they were rulers of the universe.
There was an elephant in the living room.
It was idiotic to imagine God like this, yet nobody would talk about it as symbolism for the relationship. Pastors and Christian friends would avert the question. Seriously?
The lack of clarity around what was literal and what wasn’t, to someone who always wanted to do something well was disconcerting and discouraging. These subtle dynamics pushed me further and further from Christianity - and into the arms of those who would speak honestly and directly about spiritual matters.
I never felt like a good enough Christian anyway. As a media professional, the church's refusal to update dogma and rituals, at least the language they used, seemed selfish by those sitting comfortably in their pews resisting change. (Not to mention stupid from a marketing perspective.)
As I’ve become immersed in this culture in a traditional setting through marriage, I appreciate the practices and now understand them in the deeply rich and symbolic way they're intended. They’ve come to invoke and impart meaning on many levels. That said, its been a process. This was not the case as a weekly participant for an hour or two. Far from it, in fact.
It’s also over simplistic to suggest we meet people where they are, and I am guiltier than most in using this catch phrase.
To meet someone where they are, we have to listen deeply to understand where “they are” is.
Words get in the way here too. As do cultures, generations, and world views. Again, overly simplistic, but relevant and critical to understanding the depth of this problem.
In our church, we've experienced resistance from day one from the same 2-3 parishioners. The problem is the most difficult one has power, having been in his board chair seat for 40 years - longer than many have been alive. Younger parishioners don't dare speak up, and move on evenutally; while older parishioners don't care one way or another. Over the course of three years, we have succumbed and returned to the traditional model of two hymns, sermon, and a handshake at the door. We've eliminated the additional music, drums, guitar, closing circle, reflective stations, creative altar, color bulletin, videos, lyrics on the screen, and a host of other creative ways we departed from their traditional service.
We eliminated the new elements, because we wore down. The critical spirit and constant discouragement at every turn from one person became more trouble than it was worth.
The congregation dwindled from 50-75 people per Sunday to 20-35. When we were passionate and excited, new people and retreads were showing up every Sunday. The saddest part is each and every time we had a truly uplifting or extraordinary event, he'd show up the next day in a rage over something he felt was wrong with it. This became a pattern we couldn't ignore, and as much as we understood the psychology here, we couldn't fight it due to the dynamics and his hold on every aspect of this church. It was dysfunctional, and our butting heads would not be helpful.
Instead, we started something new down the road. Or I did, and this time, he supports me in the lead - but the intent is that we're partners and the group is as much in the lead as we are. We simply hold the space for it - as it gets off the ground. It was important to keep the boundaries clear as to where he pastors. Our new gathering will help those who need a more honest dialogue while engaging in the rich practices and traditions of this spiritual journey, in new ways, without forcing beliefs on each other. Each of us must own our story.
We didn't hold this experience in our church because those who resist consistently discourage and publicly sabotage every attempt we've made to do things differently. Instead, we are starting it without promotion or invitation to our congregation as a whole. We hope this will change and evolve over time, bringing all people together as one. That's our prayer.
The good news is that once someone understands the rich symbolism and allows the creative tension born inside the dialogue of what is imagined, perceived, interpreted, believed, and understood differently among people, these discrepancies can be respected and honored between us - without conflict or vitriol.
The old Jewish rabbis were often depicted in illustrations and historic art as arguing about the text. This is a rich historic tradition of the Jewish people, and a tradition Christians might consider embracing as well. This banter can unleash creativity and reveal new discoveries, both individually and collectively.
A big God surely understands this diverse landscape among people, leaving room for all the doors through which we enter. To think our understanding sits within the only walls constructed to hold these beliefs is short-sighted (apologies in advance), limited and ignorant.
Make room for the new, people of the sanctuary. There are beautiful, wholehearted souls waiting to walk through your doors if you will let them. Who knows, they may even bring something that deepens your faith experience - or opens it up bigger than you imagined.
Until next time - peace to your house,