Saturday, October 18, 2008

Choosing a Church

A friend remarked to me the other day that she was thinking it was about time to start going to church, “You know, just in case it’s true.” “Ah,” I said, “Fire insurance church.”
There are a lot of reasons for going to church. Fire insurance is a big reason for a lot of people. Some parents want their children to have some sort of moral and spiritual training outside the home. Some people want to spend time in a community of like-minded souls. Some feel called to become closer to God and church seems like the place to do that. Some people want an hour’s break from their kids on Sunday morning, and some like the coffee and baked goods after the service. God doesn’t care how or why you show up.
Whatever the reason, how do you find your spiritual home?
First, look at your history. Were you raised in a faith tradition? An outcome that takes some parents by surprise is that the children they raised to be good agnostics or atheists turn to religion with a passion in adulthood, and conversely, children raised as devout something or other turn out to be atheists and agnostics. What I’m saying here is that you can make choices about faith for yourself, but not for anyone else.
So, was your childhood experience with religion good? You might want to start there with your adult search. Pick up where you left off, and see where it takes you. Spirit being Spirit, you can have a great faith experience even if you are running away from the past. We all experience grace whether we believe in it or not. This annoys people who think you have to do something or prove something to receive grace. Fortunately those people are not in control of the dispensation of grace. Whew.
Was your childhood experience with religion bad, or horrible? Church may have been completely poisoned for you, and I can’t tell you that you’ll ever get over it. I would advise counseling for you, to make sense of what made no sense. All abuse is toxic, and abuse within a church is more so because we have this idea that you should be able to trust people in church. Unfortunately, people are still people and some of them will use church as a place to exert power and control over children and adults.
Here is a word of caution to all: church is not a safe place. It is a human institution, which makes it a place of division and politics and power plays. Don’t walk in thinking it will all be sweetness and light. It won’t.
So why go?
Because church is “a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I forget which Anglican said that. You really can experience spiritual growth, and good companionship and community, and that is church at its best. It won’t be an entirely comfortable experience – I also forget who said, “Christ came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
If you are not of the Christian persuasion, but you embark upon a true spiritual journey, you will still find it is not an entirely comfortable journey. That’s the way spiritual journeys, and spiritual honesty, work.
One of the positive outcomes of spiritual honesty is true humility, and acquiring true humility can be a painful experience at times. Like that time years ago when I realized that the one consistent factor in all the crappy relationships I’d had was…me. Ouch. See, that was painful, but it was a good thing to know.
Still want to go to church? Listen to that call, because it is a call. I hope I’ve made it clear that church is not for wussies, and that spiritual quests are not easy or safe. All you Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fans know that.
If you’re just going for the social contacts and the coffee and cinnamon rolls, it might not matter where you go, but watch out. Once you open up the door for God to come in, all kinds of crazy things can happen. You might end up writing evangelical columns for an alternative newspaper. You never know.

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