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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Faith, Less. A Seven Year Itch to Leave My Church.

For the first 18 years of Sundays of my life, I was yanked out of bed and told to I was going to church.  As I became a pre-teen and adolescent Sunday mornings were a time of strife, anger and punishment.  We were never allowed to stay home. Once we were there we sat in uncomfortable pews, listened to cryptic sermons,  and if all went well we would be home by noon and free to whatever we wanted for the rest of the day. I can't say I enjoyed the experience, nor did I hate it...too much. I just never really saw the point. 

Fast forward 20 years, on an assignment from work I was sent to Coral Gables Congregational Church to look for volunteers to fight an anti-gay initiative I was working to defeat. My father was a long-time member. I was instantly taken by this wonderful new pastor, Laurie Hafner.  I never realized what charisma meant until I met her. Sweet and soft spoken, a radiant smile, smart expensive pumps, I was sold. Before I left that first day, Laurie asked me if I could "find more gays for the church."   I ran home and told my husband what a great feeling I had at the Church and that he should come the following Sunday.  Already I had my first recruit. 

So almost eight years later I'm trying to figure out at what point that I started "losing my religion."  I've often extolled the power of collective action of organized religion to do good. Great art, music, architecture and ideas have been the product of organized religion. I think balanced against the dark downsides of organized faith (the Middle East and Catholic sex scandals can give some recent contemporary examples) I think its a wash. 

So why am I so disillusioned with a church that is so progressive in its thinking? A church that sees dignity in everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. etc..  A church that says to a gay man "go find more of you, and make them feel welcome".  A church, that on its surface, seems as diverse as the community it serves. I guess these are my reasons.

Firstly and foremost is my difficulty in believing in all the "supernatural" occurrences that happen in the Bible. My church doesn't ask me to believe in it, but I feel a bit fake talking to Christians who actually believe in that stuff. I call myself a Christian, but do I believe he was resurrected? Or in the Virgin birth? Or the parting of the Red Sea? no I don't. I know it's fable and allegory meant to teach us a lesson. That I understand.  However do I need a lesson in Noah's Ark to understand global warming? No, I don't.  Don't even get me started on rainbows. 

Secondly, I see as the church becomes more successful, I see the institution changing for it's own efficiency as staff is wont to do.  For example, our church no longer baptizes children whose families are not members of our church.  When I first heard about this last year, I heard staff complaints that the groups of parents were "loud", "that they left the sanctuary a mess","Not serious about the sacrament." and my favorite: "just another excuse to have a party."  To me this says that the staff needs some cultural sensitivity training. It seems that those of us who grew up in Hispanic cultures understand that parties are a way to celebrate family and unity. Or you can do it the Presbyterian way: go home after the baptism and watch Sunday football, like we did after my brothers baptism.  

Sadly, the senior pastor made her argument that denying baptisms is best for the church because we have no clue what happens to those kids after they're baptized. Also that those baptisms ring hollow, because those parents aren't members and are having a party.  So the church's "extravagant welcome" really applies to "members only."

Thirdly, me being a loud insensitive being, I've collected a few "non-friends" over the years. There was the lady who I called fat, who got me back this year because my new belly (brought on by my diabetic medication) was showing, and she gleefully called me fat back. Years of church gossip, innuendo sometime small, sometimes more, bleed you like a thousand paper cuts. You stop wanting to extend yourself, because of laziness, fear or boredom. Also, with a congregation of 500, you just get tired of some people. 

Finally, I've just found other things that I find more interesting. Brunch with friends, riding my bike. Watching TV.  A parade of newly minted pastors giving second rate sermons is not a valuable use of my time. I understand that they need learn and grow, but why at my expense?  I mean once a pastor has done five or six bad sermons isn't it time to say, hey, maybe you might try something else? Sermons are not your thing. I go to hear charismatic Laurie Hafner, her brilliant sermons and excellent delivery. Nothing drains your energy like a poor public speaker...at first you feel sad for them, then you're just annoyed.  It's like I am an adolescent all over again, anxiously waiting to get out and have Sunday to myself again.