by Karen Frazier, Managing Editor
Paranormal Underground Magazine
For nearly 20 years, I barely set foot in a church. I was raised in the church, and it was always an important part of my life growing up. Interestingly, even as a child, my take on religion was perhaps a bit different than many kids who grew up as church goers. I never really saw the Bible as a literal thing – more of as a parable that told a nice story about morals and choices we could make as we went about our daily lives.
But I digress. More than 20 years ago when I was in college, I made a very conscious decision to stop going to church. With the impetuousness of youth, I vowed that I would never step foot in a church again, and for nearly 20 years, I did my best to keep that vow. My reasons back then were made with all of the assurance of a young adult who thinks that they know everything. What got me at the time was what I perceived as hypocrisy. Here were a group of people who came together on Sundays and praised love, compassion and the messages of Jesus. The rest of the week they fought one another and struggled for power and control of the church. I just couldn’t go on Sundays and watch the one attitude and then spend the rest of the week watching the other.
For the next 20 years, I held firm. Churches were full of hypocrites, as far as I was concerned. The unity that they expressed on Sundays had nothing to do with how they interacted with one another the rest of the week.
Occasionally one friend or another would invite me to go to their church. When they invited me, I would go. I missed the feeling of comfort and ritual from my childhood. On Christmas Eve, I would attend with my family. I must admit, I loved the familiarity. On those occasions, it was undeniable that church still held a piece of me.
And then along came Tanner. Here was a child who I wanted to have some concept of God. I also wanted him to have the support that I had felt growing up from a church family. His father and I began attending what my mom termed, “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” It was a very liberal church where pretty much anything went. For those of you who keep track of such things – it was the Unity church. I got a lot of flack from a lot of people about attending that church. Turns out that it is the “wrong” one. Still, I liked it because they felt that anyone could worship God in any way they chose, walking along any path they chose. They believed (or claimed to) that God didn’t discriminate based on anything – beliefs, race, sexual preference….God loved everyone equally and any path to God was a good one.
Our time at Unity was brief. It was tumultuous. I left over prosperity. The church I attended preached that the only way to financial prosperity was by tithing to the church, volunteering at the church and lending your talents to the church. To me, that seemed just a skosh self-serving on the part of the church. Plus, it turned out that the people there were just as judgy and political as they seemed at any other church I’d attended. Only they judged people in “traditional” churches and talked about them as being unenlightened. They jockeyed for power and back stabbed too, in the pursuit of the promised prosperity. I left. Once again, I was done with church.
A few years ago, a good friend invited me to her church. Tanner was approaching his teen years, and I felt that participating in some type of church activities might be good for him. I’d always said that I wanted to expose him to all types of belief systems and philosophies so that he could one day choose his own beliefs, and avoiding church seemed in direct opposition to the whole “all philosophies and beliefs” concept. This time, we returned to church a little more cautiously. Tanner joined a youth carillon choir and I joined an adult one. We attended only a few Sundays a month when one or the other of us was performing. It seemed the perfect compromise – attending one or two Sundays a month and sort of dipping our toes into the church community once again.
That’s what we’ve done for the past few years – dipped our toes in. We’ve made a few friends from the church and gotten to know a few people there, but we’ve stayed out of the political, every day goings on. It seemed, for a while, the perfect compromise.
I was just starting to feel comfortable when the latest political controversy exploded. As much as I’d tried to avoid it, this one was unavoidable. As always, it is about power and control. Unfortunately, it involves the leaders of the church – including the minister – who has been unable to rise above the power struggle and remain impartial. It is, as the young people these days like to say, a hot mess.
Yesterday was Tanner’s day to perform at church. I sat through the service and felt that old creeping sense once again. As the minister spoke of love and the pianist/singer sang of grace and beauty, all I could see was the hypocrisy of their words on Sunday morning versus their behavior the rest of the time. I’m guessing that I’ve got one foot out the door, and the other will follow shortly.
Once, during my 20 years of self-imposed exile, I was railing about the church to my father. This is what he said to me.
“Church may not be perfect, but I see it as the best solution that we have right now.”
In many ways, he was right. My father is a wise man. Churches do much good in the world. They lead the charge in encouraging compassion. They perform charitable acts. They provide support and refuge for those who need it. There is a reason, after all, that I have returned to church time and again, and it is for those reasons. There is comfort in ritual and community.
The idea of church is beautiful. A community joined together in love, compassion and worship. I think that for me, it is in the execution where it may fall short. You see, churches are filled with people. And no matter how committed the people are to lofty and wonderful ideals, we are still human beings. We struggle for power. We say one thing and do another. We judge one another. We are, when all is said and done, gloriously human.
I would never condemn church. I believe that for many, it is a great path to walk. At least half of my extended family are church goers, and for them, it is the perfect way to go.
For me – it has often felt like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’ve attended church for a number of reasons over the years. Because I wanted to make music. Because I was looking for a sense of community. Because I wanted to give my kids a sense of community. Because I was seeking the approval of those who felt my soul was in danger by not attending. Because everyone else did it. Because it felt familiar and comfortable. Church has never been about my relationship with or my belief in God. That is a path that I have always walked alone, because when I have attempted to share it with others, many have sought to change it or control it.
Church may be the perfect path for many. As my father said, it may be one of the best solutions that many others have. But in my repeated attempts to attend church, I have learned that it is not for me – at least not now. I’m no longer 20. I no longer make vows like “never again.” I’m sure I will return to the church at some point – either for a brief fly by or a longer stay. But in this moment, it isn’t a path that feels comfortable to me. I want my spiritual beliefs to provide comfort and refuge, and for me, for now, it seems that won’t be in a church. Maybe next week I’ll change my mind. That is the beauty of it all. We can keep looking until we find what works for us. For me for now, the search continues.
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