Monday, August 23, 2004

Today's Moment of Melodramatic Introspection

sometimes i feel so all alone
here in this city i call my home
they say, 'hey, you're one of us'
funny, i should feel so anonymous
Over the Rhine - Nobody Number One

Is it just me, or does church feel like that sometimes? Everyone loves you and feels like you belong, but you don’t feel it. I don’t necessarily mean that as an indictment of church. I’m not really sure who I’m trying to indict – probably myself.

I belong to a great church with people who care about me. And yet there are still times I feel like a stranger.

I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one with a variety of spiritual connection disorders.


Neville said...

all day yesterday--through the service and into the afternoon--i thought about that exact same thing and got really frustrated with myself. i was trying to talk to my parents about it, explaining inadvertently how some of my church friends annoy me with their seemingly blatant 'anti-God' love and how i really don't think they wish the whole word would come to know God and they agreed and were both sad for me, for a quick moment. i feel exactly like the words you described ben--more often than anyone knows--and it sucks. it's like everyone in church is smiling at me going "he is perfect for this church" and i'm smiling back whispering under my breath, "get me away from these psychos!"

Jim said...

I get the same feeling a lot, myself, which is why in the last few years I haven't stayed at any one church for a very long time. I'm in for the long haul now, but sometimes it's really weird, especially since I came in after everyone had gotten to know one another and there's that weird Wheaton/Resurrection connection going on that I'm not in on.

In a lot of cases, my lack of connection has been due to my unwillingness to connect, but it can't be reduced to that.

The thing to watch, of course, is how connected people feel at our church once all the craziness of August and September is out of the way and the atmosphere calms down. Will people feel more or less connected when the church is settled and relaxed - real connection isn't about how people come together in a time of crisis, need, or stress, but what part they have in each others' lives when everything is going well and smoothly.

naomi said...

Connecting is one of the things that has been on my mind for the last 10 years. Longer actually. Maybe I've been in the counseling/helping fields for too long and maybe I just have a personality that others find, well, strange. Maybe my world view lives in shades of grey far more than black and white. Maybe I dance around the why too much. Maybe.

Or maybe it's just that no matter which church I have belonged to I have yet to find someone who gets me.

Man, that's depressing.

Of course, I also have the responsibility to go forth and connect. It's just hard when I always seem to be in a different place than everyone else. It's also hard when I'm not into all the women's ministry things most ladies in churches do. I want meaty, dig down and struggle with the truth bible studies. I want to discuss life and art and sociology and faith and wax poetic. I want to nurture that odd corner of my soul. I don't want platitudes, I don't want to feel I'm needed, I want to feel that I'm wanted. And some of that has to do with my perceptions.

Eh, I'm just deviant.

Ben said...

I agree that a lot of connection is taking the first step yourself, but that involves a huge risk. At my last church in Indiana, there were a couple of people who made very deliberate attempts to reach out to me and break down my walls. It took time, but I discovered a community that I still miss. I cannot imagine living in Indiana at this point in my life, but the community experience was so good, that I would consider moving back just for that.

I want to be that person that reaches out to people and makes them feel welcome, but that is very much against my nature. That's probably not a quality they look for in young seminarians seeking ordination.

I also agree with Naomi that I want a church experience that is more than a feel-good Bible lesson on Sunday morning. I still believe the church can change the world (though we haven't done a very good job of it, and I would argue we focus on the wrong things).

I want Church of the Cross to interact with all areas of culture, but especially with areas often neglected or abused by the church (namely the arts). While my artistic ability is greatly limited, I believe I can relate to a lot of artists who have been hurt or have become disenchanted with the church.

That all sounds great on paper, but I still haven't figured out how to make it happen. In the end, I still see myself as that nerdy kid in high school who is unwilling to open up for fear of rejection. (This is where I should blame every girl I ever had a crush on who wouldn't give me the time of day).

Like I said in the original post, I think my feelings are more an indictment of myself than of anyone else.

naomi said...

Ben - great points and it does all boil down to us as individuals. Which is counter-culteral to my perception of the NT church. I'm a product of the 80's, what can I say.

When you talk about artists, I really stop and think about my own journey. I write. I write genre fiction. I write hot and steamy relationship stories with what I hope are interesting plots. My stories are about imperfect people who swear, have sex, don't always make the right decisions and do the right things. And the bad guys are sometimes not totally bad. That grey area again.

Do I tell this to my church body? Do I let people know that I write "those" types of books? Or do I hide behind the pen name I have devised to save me from such judgement?

Well, now anyone reading this blog will know, but hey, I'm tired of attempting to justify what I pray and struggle with daily - that God really has called me to write what I write for a purpose. Don't ask me what that purpse is but when I lay it all at his feet, he tells me to move forward, push on and continue the work.

Sorry for the rant. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Anonymous said...

I believe it was Madeleine L'Engle who first introduced me to the idea of just "being." Not being this way or that way, but just "being." I so wish I could just "be," especially at church. Instead, I find myself automatically editing myself just to make sure I don't step on toes or say anything too controversial. I long for true community, and yet, I don't feel free enough to be my unedited self. I think it's just me.

Naomi, I think it's awesome that you write fiction (and don't sanitize it). And I love that we have somewhat similar jobs that demand a lot of time -- and keep us from things like baking things for baby showers.


Jim said...

For myself, I think I'm at a point in my life where all I can do is just "be." I've given up on things like understanding and being understood, and in a lot of ways have given up on that ideal connection - everything for me is compromise and acceptance (maybe I've been in therapy too long, as well...). I'm tired of trying to be a particular way or meet particular expectations (especially those of the a church culture). It all sounds very high school, I-don't-have-to-play-by-your rules, but it's actually not that at all. It's really a matter of trusting that if I am who I am, that the church body will do what it is supposed to do, and that is simply accept my function there, as well as support and nurture it - and I'm to do the same thing. So even if I don't necessarily understand where people are coming from, or really "know" a person on that level of true connection - the existence of which I often doubt - There's no reason I can't love and accept them anyway. Alienation is, as best I can understand, one of the major consequences of the Fall, and we have to work with that alienation as a reality. The longing for connection and acceptance will always be there, and the people we think most likely to give it to us will fail us ultimately in the greatest way. It's continuing to love each other through that failure that really forges bonds.

We have to let each other down in a hard way before we can really cohere as a body, if that makes any sense. Maybe we just have to know that's an inevitability, and be okay with that - not defensive or skittish or detached, but simply accepting of each other as the failures we are.

There's so many things that I want in terms of my relationship to a church and to the individuals, but I doubt I'll have all those things fulfilled. I guess I'm just tired of that being a disappointment, and instead ready to simply face it as a reality - not trying to adapt myself or change the people around me, but instead accepting and trusting in acceptance. It seems a downer on one hand, but on the other hand it's actually quite freeing.

I'm also heavily affected by having watched Dogville yesterday, and that might be having something of an affect on my thinking right now.

Either way about it, I think I feel generally connected and kinda appreciated by you folks - Ben, Nikki, & Naomi - and hope that's true on your ends, as well.

And I had meant to ask you about that romance writers association or whatever it is bag that you have, Naomi. Makes more sense to me now. Pretty cool.

Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow, or Sunday at least.

Jim said...

Oh, and Naomi - you might be interested in this essay at The New Pantagruel that's a guy who works on movies trying to wrestle with the different ways Christians react to his job:

naomi said...

Nikki - To just be, what a concept. Once upon a time I would have said that is what I was doing - just being myself regardless of what others thought or felt. It seems the older, and more educated, I get, the more I question being. That likely stems from my desire to always know why and to dabble in the philosophical. It's also the counselor in me. Damn that psych degree! And that theology degree! :-)

I love writing the books I write and someday, when finally published, I'll share with you. I don't like sanitizing the human condition and while I thread messages of hope within the stories, I have to be real to the characters and where they are at in their "lives." And I wanted to say we need to stick together as two of the few women thus far in church who hold hectic full-time jobs and are also full-time wives. It's a different world, isn't it? Not better or worse, just different.

Jim - I'm a card carrying member of Romance Writers of America and the bag was from a conference in NYC. I'm not published, though I have a small fan base. I write for women and I am proud of what I write. So, next time you see me, you can bug me about writing romance, but don't you dare call it smut. *grin* Them's fighting words.

You know what, you are reiterating what my grandmother Lines always used to tell me. How cool that you share her wisdom and that I am here to read it. I'll check out that link as well.

We were out of town this weekend celebrating 10 years of marriage. Hope church went well. We may be gone next weekend too, enjoying the last vestages of summer. But, we will always have email and Ben's Blog!

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