Monday, January 5, 2009

The House of the Lord

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I went to church. This usually wouldn't be so monumental for me, considering I spent 19 years of my life solely dedicated to the church and its teachings. For some reason this time felt different. Two years ago, I had finally decided that the church was not filling the aching hole in my spiritual life. I haven't really looked back since. You see, even though I am haunted by the guilt of "forsaking fellowship with the brethren" that guilt is completely overshadowed by my disdain for organized religion

Two weeks ago when I moved to North Carolina I knew that church was in my distant future. My brother is the worship leader for a local church that is pastored by the same man who baptized me as an infant. This man is like a father to me. He has been with my family through its most tumultuous times and loves us despite our more than obvious flaws. I have nothing but respect for the man, even though his life is formed around something I don't quite agree with anymore. I promised both him and my brother that I would give the whole church thing a shot. I told them not to expect much. I am hoping they didn't.

I walked into the church at ten and instantly felt uncomfortable. Religious people would call that the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I call it bad memories and indigestion. People were all smiles, and some of them were barefoot. In my experience with charismatic churches, a barefoot sighting is bad news. That means there will be random acts of dancing and speaking in tongues. The sign was correct, for shortly after the music started people were prancing about with smiles facing towards the heavens. It wasn't too bad yet. After the music went from joyful celebration of God's love to intimate love songs of humanity's failure and desperation for Christ's forgiveness, it got a little messier. A woman stood up and started speaking in tongues loudly.Growing up in a "Spirit filled" church as a youth, I was taught this is the sign that you have the Holy Spirit inside of you. Now I feel like it is just a quick way to scare people out of the pews. A man started speaking as if the Lord was speaking through him. I tried not to be too cynical, but when the man used improper grammar, I couldn't help but think God would know better. Maybe God was just using day-to-day colloquialism. I was pretty sure the worst was over. The "Worship" time is usually the most uncomfortable for me. I figured I had made my way through the hardest part. I was wrong.

After the music slowed a man walked up and said the words I dreaded. "Now let us prepare for communion."My stomach dropped. Now, even though I am so permeated with heathenism that I can gladly write a post about my attitude towards organized religion, I don't have the balls to stand up to a centuries old ritual. All I could think of was how we were taught as children that you should only partake of the body and blood of Christ if you are cleansed and worthy. I shift in my chair, which might I add was quite comfortable for a plastic chair and stared down the elderly couple passing around the juice and bread several rows ahead of me. As they drew closer, I thought that maybe if I looked uninterested they wouldn't offer anything to me. This didn't work. The woman looked at me and smiled genuinely while holding out a plate filled with bread pieces. I half smiled and waved my hand. I'm sure I looked so terrible doing it. This wasn't even the worst part. The old man following her didn't see me shrug off his wife, so he came to me with the juice as well. I have to wave away two elderly people in one day. Both of them with completely honest smiles, and I'm sure kind hearts. I felt like a beast. I argued with myself about how I should have just taken the communion to be polite. I finally came to the conclusion that I made the right decision. What is offending two people when the alternative is supposedly offending God. After the communion was over I was sure that I was in the clear. The pastor was dismissing the children and then said "But before you stand up please be sure and speak a blessing over someone, even if you don't know them. Send them off with a blessing for 2009." I refuse to stand. I pretty much locked my ankles around the edges of the chair and dared anyone to look at me. Then a little hand touches me shoulder and this perky teen sits down beside me. I honestly couldn't understand what she was saying. She was so joyful. She was so peppy. She was so nervous. Not until she was almost done "blessing me" I noticed that I was probably scowling at her. Poor kid, she did have something nice to say though. She flitted away and I unlocked my ankles.

I felt defeated, and a little bit mean. I was ready to go home and maybe take a shot of something. Did I mention I was overdressed? As the children were being dismissed I noticed that I was of the 5% of people who weren't wearing jeans. I really just wanted to go home. The sermon was not applicable to me, as it was sort of a state of the church address. He did point out the new roster and there, right underneath my brother's name, was mine. Yes, Me. I was on this church's roster and this was the first time I had been there. The guy in front of me turns around and says "Hey, isn't this your first time. Why are you on the roster?" I smiled and said, "Guilt by association" I pointed to my brother and smiled in a way a Stepford wife would admire.

I cringed through the rest of the sermon and mingled for a few minutes after church was dismissed. I wandered around long enough to realize I was out of my league now. The smiles made me nauseated and the "Bless you's" made me feel empty. I tapped my sister-in-law on the shoulder and said I would see her at home.

"You not feelin' well?". Lori asked in her always pleasant voice."

"Nope. I am just overwhelmed."

I walked to my car and waived "bye" to people who love my family, and thus love me. I closed my door, and told myself I would not be doing this anytime soon. Church just isn't what it used to be to me.


  1. You are definitely going to burn in Hell for this.

    My favourite line has got to be ‘…I pointed to my brother and smiled in a way a Stepford wife would admire.’

    I can almost visualise it.

  2. I should have mentioned my head tilt that went along with it. I'm so perfect.

  3. Wooooow, I can relate to this. Usually, the people at my church don't go around barefoot, but everything else applies. I'm a musician there so I get three generous helpings of it every Sunday, not to mention Saturday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night musician's rehearsal. I want to believe all of this stuff that I was raised to believe, but at the same time, I fight against it. I guess I don't have the balls to quit it just because I'm not completely convinced it's genuine. Organized religion that it. I was raised not to question anything really. Thanks dad.

  4. KOP, I used to be in the worship team. I know exactly where you are at. I admire you for not quitting. I'm a big fat quitter head. I encourage you though, seek out what you truly believe and don't fake anything. I do believe in God, and I also believe that he can smile on Honesty. I just don't believe in church.

  5. You oughta try somewhere else. I wasn't raised Pentecostal, but I went to some AOGs and COGs for several years in my 20s. I finally realized it wasn't for me. As a shy person, I constantly felt uncomfortable -- and I never spoke in tongues -- which meant, of course, that I was inferior because I clearly hadn't been baptized in the Holy Spirit.

    I'm still going to a church in Birmingham even though I've moved an hour away back to my hometown, but I sometimes go to the church I grew up in. It's more formal, with the stained glass windows and all, but much cooler than when I went there before.

    P.S. Also, don't go Southern Baptist or Church of Christ. You really wouldn't like it.

  6. Wow, that's essentially all my experiences in every church I've been to summed up in one post.

  7. I am trying to still figure this new blog out!!

  8. I'm a member of a Presbyterian church. Nobody will speak in tongues, and those that do will often be made fun of afterwards. One woman stood up at the end of a service with hands raised high and said faith cured her acid reflux. Everyone stiffened up, as though they couldn't believe someone was showing such emotion.

    And that's the way I like it. People are genuinely nice and welcoming, but we prefer that people keep their shoes on and stay seated, unless it's time to sing a hymn.

  9. But does your wife have to wear a dress and super long braided hair?

  10. It's amazing how someone can express their personal experience and someone else can fully relate. As I read your entry my mind and heart kept drifting to my own personal experiences trying to return to Catholicism.

    At a very early age I renounced Catholicism and organized religion as a whole. Oddly, years later I married a stauch 7th Day Adventist. To support her and eventually our kids' faith I agreed to accompany her to some services.

    By the time I went to the first service it had been approximately 10 years since I'd set foot inside any sort of church. Your description of the events are almost identical to what I experienced the first few times.

    Last year, after our divorce I attempted to return to Catholicism with exactly the same results you described in your entry.

    I suppose some of us leave the flock for good, even if we never stop believing in God (evidence by preferring to insult two elderly churchgoers than God).

  11. I think there is greater community of people who do believe in God, wish to be good peopl, yet do not want to go church than there is people who truly love going to church. Maybe that's just my jaded opinion.

  12. Church is so overwhelming.

    I had a reply to a comment you left me, but um, I forgot while reading this lovely gem of an entry.

    I feel like that with church. Except the music; I kind of like the music. When done properly.

  13. I'ma refugee from Catholicism and all organized religions.

  14. I should make a Church for the Churchless.

    Would you be my flock?

  15. Of course. Would we have to worship Lucifer? Or just pat him on the head and say “Nice kitty!”?

  16. No, none of that. We would probably just sit around and talk about how much we dislike going to church. Maybe we would play a song from a Christian praise CD for Emily.

    We could play chess or something.

  17. Maybe we would play a song from a Christian praise CD for Emily.

    Careful – don’t push your luck. But I can’t play chess. How about sacrificing goats? I feel we ought to take a more traditional approach.

  18. If there truly was a divine power as descibred in the Judeo-CHristian religions, don't you think the church experience would be better than this?
    It's hard to go against how you were raised but I think you are much smarter than to believe that it's all been "figured out" and you need nothing more than to believe ... didn't the Nazis do that?

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  20. I'm sorry, but I have a really hard time believing that a myriad of fanatics and weirdos can make something untrue. I think it's very foolish to just write something off because vapid people follow something. That's like saying a band can't be good because their fans are cunts. It's easier to do that, thus I have a hard time doing it. I'm very hard headed!