Sunday, June 17, 2007

crying over the chapel

I’m not getting much out of church lately. I find myself dreading the thought of going there from one week to the next.

It’s odd, and it’s puzzling to feel this way, especially given how much there is to like about this church and how I’ve felt at home here in the past, but the last month or more, I’ve felt virtually no interest in it and had virtually no desire to attend.

Partly it’s the worship, I suppose. The worship team is more than passionate for leading worship ― they also are skilled musicians ― but the worship does absolutely nothing for me. Around me I see people who feel as though they have been transported into the presence of God; for myself, I feel like an idiot, standing around with my hands in my pockets. There was a time when all I could do was to go through the motions of worship, and since that was all I had to offer, that was what I gave. Nowadays I don’t have even that much to offer.

The worship is loud, and I don’t mean it’s because everyone in the church is singing enthusiastically. I feel much like I expect I would if I were watching The Who: The music pounds its electric rhythms from the speakers, assaulting my body in one relentless wave after another, darkening my mood, bruising my head, and driving me out and away from the church, instead of closer to God. Some people find that exciting, and equate that excitement with an up-close encounter with God. I don’t; having realized that even secular music with that same pounding beat produces the same effect, I can’t convince myself that God is in the music. Perhaps he uses the music to draw some people to him, but he does not draw me in that way. I can’t even stand to be in the auditorium most times the worship team is playing; it’s that loud.

“I thought once that God was in the music, but when I looked, I found the same void that I had known all my life, and the notes that came from it were sweet but empty, and so I walked on.”

The preaching is good. Each of the pastors usually brings some good insight about the culture the Bible was written in, one that makes the Bible make more sense, and one that brings relevance from the text to our lives.

Part of it may be the growth. Natasha and I have been at this church for about two years, and have seen some tremendous growth take place. As the church has grown, we’ve seen the relationships we have with other members of the church change in some substantial ways, and I don’t mean that we’ve become closer to other couples and other families, either. Quite the opposite. I used to talk with Caoimhín and with Tom on a regular basis, almost weekly. I used to be involved in planning the Sunday services, and knew many of the people in the church at least on a first-name basis.

That’s no longer the case. The church divided last fall, spinning off a Norde Bastille congregation, and merging the Nova Bastille congregation with the college congregation. In that time, the Nova Bastille membership has shriveled to myself and possibly one or two other people, leaving me at the Nova Bastille church with a dozen or more people I barely know and have virtually nothing in common with. The Norde Bastille congregation meantime has swelled from a handful of people to about a hundred, through a few well-timed and well-considered promotional efforts. In the process, with all the sudden new arrivals, the relationships I’d had with other people suddenly are diluted and pulled apart as my friends and associates, who are better at striking up relationships with people, suddenly are spending their time with the new arrivals, making them feel welcome and so on.

There’s also the issue of who has been drawn. At first I thought it was nice to see the people we used to worship with at Community Gospel Church, and maybe for a time it was. Not so much now. Now I have to admit that I find myself resenting things that happened at the end of CGC and the way people failed us so dramatically.

It’s not easy for me to trust people completely. I maintain a healthy sheath of skepticism and cynicism to keep people from cutting me too deeply when they fail to deliver what they promised they would. I learned early on that people like to think the best of themselves, rationalize their failings, and dance their way out of promises and commitments. I thought CGC was different, I really did. I thought, “This is a church of people who know what it is like to be burned by the world and by other believers,” and as we were involved in CGC under Mark McGrath and then later, as Crosspointe Community Church under Abner Bosheth, I felt comfortable with the other people there. We went on double dates with them, invited them to our wedding, to our housewarming, and other special events in our family.

The collapse of the church under Abner put the lie to that illusion. People who had been a major part of our lives stopped being a part. They didn’t return our phone calls, they didn’t come by any more, and as time went on, we realized we were left alone.

The worst part of this was what happened around Isaac. When we opened up our home to him, we were given assurances that we were not doing this on our own. The entire church, we were told, was with us in the entire experience, and would pitch in to help us when we needed it.

In the end, we were alone.

Alone. Can you understand how that felt? We had a child who had moved into our homes with extreme special needs because of the abuse he had endured. The state did almost nothing to give us the support we could have used; we had to find out about that through other sources and pursue it on our own, and some of it we never even heard about until after he had gone. Our church had promised to be with us, but when push came to shove, no one was there. We tried to get babysitters from time to time, so Natasha and I could get out of the house and spend some time together, but no one would babysit for us. There were times we wanted just to get together with other families in the church, because the group setting relieved the pressure on us, and in the case of the family with Isaac's biological sister, it encouraged a relationship between the two, and the answer almost all the time was no. Toward the end, because she was pregnant with Rachel, Natasha called family after family, one person after another, and begged people to babysit the kids ― just to babysit Evangeline, while Isaac was with his parents ― so she could get a gynecological exam, and family after family, person after person, they all said no. Everyone praised us for our willingness to give a home to a child who needed us, but in the end, they were more interested in praising us than in helping us out or making it easier for us to save our marriage.

And now some of these are the same people who are coming to church with us and worshiping at our side. They act toward me as though nothing has changed, and all the while I see an unbridgeable gulf separating us. I wonder if they realize the distance their distance has created, and I wonder if they care.

Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself, and that’s the problem. It wouldn’t be the first time, and I doubt it would be the last. I think it’s a common failing of humanity that we are all pulled toward narcissism by a personal gravity that we have no wish to fight.

Maybe I’m just unwilling to forgive; maybe my heart is hard and I’m harboring resentment over the indifferent wrongs people have committed against my family without ever knowing it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve dealt with unforgiveness either.

But I know I’m weary. I want something different, and I want something better from this. I’m tired of going to church, and I’d much rather sleep in.

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