Is It Possible to Be and to Belong in Church These Days?
Recently I've been reading a book by Brené Brown about being yourself.
I've also been reading about Tao, Zen, and mindfulness (there's a book called Zen and the Bird's of Appetite by a Catholic mystic named Thomas Merton that is well worth your time).
All of these topics kind of interconnect because they are concerned with the state of being. A lot of our lives is spent trying to be something in particular rather than living in the moment and being who we really are.
This is hard for me on many levels because I'm the kind of person that likes to better myself. I like to set goals. I like to become healthier. I like to develop new habits that will improve my life.
Also, I grew up in a church that told me I wasn't worthy. I grew up in a church that told me I deserved awful horrible things, but if I converted I could avoid those awful horrible things.
I grew up being told by religious leaders that I needed to do certain things in order to be accepted by God. For a long time, I tried doing the things they told me I needed to do, but for some reason it never worked for me.*
Many Christians would probably be tempted to say, "well, Christianity isn't about doing something to be saved/accepted; it's by faith we are saved, not by works."
The problem with this line of thinking is that on a practical level, "having faith" was always a work within the church. Being accepted always required something. Whether it was saying a prayer or believing the right things or acting in the correct way.
To put it simply, the church told me that I didn't have to do anything to be accepted and loved, but the entire system was set up in such a way that I did have to do things to be accepted and loved. Frustrating, I know.
Even the theology was set up in this manner. I was taught that God loved everyone unconditionally, but I was also taught that if people didn't convert (accept, believe, and follow Jesus in a particular way) that they would be condemned to eternal conscious torment.
That's not unconditional love. That's very conditional.
(Side note: I'm very very familiar with the works/faith topic. I do not need anyone commenting trying to explain it to me.)
In the Brené Brown book I've been reading, she said the following:
“One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belong, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
When I read that paragraph I had to ask myself:
"Do I belong in church?"
Currently I don't have a church that I belong to. I grew up as a Southern Baptist, I went to a Southern Baptist college, and I worked full-time in a Southern Baptist church after I graduated.
It took me that long to figure out I didn't belong in the Southern Baptist church.
I've experienced quite a bit of personal loss over the past 12 months, and part of what this suffering has taught me is that I've been trying to fit in rather than belong.
I've been taking a microscope to go stargazing.
Or, as Rob Bell puts it in one of this books, I've been trying to follow the rules of golf while playing tennis.
I've only begun to realize this when I've allowed myself to be. I don't think it's possible to know where and how to belong if you don't know how to be.
So, do I belong in church?
If church is a particular collection of human beings that thinks all the other human beings need to conform and assimilate to its particular standard of being, then no.
Unfortunately, on some level, this description has always been what I have experienced in church. Which is kind of why I have never managed to belong.
It's not just church though. Our culture is the same way.
Culture tells women they must be a particular way. Culture tells men they must be a particular way. When we don't line up to those standards of being, we aren't allowed to belong.
This is kind of why I've never thought of myself as a "man". I never belonged in that category because I didn't meet (and didn't want to meet) the standards of manhood taught by both the church and the culture (the two teachings overlap greatly because both the culture and the church are rooted in patriarchy).
Do I belong in church? I don't know.
I do know that all of us need and want to belong within a collection of human beings that will love and accept us for who we are. If that's what church is supposed to be (I think it is), then yes.
That's kind of why I've never really abandoned my Christian faith. I do believe at the heart of Christianity is an unconditional God. I do believe God accepts us where we are and for who we are.
In fact, I think that's where God is met. In being. Not in trying to be. Not in a goal, not in a finish line, not in an accomplishment. Not in "salvation".
Maybe the reason why so many Christians are focused on controlling, dictating, and misinterpreting other peoples' modes of being is because they themselves have never taken the time or allowed themselves to be.
You can't be when you're trying to be.
* Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not upset that I grew up in this church. This element of my experience was quite negative, but there were many positive elements as well.