Thursday, March 27, 2014

Leaving Church

Before anyone gets their feathers in a needless kerfluffle... that's the title of the book I'm reading with my friend Renee.  I'm not making plans to leave my religion behind.  At least not just yet.  It's a memoir by Barbara Brown Taylor who used to be an Episcopalian priest and walks through her journey to a decision to give up pastorship of a small church in North Georgia.  Any pastorship, really, since she's teaching college now instead of preaching Sunday sermons.

On the surface, I'd have to say we don't have a whole lot in common.  We're different ages, with different interests, and different calls to serve... but her words paint such vivid pictures and speak directly to my battered soul in a way that makes me feel like I've found a true kindred spirit.  I'm only 75 pages into the book and already I would give it my wholehearted recommendation.

Actually it's on pages 74 and 75 that she describes the place I am in my spiritual journey in words I can only sit back and covet.  They are the words I wish were mine.  They make that perfect of a description even though she's speaking from her perspective as a pastor.  She says, "On my worst nights I lay in bed feeling like a single parent, unable to sleep because I knew I did not have enough love in me to go around.  God was the boundless lover, but for many people God was the parent who had left.  They still read about Him in the Bible and sang about Him in hymns.  They still believed in His reality, which made it even harder to accept his apparent lack of interest in them.  They waited for messages from Him that did not arrive.  They prepared their hearts for meetings that never happened.  They listened to other Christians speak as if God showed up every night for supper, leaving them to wonder what they had done wrong to make God go off and start another family.

"I suppose I could have helped them see how their life histories deepened their distress or given them some more grown-up ways of conceiving of God…"

Exactly... To me, in my present circumstances, He feels very much like the parent who turned away and walked out.  (Or at least I feel like how I imagine an abandoned child feels since my experience with that is thankfully only indirect.  When we were 7, my best friend's mother walked out in the middle of the night.  April was my age and she had 2 younger brothers.  What I remember about it most vividly is the many days her face was tear-stained while she was left to wonder where her mommy was at and why she wasn't loved and wanted any more.  I don't know what words were exchanged between April's parents, just that it was several years before she had any contact with her mom again and that her dad was not well-equipped to raise 3 small children on his own.  Even being that young the details of her life made me sad and looking back at them from my adult perspective explain much about the parenting decisions she made with her own children.)

What struck most in this passage was Ms. Taylor's suggestion that my conception of God as a missing parental figure is immature.

On the one hand I'm going to take that as a valid criticism and seek out examples of how a grown-up handles this relationship.  Maybe my relationship with Him does need to change.  Maybe the very way I view Him needs to shift.

On the other, I'm going to back pedal a little bit.

Of all the names that God is known by, the one He has specifically asked us to use in addressing him is 'Father.'  Does that not designate ours as a Parent/child relationship?  And as part of a Church culture that makes a big deal out of keeping the traditional family unit whole, does that not grant me the expectation of an engaged and involved Father?

Am I just being a petulant bratty child?  Do I need to just grow up spiritually?  How does one do that?  Where can I look for realistic examples?  Is my conception of God as my literal spiritual Father wrongly interpreted?


Meghan said...

I loved this Kathy, I love anything that gets me thinking! I'll have to check that book out.

I am not active in the lds church and haven't been for a several years. It's an ongoing learning process for me, since I have searched and prayed and fought for my very own testimony of truth in this world.

And since I "left" the church, my relationship with God has gotten stronger and stronger. It's hard to say but I think a lot of it is because I am getting to know him on my terms, I am communicating and learning and growing the way I should, not the way I was taught to my entire life. Being born into the church made my relationship with Father in Heaven feel at times robotic, mechanical: Say the same prayer, make sure to do this right, be worthy, if he doesn't answer it's meant to be, if he DOES it's meant to be, be worthy, be worthy, be worthy... etc etc etc.

As I have found my own beliefs and truths and followed a new path, I have grown a relationship with a God that I'm getting to know all on my own. I still haven't figured it out, still haven't figured HIM out, but we are working on it and it has been pretty grand.

Also, communing with a MOTHER in heaven is very spiritual and uplifting for me too. It was always a fine line growing up, something we never could talk about, but on the path I'm on now she's there. She's very real and motherly and loving.

To each their own, but I agree that it's hard not to feel concerned and abandoned at times. I don't know how to figure it all out, but follow your heart and good luck my dear.

You are loved! xoxoxoxo

Kathy Burton said...

I fully realize within the religious culture of our youth, mine is not a majority opinion... but I fully believe that many people will one day get to meet God and be in for a massive surprise when they learn He is much more concerned with the condition of their heart than the brand name of the pew where they parked their butt each Sunday. And I share your belief that there is a Divine SHE, a Mother in Heaven...

I hope you do get the book because there are MANY passages that have caught me so off guard and made me stop short and really think. I don't mean that in any way to say that it was a faith-destroying thing. It isn't. It's been a very enriching and faith supporting process, just different ways to consider old ideas. Ms. Taylor has a newer book that I'm also really wanting to read now... it's called Learning to Walk in the Dark. The interviews and excerpts on her website have me so intrigued!