Thoughts on Going Back to Church

OK. I’ve been wanting to write this, and ducking it all morning, probably for days. Perhaps longer.

“Start with the truth as it is, Eric, and only then into commentary, and on to thoughts about that truth, or what you wish to do with it. Start by what is”

Seems like sound advice. The sort of thing I might say.

I love the Church. I am a convinced and committed Christian, and I write from that position on a good bit. Talking about it. Trying to encourage the faltering or confused, or to enlighten the curious. And I love the Church. I am an Episcopalian, and have fought in the wars in this part of the church. I know the woundedness, and often the brokenness. I know the failures to which we are prone, and have experienced or seen many of them. I have lived in the homes of perpetrators, and have sat with those victimized. I have in minor ways sometimes fought for the victims.

And yet I love the Church – at large and this one – because it is made of people like me, and importantly, it knows that.

And for all that love, I have been absent from the church since last September. 6 or 7 months. I have visited 3 congregations in the last 7 weeks, and once in January, but outside of that, I’ve been outside of that.

And why?
I’m not at all convinced that this question matters, at least not as much as
• “Are you happy about it?”
• “Are you content?”
• “Do you want it to be different?”and
• “what are you going to do to make it different?”

I am suspicious that “why” is often an excuse – a way to analyze instead of act. Perhaps it relates to my dislike of Freudian analysis instead of more cognitive therapies, or more likely, it relates to a relationship where the finding of fault – rather than the finding of a way forward – was a major feature of the relationship. I deeply distrust that approach, and perhaps the question of “why” reminds me of it. “Why?” only matters when it informs “what now?”

So, stalling aside, are you happy about the fact that you’ve been gone for some seven months?

Well, yes and no.
I know I have been exhausted. And sleeping in on Sunday mornings has helped. Actually, it isn’t the sleeping in, it is having a morning with no schedule. I could go to breakfast, I could read or watch my news shows to TV. Sometimes I would even cook. Just relaxed. I find that for good or bad reasons, I have much lower reserves than I had even a few years ago. I can press through it, and do things in which I delight until one or two in the morning. But I run out of gas in ways I would not have predicted. I left one church because I was doing too much. It didn’t seem too much, and I loved everything I did – but I was dying in the midst of it. And I finally crashed.

But no, I am not happy about it. My choosing to be absent does not square with my understanding of my faith.I am internally inconsistent. I need to fish or cut bait. Either return, or revise my understanding. I can’t tell one story while enacting another.

So that gets a little closer to “why?”. If you don’t understand that, it is hard to do much except by brute force. I am not radically opposed to the Nike method (“just do it”), but I don’t look for long term success there.

I told my pastor a month or so ago that I just don’t feel “bonded” whatever that means. In truth, I haven’t felt really bonded in decades, and that was to a place that failed. I stayed in a “refuge” place for some 16 years, then jumped to the one in which I felt overwhelmed. And that one was the next “most bonded” experience. But I have visited there, sort of retracing my steps, and I don’t think it is where I need to be. I don’t know.

But what about this “bonded” thing? I mean, I quite readily see that as something about me, not about any particular church. Either denomination, or individual congregation. If it were, I would have noticed some difference, And I pretty much don’t. I think the issue is in me.

It may change, I might need to work on that, (I have in the past) I might even decide to work on it again. But that is beside the point. I do notice that some places are a better “natural fit” than others, but I don’t even think this is the point.

I have written and spoken at some length concerning my thoughts that perhaps our western ideas concerning the individual and the communal are off-balance, and perhaps have been so at least since the reformation. I think our ecclesiology (our understanding of “church”) is far too little informed by our understanding of God as Trinity –where each “person” is separate and unique, in one indivisible whole. I think that if “Trinity” is correct (as I most unshakably affirm), then almost everything connected with God should show some likeness to it. The way we think about the church (especially in light of John 17), about marriage, and even about salvation. If these things do not reflect some understanding of the nature of God, then I think we probably don’t understand them well.

And so, I need to be connected. Indeed, I am connected, whether I am present or not. But I am stretched out of shape. The Body is stretched out of shape. Like clay, where one part is so extended that the figure is grossly out-balanced.

So I will go back. I will go back the week after next – I have an engagement. I will start where I left, and work from there. It is a good congregation, but that doesn’t prove where I should be. But it is a place to start. I don’t need to demand that I “bond” I can’t demand the feeling. Perhaps I will have it, perhaps I never will. That may be a healing I never have this side of death. Anywhere. But the Body is real, and not divisible. It can be distorted, not broken.

It is time I acted on that fact.

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