I have always had this struggle with church. I have always wanted it to be home - my tribe, my people, my family, my place to belong. In an ideal world, the church should be a place where we walk in the first time and feel "this is home" and feel surrounded by love and acceptance and this sense of God's presence and of being where one is meant to be. Obviously, given that the church may be divine but also is populated by human beings, this desire is slightly ridiculous and also unfair. I have a hard time shaking it, though, and it has probably made it harder for me to find that "home" - unrealistic expectations rarely lead to comfort and joy.
I've had a few moments in life of feeling "at home." When I was a kid growing up and church was Grandma passing me Lifesavers and going to church picnics, it felt like home. I was too young and too blissfully unaware to know what was going on behind the scenes (or to know that our mainline inner-city church was always mere steps from closing). I hit youth group at an established, still urban but much more secure church and the full impact of how unwelcoming a church can actually be hit me in the face. After several years of struggling there, I gave up on church until Dh and I moved back to the city at the end of our undergrad degrees. We did some church exploring and ended up at a very eclectic little inner city church that had an eccentric minister and while it was a mainline congregation, it was populated largely by immigrants who had struggled in life and had a firm sense of the present of God and had no qualms about sharing their faith. Even there, I never entirely felt as if I belonged but it was the closest I have ever come. It was hard to say goodbye to that church when we left the city. Up here, it's been even more of a struggle. We tried one church that seemed like it might have been a fit thanks to a wonderful minister but the congregation turned on the minister after we had been there a few months and we ran (Dh claimed that he was waiting for someone to stand and start shouting, "Crucify Him!") The church after that we tried was just too big and too child centred (while we understand how important it is to have an active children's ministry, if the church seems to exist entirely to minister to families with kids, something is wrong). Then, of course, there was the church we attended for the last 6 or 7 years. At times, it really began to feel like home, especially when we were active in small groups but then, all of a sudden, it began to feel like there wasn't a place for us there and we weren't welcome. For several reasons, we felt like the door had been closed on us and it was time to find a new place to journey.
We've been trying a new church over the last 8 months or so and to this point, it's been good for us. The preaching is terrific (I'm big on wanting to learn and be challenged and amazingly to me, while I have basically attended church my entire life and heard "Bible talk" around the house all the time, the pastor consistently is showing me new ways of seeing things or new texts that I had somehow missed each week and I'm really excited by that). My children LOVE the programming and participate in a weekly kids programme, Sunday school and have performed in two kids choir presentations. Dh is happy there (although he's not a joiner, so the fact that he is now on the sound rotation is about as "joined" as he will ever get). I'm still a bit lost.
I hang out with the moms at the kids rehearsals, I chat with people after church on Sunday, I've got some Facebook friends now from the church and I go to the monthly women's group meeting. Everyone has been nice and there have been flashes of feeling a sense of belonging but they are still just flashes. I know, that if we got into a deeper discussion, that people would find me weird or controversial or a bit crazy. I know that while I ADORED the book, "Red Letter Christianity", that if I participated in a discussion about what it has to say about Muslims or homosexuality or the military, and how it makes so much sense to me, that I would be received with a distinct chill. Honestly, it leaves me feeling inadequate, sad, wondering why there is no place for me.
It's been bothering me quite a lot lately and I've been doing a lot of pondering. I find it interesting that many of those who speak to me most tend to be Christian women bloggers, many of whom border on (or just are) somewhat controversial - Rachel Held Evans, Addie Zierman, Sarah Bessey, to name three. In terms of the men whose writing I am drawn to, they are equally controversial - Donald Miller and Shane Claiborne, to name a couple. Something has dawned on me in the last couple of weeks - maybe, just maybe, they are all bloggers because they don't "fit" in church either. Maybe those of us who tend towards the "evangelical progressive" are really just that rare. We don't fit in the mainline churches (at least not the ones I have attended, where, often, people are so quiet about their faith that I don't know what they believe or where I have a sense that most are attending because it is what their families have always done). We don't fit in the evangelical churches because we don't see the world in black and white, we aren't comfortable with the "in" crowd with everyone else "out" and ours is a God of love, who demands more of us than judgement of those who don't conform. These bloggers have helped me to begin to see that perhaps I am not entirely alone but that we are a tribe that is somewhat doomed to wander because the "church", as it exists now, struggles with us.
This has led me to a conclusion. I am going to try to stick it out at this new church for a while and see if it can become like home to me after a while. I won't force anything, I won't try to push too hard at it, I'll just let it be what it is and I'll see where I fit. In the meantime, I'm going to work harder to find my "tribe" online. I decided today that I would start by looking at who some of my favourite bloggers read to see if I connect to anyone and already, I found someone - Leigh Kramer whose post on being an introvert in church grabbed me right away Introverts in Church (she references a book here that I have been meaning to read forever and I think I NEED to read - I'm hoping it will give me some insight into myself). I'm going to devote more time in the evening to actually reading from my feed and try to connect more with those who seem to speak for the church that I feel called to be part of. I'm going to try not to try so hard - not to expect so much from church and to just let it be what it is.
The hardest part? I'm going to try not judge myself as being inadequate for not feeling that sense of "home" that I crave so badly. I can't remember where I read it (it might have been Max Lucado) but I read somewhere and it really spoke to me that perhaps we aren't really meant to feel at home here because we aren't at home - this is just a temporary stop on the journey. Maybe that feeling of homelessness is a gift. I'm going to try to think of it that way.