Post-Easter hangover


Earlier this month, I wrote about how Easter was making me cranky. Well, I guess I'm still a little cranky--or at least more frustrated than I was before.

My dissatisfaction with my forays into progressive Christianity is probably due to a recent convergence of three events. First, there was Easter itself--the holiday in which Christian churches the world over, including those that are ostensibly "progressive", proclaim that "Christ is risen", in ways that suggest that those doing the proclaiming either actually believe that mythological and mutually irreconcilable Easter experiences described in the Gospels were literal, historical events--or, even worse, that those doing the proclaiming are just pretending that these events were literally, historically true. This dovetailed with my recent reading of Jack Good's book The Dishonest Church, in which he described the phenomenon of clergy who learn in seminary that many of the Biblical stories are not literally true but then who go on to preach as if they really were. Last, but not least, my experiences with Night Church in Copenhagen, particularly the candlelit service which I thoroughly enjoyed despite not having understood much of what was said, led me to realize how much I appreciate worship not for the dogma or ideas so much as for the means they provide for focusing my mind into a state of awe and communion with the Divine.

Today, I didn't go to church. I have seen some progressive congregations in the region that interest me, but which are located in suburbs that would require a fair amount of driving to get to. Thus, because of their distance, they, unfortunately, are a bit far away for regular attendance. Still, there is a part of me that wants to at least check some of these churches out at least once, to see if they can provide some hint that perhaps there do actually exist forms of progressive Christianity that I can relate to. This morning, I woke up too late to venture too far afield in time for a 10 AM service, so I did a quick perusal of the web site of the Center for Progressive Christianity, to see what lies in my own city of San Francisco. I've looked at their affiliate list for California before, and it hasn't changed much since the last time I checked it out.

I took another look at a Presbyterian church on that affiliate list. I had looked at the church before and felt that it wasn't right for me. The problem with the label "progressive" is that it is often a vague concept that means whatever the church in question wants it to mean. Many churches like to think of themselves as "progressive" because they fully support gays and lesbians, as if that were the be-all and end-all of what the concept means; yet many of these same churches preach remarkably orthodox notions in other areas, particularly when it comes to the doctrine of the resurrection. This particular church seems to be one of those. I found a sermon on its web site going back to Easter of 2006, in which the pastor made it clear that she fully believed in the literal truth of the resurrection, and that without it she would "wash her hands" of the Christian faith. It is statements like these that scare me away from churches.

Still, I thought I wanted to go to some church, and it was running too late to find a church that had a 10 AM service, and the Presbyterian church's service starts at 10:30, so part of me was trying to talk myself into going there despite my gut feeling against it. The web site for the church included the latest newsletter, which contained an article about progressive Christianity that I mostly liked. Maybe I could check the place out after all. The neighborhood where the church is located is not a good one for finding parking, but, amazingly, I found street parking on the same block as the church. If I were superstitious or believed in parking Karma or that God manipulated parking spaces, I could have taken this as a sign that I should go to this church. But I didn't. I realized I didn't really feel like going in to that church after all--which is to say, my gut feeling won out. I got out of my car, walked down a nearby main drag and found a nice neighborhood bookstore that was open on a Sunday morning. I browsed a bit, then went back to my car, and left.

It was not quite 10:30, and I knew of a UCC church that I had visited once that had 11:00 AM services. I drove to that neighborhood, found parking nearby, got out of my car, walked past the church, walked back to my car, and drove to the other side of town to a restaurant, where I had a turkey burger for lunch while I read the Sunday New York Times. I guess I really wasn't in the mood for that church, either.

The funny thing is, I am not very fond of many aspects of the Danish Lutheran Church's official theology, and yet I was able to find value in its non-conventional Night Church services a few weeks ago. In the case of the candlelit service I attended in Copenhagen, I was able to allow the language barrier to permit me to break through my theological objections and experience worship as a contemplative experience. Non-conventional worship often works well for me, especially if it offers something contemplative. That is why I am drawn to such things as Taize at an Episcopal church while Sunday morning services at that same church hold no appeal for me whatsoever. The Presbyterian church I didn't go to today has a once-a-month Jazz Vesper Service that I have not visited, and that may or may not be something that I would like. Many Episcopal churches offer innovative Sunday evening services that I have considered investigating.

Being on the heretical fringe of Christianity has continued to plague me. It has made me restless. God only knows how people like me would have done any church shopping before the age of the internet. It is only because I can do this sort of research online that I am able to even consider the possibility of exploring various churches that identify themselves as "progressive".

I am waiting for this whole Easter season to end, so that Christian churches can put their mythologies away for another year. I seemed to like it better last summer when "the Risen Christ" wasn't the topic of the sermons.


Heather W. Reichgott said...

Hello Mystical Seeker!

Thanks for the comment about the Jazz Vespers sermon... and it's really interesting to hear about your Easter morning journey. Though I'm pretty sure it was us you walked by, I'm glad you went with your gut instincts. More real spiritual discernment happens in the gut than most people admit. :)

A word about that little church with 10:30 am Sunday services and monthly Jazz Vespers:
The preacher who's filling in right now while our senior pastor is on sabbatical gave a sermon the week after Easter about how she is entirely uncertain about the resurrection of Jesus. And, this sermon was very positively received by the congregation. (So was the senior pastor's sermon from last Easter, which you read, which treats the resurrection very differently.) These people's beliefs range from total adherence to all the miracles to some who don't even believe in Jesus at all, but they love God and they love the church, so they come. (We have a lot of interfaith couples here.)
What this means for our take on progressive Christianity, I think, is that we do not expect everyone to adhere to the same dogmas and formulas about everything. Instead we (the leadership) make an effort to state our beliefs clearly, and to welcome and acknowledge everyone else's beliefs. In all honesty, I think it would be hard to call ourselves progressive if we did try to get everyone to adhere to all the same formulas--even if they're "progressive" formulas--that's the same kind of controlling and gatekeeping behavior that so many of our folks ran away from when they left previous churches.
Blessings on the journey!

Mystical Seeker said...

Heather, I really appreciate your comments. It is helpful to get a direct report on what it is like at your church from someone who knows it well. It is possible that if I had known when I parked my car on Sanchez Street what you have written in your comment here, I might have actually walked inside. :) Coming from a fundamentalist background as I do, and in light my recent sensitiveness about some of these topics during Easter time, I am feeling especially skittish right now. So who knows, maybe some day I'll make it inside your church after all.

ms. kitty said...

Hi, Mystical Seeker, I found your blog through a UU blog site. Have you tried a Unitarian Universalist church? They have a different slant on Christianity and you might find one that fills the bill for you.
I'm Ms. Kitty, the UU minister for Vashon and Whidbey Islands in Puget Sound.

Merseymike said...

Hi - must say that I'm surprised you can't find anything in San Francisco. Another option, particularly if you are attracted by contemplation, is an unprogrammed Quaker meeting.

I live in the UK but have been to an Episcopal church in SF which I really liked.I can't recall the name but its in the Christopher Street area.

capn jack sparrow said...

Thanks for your honesty, Mystical. I truly appreciate your desire for clarity among those who seek truth. I agree with you that ministers should not seek to placate people with ideas that they don't believe to be true, or hide behind Alice in Wonderland postmodernist "it means what I say it means" abuse of language. Words and people are too precious for that.

I'm a physician who deals with death and dying every day. Even though I am trained as a scientist, I don't believe that science and empirical knowledge are complete windows to reality.

For this reason, I find the resurection of Christ to be deeply consistent with the idea that in time a loving God will resolve the horror of death, and make right the evils that we inflict upon each other.

May God bless you on your journey, and lead you into all truth.


Merseymike said...

You may wish to respond directly to comments made about your quest on a conservative blog. I assume you gave permission for the use of this, but just in case you weren't aware, here's the link.

Mystical Seeker said...

Ms. Kitty,

Thanks for your suggestion. I have some sympathies with the UU church, but am wondering if its relationship to Christianity differs across UU denominations. I am interested in staying within the Christian tradition, although obviously I am very much on the liberal fringe. The UU church in San Francisco that I have visited doesn't seem to be very interested in Christianity, so I didn't feel that it was quite the right fit for me. I know that some UU ministers are more Christian in their focus than others.

Mystical Seeker said...

Mersey Mike,

No, as a matter of fact, I didn't give permission to have my blog entry quoted in that conservative blog.

Regarding your other comment, there are some progressive churches that I have visited in San Francisco, but I am still feeling like I haven't really found a church home yet. The church I go to most frequently is undergoing a transition right now and I am waiting to see what comes out of it. So in the meanwhile, I have been interested in looking around at what lies elsewhere. I have attended Quaker meetings, and I have visited St. Gregory's Episcopal, both of which have some things that I like. But basically I am still trying to figure out what works for me.

Merseymike said...

I'm afraid some of our conservative friends appear to have forgotten the basics of courtesy.

All the best in your search.

ms. kitty said...

Seeker, you might check out others in the Bay Area. I'm not too sure of my geography, so I don't know if this is a good suggestion or not, but the UU Church of Berkeley has great ministers who would be welcoming and interesting to listen to. There is a strengthening thread of Christianity in UUism now and it's made UU churches better.

Mystical Seeker said...

Ms. Kitty,

Thanks for the suggestion. I have a junky old car and getting over the bridge to Berkeley may be a bit of a concern :), but I will consider checking out the Berkeley church.

little mouse said...

Dear Seeker,
May I suggest that before you enter the doors of a church that you consult with God directly. One thing I have found to be true is that if any one truely seeks God's face, they will find him.
Ask God 'where is the best church for me?' and continue to ask him for days, or weeks if need be. He will 'nudge' you towards a church. I guarantee it.
Be open to what he is leading you to. Some times it is not the particular church, but at times the one in the pulpit delivering the message. It maybe that a 'traditional' church has someone in it who God has prepared just for you and where you are at in your spiritual walk.
Don't limit yourself to just a 'progressive' church. You never know where God may lead you.
And yes, I do believe that HE does lead us to where we need to be IF we just let him.
Even if you don't think it's the place for you, be patient, go in and listen and see if they are speaking to you.
Good luck in your search.
Finding, and connecting with God is the most awesome adventure there is. Nothing else comes close.

little mouse

Moot said...

Dear Seeker,

Looks like you caused quite an uproar! I think people who cause uproars qualify as being interesting.

I noted something in your article - that when the sermon focuses on the Resurrection of Christ, you get downright uncomfortable. Obviously, you don’t agree that such an event happened. But if you are correct and this did not happen, then a sermon on the Resurrection is only talking about an idea.

So my question (rheotorical) to you is, why does that idea give you the heebie-jeebies? That is, if it is only an idea?

To be certain, not all ideas are “tame.” Neo-Nazism and the conflict between Muslims of different stripes in Bagdad, are proof enough of this. But even by standards of ideas, the Resurrection of Christ is not really that dangerous, when you think about it. It doesn’t assert that Christ came back as a flesh-eating zombie out of a cheap horror flick.

It seems to me that the feeling of dread is not explained by an aversion to an idea; but to a person. A child does not run for cover behind his or her mother’s skirt from an idea; but from the kind stranger who is having a charming conversation with the child’s parents. And who or what do you think is that topic of that conversation? Why, it would be the child, of course.

Eventually, the child peeks out from behind the skirt, and is welcomed by the smile and gentle coo of the stranger. If the child is bold enough, he or she might venture out, a little bit at a time, and grap hold of the stranger’s pantleg.

I commend you on your search. You are on an adventure. But I would encourage you to be a little bit more adventurous.

Don’t like the message of the parish? Too scary for you? Heck - be adventurous and go anyway. Come late, and then duck out early. Then do it again, the next Sunday. And the next.

You might just find yourself looking into the beaming smile of a certain Stranger. And that Stranger might just seem less strange, and more real, and beyond your highest expectations.

It’s okay. Go on and take a peek !

- Moot ;)

Mystical Seeker said...

Moot, I come from a conservative theological background, and after having rejected it in my youth, it has taken me a long time to get to the point where I would even consider attending a Christian church. My journey has taken me to a certain point; I cannot undo that process now and pretend that none of it ever happened, and I can't undo my ongoing objections to certain facets of orthodox Christian theology.

I think many strongly conservative Christians would not care to attend a church where they were told that Jesus's resurrection was not a historical event. I wouldn't characterize that as having the heebie-jeebies, but simply a matter of finding a theological paradigm that suits them. The same is true for me. For those whose views largely match those of the orthodoxy to ask me to suppress my views on an important matter of doctrine, while they do not have to do the same, is to reduce my belief system to second-class status. I guess what I'm saying is that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Some people sit somewhere in the middle between the two poles. There are some, usually liberal, churches where you find a variety of opinions among the congregation, where some people believe in the literal resurrection, and others don't, and the two belief systems co-exist under one roof. I think that's great, at least in principle. My frustration arises out of the difficulty of finding a denomination or church where the kind of skepticism that I have is openly expressed. I think I could be more relaxed in experiencing certain points of view I disagreed with if I didn't feel like my own point of view is either swept under the rug or ignored or suppressed or reduced to second-class status, even if there seem to be other people out there who think like I do in some sort of vast underground somewhere.

That being said, your comment about giving at least some churches a chance does have some validity, I think. I may have been too scared away to give the Presbyterian church I visited a legitimate chance. For all I know, I might have liked it. This skittishness comes from having some scars from my fundamentalist theological background. That's where I am, and it makes me sensitive about certain issues.

Dennis said...

Hello Mystical.
I am amazed that the conservative trolls have made such an issue over your post. And then when others like MerseyMike defended you those evil, evil people labeled him an "enemy of God."

It shows the sad start of darkness and brokeness these people's lives are in. Pray for them.