Enthusiasm

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I started to write this entry on September 12, just before I left on vacation, but I did not finish what I started and left it as a draft. This posting represents a slightly edited version of what I wrote at that time, along with some additional paragraphs tacked onto the end.

I haven't had much to say lately. I am feeling a little disillusioned with this process of seeking out religious communities. I always knew that I was going to deal with theologies that I didn't necessarily feel comfortable with, but the more contact that I have had with ostensibly "progressive" Christian churches, the less satisfied I have become with just making do.

A few months ago, at Pastor Bob Cornwall's request, I wrote an article for a journal that he edits, in which I discussed my religious journey and my experiences visiting various churches. I wrote at the time about my frustrations as a spiritual outsider looking inward, as one who was attracted to the Christian tradition and yet repelled by many of its more orthodox doctrines. What kept me going through all of that, despite the frustration, was a certain spirit of optimism, and maybe a sense that God was calling out to me. There were plenty of new faith communities left to try out, and so many churches seemed open to the ideas of people like Borg or even Spong. I believed somehow that if I kept looking I might find something at least remotely resembling I was looking for; at the very least, the novelty of visiting new churches kept me going for a while. The desire to connect with God was also a strong motivator. Bob himself had suggested to me once, before he solicited the article, that the demands that I was placing on the Christian faith were unlikely to be met, and that I was probably not going to find mainline Protestant churches that were going to offer the kind of theology that I myself was interested in exploring. I knew at some level that he was right. And yet, something kept me going. I was willing to make certain compromises, on the theory that a little bit of moderately frustrating spiritual nourishment was better than none at all. But this was proving to be a decreasingly successful personal strategy.

I could at this point, I suppose, expand my exploration and go roaming out further afield into the suburbs, in ever widening circles of church shopping exercises, but the reality is that the payoff seems dubious, especially given that long Sunday morning car rides aren't my idea of a good time anyway.

I found some of the churches I visited through their affiliation with the Center for Progressive Christianity; and others I found by doing web searches; still others were I found via a list of "progressive" churches contained an appendix of Hal Taussig's book, A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots. There was so much variety in approaches and theologies and congregations, it all started to make my head spin, and meanwhile nothing was really working. One church might have an interesting or progressive pastor, but the congregation was not very welcoming, or else I felt like I was crashing a party to which I was not invited. Other churches had services that were full of orthodox creedal confessions and high Christological language that just didn't work for me.

I had for a while been sporadically attending a small but active progressive church, with a progressive pastor. At one point the church had been offering discussion forums on the eight points of progressive Christianity. I attended one of them, and the subject of prayer came up. I am not a believer in the efficacy of intercessory prayer, and I said so at the meeting. No one argued with me or vocally disagreed with me, but in some sense I felt that I was speaking as an outsider with a different perspective than that of the others. The other members of this congregation were lifelong members of the that church's denomination who were edging into progressive territory, while I was an outsider who came at religious belief from a quite different direction. I realized at that point that no matter how progressive the Christian community is, I was forever standing outside of the Christian faith looking inward. I didn't want to play the role of iconoclast in any case. It was the real beginning of my disengagement with the church shopping process, although attending church during the previous Christmas season, with its celebration of events that I didn't for once second believe literally to have taken place, had also been a contributing factor.

It is hard for me to totally give up on this process. I haven't totally ruled out attending a church from time to time. And maybe my enthusiasm for this project will pick up again--anything is possible. There are one or two relatively progressive churches in my community that I could attend if I really felt the urge. But for the most part, at least at the moment, I am not feeling the urge. This represents a big change from how I felt when I first started this process a couple of years ago; at that time, I felt a really strong urge, as if God herself were calling me to go find a religious community.

While I was on vacation recently, I realized that maintaining this blog, and participating in online discussion in general, had been stressing me out. My vacation certainly had some stresses of its own--temporarily lost luggage being a major one of those--but somehow they were a different kind of stress, because things like lost luggage were vacation stresses; and once I did get my luggage I had the time of my life. I had internet access, but I didn't want to check this blog, write in it, or participate in blog discussions here or anywhere else.

I'm still basking in the afterglow of that vacation a bit, even though I have been back for over a week. What that means for the future of this blog remains an open question.

11 comments:

Chris said...

I feel your pain, mystic. I've not been to church for a couple months now. I've enjoyed your blog, so if you shut it down I'm sorry to see it go. Best of luck on your journey.

John Shuck said...

Welcome back! Obviously, many people enjoy your blog, your search, and your honesty. But it is no fun if the payoff is not worth the stress.

But, let me say this: I personally, have appreciated your insights immensely over the last two years. I always look forward to seeing "mystical seeker" make a comment on my blog!

It may not be the real thing, but I think we may be members of the same virtual church!

James F. McGrath said...

I've greatly appreciated your blog, and it has been missed while you've been on hiatus/vacation, and will continue to be missed if the hiatus continues or becomes permanent. But don't put our appreciation for your blog over your own priorities and spiritual needs!

I think you should just be your own church, and I suspect that as you spend less time in churches you'll find every increasing numbers of people who are also not going to a church but are looking for conversation and fellowship of the sort you have to offer and desire.

One last thought. I've been thinking quite a bit about what the church is, and at present I'm hoping my church can embrace being a diverse community, in which people at all sorts of points in their pilgrimage and levels of maturity recognize that the journey of each of us will benefit if we are all part of the process together. If you find a group that meets your particular needs, you'll be very lucky. If you find a group that can meet your needs while also meeting the needs of people with very different needs at the same time, let me know - those are, I think, particularly rare, and those even striving for that should collaborate!

I wish you well, and hope that even if you don't blog, you'll keep in touch!

Frank said...

Mystical,

I had a spiritual advisor who once told me that I was church hopping because I hadn't mourned the loss of the church community I grew up in. I thought that was an absurd idea at first, but it slowly dawned on me that he was right. I needed to make peace--with the good that I don't have access to anymore as well as the bad--before I could really sink roots in somewhere else.

The kinds of things you seem to be seeking are things I have had better luck finding in more intentional communities away from typical Sunday services. newmonasticism.org, the Catholic Worker, various and sundry missions sites and retreat sites (Richard Rohr). Maybe a retreat with the Trappists or Sisters of Charity might be nice.

I'm sorry, my knowledge is mostly outlets within the Catholic tradition, but I wouldn't suggest anything that wouldn't be welcoming to a progressive or ecumenical person (although I don't know every person in every place and I'm sure there will be some who don't meet that description).

There are limits to what I expect in a Sunday service, although I believe they have their place and a good one. But the more intense experiences and more ideologically pure ones often are in these out-of-the-way places.

But community is community--there will be diversity. And I'm not sure even an ideologically like-minded community would even be possible or even rewarding at all.

Well, anyway, I'll stop there before risking giving too much unsolicited advice, but those are some thoughts from my journey.

Cynthia said...

Henri Nouwen said something like this, that community is the place where those you least want to be with always live.

Even though Pluto's classification was changed, it's still a part of the solar system. To carry on this metaphor you started, Pluto will never look like Jupiter or Saturn or Earth, nor should it, and vice versa.

The trick is to find some level of acceptance, to realize everyone in community is fighting a battle of some kind, and that ours is not really as important as we think. Otherwise we fall into the very real danger of our search becoming all about us, instead of about coming closer to God. Which can mean coming closer to people we'd rather not be with sometimes. For me, that's what church is all about. If I'm to learn to forgive and to love my 'enemy', church is often the best school.

This is my own struggle. I share it with you for what it's worth.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Welcome back!

As you've discovered, the journey of faith can become exceedingly weerisome. As you mention here, I've said in the past, that your expectations place a heavy burden on we who serve as pastors. Even the most progressive of churches is constricted to some extent by our own traditions. My sense is that were we to sit down and have a conversation we would get along famously. I also expect that were you to attend my church you would leave discouraged. That is the nature of things, I suppose.

I do appreciate your pushing the question, however -- and I appreciated the article!

Grace said...

Mystical,

We rarely agree about anything, I know. But, if you shut down your blog, I would miss you too. :)

God's grace, and peace, Myst.

JP said...

Don't close shop my friend. Write only when you desire. Do not try to appease your viewership by thinking you have to write all the time. We will be here anyway.

I share your struggles spiritually but do do not feel confined to the Christian Faith and am willing to look outside. My spirituality is awakening now that I stepped outside the religious community.

Luke said...

i hope you keep this going as it's been wonderful reading and discussing things with you.

you're welcome anytime at the church i'm interning for here in PA or at my future-congregation, where-ever that might be.

my seeking led me to stop seeking for this church (although i found two, Emmaus UCC in Vienna VA and Trinity Reformed UCC in Mountville PA) i decided to start one.

Mystical Seeker said...

I want to thank everyone for their supportive comments.

I don't intend to shut this blog down. However, my output for the short term will be pretty low. In the long term it might pickup again.

As for what to do about the whole subject of church, that is an open question at this point.

Chris--I did not know that you had not been going to church for a while. I guess that goes to show that many of us out there haven't found a church that works for us.

John--I feel a special kinship with your because we started blogging at about the same time. I will definitely not give up leaving comments in your blog.

James--It means a lot to me that you have appreciated my blog. I have certainly been a big fan of your blog and I really appreciate your own patience and ability to discuss the subject of religion with such diverse people.

Frank--you may be onto something about the desire to recapture some sort of lost community. It is true that I was brought up in a church and when I became an atheist in my late teens I think I lost something of that which I am perhaps still trying to recapture. Thanks for the suggestions.

Cynthia--your comments about community are interesting. I certainly would not want to be in a community where everyone was like me or thought like me!

Bob--I might have paid a visit to your church in Santa Barbara if I ever made it down that way. Michigan is a little too far. You are right that I would probably be discouraged :), but I think I could handle that because we have at least established a connection where we understand where we are coming from.

Grace--thanks for the kind word.

JP--Thanks for the encouragement. I will not close shop.

Luke--if I ever make it to PA, I might just pay your church a visit.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

I tried to find a note of encouragement in this that didn't focus entirely on me, but I'm not sure I succeeded. I do hope we all still hear from you, in one format or another. I've greatly enjoyed your blog and the comments you've left on mine, because we're coming from such a similar perspective. I think it's almost impossible to understand what it's like to constantly be pushed to the outside unless you yourself are also pushed there as well.

Perhaps it might be best to take a break from church searching for a while. It sounds like there are elements of Christianity that you do greatly enjoy, and the last place you want to end up in right now is having those burned away, too.