Sunday, June 30, 2013

[H!PS] this is not an evangelism testimony [Stuttering Sisters; June 27, 2013]

For some years now, I've been part of what started as a women's preaching circle. I opted out of this most recent round, as the spiritual journey slant (or however it was framed to me) wasn't something I really connected with. But then one of the sisters was visiting me in January and as she said to the list, "I met up with Elizabeth and she was talking about all these conversations she's been having with others regarding the substance of her faith and what difference it makes and I thought - that's what we're doing too!"

The month that I rejoined, one of the members explained: "This month we had an assignment to speak to someone in our lives about Jesus (to testify and evangelize) in a way that was new, uncomfortable, even scary."

This continued to be the theme for the duration -- though when I met with a couple of the sisters a few weeks before the season's closing session (in which I had the floor), one of them reminded me that technically I could do whatever I wanted with my portion of the time.

Since I'd rejoined, I'd been sporadically trying to cultivate some sort of practice of evangelizing, but nothing really stuck. In trying to help me brainstorm, the sisters who were visiting asked me why it is that I do all the church stuff I do -- which answer was basically the theme I'd already been thinking about talking about, but I felt somewhat more legitimated in my choice of topic.

(The name of the circle this season was, "Graceful Stuttering: Testifying to Intimate Encounters With Grace." Which I reminded myself of at times as I was attempting to write a draft and feeling off-topic.)

Below is the draft I wrote -- which is fairly close to what I actually said, except I ended up extemporizing at length about community at the end.


A few years ago, I was attending weekly events at 5 different churches in 4 different denominations. "You frequent ALL the houses of worship on [this street]," one of my then-pastors said, her innuendo both intentional and appreciated by me.

I routinely tell people that I live in in my head and while I have plenty of emotional response, I don't really have ~spiritual experiences~ -- so I often get asked why I do so much church, and 5 years later I have yet to come up with a good answer.

Marcus Borg uses the family analogy for religious traditions -- many of us grow up in one, and it feels like home because of that -- though he also acknowledges that some people justifiably need to leave their family of origin and find a new one.

Definitely a lot of my attachment to Christianity is because I grew up with it.

My mom brought my brother and I to church regularly when we were growing up, but the pastor's sermons put me to sleep, so I experienced church as more of a community than a theological anything.

When I started college and again when I moved out of my parents' house after college, it took some time for me to start attending church on Sunday mornings again because hey, sleeping in, pretty appealing.

I grew up without a denominational affiliation, so I tried out churches in various denominations -- but it didn't occur to me to try out Judaism or anything. Which is arguably in part a sort of blinkered privilege, but it is also true that Christianity is my home.

There's something about this Christian story that has a hold on me. Every time I think, "It would be good for me to have a better understanding of religions not my own," I am reminded that I am interested in, in decreasing order of interest: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, everything else.

But the fact that I will spend hours down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia or other parts of the Internet researching obscure parts of Christian tradition doesn't explain why I attend so much church stuff -- since I was definitely accumulating worship services, not just Bible studies and small groups.

For all that I'm a misanthrope, I think I have to admit that one of the reasons is community.

I used to comment frequently that I didn't know how people who weren't part of a faith tradition met people when they moved somewhere new. Coffee Hour has free food and people are obligated to be friendly and welcoming to you but you can also hang out on the fringes for as long as you want until you feel comfortable actually engaging.

And then churches go even further and organize social events -- and do-gooder events, for people who like that sort of thing.

Also: physical contact. I am weirded out when I'm visiting a church and we get to the Passing of the Peace part and people just shake hands with the people in a 360 degree circle around them, not actually moving from the floor right in front of their pew. I have literally climbed out of pews so I can go peace people when whoever's at the end of my pew isn't moving. I will hug just about everyone -- though I try to remember to ask when it's someone I don't know, since people have different levels of comfort with physical contact.

Chelsea and Eda and I were talking about this when they were visiting, and then over ice cream after Bible study earlier this week it came up with some folks from First Church Somerville -- for most of us, church is basically the only physical contact we have all week. One of my friends literally worries about deciding to go home with a guy for a one-night stand just because the prospect of touch is so appealing.

First Church has grown big enough that I can't peace everyone I know on a given Sunday morning, and I keep being confronted with people I don't know at all, whom I feel obligated to greet and welcome even though part of me wants to weave past them to hug more of my friends.

The peril of built-in community, of course, is that it's not a community you built yourself, and so it may contain members you wouldn't have chosen for yourself.

There are people at First Church Somerville who when I first met them, I didn't like them all that much. Some of them I still don't like that much, but most of them have grown on me. Being in community forces me to live into Kindom reality -- even when I resist it.

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