sk8eeyore and i have discussed the purpose of church, specifically church community, a number of times before, and i have long intended to make an entry of my own on the subject. Recent discussion over in wisdomeagle's LJ has been bringing up rage issues for me [discussion is managing to hit all my buttons; i don't actually have rage at Ari], so i'm finally doing this.
First, i'm a selfish person. It's all about what resonates with what i believe in my gut. Yes, challenging yourself and pushing your boundaries is a good and necessary thing and i advocate it very much. But i reserve the right to reject things as wrong (for me) after deliberation. And really, i can pray about things, but what measure do i have for discernment but what i feel in my inner core?
I grew up in an interdenominational Protestant church. What denomination it leaned toward depended on the current minister. I spent very little time actually present and awake for sermons, so to me, UCN meant the people there, the community of people who would be there for you. Attending First Churches in Northampton and Lenten Book Study at Edwards Church, there was the feeling of a community of people who would be there for you and also the hope of people with whom one could actually dialogue -- though really, i've found that churches, like any other community, are composed of people who all believe basically the same thing and assume that if you choose to be a part of them that you believe those same things. I expect this will be a frustration of mine for my entire life.
I so want to nitpick sermons, but it never feels appropriate to approach the minister about that. (I swear i am going to cure myself of that next church community i enter.) And i would much rather read books where i can take notes and cross-reference and discuss with people and so on, rather than show up once a week to listen to a sermon that's difficult to follow half the time anyway. I want to engage with texts, and i want to do it on my own time (and if you say i should set aside time as God's time, not just do anything on my own schedule, i'll counter that i could set aside an hour every day, the same hour even, for engaging with texts of a religious nature and that would be way better than attending church one day a week) and i want to do it my own way. The Bible Study type stuff that comes with a church community is a built-in way to engage with texts and with other people who are engaging with those same texts, so i do validate that as a legitimate point in favor of church community.
Church sometimes gets talked about as being about glorifying and worshiping. This doesn't really work for me. I actually understand God's demand that people worship/glorify El, it just doesn't particularly work for me. Partly because so many hymns and readings are statements i just can't personally get behind. Yes, i am intentional verbiage girl.
My mom has said stuff about how you go to church even when you it doesn't really feel meaningful because then you're in the habit of going when you do need it, and that makes sense to me, but i am so intentional verbiage girl that while i can understand participating in the communal singing and the spirit behind singing and all, reciting a creed i don't believe in runs counter to everything about me.
sk8eeyore mentioned the idea (which might be Jan's, actually) of "approach[ing] communal worship as a holy time set aside to put on this great drama for God's delight, even to show off for God, which after all is what liturgy is, and it isn't very much about us as individuals." I find this an interesting idea, and some high church stuff can be really beautiful, so i guess it makes sense. However, i totally project my distaste for a lot of liturgy and feel like, "But God shouldn't be all happified by that shit."
I guess a lot of my issues about churchgoing as being all about God is that i feel like really serving God is going out and doing things, whether it's a really obvious Habitat for Humanity kind of thing or smaller things or even personal meditation or whatever to improve our own selves so that we will be better people out in the world, and i feel like church is about teaching us and about community, and i get uncomfortable with the idea of worshiping and glorifying God because i think what God really wants from us isn't really a lot of praise but rather that we go out and actually do good in the world.
queenannidala commented that, "I think that what glorifies God the most is a small group of people getting together to worship and contemplate him and his role in their lives," and goes on to note that all to frequently, church today "is a chance for people with like minds to get together and reinforece their beliefs. Their beliefs are never challenged and very often they are narrow minded." I of course quite agree. (And because i'm me, we know that i include "liberal"/"progressive" churches in that. The Left always gets the brunt of my frustration on issues that my peers are frustrated with The Right for.)
Other parts of her comment got me thinking about the exhortation to not pray publically.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:5:8, NIV). Jesus then says, "This, then, is how you should pray," and institutes what has become known as The Lord's Prayer.
No, i don't think this passage says communal worship is necessarily a bad thing. But it reminds us that what is important is what is in the heart. And part of what frustrates me about church is that it feels like everybody's going through the motions, not really thinking about what they're doing or what it means. (See also my issues with saying words i don't mean.)
Jesus also said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am" (Matthew 18:20, NIV). So i can't just do it all on my own. But i don't think i need an institutionalized group. And taking that verse in context, Jesus talks a lot about doing good. The focus is not on gathering together but on being active in the world.
Returning to that first Matthew passage, do i need to make a public declaration of my faith? I don't think so. I understand a public ceremony of officially joining a church community (though stuff like confirmation bothers me because it's expected that everyone will do it at a certain age and thus many people do it without really thinking about it or without really believing what they are claiming and are sometimes even pushed into it despite knowing that they don't believe) and full-immersion adult baptism can be a beautiful and powerful ceremony (and hey, goes back to John the Baptist) so if that's your thing, go for it.
And okay, i have serious issues with a public declaration of faith because it is so difficult for me to settle on anything that i know i believe for sure when it comes to religion, and i don't want to be tied to claims. When my pastor asked me if i wanted to get confirmed, i said no because not only did i not know what i was supposed to believe to be a member of this particular church but i didn't even know what i personally believe. I have a better idea of what i believe now, approximately 6 years later, but not much, and while obviously the journey should be a lifelong process, i need to feel more solid before i make a real commitment to anything.
Infant baptism is one of wisdomeagle's big issues. I think of infant baptism as dedication, as a public commitment to include this child in this larger community. I approve of this. I really like community inclusion and support. And i don't see infant baptism as the parents making the choice for the child anymore than they already have by choosing to raise that child in this particular religion.
ladybeth described dedication ceremonies as "Basically a ceremony of the church reconising the parents promise to help thier child grow up in a Christan home and the responsibility of the church family to help them with this." Leaving aside the spelling mistakes, that seems perfect to me.
Ari brought up the issue of sacrament. Sacrament is a very beautiful word, but it mostly makes me think of Catholicism (which has 7, of which Protestantism kept 2) the fact that i have issues with intermediaries, with the idea that certain people have special power to mediate between the individual and God. What i love most about Protestantism is that it's all about the individual's relationship with God. This brings us back to my "community, what?" beginning.
In other news, i have a cute pair of cross earrings a friend made for me but which i'm unlikely to wear. (Look at me go with my discomfort with professing a faith i'm not sure i have.) I'd like them to go to a good home, though. Any takers?