Sunday, July 08, 2007

Relief, Jealousy, Wistfulness

I spent more time with Christians this weekend than I have in months. And it stirred a lot of feelings that I am still processing.

Saturday night, I went to a housewarming party where the bulk of the guests were friends of the hosts through church or Christian NGOs. Such friendly, nice couples…most with that fresh-scrubbed, yuppie look about them.

As the evening wore on, one guy started to set off a few of my alarm bells. He and his wife live in an ‘intentional community’ with eight other people. (Which I actually admire.)

Still, he was just a little “off”… almost like he wasn’t tracking the conversation: he somehow found ways to relate everything the group talked about back to faith and religion. He was a milder version of the "Praise Jesus" Dave I wrote about a few weeks ago: someone for whom the touchstone at every moment in time is Jesus or God regardless of what everybody else is thinking or talking about.

One woman there was clearly not religious… at one point, this guy took it upon himself to ask what her “religious heritage” was. I could almost feel him gearing up for an evangelistic moment, though thankfully he didn’t take it any further (I admit, I could have been projecting). Later, there was an awkward silence when he excitedly described how the Hebrew letters of YAHWEH, when printed backwards and vertically, resemble a human figure. (And the relevance of this is... ?) He also injected a few “religion and politics jokes” which went over like a lead balloon – to the point that I started feeling bad for him. Mostly, though, I felt a cascade of relief at no longer being around such earnest, self-serious evangelists.

So that was last night.

Today, I went to a goodbye BBQ for a couple who started the Christian non-profit I had once been involved with. I hadn’t seen them for almost a year, and I hadn’t seen many of the other leaders in the group for months. I was a little anxious about how I would answer the inevitable “What's new with you?” question, for two reasons. One, I didn’t really want to discuss my growing doubts about my faith at someone else’s party – the day was not about me. Two, I didn’t really want to discuss my growing doubts with people who are positively on fire for God – it would invite too much scrutiny, questions, pity, and/or prayers.

So when the question did come, I answered generically and deflected conversation back to the asker ASAP. “I’m doing well…work is good…I’ve been doing a lot of rock climbing lately. Oh, yep, bought a car last month. And how are you?” I felt bad being something less than totally open – after all, I had been very open with these folks a year or two ago when the organization was just getting started. But I just couldn’t go there.

Yet, at a deeper level, I knew I was giving a really flat answer. The people at the BBQ had that infectious love that my faith had once given me but I no longer have, as well as that deliciously certain sense of mission and purpose in the world…something else I no longer have. I felt a weird pressure to prove that I'm doing just as well as anybody there - that I need to justify my choices, questions, and decisions to move away from faith. That felt crummy.

I also started to feel jealous – how come these guys still have their faith and optimism that God is acting in the world? What is God doing for them that he didn’t for me? What daily evidence are they seeing that God exists, that he cares, that he’s as invested in his relationship with them as they are with him?

My thoughts then turned in another direction: I don't want to go back into that milieu, exactly. Among other things, my beliefs are so broken right now, I’m not sure it would be possible.

But I started to wonder what other communities in this world so unite people in purpose and love to serve others the way churches do? That is the seduction of the faith that still remains with me. There is something about the bond that forms between Christians who join a service project or who plant a new church. It goes beyond the activity they have in common: it’s an immediate unity – maybe an assumed unity – of thinking, belief, vocabulary, practices, world view. It's comforting, provides a sense of belonging, and imbues the activity in question with a sense of purpose that I know can exist among agnostics and atheists, but haven't yet experienced myself.

So while I don't miss God, I do miss that. And don't quite know what to do about it.

11 comments:

Beth said...

That is one of the things that makes the atheist row a tough one to hoe. There just isn't any community on a local basis for many of us (although some big metros do have atheist groups). And I think that even if you did connect with one, it's unlikely that they do that warm fuzzy huggy love thing that theists do.

I still hang out with my former church occasionally (not Christian BTW). But it has also lost its charm since I can't really relate to them either.

As you probably are well aware, however, you can't make yourself believe in something. It just ain't possible.

I'd like to see something for those of us who understand that to be human is to be a "spiritual" being (in a non-mystical sense) whose needs include community, dance, music, beauty and love.

Slapdash said...

Hi Beth. The whole thing feels sad in so many ways - not only am I losing this bedrock faith that sustained me for so long, but I'm losing community and people within that community that I can no longer relate to, or vice versa. Plus the warm fuzzy huggy love thing. :(

That's almost enough for me to keep one foot in the door, either faking my way through or just keeping quiet about what I really believe.

Or maybe I should check out the Unitarians? I hear pretty much anything goes with that crowd. :)

Zecryphon said...

One thing you painfully learn about your church friends is, that they're just that, your church friends. Once you stop going to church for an extended period of time or altogether, you rarely hear from them and you never see them and when you do, it's awkward. And these are the same people who told you that through thick and thin they would be there for you. People in the church subculture really need to back up their words with actions in this area and other areas as well. I have experienced this as well when I quit my last church which was non-denom for the Lutheran church I now attend. Not even so much as an email of a phone call, and they have at least three different phone numbers for me and they have two different email addys for me. They just don't care, no matter what they say. If you're not with them, you're not with them. It does suck and it leaves you scratching your head, thinking you did something wrong. It's not you, it's them. That's their culture.

Jeff Greathouse said...

thanks for your words

exapologist said...

My wife still believes, as well as a number of my good friends, but we remain close. We know where each other stand on religious matters, but we just agree to disagree.

Zeke said...

It's not you, it's them. That's their culture.

You could have been writing my own story, Zec. I wonder how much of that is just human nature and how much is peculiar to the evangelical culture.

Heather said...

**how come these guys still have their faith and optimism that God is acting in the world? What is God doing for them that he didn’t for me? What daily evidence are they seeing that God exists, that he cares, that he’s as invested in his relationship with them as they are with him?**

I think the only way this question can have weight, though, is if they are in the same place that you are currently in -- or have been at one point. After all, your doubts seem to have been growing for a while, and before admitting them, you seemed to be able to explain the doubts away, and still be where your friends are now.

Zecryphon said...

Zeke: "You could have been writing my own story, Zec. I wonder how much of that is just human nature and how much is peculiar to the evangelical culture."

I never noticed that particular trait in church people until Steve @ SCP clued me into it. I have certainly noticed it since I left my last non-denom church. Now that I'm a Lutheran, it's different. If I miss two weeks or more I have people calling to see if I'm okay, and if they haven't heard from me in a month, they'll come to my house to check on me. That's one of the biggest differences I've seen. These new church people back up their caring words with caring actions. I can't say the same for the people of the evangelical churches.

My name is April. said...

Hi Slapdash, I just stumbled across your blog through Stupid Church People. Haha, that sounds funny. Anyways, have you ever heard of L'Abri Fellowship? You can check it out at www.labri.org
I spent a year there, I lived at the Swiss branch. I was only supposed to stay for 3 months but I was so so so in need of a sheltering place that had real true community.
I know nothing about you besides what I've read in a few of your blog posts but I feel like I have found a new friend! I'm so proud of your frustrations because they are human and they remind us who we are.
Check out the L'Abri website and please feel free to email me. I'd love to chat with you...just about anything. It's hard to find people who understand those same angry frustrations. My email is april.cardinal@gmail.com.
Take care okay? I'll be reading...

Slapdash said...

***One thing you painfully learn about your church friends is, that they're just that, your church friends. Once you stop going to church for an extended period of time or altogether, you rarely hear from them and you never see them and when you do, it's awkward.*** (Zec)

Indeed. One woman at the BBQ, who I had been in a Bible study with and who I hadn't seen or really talked to in months, made a point the next day to IM me and ask how I'm doing, how good it was to see me, etc. It was such a strange exchange, in that I had always felt that our friendship was a little forced, and so for her to reach out after seeing me at the BBQ made me immediately think that I'm on her list as a "project" of some kind now. I don't know that that's fair, at all, but it is clear that our primary bond was through Bible study and this little non-profit entity...not primarily that we just like each other as people.

Slapdash said...

Hi April, thanks for stopping by. I have heard of l'Abri; one of my friends spent a summer there some years ago. He's among my more liberal Christian friends and was really supportive when I decided to stop going to church. Anyway, welcome. :)