nb: This post references being part of a faith community, and may not appeal to everyone.
I was glad, when… the day was done, the shoes were off, the bra removed; an itchy mosquito bite was medicated. A sense of relief, a heaved sigh, a sense of rest. Indeed, I was glad. The famous 1902 English hymn by Hubert Parry reflects the words of Psalm 122, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the house of the Lord. Ironically, that’s the “glad” that is hardest to be, and perhaps, by personality, a glad that many of us introverts have never really been. When we were small, we were glad to see many of our friends, despite having seen them exactly twelve hours previously, at school. As teens, we were perhaps glad to be able to go for some retreat weekend or outing (again, not so much this introvert, unless there were places to disappear once we’d arrived). For adults, church is meant to be a gathering of like-minded individuals, but more and more, it is difficult to find, in this society, a group of people who is like-minded about …anything. (The color of the sky is still up for debate.) Where the word “Christian” once meant some basic Christ-ian beliefs, it is now being forcibly stretched to include politicians whose lip-service to even basic decency is dubious, and, far, far on the other end of the spectrum, survivalists whose fervent weapons stockpiling mingles politically influenced ethnocentricism with eschatology.
To be clear, this is not going to be a diatribe on “whatever happened to the good old days of old-time religion, X, Y, and Z” (seeing as the alleged “good” days always include on-the-books legal racism, common sexism and xenophobia which is still not behind us), nor is this about how we suddenly hate church or something or have outgrown God (that will never happen). It will not be taken from Ann Landers, or quoting insufferably smug church signs note that score cards are provided so people can tally the number of hypocrites in attendance. — whatever, we’re all hypocrites and annoying people, and our problem isn’t the faith community in that respect. That’s not the point. The point is the basic, real question: what did the old-school Psalmist have that we don’t? Why was he so glad to go into the house of the Lord – and why aren’t we?
We all know that we’re hyper-shopppers in our society, and always read up on brands and research “content” in order to get the best for our buck, or for our attention-value. We realize you don’t treat church that way, it’s not a TV channel you change, it’s a community. But, especially for those of us who are introverted or independent, it’s often hard to relax into the rhythm of a community which values external focuses on service and discipleship. Service and proselytizing have their place – especially service – but the problem seems to be the proselytizing, especially. It creates communities focused on “y’all come join us!” and mostly ignore issues of practical application of meaning when the “y’all” has come and joined. It also ignores the struggles of identity for the “y’all,” seeing the singular individual and various diversities as less important than the whole identifiable denominational body, and for those who have been part of the “y’all” for years, and are struggling with identity, there seems to be no thought given at all.
The struggle, as they say, is real. The pollution of politics, for many, is largely responsible for feelings of uneasiness and disconnection. For some, it was problematic from-the-pulpit politics within the last election cycle; for others, little to no acknowledgement by religious groups, whose baseline ethos is meant to be love, of racial and ethic communities being hated, being hurt both systematically, legally, and physically, and the LGBTQ community being outright ignored, or silenced. We hear from so many friends in all denominations about being at a crossroads with their church attendance and with their faith. Everyone, from our Jehovah’s Witness to our Episcopal to our United Church of Christ friends are trying to find their feet in murky water. While in many ways that’s simply reflecting the time we live in, the reality is that it is really hard, and painful.
For ourselves, we’ve decided to start simply in answering our questions, and trying to turn our focus to what has made us glad – truly glad – to be part of our faith communities in the past. Sometimes we realize that we default to the thing which brings the least amount of annoyance… and that’s not really living. What makes us glad? For us, it’s always been music, and we’ve been exploring strategies for incorporating that more into our lives throughout the new year.
What is it for you? What gives you joy? What has made you glad? We wish you a rediscovery of that gladness as you launch into a new year.