Today, I made it to church. Unlike so many times in the last quarter—as I think of it, I don’t think I’d attended worship services at all in my home church in 2004—I not only taught Sunday school but attended worship. Yeah, it’s pretty ludicrous to be at church on a Sunday morning and not go to worship services.
As I walked across the parking lot from the Disciple Center to the main church building, I began to ponder on this some, wondering where I de-railed. This is a question with a two-part answer. One part of the answer goes back to 2001, when Mom had just had her stroke and I spent many a weekend in that fall in Tennessee. Sunday mornings were often spent at the hospital, and then I’d come back that afternoon because I’d need to be there for UMYF that night. That, or I would have school stuff that took precedence over more time with Mom and time at church.
At that point, I started to strip my church experience down to my service, which I felt compelled to do, and worship, which I didn’t feel compelled to do. That’s silly; corporate worship is pretty clearly laid out as a solid part of the faith in the Bible, and it’s not as if the UMC chooses not to affirm it.
Anyhow, I guess that’s where I got into the habit of not going, or at least not seeing it as a big thing. Before, if school had me too busy or something and I’d miss, I’d get a phone call from church. Yeah, they actually check the attendance at Aldersgate, and if you miss a bunch, they call—not as a guilt trip, but to find out if something’s wrong. Has your job changed? Are you sick? Is someone in your family sick? Have you just fallen away? Wesleyan theology discounts the Calvinist notion of perseverance of the saints, so we do try to help each other muddle through. Presence is important.
As for where else I’ve gotten away from church, I guess the hockey trips I took last season got me out of the habit as well. Sunday was often our travel day, leaving as we would on Saturday night after the game to start traveling home. I often made it to youth on Sunday night, but I routinely missed morning worship.
Some small part of me wants to toss this at the feet of the church and ask, “Why have you not called to ask about me?” That silly part of me is working under the false pretense that this is their job or obligation, which is wrong. It’s their choice as well as a vocational ministry. To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re doing that anymore; perhaps I’m off the list because it was understood that my schedule was kinda wacky.
Either way, somewhere in the midst of all that, I got the silly-ass notion in my head that equated corporate worship with practicing a musical instrument. Where that came into the picture, I don’t know … but it did. :shrug: I really began to see it as some wacky obligation that wasn’t necessary to being a good Christian or a good person. Did I need to be there?
I think this was slightly compounded by the fact that the chancel choir really wants me to be a part of their number; they want me to be an active part of their part of worship because I have God-given talent. Okay, I guess … but what if I just want to absorb it all for a while? Rather than confront the situation, I guess I ducked it.
If I wasn’t in our traditional worship services, our contemporary service would still want me there, serving my butt off. Video, audio, greeting, maybe some occasional vocals … something. The ego appreciated the offering, but … just not sure it was for me.
It was quite interesting to go over to church today; one of my co-workers, Dave, was greeting churchgoers at the door, along with his wife. Funny how I can’t ever seem to get away from work?
So I found myself in a pew today with Lynn. Lynn’s probably in her late 50’s; she had her granddaughters with her today. Lynn’s husband “doesn’t do church”, best as I know, so I often get paired up with her for the things I do at church [including service of communion]. Lynn’s also a tenor, and in the times I’ve been a tenor in the chancel choir, I’ve sat next to her frequently. It was good to have a familiar face in the pew next to me today, one who didn’t judge with a look.
After the children went forward and then off to children’s church, Lynn left the pew, donned a choir robe, and went up to the choir. That left me alone … on the front pew … to the preacher’s right side. I hadn’t felt exposed and alone like that in a while.
It didn’t help that Larry spent about 20% of his time looking dead at me as he preached.
But I need to be exposed.
We all need exposition; we all need to know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Only with that humbling knowledge can we honestly and forthrightly accept the free grace that was purchased with the death of Christ, the resurrection of whom we celebrate on this, an Easter Sunday.
As I sat there, I realized that I’d turned into a Christmas-and-Easter Christian. The last time I’d been to a worship service was at my parents’ church before Christmas.
That simply exposed me to myself—a fraud. This nice sheen of having it all together … crushed under the weight of the truth of how far I’d slipped.
Thankfully, I’d been willing to admit that much in a prayer request slip—folded, so that only the ordained ministers will see it—that I’m struggling right now and need their support in prayer. What comes of that, I’m unsure.
But we must be broken to be made new, and I’m unconvinced that our breaking is a single event. I think it’s far more of a process–which doesn’t make me a process theologian, but does make me a pragmatist. I’m being broken here again, and this breaking is largely my own [un]doing.
You’re makin’ a mess
Somethin’ I can’t fix
This time you’re on your own
I’d make it alright
But I wouldn’t get it right
I’m leavin’ it alone
For cryin’ outloud
You’re cryin’ out
You’re makin’ a mess
Is that what you do best?
Is madness just a hand-me-down?
It’s anyone’s guess
But I must confess
The performance isn’t that profound
I’m waiting for the end
Waiting to begin again
You’re makin’ a mess
Somethin’ you can’t hide
A slow suicide
Just one bite at a time
I should love you less
But I can’t I guess
Only God can save us now
—Over the Rhine‘s “B.P.D” from Ohio
Listening to Karin sing the opening song on Ohio, it’s as if she’s singing directly to me. I’d dearly love OtR at any time in my life, but right now, it’s hitting at a great time, smacking me sonically.
I’m feeling more positive right now than I have in weeks. I can’t really pinpoint when I started being frustrated and, well, depressed about everything. The conscious mind wants to point to my grandfather’s death, but I know full well that it was before that.
I don’t know how much that matters; I seem to have figured most of the root cause, and I’ve made small steps towards ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. The temptation is to think that, in admitting it, I’ve licked it … I got a bit euphoric yesterday simply from feeling freed by having said something. I don’t want to confuse euphoria with joy, or even joy with happiness. This isn’t something to be fixed with a couple emails, a couple handwritten prayer requests, and a couple long, drawn-out ramblings on the ol’ site. Far from it.
But these are all a start … a foundation, and a reminder.
Lastly, I was reminded of the joy of singing and serving at the end of our service. The choir performed Handel’s Messiah for the Easter season, and they rightly sang the “Hallelujah Chorus” as a benediction today. In a bit of a switch, they offered to have congregation members join the choir if they felt led. For whatever reason—pride? belonging? vocation?—I went up and joined the choir. I’ve sung the Chorus a number of times, and I scarcely need the sheet music at this point. I can sing either the bass or the tenor line, and frankly, I wanted to sing both. I forced myself to settle down and sing the bass part, where I foibled only once. [I’d probably have more issues with the tenor part, mainly for its range.]
But the text had greater and richer meaning today.
He shall reign forever and ever … and that includes my life, which certainly hasn’t been lorded by the Lord of late.
Of that, I repent.
[Again, this entry was originally published as a pass-protected entry. My apologies for not publishing it openly when written; at present, I’m still worried that shouting this from the mountaintops would be counterproductive. You might be mad with me, and you probably have reason. I ask your forgiveness.]