Church today was an incredibly and somewhat surprisingly uplifting experience. Our Tween/Teen group did the service. Four voices and an original percussion piece performed by the 6th grade composer and his 3rd grade sister. Two of the voices belonged to my eldest and middlest daughters. The sermon was titled “Could a UU ever become president” (selected long before, I should add, Senator Obama’s ability to be president was challenged by years-old sermons by his minister).
I’m swelling with parental pride right now. I should let them own their own pride, but right now I’m just so overwhelmed by who these children are and how they choose to be in it, I’m excited about what the future holds for all of us.
This was their first experience with original content from the pulpit. They have been up there before to deliver words others have written, but never to deliver their own thoughts. They were led by their 18-year-old mentor/teacher, who managed to pull a pretty good worship experience together. I won’t describe what they said, just that they did it and they did it well. As I told someone over coffee and cookies later, I am most impressed that they expressed an interest in leading a worship service, managed their time (mostly) wisely, and followed through with very good results. I don’t get to experience that (follow-through) often with my daughters … projects get conceived and then dropped so much around this house … that this, itself, was spiritually moving for me.
While they were getting their things together in the hour before the worship service, I sat around a table with our adult forum group. The VP of the Board was leading a discussion revolving around the new UUA video and he asked people to say how they found out about our church and then why they chose to stay. Lately, we have had a great number of people start attending our church regularly and have even had some join. There’s an energy around the church that is palpable, though I can’t say exactly from where it is coming. Three of the people who spoke and at length were relative newcomers and all self-identified as Pagans. Their introduction to the church was through our local Pagan group and they each spoke about how great it was that we were a church that didn’t seem like one. One person even intimated that we shouldn’t call ourselves “religious” but “spiritual” in order to attract people. Others talked about how great it is that we aren’t Christian and that the word ‘church’ evokes too much of the Christian tradition.
I started to twitch, thinking of all the things I’d like to say. The woman next to me started to twitch, too.
I let them speak, and I did address some of the things I thought shouldn’t be left out there hanging as if they were absolutely true. Other old-timers did, too. It bothered me that people still come to our church thinking that we are “not that” rather than that we are Unitarian Universalist. But the truth is, that’s how I came in, and it was years down the pike before I came to see that the church wasn’t placed there solely to allow me to figure out what is right and true; that there is a framework and a history that comes from being a religious body that is good, time-tested, and true; that what I wanted was not to know that I was right, but that I had a brain, a heart, and a spirit that was willing to be tested by being in community with people who were ALSO right.
Then my daughters did their sermon and it hit on these very same concepts of what it is to be UU, what it is to be “other” in a Christian mainstream, how that “otherness” works both against and for their connections in the outside world.
And then we drove home and a Bonnie Raitt song caught my ear. I don’t have the CD case in front of me or I’d tell you the name of the song, but it is a song about a woman who loves someone who doesn’t love her back. She knows she’s not going to be around him (or her) much longer, but she’s taking this last night to pretend that she is loved. The song got me thinking about yet another conversation I want to have with my daughters some day, about how–in my experience–it is easier to be alone than to be with the wrong person. This got me thinking about church. (go ahead. think on that for a minute. I’ll wait.) Okay, so it got me thinking about people who stay in relationships because they would rather be with someone who is wrong or bad for them than to be all alone. It takes faith to be alone–faith that the person you are looking for will, eventually show up (not to mention faith that you will recognize them when they do). It takes faith to not be in relationship just because everyone else is. And this place of alone-ness is also a place of deep integrity. You aren’t stringing yourself along or telling yourself half-truths to get through the day. You are just there, being alone and either loving it or hating it, but you aren’t wrapping yourself up in anyone else’s life.
How is this like church, you ask? It takes great strength, courage, and integrity to leave a place of worship that is not healthy for you–even moreso to step into a relationship with a new church, with your own expectations of who you are, what the church is, and how the two of you will be together.
These new people coming to our church and describing their love for us in terms of what we are not, are still in the early stages of infatuation, I realized as I sat at the drive-through of Burger King on the way home from church. They don’t know the whole of us, yet. They’ve seen the initial attractive spark and have cast onto that spark what they want us to be, as a community, as a partner for their spiritual well-being. And guess what? That’s okay. I just have to remember that rather than twitching in lathered irritation; and then I need to form my responses from that place of knowing who “we” are, but also of knowing that these people will ultimately alter who we are and how we are together. That’s their job. Just as it was mine, nine years ago. And, just as I had gentle mentors who urged me into a place of seeing that I might need a little alteration, myself, perhaps there will be a time and a place to suggest this to these people who are new to our congregation, to our faith.
This is a jumbled up mess of thinkin’ for a time when I’d do better to nap. But it was one of those days when all of the pieces seemed, at first, to be disjointed, and then, in a flash of semi-brilliance, seemed to sparkle as one entity with a Bonnie Raitt soundtrack. In the telling of it, though, perhaps the nap would have been a wiser move.