I have so much on my mind today. I have three different posts that I've been trying to work on since this morning. This is just one of them. While looking up information about one of them, I came across a very interesting blog called Memoirs of an Ex-Christian. It's a very thought-provoking blog. I've been going through what some would call a crisis of faith and some of Kevin's feelings remind me of my own even though I don't know if he'd see much of a similarity between them.
I have been trying to process some rather negative experiences I've had recently at the congregation that The German, VanGoghGirl, and I associate with most often. It's a small group that has only been here for a few years. It wasn't until shortly after Hurricane Katrina/Rita that it went from meeting in some one's home to having weekly services in the recreation room of a local church. I don't think they've ever even had 50 people at one of their services despite the fact that they have a bus that goes around the city and picks up anyone who wants to come but doesn't have or can't afford transportation. I'm okay with that though. It makes it a lot easier to get to know everyone in a way that you just can't do at the "mega-churches".
The guy who pastors the group is from out of town and he worked with The German. He's from "out west". Of course, as far as most folks down here are concerned, he might as well be from The Czech Republic. All that matters is that he isn't from the south. Oh yeah, he's also white--very white--with a very white family.
I liked them a lot. I started going to their little "prayer meetings" after the pastor asked the The German if it would be alright if his church prayed for me (The German had just given a little presentation during the United Way drive regarding how our family has benefited from programs that receive funds from the organization). I thought that it was awfully nice of this guy, who didn't even know me, to offer to pray for me while I was going through a really rough patch with my health. He also invited The German to check out their congregation one day.
One evening, I was feeling rather stressed out and I wanted a little spiritual encouragement. I didn't have a church or anything that I belonged to at the time and it happened to be the same day of the week as this pastor's church met at his house, so I decided to see what they had going on over there
It was nice. It was a group of about ten people. They alternated between praying about different topics and singing contemporary Christian songs (think: "God of Wonders") while the pastor played the guitar. Afterwards, everyone hung out together and ate snacks. I had a good time. They made me feel really welcome.
I started going somewhat regularly. After a while, I let VanGoghGirl come with me because the pastor had a daughter and son close to her age and I thought she might enjoy meeting them. The kids played together while the adults prayed so I wasn't too worried about her having to deal with any hardcore indoctrination. Don't get me wrong. I do want her to learn about my beliefs; I just don't want her to feel like she has to dedicate her life to a particular religious group just because it works for me.
After the hurricanes, I had a lot of family matters to deal with so I didn't have time to go to their prayer meetings regularly--okay, not at all, actually. However, I did go back about seven or eight months later. By that time, things were totally different. Because of the hurricane devastation, they'd received a big infusion of funds and volunteers to help them engage in some community service clean-ups around the city. They were still having the weekly prayer meetings but now they were also having Sunday services. To be honest, I was a bit wary of attending because my background makes me very paranoid about aligning myself closely to a particular group but, eventually, I went.
The German, VanGoghGirl and I got up on a Sunday morning and dragged ourselves to the sermon. It was really pleasant. Everybody was in their casual clothes. In fact, we were the most dressed up folks in attendance. Even the pastor was wearing shorts. They brought out the guitar, sang a couple of songs, prayed, and the pastor gave a sermon about something or other. Then they sang a few more songs, prayed, and brought out the coffee, bagels, and orange juice for everyone to munch on before going home.
I enjoyed it so much that I decided to keep going. It felt nice to attend some sort of religious service each week. I went to my old congregation three times a week for 25 years of my life. Being a regular church attendee felt really comforting and familiar to me, except this time I didn't have to dress up and pretend to believe everything that was said in order to avoid ostracism.
VanGoghGirl liked it because they had a really fun Sunday school program where they played games and learned a verse from the Bible each week. The church picks up kids from around the city for Sunday school each week so it was a good place for her to meet new kids too. I told her that she didn't have to go if she didn't want to. If she wanted to sleep in on Sundays after waking up before the crack of dawn five days a week for school, I don't think that God would damn her to the pits of hell (actually, she knows I don't believe in any hell but she understood what I meant), but she was really eager to go back every week and that made me feel more enthusiastic about going too.
However, there's trouble in paradise right now and I'm beginning to think that it may be time for me to part ways from this group. I've written enough for now. I guess I'll blog more about it tomorrow.