The Church of Me

The other day, I went wandering through an old graveyard with my husband. Maybe I’m weird, but I love reading the tombstones and trying to grasp some of the story behind the dates and names.

This graveyard is on top of a hill and you can see the city where we live in the distance, it’s beautiful. There are people buried there that were born in the 1700’s, there are people buried there that were born in another country. There are some years where it seems like there must have been a flu epidemic or something, for that many people to be buried in one month.

And there are the graves of children.

The tombstone of a child never fails to move me. It’s almost as if the grief of the parents is still hovering around the grave. Most of the time, the parents are later buried next to the child they lost. Sometimes those parents lost their only child, sometimes they lost more than one, sometimes they lost every child. Whether it’s the grave of two small boys aged seven and nine, lost within a few days of each other in a December over 100 years ago, or the grave of several day old babies lost by the same parents year after year, they are all heartbreaking.

I may be afraid of being a christian, but I find myself unwilling to reject the faith completely. I still think that the world has a creator, and despite myself, I want to believe that creator cares about us. I want to see my babies that I’ve lost. I want there to be a reason to love.

The hope for a Resurrection is what keeps me interested in Christianity despite all of my doubts and questions.

I’ve had many people suggest that the solution to my dilemma of kind of wanting Christianity but not really loving the church, is that “Jesus is enough”. That I don’t need to be a part of organized religion, I can just believe in Jesus and be the kind of christian I want to be and refuse to conform to what anyone else says Christianity is.

Kind of like how Ann Rice announced earlier this year on her face book page:

“I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

I can see why this sort of thing is appealing. No guidelines, no having to go to church, no people judging whether or not you are trying hard enough to fit in to their particular denomination/group, no more having to sing praise songs that make no sense, and no more overhearing Sunday school lessons taught to your children on the wrath of God. You could personify the christian you felt Christ really called us to be. You could teach your children who you understand God to be without the interference of well-meaning but clueless people in the Christian community.

The problem is, I’ve already experienced it. I grew up in “The church of my father”. My parents refused to be confined by a church they did not agree with 110%, so they ended up without a church. And in the process they created their own church.

Though my Dad would be appalled to hear me say it, he was pope. And his word was infallible. Only this pope was unelected, and there were no bishops or doctrines to keep him in line. My parents taught me about God in the best way they knew how, but they are not perfect. There was no one else in our life to flag excesses, be there for us, ask questions. God was portrayed to me solely through my parents.

No matter how much I feel that I’ve figured out about God, I would be doing the same thing to my kids if I created “the church of me”. I cannot be God to my kids, I am flawed in so many ways. There has to be something bigger, something outside of the individual. There has to be a community to contribute to my children’s knowledge about God, so that people with strengths in the area’s I have weakness, can help to demonstrate who God is.

There has to be a church.

If I choose to be a christian, I have to be a part of a church.

The church of me is not enough.

  • http://silly-bear.com Sarah @From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell

    I am there too…I know I need a church, but overcoming the trauma, the pain, and doctrinal disagreements can be such a challenge. While I can understand Ann Rice's leaving the church, I can't follow her lead. My church of me would be a failure. Lovely post.

  • bwya

    Great, great post. "The Church of me is not enough." I'm in a Church, one that makes no qualms over its authority and whose authority I do not doubt. And still I have to reject the temptation to live according to the "church of me" in the daily grind. Very insightful and thought provoking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18185954714426587340 Cara Coffey

    Hello Young Mother,

    My name is Cara, and I have read your post here and I understand. I am a Middle Aged Mother, and I have 10 children.

    I have written a book, and it will be published soon. Here is a small portion of a letter I am writing to Christian men across this country which will likely make it into the final book. I would wonder if you can identify with me? Well, perhaps if not you can at least know I am in blog world and can identify a little bit with you.

    Here is the little bit of my book:

    As this book was being readied for publication, Curtis and I had to make a church change. My book was involved in the difficulty, and it was painful to me personally. We could have stayed, but it was made clear to us there were some within our midst who were going to “agree to disagree” due to what is within the pages of this book……

    Generally speaking, Christian men have lost my trust though I have not lost my trust of the work of Jesus Christ in their lives. I know your ministries have helped many people, but they have not spoken to me. There are so many helpful books and so much Christian advice, but none of it reached me in time. God delivered me anyway, and in spite of all of the teaching I’d received over the years. As I said in my introduction I left the Body of Christ in my spirit, and I have not yet returned. More to the point, we will still go to a church so I guess I sit on the fringes. I appeal to you to listen to the whispers of the hurting among you who are such as me. We are what I will call Fringe Christians. I speak for us, few or many we may be. We are men, we are women, and we are children who are waiting in the hope of Jesus Christ. Some of us have spun out of control and become bitter, though. I think some American unbelievers are waiting for The Answer Jesus Christ in their sinful lives also but have seen too little of His Love to even come on over and sit with me in the fringe society. Will you decide to ignore the fact that we are living amongst you, call us rebellious or overly sensitive and walk off of us, or fail to realize we are struggling to make some sense out of the Body of Christ and discount our existence? Will you hide in the doctrines of Election and assume those standing outside are not able to come in because they were predestined to be banished from your midst? Will you leave us to either walk off or wrestle with your teachings and doctrines and continue to bleed? There are no doctrines which will bind up the brokenhearted save the Doctrine of the Love of Jesus Christ.

    Young Mother, I am so sorry for your situation. I have not read on your blog to know the extent of it. But I read your post here and can see there is definitely hurt, confusion, and difficulty in your journey.

    God never leaves us. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is with us, I can testify to you this. The Church is the Bride of Christ, but there is no denying it is a hard place to travel nowadays. It has been so for the almost 40 years of my Christian walk. I am so sorry, Young Mother. Please I ask, forgive us who are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Much love to you as a sister in Christ,
    Cara

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13240230832660127316 Michelle

    I love reading your posts. And I am glad posted this. I think resisting the temptation to be "The Church of Me" is an everlasting trial for many…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Thanks Sarah, my church of me would be a failure too.

    Cara- Thank you for your thoughts, it's sounds like you've been through so much.

  • http://youngcatholicmom.com Rachel

    personally, I've never desired to create a "church of me". Maybe that's just because my Catholicism is so ingrained, or maybe because I just have a touch of humility and know that I'd be a dismal failure.

    What really touched me about your post though, is the first part. I had a sister who passed 5 years ago. This year on the anniversary of her death, I visited her grave and saw her gravestone for the first time. As creepy as it sounds, my parents names are already on there, even though they are still with us. They'll be buried in the same grave as my sister. And man, at least they have one success story of helping a child get to heaven! I can only hope to be as lucky as them, although I hope that I go before my kids!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04738076740941616678 Rebecca

    "Sunday School lessons taught to your children on the wrath of God" – it was just such a sermon in a Protestant church to adults that helped me to realize one reason why I love the Catholic Church.

    Prayers as you continue to seek a church outside of you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10254315970336710941 CM

    Great post, and great thoughts. It's not always an easy conclusion to come to. After all, no matter what church we belong to, it will be imperfect because there will be humans in it. I can guarantee you my church will never be perfect, because I'm in it! But like you said, at least it's bigger than me, it doesn't depend solely on me or on any other human, even the pope. Because it's bigger than all of us.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09952640799113115478 The Little House That Grew

    Great post and I hope that God, through prayer, can lead you to peace. I had a reconversion of sorts! If you ever want to talk, come to my blog and contact me. God bless….Deo Omnis Gloria!
    Lisa

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06374573594800663980 Kacie

    great post. I love your insight here, and I agree.

  • http://iambelovedofgod.blogspot.com/ Beloved

    I really, really liked this. My parents left the church when I was 16, but I continued to go because of needing the sense of being part of something bigger. One point I'd like to make that might relate to this 'church of me' idea is this – we ARE the church. We keep talking about how 'churches' hurt us. Have we not hurt anyone? People around us might say the same about us. Maybe WE have also been standoffish.. thoughtless.. hurtful.. and driven people away who then blame 'the church.' Just my thoughts..I know it goes deeper than that but I wonder about how many times I see people who are 'hurt by the church', but no one seems to have done any of the hurting themselves ;) I know I have hurt people.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18428179249079709330 katiemama

    I think what you said about children needing community is so true. It's such a wonderful thing to be raised as part of something bigger than yourself, to know that even when you reach an age where you think your family is crazy and how could even be related to them..you still have a wider faith family. I think when it comes down to it, there are no perfect churches.. because there are no perfect people and as the body of Christ we make up the church.

    I am Catholic and although there are things about the faith that I don't always understand, I choose to believe that God makes up for where we lack- not only in our personal lives but in ministry as well. It infuriates me when people place so much blame on clergy for this that and the other..it's like they expect them to be perfect just because they are ordained. They are still people just like us.

    No matter where you choose to go to church, so long as your heart feels like it's home that's all that matters.. praying for you that you find the clarity and peace that you are searching for!

  • http://aerinlissar.blogspot.com Kyra

    One of my favourite writers says that she thinks papal infallibility is no big deal compared with the cloud of personal infallibility most of us walk around in, sure that we have absolute authority and perfect truth.

    She also says that she thinks people who are "spiritual but not religious' generally can't stand other people. At least, they don't trust them not to screw up. It's hard. It's hard that God chooses to work through fallible, sinful people, but I don't think exclusion is the answer. A church where you like and understand all the members wouldn't be a real church, any more than a family that had kicked out all its annoying or difficult members would be a real family.

    Community- which isn't pretty, isn't easy, and is frequently maddening- seems to be the way God works.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Rebecca- It's that type of thing that makes me drawn to the Catholic Church.

    CM- So true, bigger than all of us. I love what a big tent Catholicsm is.

    Lisa- Thanks!

    Beloved- I hear you! In ministry we hear endless reports of how people were hurt, including complaints about my husband and I. It is frustrating. And yet I find myself falling into the same trap sometimes, thinking that if I could stay away from everyone else I would avoid those problems, maybe it's the introvert in me.

    Katie- I feel the same way when clergy are blamed for everything. I am still struggling with who exactly God is, but I think I am finally starting to get the purpose of the church.

    Kyra- I love that quote! So so true. And I know that I am one of the annoying/difficult member's of my extended family right now, and I am still glad that they haven't disowned me!

  • Rebecca in CA

    When I became Catholic I was so relieved to be able to assent to things I could not understand. I was so relieved that Truth was bigger than the small box of my own understanding. The assent we give is not mindless–we have good reasons for assenting to the Faith–but it contains truths that go way beyond our ability to comprehend. I have found too, since entering the Church, that I am able to understand things much better through trusting–whereas before, if something appeared strange or unlikely to me, I would just brush it off, now I trust that it is compatible with reason even if I can't see that right away, and I keep digging, digging, until that light bulb moment occurs. This happened with NFP/contraception; I was trying to explain the Church's position to another Christian, and found that I myself did not understand it well enough to defend it. So I really had to hash through it and face the objections squarely until I really understood the reasons–and I really do understand them now. It is very humbling, and very comforting, that Christ did not leave us to our own devices but gave us the Holy Spirit, in Scripture and Tradition, in the Magisterium, and in each of our hearts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04745636563521355726 Um Abdullah

    Oh dear. I completely understand your dilemma in ways I can't really express. I lived in that chasm for a few years. There was this constant nagging in my soul that "this" is not the way things are supposed to be, the way the church is supposed to be, the way the religion is supposed to be. But I knew my heart needed God, I knew He was there, that He created me, that only He could fill that void, and that I also needed deep communion with His people, but the religion itself was not working, and it hadn't been working for centuries, at least not the way the Bible said it should. So for two years, I struggled in this chasm of needing God but downright knowing Christianity had it all wrong, but that I also could not live a life dedicated to God without loving His people. And then….I started reading about Islam. and bam, whap, I had my answer: yes, there is a loving God who created you and cares about every thing that happens in your day to day life, but who does not exist to serve you and your happiness. He is just and all-powerful and merciful and always forgiving and right there all the time, watching and waiting, closer than your jugular vein. He loved you enough to send Moses and Abraham and Jesus and John the Baptist and Jonas and them all, and no one had to die to appease his wrath. I encourage you to consider the option that maybe, just maybe there is a God who loves you and created you and knows you better than you know yourself, and who gave us a religion (three, really, as we believe Judaism and Christianity were sent from God but corrupted beyond recogniition) that makes absolute perfect sense considering the human condition. I recommend "The Idiots Guide to Understanding Islam". ha ha. I know, it sounds dumb, but it is simple, to the point, accurate and written by a convert.

    I hope I have encouraged rather than offended. Feel free to check out my blog: http://www.kaighla-americanmuslimah.blogspot.com. Peace and blessings be upon you, God-willing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Rebecca- I agree! Breaking out of my own little box has been such a relief. It feels so much safer to trust a church than my own little mental meanderings, or any other individuals!

    Um Abdullah- Thanks for commenting and offering encouragement. I find your perspective very interesting and I'm so glad that you've found peace in your religious descisions. In all my study of Islam, Islam's God sounds very similar to the Reformed Christian understanding of God to me(minus Jesus of course)it would be interesting to learn more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04745636563521355726 Um Abdullah

    Yes, I agree. It is funny how God has taken down a long path leading me here, as the Reformed Christian understanding was my last straw with Christianity. ans p.s, we Muslims love love love Jesus, we just believe he never told people to worship him. Here is a great video on the topic: http://www.thedeenshow.com/videos.php?action=featured&id;=1749. actually, http://www.thedeenshow.com is an amazing website, created by a convert, aimed at educating the greater public on Islam and Muslims. The creator and host of the show, Eddie, is a friend of a friend of mine, a great guy who is so careful to show proper respect to Jesus (peace be upon him) and Christians. He points out often that a person cannot be a Muslim and reject Jesus. That would make them a Jew. ha ha. ;-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12999252628589295943 Hillary

    Young Mom…thanks for adding this to EE's Saturday Evening Blog Post…can't believe I missed it before. {{hugs}}

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11230803204895454672 George @ Convert Journal

    Good article and thoughtful comments too!

    As a Christian I struggle with spiritual issues and my own shortcomings. I don't think I will ever be as close to Jesus as I would like.

    However, as a Catholic, I know that my faith is a commitment to lifelong conversion. I also wander in no desert seeking His true Church. Rebecca has explained it well. There is only one truth and it is not relative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06282235021347524688 The Cult Next Door

    Thank you, thank you for writing about this! It is something I struggle with all the time.
    For me (most of the time) going to church is a horrifying recall of all the evil I experienced in a cult.
    But I really, really do want to grow my faith by joining into a group of believers. I do have a wonderful Bible study on Weds. nights that uplifts and encourages me…yet I still feel so guilty for not attending a Sunday morning service.
    Thanks for voicing your struggle…it helps

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14659411240699818388 rachel

    *hugs*

    This is so honest and hearfelt. I can definitely relate to how you are feeling and I am having the hardest time relating to those who have never gone through a period of searching like this.

    I love graveyards and also am most touched by the children's gravestones. I lost a dear child who I nearly raised a few years ago and there is just nothing like that horror.

    I hope that you will continue to search and I know (the one thing I do know!) is that Christ is near to the broken hearted, that He understands your searching and knows what you need. :)


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