Friday, April 11, 2008

Ok, let's talk...

It's pretty funny that I go from blogging about shoes (down below) to a topic that is very deep and causes a lot of pain for a lot of people because of their belief system and their culture or how they grew up. I love to talk and think about these things. In fact in college these were my favorite classes. I feel like these issues are the hub of the wheel of my life and if they are settled within me then the everything else in my life will align and make sense as well. I don't understand when people don't want to confront these issues and deal with their spirituality.

(get ready...this is long)

Ok here's my deal...I became a Christian when I was 18 years old. I just had this itch inside of me that I had to know "why am I here on this earth", "is there a God", "do I have a purpose" etc, etc...those are spiritual questions that the whole of humanity has had for a long time. And that is where religions are born. Because people want to answer these questions. For me Christianity answered these questions because that is the faith that "caught me" at the opportune time of my questioning. And something inside of me woke up (hence why Christians say they are "born again") and I felt alive in a way that I never had before. I saw things clearer and had a greater sense of purpose and felt close to my Creator. Then I went to Bible college and pursued an education in "Praise & Worship" but while there I became very disenchanted with Christians and "the church". I felt beat down and torn apart and preached at and instead of being built up I felt torn down and suddenly made to feel "not good enough". Whether that was the intent or not it produced in me a pain beyond description that later when I left was hard to communicate to other believers. My husband and I became worship leaders at a small church in Greenville, OH and suffered a great deal there as well. The pastor was mishandling the church funds, mistreating his members and trying to get his small services on the local television stations (which never made sense to me). I saw nothing but greed for making himself known as a big ministry and making a name for himself as a mega church. Disgusting! To say the least. So then my husband and I stopped going there and attended a healthier church for a time before moving back to PA to start a College age ministry in Allentown for a large congregation with a pastor that I trusted and loved dearly. The ministry seemed to do well at first. We started meeting in each other's homes and Ryan and I played our guitars and we sang worship songs and prayed for one another. We ate together. We shared stories and laughed and became very close. So close that others saw this and wanted to be a part of it as well. We transitioned into an artsy theatre type setting where we made a very warm setting so people could come in and have a cup of coffee, look at artwork in a gallery, and listen to live music or play pool. It was great. Until it didn't produce the results that the lead pastor of the church wanted. They had spent a lot of money on us to help us do this. But when it failed to bring in the money they thought it might it ended and we had to close down the shop and move back to the main sanctuary which did not have the same intimate appeal and many stopped attending. There was a huge disconnect. I was in school in the evenings for graphic design at the time so my involvement had diminished anyway but I saw the pain that it caused many. After this time my husband and I had suffered marriage problems and saught counsel from the church. The pastor told us to go to counseling even though we couldn't afford it b/c he cared about us and it would be taken care of. Well after a few sessions we got a letter in the mail that the counseling would not in fact be totally paid for and now only partially paid for. So we thought oh well that's still nice of them. We'll try to make it work. Then at one of those dwindling college age meetings (it was being phased out) the leader at the time told us that the Pastor and his wife were hurt by us and they felt like our commitment to the church was not where it should be. I was shocked at this statement. First of all, I wanted to know why the Pastor hadn't called me and said this to me directly as opposed to having this other person tell me. And second of all our commitment to the church hadn't diminished...we were having problems in our marriage and with the phasing out of something that was precious to us...the college age ministry. We put our heart and soul into it and it was being taken away. So then we had a meeting with the head pastors and it got ugly quickly. Not on my part but the pastor yelled at me and showed a lot of anger toward me. But his real anger is directed toward the people that had left his church prior that he had never dealt with. "hurt people HURT people" as the old saying goes. I saw that happening right there before my eyes. In that moment after he yelled at me and stormed out of the office I literally had a panic attack. This was a man that I deeply trusted and respected (maybe a little too much) and here he was showing me his anger and it was directed toward me. It hurt. So after that Ryan and I stopped going there and just took a break from church. We did find a church that seems like a soft place to land but still it feels better right now to just take a break from church because it has been such a source of pain for us. It's very hard to be misunderstood - it hurts deeply.
Part 2
A little while ago I started reading Eckhart Tolle's book "A New Earth" and the book has resonated with me on a very deep level of spirituality. But I am having an issue with one thing. He says that it is the ego to say that what you believe is the only way for all of humanity to believe. He says that our ego needs to place judgement and labels on things so that it has something to identify with and something to seperate "us" and "them". Something inside of me says "hmmmm" because all the pastors that I have ever experienced just seemed so "egotistical" to me. And I'm rethinking where the bible came from. Was it just another book? Or is it truly the unadulterated "word of god"? I'm kind of appalled that I'm even thinking this way. Because I've identified myself with Christianity for most of my adult life and it scares me to death to think about eternity if I'm wrong. How can anyone know for sure that people didn't misinterpret Jesus. I mean we don't have any writings of Jesus Christ. Man, I wish we did. I wish there was a book that was written by Jesus himself. Christians would say duh, that's the bible and that he is the bible...the word made flesh...John 1:1. But really how do you know? It's all faith to begin with. I'm struggling a little with what I believe and looking deeper. When I started to read Eckhart's book I kind of knew already what Christians would say b/c I am one...but I'm looking deeper. If anyone has any comments on this I'd like to hear.

One last thing...something big is happening in our culture at the moment...Oprah's book club around the world on spiritual matters...and last night on American Idol they sang "Shout to the Lord" which was originally written by worship leader, Darlene Czech of Hillsong Church in Australia

Here is American Idol performing it:

And here is Darlene Czech's version:

Sorry this was a long post but I have been in thought about this for a few weeks now. I'm not done. It's only just begun.


alisonconklin said...

great post nici. i love how open you are. and can i dare to say that i missed idol on wednesday... i had no idea that they sang a praise song. wowowy wow. hugs to you.

Lanii Be Good said...

Well we are planning to talk on the phone so I won't make a huge comment. What I will say is this - I went through many very similar situations and am in one right now. The thing that has always got me through is to remember that GOD is not PEOPLE and PEOPLE are not GOD. People will do a lot of messed up selfish things and when they are acting that way they are not acting according to what God would have them do. They are, in fact, being anti-Christ. And we all have those moments/thoughts/actions. So it's unfair to yourself and to God to judge Him (His existence, His Word, His validity) on the faults, missteps and failings of human beings. We each have our own struggles or 'crosses to bear' and, as the disciple Paul said in one of my favorite verses (because I identify so much with it):
Romans 7
15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

We are in a constant battle with our 'sin nature' or 'flesh' - every second of every day. And, for many factors, we have moments of weakness (which can be a literal minute or years) where we give in to those sin patterns. Thank God for His grace and mercy is all I can say!

I hope that is an encouragement to you. We'll talk about what happened with the college aged group because I think it'd be beneficial for you to know another perspective. I stopped going myself for several reasons and PR spoke to me briefly about shutting it down before he did so.

One last thing - Tolle talks about the 'ego' but humanism, which is what he espouses, IS ego. It's all about centering yourSELF, finding peace for YOURSELF. Just by sitting down to read a book to find enlightenment is feeding the ego - it has nothing to do with making the world a better place or with any one else but bettering yourself. And there's nothing wrong with that necessarily. What happens is that if the focus is the ego (and I mean it in terms of 'the self' and not necessarily in a Freudian way) - or getting rid of it which then brings us back to focusing on it - then, and I know this will sound completely counter and ironic, you actually cannot achieve enlightenment because you never get outside of yourself when everything you do is FOR yourself. I mean, what kind of enlightenment are we talking about here? What does that even mean? In a Buddhist/Nirvana sense?? In an educational sense? I mean, this is the problem with these kinds of things - using terms that anyone only vaguely understands but that kind of sound right or cool.

Anyway, I've gone on longer than planned. Just saying you can package that in any words you want and make it seem revolutionary but it's the age old problem. Lucifer got cast out of Heaven for it and Eve ate the fruit long before Tolle was ever born.

Michelle said...

Quite a post my new friend! It's always nice to hear someone else asking the bigger questions in life... Perhaps you're open enough to be schooled by the great Mr. Joseph Campbell. I highly recommend renting his comprehensive DVD MYTHOS I It made sense of it all for me...I'm now on a path towards following my bliss!

Desiree said...

I know we don't really know each other, but I felt like I should comment on this. Wow, this post really hits home to my husband and I. I don't want to write too too much in a comment. I grew up in a Christian home and I understand about being "disenchanted with Christians and the Church". My husband Justin and I have not attended a church in over 7 years because of all the bull crap. We are looking for something, but have been so spoiled by watching Pastor Marc Driscoll's podcast (he's in Seattle) so it's tough finding anything comparable. Have you heard of him? We've actually considered moving to Seattle because their church is what I think all churches should be. I don't know I could go on and on about all this. thanks for sharing.

Justin said...

First of all I'm Justin. My wife, Desiree, and I are currently working on a blog. She knows of you and your blog through Abby.

I'm originally from Vermilion, OH, and moved to Whitehall with Desiree (she moved to Ohio for me) in 2005 and we now reside in Lancaster County (where she's originally from).

You and I share a lot of similar stories about the religious church, being in leadership and the whole deal. I grew up and was scared into being saved at a Pentecostal church (bleh). My teen years were a roll-coaster with Jesus and then when I was about 20 (now 27) I realized that is wasn't about religion (doing the right things necessarily) but that it was about Jesus.

This is going to be real because I expect the same from other Christians ...

I know this for sure, religion is evil; forget it. All the religious ideals you were taught, forget them too. Christianity is about working out your personal relationship with Jesus; it's about pursuing his words in the New Testament so that he change your heart. If you believe that Jesus is who he says he is and you follow the above then you are elect, or saved if you will. That is the core.

It sounds to me like you're wondering if Christianity is real. My question would be are you working out your own salvation or are you questioning whether salvation needs to exist in the first place? In either case I write to encourage you. I've been there and I revisit often but at the end of the day the fact that I've even doubted shows my love for Jesus; it shows your pursuit.

If you're interested in real Christians please check out Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA on iTunes or at their site. I promise that you will be changed by what they have to say.

Also, if you're struggling with your faith I would suggest the books of Paul. He was a serial killer, literally, before Jesus challenged him and he turned his life around. If anyone knows what we're going through it is that man.

Desiree really enjoys your blog. Thank you for all that you post on here!

Anonymous said...

Moving post as I told you Friday. This is touching, to most anyone that has had struggles in their walk with god. I loved this post.

ALSN said...

Hey D - loved your post...I am not a church goer. I was brought up catholic but have serious issues with them. I am more into eastern religions. Anyway Ant and I were married by a minister from a Unitarian church (the link is below) seemed like a very interesting place so I thought I would pass along the link to you.

ALSN said...

Hey D - loved your post...I am not a church goer but I was brought up catholic but have serious issues with them. I am more into eastern religions. Anyway Ant and I were married by a minister from a Unitarian church (the link is below) seemed like a very interesting place so I thought I would pass along the link to you.