Thursday, October 2, 2014

Killing My Church Darling

    Within the the never-ending advice to writers, one common phrase is "kill your darlings."  
    That beautiful passage you've written?? That scene you love, love, love so much, even though it doesn't quite fit into the direction your story is taking?
    Kill it. Edit it out. (I have personally spent many an agonizing day on editing issues).
    And man, is it painful. Because, like, my story won't be the same without that golden metaphor right there...AND I LIKE IT THERE!!!

    Now, there's probably many real-life analogies we could make here. One particularly relevant one for me of late has, for better or worse, been church.
    Church had been my darling for a long while. My attendance proof that I was The Good Christian Making Effort to Keep Up With God. Oh heck no, I wasn't walking away from God. Not me.
    Then, last winter, when I started climbing back up after months of severe depression, I realized I was just plain sick of church.
    Not of God or people (okay, not most people), but I was sick of doing What I Was Supposed To Do. I was sick of following a formula that, for me, led to more anxiety and frustration than anything else.
     Simultaneously, I began reexamining my beliefs in general, a reexamination catalyzed by the advice I'd often received: "spending more time with God" would cure cure my depression. Because I now knew this wasn't necessarily true, I began wondering what else might not be true.
    And as welcoming, as nonjudgemental, as lovely as my church in Boston was, I became very angry at Christian Culture in general. I was furious that mentally ill Christians are largely considered "lesser" for their struggles. I was furious at the way many denominations reflect our culture's oppression of women, dressed up in hollow words like "God's design." I was furious at the way many Christians thought abandoning a child would convict gay couples of their sin.
    I'm still furious, to be honest.
    So I killed my darling. Meaning I cut out church out of my life for nearly a full semester. Silently I fretted that I'd slipped away from God and was sliding down a path of eternal damnation, but those Sundays at home certainly left me in a less anxious go-go-go state of mind.
    Then I went to the Mideast and saw people who acted out the part of church for me. I finally felt what my pastor had been saying for years: church wasn't a building or an event, but people. I was safe, happy, loved, and free, free, free, with these people. We could question and doubt and cry and laugh and embrace and be embraced and all that truly mattered was Jesus loves us all. Not to say there wasn't conflict and everything was perfect, but we were a community.
    So when I moved to Cambridge this fall, I was like, sure I'll try church again.

    And then I realized just how many churches there are in Cambridge.
    Thus far I've visited a modern evangelical church, a Southern Baptist church, a Catholic Mass, and an Orthodox Liturgy. And, yeah, I had some fears about all these services, along with some admitted prejudices against Southern Baptists. But instead of having my fears met, I found lovely communities where people were friendly, welcoming, and not judgmental.
    There were no assumptions that I was a heathen who needed to be interrogated on Gospel 101. Only kindness. Love, maybe I would call it.
    "What's your name?" asked countless of the people at the Baptist church.
    "You're so colorful," said the Catholic priest by way of greeting, which made me grin (I wear bright colors because they make me happy).
    "You can't do anything wrong here," assured the Orthodox Father with a gentle smile.
    And then I realized "I like all these churches now-what-do-I-do," and "Oh yeah, I wanted to try the Episcopal church and that other Baptist church and the Lutheran church too. And the UCC" - now that I finally realized they're not universalist.
    And that's how my anxiety started settling back in.
    So: I decided this semester will be dedicated, on Sundays, to visiting churches of all different traditions. So far God's shown up in the music of the evangelical church, in the people of the Baptist and Orthodox church, in the hymns of the Catholic church. Maybe next time He'll show up with a talking cat, who knows.

    I don't know exactly what I'm looking for in a church. Someplace where questions are encouraged and people love God and me.
    It'd be kinda nice if God would drop a sign and say "Here is Where You Should Attend Church Kelley," but I doubt He will (feel free to surprise me, Jesus).
   Until then, I guess I'll have to content myself with waiting and searching. Nice life lessons, I suppose.
    In retrospect, killing my darling wasn't so bad after all.


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