Thursday, December 17, 2009

Church #9 of 10: Hippies, Go Where I Send Thee

“Now I know,” my father said as he left the church.

“Know what?” I inquired.

“Where all those hippies from the 1960s and 1970s went.” He replied, chuckling. “They had to conform to society, but deep down, they’re still the same hippies.”

“So do you think Juli would like this church?” I asked, referring to my Aunt who lived the 1960s, as you would imagine how one might have lived it based on documentaries and movies.

“No, Juli moved forward. These people,” he said. “These people, a part of them is still there.”

“I liked it,” I said. “It wasn’t boring.”

Unity Church of Overland Park is a “New Thought” church. They have creeds and traditions, but they are called “Peace Statements” and “Love Offerings.” Everything has a different name, looks slightly different and reminds me of the people at Oberlin that overused the word “internalize”. But I did like it. I felt moved, excited and welcome. Their website almost made me cry and I balled through the first half of the service. They seemed organized and governed but still open and transparent. They really believe everything I believe, which historically similar to the Gnostic tradition. God is within us, within the earth, within every entity. Christ was not Christ because he was the Son of God, but because he was an ultimate representation of God working through us to help each other. We follow him because he led by example, not because he died and was raised from the dead. Unity Church concentrates on the life, love and analysis of God and Christ.

This is the largest church we visited, with over 200 in worship at the 9:00 a.m. service, the smaller of their two services. The mass was strangely comforting. They had systems in place to welcome newcomers (a lapel rose sticker) and seemed to know each other well, but I took comfort in the governance of the church being slightly separated from the congregation. It was nice to not sit in a place where I can look all around me and not see how each and every person has hurt my family in some way. In a church this large, that type of experience doesn’t seem as possible.

The music was particularly amazing, in a hard-to-reach sort of way. The musicians were obviously professionals, probably well paid, and the singer changes week to week, all well known names from the Kansas City area. These singers sell their CDs in the lobby after church. Musically, I enjoyed the couple numbers we sung and all the numbers she sung alone, but I felt disconnected by the impossibility that I would ever be able to sing there. I’m not a professional singer, I don’t have a CD, and I prefer not to be paid. It may seem odd, but that makes it less faithful for me. I have always kept work and faith separate since graduating from college…most people at work don’t want to talk about religion, and it’s probably better that way. Therefore, unless I’m working as a choir director in a church where I’m not involved, a member or paying attention, the whole paid-musician thing does not really suit me.

When I first entered the church, there was an older couple dancing in front of the band. The band was playing some jazzy prelude music and this couple was thoroughly enjoying themselves. I felt immediately that this is what church should be like. People just so involved that when it’s time to cry, we cry, and when it’s time to dance, we dance. Comfortable or uncomfortable, we feel the way we feel with no shame or harassment.

This visit was a big relief after having so many less-than-interesting church experiences. Though I agree with my father that the preacher’s talk of our inner “Shepherd Boy” asking us, “Do You Know What I Know?” was a little surface level, I resonated with the point of her sermon in that it is sometimes the poorest and youngest that know about the most exciting or most horrific things going on in our world. The last question she asked was, “Now that you know, what will you do?”

When I left Unity Church of Overland Park, I felt like I had just seen a really good show. People even clapped after every musical number AND the sermon. Maybe I should have had a ticket, program and souvenir, as if it were some sort of concert. I felt guilty. Was I more entertained than praiseful? Did I worship, say thank-you, ask forgiveness, progress in knowledge and in deed? Or did I just feel really pleased with myself? Sarah Hammond made a great comment on one of my last posts about acknowledging real sin rather than just saying “sorry” for not loving yourself in His name enough this week. Not that I want a church that makes me feel bad about myself, but I want more than boredom and less than a Broadway show. And I want to be DOING something. Something more.

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