Thursday, April 29, 2010

Churchopedia #2 (Church #24): Conversation v. Conversion

Usually people either believe or they don’t. The person that believes in fate, God’s plan, soul-mates, signs and superstitions clashes severely with one who enjoys coincidence, choice and the basic fact that “s**t happens.” I’ve always believed in dichotomies, a combination of the supernatural and the rational. I am mostly in control of my experiences, thoughts and emotions, but God has a funny way of throwing that in my face sometimes. When I am most comfortable, when the obvious happens, when the right choice is made, here comes the other side pushing the logical out of the way and screaming for attention. Perhaps it is pure luck that my life always fits so well into the 10 Churches journey of this blog. Maybe it is the way I manipulate words and situations to make a point or come to a revelation. I think, though, that at some point God intervenes and forces me to consider other aspects of the equation: the additional answers and explanations, or, the possibility that the equation is unsolvable.

On Sunday, Rainbow Mennonite fulfilled all of my expectations. I did not write an immediate blog entry because I really could not think of anything to ponder. It was interesting, but non-descript, nice, but plain, and if someone were to ask me about the Mennonites now, I would say the same thing I have always said about them: “They are good people.” That phrase is a common Midwestern term…a politically correct way of defining a culture, a religion or a people by the generalization of their ideals.

When Tuesday rolled around, I was granted the opportunity to see the other side. An experience that accentuated the positive points about the Mennonites while also putting everything into perspective. An experience that made it difficult to only say, “They are good people.” Tuesday night, I attended the “Singles” group at Church of the Resurrection (Mega-church #1, Church #12). This was a community that proved, at least partially, that the Mennonites are more than just good people and the opposite is too multifaceted to be labeled only as “bad.” Philosophy and theology are just more complicated than that.

I visited Resurrection Singles because (let’s be honest here) I am desperately searching for love. It took a lot of convincing from my mother, who has been attending church there regularly and quite a dramatic pep talk in my car prior, but I knew I would regret not at least trying it. I assumed I might feel slightly uncomfortable or a little weird. I thought I might be out of place or slightly more liberal than everyone else. I hoped just as much that I would be surprised by a positive experience, gaining a few friends or possibilities along the way.

I was wrong. About everything.

I’m skipping the first part of the evening when more than 100 singles gathered for snacks and icebreakers. I wanted that to be the most uncomfortable time. It was, after all, the part of the night when an older man in an orange shirt kept moving his chair closer to mine as I inched further away. But that was just the beginning. When we broke into age groups, I entered the 32-and-under room expecting conversation, prayer and worship. What I got was a full-fledged bible study on Acts 13.

First, I forgot my bible. I didn’t really forget it. I don’t carry a bible with me…ever. It stays by my bed, I read it often and I know it well, but the Internet is less heavy than the leather bound, annotated (plus apocrypha) book I own. I was overwhelmed with the loneliness I often felt in high school. When your 16, though, you can build up an overconfident reputation as the “weird girl” and eventually get by. Where is that argumentative, opinionated, crazy liberal now that I’m in my late 20s? Why do I suddenly feel ashamed to be who I am in a room of what I am not?

If you’ve met me, you will find this next part unbelievable. We discussed Acts 13 for over an hour. I did not say one word for 45 minutes. Whenever I had the opportunity, I viciously scribbled notes on my verse-by-verse worksheet, underlining and finishing with explanation points. I tried to be inconspicuous, but if my constant writing didn’t give it away, I’m sure my red face and watering eyes were a sign of discomfort.

In case you do not want to read Acts 13, here is my completely biased summary:

Paul and his friends are on a journey to destroy the Jewish faith. They go to a bunch of places and meet a bunch of people, and those people are a little hesitant. After all, Paul is asking them to completely disregard all the rules they’ve been following since Moses and follow this guy called Jesus. AND he claims they don’t have to atone for their sins, which just seems wrong. Shouldn’t we all have to atone in some way? Anyway, Paul loses his temper and tells the Jewish people that they had their chance to be the chosen people but they questioned it too much so they might as well just go to hell. He’s pretty mean about it, too. He’s all, “Fine! You don’t want Christ! We’ll just give him to the Gentiles!” Of course, Acts is written from the “winner’s” perspective. Paul is made out to be a poor, harassed, selfless follower; really, I think he was a very rude, presumptuous and hateful guest.

Okay, I know that’s a little…dramatic. But sometimes my opinion exaggerates as I hear more of the opposition. In my bible study group of about ten, the words of Acts were taken as pure truth. No questions asked. No consideration of context or different opinions. The worksheet asked: why was Paul a good teacher? The group answered: He lives by example, he is knowledgeable and he shares his teachings with everyone. My answer? Paul wasn’t that great of a teacher. Good teachers are open-minded, always learning and not afraid to admit they are wrong. Good teachers apologize when they lose their tempers. Finally, I spoke, “I feel that,” I started. “I feel that if I were only to read Acts 13, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian.” Blank stares=epic fail. Someone at the table tried to explain Paul’s perspective to me, but I didn’t need to hear it. After all, his perspective is written right in front of me. What I wanted was to consider the perspective of the Jewish people. What I wanted was to consider that this might just be a politically motivated story, based on real events but ultimately fiction. I had forgotten how it felt to feel silenced.

From that point forward, one girl spoke to me. She made small talk as we walked to the parking lot and meekly said, “Hope to see you next week.” I’m sure they all were as nice as her, I just don’t get a chance to experience that because I don’t believe exactly what they believe.

This put the Mennonites in a really, really good light. The Mennonites I know always listen first. They are thoughtful and kind, and they will give you food and shelter regardless of your religion. They work hard and they value the community as much as the individual. Their worship service was a little challenging, very comforting and left room for fellowship and discussion. I didn’t feel silenced in their congregation. In fact, I felt comfortable enough to introduce myself during the service. They wanted my blog address and offered me donuts. Their music was beautiful and inviting.

I’m reminded, now, of why I began this journey. It was to find the good in churches, not the bad. It was to be eternally open-minded and carefully critical. I could have written a blog entry on Monday about the Mennonites. Sometimes, it’s okay when there is no revelation or argument. But God knows that sometimes I need a little bit of drama to stir my spirit and I need the opposite in order to write the obvious. I don’t want to be as harsh on the singles group as Paul was on the Jewish people. I really do want to see the love in all religious situations. After all, I’m sure they are good people.

4 comments:

  1. Magnificent post, thou hast a gift my dear.

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  2. Megan, you strike again! I'm pretty sure you've inspired me to do my own version of "10 churches" next semester (before becoming a pastor & getting stuck in one church forever & ever amen). Thanks for your great reflections and for capturing the spirits of two groups of "good people"!

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  3. I am one of the people from Rainbow who asked for your blogging address after you attended our service, but I am not an ethnic Mennonite so perhaps it will not be as self-serving and immodest (a cardinal Mennonite sin) if I agree with you that Mennonites are good people. I am sure the young people in the Bible study were also good people. Your blog post is beautifully nuanced and captures the paradoxes of religion and religious people, but the one thing I can't tolerate are intolerant people. Oops. Perhaps you can help me with this. Keep writing!

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