Adventures in Church Attendance: A Match is Struck

I will have more to say about the following portion of an email I sent the good reverend a couple of days ago. There are things & thoughts leading up to it that I’ve yet to share with you (or her, for that matter), and there obviously will be some fallout I can only as yet anticipate. But I wanted to share it with you anyway, my companions in this story. It, the story, now appears to have its climax, anticipating an ending.

* * *

I want to flag something for you, because you’ve been extraordinarily kind to me and I owe you honesty beyond all else. I know you will want to talk about this in person, but I also think you know that I have a tendency to want to articulate myself (at first anyway) in writing. I’m going to step away from Council [lay leadership] duties after the present one-year term. I had a wonderful experience. Nothing specific has been problematic and I have no grievances to air. It was all I anticipated it would be, given the graciousness of the congregation in general. I regret nothing. It’s just that in recent weeks, after a good deal of reflection, I’ve concluded it is neither in my best interest nor that of the church that I continue in leadership. I don’t mean to say I’m “leaving the church,” “strike me from the rolls,” etc. Nothing so dramatic. I fully support the work that _____ does in the community and worldwide, and value the contributions I can continue to make toward that work.

Basically, and to put it quite bluntly, it is simply the business of Christian faith: at the end of the day, I am not in it. Yes, I have an ability to speak its language and wield its grammar, sometimes quite well, but at the end of the day it does not, in fact, speak to me. This is not an out-of-the-blue revelation. As you well know, I’m not a spiritual person. Although I suspect you never quite grasped the depth of that “not.” Indeed, quite franklyl I don’t even profess a belief in God. Where I have faith, it is only in the language of faith—the ins & the outs, the metaphors & tonality of that language that both motivates and is embodied by action. (Even during my doctoral studies my adviser wondered regularly whether what I was doing was more properly aesthetics than it was theology.) For the past two years, this appeal to language has been enough for me to identify myself as sufficiently Christian. Indeed, it may, in fact, be sufficient in the scheme of things. (Though I suspect not.) But the last few months I have experienced it more as a burden: a self-examination & -interpretation whose purpose has come to elude me. There is a treasure-trove of literature that talks about such a burden in spiritual terms, & I have a good many friends who in the long run have valued by the kind of meditative introspection it invites, but these terms (those of the spirit) are precisely the terms I do not accept. This is all well & good for one who participates, by way of presence if  nothing else, in worship, or who gives money to the offering, or who cares for the concerns of those people he now considers friends. As I say, perhaps even sufficient in the scheme of things, whatever that means, which is likely very little, if anything at all; but, perhaps not quite so in terms of participating in Christian leadership.

7 Responses to “Adventures in Church Attendance: A Match is Struck”

  1. Chris Rodkey Says:

    What I find a little puzzling to me, or at least what strikes me as most relevant to your note to the pastor, is that you are assuming that those with whom you sit on a committee are fully “in” the Christian faith. But who really is “in” it? Or is the “inness” that you see in this particular community more of an illusion that you were expecting? Perhaps I don’t see the big conflict as a lay leader in the United Church of Christ, especially the UCC on the West Coast, but I haven’t experienced this in the same way that you have.

  2. Brad Johnson Says:

    There is no such illusion on my part. I have no doubt a good many agree with my sentiments. The thing is, I find no camaraderie in their agreement. I end up feeling more isolated as a result of the agreement.

  3. Brad Johnson Says:

    In the end, if one doesn’t share the grammar — prayers, etc. — whether one is saying the same thing by way of that grammar or not, the risk of alienation is high. More importantly, though, there is the issue of why you are even bothering with the effort.

  4. david cl driedger Says:

    Thank-you for sharing . . . even more so for the follow-up comment I find no camaraderie in their agreement.

  5. ken oakes Says:

    My favorite line (although it seems somewhat perverse and voyeuristic to speak of such a thing in this case) is:

    ‘As I say, perhaps even sufficient in the scheme of things, whatever that means, which is likely very little, if anything at all’;

    a verbal twist Nabokov could coil.

    I guess the inappropriately pedantic question is, ‘what is the scheme of things, and who can give it a name’?

  6. Brad Johnson Says:

    That is a very good question, Ken. I’m quite open to suggestions.

  7. ken oakes Says:

    The powers. it’s a metaphysical (or mythological) response, but our practices and relationships always escape metaphysics or myths, even as they still try to direct our lives. I think your phrase ‘what that means’ picks up on this very ambiguity. In any case, it’s clearly a well-written and thoughtful letter.


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