Category Archives: church

8212 steps of adventure

It’s been a long and winding road that has brought me to the point of visiting a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) church. From a general disdain for the idea of a place which has no unifying theology, along that winding road, to arriving at an eagerness to visit, by myself, a place where I knew absolutely no one and absolutely nothing about.

I arrived early, early, early. The rest of the fam was heading elsewhere, and if I wanted a ride, that’s the time I could go! Knowing that there wasn’t any particular creed that I was expected to adhere to allowed me to feel comfortable being myself, and I reached out to multiple people and introduced myself.

Our most recent church experience has been at a mega-church where the focus of the morning is definitely on the “main stage” presentation. With something like 14,000 people coming through the doors every weekend, getting to know people is not what I would call easy. This morning at the UU, the congregation numbered around 65, which felt a heck of a whole lot more accessible. I mean, I’m all for pushing my introverted self to be more extroverted, but 14,000 is just way too much to wrap my head around.

A man named Thomas Starr King is credited with explaining the difference between Universalism and Unitarian: Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.” Wherever my spiritual journey ultimately takes me, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the different ideas that different people hold.

There are seven principles of UU:

Belief in the worth and dignity of every person;
Belief that all people should be treated fairly and kindly;
Belief that we should accept one another and encourage spiritual growth:
Belief in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
Belief that all people should have a say in the things that concern them:
Belief in working to achieve peace and freedom;
Belief in caring for planet Earth, the home we share with all living things.

I don’t know about you, but when I read those,  I feel a sense of relief.

After the lay-led “sermon,” the congregation broke up into four smaller groups and discussed the questions which were raised by the speaker. They were similar to the questions Seth Godin addresses about creating, and others who are talking about stepping up and taking your turn.

The 8212 steps happened as I walked home, since the aforementioned fam was elsewhere. I’ve driven along that stretch of road, but just as I am finding every time I walk, walking is a whole other animal than driving.

When I drive, I must watch the road, be aware of traffic, follow traffic signals, wait my turn. While I still have to do those same things when I walk, they are qualitatively different, and they don’t preclude me from noticing what has been discarded along the roadside, how squishy the ground is, and how much space there is between me and the traffic (not a lot as you can see in this photo).

The road I walked has intermittent sidewalks and is otherwise not particularly friendly to pedestrians. With the exception of one obnoxious pickup truck who intentionally blew diesel smoke in my face, the many cars that passed me gave me a wide berth, and I didn’t see anyone looking at their phone while they drove.

The UU church meets only twice a month, which feels about the right frequency to me. The entire deal is run by volunteers, including the speaker, which means maybe I could do some speaking there if I decide to be more committed to this group of people. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.

I know lots of people walk regularly, but I recommend walking somewhere you haven’t walked before. It’s an eye-opening experience.

Crossroads church, 3 years later

Three years ago, I visited crossroads church after an invitation (or invite, or “ask” in cooler parlance) from my personal trainer at the time. He invited me before he violated the terms of his drug arrest parole, and completely disappeared from the scene. He was at my first service (“at service” was how he said it, dropping that pesky article) and introduced me to the friends he was with. It was nice to be known by someone in such a huge group of people. I was swooning at the music from the get-go, struck by the hipness of everyone on stage and I seem to remember that the talk (no messages or sermons here!) was filled with humor, transparency and even some Scripture!. A few weeks later Greg and I attended our first Super Bowl of Preaching service. I joyously cheered at the amazing creativity, and marveled that Moeller High School’s marching band swarmed in at halftime and put on a “dope” show.

In a couple of months, i was chomping at the bit to become one of the “thousands of volunteers who keep this place going.” Four months in, I began to volunteer at the Info Center. And soon enough I was attending a service on both Saturday AND Sunday, volunteering on Saturday, attending the service on Sat and then going a second time on Sun, amazed every week at all i was getting out of the service, the message. Soon I was creating a custom message guide for my family, complete with personalized application questions, after each Saturday service so they could use it on Sunday morning. I was SOLD on the Crossroads brand!

One could imagine that I might hearken back to my teen years and remember what effect it had on me to change churches in my junior year of high school to a church all the way across town. Being across town made getting there a time and traffic nightmare. Being new to the youth group brought about the challenge of breaking into a new scene at a point where I was getting close to being finished being in a youth group. For the first time in my life, but unfortunately not the last, I was faced with the challenge of assimilating into an established group. After about a year, I was off to college, as were the other kids my age, and the tenuous connections I had made were weakened by distance and infrequent visits to church on rare weekend visits home.

And yet I blithely put my own kids into the same position. My life as a teen had basically operated around a nucleus of the local church, and so I was motivated to try to become a part of the new, already established group. My own kids, however, had grown up in a different church environment, and so the chances were almost none to none that they would assimilate into the giant youth group called Crossroads Student Movement. They preferred the “mainstage” service anyway.

I felt so sure that the huge “congregation” (not a word I ever heard at Crossroads) was manageable if I just kept on the prescribed path for getting “connected.” (a word I have heard quite often at Crossroads) Along came the first “all-church journey” and I said YES! What a great idea to get everyone in a group for six weeks, all going on a carefully and creatively crafted path together. Didn’t hesitate for a second to join a group and participate to the best of my ability. I was excited to be a part of the some 50,000 people all doing the same study! Wow! How ecumenical and inclusive and stuff!

We loved our group. 4 married couples, and the occasional single lady who came a few times. At that point, nothing bothered me! It was all good! At the last of the six group meetings, Greg and I expressed how much we had loved the group and let them know that we would love to continue, that we needed this type of connection with people in the busyness of our deep-in-the-midst-of-parenting stage of life. I was pretty surprised when the rest of the group demurred, asking for some time to recover from the 6-week group before we had to meet again. Needless to say, the group did not continue. We met for dinner a couple of times in late spring and early summer, and I realized that without the structure of the group process, we didn’t have quite as much in common as I had first imagined.

Although still technically a Crossroads attendee, I no longer volunteer. I am no longer so enamored with the edgy, with-it people and processes. I think there is a wonderful depth to Brian, the senior pastor, and Chuck, the associate pastor, or co-pastor, or whatever he is called. I know there are loving, caring people in this church who genuinely want to see people grow, and especially see children really embrace The idea of following Jesus. There is clearly a clarity in the stated purpose of the church, from its facility usage, to decisions about who is allowed to give out information, to choices about exact wording and gestures to use to be as welcoming as possible, kind of like I think Walt Disney World employees might do it. Yep. All that’s true. And this isn’t about whether or not some place is perfect, because no place is or can be or ever will be.

Maybe it’s partly knowing I will never be a part of the Inner Circle, that my station in life and age and background and needs maybe really aren’t the kind of station, background and needs that get the attention and focus of the big-picture planners.

Maybe it’s partly understanding that the emphasis on getting everyone engaged in the “all-church journey” precludes really focusing much on getting people connected to other Christians in a small group setting. The people onstage all seem to be connected in small groups, and I am happy for them, but they must know something I don’t know. Maybe with such a large staff, it is fairly easy to do life together. Such a cool place to work. Such outside-the-box thinking. Obviously really creative people at the heart of this thing, people who know how to get things done.

Maybe it’s partly that their focus on not being religious has left an empty space where religion used to be in me, and that I’m finding some new, very alive things to fill that space. Getting rid of the false guilt, leaving behind the drive to always be focused on what I “should” do, and shifting my focus from behavior to character and joy — these things have been part of my experience at Crossroads, but I wonder if the powers that be would be happy those things are gone and sad that I haven’t found the non-religious aspect of Christianity to be fulfilling.

Just recently, I visited my main childhood church for a 50th anniversary celebration. Little has changed there. They preach sermons based on Scripture. They are not trying to be emergent or seeker-friendly, although they are certainly not trying to be seeker-unfriendly. They serve Communion exactly the way they did 40 years ago when I was there. And they seem to still have the type of community I remember being a part of. It’s a smaller church, so those types of relationships become more possible, at least for me. I was not part of the decision to leave that church — we kids just got in the car and rode to where our parents took us for church. I wonder what it is like to be a part of a place that seems to be more “religious.” I don’t want the religious piece, but it would be nice to share regular times with people through the focal point of church. I think.

I’m still at Crossroads because my two youngest kids are finding community and connection there. As long as they are growing, we want to provide that opportunity. But this strikes me as a great opportunity to ask myself some good questions right about now. I acknowledge that we will probably always be a very small fish in an extremely large pond as long as we are there. I don’t need to be a big fish. I’d just like to be a fish that swims well with others, that enjoys the wonders of the ocean together, that has occasional adventures like jumping UP! out of the water and then back in. Not sure I see that ever happening where we are. Sure, it can be complicated to sort through the issues and possibilities, but I feel more prepared than ever to see this as an opportunity and a gift, and to believe that figuring out the WHAT and the WHY of that what, will make the HOW clear and possible.

Church: Good For What Ails Ya

So we’ve been going to this new church for about five weeks, or maybe six. Imagine my pleasure this morning as I walked through the church and heard someone call my name to greet me, and a little farther down the hall, I ran into someone I have known for about 8 years who said, “Are you attending this church?”, hugged me, and said, “I’m glad you’re going here. I like you.”

Instead of attending the main service this morning, I went with Eli to the junior high meeting. Although I missed being in the main service, I loved getting to know the youth pastor a little better. I loved it that he encouraged the kids to bring their Bibles to church as they would need them. I loved it that he taught on the book of Jonah and I learned some things! And I loved that Eli did not want to go in but had to since I forced him, and ended up having a positive experience.

I loved running into “Karen,” an acquaintance I’ve known for several years, who offered to show me where the junior high kids meet, made sure my son met her son, and introduced both myself and Eli to the youth pastor.

I’m glad we are there.

Visited a New Church Today

As my huge blog readership knows, we have been at the same church since September 2002. It is a medium sized church, meeting in a school, and is made up of many 20-somethings, and a very few people over 40. Not that there’s anything wrong with 20-somethings, or people who haven’t read the Bible (not necessarily the same thing), but after 5 1/2 years of going to a church where there are few to no people on the same road as us, and after 5 1/2 years of sermons, I mean “talks,” directed toward very young Christians, I thought maybe we should check out another place.

There is a church about 15 minutes from here where we know a LOT of people — more actually than the church we have attended for 5 1/2 years. The reason we know so many people is that there are many homeschoolers who are in a similar place in life as we are. Also, our beloved basketball team has many families who attend this church.

I grew up in a fundy church, which although it had its problems, it definitely gave me a church home. We shared so many things with the people in our church, and we met Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights. So, the people we went to church with were part of our lives more than just Sunday morning. At our present church, we rarely if ever see church people outside of Sunday morning, and I find life to be so busy that I must spend time with people I am going to see naturally, due to school or activities.

So, this morning we visited the new church. I had heard they have a special needs Sunday school class, and I was keen to take advantage of this for The Little Guy. He is with us, pretty much 24/7, and I am needing a break. Maybe that sounds terrible to those of you who only go to church to worship God and give of yourselves. But I prayed this morning that I would not continue to feel so alone at church. We were greeted warmly and accompanied to the sunday school rooms. I saw numerous people I know. I felt comfortable at this church.

Sunday school was looming large and scary for The Webkin Queen, but I had determined if the greeter offered us Sunday school I was going to take advantage of it, because I wanted to accept what was offered. TWQ was really sad and really did not want to go into the classroom, and the teacher brought one of the other girls out, who was very friendly and kind, and TWQ told me afterwards that she was really glad I had made her go. This was a great relief to me — I want her to have some experiences with other Christian friends, and I think she can have that at this place.

I can’t remember my pseudonym for my 12-year-old, let’s just call him “Eli.” His class was a little different. His teacher had some pretty black and white beliefs and Eli came out with some questions about whether or not Catholics are really going to hell because they pray to Mary. Ouch. We all went out to lunch and discussed the things he heard in his class and I think it ultimately was a good thing for him to be exposed to that stuff as long as we were able to debrief it. Not sure it’s going to be a good thing for him to be exposed to it week-in and week-out. We shall see.

The older two kids went to our regular church, but my daughter is keen to go to the new place next week when I mentioned that I had seen one of her basketball teammates at the new place.

Maybe we sound really shallow, but I suspect that the only ones reading this know that we are not. Life is busy, and in order for me to be able to contribute to a church, I am going to have to be somewhere where I can build relationships that are not just separated from every other aspect of my life. It’s too hard to be so spread out, with homeschooling the kids and having THAT group of acquaintances and friends, and dealing with special needs and having THAT group of acquaintances and professionals, and being on sports teams and dealing with THOSE groups of acquaintances and friends. Sounds just so lovely to me to have some of those groups overlap.

We’re going back next week.