Saturday, July 21, 2012


There is so much talk these days about religion-who has it, who needs it, who lost it, who walked away from it, who religion walked away from. As a society there seems to be a huge divide, growing larger every day. I remember the first time I was ever 'challenged' because I supposedly lacked the proper belief system. I was a freshman in college. I chose to attend a small 'Christian' liberal arts college in rural Missouri for my undergraduate degree.

I was in a Freshman English class, and we were discussing a play by George Bernard Shaw. I gave my opinion to the professors question and the next thing I knew a guy a few seats away jumped in to say that my opinion was wrong because "She's from Los Angeles, she wasn't raised in the church like the other girls were." Now, it was the early 1970's, and rural Missouri did indeed feel like a different world than Los Angeles, and this west coast hippie chick looked, and maybe thought differently than most of the other young women in the class.He was right, according to his definition I wasn't 'raised in the church.' But, to say my opinion wasn't valid based on an assumption that I didn't have the proper religious upbringing because of where I was from seemed a bit presumptuous to me, and I of course said so.

So there I was, 18 years old, explaining to these 'Christian' young men and women that there are indeed churches in  Los Angeles. In fact, it can be argued that the Christian Fundementalism and Pentecostal movements began in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1900's. Of course, Los Angeles has always been a cultural melting pot. When the pueblo was founded in 1781, two thirds of the original settler were of mixed heritage with Native American, African, and European ancestries.The towns were built around Catholic missions. With growth came many cultures and strong histories of religious  diversity. But, none of that mattered to the other members of that class. I didn't belong to their 'club', so rather than discuss with me why I had different opinion about the play than they did, they decided that I couldn't possibly understand correctly.

Now I often can't remember why I moved from one room to another in my apartment, but I remember that conversation in that Freshman English class 40 years ago because it was one of the many things that helped guide my journey.I set out to learn all I could about religions. In the decades since that class, I have earned 3 college degrees including  an M.A. in Comparative Religion.  I have attended many different 'churches', and experienced God in and out of those institutions. I consider myself a woman of strong faith. I have friends who totally disagree with my belief system, and probably pray for me daily because they are certain that I am doomed.  Many would term me an unbeliever-simply because my belief system doesn't line up with theirs.I am, in a particular type of religious vernacular, 'unchurched'. In that, I am not alone.

Now, I have nothing against churches.Spirit has sent me to church often. I have spent many hours sitting in many different churches over the years. Some of the best times and some of the worst times in my life have taken place inside a church, and even though I have been hurt, if Spirit were to send me to church again, I would go. But, at this time in my life, church is not where Spirit sends me. So, I have to believe that I am where I am supposed to be.

There are many others who have left the church these days. Not being in a church can be hard for some, and it can be daunting to be at peace with the situation. But, if we are open to Spirit, we can find that peace,and learn that sometimes we are called to a place we might not choose on our own.

Finding that peace isn't easy. Soemtimes we have left a place that is totally disfunctional, often we are leaving a place where we have been hurt, where the things of Spirit are used to abuse and misguide and control. When we find the courage to say enough, I don't accept this, we are often on our own. It becomes so easy to doubt ourselves and peace is hard to come by. We thought we had a relationship with Spirit, but now that relatinship looks and feels different, broken somehow. We often find it difficult to trust again.

It is hard to put a relationship back together when the trust has been damaged. Been there, done that. It may never be "like it was before", but that doesn't mean that it can't be a good relationship, rebuilding the relationship is perhaps about putting together a new thing, a relationship that was better than it was before. It is so hard to let go, but I think that is what forgiveness is all about. Letting of the past, and the hurt, and moving towards a new thing.
The dictionary says forgive is to give up resentment of or claim to requital for... to cease to feel resentment against.

I think that to forgive is to let go of any claims we have against the one who offended us. I think it is human nature to want to be the one who is right. To forgive means we let go of the need to be right, to let go of the need to prove our claim. To forgive means that we no longer expect to be compensated for our hurt or loss. AS in the forgiving of a debt, when we forgive our claim to compensation no longer exists.We no longer need to be right.By forgiving we choose to no longer live with the feelings brought on by the offense.We choose to no longer be weighed down by anger,or shame, or embarrassment. No more guilt or denial. We choose to let these things go, so that it frees us to move on with our lives.To move on and make a new relationship, not merely going back to the way it was before, but building something stronger on a solid foundation of newly forged trust.

When it comes to matters of our belief system, often the one we first have to forgive and build a new trust with is ourself. Sometimes we can feel guilt and shame for buying into something we no longer believe. So we have to earn to extend that forgiveness to us. Maya Angelou says "When you know better, you do better." So we forgive ourself for the time when we didn't know better, and as we learn to do better we move forward.

Spirit didn't mislead us, sacred literature didn't abuse us. People who don't know, and probably don't want to know better used these things to control and misguide us.So, we forgive, we give up any claims against ourself or others and we seek that place of peace. To seek that peace that can only come from Spirit. Try to stay composed no matter how agitated the world around you becomes.Seek peace. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Shalom means that people are in a good relationship with God, with themselves and their bodies, with other people, and with the earth. For people to be in shalom means that their life is balanced and that they relate to the whole of what surrounds them with a peaceful spirit.We can find that peace no matter where Spirit has sent us or sent us away from.


Durrell said...

Funny how we think we know so much when we don't even know what we don't know. Amy Semple McPherson and her Angelus Temple were in Los Angeles. Religous Science was originally headquartered in LA. BIOLA Univ. (orig., the Bible Institute of Las Angeles) is in LA. Fuller Seminary (an evangelical school), the Calif. Grad School of Theology (an evangelical school), Schuller's Crystal Cathedral (never mind recent conflicts within that organization), megachurches Agape International, Saddleback Comm Church, and All Saints-Pasedena...all in California (LA area specifically). And of course, the Azuza Street Revival of 1906 is the official beginning of the Pentecostal movement and in 1968 the Metropolitan Community Churches movement was started in LA. Even TBN, at least at one time the largest TV network in the world and a Christian (evangelical/charismatic) network at that, is HQ'd in Santa Ana. It just would never occur to me to equate LA with "unchurched." It seems, for better or worse, to be a hot bed of church activity.

EstherBelle said...

I have a great story about Amy Semple McPherson, apparently my parents were induced to visit with some friends of theirs, and as McPherson bellowed something about not wantng to hear coins landing in the collection plates,someone's adorable 2 year old yelled at the top of her voice(rumor has it she has always had a big voice) "Yet's go home Mommy, dat woman is sthcary." Apparently the adorable redhead and her parents were escorted from the service.

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