While You Do What You Do…I’ll be over here working and waiting for a baby

My newsfeed is flooded this week with World Cup soccer and the CBF General Assembly currently taking place in Atlanta. I am probably rendering myself un-American by saying it, but I could care less about the World Cup. And the last time I went to the General Assembly in Atlanta I remember having a conversation with hubs about the beginning of the end of our involvement in Baptist denominational life. He was already feeling pushed out–for several very good reasons. I was still looking to hang in there but even that was short-lived. (My last General Assembly was in Charlotte, in which I basically found the experience frustrating and irrelevant.)

So while we were in the ol’ ATL, we stayed with friends and drove into the city for any of the CBF events we were going to or expected to attend. Most of our week was spent with friends who have very little to do with church–let alone Baptist life. Most of it was spent in a cigar bar, drinking beer and playing pool, watching the Miami Heat win the NBA Finals, and catching up with people who are important to us. And those things were more life-giving and memorable than any workshop I attended that week.

As we have moved away from denominational life, the trend has continued. We find that we spend most of our time gathered with people who could care less about denominational ties, usually with wine or beer involved, and incredible conversation that translate into holy moments. The people range in ages, backgrounds and life experiences. The conversations are open and honest and contain more questions than answers. There is a stronger sense of identity–or at least the development of an identity as an individual created by God and containing a piece of the essence of God. Those things continue to be more life giving than my previous experience with the annual CBF meetings.

Of course, some day I may again find myself participating in Baptist life in some capacity. It certainly provided me with a solid foundation from which I have developed and grown in incredible ways, and I am thankful for it. But it is not the sole basis for my thinking or beliefs. Much of what I think and believe has been shaped by my own experiences of life on this earth as well as the relationships I have with so many different kinds of people. And for now, my church experience is a really good fit. It happens to fall outside of denominational lines with true autonomy and the freedom to make decisions about how best to build relationships that change things locally and globally. And it’s a good thing.

So while people are over there watching soccer or going to workshops in Atlanta (or even heading to Wild Goose this week–and I’m jealous of that crowd), I’m over here working and waiting for the next miracle to enter into my world. And I’m good with it.

Early Voting, Or Why I’m Still Really Baptist

It’s voting season around here, and it’s a well-known primary election for North Carolina–mostly for the Marriage Amendment. I am thankful, for many reasons, that early voting is an option. For one, the line is shorter. For another, it’s more convenient. And so, on Monday afternoon, I walked over to my community center to cast my primary ballot.

If I were to wait until election day next Tuesday, I’d be doing so at a local church.

The former seemed so much more appropriate. Mostly because I believe in the separation of church and state. Staunchly, I’ve come to realize. And voting in a political election at a church flies in the face of separating the two. Voting at a town community center just…fits.

Walking home from my community center got me thinking about this whole separation of church and state thing and my earliest attempts to understand it. I asked my youth minister when I was in high school, but never got a clear explanation of what it was or what it meant. It was clarified in my Baptist History class at Campbell, but the farther reaching implications have only become clearer for me in recent years–particularly as I’ve considered more deeply what it means to vote in a church versus a community center…or have a minister sign the state’s marriage license.

While all of the arguments fly around this amendment, and while pastors speak for or against it from their pulpits–in ways that harm and abuse one’s power in one case in particular–I am reminded that the reason I believe in the separation of church and state is because I have Baptist roots. Deep Baptist roots, apparently. Because real Baptists believe in it. In fact, Baptists are the reason we have freedom of religion in the First Amendment. Baptists also are believers of autonomy and freedom of the local church and individual beliefs. And even though I’m part of a non-denominational church, I’m still really down with all of that.

Ironically enough, it makes me a conservative Baptist.

But since those ideas have been…well…perverted…in many instances, it may make me a liberal Baptist.

Either way, I’m still Baptist.

Situation Normal, Part 3

I am oriented toward direct service and working on staff in a church didn’t afford me that opportunity as much as I would like.

Something seemed really wrong with that to me.

Because there are people walking all around us who are wounded and need a little extra care—despite what their outward demeanor suggests. And we aren’t paying them any attention.

Admittedly, conservative Christians, evangelicals and even Baptists (in whatever form they come) have a reputation for stigmatizing mental health care and mental illness. Generally speaking, the response has been that one doesn’t have enough faith or should pray more or read scripture more and all will be well. And we have this crazy Protestant work ethic which leaves us no time for self-care—or gives us permission to, I don’t know, observe Sabbath.

That. has. never. flown. with. me.

I certainly do think that one can use the support and practice he or she has as part of one’s faith in a therapeutic situation. In fact, that’s what faith-based counseling (note that I did not say Christian counseling) is all about. But the reality is that all of us, at one time or another, need someone else with whom they can process the crap that life throws at us—or to work through more complex issues. For a good number of people, they don’t need to pay to see a therapist. They have really good friends and/or family who can listen and reflect with them. For a good number of people, seeing a therapist and meeting therapeutic goals can be accomplished in a few sessions. For a good number of people, they have been so deeply wounded that they need way more. And it’s more than prayer, meditation, yoga, scripture reading or having faith alone can do.

Until churches find ways to normalize mental illness and to promote mental health, I will have to continue to work outside church. Until churches find ways to identify and meet the needs of the community around them, I will have to continue to try to summon the energy to do so myself. For those churches who have ministers of counseling on staff, I applaud you. You are making strides already.

And if your minister of counseling happens to vacate that position somewhere around 2013, call me. I’ll be looking for a job.

I Don’t Go To Church

I have a seminary degree…and I don’t go to church.

For a long time I thought something was wrong with me. I was too critical, too pessimistic, too anti-institutional to be OK with church. It doesn’t help that being seminary-trained ruins you for church…and adding CPE on top of it pretty much f&$*s you up for good.

For a long time I questioned why I couldn’t get into church…why I couldn’t fit into a community in this area (preferably Baptist). But then I heard some interesting stories last week while at a large gathering of Baptists…and it led me to the following conclusions:

Baptist churches where I live are bat shit crazy. Either that, or they lack something that meets the needs of my family–like a youth group.

I concede that there is a certain level of crazy in churches that is acceptable. There is a certain level of crazy that keeps the drama going but still allows the church to function in the way it should. This is how church is–and always will be. I’m still looking for a church with an acceptable level of crazy that provides a loving, supportive community in which my whole family can be involved.

Of course, I’m not sure I can find the kind of church I’m looking for in Baptist spheres–or any sphere for that matter. But I want to keep searching.

And I’m not sure I can articulate at this point why it’s so important to me to do so. I just know that it is.

I also realized while at this gathering that, at least in the way I was treated by some (read: enough) people, I took a different trajectory and my ministry will take a different shape. And in so doing, I gave up my seat at the moderate Baptist table. Perhaps even other types of Baptist tables as well.

But the more I thought about that, the more I realized that maybe that perception is limited to those individuals and informed by the area in which I live. For you see, if I lived in another city–say, Greensboro–I know where I’d go to church. And it would be a Baptist church. And I would do so happily.

For now, it appears as though I’m a Baptist on the margins, moving closer to the edge of another denomination altogether.

Are you there, Church? It’s me, Mary

We haven’t gone to church…really gone to church…in quite some time. There was the service last week, but that was more to support and hang out with a friend on staff. We did go to church with Dad on Easter. And I think before that, it was somewhere around Epiphany.

I’m surprised that, in this area, finding a church to which we connect is damn near impossible. At least in Baptist circles. Most of my Baptist folks who struggle with this same issue either don’t go to church at all–like us–or go to a Methodist church.

I have to say…it’s nice to know it’s not just me.

For most of us, once you’ve been to seminary/divinity school, you’re ruined forever when it comes to church. Once you’ve been to seminary/divinity school AND done CPE…you’re pretty much screwed.

I’m really starting to wonder if it’s possible to have an active faith while attending a church. So many of the ones we’ve tried don’t seem to really be concerned about the community here. Some target one population and pat themselves on the back for being accepting of that population. Others focus on the people inside the walls of the church and the whole holiness purity code bullcrap that isn’t worth our time or energy. Come on, people. If we really believe Jesus died for our sins once and for all, why are we so hung up on them? Others might be ok on many fronts, but there’s no one that fits within our peer group. I literally looked at Al one Sunday morning while visiting a church and said, “It smells like a nursing home.” The majority of the people in the pews around us were late 60s and older. I like multi-generational, but I also like a connected peer group.

And so, we continue to sleep in on Sunday mornings…wondering if there’s some place we should try next…thinking we may have to leave our Baptist roots–at least in part–while we live here. Who knows? Maybe we’ll join the exodus to the Methodist church…