Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 25 Jun 2014, and is filled under Uncategorized.

On leaving a church

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This was much harder than it needed to be, either because I’m hugely depressed or because I have some kind of sense of integrity. Let’s flatter me and pretend that it’s the latter.

Essentially it was a decision that was about my growing sense of unease with what I saw around me, which was a very welcoming church, with some amazing people but a theology that made me feel increasingly uneasy.

The first sign of this was at the party which we held to mark the end of term for the Saturday morning English class. Bear in mind that this class comprised, mainly, people from Nepal who are about fifty or sixty and, in their journey to these shores, have seen and experienced more than I ever will. These are people with vast life experience, in essence, and assuming that the language gap was ever bridged, I could learn a huge amount from them.

Despite this, the day of the party saw us giving out a dot-to-dot puzzle on which someone had crudely written ‘I love Jesus.’ When we passed the parcel, there was a trite saying under each layer of wrapping paper that was intended to get our charges closer to Jesus. The list goes on, but it made me feel a bit like a colonial overseer who was treating his charges like savage children who couldn’t be allowed to get through life under their own steam.

A few weeks before, I had responded to a request to talk about my experience of mental illness with a very frank and honest account of both my own descent into depression and my wife’s bipolar disorder. And at the end of it, when I’d been terribly and savagely honest and laid myself open as nakedly as I ever had done before, I was asked ‘does she know Jesus?’ as though all of the things that I’d said were purely incidental. I felt annoyed, but it was the kind of emotion that, for me, is always hedged in with guilt as though I’m not allowed to feel it.

This list goes on, but just about the final straw was an email that arrived from the church inviting me to take part in a day of prayer and fasting as the illness which afflicted some of the senior team was seen to be a sign that ‘the enemy’ was attacking them. My very, very brief acquaintance with theology doesn’t equip me to argue with them on this score, but I feel, at some deep level which precedes language, that this is not where I need to be in my present state and maybe not where I want to be at all. And my mounting fear was that behind the smiling faces and friendly hugs was a sense of the Christian world at huge odds with my own.

I had guiltily done some scouting around while I was still going and, almost be accident, happened across one of the other churches in my area and found myself going along. The worship lacked the guitar-driven dynamism that I had grown used to and there was no overt appeal to our deep emotions. Instead, there were some sombre hymns, the Lord’s Prayer and a conventional sermon. But something pulled me in and I found myself going back, again and again and, the more paid careful attention to the words of the hymns and to the sermons, I realised that there was a deep engagement with the world and its politics that I found made sense to me and which spoke to a version of Christianity that I had always regarded as dull or fogeyish, but which was actually deep and rich. To date, I’ve only scratched the surface of it, but here is a rootedness and a time-honoured certainty that reminds me of what crabby old Philip Larkin wrote of in his poem ‘Church Going’ and was a place that was proper to grow wise in.

And so I wrote the email thanking all the good, good people at my old church, thanking them for their time and their love and their investment in me, which was truly as heartfelt as anything I’ve ever written, and saying that it was time to move on. So it has proved. I don’t know what the future hold and perhaps I’m destined to spend the rest of my life moving from church to church in search of something that I never find, but right now, I feel like I’ve found the right place, at least for a little while, and that isn’t a bad place to be.

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