Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'Cause I Gotta Have Faith

I have always considered myself to be a Christian. I was raised in a Lutheran home and attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Confirmation Classes, and even taught Sunday School and volunteered at our church as I was growing up. It was just expected that our family would attend church every Sunday, and even if we were going to be out of town over a weekend, we would attend mid-week services so we didn't miss out. My parents worked hard to instill a strong faith in me, but I never felt like it was something that was beaten into my head or forced onto me, so I didn't end up rebelling against or resenting the church like so many people do. I had a pretty traditional faith for many years.

When I got a bit older and went to college, my faith changed. I was exposed to a wide variety of views that I had never had experience with, and it seemed that many of my college professors did their best to undo--or at least disprove--the beliefs that Christians hold. I found myself asking lots of questions regarding my own beliefs, and I began to doubt some of the things that I had been taught as a child. I no longer believed that God is some larger-than-life creature who hurls thunderbolts at bad people. I had a hard time getting my mind to accept the idea of the Holy Trinity.

After college, I ran into some tough patches in my life, and I found myself going back to the faith that I had as a child and seeking refuge in the church. My beliefs in God and Jesus Christ helped me hold on during those difficult times, and I honestly think that if the church wasn't there to help me out, I would not have been able to pull myself through. My faith was stronger than ever, and I became an active member in the church once again, and I even considered (briefly) a career as a minister.

Then, after I moved back to Wisconsin from Texas, I seemed to lose some of my faith. After my ex-husband was diagnosed with cancer a second time and our marriage fell apart, I began to question the existence of God--after all, there I was, a single mother to a small child, broke and alone--I had been "good" all my life, so why was I being punished? And, I was beginning to feel too constricted by the church's beliefs. I believe that gay marriage should be allowed. I believe in allowing stem cell research. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I think Jesus was a really good guy--the best--and that he wouldn't agree with chastising people for having beliefs different than his own, and for that reason, I feel that other faiths are just as valid as my own. I don't think Jesus would have opposed gay marriage--it's about creating a family, and he seemed big on the whole family thing. Those beliefs put me at odds with the church, and I found myself falling away and not attending services anymore.

Now, I am at a point in my life where I truly miss having a relationship with God and Jesus. Maybe it's the miscarriage; after having the miscarriage, I had tons of support from family and friends, but I felt like something was missing--I wasn't leaning on my faith, so part of me felt very empty. I recognize that I have a personal need to have a strong relationship with God and Jesus, but I am having trouble finding a good place in which to fulfill that need.

Aaron and I have chatted at length about religion and our family. Aaron was raised Catholic but is not practicing, and he didn't feel like he would be comfortable joining a church at this point in time. I don't have a strong desire to return to the Lutheran Church. So, after speaking with some of the other moms at Grace's day care (which is housed in a Lutheran church), I did some research and decided to give the Unitarian Church a try. Their beliefs and ideals appealed to me...their church was originally a Protestant Christian church, but has evolved into a liberal church that accepts people of all faiths (or non-faiths) and places a high importance on searching for truth while being a good steward to the world around us. One doesn't have to believe in a specific set of beliefs or recite a specific creed to be a member. People with all different lifestyles from all walks of life are welcome. I felt like this might be a place (the only place) where Aaron and I could both have our spiritual needs met while attending church as a family, which is important to me.

So, we went to a service at one of the Unitarian churches here in Milwaukee. The first service we attended was good, but I started to have some doubts about whether or not this was going to be the place for me when one of the ministers said, "The only time you'll hear the name 'Jesus Christ' mentioned in a Unitarian church is when one of the ministers trips down the stairs." It was meant as a joke and I thought that it was funny, but it gave me some insight into the culture of the church, and I didn't know how I felt about that.

I decided to give the church a couple more tries, and each week, my doubts about the church have multiplied. For instance, at many Christian churches that I have attended, children are welcomed into the worship area--in fact, at my parents' church, their pastor once told me that children's noise in church is God's noise and that children are always welcome in the sanctuary. However, at the Unitarian church, it's obvious that kids aren't welcome during worship services. Parents are encouraged to stuff their kids into the nursery, which is in a dark corner in the basement, far from the sanctuary, and keep them out of sight until church is over. The last week that we attended church, I glanced around the church and realized that with all of the young parents seated around us, Grace was the ONLY child in the whole worship area, and I got some irritated looks from other worshipers because of it. That made me very uncomfortable.

The other thing about the Unitarian Church that has bothered me is that they are accepting of all faiths, from Judaism to Islam to Buddhism to Taoism, EXCEPT for Christianity. Many of the church's members are former Christians and have some not-so-nice feelings about Christianity, and that's completely understandable, but in a church that is supposed to be open to all faiths, I have been surprised to find a blatant intolerance for Christianity. A couple of weeks ago, a Buddhist monk gave the sermon at church, and I found his words to be enlightening and uplifting, except for the fact that his sermon was full of anti-Christian sentiment. I walked out of church that day feeling more lost and confused and alienated than I did going in.

So, it's back to the drawing board. I truly don't know if there is a church out there for me. I can't seem to find a Christian church that is completely in line with my beliefs, let alone one that is accepting of other faiths. Then again, I consider myself a Christian, so I wouldn't feel at home attending services of another faith. I don't want to do what so many people do and attend a church that has mostly the same beliefs that they do, but when they don't agree with something that is said or done, they just look the other way. I don't want to be a poser. I WANT to be part of a church that I can believe in and that I support 100%. Does that church exist? I'm not so sure...


Thaddeus said...

I think it does exist. I've been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for many years and I've had the sweetest, softest whisper from the Holy Spirit that this is where I belong.

If you're not so sure about paying them a visit this Sunday, kneel down and ask God if it's something to look into. I know He answers my prayers, and my family's prayers. Why not yours?

What Do Mormons Believe?

Thaddeus said...

Oh, P.S. Depending on what part of Milwaukee you live in, there will be an LDS Church nearby. I used to live in Hales Corners and went to the church on Grange, just east of Forest Home.

angie said...

We have found ourselves (me and my lesbian life partner....) in the same predicament. I'm interested in trying this church in tosa. It may be a bit of a hike for you guys, but it would be nice to have a standing sunday church/brunch date with you guys.

Here's the website...

p.s. the sign out front of the church comes complete with a pride flag, so i'm pretty sure it is liberal enough for my family and yours.

Sara said...

Thaddeus--Thanks for the suggestion. I'm not sure who you are, since you have never commented on my blog before. I'm thinking that you didn't read my post too closely, though, because as I said a couple of times in my post, I am looking for a liberal church. I have had plenty of experience with the LDS Church, and it's anything but liberal. While I absolutely respect your views and beliefs, and I know that a big part of your faith involves bringing as many people as you can into your church, I know for certain based on my own personal experiences with the LDS Church that it will not be a good fit for me. I've attended LDS services, I've read the Book of Mormon (well, most of it), and I've spent lots of time reading Mormon literature...and your church just isn't for me.

Angie--Thanks again for your suggestion. I checked out the website, and it looks like something that's more my're on for your church and brunch date!

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