Good Fences Make Good Christians

So much of this journey of discerning vocation has been connected to getting increasingly involved with my church, which has been fine, sort of.  For me, it has, because I love it. It challenges me, stretches me, forces me to think about theology, doctrine, and the sheer reality of God in new ways.  You’d think that a gal who runs a blog with the tagline “only ask to be led if you’re ready to follow” would know better than to call God on the carpet for spiritual change as I did several weeks ago.  Nope.  I felt stuck and stagnant and let God know it.

Challenge accepted.

Within less than a month I was asked to lead the Children’s Moment (I hate kids) and read the liturgy (I have no training in doing so whatsoever and once I was asked literally as the service was starting).  I was also placed in a conversation that gives me the opportunity to be some people’s voice in the construction of worship, because I happen to be well placed to pass that along.  I was pushed into seeing that sacred and perfect are not synonyms, that pain is universal, that you can serve without being a servant, that I am not the Church.

This last is where I’m getting caught.  See, I’ve spent a lot of time at church doing all of these things—and I’ve spent a lot of time defending that choice to the tons of family, friends, and fellow churchgoers who don’t understand why I would spend the equivalent of a part-time job at a place that doesn’t pay me.  They don’t get that this is what feeds my soul, this is the tithing I can’t financially do, this is my way of connecting to the living Body.  They see only that I must feel safer there, or that I have nothing better to do, or that I’m weird, or that I’m obviously training to be a minister.

None of these are entirely true, and it has been wearing me down to try explaining that.  People, I’ve found, are very unwilling to let others simply enjoy something they don’t understand; as a medievalist, I’ve run into that a lot, as the first question I inevitably get asked is, “What will you do with that?”  I will enjoy it, that’s what I’ll do.  That is its primary function for me, to allow me to live my life working with something that I love.

I never thought I would have to explain my faith this way, especially to fellow Christians who I assumed would understand that this matters to me because it just matters, because the Good News is overwhelmingly good.

But the thing that broke me this week was that, on top of all this other crap going on (family drama, yet another person I know dying, school being, well, school, and trying to balance too many jobs for not enough money), I was asked to do some work at the church.  I discovered that the work was less because I was at all necessary in it and more because she didn’t want to do it.  And, of course, I’ll do anything if you ask, it seems.

I’m not mad at this person; I’m mad at myself, at the church body at large, at the fact that this is a thing.  What this person showed me by her actions and her assumptions was that I have become a fixture at church, a person to whom people can always go when something needs done.  It’s not that the option of my saying no isn’t present, it’s that the option doesn’t matter.  Need some help?  Christiana will do it.

No.

In an instant, I saw how I attend a church with 600+ members, over half of whom do nothing for the building or the community.  I saw how service gets pushed around because they—we—are too busy, too tired, too preoccupied.  I saw the people who swore an oath of service that promises we will “freely offer [our] gifts to others” and “faithfully offer [our] prayers, [our] presence, [our] gifts, [our] service, and [our] witness,” and I saw a church that has to continually let things slide because they don’t have the hands to keep things going.

How have we gotten to the place where it is okay to assume that the pastors and the dedicated few laity will make sure everything keeps running?  How have we gotten to the place where we find it okay to overrun who they are as people and assume that there is nothing else they need to be doing, that they live for this because they aren’t like us who have other things that are more important?  I would rather see my beloved church fall in ruins to the ground than spend even one minute repairing it so it can continue to be ignored.  I serve at the pleasure of God, and I answer to Him.  The minute I have no boundaries between me and your assumption that all you have to do to get me to jump is ask is the minute I need to stop working at the church.

Which is where I am now.

I have reached the burned-out place, not because I’m tired of serving but because I cannot serve when it is a patch for a much larger hole.  I had no idea it would hurt like the betrayal of a lover, and I weep for the utter nonchalance of a magnificent church who abandons this home of God every single day because somebody else will take care of it, because all you have to do is ask, they won’t say no.

I say no.  As Interpreter always says, I give myself permission to walk away, because my own soul’s health is more important than anything that I have been doing for the church.

I say all of this with perfect knowledge that the church survived before I got there and will do just fine for however long I am not part of it.  That’s not the point.  The point is that I have seen the underbelly of people who use others to do what they don’t want to, who manipulate the willing to cover the gaps of the uncaring.  I refuse to be a part of that, because faith has to require sacrifice and connection, and I don’t know how to be in community with those who don’t get that.  I don’t want to build boundaries, walls, fences to keep their requests out, but I also know that I cannot live in a house where my own place in it is secondary to the desires of others.   If the only way to get you to see this is to build fences to keep you out, pass me the wood.

I will begin building.

 

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  (James 2:15-18, ESV)

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One thought on “Good Fences Make Good Christians

  1. Sheila Bigelow says:

    It is always good to know what feeds your soul, and there are certainly enough places in the church where your talents, the church’s needs, and the needs of your soul will converge. Dispaireth not. (I know, that is undoubtedly not a word.) I really have foundt , when I am feeling burned out (often not because of the church, but because of the synergy between the church and other parts of my life), that it is in that quiet place that I again feel God leading me to where I should be.

    You know, writing to an editor can be a pain sometimes. I do not even try to use my “English teacher style” when I type on the computer. Anyway, as you’ve no doubt noticed, I do find that I so often find God in the silence, or at least in the quiet places. Except, of course, when I’m hearing voices, but that’s my Joan of Arc mode and a different story. Or stories.

    Trust yourself. Even more, trust God. And a good reason to spend time with church-y things is to be with other people for whom a relationship with God is important. We’ve always found that church is where we find others with common values.

    And yes, your blog entry reminds me that I am NOT doing much around the church these days. When we figure out when we need to go to New Mexico to check on Gary’s brother, I will sign up for Children in Worship again.

    See you tomorrow. You are loved and appreciated. Sheila

    ________________________________

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