Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Reflections

I don't go to church anymore.

This is not a lifetime commitment... to no longer attend church... I intend to attend church again someday. It's just that I currently am not attending church.

"So what?" some of you say, "Sinner!" others may chide. And still some, "Seriously, Ann?" which are the comments that sting the most.

I'm not attending church in part because I exhausted myself attending church, creating church, doing church and being church for the five years I spent at my last job, and the 27 years before that (four days a week in college, three days a week in high school...). The way I figure it, I've gone to more church services than your average church-going sixty-five year old man. And I'm only 32.

So I'm taking a break.

But fatigue from church-going (you'll note I didn't say from church-being, which I try to still do every day to my friends and family and the people whose paths I cross) isn't the only reason I'm not currently attending church.

The other reason is Palm Sunday.

I used to love Palm Sunday. It's the sixth Sunday in Lent, kicking off Holy week. It remembers the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey when the people lined up in the streets waving palms (because it was the Jewish Passover), heralding in who they believed to be the Messiah.

At FBC, the kids always start off this Sunday morning service by running down the center aisle waving Palm branches above their heads. I love that... the joy, the simple faith, the praise symbol, the welcoming of the Messiah.

But the other part about Palm Sunday is that, as I said before, it leads us into Holy Week, a week of betrayal, abandonment and death. A week of missing the point. The irony is that all those waving the palms in exaltation on Sunday turn to waving their fists on Friday demanding the release of Barabbas, and the crucifixion of the innocent man.

And that's the other reason I'm not attending church right now.

It's ironic in more ways than one. Whenever people would argue that they'd be happy to attend church if it weren't for all the Christians, I used to argue that that was the very reason I loved church. It is not for the healthy, Christ says, but the wounded. I loved that church was messy, filled with hypocritical, trying-to-find-their-way-and-missing-it-half-the-time people on a journey to be church and follow Christ.

I don't feel like that any more.

Palm Sunday is painful because right now I want to escape somewhere and feel loved, not beaten up. And the house I want to go to is God's. But God's house isn't always welcoming.

My boyfriend is a music director at a church and tonight he's at a parishioners home building crosses: three of them, for the "Last Words" musical they'll be doing at his church this upcoming Holy Week and Easter Weekend.

Nailing together crosses that will symbolize (for some) God's ultimate sacrifice of himself for the people, an act of the incarnation that says, "Yes, I will even take this so far as to die to help you understand"... Nailing together crosses that serve as a constant reminder of the death of a Messiah at the hands of the empire, the death of a Savior at the hands of evil, the death of a man at the hands of those who loved him...

I called my boyfriend after I got out of rehearsal tonight and heard the crosses being nailed together on the other end of the line. "I have tomorrow off," I said. "I don't have to go to work. I could come up there now if you want. And if you're not done with the crosses, I could come to the house and help out."

"But -----'s here." he replied. That's his ex-girlfriend's mother. And despite the waving of the palms and the confession that Christ is the Messiah, despite the ashes on our heads reminding us that we are not, despite the resurrection of Jesus that will come on Sunday and represent the resurrection we practice every day in our life, my phone conversation with my boyfriend ended with, "Fine, I won't come up there."

Because I'm not welcome at his church.

And that's the second reason I'm not attending church right now.

Not only am I not welcome in the church building, at the church services, but I can't even help build the crosses for the Sunday morning play because his ex-girlfriend's mother will be building crosses too.

And that is the embodiment of the irony of Palm Sunday: that the church often does a really shitty job of being church. And while I used to love that about church - I loved that the genealogy of Jesus included Tamar who slept with her father-in-law and Rahab the prostitute - I don't anymore.

I just don't.

At this point in my journey I can't handle any more paradox. No more irony. No more grotesque beauty. I just want God, and I just want peace. And like the Israelites when they were carted off to Babylon, I too am now learning that God doesn't reside in a Temple (or a church) but in my heart. So I'm finding God there.

And sometimes in a dressing room. And sometimes in a hotub. And sometimes on Facebook. And sometimes on my yoga mat. And sometimes on my couch snuggled up under some blankets with my best friend.

You may judge me for not going to church, or you may applaud me, or you may not give a damn either way (and if so you probably didn't make it this far in the blog), but what I really want is a little compassion. Keep your condemnation, applause or indifference. I want compassion.

And eventually...

I want to be welcomed back to church.


Naomi said...

I always love reading your blog, but this one hits particularly close to home. Though I have never worked at church and am not as OLD as you (;P), I still got a little burnt out on church. I'm finding God lately in places I wouldn't expect to, and I think that's what She's trying to teach me--She's not just in a church building with the people that always pass judgment even though they preach not to--I see Her in my daily life. I feel uncomfortable in church right now too and that is sad to me because it was always a source of comfort, yet honestly, I can't deal with the hypocrites right now either.

Love you Ann. I wish you strength on this journey.

Luanne said...

Excellent post - such a joy to read what I have felt for a while - thank you for putting your feelings to words, which echo where I am now.

Patrick Adair said...

As always, thanks for honestly sharing. I am deeply sorry for the lack of welcome you got, and the double hurt of the circumstances around it.

Your post also reminded me of something I noticed about Matthew's version of Palm Sunday for the first time this week - children running through the temple praising Jesus AFTER the whole 'flipping over tables' incident. I imagine little Jewish children saying 'This is the most fun we've ever had in church!!' Maybe we should celebrate Palm Sunday by letting the children knock the offering plates out of the ushers hands, quote the Old Testament, and then leave church and go find some blind and lame people to hang out with.