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Discouraged with church, or independent?

June 18, 2010

The best thing about summer vacations is that, once in a blue moon, my father and I will talk about something relating to religion, spirituality, and the church. This is generally a great treat, because my father has some pretty neat and weird beliefs (did you know that he’s a licensed hypnotist? And that’s one of the least unusual factoids.) For my first few summers out of college, the conversations were charged, electrically shocking. But now, our magnetic polarity seems to be settling.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I decided to go back to church for a Sunday. It was an entertaining experience, made moreso entertaining by the fact that people actually seemed happy to see me. How strange this was, since when I went regularly, I often got the impression that I was taken for granted…

…well, it turns out that my visit there was something ideal. The ideal story of someone from a “wayward family” making his way back into the fold. Or so they thought.

You see, what I didn’t realize until I began to add the pieces back together was that…since my brother and I both have gone to college, no one from my family has attended church regularly.

I actually had all the pieces to figure this out, but I didn’t think about it. My father often works on Sundays. My mother is the classic example of that old stereotype — someone who was grossly offended and then never went back. I went regularly up until I went off for college, and so did one of my brothers. But since we’ve been off, that link has disappeared.

But now, I’ve been able to hear more of the story. When my dad first retired, went back to school, and became a nurse, working weekend shifts made most sense because he and my mom had to take my brothers, my sister, and I to school or pick us up. Weekend shifts stuck, even after my brother and I learned to drive and were conscripted to taxi service.

But why?

My dad told me how he was amused that one of his “friends” at church, whom we will call Brother F., is worried about him. (I vaguely recall Brother F as being either our current home teacher or maybe a past home teacher, but I honestly couldn’t tell you…which says a lot about how much home teaching we’ve gotten. [If Brother F is not our home teacher, then I apologize. I honestly don’t know anymore.]) Brother F is friends with us on Facebook, so I guess we are still in contact…if contact can amount to Brother F’s regular, hyperconservative Facebook scrawls.

Nevertheless, Brother F reached out to my father and expressed concern. He feared that my father was discouraged with the church.

My dad said, “Not so. I just feel like I’ve moved beyond some of the things that happen at the ward.”

When I heard my dad’s story, I could see how Brother F had come to that conclusion. My father has had some of the same feelings and experiences in communities like our ward that I have in the ward or in online communities (which is why I think this is just indicative of a more widespread human trend, and not just specific to Mormonism.)

Most of these thoughts are paraphrased.

“What I realized when I first started working on the weekends was that I was less stressed out.”

(My dad works in the E.R.)

“I’ve come to realize that the value I get from actually going to church and dealing with those people is learning to have the patience to deal with those yahoos and learning to deal with being taken for granted, not heard, and not understood.”

(This actually reminds me of that one talk…Why the church is as true as the gospel [PDF warning].)

“And what I dislike is that many people don’t realize that I have changed. I was once a lot more in-people’s-faces, and I hurt some feelings, and they resented me for it. But then I started stepping off line…but people didn’t seem to notice or care.”

(Not only that. But as soon as you get out of people’s face, they walk all over you. Which is part of the reason why you get in people’s faces in the first place…)

However, he notes that his faith and spirituality are most certainly strong…he cannot deny the things he has experienced and the things he experiences on a daily basis…but he notes that he must take his approach on an extremely personal level.

“When I go to church, I say yes to the right answers and no to the right answers. So, I don’t try to disturb things. But if someone truly asked me my thoughts on some issues, I’d have some very different answers.”

From recent conversations, I can see both Brother F’s suspicion and my father’s counter. If the church is the greater group, along with what the Brethren say, etc., then my father certainly would look “discouraged.” Nevertheless, what I see too is that his faith is not shattered like wood too dead to yield to raging forces…but rather it is like a living vine that twists and turns, flexible as it needs to be but still rooted.

But I like what he has said. He’s not discouraged. Rather, he has moved beyond some of the petty struggles.

(I guess this can be a father’s day post?)


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  1. Andrew, I think even a part of me is still holding out a place where you make it “back to the fold.”

    I just know better than to make an issue of it.

  2. aww shucks

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