Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Do you feel comfortable in church?

Ned Flanders posts on his problems with the church are profound and though provoking, and Ann's honesty have validated my feelings. Last night as I was reading the latest post, I remembered something that happened last week.

I have chronic fatigue/epstein-barr and haven't been to church much in the last couple of months. Even before I had this latest relapse of illness, I had mixed emotions about church. My stake president doesn't like me (I bossed him and he took offense).

A former friend despises me. I also, as you would imagine, have many good and wonderful friends.

But church isn't about friendship. I have stayed active and in the church because I believe. I've said often that if I ever left the church, it would be because of the bad words who I run into fairly regularly. I told my sister, just the other day, as she was wondering if she should take the sacrament because she smokes, that she's just as good as the jerk sitting next to her who doesn't smoke. We're all sinners in the chapel during sacrament.

To my point: I had to go in on a Saturday to post the visiting teaching stats. I took my little grandson and his friend and their basketball and parked them in the gym as I walked down the silent building to the clerks office. I drank in the quiet of the surroundings and realized that I loved it there. I thought how sad it was that I don't feel that on Sundays when people are there.

The next day I attended church for the first time in a month with Bill and Maxwell for moral support. And I pondered the implication of the peaceful feeling I'd had the day before versus the onery feeling I had. I argued in my head with people who walked in and thought bad thoughts about them. Well, not all of them, many of them are good friends, like I said.

I believe that I am the problem and that no matter where I go, I will take myself. It's troubling to sit in a meeting and hear a testimony and not be able to agree. I agree with the truthfulness of the gospel, I just don't agree with the scorekeeping, the comparisons I hear, the crap. I wonder if I'll be able to stick it out and keep my mouth shut and remain faithful. I wonder if I'll get kicked out because I finally break and tell my stake president where to go.

It's a scary feeling to see the church with its flaws, to believe, and to not belong. I wonder where God stands in those equations.


White Man Retarded said...

Man, you open a can of worms! Ha! I feel often the way you do, but I also think you can be active in the Gospel and miss Church. The only reason we have services on Sunday is to partake of the Sacrament and strengthen and edify one another, to support each other in our sufferings, and I think sometimes due to our insecurities, etc. we feel the need to put on a 'front' of righteousness at Church. For those whom are more sensitive to such things, such as myself, we tend to alienate ourselves for whatever reason. I have a friend who thinks Members need to cuss more! Ha! And he is the most spiritual man I know. It is the seemingly eternal conundrum of outward appearances vs. inner person. The Lord knows us, but also those who falsely accuse are suffering in their own right; who am I to judge them? Their affliction is not mine. Does any of this make sense? And for the coffee drinker (hell-bound...hahahaha), it's like the 300lb buffet-indulger accusing the smoker of breaking the Word of Wisdom. Let the one without sin cast the first stone...

Eric Nielson said...

I don't know if this will help or not, but I think it may be a little of track to ask, 'what does church do for me'? After a time we should probably think more like 'what can I do for the church'?

God has greatly blessed us already.

Anyway, hope I am not to off track.

Ann said...

An interesting post, AGB. In the last month or so, I have started to go to Relief Society again, after being on the "one hour block" for close to three years.

I'm only going for the people. The lessons are just as weird as ever, but there's something about being in a room full of women who recognize each other as spiritual sisters that helps me feel connected.

Church for me is all about connection these days - to God If There Is A God, and to other people.

I haven't always felt that way, and I don't always feel that way now - sometimes I turn into a regular porcupine. When that happens, I try to think of one good thing about my potential victim. Everybody has one good thing.

Just love them, A. Don't give a second thought to how they feel about you, because if they don't love you too...well, that's their loss. And it doesn't mean you can't love them anyway.

(big hug)

Oh, and to answer your question, yes, I do feel comfortable at church. But it was a long, long time coming, and I've had to change a lot of inaccurate thinking to get to that point. For example, I don't have to like or approve of everything. The church doesn't need to change to accomodate me. And damnit, it's my church too. My name is on the roles and I was baptized and confirmed and I have a calling and just because I don't live up to other people's expectations doesn't mean I'm less a member than anyone else.

Oh, and here's my favorite. I reserve the right to be wrong. And other people are allowed to be wrong, too. Being right ain't all it's cracked up to be.

annegb said...

Patrick, you make sense to me. I struggle with that all the time.

Eric, I think you're absolutely right, as well. One thing I try to communicate to my friends in the ward who share my complaints is that the answer lies in service. The more you give, the more you get.

I love what you say about being wrong, Ann. I heard a guy in an AA meeting say once, "I no longer have to make my point." I'm not there yet, and blogging isn't good for me in that respect.

But I'm so intrigued by your experience. It's not that I don't feel loved or accepted, I do. I've been in this ward for 30 years and I have dear friends. It's a mixed emotion situation.

I just ask myself why do I feel so uncomfortable there if I believe? I heard this thing in Sunday School this Sunday, a lady said something that if you don't get Isaiah, you're not truly spiritual and I could feel people just wilting around me. I thought, "what a crock."

That's sort of what I mean. I wanted to laugh out loud. I mean, who makes up this stuff?

a. nonny spouse said...

We've done some serious ward hopping as we've moved around in the last three years, and it's--well, I can say that it's interesting.

I wonder if the on-planet-Mars (but they think it's Kolob) people really realize what they're saying and how inconsiderate and insane they're being. We had a gospel doctrine teacher in our last ward tell us all kinds of things about praying for the spirit of Joseph Smith to accompany us and how if people are anything except happy they can't have spiritual experiences. I think she thought she was helping strengthen everybody's testimony when she was actually just alienating people.

When things like that happen--people say ridiculous stuff or bring out their favorite stereotype to harp on (like that you can only be a spiritual person if you love and perfectly understand Isaiah)--I think it's other people's obligation to call the crazies on their craziness. There was a new member in our old ward who was in his seventies who'd do that--say to the crazy lady, "Are you actually saying that ______?" and then she'd realize how ridiculous she was and have to back up.

Of course, I don't do that. I just think, "Um. You have no idea what you're talking about," and faze out for the rest of Sunday School. I don't think I've heard a Sunday School lesson in years, which is a sad commentary on my personal religiosity.

The end.

Ann said...

My friend Dathon tells of a former bishop, WML, etc. who would sit in priesthood with his notepad writing "B***s***" over and over again. People thought he was taking notes.

Over in the DAMU, we refer to the experience of "calling someone" on their insane theories "Lead Balloon Moments." The problem is coming up with a loving, positive way to say "B***S***" ON THE SPOT. I am always very good at coming up with a counter that isn't snotty or sarcastic. Unfortunately, it takes me about five hours. By then, of course, the moment has passed.

For example, a good response to the Isaiah lady could have been "Gee, I thought all you needed was the gift of the Holy Ghost." And there are lots of other snotty things to say after, but of course, that doesn't help with the "belonging."

Remember when we had the "sparrow prayers" discussion on somebodies blog a few months ago? Your response really made me think. You know, nothing has changed about people thanking God for their found car keys or their fixed printer cartridges except that someone I like a lot said that this works for her, too. (Hint: that would be you.) And as a result I've completely changed my attitude about it. I don't happen to believe that God works that way myself, but I don't mind that other people do. More power to 'em! However they want to see God in their lives is ALL GOOD.

So, maybe you can just trust ME on this: You Belong. Feelings are not always an accurate measure of reality. You can decide that you belong and just ignore the feelings to the contrary, because really, AGB, they just aren't accurate. If ANYBODY belongs, friend, it's you.

Heather said...

People are always going to say crazy, crazy things whether you are at church, at work, on the bus, or in the media. There is no way to get around that. I just have to remind myself that the gospel is true, not the church. The church is full of people who make mistakes and say weird/completely wrong things now and then. But the gospel is always true and that is what I hold onto. I also try to remember that everyone is really trying to do/be the best they can even if it doesn't seem like it to me. We are all in this big boat together and sometimes people rock the boat on purpose, but more often I have found, they rock it on accident and I am learning to forgive and leave room for error and to help right the boat again. That is what has made Testimony meeting and Relief Society lessons less upsetting and irritating for me.

a random John said...


send me your email address and I'll send you some extended thoughts on the matter. mine is johnharrison @ (no spaces)

A. Nonny Mouse said...

Woah, arj reveals himself! Cool! You saw it here on Annegb-justsayin!

Growing up my dad would sit in the foyer reading some "intellectual church book" during sunday school. During priesthood, I don't know what he did, because I was in primary and by the time I was in Young Men, he was in the bishopric.

But, I'm pretty sure he did it for the same reasons you're giving: people say stupid things in Gospel Doctrine.

I think the best Gospel Doctrine classes I have ever been in were on my mission: I was typically with people who had been members for only a short time, lets say less than 10 years. Even the folks who had been members their whole lives didn't have very many wacky theories, for the most part. There was the occasional, "pray for the spirit of Joseph Smith during my lesson, because I have a spiritual gift that tells me that somebody is being contentious in their heart here today" type person, like the Nonny Spouse and I had in our last ward, but generally, things were relatively simple and spiritual.

Strangely enough those people who had simple faith taught me what I think is the ideal set-up for church: they honestly came each week with each other's best welfare in mind. It's hard for me to do that when teachers say ridiculous things which are patently false and faith-damaging. I don't know what the ideal way of approaching church is, from this point of view, but if you figure it out, Annegb, please let me know :)

Elizabeth-W said...

Move here and go to church with me, please. :)
I think we can make ourselves uncomfortable no matter our circumstances. It's easy to feel we don't belong if we get in that headspace. I fight it allll the time. The comments people have made have been really good for me to read.
I have to teach RS on Sunday, and the lesson is from Pres Monson's talk True to the Faith, in which he talks about avoiding temptations, and then lists 4-immorality, drugs/alcohol, porn, and excessive debt. I've been thinking for the past three weeks that there is no way I can lecture these upstanding women about these 'problems' because I'm pretty sure none of them have problems in this area. Then, yesterday I had an epiphany of sorts, that of all the things Prs Monson could pick, he chose those things. Maybe, just maybe because they're the most plaguing, the most common. So, I got over seeing myself as the only person potentially at risk for those things, and started wondering who else in the room might suffer from those traps ;) and then it got easier to be compassionate about their potential suffering.

I also think about how I felt about Mormons after I moved to Utah. Before, in Texas and NM, the only time I saw Mo's was on Sunday--we were all pretty spread out, so it seemed like I knew less personal stuff about people; I only saw their "Sunday" behavior. Once living in Utah, and rubbing shoulders with people daily, I saw the Saints for what they are, warts at all. It was a rude awakening, but comforting, too. I think if you got to start over in a new ward, you wouldn't have so much history with them, and could love them with a clean slate??

By the way, what is your stance on a sister going alone to do her VT? I'm curious because I have some opinions, too :)

Jeff said...

Do I feel comfortable? Not really... I don't fit in at all.

annegb said...

Okay, I'm laughing at the bishop writing bullshit. Sometimes I write stuff in shorthand, which I write fluently.

Nonny, I actually looked around at the smart people sitting there and thought, "somebody say something." I couldn't because the teacher's stepson molested my daughter and is in jail, VERY BIG DEAL in our ward, because he also molested 7 other daughters of the ward. I'm in an awkward position there.

I do the same as your dad, read a book. I let myself if it's remotely connected to church. Which now I'm reading Levi Peterson's book. Which is pretty remotely connected, but interesting.

Ann, what is this DAMU? I've heard it once in awhile and I ask, but nobody answers. I thought it was "damn you" but I was wrong.

I do remember the sparrow prayers! Last night I was in a hurry and found a parking place close and thanked God and thought of you LOL.

What I was thinking of saying to that girl (who I adore) is "okay, that lets out most of the people in this room."

Elizabeth, I was thinking about this last night and I realized a lot of my problem is living in Utah where the social thing is so strongly associated with church membership.

I had the experience once that you describe in teaching a group of teens about the Word of Wisdom. I chose to discuss three things good teens have a problem with: not getting enough sleep, driving crazy without seatbelts, and suicide. Boy, did those kids sit up and listen. I appreciate that you want to make your listen resonate with your ladies.

I'm in solid favor of a sister going alone if circumstances dictate. 80% of the women in our ward work and it's almost impossible for some to get together. We try to have them go together if possible, but three women go alone at their request and it's been totally successful.

I've been in this ward 29 years and I know everyone well enough to be very care-ful in making assignments. It's still a never ending story.

You guys, I feel that I belong here. I know I'm important and loved in my ward, but I still can't quite find my place. Part of that is the problem with my friend and her child, I'm sure, but part is that here on the blog, we are open, we discuss difficult topics. Can't do that in church. It's pretty much lead balloons all the time :).

I know I belong in church. Maybe belonging isn't all about personal comfort and ease. "Life is hard." M. Scott Peck and probably a lot of other wise people.

Elizabeth-W said...

Yeah!!! I think we should be able to go alone, too, if it's the only way to get it done. Sometimes I think it's also easier to talk about difficult stuff if there are less people to be in the conversation. :)

Barb said...

I am not sure if this dialogue every took place as it was in a made for tv movie about Anne Franks that I think was done by Disney. There is a scene where Anne's sister remarks after reading her diary that she never knew that Anne had such depths in her. Anne said how she has all that inside, but people get in the way!

When I first joined the Church, I was so shy and often felt "frumpy" as I did not have as nice as clothes as a lot of the other women. Everyone made me feel welcome and thankfully that is still the case. With my idiosyncracies, I would think that people would want to avoid me. Instead, they keep inviting me. They make me feel more normal than I actually am. I know people speak of the stigma of mental illness. In my case, people seem to have been so accepting of my mental illness. In same ways that is hard as I do not think they realize the actual level of my limitations. I do not stay away because I do not want to go to Church. I stay away because my illness makes it so hard to go. People have expectations of me that I can do a lot. And maybe it is stubborness or lack of faith that holds me back. Not that this has anything to do with the subject at hand, but I hate it when therapy programs for ocd shift the blame back to the person with ocd if they do not get well by saying that the person threw in the towel. How can they make the claim that any therapy would universally work for all people. There is no scientific way to prove that as those that do not make it would have unmeasurible factors. I know I give my ocd far more power than I should. I always say that I am not going to be public about my ocd or my past anymore. And here I go again. But it is nice to have a place to air one's feelings and not know the people. I do not discuss my ailments much with friends or even family. I tell my parents constantly what I worry about though as they will either tell me it is stupid or illogical or tell me to shutup if they are tired of hearing from me. If they tell me to shutup, that is when I cannot cope and often have meltdowns. I function by running things by them that I worry about as I am not comfortable enough to tell other people these days for the most part. I avoid going most places and if I go some place other than work these days, it is with my mom for the most part. That is usually about every six weeks that we go anywhere. But I don't mind not going places as I have more fun than you can imagine online at the 'nacle.

White Man Retarded said...

I hate ocd. I hate depression, bipolarity, and all its subtle narcissism...Hey Anne, have you read The Time-Traveller's Wife? I thought it was pretty good.

Ann said...

DAMU=DisAffected Mormon Underground. I like the abbreviation because it's a word.

Life is difficult. Good thought. Your ward is going through a terribly difficult time right now (if seven girls have been molested, and the perp is in jail, that's a huge, huge trauma to the whole ward). It will take a long time for things to get back to "normal," and "normal" may not look a lot like it did before when you get there again.

Another thought that occurs to me is how you felt so comfortable with everything being all quiet. That's really not a normal state for an LDS church during services. Maybe now that you are an empty nester, you have less patience with the hubbub of the normal Sunday atmosphere, and it makes you uncomfortable.

The Wiz said...

You know, you make me feel like I'm a crappy GD teacher and don't know it! In fact, many of the blogs do. I hear of so much crap that happens in GD and I'm like, "that just doesn't happen in my ward." But then, I am the teacher (or one of them) and so maybe I am just a loon and don't know it.

Although I have never heard of people praying for the spirit of Joseph Smith. Weird. And I would never tell someone that they weren't spiritaul enough if they didn't understand Isaiah.

annegb said...

Jeff, we can form a Mormons for Buffy fan club. I love the line from the movie, "all I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die."

Wiz, I suspect you're a very good teacher. Actually the guy who teaches our class is a good teacher, he's not perfect, but pretty good. Everybody says stupid things once in awhile.

Yeah, Patrick, I've read that book, but I can't quite remember it. I remember that he kept appearing at different ages to his wife. Wasn't he young and he came to her when she was old in the end? I remember it was well written and I read it very quickly, I just can't remember the ending.

Barb said...

Patrick(I think that is your name), I hope you hate ocd but love the person. You seem cool so I am sure I took it the right way.

I am in such a good mood today. I had a great talk with a sister in my ward who I really click with. And she has panic attacks, which are different than what I experience in a lot of ways. I only met her through my calling as I have never seen her in person. I hope to get a chance some day. And I was giving her an email address of someone who said they would like to get to know her and I confused my "g" with my "j", which is something I do a lot. She said she does that too. I can be friends with people that are different than me. I think I relate best to people who are like me in some ways. They get me.

Yesterday was also such a beautiful blue sky/ fluffy cloud day with the flowers so pretty. I was in such a good frame of mind just being in the world!

If only Church were in a big open field and I could go without touching or bumping into anybody or having anybody come close to me, then I would be comfortable at Church.

I miss the days when I could go and be uplifted.

White Man Retarded said...

Barb, I'm the coolest...ha! I was writing about ocd because ocd is so intertwined with depression and depression is my mistress, so I feel I know, although I could just be insane...I don't know. I like going to Sunday School just to hear the stupid stuff. Oh yeah, also the good stuff, too. Life is funny; one day, we'll all be dead and laugh at ourselves until we cry, and then we'll cry for a long, long time.

Barb said...

Patrick, I am glad that I do not consider myself depressed today. When my ocd started to consume my life, I think that would have been the case. I have learned to laugh at myself a lot. And I cry so much less than I used to cry. I do hope that you are doing okay right now. Depression for some seems like a life sentence but many can have so much time free of the pain. I really talk far too much about my ocd giving a depression that I am not happy. I am happy so much of the time as my ocd below a certain threshold is manageable to me. When I am home without company, I also do so good and get so relaxed.