Hitting the wall?


My church attendance might be hitting a wall. The trouble started last week during a discussion of the renunciation of wealth in my book group. I had never heard Christians discuss renunciation because my usual experience of them has been that they only differ from non-Christians in that they go to church, equate Christianity with American patriotism, blame the desperate for their desperation, and tend toward smugness and hypocrisy. By contrast, many of the people at Trinity take part in a feeding program for the poor and open their church doors on cold nights so that the homeless will have a warm place to sleep. Then there’s their priest who spends much of his time helping the homeless on the streets and visiting people in jail.

I don’t want to help the poor or visit people in jail, and church isn’t even on my list of deserving charities. Most notably, I find no meaning in Christ because too little is known about him to picture what he was like. As for the Biblical account, it portrays him as angry, impatient, self-contradictory, and a teller of troubling parables with uncertain meanings. What, therefore, do I have to offer to this church? I enjoy going; I owe a minor allegiance to its priest; and I try to make a positive contribution to the groups I’m in, but even if Francis is somehow right, and I will still be welcome as my atheism becomes more widely known, I will never really belong because I won't let myself really belong.

John’s children held an estate sale last weekend (John---pictured--was a friend whose death in July somehow inspired my return to church), and as I perused his 200 or so books, I saw that several of them were by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. In terms of right-wing hatefulness, Coulter makes even Rush look tame, yet reading such books didn’t inspire George to talk politics with me. He was ever gracious, ever generous, and while he could still be active, he volunteered at the local Catholic hospital and took a friend with Alzheimer’s into this home. Clearly, one doesn’t have to be a liberal Christian to be a good Christian. When I compare myself to this reader of Limbaugh and Coulter, it becomes obvious that I give almost nothing of myself, and I carefully measure what I do give.

I’m not na├»ve enough to imagine that any church is composed of saints, but it just so happens that the kinds of activities that I engage in at Trinity are the same activities that those who take their religion seriously engage in. For example, I go to Saturday mass, and my last book group read the autobiography of Dorothy Day, the woman who started the Catholic Worker movement. She was definitely hardcore in terms of renunciation, and Francis, as well as others, looked upon her as someone to emulate. I enjoyed the group until the discussion of renunciation, for it was only then that it hit me that I was on another planet from everyone else, because of my selfishness as well as my utter lack of belief in Christ on any meaningful level.

Another thing that has hurt me of late is that I’ve shared my blog address with a couple of people at church only to have one of them pointedly avoid me and the other act uncomfortable in my presence (all he said about my blog—not that I asked—was, “I tried to read your blog.”). I’m not too surprised by these reactions, and maybe I was even tactless to share my blog. Besides, I'm only talking about two people, but they and Francis are the only people I’ve shared my blog with, so their reaction has increased my feelings of estrangement and consequent disengagement. One of them is a transsexual, and I had imagined that he, at least, would understand what it is like to be hated for who he is, and to go through life with the feeling that he is looking in from the outside. Yet, he’s the one who goes out of his way to avoid me.

To complete my list of problems, Trinity and a local Lutheran church held a joint Thanksgiving service last night. I lasted ten minutes before I became so bored that I left, but I only mention this to illustrate how little patience I have for things that bore me, which means that I wouldn’t attend Trinity if it wasn’t truly important to me. Still, my main point is that this church is something of a sister church to Trinity, and on its website, it welcomes all ages, races, marital statuses, and sexual orientations, as well as addicts, the impoverished, the disabled, and people with a criminal record. It struck me that in advertising who is welcome (as is popular among liberal churches), churches likewise advertise who is not welcome. For instance, the list didn’t include atheists, racists, pedophiles, the morbidly obese, or anyone else liberals consider it acceptable to scorn, including conservatives. I believe the list could have been on Trinity’s site. Despite Francis’ optimism, I have no thought but what I will be held at arm’s length once my atheism becomes known, as it’s sure to do if only because of the comments I make and the questions I ask.

Anyway, my feeling of not belonging doesn’t come from any one thing, and maybe I’ve even made a poor case for it because I can’t always be sure but what a particular feeling predated the reasons that I give for it. In other words, did the reasons cause the feeling, or did the feeling exist below my conscious awareness until it found one or more reasons with which to justify its existence?