Friday, March 15, 2013

A Little Crazy Behind the Eyes: The Bachelor and How to Date 15 Churches at Once

church alive, worship, church
Apparently "Worth the Drive"

by Amanda Taylor

My parents packed up and carried off their three little girls to church every week, every Sunday morning, every Sunday evening, and every Wednesday night for my entire childhood. Thirty-five minutes it took to get to the modest, small brown building on the left-hand side of North Court Street in Circleville, Ohio. Thirty-five minutes to get there, thirty-five minutes to get home, every week through the cornfields and past the paper plant to sit in the pew right behind the 85 year-old woman who’s had When the Roll is Called Up Yonder memorized since 1936.

“A Church Alive is Worth the Drive.”

What is a “church alive?” That phrase has continued to silently whisper in my ear, haunting me since its plastic black letters first appeared on the church sign out front 22 years ago. By many of today’s standards, this church was deadern’ a doornail. Small, both cramped and yet somehow drafty, adverse to change, enthusiastic about routine, skeptical of outside influence, a lover of How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts.

It is as objectionable to me now as it is entrenched. The comfort, love, and safety I feel in that small Church of Christ setting is something that I am certain will never be replicated, but it is also confining, and limiting, and maddening. So where do I belong? How do I practice this faith in a way that will honor my parents’ commitment, as well as the great blessing and curse of my own?

After swim practice in the fifth grade a friend asked me what religion I was, and when I answered, “Church of Christ,” they told me that wasn’t a thing. Feeling bad for me, they asked if I was, you know, Catholic or something? I pondered, unsettled, and panicked and then asked my dad on the way home from church the next Sunday, Hey Dad? Are we Catholic? Only years later did I realize how incredible my question sounded to him, once it became a running joke through our entire extended family that I might be “the Catholic one,” but that I wasn’t sure.

reality TV, The Bachelor, rose ceremony, rose
A little crazy.
Perhaps this confusion about belonging burrowed a little too far into my heart and mind, because now I wonder all over again “what I am.” I must go to church; I have gotten this far.  But the decision of where that will occur is another matter entirely. I find myself, having watched The Bachelor a time or two, seeing parallels between my pursuit for a church community and the latest Bachelor’s quest to date 15 women at one time. Every single option is beautiful, though it carries with it the subtle suspicion of crazy behind the eyes.  

For the record, I don’t think it’s normal to date 15 people at one time. The idea of getting to pick your soul mate while chaotically making out with as many people as you can get away with in the meantime is insanity, which I presume is why it makes for such good television. The human emotion on display is very raw (reference ugly cry here) but it’s expressed in the midst of an entirely orchestrated and fake environment. How do you honor what is real within a production?  

Doesn’t church educate me about what is true and eternal in this human experience through the mechanism of a production? Are churches focused on creating an environment that draws you in and convinces you of their authenticity and relevance, in a great bid for relationship? If The Bachelor is how we are normalizing relationship building in society, is not the church susceptible to similar whimsical and fleeting ideas of commitment? I don’t know how to date 15 churches without inherently judging them all and committing to none, and I’d appreciate being able to blame reality television if at all possible.  

In participating in all these competing religious environments however, I’m struck more by the similarities than the differences. I notice the love and the passion and the cold indifference, coexisting in foldout chairs and velvet-lined pews. I see and experience comfort in the routine, and feel resentment in our complacency. I feel music wash over the body gathered, the rhythm of the words fusing the masses, the repetition calming and steadying, and maybe the drums, either loud and accosting or beating out any worry and tension we’ve brought with us that day.  

The uniting of many for the glory of one is very powerful, and critically important to the practice of faith. We humble ourselves before what is perfect in the hope that we may rest in it, for just a moment, to carry away to the corners of our world whatever remnants are gracious enough to linger.

Pope Francis I, Jorge Bergoglio, conclave
Person or symbol?
Watching the black smoke turn to white this week, I found myself humbled by the Catholic faith, connected to it. This is the uniting of many, centered, focused on who will lead them in pursuit of the glory and honor of one. This is not political posturing or parochial strategy or a statement to society as much as it is the body of Christ, a church alive.

The press surrounding this important and significant changing of the guard is chilling; it’s analytical and manufactured, yet it reminds me too much of my pursuit of a church community. We have already stripped Pope Francis of his humanity and understand him instead as his geography, his routines, his Jesuit background, and his political implications.  

The Catholic faith quickly becomes a body we review as we would another social psychology case study, peering in upon its internal strife and posturing, labeling so much as scandal and tawdry. We turned church into The Bachelor and asked ourselves if our favorite contestant won. How perilous to think of faith as something that can be contained by policy and bureaucratic refinement or understood by the world’s standards.

In the end church is a production of sorts, an orchestration of people, ideas, action, and relationship, to say something to the world and to the individual about the Creator. It is inviting us to see its relevance and look past its flaws and, more than anything, is asking for participation, for faith, to just show up to own version of a modest, small brown building on the left-hand side of North Court Street.

“It is to provide an example that submitting to the practice of worship and the leadership of those in charge is a Christian teaching about humility and submission to God.” My dad said that.

Amanda works in “community development” and no, she doesn’t know what that means either. Forever the critic. And enthusiast. Never one for dichotomies. Follow her on Twitter @tayloram03 if you’re not into receiving tweets.

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