i wouldn’t say i’ve been *missing* it, bob

Uhg. Blub, blub. These are my thoughts every time I begin to write a response to the church-thing. Really, Katie, CHURCH? Is this how everyone feels when I write about food? Not for the reasons someone might think; not because I don’t like church or the people who do. (Obviously, because I LOVE YOU and YOU LOVE CHURCH!) It’s just a difficult subject for me to discuss, given the shortfalls of our usually-sufficient English language. Sometimes there are such perfect verbs, nouns, adjectives, to describe my thoughts, experiences, struggles. (But never adverbs, because ADVERBS SUCK.)  But when it comes to such deeply personal, emotionally-charged, enigmatic topics as faith, spirituality, belief…and the baggage around them and the associations made with them–church being one of them–the language fails me. (I guess this is why you are the one who writes about faith.)

In my mind, a person can be spiritual without being religious or having faith, can be religious without belief or spirituality, can be a believer without being religious…you get the idea. Yet most people use these terms like they’re interchangeable.  And the language is tricky, too, because of the inherent implications. By that, I guess I mean taking a label and understanding what it implies by considering its opposite.  Is the opposite of a stay-at-home-mom a mother who stays away from home? If you aren’t pro-life, does that mean you’re pro-death? In a word: no. There aren’t really accurate (or prevalent, at least) words in my case for what my personal views are on the topic of faith, spirituality, belief. But they definitely aren’t just the opposite of common labels.  For example, I bristled, for reasons I don’t really understand, when I read “some people don’t claim faith at all…” It made me picture a lonely, old baggage carousel with one floppy suitcase on it labeled “faith” without anyone there to pick it up. But don’t we have to clarify, faith in what? Belief in what? Religious about what? I guess, for the sake of keeping this post blog-length, I’ll assume we’re talking about the western understanding of God and all his peeps.

So, I’ll do the best I can. Let me state what I hope is obvious: I only speak to my experience. I want to do it with compassion and understanding and I hope this is the way it’s received. Furthermore……and also……uhg. Blub, blub.

So I’ve been to a lot of church in my life, too. I grew up going to Baptist-variety churches for every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night service. That’s three church services a week, every week, for most of my childhood. And I loved them. I loved the music and the potlucks and my “church-clothes.” (And the Mario Brothers at the preacher’s house afterwards, while the adults drank coffee and chatted.) I went to at least two church camps every summer from the time I was 10 until I was 18. I also loved them. I loved the music and the softball and the preacher’s son, who was my first kiss, on the softball field one night past curfew. (Want to shout-out a “sorry” to my aunt, who was my chaperone that year at camp.)

As an adult, after I went to college, dropped out and became a flight attendant, quit that and went back to college, I weaved in-and-out of a bigger variety of churches. Catholic churches, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist. Really hip We-Don’t-Label-Ourselves-But-We-Meet-In-A-Basement-And-Are-All-God’s-Children churches. Once, when I lived in Memphis, I was the only white person visiting a televised Pentecostal church that had a robed, hand-clapping  gospel choir and people convulsing in the aisles. A big group of them took me out to lunch afterwards at a cafeteria-style restaurant, where I promptly fainted in the macaroni-and-cheese line. When I came to, there was laying on hands and praising God for overwhelming me with his presence. I excused myself to the restroom, for a little private recovery time and realized I’d started my period. That, coupled with my recent anemia diagnosis (I was vegetarian at the time) might have been the reason for the fainting, or may be just the scientific explanation for God’s mysterious ways. We’ll never know.

Around the time I met Chris, I finally began to get honest with myself about what I do and don’t believe. You’re right, Katie–church can be such a life-giving place, when it’s done right. Acceptance, grace, goodness; all that stuff. That’s the stuff that kept me going long after I stopped believing pretty much everything the other church-goers believed in. (And the music. I sang and played guitar in the band of almost every church I’ve gone to since I left home. The music is powerful. It moves me.) But the reason for the gathering–what you call worship–doesn’t work for me as a social, public thing and leaves me feeling like, ultimately, I don’t belong and don’t want to belong.

Paradoxically, having kids is what really cemented the change of my church habits. (or lack thereof.) I say “paradoxically,” because most people return to church once they have kids–because of all the great things about it– and I’m the opposite. I don’t want to bring my children up with a religion. Yes, there are voids we feel as a family by not going to church: the sense of community, the rituals and celebrations, the casseroles at the door made by strangers, the one time a week we get to wear great clothes. (This last one may just be me.) But I don’t think these things need to have anything to do with what I consider the most personal of matters, that which I find unexplainable and always changing: what I currently refer to as “the invisible world.” My kids believe in some ridiculous things right now: Santa, The Easter Bunny, Justin Bieber.

For me, this is not the time to confuse them with religious concepts that are shaky, at best, and cruel, at worst. Because they believe in one thing right now more than any: me and what I tell them.

So, what do we do with our time? Actually, we do things that are quite nice. Our closest thing to a Sunday routine is for one of us to run out for bagels, coffee, and the New York Times  while the kids sleep in. Chris and I read and chat, the kids roll out of bed and putz around with their toys and bikes. Last Sunday, we called up our neighbors, now good friends, and went for a multi-family hike in the Santa Cruz foothills.  Sometimes I go for my long run or Chris takes his long bike-ride. It’s unusually quiet out, as Sunday morning is the only time Palo Altans take a break from being ambitious. Maybe they’re all in church.

But I wouldn’t worry too much, if I were you, that those of us who don’t go are missing out. I mean, I get why you do, just like I worry people who haven’t tried yoga, or visited Mexico, or smoked pot, are missing out. (Maybe all three at once?) Chances are, the non-church-goers know what they’re missing, and this is why they’re choosing to miss it. We are friends with many of these types and together, we make up a different kind of community. We depend on each other for the casseroles and baby-sitters and strong shoulders to lean on. At our home, instead of prayer, we go around the table before we eat and tell each other what we’re thankful for. We celebrate the equinox and solstice and the natural world. (This is not the same thing as worshiping the devil, which I’m pretty sure I was told at some point when I was a child.)  And there are always people like you, Katie, who bring the food and love and support anyway, even to people like me, who don’t go to church.

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14 thoughts on “i wouldn’t say i’ve been *missing* it, bob

  1. I just gotta know… are you lying about the “kids sleeping in” part? Or just bragging? My kids poke me in the ribs at 6:39am on a good day. I like everything about this post except this part. This part just plain pisses me off.

    • sorry, cb, but the entire polonchek clan is not known for being early risers. we have to wake the kids at 7:30 to get them ready for school and they sleep until 8/ 8:30 on weekends. last weekend one of the twins slept in until 9:30! if it makes you feel better, we don’t really get much quiet time in the evenings, as we let the kids stay up later than average. our family is just sitting down to dinner when most kids are already in bed.

  2. I like this whole post, and I really relate to it. (By the way, thanks a lot to you both … I discovered your blog yesterday when I had boatloads of things I should have been doing rather than reading your interesting, thoughtful, smart posts.) But largely I felt compelled to comment because someone has *got* to compliment your title. Who doesn’t love a perfectly used Office Space reference?

  3. I really sort of see both sides completely on this. I love Katie and I’s church, because it’s amazing, real, honest, gritty (and not in the trendy, uber-cool way), and grounded in reality. I’m not sure I’d be going anywhere if it weren’t in existence. That would be really tricky because my parents would be woefully terrified of my ‘eternal future’. However, parental pressures aside, a lot of churches suck. I get why people don’t feel the need to subject themselves to egotistical preachers, needy know-it-alls with huge insecurities, and maybe most of all, the pressure to conform to something they feel wouldn’t be spot-on with their beliefs. I get it. I grew up in some crazy-ass churches. I feel I’ve seen the worst. I’ve felt manipulated, bullied, persecuted, and belittled all within the 4 church walls. I could’ve done without that. The one thing I’ve learned is, my understanding (or my perceived understanding, because who really knows if I’m really understanding God) of God has deepened and grown through all the shit the American church has launched at me. It’s not because of the institution of church, it’s because I rubbed up against some screwed up people. Some of those settings of shittiness shaped the revelations God had for me. I can compartmentalize other people’s problems and not attribute them to God or his community of people. I can look back and say, ‘That guy was an asshole’, and not feel like God had commissioned him to be a jerk to me. Every Sunday I willingly subject myself and my family to humanity. It’s a lot like the other days of the week, actually, except this piece of humanity is trying to do right, trying to invoke the kingdom of God on earth, and trying to love each other. These things can and do happen outside church walls, for sure, but I think the whole purpose for people seeking these goals coming together each week is important. We’re a team, a family and we’re f-ed up, too. But we’re trying.

    • jc, thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. one of my favorite phrases is “i see both sides of this issue.” specific to your response, i’ve been on both sides of a loved-one’s concern for the “eternal future.” (first, as the one concerned, now, as the one to be concerned about.) it’s a terrible burden and source of fear, guilt, and shame, for everyone involved.

      love the description of your church. i wish i would have made it in for a visit before moving to the land of milk, honey, and strong opinions about gay-marriage and marijuana. (aka “california.)

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