Monday, February 15, 2010

Caulfield Christians - Maybe

This isn't the posting that I had intended. I climbed our mountain last night and went into the coffee shop to write. That's where I was hoping to construct something semi-intelligent to say.

But, I was so discouraged that I came close to pulling the plug on this whole blog project. Denise tells me to write it just for my self as a type of therapy. But, like Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes, I had this overwhelming feeling that all was in vain. I'm still not sure if I will come back or not.

What got me so discouraged? I think it simply boils down to going to church and making an attempt to get more involved again. It happens every time. I just don't fit in anymore. It is not as blatant as when I was told that I couldn't be a Christian if I didn't believe that the earth was only 6,000 years old.

No, it was just a few subtle comments here and there. I attended the main preaching, then Sunday school led by the pastor, then an evening meeting led by the pastor. It was the first time in a long time that I've attended three lectures by him in one day. The subtle comments weren't even all by him. I even think this discouragement started during our Bible study on Thursday.

If I can't communicate what is so discouraging, that isn't new. Denise has no clue and I've talked about it with her many times. She views the world very differently. To her it is all about relationships (which isn't a bad thing). So the pastor could say that Jesus himself was at his house that morning eating an egg Mcmuffin and it wouldn't bother her. She would say, "Maybe he was." I wish that I could be like that, but I can't.

I think it is the narrative that I must either accept (which I don't) or become a lonely outsider
includes:

1) The complete Rush Limbaugh view of all things political,

2) The reason that the Muslims don't like us is because we are so good and they are so evil,

3) This was a God fearing Christian country up until the Democrats got control a few years ago. Now the gays and lesbians have ruined everything. We need to fight to get it back,

4) God is constantly speaking very specifically to each one of us every day. Everything, that's absolutely everything, happens for a reason.

5) Global warming is a myth,

So, these things are not that important (things I think Jesus would roll his eyes at) but have been woven so deeply in the American Evangelical gospel, that to not agree alienates you. It is a shame. I couldn't care less what others believe. I just wish they would grant me the same grace.

I woke up at 4 this morning and grabbed my computer. I started to read about the mainline presbyterian church on the island . . . once more. Then I thought about the nightmare that it would create if I tried to switch churches. I honestly do like all the people at my present church, but to them, I will become the "man who turned his back on God" if I switch. Denise won't go with me, so she will be the "faithful one who stayed with the Lord."

5) Never say anything that is not 100% positive.

It reminds me when I had a retreat for a group of 8 men. We (yes including me) were all Rush ditto-heads, except for one. By the second day this guy, Rob, burst out in anger screaming at all of us. I couldn't figure out what made him so mad . . . except that he was a Democrat. Now I think I know how he felt.

It should be Jesus + NOTHING. Not Jesus + be a good Republican, or Jesus + Hate the Muslims, gays and those who swear or Jesus + be at all the church programs.

I'm just blabbing. But I can certainly feel the draw of why so many leave the church . . . never to come back again.

With those discouraging words I will add once more how I, as the literary virgin, am enjoying my venture into good reading. I've never been so in touch with the raw human condition as I have through the eyes of those authors.

Speaking of which, I've decided to make further attempts to find an agent for my manuscript. I think what motivated me was the fact that one of my best friends' friend, has a book in the top 5 on the New York Times best selling non-fiction list. It is her fist book. I don't know how she got it published.

It reminds me of the vanity factor (as in Solomon) again. I watched the biathlon on Sunday. I've spent many days at Whistler and the Olympics bring it all home again. But this American had spent the last 15 years training for that moment. Then, as it was his turn, it started snowing hard with wet snow. So, by chance, his dreams were crushed and all that hard work went down the tubes. The wet snow made the trail much, much slower. Those who went before the snow hit, had much faster times.

It is that way with writing. I wish the best writer would win. I could clearly be the looser in that case and it wouldn't bother me. However, the way it works, so much depends on luck. You can't get published without an agent. An agent accepts about 5% of submissions (or less, sometimes much less). They do not want to see your manuscript but to only read one paragraph about it. So your 20 years of hard work comes down to one paragraph.

To make things even more an issue of luck, is the fact that there is not set guidelines of what will get their attention (except for avoiding the typos which I'm sure I did not here). I've had two different agents tell me opposite things. "It's too much about yourself" or "You didn't say enough about yourself." It is a toss of the dice to get "heard." I wouldn't bother me at all if a publisher read one of my manuscripts completely and then tell me it is crap. But this game of spending years and yet to have one manuscript read . . . that can drive you nuts.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you tried joining a writer's group? Or doing a course on writing memoir?

To be able to keep going in the face of rejection really requires that you have someone to champion your work on the sidelines. Although writing is solitary, there is a sense that it works best when it is communal as well.

I think you shouldn't be discouraged about whether your writing has promise because I think it's clear that it's striking a chord with many people on this blog. It articulates honestly and well some of the downfalls and struggles of evangelicalism, life, love, pain, loss etc.

The thing is though, most writers who are successful do serve out a long apprenticeship. There is as much craft, as there is art. So much of learning to write well is about learning to appreciate what other writers have done before you. In some senses, given your 'literary virginity,' you are in the early stages of your journey in this regard;)

I notice that you have read 'Blue like Jazz.' Have you read Anne Lamott's 'Travelling Mercies' and Madeleine L'Engle's memoirs? Looking at Joan Didion's memoir 'The Year of Magical Thinking' might be helpful too. I also enjoyed Francine Prose's book 'Reading Like a Writer' and Flannery O'Connor's work on writing 'Mystery and Manners.'

Perhaps you have done all of these things already and if you have, I hope you will forgive my presumptiousness! I don't read many Christian blogs but yours is one that I will come back to time and time again!

Jeff said...

I am a random internet stranger that stumbled across your blog while searching for a theological concept I now forget, but I've been lurking for a while now.

I just wanted to say I find your blog and struggle encouraging, and I wanted to, in turn, encourage you to keep writing it. Don't give up.

Recovering Alumni said...

Please don't quit!! I read alot of Christian blogs and yours is one of my absolute favorites. I identify with your struggle and don't have it figured out either, but I really appreciate hearing your thoughts. Don't give up!

Lutestring said...

*jumps out of woodwork to deliver entirely out of line input to someone who is probably about thirty+ years older than me*

No one on this earth has the authority to tell you that you cannot be a Christian.

And I'm an agnostic.

If there is an accounting at the end of our lives - it isn't to these people you'll be reviewing your own life.

moxie said...

I completely identify with your struggle. I deal with many of the same issues from my traditional evangelical family. My husband and I stopped going to church for a while, and while it's not something I generally recommend, I noticed that we stopped relying so much on what other people told us we should be and do and we started clinging to Christ's grace and mercy. We still struggle and we don't have all the answers, but it's been an interesting experience for us.

I highly encourage you to keep writing. You may think you're rambling, but you're not alone in your thoughts and I appreciate your honest thoughts on the journey.

Justin said...

MJ,
Regarding your manuscript... I've read the entire thing, even some earlier edits. The problem is not your writing or style, period. You are easily a better writer than a lot of authors who have multiple titles published. The issue is the "biz", and I have no clue how to help you there. All I understand is that the legwork is brutal. Have you looked into self-publishing an e-book?

Regarding your experience at [C]hurch... you are very much not alone. Keep telling it like it is. Please.

Marshall Davis said...

Thank you for your honesty. I have the same struggle. Consequently I am out of the ministry after 30 years of being a senior pastor. I also blog about it on occasion. I sometimes tell people that church almost destroyed by faith.

MJ said...

Thank you for your comments and support. I (and guess we all) do feel alone at times.

The few people who have read this blog and visited my church tell me, "Its not a bad church." It really isn't. I do like the people that go there very much.

But the issue is much bigger than this one church. It is the Evangelical culture that I shake my fist at at times.

A church can look good on the surface, but if it has any Evangelical roots, sooner or later you will face the exact same dysfunctionality. The mixing of politics (which have nothing to do with the Gospel), the egocentristic American view of everything. The personality disorders, which we all carry, are being wrapped up with the Gospel like a pig in a blanket.

But the big question is where do we go? Freelancing is an option, maybe the lessor of evils. The mainline churches don't even believe any of the Christian fundalmentals any more (which I do).

Friends have sent me the names of Christian men's groups. I read their stuff and I get the feeling that sooner or later (if I go to these groups) someone will start proclaiming their great gifts and how God has spoken to them how I should be doing such and such.

I am very agnostic when it comes to claims of constant supernatural works that most Evangelicals think they see. Why does that bother me? Well, if you live in a world where most of your reality is a psychological projection . . . how can you know anything. I would much rather live in reality and know God there than in a world of smoke and mirrors.

I understand much better why Frank Schaeffer choose the Orthodox Church. He was talking about how you can come and go with no expectations and no tentacles.

Our pastor strongly disapproves of any fellowship outside the "Traditional Church." The reason he always cites is "ACCOUNTABILITY!" But this is the great irony. That is what brings me the most dis-satisfaction with most local churches . . . absolutely no accountability. I want to have friends who know and care what the hell is happening in my private life. I want friends to call me to task when I get depressed or am rude to other people because I'm depressed. I want to have Christian friends for whom I can do the same. None of this happens at church where we must all pretend that we are perfect.

Marshall Davis said...

Mike:

Concerning the publishing of your MS (I just downloaded it and started reading it and it is excellent!), I published mine with a quality subsidy publisher (Winepress) and am very happy with the result. My book was then later picked up by a royalty publisher and translated and printed in Korea.

This way of publishing is so much better in so many ways than the regular royalty publishing route. Just something to consider.

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you the absolute WONDERS of becoming part of a church that is not a typical evangelical kind of church.

For me, it was the Epsicopal church, but I think any individual mainline church (that has a warm feel to it!) would do. :)

It was as if someone removed a huge weight from my shoulders that I had no idea I was carrying.

The only thing I can liken it to is what happened when I separated from my abusive husband: when I separated, I slowly discovered just how bad the abuse was. It is my opinion that the church world is hardly any different. The longer you are free of it, the more you realize just how horribly it was weighing you down, but when you are still IN it, you are so used to the insanity that while you can identify some of it, the truth is that you don't even realize the half of how insidious and destructive it actually is.

-M

PRS & ALS said...

Your comments about yur church remind me of the blog posting on Internet Monk today or yesterday. The conversation was about whether it is necessary as a Christian to be a member of a local church...

I too struggle with the expectations of people in evangelical churches that a person must be conservative, Republican to be a Christian. I get tired of the little comments made in Sunday School classes that make those of us who may not agree politically feel not a part of the group. I sometimes feel like I just don't belong and often go for my husband's sake. (I do like going to church with him) Thankfully I've found some effective ways of responding in times when the conversation gets political. Those conversations often are just rabbit trails, so I just change the subject or perhaps bring it back to the original subject at hand. I also ask some "have you considered" questions which gets people thinking. It is hard though to remain calm at times. But I've decided to choose my battles. I have been fortunate to find another group of people with whom I can be open about my true thoughts and questions and doubts. There are many things about this local church that I do appreciate. The people seem very genuine and caring. That goes a long way.

MJ said...

Marshall, Thanks for your idea about Winepress. You appear to have an interesting blog. I hope to come back and read more when I'm not sitting here doing my taxes.

MJ said...

M (must be the Alaskan M), I think I will visit the Presbyterian church next Sunday. I visited it two Sunday's ago but this time I will check out a couple different services.

I did attend the Episcopal church here . . . at least a special meeting they did one evening "What Does it Mean to be Spiritual." I know that each church is different but this meeting was off the scale for weirdness . . . extreme New Age. The leader spoke just like this (no exaggeration), "The movement of the circle energy brings the hope of the existence of being to encompass the mother spirit of our inner self to express that fulfillment of birthing experience an our collective consciencesness." This pastor made no sense and you couldn't even have a rational discussion with her. But each church is its own. I think on our island the Presbyterian or the Lutheran have the best hope.

But the great difficulty is that my wife totally opposes me going to another church and I do understand her point. Her best friends go to our present church.

MJ said...

PRS & Amp, Sorry I missed that discussion on Imonk. Between my computer being down for three weeks and me being out of town for a week, I haven't been over there in a while. I like those more controversial topics like IMonk use to do. His substitutes seem to focus on more things like sacraments (which don't interest me too much).

I attended a much larger church in Minnesota and it was much easier to do as you described because I was not alone.

Here, it is difficult because they are literally 7-8 men in the church and all (but my dear friend Bob, who is back in Italy for the next 6 months) are on a very different page than me. I sat through a 8 week video series by Ken Ham and I thought my head was going to cave in. Week after week I heard from the others (during discussion) how college is ruining our kids and no kid should go to college unless it is Calvin College. How Al Gore is the Anti Christ (they said it tongue n cheek) or Obama is a evolutionist. Blab blab blab.

Anna A said...

You have my sympathy, because I am often the outsider looking in.

I can't imagine having to sit through Ken Hamm, and young earth creationism.

For a grin-my situation is opposite than yours, I'm a Republican surrounded by Democrats.

MJ said...

Holy Crap! I can't get my head around a church full of Democrats. :>) I'm neither, so I would probably not like a church with an agenda for either party.

Anna A said...

MJ,

Just check out your local Catholic Church, especially if it has liberal tendencies.

I agree with the fact that the needs of the poor should be met, but disagree strongly with the methods.

E. A. Harvey said...

"I think it simply boils down to going to church and making an attempt to get more involved again. It happens every time. I just don't fit in anymore."

Wow, took the words right out of my mouth. I was at worship team practice the other night (trying to get involved again), and they were talking about Dr. Dobson and some new cause to be outraged about because the liberals, and atheists, and feminists were at it again, and yadda, yadda, yadda. I looked around the group and thought to myself, "Is this really what you think Christianity is about? If so, what am I doing here? But... where else would I go" It sucks feeling like you don't fit in but having no other viable alternative.

MJ said...

E.A. I know that I sometimes feel like I'm the only person on the planet with these struggles. I seem like the cynical, un-happy complainer. But really, is this what it means to be a Christian these days. That you have to buy into the whole American-conservative-anti-global warming-young earth-pro-capital punishment stuff? When I read Jesus, he seemed to distant himself from the social baggage keeping his words simple and direct.