I still feel really out of my zone in Portland despite our living here for three years now.
I've been thinking about why I still feel like a stranger, and I think it has a lot to do with my misperception of church. When Jonathan and I met we were part of an amazing place, with a mix of ages and other socio-economic junk. The way they did the worship music built a community unto itself- anybody could play but you had to attend a regular Wednesday night rehearsal every week. If you weren't playing that week you'd study music or theology or sit around and eat donuts, but you were, forgive the Christianese, plugged in. At the time I just assumed other churches tried to do something similar.
We went to a church here called Imago Dei for two years before we started shopping again. Toby was dedicated there. Imago is famous for being post-modern, edgy, young: Don Miller's church. We loved the pastor, we loved the idea that creativity honors and expresses our creator, loved exchanging ideas for new tattoos, we even met a handfull (okay, three) friendly people there. I just ended up feeling completely unwelcome. I tried the membership class twice. Both times somebody asked "Why would God allow evil in our lives if he's supposed to be good". The first time the question came from an emotionally disturbed girl (a girl like the girl in The Breakfast Club but without the kissing and the emergence from weirdness). The teacher/pastor person basically said We Don't Have Time for That Kind of Question. I thought, well, maybe he's new to this and just wasn't ready to go there. He was following a hand out. But when it happened again, this time from somebody who had spoken to the church several times on Sunday and was on payroll there, I had had enough.
When I walk down the halls of a church, I guess I would hope to see some people planted there. They don't have to wear a tie and shake my hand. They don't even have to say anything, maybe smile sometimes, but if I have a question or want a program or need some prayer it would be nice to not feel as though I'm messing up their clique. And if it's a staff member then my feeling is they are OBLIGATED to be nice, because it's not their church.
At Imago I served on worship, I tried the classes (including one whose teacher later said he had questions about Jesus' divinity), I tried a house church, I served in the kid check-in, and I almost served as the Women's Coordinator. I told them I couldn't do that last one because my husband's job was changing, we might have to move, we might be adopting and I was pregnant with my second kid. They said okay, we'll find somebody else and never asked me about any one of those things again. Is that community? We've gone back from time to time because there are a few people we love, but the last two times people walked past me whose homes I've been in without so much as a Good Morning.
I wasn't raised in a church, but I have come to believe it's really important for me now to be part of one. I need mentors and inspirors and I need to serve. It baffles me that God would make it so flipping hard to figure out where I should be doing that. Lots of things He does confuse me, I have tons of questions and I can't understand why it would be hard to find the answers. I've spent a lot of the last year doing my own (lazy) kind of wrestling with God, which really amounted to me not asking him out to coffee or hiring Him for any gigs for a while. He still showed me some stuff, but I figured if He was going to be all distant then two could play that game.
For about a month we've been going to a new place. The pastor is completely amazing. He includes a heaping pile of verses every time, he's memorable and humble and funny. He reminds me of our Madison pastor- a man who looked and sort of spoke like an accountant but gave sermons I remember to this day. The church seems pretty bare-bones as far as I can tell, but it's got all the essentials.
I've changed my requirements for a church. If I don't make a bunch of bff's there, I'll be a little disappointed but not shocked. If we find a way to get directly involved, great. If not, then I'm going to buckle down and focus on the teaching. Which brings me to the biggest shift in my thinking: I am the only one responsible for my knowledge of God. No church or school or study will fix the problem if I don't just do it, no matter how many verses they cover. It's like practicing. Or running. Or any of a million SHOULDs I love/dread every day.
I'm trying to thicken my skin, to look for my family where God puts it. I'm hoping this makes me feel more at home.