Sunday, May 3, 2009

Before and After

My tattoo. Before.

I recently began re-attending (is that a word?) the Church I grew up in. This is very strange for me to say out loud or to write because when I left small town Ohio for college in not-quite-as-small-town Indiana, I thought I would never be back there. The church were I grew up was full of very conservative people who homeschooled their kids and tried to guide them into marrying other homeschooled kids. Women could work if they were single or married with no kids, but as soon as they popped out a kid (nine months from their wedding night, preferably) they should stay home and raise those kids and make more kids and then homeschool them when they reached school age. Maybe it wasn't that bad, but that's how it was in my mind. I know there were people there who didn't fit into that stereotype, but the ones who did really got to me.

When I decided against grad school in Indy and moved back home after college, I either didn't attend church or attended other churches sporadically. I was very disillusioned with the whole church thing. To me church was a place you went where people made you feel bad for not conforming and judged you for everything you did that they didn't agree with. When I was growing up, I never drank, smoked, partied, did drugs, swore (ok... maybe a few times), slept around, or blatantly disrespected my parents, but I still wasn't considered a good girl at the church. I wanted to go to the public school and go away to college and I wanted to have a career and the thought of being a stay-at-home mom was quite scary to me. I had a guy friend from that church whose mom constantly hovered around any time we were together. I think her greatest fear was that he would somehow fall for me and I would corrupt him beyond redemption.

So.... skip ahead to the present. It's more than I want to type here, but the story involves one of the few times in my life I heard God tell me to do something. And I know this means nothing to anyone who doesn't know me, but I truly am not the kind of person who constantly goes around saying that I 'heard God' about something. However, this was really obvious and SO not what I wanted to hear, that I can't explain it any other way. He said I needed to go home and that 'home' was the church I grew up in. I know it sounds crazy. I thought it was crazy. But if anyone has read any of my other blog posts they already know I'm crazy. What's a little more? Of course, me being the compliant person I am, I responded by deciding I would go back.... but only so it would be obvious that I didn't belong there.

My first Sunday back, I purposely dressed up nice (it's a pretty casual place) in a dress that showed the tattoo on my back. Ryan works weekends so he couldn't go with us. I figured that when I showed up all tattoo'd, with my kids and no husband, no one would talk to me and I would be off the hook for having to go back again. But..... despite that many things were the same, so many things were different. It seems that in the time since I left many people in the church started filling in gaps in community services. They started just meeting the needs of people in the community, no strings attached. Soup kitchen. Food pantry. Counselling center. Coffee house/place for kids to hang out. Arts programs. I looked around the sanctuary and saw a vast array of people.... Different races. Single moms. Recovering addicts. Adults with special needs. I was completely shocked.

Since I've been back I've heard people say things that actually make sense! Like, if you are pro-life it is your responsibility to support those moms who keep their babies. If you're pro-life you should be foster parents or adoptive parents. Someone has to take care of those kids. They can't be raised in a vacuum. I've heard again and again that Christians should study the way Jesus treated people and treat them that way. Who were the people who angered Jesus the most? Religious leaders who were too absorbed in their own agendas to look around and take care of the basic needs of people around them. Who were the people Jesus spent time with? The people who had needs - not just spiritual, but physical and emotional. It's not about converting people. It's about treating them like Jesus would treat them. You can't convince someone to be a Christian. But you can love them and pray for them and accept them where they are. I'm still amazed at times that it is the same place, with a lot of the same people in attendance.

No person is perfect. For sure, no church is perfect. I know there are still attitudes I don't agree with on some topics. But I think this is the first time I've experienced a change of heart in people on such a scale. Last week I saw this very conservative, home-schooling, mother-of-six talk to, and then hug, a guy who has long hair, wears thick black eye-liner, and every Sunday wears some sort of skirt that appears to be fashioned out of a pair of old cargo pants. The crazy thing is, this doesn't seem to be an act. These people really do seem to care about others regardless of how they look or what they do.

So, I have to say, it really has felt like going home... or the way I think going home should feel. This is the closest thing I've seen to how I think a church should be. Sure, there are one or two people who I know probably speculate on what happened when I was gone for those years. I'm sure there are people who think I'm crazy for the choices I've made, who don't agree with my lifestyle of being a working mom who has lots of friends who don't go to church (or even believe in God), but those people don't get to me anymore. Remember the hover-mom? I'm sure she is thrilled her son didn't marry me! I really don't care. I've made
some good friends over the past few months and reconnected with some old ones. I've learned a lot about myself. And no one has said anything bad about my tattoos.

My tattoo. After a free-hand addition yesterday.


  1. I'm happy to see that there were positive changes in your church.

    I always tell my Christian family members that if they were so inclined to picket outside of abortion clinics, that they should be supportive of single mothers and willing to adopt unwanted children. I also remind them that Jesus healed the poor and congregated with quite the motley crew. This is a man who would've been appalled to hear women referred to as "Welfare Queens", or to see a society that could let little children die of tooth infections because no one was willing to part with a dime for his medical care. A man who took prostitutes under his wing would be ashamed of a church that turned away a homeless man with holes in his jeans or a boy with green, spikey hair.

    As you know, I'm an atheist, but sometimes I see myself following the example of Jesus more than some of my Christian friends. But I'm proud to say that I can't lump you in with them.

  2. Thanks for the comment K. I'm certainly not suggesting I'm perfect or have it all figured out or always treat people the way I should. (For example, one thing I left out of the post is that it was just as bad for me to judge all those people even though they were judging me.) But, yeah. What you're saying makes a lot of sense. More Christians should listen to you.... except about the whole not believing in God thing. ;)