Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Let's Get Personal

So, my husband and I have a bit of a distaste for institutionalized "church" as we DO it here in the U.S. of A. Don't get me wrong, there is a great feeling of overwhelming comfort when I enter a church with pews, a pulpit in front of a cross in the baptistry, organ music playing some of the oldie but goody hymns, etc. I mean, what is more down home than ladies with hats and fans thinking about what they are going to bring to the pot luck next week while the preacher yells, paces, and smacks his bible on his hand for emphasis? These stereotypes do give us many laughs at times, and the most fun is the truth behind so many of the stories.

But I've digressed. I am getting on this soapbox, and hopefully only for a short rant, to talk about what we say and what we do. It seems there is a wanting to be something different, something more, maybe something even refreshing. We brag about how we change up our "forms" in worship so as to create a more authentic transformation. We call our sunday schools or bible studies by new names that have to do with relationship building or intimacy. The problem is we have trouble adjusting to the working out of these new concepts. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that we have slightly tweaked and renamed many an old practice.

So here we are. We have just joined this new church. We have been through the ringer and back in life and some of our healing had to do with past church experiences. We come to this new church with a new pastor and things are pretty good. Seriously, we don't have the expectations that this one church is going to "meet our needs" or fall into everything that we are looking for. We didn't make a list. We simply prayed, worshipped, and let God do the guiding.

Now, my husband and I are deconstructionists, though I have the tendency to be able to see further down the way to the reconstruction. This mentality has left us wanting to get in and fix and I know that is not our job. It is God's job. So, I will from here on out simply state what I experiences tonight at one of these group gatherings that was "advertised" to be relational.

So we walk into a room. This room is white and taupe. There are absolutely no decorations, pictures, or anything that would stand out. There are three rows of chairs facing a wipe off board, and a tv set up facing the chairs. There were two tables for sign in and supplies. We sat down on the last row wearing our name tags and filling out forms. Some others filed in and we got started. We talked vaguely about our "assignments" every week and how quickly we were going to have to run through the book to fit it all into one month. Then we introduced. We went around the room. Typical group dynamics kicked in with most giving typical answers and the few usurping precious time to tell their life story and some obviously on a totally different page often saying completely unrelated things.

Now this group dynamic thing I expected. I've done enough study of counseling, human behavior, and church, just to learn to expect these types of interactions. So off we go into a mostly one person led "discussion" about a book whose first two chapters no one knew were supposed to already have been read before you got there. Then we watched a lovely synopsis video which was only slightly helpful this week because no one had read what they didn't know they were supposed to have read. Every time I got ready to jump into the discussion, the facilitator moved on. Now keeping in mind our time crunch, I understood, but I did find it confining to our group's possible growth through discussion. There was scripture used, but not clearly defined in context and quickly with little exploration.

What did I notice? First, I noticed how dull the atmosphere was. Then I noticed how, even during the introductions, I had trouble seeing people due to the seating arrangement. Wouldn't a more relational style be to sit in a manner that allowed for more direct discussion. The very set up of the room screamed for this to be merely educational, primarily lecture based, with very little interaction. I looked at the back of most people's heads! Then the video..I will excuse the use of it this week and this week only since it is likely that the facilitator knew that many would likely have not yet read the assignment. But from here on out, there is no need for it. We will get more than enough of the author's opinion just reading the book week in and week out. There is no need for the video cliff's notes on top of it all. Personally, I think it just cuts into the already cramped discussion time. The last thing I noticed was that one couple felt that they had to leave early and miss out on some of the gathering to go and get their son. Then, of course, my husband and I were worried about Mercy after their early exodus. It was then that I realized that it wouldn't kill us to have our kids with us in these gatherings. Talk about personalizing things! Anyway, that is enough for my soap box right now. Anyone reading this who is further interested should start by reading the book of Acts and see how it was first intended to operate.