Sunday, September 09, 2007

Feel-Bad-About-Yourself Sunday

Next Sunday is Invite-a-Friend Sunday at my church, so in preparation for that event, this week was Guilt-Trip Sunday or, more accurately, Public-Shaming Sunday. To wit: the organizer of the Invite-a-Friendstravaganza got up and issued a series of proclamations.

“Stand up if you’ve been up here on the platform at some point over the last few weeks to promote Invite-a-Friend Sunday,” he began. Several people stood up. “Okay, now stand up if you’ve talked to a friend or neighbour about coming next week.” About a quarter of the congregation rose to their feet. “All right,” he continued, “stand up if you’ve prayed for this outreach.”

I was sitting near the front, so I didn’t turn to see how many people besides myself were still seated. Organizer Guy leaned meaningfully over the pulpit, piercing us with his convicting gaze. “The rest of you need to examine your hearts.”

So I’ve examined mine, and here’s what I’ve come up with: I do not believe, in my heart, that artificially imposed deadlines lead people to share their faith sensitively, humbly, or effectively.

There are a lot of things about my church that I love: the friendliness, the at-times awkward mix of old hymns and contemporary songs, the Scotch Calvinist rigour of the preaching (which I don’t always agree with but find stimulating all the same). What I do not get from my church is the sense that I can bring visitors without running the risk of subjecting them to alienating spectacles like this morning’s Public Shamefest.

This harangue was all the more disconcerting given that it was also Care Group Sunday. The pews had been removed – we were seated around tables with cups of coffee and plates of store-bought cookies. I munched my fruit creme savagely and contemplated leaving the church while the Care Group leader began the discussion. Mary Shand spoke in a soft English accent, acknowledging how difficult she found it to heed this imperative to evangelize. I noted that her husband wasn’t there with her – his Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point that he can no longer attend Sunday services. “I always assume people are hostile to Christianity,” Joan Carter admitted (an assumption that comes easily to her given that she herself was hostile to the faith for many years). At the end of the session, Donald Baker agreed to lead us in prayer for the soldiers in Afghanistan – but not without emphatically reminding us that he wasn’t going to pray for “the guy who sent them there!” I grinned and gave him the thumbs up, knowing that his opposition to the current Prime Minister was unlikely to be shared by the rest of the table.

The service ended with a presentation of gifts to the longest-serving members of the church. The deacons had purchased trinket boxes for those with more than thirty years of membership. In a class by herself, however, was Fiona Skene, who joined the church in 1936 and has remained an adherent ever since. Seventy-one years of belonging in a community – that’s a feat that can, I imagine, be accomplished only with an astonishing capacity for forgiveness, tolerance for change, and loyalty to people who aren’t always nice or easy to get along with.

It’s easy to leave. So for now I’m going to stay.

57 comments:

slouching mom said...

Oh, do I love the image of you "munch[ing your] fruit creme savagely."

You're right. To leave would be easier. They need your perspective there. Stay.

painted maypole said...

i think that in church, as with any organization, you have to take the good with the bad. I abhor that kind of thing, too (fortunately, they don't do it at my church, but certainly there are other things...) I applaud your commitment - it's that desire to live in community and a willingness to forgive that really make a church the body of Christ.

Omaha Mama said...

Wow. I feel that way sometimes. When they get to talking about how so many people do.not.tithe. And the church and it's financial problems. And people who don't tithe. And how it's a sin to be in debt. And people don't tithe.

We haven't been to church in a while because sometimes it gets to be a little much. I'm not leaving - me and my church are just on a break. I've just been taking 1:1 meetings with The Man upstairs for time being.

Don't feel bad. That's too easy too.

TrudyJ said...

That Public Shaming Sunday thing is pretty awful. My pastor is a big fan of making people feel guilty but at least he lets everyone sit in the pew and feel guilty (or, more likely in my case, reflect upon why I don't feel the guilt he wants me to feel, and how differently he defines "crucial moral issues" than I do). Making people stand up to show they are on board with the program and then telling the rest to examine their hearts is dreadful. I'm glad you examined yours and found yourself at harmony with your own beliefs, even if not with all the people sitting around you.

Christine said...

hmmmm.

i thinking staying is good for you and for the church.

but i think it is odd to be so hard core about this bring a friend day. wouldn't it be easier to talk about how wonderful and interesting and embracing the day might be than making people feel guilty?

dawn224 said...

My grandma was a member of the same church for 89 years. It boggles the mind.

You are a better person than I am, if I examined my heart it would tell me to oversleep next Sunday and then take my family on a picnic instead of going to church.

Terri said...

I can't begin to explain how much I agree with you here. In the past, we were part of a congregation that was frequently the target of public shamings and guilt trips. This tactic used by preachers, deacons, organizers or whoever, really gets under my skin. And in my observation they just don't work. Oh sure you may have lots of visitors next Sunday depending on how effective the guilt trip was, but what does that accomplish in the long run?

When we lived in Savannah we used to have "special" Sundays at our church like "Super-Goal Sunday" where we tried to reach the goal of a certain number of visitors that day; or in the spring we'd have "May Day Sunday." One time the pastor went so far as to offer a gift certificate to a restaurant to the member who brought the most visitors. Maybe it's just me, but this seems to cheapen what church should really be about.

Okay, I'll stop here. Perhaps I should write my own post about this because I have a whole lot more I could say on this subject.

One last thing, I admire your decision to stick it out for now. Too many people give up too easily. The right thing to do isn't always the easiest thing to do.

Angie said...

I applaud your dedication to your church. I've never been an active member of a church for many reasons, most of which are center around being told what being a good Christian means. I know what I believe, and I know what I should do with my faith.
I'm glad you can understand within yourself that you don't have to believe every word that comes out of a church leader's mouth and follow it word for world as gospel.
Stick with your heart.

Suz said...

I find that, with groups sometimes, enthusiasm slips too readily into over-enthusiasm. Your church is lucky to have your perspective and those of the others.

flutter said...

I admire your resolve, you are a stronger woman than I. This is almost exact to the situation that took me from church.

jen said...

now i sort of want to be the friend you bring with you next Sunday. You know, just to mix it up.

And sort of off topic - What did you think about Mother Teresa's letters, recently made public?

Chaotic Joy said...

Because churches are made of people, there will always be peices of them that grate on your nerves. I don't agree with "public shaming Sunday" as you so comically put it, although I don't have an issue with a bit of private shaming from time to time. I think I need it actually.

I do applaud you though for sticking it out for now. Because it is harder. And because maybe you are just the kind of thing the church needs.

Jaelithe said...

I think they need you there.

Karen said...

oh church (intoned as cuss word in loving way).

Mad Hatter said...

You're funny and insightful all at once. Plus, you do a very good job at describing church politics with this one little slice of life.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Public shaming spectacles make me vocally hostile. I had far too much of that crap growing up - refusing to let people make me feel guilty anymore was an essential part of sustaining an adult faith.

In college, all biblical studies majors were required to take the Evangelism course. As part of the class we had to spend on day "witnessing" to complete strangers in a public place. In class the next day the professor asked us to write one sentence about what we learned. Then she chose some of our responses to read anonymously to the class. Mine was one she read aloud.

It said something like: "I learned that evangelism can be awkward, demeaning and altogether unpleasant."

Suki said...

Even though I don't share your faith, religion or ethic just now, I respect it.
But as slouching mom says - they need your perspective there. The helping hand needs to stay.

Frankly, I cannot see the point of forcing people to act in a certain way. After all, feelings can't be forced, and feeling direct our actions. So if we're forced to act in a certain way, we feel resentful towards the one doing the forcing.
As far as I know, resentment is distinctly un-Christian. So... why force?

niobe said...

Though my perspective is mostly likely skewed a bit by the nearness of the High Holy Days, I always thought that part of the point of organized religion was to make you feel bad about yourself as a kind of spur to spiritual growth. And I say this as someone who is making a concentrated effort to find her way back to organized religion.

bubandpie said...

Niobe - I've been thinking about this a lot lately (cf. my posts about obligation). What approach is most effective at producing virtuous behaviour? Jesus used guilt on people who were blazingly convinced of the righteousness of their (cruel, narrow-minded) actions. On everybody else, he used compassion.

DaniGirl said...

Ah, see, this here is one of the main reasons I don't give in to my lingering regret about *not* bringing the boys to church, (as we call our church, "Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt".) I find the hypocrisy hard to reconcile at the best of times, but evangelicism makes me bristle and guilt makes me rebel outright.

And yet, like the others, I do respect the fact that you choose to remain in (with?) your church and perhaps offer a moderating presence. I tried that through five years of high school religion class, and it's exhausting.

Blog Antagonist said...

Ick. It's exactly that kind of emotional blackmail that keeps me (along with a lot of other stuff) from darkening the door of a church of any kind.

WHY do church leaders insist upon these kinds of tactics?? Don't they realize they are alientaing more people than they are impressing?

UGH. That gaves me a bad taste in my mouth and I wasn't even there.

You're a much more understanding person than I am.

bubandpie said...

BA - It does make a difference to me here that the person engaging in these tactics is not a significant person in leadership in the church - he's just the guy organizing Invite-a-Friend Sunday (and taking his newfound power WAY too seriously).

Jenifer said...

I would hasten to add that it is this way with many things in life, much harder to stick it out than quit. The rewards however, for sticking it out are almost always worth the struggle.

I do enjoy how you present your church and faith. It really is a struggle for many of us and like you, while I find it hard sometimes I am still committed.

Kyla said...

Oh, I do love the idea of you bringing Jen along with you next week.

Perhaps, one day, you'll be like Fiona, in a class of commitment all your own. I can see that in you.

Those people, like Mr. Examine Your Heart, they make me crazy. Crazy!

Crystal said...

Look at it this way...
You just invited all of us, but we couldn't make it.

Sober Briquette said...

I've got it double, considering that my child attends the church school. Oh yeah, it's tough.

They don't provide child care until the child is 3, so I've got another 9 months before I feel bad about not showing up on Sunday.

Swistle said...

I love how you phrased what you found when you looked in your heart. I very much dislike the whole "If you don't agree with what I'm saying, your relationship with God must not be as good as mine is" point of view.

Beck said...

OH, I HEAR YOU.
Last year, my church had a tithing service, and they handed out these little private slips saying how much our yearly contributions broken down to on a weekly basis. Then they had this presentation, given by the upper-middle-class church members about how we should trust God's abundance and give liberally, complete with a handy chart showing how much we should give, broken down by income.
And I have not felt the same way about my church since that day.

Laural Dawn said...

So, this Sunday at the church we occassionally attend was "bring a friend sunday" followed by lunch. Except they changed the time of the service. And since we'd been away a couple of weeks we had no idea! So we arrived an hour early and NO ONE was there.
Oops.
And, even though I'm a generally social person, I avoid those particular days because I feel SO left out of things. Not fun.
So, my son and I went and watched the waves crash on to the Boardwalk and appreciated everything without the hullaballoo of wearing name tags and being asked about my husband (happily asleep).

Gwen said...

You know this already (and Joan Carter reiterated it during cookie munching time), but this is what scares me about returning to church. I admire your strength in your own beliefs and your ability to let some of the less Christ-like stuff go. I have a friend who says, "why don't we talk more about Jesus?" I agree with him, because honestly, Jesus was/is all right by me. It's everything else .....

kgirl said...

This is one of the reasons I don't feel the need to actively belong to an institution of my religion - I get enough guilt from my mother.

nowheymama said...

Thank you. I needed that. I am feeling quite burned out on church after running our summer children's program.

"That’s a feat that can, I imagine, be accomplished only with an astonishing capacity for forgiveness, tolerance for change, and loyalty to people who aren’t always nice or easy to get along with."

I'll work on it.

NotSoSage said...

It reminds me of a play they used to put on the last night of camp. Two friends are in a car accident and find that they are separated at the gates of heaven because one is a Christian and the other isn't and the non-Christian pleads with her friend, asking why she had never shared her faith with her. It was so awful and guilt-inducing. I can't imagine that's ever a good motivator for someone to share their faith with another person.

I - on the other hand - have something to share with you that's likely to arrive some time tomorrow.

Mommy-Like Days said...

I can't even IMAGINE this sort of thing anymore, given the church I currently attend. But part of me misses a small part of that.

KC said...

I don't know why guilt and shame have to be part of the program. The unspoken guilt of those who fail to make it to church *ahem* is guilt enough. People who are there should be celebrated.

Lori said...

I can relate to your feelings of liking pieces of your church, but being not-so-crazy about other parts. I feel exactly that way about our church, but have also realized that is how I feel about my kid's school, my family, my husband, my friends, *myself* etc.... Churches are made up of human beings, with by default makes them woefully flawed institutions. I too, choose to stay.

Although, I have to confess that one of my sticking points is when politics enters into the language of worship in any way shape or form. It's my number one church pet peeve.

kittenpie said...

I think it's a tricky thing to invite a friend to a church event, even if it's strictly social, really. There's a line there that might appear to cross into the evangelical, and I wouldn't be comfy crossing it myself, in your place.

Angela said...

I hate the guilt trip thing!

theflyingmum said...

I really resent the guilt trips issued by the [church]. I love the people, and the sense of community - but if they start to alienate me in this fashion... I just don't know.
I think I'd stay, though. I really do like the people there.

alpineflower said...

Why should I blog when you do such a great job saying what I have rattling around inside? We have the same struggle at our church. Your clear-sighted assessment and commitment is inspiring. Thanks.

Mimi said...

Wow. Seventy-one years? That would give me pause, too. Wow. Makes a case for stick-to-it-ivenes.

Patois said...

I love your commitment to the people in your congretation. We have "Bring a Friend" to church the first Sunday of the month. I call it "Bring a Sinner" day and drag my sorry excuse for an Anglican, Manchester-born, father-of-my-three-children husband with me. And I tell everyone that he's there for "Bring a Sinner" day. They are good-natured enough to laugh. Besides, I count the money for them every Monday, so they leave me (mostly) in peace. People in the church do good work, great work. But the "church" itself? Hmmmmm.

Ally said...

The thing that disturbed me about this post wasn't that the organizer did what he did (in asking people to stand, public shaming, etc), but that you don't feel like it would be safe to invite someone to your church for fear that something like that would happen again. If this type thing happens very often, or if there's something going on that makes you nervous about inviting others to come with you, that's a problem. I speak from first-hand experience, having previously attended a church that I would not have invited friends to visit. I'm at a church now that welcomes all people, and it feels much, much better.

I'm thinking of you as you think through these issues. It isn't easy.

bubandpie said...

Ally - I've thought about this too. There was a time when I went to a church that I could, and did, comfortably invite anybody to. I've invited people to my current church too, but the pastor's conservative views on gender tend to drive people away. They almost drove me away too, but I respected the way the pastor allowed me to present my case for women in ministry in a session that he promoted from the pulpit, and during which he admitted the weaknesses of his position (which remains unchanged all the same). He's an opinionated man, but he respects our differences of opinion. That said, I don't think he has any concept of how much his vocal position limits the audience for his preaching.

Stuff like what happened on Sunday is NOT a regular occurrence, though. If it were, I'd be doing some more rethinking.

Kelly said...

As a semi-practicing Catholic with just about nothing in common with church leaders, I feel this, acutely.

It's part of my identity, and the idea of leaving it is both exciting and sad.

My husband said in the car the other day, "We're Catholic, and we're not leaving." Ultimately, I agreed, but in my heart, I know there's a better fit, which of course brings up the question of whether or not to seek out a church that totally accepts all of one's personal beliefs...

Anonymous said...

Is this the same church with the awful VBS experience?

Momish said...

I give you credit for being able to see such a circumstance from all the angles available without defensiveness.

I think this is a major problem with most organized religions, or at least with those running them at the top. In that they see their roles to most importantly that of teachers or guides. It would be more effective if they thought of themselves as facilitators and not the be-all-end-all authority on the subject.

Church isn't meant to be a school or an educational institution foremost. It is a place where people congregate to celebrate their faith on equal footing. It's everyone's home to pray, reflect and enjoy.

It bothers me when the priest stands up there and reads scripture and then dictates how you should interpret it and react/act. I can appreciate that he is more knowledgable, but please spare me the guilt trips!

WONDERWOMAN said...

That's tough, it just seems that for a lot of people the only way of having control is by using guilt. It's good that you brought up this issue because it's such a big problem and so many people have been hurt by it.

bubandpie said...

Anonymous - Yup. So I'm still a bit raw, struggling against an impulse to run away every time I go there. "Joan Carter" is one of two people who responded very compassionately the day of the VBS debacle, and she came up to me after the service to ask how Bub was doing and reiterate how badly she felt about what went down. So there's that. But let's just say that I'm a bit reactive now to stuff like what went on last Sunday.

Terri B. said...

Isn't this the truth! The church can be exasperating. I guess that means me too!

edj said...

We should have a carnival where we all share the best ways churches have come up with to embarrass visitors! Making them stand, say where they're from, etc.
Well I can relate. But you're right--it's not enough of a reason to leave. I can't wait to hear about next Sunday's service, though. Please don't skip. Do it for your readers.

bubandpie said...

edj - I'm on nursery duty next week - so any atrocities will go unwitnessed (unless I rope in jen to come with me and report!).

ewe are here said...

Ahhhh, these can be such tough decisions. Sometimes it is easier to leave, yet sometimes I've found it is actually harder to leave 'a community', especially when you're still going to see many of the same people frequently.

Rae said...

It's true, in church you have this odd mix of cultural strangeness and then pure Jesus, and then these amazing older faithful people, and then a handful of guilt. What a place! Like no other.

bren j. said...

Wow. Seventy-one years at the same church. I can hardly imagine living in the same place for that long, nevermind attending the same church.

Good post. I laughed at the Guilt-Trip Sunday idea. If it was advertised that way, I wonder how many people would show up?

Alpha DogMa said...

Ewww. Just ewww. It is like high school, but instead of detention, you've got the threat of eternal damnation.

V-Grrrl said...

I was raised Catholic so I know ALL about the guilt. For a few years I dabbled in non-denominational churches and experienced the smiling, friendly faces offering Shame Disguised as Concern. "We missed you last Sunday/Wednesday/at Bible Study/etc. Where were you?"

"Sitting at home in my bathrobe" seems the wrong answer. Maybe I should say, "Sharing carnal love with my husband."

Anyway, I ended up an Episcopalian. The Anglicans deliver their guilt slyly in sophisticated packages. Has been working for me for nearly 25 years now. : )