Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Happened to the Joy? (Originally written May 2009)

The woman in front of me is swaying; her body and hands raised high waving back and forth like they do at Sports events. Many in the audience are doing the same, many are not. I glance to my left again, as I always do, watching the deaf interpreter. This must be where the expression "poetry in motion" came from. Watching them is one of my favorite things in churches like these. 
The worship service continues. The words are displayed on big screens at the front of the auditorium. Praise songs, you may know, are mostly scripture set to music. I am unfamiliar with the melodies and stand or sit quietly while some around me lose themselves in joyful spiritual abandonment. But I am moved by the music and the atmosphere.

I passed through this joyful abandonment some years ago. Does that sound strange?

It isn’t something I planned. It just happened. Looking back, I realize the time in my life when I experienced this "joyful spiritual abandonment" the most, was at one of the worst times emotionally and financially of my life. As in the first few months after my husband of 22 years moved back to Michigan and three of my four children and I stayed where we were. How ironic.

Well, we didn’t exactly "stay where we were". We lost the house we had been purchasing and me and the kids (and their buddies) moved us into a rental house in the country and then six months later, the owners decided to fix the house for their mom and we moved again; into an apartment across from Franklin High School.

Not exactly fun times. But I wrote about that in my book, "Sarah's Story" so I won’t dwell on those times now.

For several years my children and I attended The Lord’s Chapel in Nashville. That’s where I learned about the joy. I came from a conservative Christian church and experiencing the Chapel’s version of worship was like a floodgate of emotion opened up and sucked me in. I loved it.

A few years later, when I met Sam (ficticious name), who attended the Unitarian Church in Nashville, another floodgate opened. Not of joyful worship and praise, but of intellect and tolerance. Whereas many Nashville musicians attended The Lord’s Chapel, this church had an abundance of scholars, Vanderbilt professors, social workers, etc.

The thing I loved about the Chapel was the joyful worship. What I loved about the Unitarians was the acceptance and tolerance.

Intolerance, or judgment, by "the church" is largely why I am where I am today spiritually. Theologically, I pretty much agree with what I think of as mainstream Evangelicals, if there is such a thing.

But I’m a firm believer in separation of church and state, for one thing. So that’s one difference. Then I am Pro-Choice. I don’t personally believe abortion is a good choice but because my beliefs are so precious to me, I must assume others feel the same. I don’t believe it is my right to judge.

* * * * *

Unitarians are known for their tolerance and respect for everyone’s personal beliefs. So they tell this joke on themselves: is it intolerant to be intolerant of intolerance?

Based on my perspective and the separation I feel from "the conservative church", I could ask myself a similar question: aren’t you judging ‘the church’ for being judgmental?

* * * * *

I was a child in the Forties which means I grew up in an intense time of patriotism and love of country. The images from movies and newsreels plus the fact that the entire country was engulfed in participating at the citizen/job level made lasting impressions in my psyche. These feelings and emotions are embedded in my soul forever.

I know my childhood perspective was not necessarily valid. By that I am just acknowledging that children’s perspectives of things are not always the way things really are. But they are what they are. Child or adult, your perception of reality IS your reality.

So what I’m trying to say is, I love my country. Utterly. But now, I love it – utterly – from an adult perspective, not that of a child. And I know my country is not perfect.

It seems to me there are two types of people these days. I think the politicians do their best to keep it so. Patriotic Americans who love this country and think it can do no wrong and get upset or offended if anyone suggests otherwise. But there is another group of Patriotic Americans who love this country – just as much – but we believe it is important to recognize the imperfections and try to correct them. I am in the latter group. And make no apologies for it.

So that is another wedge between me and ultra-conservative Christianity.

I don’t watch much TV but enjoy programs like The History Channel, Discovery, HGTV, and public television. Especially I like programs and documentaries about World War II.

Recently NPT showed a movie, probably a repeat but I just saw it, about the Japanese fighter pilots, the Kamakazis.. A few years ago I saw Clint Eastwood’s movie, "Letters from Iwo Jima".

Whether it’s a movie, a documentary, or the nightly News about the current war, I react the same. My heart is racked with pain for ALL the boys of ALL the mothers. For ALL the citizens; men, women, and children of ALL the countries, who lose their lives or are maimed in some way by this awful thing called W-A-R.

I have gone beyond patriotism for my country. I have become a mother of the world. And then I watch a Discovery program about Space and I am filled with awe and humility. And I believe that I have become a child of the Universe. Knowing that "what I know" is about as much as a grain of sand compared to what there is to know.

Somewhere along the way of life I passed from the "joyful spiritual abandonment" stage to "how can God bear the pain of what His children are doing to each other" stage and I sorrow for the world.

I lost the joy.

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