Asking me why I do church, is like asking me why I am my parents' child. We're family.
We can choose to leave our family, of course. Some families are a disaster, and leaving is a smart idea. Probably it's best for all of us if we leave home as a younger person, and establish our own identity. It's a part of growing up and maturing to leave home and then rejoin, or affirm, our membership of the family.
Church is the family I was born into. Despite the horror stories of some churches, church was good to me. It gave me a place to belong. As a marginalised and alienated kid, it was a place where I was safe, affirmed, and happy. Like any teenager, I soon became very clear about its shortcomings and hypocrisies, and very critical. I mercilessly criticised these, only partially realising how little I had to put in the place of the church.
For a while I concentrated on getting my essays in on time, and increasing the number of cars I could pass on my push bike while riding down to the Toll Gate from Mt Lofty summit. My families faded into the back ground.
At university, they taught me to think. I learned the scientific method from excellent scientists, who also had high ideals about living well in the world, and being someone useful. It was like hanging out with a family who had similar ideals to, and were good friends with my family. The ideals of my teachers, especially the feeling we had a duty to better our world, resonated with the ideals I had been taught, and witnessed in my parents and church, all my life.
What this new family could not provide, was a satisfying experience of Other. Church had always talked about Other; it called it God. From eight or ten years old, I'd had an occasional deep sense of Other- or rather, its "missing-ness." I'm making that word up on purpose, because Other was something I could not quite describe. I did not equate Other with the Divine when I was younger. As a mid-teen I began to make an inevitable connection; it was in the air I breathed.
Farm kids can spend a lot of time on their own. In one student job I would have the tractor fuelled, and driven a mile out to the paddock, by 8am. I went around that paddock until 8pm every day for 10 days... I never finished; it rained and flooded, and before things dried out I got gored by a bull... I think those long solitary times allowed a fusing of the desire to do well for the world with an increasing sense of their being Other- something Else.
There are only so many cars you can pass on the run down the freeway. And when it's wet in the rush hour, and you slide around part of theDevil's Elbow, staying upright and alive, the pressure of Why? What for? and, What if? increases.
The scientists had no answers. I liked "Do good for other people," but at that time there was no real reason they could provide me for Why do good for other people? And do good for other people didn't seem to deal with the fact that some people didn't seem worth it, and some were plain evil. And Other, or the lack of it, would not go away.
The church offered a whole lot answers about why do good, how to live with people you don't like, about evil, and of course, about Other. I've rejected a good number of them over the years, and found I had simplistic, and plain wrong, understandings of others. But along with those first answers, I found family again. I was at home, accepted as me, despite my brash ignorance, and regardless of what I believed.Church is family. There have been a number of fights over the years. There was threat of a divorce, and there are a couple of low grade feuds which simmer to the surface occasionally. But it is family. It is where I have made my place. It's where I sit and live while I struggle with Other and doing good in the world.
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