Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
Keep Coming Back

Keep Coming Back

Brian atfIn a ward I once attended,  a Bishop stood in front of the opening exercises of priesthood and chastened those of us who were not dressed in white shirts. In a large meeting there were three of us not in white.  I was in a dashing dark green shirt and a dark tie.  The Bishop stated those of us in colored shirts were not representing the priesthood correctly, and were being worldly  and should reflect on our behavior and dress in a manner proper for church attendance.  At the time I was struggling in my job, life, and testimony.  I was not happy with the message.

Bishop Green Shirt, as I have now dubbed him in my mind was being ridiculous.  It didn’t matter what a person wears to church, it matters that but that they show up and are spiritually fed.  In my current ward there are shift workers who after working the night shift come to church in their work clothes, and ball caps. Church dress includes Carharts and coveralls. Bishop Green shirt would have had a massive coronary on the stand.

The situation in church and life got worse before it got better, and I stopped attending the ward – which was literally right across the street from my house.  Bishop Green Shirt wasn’t the only reason I left, but he was a reason.  I was certain that I wouldn’t go back to church and each time I looked across the street a small pit of anger sat in the bottom of my stomach.   Less than six months later  we moved out of the neighborhood and across the country.  I visited our potential ward for the first time by myself, feeling skeptical.  I was instantly welcome and part of something wonderful.  I had been hurt and angry but was part of the group again, and felt I was in the right place.

It is one example of the pattern in my life of my church attendance and feelings toward church.  I seek refuge, am thankful to be part of the group and after a period of time I start to question why I am attending and then slowly pull away and then for a period of time I don’t show up to church and finally stop attending altogether.  I am attending church and then I am not.   Just like my dog I come inside and then I want to back out again. In and out, up and down.  I get frustrated just thinking about it. I wish I would make up my own mind.

I ask myself, what keeps me coming back? Is there some kind of magnetic pull or am I just a glutton for punishment?  I have often thought it is the familiar routine that keeps attracting me.  It is comforting to come back to what I know.  It is comforting to be part of the group, clan or club.  There is attraction to the club because it seems to do good work, and genuinely care about others.

When away from the routine of church,  and life becomes challenging  I feel the pull of the routine and I am back in the pew.  I am safe and back in church and am content, for a time.  Then after having my initial need for routine satisfied, I have a bad experience in life  or at church or with church or with life at church and I leave again. Then when away from the routine I find I miss it and  feel the attraction back to the comforting resting place.  The pattern continues. Up and Down.

The times away from the routine are usually not complete abandonment , just a small break here, a small rebellion there and then a sheepish return.  Is there another way?  Does it have to be one way or another?  I come for the comfort and then after a period of time grow restless and question my faith and leave again.

I find myself envious of those who state they know and have little doubt, they show up the smile and serve faithfully seeming to have overcome some obstacle that moved them from faith to knowledge.  They seem to know, where I struggle with most everything.   Because I struggle with my faith I keep coming and going.

Bishop Green Shirt was over ten years ago, a funny moment from my past.  I have a list of reasons of why I have left church, him being one of many I also have a list of reasons of why I have come back, wonderful neighbors, people and experiences.  I come back for the peace and rest, I am drawn to what I believe to be true, and then find myself disillusioned by a person or an experience.  In and out, up and down, the pattern continues. I wonder if the routine will get broken?  Will I always want to return after I leave or will I find a time when I won’t want to leave?

One comment

  1. Steve In Millcreek (SIM)

    Brian – Thanks for your expressive essay. At times like this, I reflect upon an oft-told phrase with a slight modification: “If the Church were not true, some misguided Bishops and General Authorities would have ruined it long ago.”

    Over recent weeks of travel, I have visited worship services of various other faiths, wearing my customary Mormon attire of suit and tie; and I quickly realize that I am overdressed for nearly every situation. While I accept that detail, (which labels me as a visitor, a guest, an outsider), I see that the mass of casually-dressed parishioners treat one another with equally-high love and respect. (On a recent visit, the pastor himself wore blue jeans with his shirt tail out; yet his sermon befit the audience and I was moved by it. In other cases, pastors wore traditional collars and wraps while parishioners were casually-dressed.)

    In closing, I ask us to separate priesthood respect from IBM-like business dress. I understand that there are places where strict dress codes need be enforced but the three-hour block is not one of them.

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