12 Days: Staring at the Clouds

staring-at-the-clouds“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

OK, stop right there. It’s twelve days until the end of the year and less than a week until Christmas. There are only twelve days left in my arbitrary “countdown to oblivion” (yeah, I think it’s overly dramatic, too) or at least my countdown to “church or not church.”

I still haven’t made up my mind.

I didn’t go to church last Sunday. I suppose I could have gone, but every Sunday morning, I have to get up at around 4 a.m. so I can drive my daughter to work (she has to be there by 5 a.m.). Afterwards, I get to go back to sleep and last Sunday, sleep I did. I very deliberately didn’t set my alarm so I could get up in time to make it to church. I did periodically wake up, peek at the clock, briefly have an internal dialogue about whether to get up or not, and then I went back to sleep.

And I kept doing that until I determined that it was too late to make it to church on time.

Oh sure, I could have gotten there late. It’s not like anything depends on me being at church on time. But I decided that once it was too late to make it to church before services began, it was just plain too late.

And sleeping in was glorious. I enjoyed it tremendously.

My wife didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to church at first. At about 10 a.m. she mentioned it and I said I decided not to go that morning. That was the end of the conversation.

But I’ve been feeling guilty. I’m not exactly sure why, since my connection to anyone and anything at church is so tenuous. Of course, I already found out that if I miss a Sunday at church people notice. On the other hand, I also discovered that my primary (current) motivation for going to church is a sense of obligation. It’s sort of like the obligation I feel to go to the dentist for regular teeth cleaning. In fact, I’d prefer to go to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned than go to church because I only have to go to the dentist every so many months, and I at least have a long-standing relationship with my dentist and his staff, so we are very familiar with each other.

It’s only a community if you belong and as I also said recently, I don’t have that sense of belonging at church. If predictions are correct, any sense of belonging at all will take about a year.

365 days and counting?

Twelve days left. That’s two more Sundays, one right before Christmas and one right afterward.

I know I should go, I know I should go, I know I should go.

But I don’t want to.

There’s just nothing for me to do there. There’s no one to talk to, at least beyond a friendly, casual, and superficial conversation. The one sort of transaction that would engage me is exactly what I must avoid if I am to have any hope of establishing relationships at all.

More’s the pity, because without the ability to converse and interact, going to church is a really boring way to kill three hours or so.

I’m sure there are Christians out there who are shocked and appalled to read those words.

I started this series at 78 days, made the final determination to return to church at 62 days, and had a private meeting with Pastor Randy at the church I now attend at 57 days (you can see what a cautious fellow I am, slowly sneaking up on an objective).

And it was at 57 days that I went back to church…45 days ago.

Now I only have twelve days left, unless I choose to reset the clock once I reach zero days. I was hoping that I could have a chance to review Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David within the context of a church experience, but I don’t know now. Maybe this effort represents a failure on my part or maybe getting “cold feet” is part of the developmental process of returning to church.

I don’t know.

As I see it, I have two basic choices. One: I can let the twelve days elapse, with or without returning to church for one or both of the Sundays left. Then that is that. Church is no longer an option for fellowship and community. Endgame. Two: I can let the twelve days elapse, with or without returning to church for one or both of the Sundays left, then reset the clock to 365 days. That would mean letting 2013 be “the year of church.” I’d give myself a full calendar year to explore “the church experience.”

Option one seems like a relief and option two seems like a long haul to face, particularly alone. But if I haven’t been giving church a fair chance, then option two is the only one that lets me be fair.

When I look back boy I must have been green
Bopping in the country, fishing in a stream
Looking for an answer trying to find a sign
Until I saw your city lights honey I was blind

You better get back honky cat
Living in the city ain’t where it’s at
It’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine
It’s like trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine

from “Honky Cat” (1972)
music by Elton John
lyrics by Bernie Taupin

I’ve got a scant twelve days to make up my mind. Until then, I’m staring up at the clouds looking for an answer.

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20 thoughts on “12 Days: Staring at the Clouds”

  1. To me, church isn’t simply about connecting with people… it is also about serving them by using the gifts that God has given me. God has given me a voice, so I sing in the choir. God has given me wisdom, so I teach my son’s 5th grade class. Sure, we are commanded to serve others; however, I serve not because of some sense of obligation or guilt, but simply because I am grateful for what God has given to me. And it is through this service that I feel more connected with the church.

    You can certainly experience God without going to church. You can serve God and have a relationship with Him without going to church. And you can even fellowship with and encourage other believers without going to church. But church provides me the opportunity to do all of these things and more. In light of Hebrews 10:24-25, it makes sense.

  2. James I totally understand the fellowship aspect! That is probably my biggest concern too. I’m a social person and when you can’t seem to fit in and be accepted it makes the whole experience a bust. We are getting closer to taking that leap of faith and walking back in and I think I’m going to try to have a different attitude. More of what I can do for them than what they can provide for me. We will see how it goes. There are a lot of factors involved in this decision, too many to explain, but if nothing else I need to do this for my teenagers. I have one who only has six months left at home. Time is running out and I don’t want him to totally walk way when he leaves home because we turned his life upside down. I hope Boaz’s book encourages you, it has really been one to my husband and I. So, I want to encourage you to stick it out. Don’t throw the towel injust yet!!

  3. @Judah: I wouldn’t mind at all going to synagogue with my wife or having her come to church with me, but neither is an option at this time (and probably won’t be at all in the foreseeable future).

    @Michael: Hey! Long time, no hear from.

    It’s a little different for me in that church isn’t really my “culture.” That is, it doesn’t feel like a normal or natural expression of my faith. I very much feel like a round peg trying to shoehorn myself into a square hole. I haven’t gone to church in more than a decade and my last “stint” in a church was only for a few years, so I never became terrifically integrated with the church lifestyle.

    And besides that, I sing like a frog. 😉

    @Kaye: You said, “I think I’m going to try to have a different attitude. More of what I can do for them than what they can provide for me.” I’m not really expecting the church to do anything for me. Quite the opposite. I just want a role. Even if it’s pulling weeds (not really necessary at this time of year) or mopping floors. Just looking for a way “in”.

  4. I would suggest that if you’re going to avoid the kind of conversation that engages your interest the most, you will never find out if you can integrate into this community. I suspect that those conversations are precisely where both you and your community will learn the most about each other and the most from each other. Since you’ve missed a few weeks for one reason or another, you might consider counting January as a “make up” month in compensation. I’m not sure to what degree you’re simply avoiding the potential for conflict by skipping these holiday-frought weeks, though I could well understand such a motivation. There’s no reason you need to address all the traditional baggage at once. Since you’ve identified yourself as a cautious fellow, the total immersion process (or, “jumping in headlong with both feet”) is probably not your cup of tea. But for the same reason, you may require more time to be sure, to see if you are actually making any net progress toward or away from identifying with this community.

    After you feel you have a better grasp of your situation, perhaps you might like to revisit with me the topic of responsibilities for a non-Jew intermarried with a Jew and with Jewish children, which will still continue to distinguish you from others in your church community.

  5. ProclaimLiberty said: “I would suggest that if you’re going to avoid the kind of conversation that engages your interest the most, you will never find out if you can integrate into this community.”

    True, but then again, I’m less likely to annoy or upset people in Sunday school class. 😉

    I’ll have to see how it goes. Right now it’s Wednesday, so I feel relatively “safe” from the whole “Sunday thing,” but as the weekend approaches, a lot of conflicting emotions are mobilized.

    So, what are the responsibilities of a non-Jew intermarried with a Jew and with Jewish children (I mean those you believe I may not be aware of)? Curious, now.

  6. I enjoy reading your Morning Meditations whenever I see them on Facebook, though I rarely speak up. 😉

    My parents rarely took me to church, so I had to take matters into my own hands. Even so, I only attended sporadically, and I didn’t go at all through my 20s. Even when I started going back in my 30s, my wife and I would often (usually) sleep in. I didn’t really feel the NEED to go. We didn’t start attending regularly until 2006, when we moved and found a different church. And there is where I discovered that church isn’t about what I can get from church… it is what I can do for those in my church (though I do get a lot out of going to church!).

    Even though the church you are attending might have a good message, perhaps it simply isn’t a good fit for you. Maybe you need something smaller… or larger… or just different. Instead of trying to squeeze your foot into that shoe just because it looked the best… perhaps you should try another one on for size. 🙂

    In any case, if you don’t find a church that works out, don’t beat yourself up over it; there’s no reason to feel as if you have failed. God has a way of opening and closing doors so that you end up right where He wants you. 🙂

  7. In any case, if you don’t find a church that works out, don’t beat yourself up over it; there’s no reason to feel as if you have failed. God has a way of opening and closing doors so that you end up right where He wants you.

    Thanks, Michael. I kind of thought maybe that this is where God wanted me to be, but the tough part is trying to understand God’s message. For all I know, He wants me to stick it out here, and that “ease of entry” is not a condition of His will.

    I’m not a good shopper. To extend your analogy, my wife would be very content to go shopping for shoes and try on several pair, but I just want to find the pair I want, make sure they fit, and get out of the store. “Shopping” for a church, while not as easy as shopping for shoes, is still the same dynamic for me.

    Typical “guy shopper.” 😉

  8. James,
    For most of the 1980s I was involved with a local church where I had leadership responsibilities. Towards the end of that decade I entered a “spiritual crisis” that lasted for almost 15 years – during which I questioned everything, even God’s existence.
    I emerged from that period almost 10 years ago and despite trying to find a suitable church to join, I met only disappointment.

    I haven’t been involved with “a” church for a few years now. I tried a couple of different local groups after I moved to my current home 6 years ago but found they promoted bad theology and/or activities.

    It isn’t easy missing out on regular contact with fellow believers – but in that regard I realised that my “out of church” experience is not much different to my “in church” experience. Attending church didn’t really give me fellowship with other attendees and to continue attending would have been out of obligation (because Christians are expected to GO to church).

    I now maintain fellowship with a few “out of church” believers from around the world via email. It’s not a perfect situation but in many ways I’ve found it more valuable than attending churches that have an agenda that doesn’t really seem in tune with the gospel of Jesus.
    Regarding your own situation, seek God and find what HE wants – don’t be moved by obligation to traditional expectations and I’m not suggesting you be moved by my experience. Trust HIM to reveal the way He wants you to take. It might be something far different from what you’ve previously considered.
    Bless you mate
    Tim (onesimus)

  9. Thanks, Tim. For several months, I was meeting with a couple of guys for coffee on Thursdays after work, but eventually, our after work schedules weren’t able to synch up and the meetings feel apart. Currently, I’m meeting with a friend for coffee every other Sunday afternoon. I’ve only met once so far, so we’ll see how that works out. The dynamics for the Sunday coffee meeting are more complex than “let’s get together for coffee and talk about the Bible,” so that may contribute to its longevity (or not).

    You’re right about the expectation to “go to church.” I think that’s part of what I’ve been trying to respond to, particularly in light of Hebrews 10:25.

  10. Hey James,

    You’ve only attended church a handful of times, and have skipped a few weeks now (at least 2 if memory serves) and so I’m just wondering how you expect to already feel integrated when you’re 1. Still “new” and 2. not there? Or, put another way, (I’m really not trying to be critical) isn’t it normal that you wouldn’t yet feel as though you belong? These things take time…

  11. Ah,the voice of reason. 😉

    And your memory is still good ( mine leaks like a sieve)

    Yeah, that would seem logical. Yes, I’m still 1. new and 2. not there (as of last Sunday). I also took the Sunday after Thanksgiving off. Yes, “these things take time.” I’m trying to remember what my first “church experience” was like, but then in many ways, I was a whole different person and it was a very different situation.

  12. @James: “So, what are the responsibilities of a non-Jew intermarried with a Jew and with Jewish children (I mean those you believe I may not be aware of)? Curious, now.”

    The reason I offered to revisit the subject for discussion is that I really don’t know the degree of your awareness about such responsibilities. Essentially, as I see them, they may be summarized as support for the Jewish responsibilities of your Jewish family members, to enable them and encourage them (even to persuade them) to be the best Jews they possibly can be. I suggest that, biblically, this may be even a higher priority than your responsibility to be yourself the best non-Jew you possibly can be (although these goals should not be mutually exclusive). Of course, such a summary begs the question of what we could possibly mean by the term “best” in each case. Now, this does not diminish the responsibility incumbent upon all non-Jewish followers of the Jewish Messiah to support and encourage their Jewish brethren to become the “light to the nations” that is their biblical assignment. But yours would be even greater due to having chosen to be joined to the Jewish people in marriage (even if not in conversion). I suppose one practical though hypothetical example could be the issue of aliyah to Israel. As a non-Jew, you have no assigned portion in the land and therefore no responsibility to live there, with all the consequences of doing so. But you might take on that responsibility in order for your wife and children to pursue their responsibilities to do so; to build up the Jewish people rather than to diminish them. A similar argument could be made about halakhic Torah observance. In order to preserve kashrut in the home, you may avoid bringing into the home anything non-kosher (what you eat outside the home may depend solely on your conscience and your sense of personal consistency and integrity). In order for your family to keep the Shabbat, you must keep the Shabbat. You would not be presenting the best paterfamilial example by playing the role of Shabbes Goy (and even that role is somewhat questionable halakhically). Similar considerations could be applied to Taharat Ha-Mishpachah, Talmud Torah, Avodat HaShem, G’milut ‘Hasadim, and Tikun Ha-‘Olam. In short, you have a justification that other non-Jews do not; for taking on fully the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven”. Indeed, your heavenly merit and reward for doing so without the benefits of full conversion is even greater, due to the difficulties of bearing the limitations that would be thus imposed on a non-Jew (though they needn’t be too greatly diminished if you did convert).

    I believe I have seen prior mention in your blog about your wife having been at least a camp follower with Messianic Judaism until she became discouraged and disaffected by the immaturity and other shortcomings of that movement with respect to its Jewish observance. I can understand that — though if she has any appreciation at all for Rav Yeshua you might be able to encourage her to search the Jewish literature that justifies his messianic candidacy and opens the door to understanding the benefits of Rav Yeshua’s Torah viewpoints and insights, to become his disciple in the truest Jewish sense or to reinforce any latent sense of affinity that she may bear already. I can even recommend a website (in English) that tries to compile such literary references, though its tone is a bit tendentious due to its goal of refuting anti-missionary propaganda. But perfection is in rather short supply in this world, hence the continuing need for Tikun. Of course, unless you did make aliyah to live in the Jerusalem area, I don’t know where I could recommend a community of halakhically observant Rav-Yeshua messianists with whom you could enjoy hit-‘hav’rut. I have reason to believe such can be found in the Los Angeles area, and I know a few other folks in the US who might have better recomendations than I can offer. I once knew of one near Denver, Colorado, but I believe it is no longer in operation due to people moving out of the area. Finding one in the area where you already live and are settled into the local infrastructure seems unlikely, or you would have found it already (I presume).

  13. Essentially, as I see them, they may be summarized as support for the Jewish responsibilities of your Jewish family members, to enable them and encourage them (even to persuade them) to be the best Jews they possibly can be.

    OK, I’ve got that. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, especially over the last six months or so, I periodically address this responsibility.

    I believe I have seen prior mention in your blog about your wife having been at least a camp follower with Messianic Judaism until she became discouraged and disaffected by the immaturity and other shortcomings of that movement with respect to its Jewish observance.

    That’s not exactly what happened, but yes, at one point, she believed Yeshua was the Messiah, but especially after she became involved in the Chabad, she adopted a more traditional Jewish perspective. In any event, my wife is a person, not a “type” so I wouldn’t refer to her as a “camp follower.”

    though if she has any appreciation at all for Rav Yeshua you might be able to encourage her to search the Jewish literature that justifies his messianic candidacy and opens the door to understanding the benefits of Rav Yeshua’s Torah viewpoints and insights, to become his disciple in the truest Jewish sense or to reinforce any latent sense of affinity that she may bear already.

    I’m not sure how much you understand the dynamics involved here and you certainly don’t know my wife as an individual, but I certainly am not going to just tell her what to do and expect her to do it, particularly in matters of faith. While we periodically have frank discussions about the nature of Christianity and Judaism, her position is firm at this time and I’m in a position to allow her to explore her Judaism on her own terms.

    Sometimes being intermarried means allowing the dissonance in lifestyles and belief systems to exist between you. As far as her being Jewish, she is as free to take that as far as she desires. I’m not standing in her way.

  14. @James: When I used the term “camp follower” I was being merely descriptive and not trying to place your wife in any typical sort of box. I was allowing for the possibility that she may have been someone on the periphery. When I used the term “encourage”, I certainly did not refer to a dynamic whereby you would dictate what she should do. But I was defintely suggesting something a tad less passive than merely “not standing in her way”. Your mention of “frank discussions about the nature of Christianity and Judaism” sounds to me like a rather open forum that could examine not only these distinct categories but also the variations that make either Messianic Judaism or Rav-Yeshua messianism possible and defensible. Note that I am making a distinction between what has become identified as Messianic Judaism and halakhically-observant Jewish messianism that centers on Rav Yeshua as its admor. Chabad is an interesting and somewhat varied organization, which includes its own branch of Schneersonite messianism that has delved into less frequently studied Jewish literature to discover messianic justifications that could apply either to someone like Schneerson or to Rav Yeshua. Personally, I would argue that the case for Rav Yeshua is much stronger than that for Schneerson, but Chabad is certainly not interested in exploring that case or defending it. For that, one needs to examine some of the “theological” work being pursued by the MJTI, and, to a lesser degree, by the “Restorers of Zion” anti-anti-missionary website (that term reminds me of the USA and USSR missile-system development competitions of the early ’60s [:)]). One may certainly continue to live with intermarital religious dissonance (I’ve done it myself) while preserving “shalom bayit”, but if both parties are also continuing to explore the basis of their paths some of that dissonance may be reduced.

  15. Yes, I used to have an email dialog with Hannah at RoZ back in the day.

    Rest assured that my wife has my full support in exploring her Jewish identity but beyond my encouragement and support, it’s still her identity to explore in whichever direction she feels it is leading her. While there are the obvious differences in our belief systems as an intermarried couple, we tend to “meet” over Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s daily missives. I’m not sure she realizes I subscribe to most of the same email “alerts” that she does, but she forwards me the ones she finds particularly interesting.

  16. HI James,
    I’ve mentioned before that I attend my local church with my family on Sundays, but on Shabbat I attend a local Messianic Congregation alone. I have to tell you I have been going to the Messianic congregation for a year now and only in in the last month have I felt that I am connecting with the people there. For the first couple of months I went there no one even said hello. I found them to be a strange bunch and couldn’t figure it out. But I stuck with it because I wanted to hear the Rabbi’s thoughts, listen to the beautiful music they have there. I was learning and soaking. Like I said its been a year, but I’m finally having conversations with people and they smile and wave when they see me. So it takes a while. I think anytime you come into a new situation – new job, new neighborhood, new church, it takes a while for to get connected.

  17. Hi Joy,

    I had a rather intense conversation with a friend on this subject yesterday afternoon and it seems I’ve been limiting myself and limiting the process of connecting with church. It’s like one of those “oh no” feelings, but it seems that if I want to be fair and I want to proceed forward in the will of God, I’m going to have to be more diligent in my church attendence and redefine my goals for why I’m going in the first place.

    Very much like what you just said. I keep forgetting that I encounter God not only in supernatural ways, but in just plain ordinary words and conversations.

    Thanks.

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