Thursday, January 17, 2008
For many years, I led a Religion and Ethics discussion group at Quail Ridge Books. We explored faith through short stories, beginning with a book by my friend, Susan Ketchin, entitled The Christhaunted Landscape. Excellent book! In the past few months, the group has been exploring the ethics side with Clay Stalnaker as the facilitator. Clay is a brilliant Presbyterian minister who has caused me to pick my own brain for what a belief in God really is and how I have incorporated this into my faith story (or myth).
The other night I raised something that he said "disturbed him" and I would like to try to say it here. For so long religion has relied on making people feel bad to keep 'em coming back for more. At my church there are more recovering Catholics and Baptists than you can shake a stick at. And I wondered aloud why people would continue to go to churches where they are forced to feel bad, constantly referring to themselves as unworthy and sinful. I said that I want to go to church to feel good and that I don't want to constantly dwell on my shortcomings.
What Clay felt was disturbing, if I understood correctly, is that he thought I was using the word "good" to mean "comfortable" and he thought that church should make us feel uncomfortable in the sense of being challenged. And I will agree that I want to feel challenged, but I want to be comfortable and comforted by my faith. I want to go to church and feel elated and capable of facing the week's challenges and consoled that there is a God-light in me that enables me to send light into the dark places of my friends' and family members' lives. I want to use the strength I gain while meditating or learning from the minister's message to make positive changes in my life.
I don't want to feel bad in church. I don't want to feel discomforted. And if this is disturbing to someone, then so be it. Maybe he'll think a bit about what I said, just as I think about what he says each month. And we'll both be a little surer about what our faith is made of.