Dear Clementine

Resident life advice expert, Clementine, offers sage wisdom to a reader struggling with feeling at home in her church.

Dear Clementine Image Credit: Erika Raxworthy

Dear Clementine,

I'm currently attending a church that I find to be a bit of a disgrace to my religion, passing offering plates and asking for financial donations for a bigger, better sanctuary (we currently have the largest sanctuary I've ever seen). It's the typical scene, really - the modern day church getting bigger while the true needs of our world (hunger, unemployment, war, grief, etc) go overlooked in lieu of "more programs!" and "better Sunday school!"

I know I can tend to be a pessimist, but I'm having a hard time reconciling the discontent in my heart. I've had a meeting with the pastor to air my concerns but have been met with twisted scripture that argues the church was meant to bloom where it is planted, that God has blessed us with riches because we are good stewards and a better sanctuary will celebrate these blessings. (I'd like to celebrate by offering a roof for the homeless, rather than a larger roof for ourselves.)

I want to believe that everyone is doing the best they can, and I also believe that we need to be the change we want to see in the world. But I'm aching for community and am not finding it, and I'm beginning to feel my heart turn colder at the thought of another church serving the wealthy rather than the poor, catering to the found and ignoring the lost.

Clementine, what would you do? Continue attending a church you don't agree with? Look for alternative churches (I've done this, it's not looking pretty.) Or ditch organized religion in order to serve the God I believe in?


Cringing In The Pew

Dear Cringing In The Pew,

Oh, shoot. You are asking the wrong person. I mean, I believe in God and I believe in organized religion and churches, big and small, and the power of lovely-minded groups all dressed in their best and belting out the same tunes, but I'm also down with disorganized religion and unorthodox holy spaces…and the power of one quiet prayer.

I got soul, but I'm not a soldier. I'm out the very minute money measures faith, church size equals religious success, someone's telling me what I can't drink or eat, and sermons make my stomach hurt. I've found my faith in moments, not ministers. It's not for everyone, and it may not be for me much longer. I guess I'll know as soon as I know.

A church needs to get bigger in order to be bigger, and that always translates to dollars. Most religious organizations believe in more: more believers, more conviction, more donations, more kindness, more persuasions, more service, and more house in which to worship. The problem arises when some of those mores make your personal faith less. And that's a journey we all walk at some point or another, I think.

Personally, I have a hard time with my religion – any religion – when it turns hater every once in a while. I'm not naive enough to think that everyone needs to believe in everything, but there are some non-negotiables. I'm not a fan of racism, sexism, or homophobia, so I kind of distrust faiths that historically have been jerks. Our past, no matter how we try to get away from it, is our prologue. I guess I also espouse the mo' money, mo' problems theory. To me, not everything gets better simply by adding dollars. As you can imagine, I am not a good parishioner.

But no matter what your feelings, being a full-fledged, participating member of a religion means something. It's your calling card, in a lot of ways. Like, if I know you're a Buddhist, I know you probably believe that good begets good, and evil begets evil. You're probably a pretty lovely person. And if I discover you're Jewish or Muslim or Catholic or Baha'i, I know you probably believe in the same basics, and I know you're probably a pretty lovely person, too.

Religion is as big a part of our personality and character as the career we've chosen or the mate we're loving or the multitude of other ways we're nourishing our lives. It is one choice of many we make on a moment to moment basis that tells the world who we are. Sure, there are nuts in every tree. But a believer, to me, is one of the most beautiful things to behold.

And yet, I want you to understand that it doesn't mean you're a bad person if you choose something else or if you believe in something from another book. For now or for forever.

It might be time to go private for a bit. Take a sabbatical. A breather. Try to do some of the good you're wishing your church would do. Start tiny, with one thoughtful care package for one homeless family. Do it again, and then again. I promise you'll find your way – either back to where you started or onward. Either way, I'm hoping you'll find a faith in which you want to believe. Let's wish each other luck on that one, okay?

That's the only way I live my days...


p.s. And when I suggest private, I mean private. I wouldn't necessarily declare yourself at moral odds with your church or community. Honestly is always the best policy...unless it makes others feel uncomfortable with what makes them comfortable.