Monday, October 12, 2009
Can You Go Home Again?
I had a very chaotic adolescence. I was acting out, desperately seeking attention from someone who would be able to know what had been done to me in my childhood. I was wild- I lied, I stole, I fought and raged. I didn't drink or do drugs or sleep around. But I worked hard to get someone to notice me while also trying to force my family to hate me. Life was generally not fun in our home- because of me. But my parents continued to try and try to keep things normal and keep a strong foundation. One way this was done was with our home church. I grew up in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod (LCMS). My grandpa is a pastor. My mom and I were very involved in our church home back in Kentucky for my childhood and we quickly found a solid church home when we moved to Ohio. I grew up in this church and was supported through some really difficult times. This church was where my memories formed of VBS (Vacation Bible School), retreats, and summer pig roasts. There were winter craft fairs, choir rehearsal, and it was the place where I found my singing voice. It was at church that life felt safe and normal. No matter how much we fought at home... there were many Sundays that I sat next to my mom in that church pew and laid down with my head in her lap or that I rested my head on her shoulder. Church was where the love was- and I could demonstrate it and receive it freely. When I went off to college and my parents moved to the other side of town, we disconnected from that church. My mom joined an Evangelical Lutheran church, I stayed away from church altogether (but held fast to my belief in God- I just struggled with the mixed messages I was receiving through my life experiences, my conversations with God, and the teachings of my religious base). I hadn't been back to that church in about 17 years. I've often wondered what happened to those kids I grew up with. One family in particular- we were really close. Sleepovers, weekend afternoon adventures, our parents were friends. A sibling set of 3 and I loved them all. 2 of the 3 are now in leadership roles in that church. And the middle child, whom I was closest with, organized this Confirmand Reunion this past weekend. Lutheran Confirmation is a Big Deal. You spend a few years going to Confirmation Class, studying Luther's Catechism and the Bible. You become well indoctrinated in all aspects of the Lutheran Church. It's an affirmation of your baptism whereupon you become a full member of the church, taking responsibility for your growth and development in your service to God. In my days there, the youth group was pretty strong. Not a huge group but a tight group. Walking back into that church was... weird. So much was exactly the same! So much hadn't changed! Even more astounding was that the people were the same. It's impressive for a church to retain that membership... but these people even LOOKED the same. It was crazy! I felt a little bit like a child all over again. The culture difference between my current church and this church was astounding. They are good people, hard working people, caring people and they see and understand and follow God differently than I do. We all find the way that works best for us. But I love my "kids running around, people hugging and holding hands, singing praise songs and hands held high" church! It's completely outside of how I was raised- my current church is praise and glory and celebration instead of guilt and forgiveness and wrongdoings. And this weekend really drove that home. But you could still feel God's presence there. Part of the purpose of this reunion was an effort to revitalize this church. To bring people back home. They fully recognize that many have grown up to find other churches, moved away, etc and they support you. But if you are looking for a church, please consider coming back. As my friend said to the congregation, we loved growing up here and we have fantastic memories (which is very true) and we don't want to lose that. They want to bring youth back to the church and to find growth again. After service, there was a "light lunch." Lutherans doing a light lunch? Really? I don't know if you've ever heard of Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Companion) but he truly captures Lutheran culture in his tales of Lake Wobegon. In particular... the food. In particular... the potlucks. When I moved to Indiana, I had to change my vernacular. They don't do potlucks here. I grew up on potlucks. Here, they do a "pitch in." Now, it is basically the same thing, same premise- everyone brings food to share. Right? Gotta say wrong. I would never dream of bringing anything store bought to a potluck. Ever. About the lowest I'd go would be to grab some fried chicken from the local grocery so I could bring it still hot and I would only do that if I was in from out of town and had no access to a kitchen. But a pitch in... I have no problem bring chips and dip or some other store prepared food or something that I just have to open a package to serve. I had assumed that the luncheon was going to be a potluck. Because this was a reunion, a homecoming. And any excuse to come together and share comfort food... well, that's part of what binds Lutherans together. We build our community on our service to God, our use of Velveeta, and our creativity with chopped ham. But this was a "light lunch." Don't misunderstand- the food was good and was prepared with loving hands. Small sandwiches made with banana bread and cream cheese, mini chicken salad sandwiches, little triangles of PB&J... a fruit platter, a veggie platter, a relish tray. Fantastic punch (including a very pretty frozen sherbet ring floating in it) and a large sheet cake. A wonderful spread for most any occasion. But... No casseroles. No broccoli florets drowning in a cheesy sauce, hidden by chunks of potato. No Crock Pot of meatballs. No casserole with ingredients hidden by the crushed Ritz cracker topping. No pudding or jello salad. No selection of 4 different style of scalloped potatoes. No stringy, gooey macaroni and cheese. Not even a basic green bean casserole. A homecoming with a light lunch just doesn't call back memories of home! I got out of it what I came for- to reconnect with some dear friends, to see the people who were a large part of my connection to God while growing up, to sit in the pews with my family- the same pews where I sat with my mom all those years. I wish I could say that I felt drawn back in. I wish I could say that seeing these people, who were rather instrumental in my growth and development, has me desiring the chance to go back whenever I can. I can't overlook the vast differences between what I know to be true and what the LCMS teaches to be true. I can't deny that the church family I have now is my family and that I've connected with them in a deep and loving way. I can't accept the things that are taught in my previous faith base- things that I now recognize with words I hate to use when I'm talking about people I hold in fond memories. My old religion taught me that I can love sinners and should love sinners- but not because I accept and love them as children of God as they are but because I can "love" them into the church where they will choose to change their sinful ways. I get to use the Bible and our religion's interpretation of the Bible to judge others- even outside of the 10 Commandments. So many fond memories and a definite structure and support that I needed in my life at that chaotic time. But not a place that teaches what I want my children to be taught. Not a place that I would currently be able to grow in my relationship with God, in my service to God. Not a place that my husband, in his own struggles with God and religion, could ever feel comfortable. I'm glad I went- so glad. I hope that my friend and I can stay in touch with each other and maybe even catch up sometime on all that has happened in our lives over the past 2 decades. I loved seeing the same faces and families, still together, still connected, still loving one another. But it didn't call me back "home." All I can figure is that the food wasn't quite right.