Sunday, March 25, 2007


Friday night I watched Dogma with my brother Svoid and his girlfriend Yodame. Aside from problems I had with some of the acting*, I enjoyed the movie for its humor and for its commentary on religion. The movie seems to revolve around a tenet stated by Rufus, the thirteenth apostle**, that the problem with organized religion is that they've taken a great idea and ruined it with a bunch of beliefs.

I've spent the last couple years continuing to attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because... well, for a lot of reasons, but largely because I like many of the ideas behind the church, despite the fact that I am bothered by many of the beliefs. This morning I attended a local congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ. I had come across the church while reading Hurricane's blog, where he presented it as a place that people come together to worship God without any expectations of a shared set of beliefs. Hurricane explained that the thing that unites the members of the UCC is "a common commitment to faith, broadly defined, and community." His positive experience with the church, together with what I read on its website, made me hesitantly hopeful that this church might be the right place for me.

So this morning I walked into the University Congregational Church, accompanied by my supportive friends Tolkien Boy and Sir Jupiter, and we found our way to the small Sunday school*** class on the second floor, where six gentlemen and a lady, all but one of whom were over sixty, were gathered to study the first epistle of John. The class welcomed us in and we proceeded to read and discuss faith, testimony, and spirit. The class, like many good LDS Sunday school classes I've attended, involved a teacher leading a discussion in which all class members were encouraged to participate, sharing their thoughts and experiences. What impressed me most about the class was the answer to a question Sir Jupiter asked:

"Do you believe each person has a spirit that will live on after we die?"

"Well," the teacher answered, "the Bible isn't conclusive on that matter. Different parts, in fact, seem to contradict each other." He went on to talk about various interpretations that could be made based on different passages, and how surrounding cultural assumptions might have affected various biblical writers' views on matters of body and spirit.

I appreciated that he did not have a straight answer for Sir Jupiter. He didn't claim to know anything he didn't know. He didn't recast some biblical passages to jibe with others, or to jibe with any set of extratextual doctrines.

I honestly don't mean to bash the LDS Church here. I don't intend to portray Mormons as dogma-crazed zealots who can't admit that there are some things we just don't know. Gordon B. Hinckley himself would just as readily admit there are things he doesn't know as the teacher did this morning. In my experience, though, I have often felt that in order to accept Mormon doctrine I had to do all sorts of mental acrobatics to explain away or ignore not only the complexities of the Bible, but the complexities of my life. And if I did not accept the doctrine, I didn't feel I could participate fully in the community.

Which is more to the point. I didn't even fully realize this until a couple weeks ago, but attending the LDS Church for the past couple years has been hard on my spirit. I haven't felt like I belonged because I didn't share in the beliefs I was expected to, and I haven't felt like church brought me any closer to God because I spent most of my time focusing not on the things I shared with fellow believers but on the differences between me and them that seemed insurmountable. I don't blame this on anyone but myself, but the fact is that I haven't felt the Spirit while at church in years.

This morning as I sat in the worship service after Sunday school and listened to the choir sing the Lord's Prayer, I wept. To be honest, I'm hesitant to equate crying with feeling the Spirit because I've criticized others for doing so and I had a lot of other reasons to be crying this morning, but at the very least I felt something. For the first time in a while, I was able to set aside the question of beliefs and latch onto the great idea at the center of Christianity--that there is a God who knows and loves me, who hears my prayers, and who, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, can make right the wrongs I've done and help to bear not only my pain, but the pain of those I've hurt.

*To be fair, my problem was that many of the characters didn't seem to act naturally, but I can't say I'm a great judge of how one would act naturally if one were told by the Voice of God that one is to go to New Jersey to stop two fallen angels from walking into a cathedral and thus negating all existence. Or, for that matter, how one would react naturally to the attack of a crap demon.

**Played by Chris Rock, of course.

***They call it Christian Education.


TK said...

I'm glad you had a good experience at church and felt what you did.

My mind goes to Moroni 7:19, ". . . if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ." Whatever it was that you felt, it sounds to me like it was 'a good thing'.

And I agree, that just like the 'Jews' of the New Testament, we sometimes get so caught up in focusing on the 'doctrine' that we lose sight of the SAVIOR!

MoHoHawaii said...

I drive by that church on the way to the grocery store (small world); I've always wondered about it. I know they let a Classics book club that a friend of mine belongs to meet there during the week, so I'm predisposed to think good thoughts about them. :-)

Affirming churches can really be great.

Th. said...


I like Dogma too.

JB said...

I also like Dogma. At least a LOT because Alanis Morissette is God. :D

I'm glad you had a good spiritual experience. It's refreshing after going a long while without it, I imagine.

Funny thing, I've been very anti-God and religion today and this post kinda brought me back to the middle somewhere. ;)

Chris said...

Master Fob:

I'm glad you had a positive experience with the UCC!

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Hi; found you through Web surfing.

I'm a Christian (not affiliated with any denomination... you could call me a Biblical Christian since I strive to get my doctrine from Scripture only) and a whole lot more... dogmatic?... than the UCC. I wanted to write and say, though, that I really appreciated your post for several reasons. I can relate to your feeling of church being hard on the spirit, and I like the way you brought things to the heart: there's a God who loves you and has made atonement for you through Jesus Christ. That's the gospel right there and it's powerful.

Thanks for sharing :).

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