The Day I Went Back to Church

Essays, Featured — By on December 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

I grew up in Minnesota.  I grew up Lutheran.

I sang in the Lutheran church choir. I went to Lutheran Bible camp. Every Sunday, every Wednesday I was there, and very Lutheran. I sat in the second row with my Lutheran family. I even had my first kiss in the Lutheran church nursery — it was after the Lutheran church play, it was late, it was dark, it was magical.

However, over the past few years, my Lutheran dedication has subsided somewhat. Though I went to a Lutheran college, my church attendance went from two days a week to one.  Then to every other week.  To once a month. Then I moved to New Mexico and couldn’t find a Lutheran church, so I went once a year at Christmas when I was in Minnesota. Then I started spending some Christmases in California with my husband’s family, so I ended up at church once every-other-year when I was in Minnesota.

Yes. I know. Naughty little Lutheran.

With that in mind, earlier this year I set a goal to go to church. A goal of desire, not of guilt.  It was my desire to put on my Sunday best, to dust off the old hymnal, to sit in the second row and to rediscover.  I desired growth – to be inspired in a different way. So, off to church I went.

On that fateful Sunday, I sat in the back row with my girlfriend Amanda (whom I brought for backup).  As the service began, I was dazed at how much “church” had changed. Instead of old, green, battered hymnals from which to sing and praise the Lord, there were jumbo-trons and a rock band. Instead of people trying to hide in said-hymnals, mouthing the words and looking out of the corner of their eyes to be sure no one is looking, the attendees of this church had their arms in the air and were swaying. Instead of girls in hand-smocked dresses, patent leather shoes and bows in their hair, high schoolers attended looking like … well, high schoolers. God’s fashion preferences had apparently changed significantly, and I was definitely over-dressed.

I didn’t recognize any of the music. None of it. No “Praise God to Whom All Blessings Flow” or “Lift High the Cross.” It all sounded more like something I would find on an iPod mix entitled “Happenin’ Sunday Night,” not one called “Surviving Church.” It wasn’t very long before I whispered to myself, “Kindra, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Kansas or, in my case, Lutheran-ville as I knew it.

After years of being a church no-go-er, and a lifetime without singing with my arms in the air, I will say that Sunday evening was quite an experience. There were things I didn’t like: the guest preacher stopped to “emote/try to hold back/emote anyway” every five minutes or so – a peeve of mine. There were things I really liked: a female singer in the rock band who stole my heart. Not since “Wicked” have I been so moved by a voice. There were things that made me uncomfortable: when the rock band encouraged us all to put our arms in the air and sing. I looked around, assuming there would be other recovering-Midwest-Lutherans with their hands at their sides, their faces hidden in shame. But alas, there was not. Reluctantly, I put my arms up (but kept my elbows bent in protest). And, best of all, there was something shared in the sermon that would stay with me.

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Imagine that you’re walking along the street downtown. Any downtown. It’s dark and you hear footsteps coming up behind you. Before you can take another step, you feel something hard and cold held forcefully at your back. You know you are in danger. You know you have few choices. You know you want to live. You know your life is precious. You decide to surrender. And with one gesture, you do.

You raise your arms in the air.

Surrender.

This is an instinctual sign of surrender. Of releasing power. Of “offering it up” to somewhere, someone, something.

Now, imagine watching the Summer Olympics on television. Any television. It is time for the running events. You watch the runners line up, focus, and GO. They race down the track, epitomes of athleticism. All desiring one thing, all seeking one end: gold. Then, as the first ones cross the finish line, after the most important seconds of their lives, they all do the same thing.

They raise their arms in the air.

Victory.

This is an instinctual sign of victory. Of releasing power. Of “offering it up” to somewhere, someone, something.

That said…

Have you ever thought you could be magnificent?  I have often thought that I could be magnificent. That I could be tentimes the person I am now, if I would just get out of my own way. Everything I have ever wanted is waiting just on the other side of me. If I would just surrender all of the illogical, self-imposed limitations, I could be victorious. Throw my arms in the air in surrender, and, simultaneously, throw my arms in the air in victory. Champion of and Champion for myself.

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I left church that Sunday feeling pleased; pleased that I had gone, pleased that  I had completed a goal, pleased that I walked away with something valuable, and pleased that I had unanswered questions — evidence that there is still more to discover.

Will I go back?  I will.  I may never get over my Midwest-Lutheran upbringing. I may never get used to singing rock songs or feel comfortable wearing jeans to church. And it might be some time until you see me singing with my hands over my head.  However, my hands over my head in surrender and victory? I’m not going to wait on that one anymore.

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