They want me to be an elder. Someone at church actually thinks I’m grown up enough to be called an “elder”. The thought makes me quake in my boots for more than one reason: 1) I’m too YOUNG! I haven’t even successfully figured out how to be a full-fledged ADULT yet – how in the name of all that is grown up in the world could I possibly be an ELDER? 2) At this point in my life, my faith feels WAY too shaky to take on the role of someone who’s supposed to be a leader, a mentor, a role model, and a spiritual advisor.
It’s the second point that gives me the most trouble. A few weeks ago, while I stood staring at all those Christian books of seemingly great yet unattainable wisdom, my faith came tumbling down around me like the proverbial house of cards. I wasn’t expecting it to topple like that, so I was rather surprised to see it lying there on the floor. I guess I was still attached to it, though, because I couldn’t quite leave it behind in that bookstore. It stuck to my shoes, and I’ve been dragging it around ever since, kicking it now and then to make sure it’s still alive. Sadly, though, I haven’t managed to rebuild or revive it yet.
I thought it might reappear in Africa. I thought I might find reason to pump some air into it – either when I needed something to help me cope with the hardships in the drought-stricken and AIDS-afflicted villages, or when I wanted someone to thank for the beauty of the Serengetti (it WAS pretty awesome!). Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happened – what little life was left in it got trampled by the anger and frustration I felt for what the church has done in Africa, and what it’s doing in Canada to our young people. It was at a church service, in fact, that my faith took the most severe blow.
It wasn’t an ordinary church service. Our group held its own little church service in the open-air bar of the safari lodge we were staying at just outside the Serengetti and the NgoroNgoro Crater. First of all, the mini-sermon was delivered by Solomon, a Kenyan lay minister who was travelling with us on part of our trip. The theme of his talk was how God will provide everything we ask for. He spoke with conviction about how God would provide EVERYTHING – a good wife, a good home, good children, etc. – if only we ask him for it and are faithful. It made me feel a little sick. In other words, us rich Canadians sitting around the circle were better at ASKING because God was blessing us more? Dan challenged him and asked what about the person dying of AIDS? Solomon said (again with conviction) that if the person with AIDS repented, then God could still bless him and he could be healed. In other words, AIDS was directly related to sin in a person’s life. No WONDER so many people are afraid to admit they have AIDS and it keeps spreading further and further if people will shun them for sinning.
I felt my anger boil inside me as I listened to Solomon talk. I wasn’t angry AT him, I was angry FOR him. I was angry that the missionaries who’d brought their tainted religion to his village had taught him lies and half-truths. They’ve painted a picture of a judgemental, unjust God who blesses white people more than Africans. They’ve painted a picture of a God who has to fit into a box created by western religion. They’ve taken SO much from the African people. Church and faith have to be this stifling experience just because that’s the way church happens in Europe or North America. Blech!
My anger extended from their to the young people in our group. What really frustrated me was Rachel’s (the 19 year old) concern that she couldn’t sing the song that moved her most because she was afraid it wasn’t “religious” enough. I told her ahead of time that I didn’t think she had to worry too much about religion. I was glad when she decided to sing the song she originally wanted to, but it saddened me that young people feel they have to mold into our idea of church to fit into “religion”. What does that have to do with GOD?
Oh yeah – there was a third thing at the service that ticked me off. Someone had decided we should have communion. While I didn’t have much trouble with that in principle, it DID bother me because I knew we had at least one person in the group who didn’t have a faith in the same version of God as the rest of the group and wouldn’t be comfortable with taking communion. It felt horribly exclusive to pass the bread around the circle and have only one person refrain from accepting it, so in silent solidarity, I let it pass me by as well.
So here I am – not sure anymore how I define God and what kind of relationship I want to have with him. I know my anger is directed at the CHURCH and not at God, but I’m still having a little trouble separating the two. And next week, they want me to sit in front of the leadership of the church and tell them why I should or shouldn’t be an elder. First I have to figure out why I should or shouldn’t be a Christian.