Twice is Nice

Today I managed to NOT get the same job for the second time in less than a week.  True story.

Also, I went back to a church for the second time in a row.  Whaaa?

Because the sermon, as advertised, sounded like it was going to be great.  Who would’ve ever guessed that I would pick an Episcopalian church for the preaching.

(wait.  It has happened before. anyway.)

I went back because I remembered the priest saying something last Sunday about his upcoming sermon, and I remember thinking: that sounds really interesting – I could be vaguely tempted to return for that.

And then of course I completely forgot what the topic was supposed to be.

I’m glad I trusted my judgment, though, because it was a good sermon: the beginning of a four-week series on being sacramental people.  And I’ve no clue how the preaching will expand beyond what was said today, but I trust it will because the priest doesn’t seem like the kind who repeats himself.

Today’s message: that the sacraments – these physical signs of our commitment to being God’s people, and his commitment to being our God – are a tangible reminder that God is with us and does not give up on us, even when we are in our darkest places.

I like hearing that.  I’m not in a super dark and ugly place, but things have been better.  This is what I needed right now.

Somehow it reinforces the hope shining through the cracks in my favourite new tune:

(Oh wait, but now this might be my new favourite thing.  Ooooh….)

The Virtue of Selfishness*

I went to Bible Study last night.

I know, eh?!  Bible Study!!

I can tell what you’re thinking: first church, now Bible Study.  Apparently this  girl can’t get enough of the Good Book.

Eh?

I was pretty nervous about going.  No, I was SUPER nervous about going.  And then I was beyond nervous when I arrived at a shiny, monstrous Upper East Side apartment, covered in sweat from my cross-Manhattan bike sprint.  These Bible Study people are not from the same world as me. Here’s to making a good first impression.

Things I liked about this Bible Study:

The people were nice.  Really nice.  Genuinely welcoming and vaguely interested in my life.  Plus, they had hummous, guacamole, and baba ghanoush.  Totally beats all the Bible Study snacks I’ve ever prepared.

The people were also very smart.  I’m not saying that I don’t like dumb people, but every so often it’s really refreshing to talk about the Bible with highly intelligent people.  Not that we were talking about the Bible; we were actually talking about this book.  But the conversation was interesting, even if I didn’t always agree with it.

Things I didn’t know how to handle:

People kept talking about the amount of guilt and sinfulness they were aware of in their lives.  One guy mentioned walking down the street and being hyper-aware of all the sinful and judgemental thoughts running through his head.  Another girl asked for prayer to deal with the huge amount of guilt she has been feeling over the amount of sin in her life.

And I thought:

I don’t think about sin and guilt that much.

I’m pretty sure God doesn’t want you to be miserable about your guilt all the time.

Um, do you seriously have nothing BETTER to think about than YOURSELF when you’re walking down the street?!

I’ve never noticed before how the emphasis on individual salvation can really blur the lines with extreme selfishness and narcissism.  But that’s kindof what it looks like to me.

Am I wrong?  Did I miss something?  Is it a virtue to be selfish?

OMG did I just quote Ayn Rand??!!  My 18-year-old self would be so darn impressed.  And, I thought I left all Randian references back in my angst-y undergraduate years.  So much for moving on.

Shop Until You Drop

jhoyer_treeI have lost the ability to shop.  I walked into H&M the other day and, after a few minutes of joking with another customer about the futility sorting through dresses on the sale rack, I walked out.

But this thing I’ve been doing lately, this business of getting my bearings in church and visiting different parishes each week?  Some people have a term for it.

They call it “church shopping”.

I absolutely positively hate that phrase.

I googled “church shopping” and was a little disappointed to find an article on it in Relevant magazine.  I kindof thought I liked Relevant magazine.  Or, I like the video they just posted of that sweet new Jars of Clay song.

But they make a good point, right there in the tagline of the article: “figuring out what really matters when searching for a faith community”.

It’s true.  This terrible phrase for looking for a church is just a quaint way of saying that we’re figuring out what matters.  And I wondered exactly that last Sunday, as I sat in the pew at a local chapel and wondered what brought the small but diverse crowd together.

I couldn’t help but think that the soprano leading hymns from the back of the sanctuary was probably there to earn enough spare cash to cover her phone bill.  Or, the mother with two young girls chose this church because it was the closest walk from the nearby housing project.  The man in the nice suit, who laughs loudly at all the sermon jokes?  Surely he feels good about how much of the budget comes out of his personal financial contributions; surely he’s proud to mention his presence on the board of this tiny parish when convincing clients that he’s community-minded.

All of which is to say: I’m a judgmental a**hole.

And, we all have different reasons for going to church.

And: all those reasons are probably okay.  I mean, it’s not going to kill anyone if a singer leads the hymns nicely and thus manages to pay her bills on time.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m not really looking for a church right now.  I’m in a place where I need to sort out who I am before I can sort out what I want in a church.  So let’s not call it “church shopping”.  Let’s call it what it is: figuring out our place in the world.

Get me to the church on time*

jhoyer_churchIt’s Sunday!  It’s sunny!  AND, I made it to church.

There’s something vaguely disappointing about my inability to be anywhere on time, after living in Africa for two years.  I know that everything is far from everything else in New York City.  I know how long it takes me to walk one kilometer (12 minutes), how long to bike (4 minutes), how long on the subway (interminable, inestimable).  And yet I’m never in the right place at the right time.

I was late – by ten minutes – for my first day of work.  I was early for a concert last week only because the friend who had bought tickets inadvertently told me it started an hour earlier than it did.  I showed up early for drinks yesterday evening and wished desperately that someone would give me a gold star in recognition.

I was late for church this morning.

I’d like to blame it on the fact that I couldn’t find the entrance.  I found the church in good time, but the door that had that familiar sign – “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” – turned out not to be the door I wanted.  It was open, and someone was sitting inside beside a table of juice and cookies, but I think I accidentally stumbled into either the Sunday School room or an AA meeting.

I made it through the correct entrance in time for the last verse of the opening hymn.  Not too shabby, after all that.

The service was good.  The priest said something intelligent about Luke 16, which is no mean feat.  I didn’t feel too awkward about the fact that I was constantly lost during the service, since we were using a prayer book I’m not familiar with.  I escaped from post-service coffee with the explanation that I had to go to work, which was true.

Why am I afraid of socializing?

I’ve [mostly] conquered my fear of showing up.  As soon as I progress to arriving punctually, I’ll work on my fear of coffee hour.

Progress, friends.

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* because you can never have enough Broadway.