For as long as I can remember, my family has attended a Lutheran church. We've stayed in mostly the same congregation, although at one point our church consolidated with another. I've gone to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School every year and church camp a few times; I've gone through Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. I've been in youth group, I've served as a junior leader, and I went to Lutheran Leadership Training School twice. I spent many years in children's choir or youth choir, a short while in handbell choir, and many times have played an instrument or cantored (led the songs) during a service.
My church has provided me with many things, but probably the most important is the feeling of community. Our family's closest friends are another family who has gone to the same church as us since before my birth. We go camping almost every year with another family that used to be in our bible study. We spent so much time with my youth leader's family that their youngest son is best friends with my brother and the middle son and I dated for a few short weeks. I've gone on many short trips and to many activities with my youth group over the years, including a road trip to Atlanta that lasted a week and a half. I joined the church's Watercolor Painting class one summer and talked to people who were old enough to remember stories about my grandfather (who died before I was born). We even have connections to the pastor's family- my little brother dated the pastor's daughter for almost two years, and prior to that I had a crush on the pastor's son (who's now going to become a pastor himself). (Haha, I hope he doesn't read this- that'd be awkward.)
Anyway-- it probably sounds like I'm writing this to brag, but it's actually quite the opposite. I'm just wanting to show that I have a very strong church background, and that all my life I've believed in God and Jesus and all the basic tenets of Christianity.
When I was in high school, I went to LTS- Leadership Training School- at a church camp. It had some leadership activities similar to every other leadership seminar for youth I'd ever been to, but for the most part it was a small group (about 30 kids), and we cared. At most church camps, you have people (it seems like boys, especially) who just don't get into the God stuff. In discussions, they're quiet and won't talk. In worship, they're too embarrassed to sing or dance or get into it at all. In activities, they complain and act too 'cool' to participate... but not at this camp. Everyone who was there really wanted to be there.
At LTS (the first time I went), we were placed in small groups, and mine could not have been more perfect. I have never felt closer to God than I did in this group-- they were smart, they were passionate, and most of all, they made me think. Our group leader, Frank, was hilarious- but he was also excellent at questioning whatever you said. He'd ask, constantly, why you believed something the way you did, or what sort of evidence you had to back it up. He wasn't harsh, but he invited all of us to do what many Christians seem so afraid of- questioning what we're told and what we think we know. Defining their own personal religious beliefs by examining the facts and feelings behind them. No one was wrong, although there were disagreements and challenges to what people had to say. We'd discuss a topic like the church's stance on homosexuality, which some people see as so clear-cut, and we'd pull out our bibles- all different versions- and look at the same verses, and talk about alternate interpretations.
To me, without change, one cannot grow. To me, questioning things and reexamining what I'm sure of and being willing to change is the only way to have a truly dynamic, living faith like is preached about so often. You can't truly believe something just because someone tells you-- or at least I can't. Even if the evidence can't be seen (like evidence of God), I have to experience some sort of evidence to believe something. I fully recognize that I could misinterpret evidence, which would lead me to believe something untrue, but that's why I'm willing to go back and look again at things I think I'm sure of.
Not everyone in my own congregation agrees with me, of course-- many many people confuse 'questioning' with 'doubting.' It bothers me to see so many people who will staunchly defend something they have never or barely looked at themselves. They trust the church scholars to determine their personal values and beliefs for them, and even worse, some of them let those values and beliefs lead them to hate other people. It frustrates me, both because I think it's so wrong, and because I get thrown into that same category by some people just by labeling myself as a Christian.
I'll end this one with a real anecdote (I don't write those enough, considering the name of the blog).
One day my younger brother came home from elementary school and told us a story. At school that day his friend had asked him if he was Christian, and he'd said "No, I'm Lutheran." And the other boy said his mom had told him he couldn't play with kids who weren't Christian.
At the time, we focused on the part of the story where Steve said "I'm not Christian; I'm Lutheran" because, in all honesty, it was funny. It was one of those cute little kid things where they just haven't learned all the ways the world classifies things. Steve didn't realize that Lutheran was a kind of Christian, and that he was actually both. He just knew he was Lutheran, and that wasn't the same word as Christian.
When I think about it now, I still chuckle at that part, but the overall story is so sad. To think that a mother would tell her son to discriminate in his friendships like that! It just kills me that this kid's going to grow up, and at least for awhile, think that non-Christians are inherently bad. This boy's going to grow up with the idea of Christianity as some kind of exclusive club, and I hate it.
I have a lot more I could say about religion, and I want to take the time to go the direction with this post that I originally meant to, but this post is long already, and I need to do some physics homework.
Hopefully I'll get back to this, because there are some crazy religion-related thoughts going on in my head that I need to get out.