Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why I Believe in Going to Church

I've been doing some deep soul-searching lately about church and religion. I know that I'm passionate about this religion, but why? Getting down to real specifics, what is my testimony, in terms of theology and going to church?

It's the latter I've been musing on lately. I believe in going to church. I know that it makes me a better person. Why? I had many thoughts floating around ... community, knowledge, spiritual practice ...

Last week, sitting in church, listening to Rabbi Shaman preach, it hit me.

I think church, ideally, is a salle.

In college, I was a member of the Women's Epee fencing team. I was okay. Not fabulous, but good enough to qualify for Nationals.

In fencing, you have a salle. It's the place you go to learn and to practice. You meet there with your teammates, your fellow club members, and you learn, and you drill. Over and over. You learn a new move.

"Circle C Riposte."

You are taught the move, very slowly. You do the move, very slowly. You begin drilling.

"Circle C Riposte! Again! Again! Again!"

You advance the long length of the salle, drilling, drilling.

You go to a tournament. In tournaments, the moves are faster than fast. You're (metaphorically) fencing for your life. Every once in a while, one of the moves that you've practiced a million times, actually comes out the way you've practiced it. Not often.

You return to your salle, a little bruised. You have a greater understanding for what works and how it works. You learn more moves. And drill.

Another tournament. You try to do a certain move. It's not working. You try again. Again. Your coach gets in your face. "If it's not working, STOP DOING IT!" Excellent advice that I still use to this day.

Everyone has to find their own meaning, their own metaphor, for church. For me and my vision of what church should be, this fits perfectly. Monday through Saturday, I go out into the world, trying out the things I learned and practiced at church. Sunday, I go back into my church, my salle, to talk about what worked, what didn't. I have wise people around me to (in a more gentle way than my fencing coach) remind that if something isn't working, maybe I should stop doing it. I learn new moves.

So I believe in church. Frankly, I wish more people would go, so they, too, could learn and practice how to do life.

En garde! Pret? Allez.


Kari said...

This is what I so miss. I knew that taking a job as a Religious Educator would mean I no longer had a church. I don't get to go to church. Last summer I took July off. As it turned out I worked on the first and last Sundays in July, but on the middle two, I went to church at other congregations. It was so wonderful. It's part of the reason I love GA. We get to go to worship. I don't know what the solution is to this, I don't know what ministers do, except they're only expected to preach 2 of 4 Sundays, right?

It is the hardest part of my job. No reset button. No home base. No church. Soak it in while you still have it!

Lizard Eater said...

The Husband and Robin Edgar both reminded me -- riposte, not repost. Ugh ... and I even took French. How embarraskin', Popeye.

Erik Resly said...

Amen! What a great analogy. At King's Chapel today, the selected lectionary text (Hebrews 12) dealt with issues of discipline and improvement - your reflection sheds new light on the importance of self-cultivation (something for which I personally look to ritual).

Andrew S said...

I guess this post is kinda old now, but I still wanted to comment and say how much I enjoyed it.

As a fencer, I also have sometimes fencing at a dedicated club with a dedicated group of fencers as being like what an ideal church community should be like.

Unfortunately, I think there are some distinctions that break the analogy for me.

For me, I notice a few things. One...practicing at a salle is actually really good for learning best practices for the actual deal (e.g., the tournament). It is unlikely to learn that best practices from other sources quite as easily, so there's a particular value-add to taking lessons, for example.

On the other hand, what I really didn't identify with this article was this sense that church is a salle for life. I do not feel that church is where we practice and learn how to do life. Even when I grant that church can be a place to learn some best practices, I do not think there is much of a monopoly for church -- I think we can still cultivate life values successfully without churches.

Thinking about this has led me to re-think the fencing analogy.

When I started fencing, I was bad. For a while. At first, I thought I was bad simply because I didn't take lessons (e.g., didn't go to the "church" as often). But now, what I'm realizing is that the reason I did poorly at tournaments starting out is because even *practice* isn't the best training for tournaments. To get used to tournaments, I had to go to *tournaments*.

I see life similarly. To get used to *life*, I have to engage with *life*.