When people I know leave the congregation where they are members and start worshiping at another church, I often hear them say they are switching because they were no longer being “fed spiritually.”
So I got to wondering what they mean by being “fed spiritually.” For some, I think, it means disagreeing with what the church is teaching. Some folks, for example, left my congregation, St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church, when our denomination starting ordaining women. More left when it began ordaining gays and even more left when the denomination voted to ordain LGBTs living in committed relationships.
Others leave not because of the words but because of the music. In other words, they don’t leave because of what the congregation or denomination teaches but because of how it “feels.” It’s like when I ask why friends are getting a divorce after being married for ten years and they respond, “My spouse wasn’t cheating on me or drinking too much. We just fell out of love.”
Most of you know that I write a lot of articles which have to do, one way or another, with religion. And when I interview people, often I hear them say that they don’t like one thing or another about their parish or their pastor, or they don’t agree with what their denomination teaches. But, they add, we stay because it’s our home, it’s our family.
And that response, to me, sounds kind of old fashioned. You mean you stay together, even though you no longer “feel in love?” Like, Mom and Dad, I don’t ever see you holding hands any more. Mom, your eyes no longer light up when Dad walks in the door, and he never brings you flowers for no special reason any more.
So then I asked myself, “Are ‘mom and dad’ falling out of love, or are they simply maturing into a relationship which is not based on romantic fantasies about the object of my love saving me from loneliness or solving my problems for me or compensating for one of my many character flaws?”
I talked about this to one of my friends, and he responded by saying, “What we call a good sermon is one we agree with, one that confirms our particular biases.”
It’s why conservatives watch Fox News and liberals tune in to MSNBC. Like one very conservative relative of mine said to me, “When I want to hear what’s really going on in the Obama administration, when I want to hear the facts without any spin, I watch Fox News.”
I’ve quoted a guy named Peter Steinke before. Years ago he quipped, “When a man and woman get married, the two become one. The question is which one.” Are we like Narcissus? Is what we are looking for in a church a reflection of ourselves? Are we looking for that congregation or that pastor who “makes us feel things we’ve never felt before?” Is that what we mean by being spiritually fed?
When I was a single parent, my kids would look at what I placed on the table for dinner and complain, “It’s the same old thing!” It’s true. I had a limited of dishes I knew how to cook in my repertoire, but most of them were healthy, and they didn’t taste all that bad. Sometimes it would be leftovers I had pulled out of the freezer.
I admit that the main reason I often go to the Taize service at Ascension on the first Friday of the month is to experience a little spiritual ecstasy, to dine on filet mignon instead of the meatloaf my own congregation usually serves up—or in my congregation’s case the usual lad nar and pad Thai.
But I don’t consider leaving my congregation even though other churches might appear to be more attractive. So, when I hear someone saying “I’m not being spiritually fed” about any kind of relationship, I always want to do a cost/benefit analysis. I always want to ask, “What’s being gained and what’s being lost by switching? So you find a pastor who rings your chimes, but then what are you going to do when she leaves?”
Clearly, when your spouse becomes abusive, it’s time to get out of the marriage, especially if you’ve gone to counseling and the behavior doesn’t change. But most of us eventually discover that, when the honeymoon is over, the one we said “I do” to isn’t what we thought we were getting. If we are honest, we have to admit the disillusionment we feel was a result of our own illusions and unrealistic expectations.
At that point, we have to choose: leave and try another church/lover or start to work on a lasting relationship built on the foundation of a realistic appreciation of the other’s strengths and weaknesses.