Monday, May 24, 2010

Pentecost, Confirmation, Creeds, and Actions

Yesterday was a huge day at church for me, and by huge, I really mean long. I was there by 7:30, and was still there at 1:00. This year, I spent more time at church on Pentecost than I did for Easter.

I was there for the Rite of Confirmation, and for a variety of reasons, we confirmed youth at both services. I put stoles around the shoulders of the confirmands, and I read a part of the service about the candle they were being presented. I loved being part of the service.

I sat through the rest of the service thinking about my own Confirmation. We had just started using the new green hymnal, and so I was supremely nervous about my ability to say the Creed, with the new language. I felt like I was being hypocritical, because I wasn't sure I really believed what I was saying. I worried about insulting God with my hypocrisy. I was also supremely aware of my extended family in the pews, people who had made a very long journey to see this Rite. I didn't want to let them down, so I went through with the service, even though I suspected that God was disgusted with me for my hypocrisy.

Where did I get these strange, non-grace filled visions of God? Was it from the Lutheran churches of my youth? From popular culture? Some traumatic memory from childhood?

I did go to a Presbyterian school (for 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade), and we had chapel every Friday. In 5th or 6th grade we had a particularly troublesome pastor who came in to do the chapel sermon. We got a stinging lecture about the tortures of hell, and then there was an altar call of sorts, where we were encouraged to invite Jesus into our hearts to be our Lord and Savior.

When anyone asks me if I'm saved, I think of those Fridays, where I prayed fervently on a weekly basis. Then I worried that maybe Jesus couldn't hear me, because everyone else was praying at the same time. To correct that, I prayed throughout the week. It's no wonder I was a bit confused throughout my youth.

My parents had no idea that any of this was going on. They sent me to the Presbyterian school because the public schools were so dreadful; this was the 70's, the era of the open classroom, and children learning at their own pace. When I worked my own way from the 4th grade curriculum through the 6th grade curriculum in one year, they put me in the private school. They had no idea that I was getting a hellfire and brimstone education at the same time.

Now, as I recite the Creed, I'm still not sure how much of it believe. I think one of the big mistakes the Church has made has been to emphasize these Creeds. I think belief comes through our actions, not by our attempt to make up our minds. If I was writing a Creed, I'd probably have a different set of items that I'd emphasize.

But I no longer worry about God's anger about my hypocrisy in reciting a Creed that I'm no longer sure I fully accept. I assume that God is far more sorrowful about my inability to refrain from malicious gossipping. I know that God hates the hypocrisy of a powerful nation that can't even provide minimum shelter for all its citizens. I feel certain that God can't understand our desire for profits trumping our care for the planet. My doubt about Church and Creed is probably very low on God's lists of things to care about.

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