I attend a school where chapel is mandatory. Now, I get that I go to a private Christian college and that it’s my own fault for attending here. But that does not mean, however, that I have to agree with the polices (after all, there’s a reason I’m transferring!) or like it one little bit.
In a recent Facebook post, I posted the video Instead Of A Show by Jon Foreman, and a discussion came out about my recent ventures towards leaning agnostic. I suppose that it may be easier to write a full out blog post and explain things. I feel that some people may think this is a recent venture. It most assuredly is not. I feel judged for holding these views, for it’s not what’s expected of me. It’s not what people want to hear, and it’s not happy and candy coated. It’s raw pain, raw anguish, and raw emotions.
This week in chapel, the theme was Your Story Is Important. Which I agree. Everyone has an important story. From the drug dealer turned Christian overnight, to the one raised in a Christian home goody two shoes, to the abused little girl, they all have important stores and they mattered. But what bothered me in chapel is that all the stories had a happy ending.
I missed Thursday, so maybe Thursday’s story didn’t have a happy ending. But it still bothers me that all the stories told more or less had a happy ending and that was “God working through it.” The thing is, not all stories have a happy ending. Not all things in life wind up working out just right. And the thing is, God is still working through it. God is still working and glorious, magnificent and holy, even if all the ends aren’t perfectly tied together. God is still God, and the stories are still important.
So why, then, are the stories of those still struggling left untold? Why are their stories shoved aside? Does no one want to hear the real, raw stories of pain and anguish? Don’t they get it? God doesn’t always give happy endings. He’s not J. K. Rowling, who tortured her characters but in the end they all wound up all mushy and conquering and stuff. But that’s not life. That’s not how life works, but it seems that at times it’s how Christians depict it. It bothers me. It bothers me to the core. But what can we done until those who are still struggling have the courage to step out and share their stores?
“Is it true what I heard about the Son of God?
Did He come to save, did He come at all?
And if I dried His feet with my dirty hair
Would He make me clean again?”
– Bright Eyes, “I Don’t Know When But A Day Is Gonna Come.
I suppose it’s healthy in the life of a Christian (or, I reckon this could be expanded to the atheist or to the agnostic or any religion, really) to have wonders about what they believe. However, be it healthy or be it even good in the long run, it’s still frustrating to be trapped in doubt. But at times I feel that if here at a Christian college, if I admit to not having my act together, what that means to everyone else. Does it mean I’m not a good enough Christian? Does that mean that everyone is passing judgment calls on me, for not having my act perfectly together?
I’ll be frank – I struggle with viewing God as a father. For to me, a father is someone who hurts you. And trying to view a perfect, omni-everything being as that is a struggle. Does that make me a bad Christian, though? I can view God as Comforter, Saviour, Redeemer, and Friend, but I just cannot grasp the concept of Him as a Father.
I feel that sometimes when I express this to people at Northwestern that this is how I feel, that I’m somehow magically not a good enough Christian, because of things that happened in my past that were beyond my control that would taint anyone’s view. I feel that people think I’m not a good enough Christian, because of Horrible Bad Things that happened to me, and would shake up the faith of nearly anyone.
But really, instead of passing judgment calls on someone who’s been hurt beyond measure, instead of just saying “Well, the Bible says that God is your father and you should believe it”, why not reach out? Give hope? Give love?
I struggle with this. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever heal to the point where I can view God as a Father. Will I?
And I feel stuck
Watching history repeating
Yeah, who am I?
Just a kid who knows he’s needy
Let me know that You hear me
Let me know Your touch
Let me know that You love me
And let that be enough
Switchfoot – “Let That Be Enough.”
Disclaimer: I do not claim this statement to be universal. I don’t think it’s true of every single speaker, but I do feel that it’s something that needs to be said. I do not say these things with ill intent, but more thoughts I ponder about.
I sometimes feel that chapel is one big guilt trip. “Forgive those who have hurt you.” “Go into the ministry.” “Get your life right with God.” “Do this, do that.” And at times it’s frustrating because even though I’m sure that’s not what they mean to send across, it’s certainly how it comes across.
And tying in with the cliche guilt trip, I often feel that chapel dances around real issues. It seems that they rotate similar messages: Be a better Christian, get closer to God. Donate your money, donate your time. Forgive, forget, move on. Trust God. Believe in God. Worship God. Work at summer camp. Go into the ministry. Don’t go into the ministry. Tithe. It just seems that they roll out the same issues we’ve heard over and over again in chapel.
I sometimes wish for a real, raw chapel. Not candy-coated sugar-frosted Christianity, but about real issues that students here struggle with. Eating disorders. Abuse. Self injury. Homosexuality. Greed. Gossip/slander/libel. Bullying. Yet it seems we like to turn a blind eye and don’t realize that these things happen on our own campus. We find out a student struggles with suicidal thoughts, and our mind goes to “Oh, they must not be right with God.” “Oh, this and that and this and that.”
I feel that our chapel speakers just run the typical guilt trip, toying with our emotions. Not all of them, a few are exempt from this statement. But nevertheless, it’s very annoying and frustrating just to see the same cliched guilt trips run over and over.
“When the snow melts, it becomes spring.”
Sometimes I feel like the frozen spring. Completely trapped. The warm, serene summer is miles away and the crisp change of fall is nowhere to be seen. The spring, with new flowers, new blossoms, and new life is on the horizon, but still just beyond my grasp.
And why, I wonder, do I even want the snow to melt? For I’m warm and cozy inside. I’m safe, snuggled up with my blanket of secrets and my cup of hot chocolate tainted with fear. But it’s a false security, it’s not true warmth. I’m still, like the winter, cold, brisk, and bitterly cold. I’m still waiting to thaw out, so I can reach out for the new flowers blossoming along the sidewalk.
But yet, in some ways the thought of the snow melting scares me. Will I be a beautiful spring, or will I be the awful sludge that comes after the melting snow? Really, who wants to deal with the sludge? Who wants to be the one to clean that up? Who wants to be the one to reach out, and help clean away the sludge so we can see the beauty of spring?
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That’s enough of that section of this blog entry, I guess. But back to the real purpose of this blogs, thoughts about Northwestern. I sometimes feel like I don’t fit in here. Ok, more than sometimes. I have different views about abortion, different views about gay rights, different views about this and that and everything else. My family structure is vastly different than many, although I certainly don’t claim to be unique. And I often wonder… if I’m so different from the stereotypical NWC student, what on Earth am I doing here? I don’t like praise chapel. I have some issues (which will be covered in later entries) with other chapels. I am not Northwestern, and I often feel that I “darken the path” rather than “light the way.” I just wonder why I’m here and if I even belong.
For what place, if any, does a psychology and youth ministry student have if she still harbours this unpopular train of thought and this frozen fear? Northwestern claims to be accepting and loving, and I believe that at the core, their hearts are in the right place. But if they saw all the truth… would I still be loved and accepted?
For, after all, if I’m the frozen spring, then what would Northwestern want with someone who’s still overcoming such bitterness?
I often feel like a failure as a Northwestern student, because I don’t like chapel. I hate it. I hate praise chapel. My first “I hate Chapel” rant will focus on praise chapel. Stay tuned for other rants about how I hate many chapel messages, many chapel speakers, edit on 1/18/11 and whatnot. And I don’t truly “hate chapel”, but I feel that there are many issues within it.
I hate how many of the songs are “me” centered and not “God” centered. Look, folks, if you’re going to sing a song that worships your alleged divine creator, then sing about what He’s done for YOU. Sing about what He means for YOU. Not what He’s going to DO for You, not how He makes You feel. Your lyrics should worship the Creator, the one You claim to adore.
Second, to me it feels like chapel is a big show. Who can raise their hand the highest. Who can sing the loudest. Who “looks” the most into worshiping. Worshiping is not meant to be a show, and frankly, that’s what praise chapel looks like at Northwestern. A show, and nothing more. I often feel like the lyrics from the Jon Foreman song:
Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
There’s blood on your hands
You turned your back on the homeless
And the ones that don’t fit in your plan
Quit playing religion games
There’s blood on your hands
Now, I’m not claiming to know the heart of Northwestern. I’m only a college student and I only see my own heart, and I know there are genuine people there. But we would all be naïve to believe that every one of those students is legit, that every one is genuine. Some are only trying to keep up appearances. Some are putting on a show because the momentary “religous high” numbs the pain in their life, just for a little while. Instead of searching for a true fix, they just go from “God high” to “God high”, with little interest to God in between worship jams.
And for someone who has a sensory processing disorder, praise chapel is complete hell. It’s complete sensory overload for something like that. If you can’t handle loud noise, crowds, or darkness, it’s not the place for you. It’s a place that’s supposed to be safe, but can quickly cause panic.
I’m not bashing cooperate worship. I realize it’s a Biblical concept. However, the way Northwestern goes about it I don’t believe is right, and I believe that changes need to be made. I’m not one to say what the changes need to be, and even if I did no one would listen to be. Apparently I’m a flaming liberal to most Northwestern students, and my opinion holds little water because it’s not the majority opinion. I don’t even claim to be right, and I don’t even know that the others are fully wrong, per se. And I realize that by the end of those post, most anyone reading this likely things I’m an insane heathen or that I’m not right with God.
But I don’t feel that praise chapel is the best thing for Northwestern. It always, from my first time in it, gave me an uneasy feeling. And I can’t put my finger on it, other than some of the thoughts explored here.