When lonliness sends you to church

Marta and I are both non-believers. That is, in regards to God and his son Jesus Christ. But two weeks ago we went to church anyway.

This is what Lubbock has driven us to do.

As you might have gathered from some posts on this blog, we’re not all that happy here. Lubbock is the second-most conservative city in the United States. We are a liberal, bi-national, lesbian family. We don’t exactly “fit in”

But we’re living here now, so we’re trying. We really are. Marta’s created a calender of any and all community events that are even slightly interesting and/or child-friendly. We went to a bird fest at the lake museum several weeks ago. We went to see free music outside the Cactus Alley concert hall. We’ve gone to every farmer’s market we can and we go to the Science Spectrum, our local kids and science museum, about once a week. We take Nico to swimming lessons and I’ve organized that GLBT family group. We scan the horizon for liberal-looking potential friends at any and all opportunity.

But still, we’re lonely. We don’t have a lot of friends and we’ve especially had trouble getting close to any other couples with children. So recently I decided it was time to go back to therapy. This is something I do from time to time (probably because my mom is a therapist and she taught me it’s healthy rather than taboo). This time I chose a male psychologist–and a rather blunt one.

After our first session, he told me I should get out of Lubbock as soon as possible. But while I’m here, he encouraged me to try EVEN HARDER to make some friends. He suggested the MCC church, which is a historically gay and gay-friendly church. I mentioned that my lack of faith might be a slight problem. He said, “Ah, that’s not important! Lots of people go to church and don’t believe. They like the music or the community.”

Or maybe the little wafers and sip of wine?

Either way, I agreed to give it a try. And, really, what else do we have to do in Lubbock besides go to church?

So two Sundays ago, while my mom was in town, we put on some moderately nice clothing, strapped Nico into her car seat and headed down to the MCC church.

I will say this: it was probably the most enthusiastic greeting we’ve received since coming here. The pastor was at the door when we arrived and he ushered us in with a huge welcoming grin. Other people came over to welcome us or to tell us Nico has beautiful eyes or is “adorable.” All around us gay male couples and lesbians were taking their seats, greeting each other like old friends. It was sweet. It felt safe. We relaxed in the back pew and let Nico remove and replace the donation envelops in the hymnal holder in front of us (she’s really in to removing and replacing objects in their place at this moment, a fact that probably means she’ll grow up to be a good bureaucrat).

We sat down and the service began. There was singing, which was really nice. And then there was the greeting, where everyone stands up and says hello to each other. Some give hugs. My mom quickly made several friends. I was thinking, Hey this isn’t that bad.

But then the sermon began, and I remembered why I don’t go to church. The sermon was about Jesus, of course, and how much he loves us, NO MATTER WHO WE ARE, which felt sort of icky to listen to. Not that I think the idea of a loving Jesus is a bad thing, but that I always feel like an imposter when I am in a room of people listening to a story about Jesus and everyone else in that room actually believes he was the son of god. I feel like I should stand up and declare my disbelief. That just by being there I am complicit in some faith-based conspiracy.

When I told my therapist about this reaction this week, he told me I was being “too intellectual.” And then he suggested I try volunteering for the local chapter of the Democratic party. “You just got to keep trying!” he enthused.

I think I might just have the wrong therapist. Or maybe the wrong city.

But I probably will try to volunteer for the democrats. Because maybe it will be fun? Because my therapist is probably a little right. You do have to make an effort. You do have to compromise and do things you wouldn’t normally. Especially when you live in a place like Lubbock.

But you also have to have your limits. I will not be stopping by an NRA meeting, for instance. And I don’t think I can stomach another church service, even the “more contemporary” one a hip young gay guy invited us to on Wednesday nights as we were on our way out that Sunday afternoon. “This service is a little, too….traditional,” he said and gave us a knowing smile.

It wasn’t the traditional part that did it for me, though. It was the Jesus part. Maybe I am “too intellectual,” but I just can’t go to church and ignore the whole Jesus-thing. Or close my eyes and bow my head for prayer. Or say amen. Or–god forbid–receive a “personal blessing,” which is something they offer at the MCC church.

Nico, though, had a blast in church. Lots of older gay men to flirt with. Lots of singing. Lots of attention. And no idea whatsoever that all of it was not about her, but rather about some man-god, who luckily she doesn’t yet know was supposed to have existed and is supposed to be really, really important.

13 thoughts on “When lonliness sends you to church

  1. http://www.uulubbock.org/
    You should try this church. Unitarian Universalists are LGBTQ friendly AND not into jesus . . .or, they think he’s a cool guy but not the son of God . . .it might be a good fit for you to get community but also not feel like a total imposter. I grew up in UU Churches and they were always AMAZING! I, ironically, went to seminary to become a UU minister and ended up getting into Jesus and God but I still *highly* recommend them as a great place to build community with like-minded folks!

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    • Hi Andie. Actually the enthusiastic therapist also recommended the UU church. And I used to go to one during my VERY rebellious teenage years so I know they’re good people. Perhaps we’ll give that a try. Thanks.

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  2. You might try the Bethel AME Church. Also the university theatre Wild Wind productions. You’ll get Jesus at Bethel AME but so much more – even for a one-time try.

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    • I will keep Bethel in mind (not sure I can do more Jesus right now…but maybe down the road). As for Wild Wind, sounds good. Thanks.

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  3. You’re probably the most trying-to-make-the-best-of-new-and-unfamiliar-places I know. Maybe there’s an essay there. I passed some Jews-for-Jesus folks today, and maybe you could start a group called Doubters-for-Jesus.

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  4. I’ve been reading your blog for about six months. I found it after I accepted a TT job at Tech and Googled “New York Times and Lubbock” because I wanted to know if I could get NYT delivered here. I am from one of the most liberal Midwestern cities — yes, more liberal than Iowa City, and I am very familiar with IC. I, too, was concerned about how conservative and religious Lubbock would be. I thought I’d be very uncomfortable here, coming from a very liberal city. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how genuine, honest, and tolerant people are in Lubbock. I was also surprised at the vibrant arts scene here, which is inclusive of all types of people. I’ve seen many same sex couples at concerts, galleries, and restaurants. It’s true, you have to look a little bit harder, but it’s there if you get your head out of your naval and stop being so self-conscious about your family being “different.” If you want people to be tolerant of you, you’ve got to extend the same favor to them. It’s not a one-sided deal. The UU church is an excellent suggestion. You will find many Democrats (and atheists) there.

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    • Hi Sara, I’m glad to meet another NYTimes lover in Lubbock and that you’re a follower of the blog. I agree with you, too, that Lubbock has a lot to offer. With that said, I still think it’s a very difficult place to live for a family like ours, in part because we are different. We’re not different in a bad way, but we are atypical and in Lubbock there are a lot more people than in Iowa City who actively campaign against families like ours and who elect officials who think people like us should go to conversion therapy. So I don’t think it’s as easy as me being tolerant of Lubbock people and they’ll in turn be tolerant of me and my family. I do agree, though, that attitude has a lot to do with how happy you are in a place–no matter how hard that place is. And what I was trying to say in this post is that Marta and I are working hard to be more open and therefore happier here. I have lived in a lot of difficult, conservative places in my early, single life and was always fine. But living in a conservative place as a family with a small child (who is not in elementary school and therefore does not meet other friends who have parents who can help you form a community) is difficult. I’m glad, though, that you’ve been able to make the transition from your liberal Midwestern town (I can’t think of one that is more liberal than Iowa City) to Lubbock.

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    • One thing I really hate about the Texas in which I live — so many people are bizarrely committed to constantly reinforcing social norms in which it’s compulsory to smile, append sixteen exclamation points to every email, refrain from expressing negative emotions, and deem anything and everything “amazing.” I enjoy this blog (actually, it’s my favorite blog) because its author is thoughtful and insightful and honest and brave enough not to capitulate to such norms. I’m grateful that she has not given into the very real social pressure to put a mindless, banal positive spin on everything, although she is obviously trying to see the best in Lubbock. I find it interesting that even on a personal blog, the positivity bullies show up to try and quash any disturbing burst of honesty.

      Also very weird to deem your Midwestern city more liberal than Iowa City and not name it. Or assume that Democrats are liberal? Think harder please.

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  5. I don’t think anyone who is serious about church would ever say to ignore the whole Jesus part. I was raised in a church environment and have lamented to my (straight white) husband how much I miss belonging and the built-in community that came with a parish. (I’ve often found myself thinking “boy, wouldn’t things be easier if…”)
    But you have to live authentically, and I find it disrespectful to religious traditions to take part in them without being fully committed. (You can imagine my horror when I realized as a young Catholic that I was sinning by not actually thinking the wafers I was eating were Christ’s body.)
    I hate to offer advice, but I’ve found the most community in other parents who share my values and local food activists. I don’t know if either of these exist where you are, but they are more neutral ground to start from.
    Mostly, I just want you to know that we’re thinking of you and miss you all so much.

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