I cry to thee

The women in this congregation remain silent while the men talk, as they believe the Bible instructs. As far as I can tell, this strain of biblical literalism began over 500 years ago before Luther came on the scene. Some who read the Bible back then noticed a key discrepancy between the church’s practice of baptism and how it was described in the book itself. The church sprinkled babies with water but in scripture Jesus is fully submerged as a grown man.

The people who called the church out on this inconsistency gained the name “Anabaptists” meaning “to baptize again.” They argued that the Bible version of baptism, what some called “believer’s baptism,” was far more meaningful because an older person had the wherewithal to understand and choose Christianity. A powerful argument, I must say, and church leaders felt threatened enough to have many of these outspoken literalists burned at the stake. Luther did not support their criticism of infant baptism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their instinct to turn directly to scripture influenced him.

One of the men has gained the floor and is providing a lengthy outline of his recent battle with congestion. I find myself looking around the room, a silent scream echoing between my ears. “Who are you people?!” I want to shout. Then, all at once, I realize exactly who these people are: my beloved grandma and grandpa. My mom’s parents, with whom my mom and I lived when we first moved to Dallas, held these beliefs. I had always remembered Chapel in the Woods, my grandparent’s church, as being Baptist. Recently, my mom corrected me: it was non-denominational.

“Non-denominational?” I repeated when she told me that.

I would normally associate that word with a very liberal theology or a looser interpretation of scripture—the opposite of what I’m seeing here and what I remember from my grandparents. Turns out this type of church isn’t inclusive of all denominations; they flat out reject denominations. They might bear the name “church of Christ” or “Christian church” or “Bible church.” They might call themselves “disciples of Christ.” These descriptors are intended to imply the absence of theology; they are not proper nouns but simple adjectives to describe followers of Christ from 2,000 years ago. You might think of them as Christian “ice-people,” perfectly preserved in a glacier that thawed yesterday. Each and every one of these churches is an independent body; like the “congregational” churches most of the first colonists established, they don’t belong to the overarching structures that tie together churches of a particular denomination.

The man who leads us in singing has all the vocal subtlety of Herman Munster. Why he would be selected for this particular job is beyond me. There’s no musical accompaniment to temper the ear assault because apparently instruments in worship service are not biblical, so the parishioners have no choice but to lend their voices in an effort to drown out his. We sing “Jesus, I Come”, a hymn based on Psalm 130:1 that reads, “Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O Lord” and then we sing “Master, the Tempest is Raging” based on a story in Mark. During the refrain, I feel a pang of nostalgia for my grandparents, whom I looked upon with tender bewilderment. They beamed unconditional love at me but always seemed just out of reach. I don’t know if it’s because of them or because there are so few people and no instruments, but today I feel a greater sense of responsibility for my vocal contribution.

I sing with more conviction than I have so far. The rest of me may be guarded, but my voice is all in.

16 thoughts on “I cry to thee

  1. Just love reading about your experiences and some of the internal ways you experience them. This one takes the cake, so to speak. I am saddened by this type of “non-denominational” worship and yet I must honor our Constitution allowing such freedoms. I find myself wanting to stand a thousand miles away from it.

  2. Thank you for the smile that reading your post gave me. I am still smiling! And I appreciate that because I lost a dear loved one this weekend and smiles are not coming easily. I’m grieving for myself, not her. But you helped and I appreciate it.

    I’m also happy that you connected, at least viscerally, with a memory that you obviously cherish, your grandparents.

    As usual, I look forward to reading your posts each week.

    Yours in Christ

    • Thanks, Patti. I understand. Last week I was visiting a dear friend who is in the final months of her life. She is amazingly brave. In her youth, she was a Buddhist. She’s married to a Jew, so she celebrates Passover every year. But in her final years, she has returned to her original Eastern Orthodox Christianity and recieves so much comfort from the formality and the candles and the prayers. When I cry, it’s for all of us who will miss her.

      • I will pray that your friend’s life remains serene and that she may have ‘a quick and easy death, Lord.’ And I am glad for her and all of those who love her that she is finding comfort in her faith. Thank you for your reply.

  3. Oops….I meant to say that the smile came from “the rest of me may be guarded, by my voice is all in.” I have known exactly how you felt.

  4. I’m just enjoying your exploration of “churchianity”. You at least are willing to sample the wide variety of what is out there and are obviously a patient person and willing to subject yourself to a form of self torture that could be used instead of water boarding to gather secrets information from our enemies. How will you decide which church wins? Or will you come away more confused than ever? Oh well…it makes for interesting reading and for that, I thank you!

  5. I enjoyed your post, as always. I was baptized at 13 (by sprinkling) when I joined the church I grew up in (Presbyterian)….because that was the next step to do, sort of a protestant “Bar Mitzvah” I suppose….I was “anabaptized” by immersion in a lake when I knew I had become a Christian after Vietnam….it was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life…It was one of the things Jesus told his followers to do when making disciples. For me, it was a public identification with Jesus, a first public step of obedience and love, and symbolizing my own death and resurrection with him….woof!

  6. Going back to the music……in my experience, music transcends denominations and theologies, and it can take me straight into the spiritual. Music can really move me above my daily life…..it seems a natural that it should be a part of religious gatherings…….but certainly it goes well beyond that! Singing with other people creates a special kind of close community, and I am grateful to have been born into a family with singing talents so I can experience first hand the glory of creating and giving music to others. And it does seem odd that someone with more musical abilities was not chosen to lead the singing in the church you attended?! It doesn’t make sense.

    But then, many of the choices made in the church, as you described it, do not make sense to me. Unquestioning piety feels dangerous…….not in the spirit of the Constitution which protects it. Don’t allow your good memories about your Grandparents to cloud your ability to see things clearly. Just my thoughts, Corinna.

    • I know it doesn’t make sense, except within the concept that what everyone is supposed to do is ‘make a joyful noise’. There is no distinction made as to who, in particular, FEELS the joy – the singer, the hearer or God. Sometimes it manages to be all three. Others, not so much. 🙂

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