Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Did Easter in English This Year

Last year I wrote about Easter at a Chinese church. This year I did Easter in English.

As my search for Christians who believe I’m a Christian has become more and more desperate, I found myself at an international church today. Everything was in English, and only foreign passport holders are allowed in.

Previously I’ve avoided English church services, because I did not fly 7000 miles all the way to China so I could sit around with other Americans and speak English. But like I said, more and more desperate.

And wait a minute, what do you mean this church is only for people from foreign countries? Yes, this is a thing in China. If you only let foreign people into your church, then the government will let your church operate with more freedom. There are also Chinese churches, but it seems that the government keeps a closer eye on those. Something like that.

But but but... how can you be a church if you explicitly exclude people? No Chinese citizens allowed? How can a church do that? I guess it’s not ideal but it’s one way that some churches have chosen to handle the church-state relationship in China. So, okay. I guess there’s a role for churches like that.

They had it printed in the bulletin- in accordance with government regulations, only foreign passport holders are allowed to attend. Also Taiwan and Hong Kong residents are allowed. And before the service started, an announcement was made about it too.

But no one was checking for passports or anything. And I have no idea how much this rule is enforced or how seriously people take it. I heard someone say that if you’re Chinese and your foreign friend brings you, it’s okay. So who knows.

So, the church service. First of all, wow, ridiculously diverse. This was THE MOST diverse church service I’ve ever been too- in terms of ethnicities and nationalities, that is. People from EVERYWHERE. But we all speak English and we all moved to China.

The first part was the worship music. It was contemporary style, exactly like you would find in a lot of American churches. The place was completely packed, and you could feel the energy. Everyone was excited. People sang loud, they cheered, they clapped, they waved their hands, they yelled “hallelujah” at random points during the songs.

As for me, wow, I hadn’t been to church in a long time. Hadn’t heard worship songs in a long time. Some of the songs I was really happy about- like when they said Christ is risen, Christ conquered death, all that stuff. I sing that, and I feel like I really am a Christian. But there were parts I couldn’t get on board with- like anything about Jesus paying for our sin, or that we need to come to Jesus to be saved and everyone else is screwed- because now I have a different interpretation for those things. And some parts about how Jesus gives us so much freedom and makes our lives better- yeah, not for me. I was the best Christian ever, and that’s why I’m in therapy now. (But for other Christians who say that God changed their life and made everything better, yeah I believe them. It happened to me too. That’s real. I still believe it’s real, because I’ve experienced it. But it doesn’t make any sense to me anymore.)

And the songs that said God loves us... I really really hope I can believe it.

Then there were some announcements, and they asked anyone visiting for the first time to stand up so we can welcome you. I didn’t stand up because nobody tells me what to do.

Because, church, I’m not going to fill out a welcome card and give you my name and personal information until I know whether you accept me or not. I will not divulge any information, except in carefully controlled experiments which can give me insight as to whether I can belong here, or whether I’m going to leave and never come back, and be emotionally healthy because I'm NOT at this church. Like I dodged a bullet.

Just like what purity culture said. We need to hide and hoard ourselves away from our boyfriends, because you can’t trust guys. Well that’s not what I do with my boyfriend- no, he loves me unconditionally. But it’s you, church, it’s you that’s hurt me, it’s you that I’m wary of giving my heart to.

And no I will not tell you my prayer requests either.

Then there was a prayer. The pastor prayed about a bunch of stuff. For the families of those who were killed in Kenya. Then for the people of Israel, that God would open their eyes and show them Jesus is the true messiah. I... the... what? I was totally on board with this prayer until this point.

Okay, yeah, that’s actually a totally normal thing for Christians to pray. God, help those people see that we’re right and they’re wrong. SUPER COMMON. I used to pray that all the time. But I don't agree with it anymore.

Next, the sermon. Pretty good, you know, about the resurrection and stuff. I am a huge fan of resurrection. Pretty standard sermon stuff, and I guess I was okay with most of it. Until the end, when the pastor (an American guy) asked us to make a commitment to Jesus, to stop living life with ourselves in control and surrender to God.

Okay now wait a minute. That's actually not possible. It's ACTUALLY NOT POSSIBLE to surrender everything to God.

Why? Because first you need to decide which version of God you believe in. And you need to decide what you interpret "surrender to God" to mean. Those decisions are your own and by definition cannot be surrendered to God. Or, you could just go along with what your pastor says you need to do in order to give your life to God. But you haven't "surrendered it all" to God- no, you're only surrendered to your pastor's interpretation of God.

So all this talk of "stop living your life on your own terms, and come to God" doesn't make any sense. I live my life on my own terms, and the God I believe in matches that. Maybe I just made up my own God for my own convenience. Maybe everyone does that. Maybe "good Christians" think there's something virtuous about believing in a God who doesn't really make sense, or who tells you to do something that seems like a really bad idea in practical terms. That's "faith", right? And "faith" is a good thing, right?

So those are my thoughts on today's church service. I really wanted to talk to someone at the church- I want to meet people, and I want to find out if someone there can love and accept me. I talked with some people and introduced myself and stuff, so that's a start.

I've been feeling lost and alone and looking for God's love, and I honestly don't expect to find it at church. So. 

Okay. Yeah. That's all. Happy Easter! 耶稣复活了! And death, where the hell is your sting?

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