Staying Alive in a Religious Congregation
|trying to uphold Torah|
I've learned a few hard lessons being a part of a 'close-knit', believing community. Since I am one of many who have been cut-off from their communities/family as if they were dead, I'd like to share a few nuggets of advice to facilitate 'staying alive' and continuing within the bounds and bonds of organized religion.
1. Don't blog or participate in any type of social internet media. Sharing your thoughts publicly is a definite no-no, and causes others to stumble as they read your statuses or blog posts with a critical eye, ever looking for things to use as ammunition. This is definitely your fault, no matter how well you write or how much you espouse righteous living. You could be writing great stuff, but believe me, it won't matter one iota.
2. Don't serve selflessly. This will definitely make others look bad, especially if you are gifted in the area of service. Making others look bad, or feel guilty for their not serving, is a death sentence and an invitation for harsh criticism and mocking (behind your back, of course). And, don't look for anyone, especially anyone in authority, to bring forth truth or reason - it just doesn't happen.
3. Keep to yourself. Others don't want to know and really don't care how you feel, especially if you have differing perspectives or life experiences that don't quite match up to the prevailing idea of righteous living.
4. Don't give. Again, you definitely run the risk of making others look bad. Oh, except giving your money - you can most certainly do that. Amazingly, you could even gain yourself a little bit more weight to your voice if you do, but that may be only if you give the optimal ten percent of your income or more.
5. Don't make yourself vulnerable or transparent. No one wants to know you or get to know you on a personal level...just face it. Oh sure, they may say that the congregation is family or use the catchy term 'community', but it's all on the surface. One misstep on your part and you will be considered questionable and untrustworthy, even despite your service, actions or blatant care for others.
6. Don't make mistakes. Pious, righteous people do not make mistakes. And, don't talk about any past mistakes, either, especially if they are before you were 'saved'. Once a mistake-maker, always a mistake-maker. And, just for the record, mistakes certainly include what kind of music you listen to, movies you watch, what books you enjoy, how you exercise and how much time you spend with friends.
7. Don't care about other people's problems or want to help them. Are you kidding me? Why in the world would you want to care for someone out of the kindness of your heart? Again, making others look bad is a most egregious sin, and sets you up for scrutiny and mocking-fodder for after-hours back-room discussions.
8. Don't think being kind, honest, willing, giving and humble will get you anywhere. You are just wasting your time to listen attentively, apologize humbly, and care deeply about anything or anybody, especially reconciliation and restoration. Expressing love in this way doesn't work. This just isn't the way of the most pious, righteous ones, so just forget it. In fact, it will work against you, as it will be interpreted as false and manipulative. Truly, do yourself a favor and just keep your mouth shut.
9. Don't call others to righteousness when sin is witnessed. Well, you can't, but the more pious in your congregation can, especially if they have special privileges. You will know who they are. The best thing to do in this situation is just to look the other way to preserve what you receive from attending. You can put up with a little unrighteous and injustice so your kids can play with their friends, right? The answer is yes, especially if it doesn't affect your family.
10. Don't bear one another's burdens (aka don't listen). This, in all it's forms, is considered lashon hara (gossip). Talking with others about the hurt and pain in their lives, for whatever reason, is taboo. The best thing to do is to tell the hurting person that you are very sorry, but you cannot listen to gossip, especially if the painful situation involves someone else in the congregation.
11. Don't talk to the opposite gender. This is most assuredly the fastest way to get ousted. If not right away, eventually someone is either gonna fall for you, or you fall for them. This is because of the little known fact that women cannot think for themselves and inevitably fall for any man who casts his eye their way. Oh, and it's the women's fault, as well, if they are attractive in any way, since men can't help but to be attracted, in a sexual way, to any female that is even remotely good-looking. No wonder the ultra-orthodox separate men and women.
12. Don't help or support leadership. First of all, they don't need your help. Secondly, you will be seen as an opportunist and status-seeker. Worst of all, you could find yourself in the unfortunate situation that is spoken about in #11 above. But, take heart; remember that even if leadership refuses to talk to you, you can still bless them through prayer and good wishes...or so I've heard.
13. Don't be a less-than-traditional family. No, you cannot be respected, serve in any capacity or hold any position of authority if you and your spouse are not both attending, regardless of the situation. If your family is unable to be regular givers and/or you allow your girls to wear jeans to service, you can also just forget it. Being single doesn't help you much either - sorry, but you don't have a voice at all. If you are a single male, watch out because you will always be under scrutiny as a creeper unless you grow a beard and make a lot of noise about wanting to be a leader someday.
14. Don't try to make things better. Who do you think you are, anyway? Things were going along just fine when you arrived and your ideas are just, well, arrogant and self-serving. The only ones who can call the shots are those that have been there the longest or have the ear of the ones in charge. Just sit back, watch the chaos and chalk it up to entertainment.
15. Don't think you hear from the LORD. If you are not in leadership, you don't. Even if requested to pray for important decisions within the congregation, keep your personal revelations to yourself, unless you wish to have your faith questioned and/or mocked. What you feel you heard from the LORD is not important. What is important is that you show up for congregational meetings to make the required quorum and that you vote with the majority. And don't even think of approaching leadership with any type of warning you may have received in your prayer time (you don't really have discernment, do you?); it is simply a waste of your time and makes you look like a loon in the process.
16. Don't be needy. Hopefully, nothing happens in your life that is traumatic in any way. Depending upon who you are, you will get spotty to non-existent help. Pray that no one in your family dies, for even that isn't cause for sympathy past a Costco bunch of flowers and a card passed around the congregation. Hospital visits, nursing home visits and sitting shiva with those in pain is simply a necessary obligation instead of a good deed done out of kindness. And G-d forbid you are ever faced with a crisis of faith. To think you will be supported during your time of need is folly - do yourself a favor and don't expect it.
17. Don't assume friendship means the same to everyone. Betrayal hurts deeply, that's all. Be especially careful who you call friends and who you don't. 'Nuff said.
18. Don't love. Unconditionally, or otherwise. Love is to be given only to spouses and children...period. Never mind what Scripture says, love is a super-charged word reserved for romance only, and if you use it to describe relationships of friendship with anyone, it is completely and totally inappropriate. You know well the greatest command, I'm sure; love G-d and love your neighbor as yourself as long as you are related to them by blood.
Yes, these are pretty harsh lessons, to be sure; I'm positive I could add more. I certainly don't want to sound bitter or resentful, but I just can't help to be so very disappointed in the religious experiences I have had and witnessed. I'm not pointing my finger at any one person or congregation; believe me, it happens all over. Has my faith been shaken as a result? Absolutely not. I believe and follow the Holy One and the truth spelled out clearly in the Scriptures, striving to live it out, with love, every minute I have breath. However, my faith in organized religion continues to erode to a dangerous level as I watch family after family being slaughtered in what should be safe places of refuge.
Shame on religious leadership that allows such atrocities to continue. Shame on congregation members who look the other way, refusing to listen and stand up for righteousness to fulfill their obligation to hold leaders, and each other, accountable. It begs the question; is the traditional congregation the way our LORD had in mind for fellowship of His people? Or is it the smaller, home-fellowship that feeds, teaches and sharpens His servants? People are people, and I have no answer, but it is a question I'm grappling with. Small congregations cannibalize themselves floundering in self-righteousness, legalism and the desperation of keeping out the riff-raff while larger congregations tend to be shallow and impersonal, failing to make the personal connections needed for edifying fellowship and discipleship. Like I said - I have no answers.
I long for community so deeply it physically hurts. I desire with all that I am to serve. I seek to unconditionally love and worship as we are commanded. But as long as we are all surrounded by those posing as pious while stabbing others in the back for the sake of their own goals, judging others harshly and cutting off fellow believers as if they no longer exist, I cannot foresee any reason to enter another congregation anytime soon.
Unfortunately, I am not alone.