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Jan 19

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Farther Along: How Parenthood Pushed Me Back Into the Church

My friends and family members with kids warned us that having children changes everything, and they were right. Sleeping in now means 9:30 a.m. Our meals now consist of one of us entertaining our son, while the other shovels food down their throat. And date nights feel more like high school with self-imposed curfews, but I think more than anything, having a baby has caused us to examine our spiritual life. Something about watching the miracle of birth reminds us of our own mortality and the tremendous responsibility that comes with God’s greatest blessing.

Both of our parents raised us in the (mainline) church, but I can count on one hand the number of Sunday morning services I had attended in the past 15 years. Still, we knew that this was an important part of our cultural DNA and should be passed onto our son.

I previously wrote about the generations of Methodists on my father’s side of the family; religion played an even bigger role in my mother’s family. Their roots are bit more Calvinistic and several members were prominent in the world of Southern Gospel music. My maternal grandfather and great uncle were known throughout the region as performers and promoters of the craft and a couple of extended family members regularly perform with the Gaithers.

Each summer, the Rogers family gathered in rural Southwest Arkansas for an annual family reunion, which inevitably turned into gospel concerts, complete with a closing altar call. That’s right, my family reunions had altar calls.

This type of upbringing certainly engendered a thirst for piety that carried me through the awkwardness of adolescence. In high school, my friends and I spent more time trying to unlock the mysteries of scripture than engaging in typical teenage activities. Eventually, I thought I felt God calling me to the ministry, but somewhere in college that all changed and for the first time I began to question everything I had been taught to believe. Thankfully, my parents provided me enough of a spiritual foundation that my faith, though dramatically changed, survived, but I gave up on the ministry and dropped out of the church.

While I found the idea of “church” to be a bit superfluous, religion remained a hobby for me and I sought out others that would challenge me to examine my faith from a different perspective, but somewhere along the way I concluded that most of the people pushing ideas such as “Christian spirituality” and “red-letter Christianity” were actually pushing a form of “identity Christianity.”

Picking a Christian author/blogger to read, personality to follow, or church to attend was not unlike choosing a cable news network to watch–a decision that often defined a persons tastes in music, literature, and of course politics. Not to mention virtually all the leaders and followers of these movements came off as a bit pedantic. I wanted no part of it, but the things a parents will do for his child…

I knew we had to raise our son in the church, so in September, my wife and I decided to join a local United Methodist Church, with the intent of having our son baptized and to become connected with the church. I think part of me wanted God to “light the flame that once burned bright and clear,” while another part of me continued to doubt a lot of the bad doctrine I had been exposed to early life. I continue to struggle to find a faith that aligns with my previous experiences and that doesn’t betray what I know to be empirically true, which brings me here.

As I survey the wreckage of evangelical Christianity, I’m not quite sure where I belong. I sometimes feel like I know what I want to believe, but don’t always know if that constitutes the absolute truth. I know what I’ve experienced and I know what it will take for Christianity to be “real” for me once again, but how do I get there?

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Farther Along.” It’s one that was sung every summer at our family reunion and one that I heard my grandfather sing on numerous occasions. The refrain, while quite simple, serves as a poignant reminder that while the answers might not always be readily available, if we commit to our faith journey, God will in time reveal to us the answers we need to know. This new section of my blog is called “Farther Along” and will serve as a place for me to jot down my thoughts as God reveals to me the answers I need to know.

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