It’s been over a year since Judy and I have been regularly in church. With the exception of a few trips to River Street Church of God in Newburg and visits to Park Place in Anderson, we have been trying to sort out what our relationship to the church is. It’s an odd place to be; I tell friends that “We’ve joined the ‘None-zone,’" which for those who don’t know is a peculiarly Northwestern state of mind: there are more folks who check the none box on surveys about religious affiliation in the northwest than folks who check one of the usual boxes.
In an article in The Christian Century, dated 12/2/08, Amy Frykholm noted: “The region is sometimes called the None Zone, based on the fact that in a 2001 poll (the American Religious Identification Survey) 63 percent of Northwesterners said that they were not affiliated with a religious group—compared to 41 percent of Americans as a whole who made that statement. And 25 percent of Northwesterners claimed to have no religious identity—compared to a national figure of 14 percent.”
Now, this is an odd place to be. After all, I am a child of the church; for better and worse, the church has been my mother. Significantly more often than not, I’ve been in church on Sunday mornings. In my childhood, way more often than that since I grew up in a home where the church was our primary gathering place—our social as well as our religious life. I often heard my father say that when the doors of the church are open, we are there. Only once before, intentionally, did we absent ourselves from church, but that was years ago and under largely different circumstances.
Furthermore, I am a churchman. Most of my adult life I’ve worked in and for an agency of the church—Warner Pacific College, Warner Press, the Board of Christian Education, and Church of God Ministries. Not only has the church been crucial in my development as a follower of Jesus, it has given me most of my important relationships—and it has given me a paycheck.
Because of a difference in how we were responding to a particular situation in a particular place, Judy and I decided to take the summer off—last summer, that is. We were going to be traveling a great deal that summer and because we had seriously different answers to what we should do about it, a Sabbath from Sabbath seemed appropriate. Well, as I said, that was a year ago. We are still in the “none zone.” And still uncertain of what to do.
I can’t go into much detail about what brought about the change because I don’t want to hurt friends and colleagues who might read this, but our struggle seems to revolve finding a home. It may be helpful to put this in the larger context of our move back home where, for the most part, we continue to feel displaced. Displaced is a good word; outsider is another. Sometimes we think it was a mistake to return to Portland; for me, that feeling goes away when I am with my great grandson, hiking along a trail on our way to Larch Mountain or cuddling, cuddling on the couch, or exploring the nearby pond. But it doesn’t go away for good.
It is not a bad place to be, this “none zone.” I’m not sure how I would have survived last year if I’d not had Sunday mornings to recharge and, yes, work on the Sabbath, grading papers and so forth. When church leaves you frustrated or angry or saddened, it is probably better to be away. (As I wrote that last sentence, I thought—no, Arthur, you know that’s not true.) Yet, Judy and I continue to be in a place where we cannot agree. Part of the struggle is that our own spiritual journeys took us to different answers—neither is wrong and both are good. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
So, what now? In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes about waiting for "way to open." I like that. It makes sense and seems to fit with the space we are in. Our “none zone” space is not empty or mindless space; it is open and active space. It is anticipatory space. My friend, Lori Taylor, might describe it as liminal space—threshold space. We are neither here nor there. We are in between and that is a comfortable, uncomfortable, and discomforting place to be—it is a place of discernment.
On Sunday mornings, you’ll find me with the lectionary. On some Sunday mornings, you’ll find us watching a DVD of worship at Park Place. Often you’ll find us yearning for fellowship with other Jesus followers. I have not abandoned the church; I have not given up on God; I hope for way through this and, therefore, continue to wait of way to open. It seems that way has closed. I do not struggle with guilt about this; I do not feel it is a faithless place to be—quite the opposite of that. Yet, still, on tiptoes, waiting to see what opens—this is, I think, finally a most faithful place to be (even if I do say so myself).