Open mind, open heart

So I went to church. I am baptized and confirmed in the Protestant department of things, so entry requirements were met, to a degree. When asked the other day if I go to church, I answered “Yes, when people die or get married.” When I followed up with, “I believe in the divine spark in everybody”, I could sense that none of that quite ‘landed’. So I decided to ask if I could join them the following Sunday. These are nice people, welcoming and generous – and if nothing else occurred, I would have spent a few hours surrounding by singing and being challenged on my own beliefs.

That’s the thing with surrounding yourself with like-minded people, I guess, which then constitutes your own community, whether it be faith-based or not. It doesn’t necessarily challenge your thinking. So it’s good to crash some other people’s parties once in a while. I’ve done it being the only chiropractor among 4000 neurologists and neurosurgeons at conferences, from which I learned something, so why not this party.

We started with a number of songs, all in English, projected on a large TV-screen above the two vocalists, a drummer and a pianist. During these first 30 minutes, we were standing and they were singing along to the words projected on the screen, but however good and moving the singing and music was, I kept reflecting. Reflecting on the abject poverty I’ve seen already, the stories about men having numerous extra-marital affairs, impregnating their (multiple?) wives only to disappear for months or years at a time leaving the wife no money to feed, clothe, school a growing household, how it’s a belief that cerebral palsy occurs because the mother had extramarital sex (so mother is ostracized and left to deal with a handicapped child),  how it’s a belief that albinism occurs because the child was conceived during the mother’s period, how there are so many NGO’s here because the government isn’t looking after their people because of corruption, greed of power and money. I failed throughout these reflections to see how man (generic man, not man as a gender) is living up to the basics of any religion, including the Christian faith. I hope to gain some understanding of how much good and bad organized religion has given to Africa while I’m here – nothing is ever fully the one or the other. So that’s what went through my, granted, uneducated mind.

Back to the session: The singing was impressively more expressive and passionate than I’ve seen in any church before this, Danish or otherwise; these folks sing with conviction, hands raised, eyes closed.
The sermon was given by a visiting pastor from Kenya. I didn’t realize quite the minute detail they get into with this Bible-business, but every word, every person is scrutinized, explained and placed in a context. Whereas I can’t get on board with a punishing God nor a God to be feared nor the idea of doing good deeds to increase the likelihood of getting into heaven, and most fervent is my conviction that any religion that thinks any less of my very best friend I cannot deal with – I could get on board with a number of this pastor’s messages: Social Media is producing a lot of unreliable pastas (that’s what I heard him say, and then I figured, he probably said pastors) that do not know the Bible for themselves but are cherry-picking and are convincingly good orators, and thus they create a false narrative. I think that likely extends beyond faith-based communication. He also said that we should be cautious of men of God who put themselves above the word of God – which is exactly one of my itches about organised religion. If anyone should judge any other being, aren’t they elevating themselves a tad too much? Let’s leave the judging to God, assuming there is one. I also appreciated how he encouraged, even challenged, the group to study for themselves, study so much that they should feel very comfortable in correcting him, the pastor. The message of being welcoming to folks who don’t share the same belief obviously resonated with me. The pastor was also very funny, which came as a surprise to me. I sat next to the gentleman who is also the pianist (who invited me the previous Sunday), and we shared some giggles.

We rounded off with a repeat performance of one of the songs from the beginning, and as it was coming to an end, people helped each other stacking the cushions and gathered outside for some post-service chitchat.

The people seemed very kind and generous from beginning to end, and were clearly content with and uplifted by their shared community of faith. I can honestly say: Good for them. As for me, I was neither struck by lightning nor with any urge to become a joiner or a follower. I’m happy to observe from my position just outside the frame of the picture.

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