Lord, forgive me, for I am forming a renegade covenant group

Two particularly interesting things happened today. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that they’re related, in an odd sort of way.

After church today, we had a town-hall meeting to talk about covenant groups. Covenant groups are something my church is going to be starting soon, where small groups (8 to 10 people) get together twice a month and share their stories. The meetings have two parts: in the first part, people tell what’s been going on in their lives since the last meeting; the second part is discussion on a particular topic, with the focus on people’s individual experiences. It’s largely about community-building; building deeper connections with other people in the church.

Community is one of the big reasons I started going to church again, so I went to the “try it for a night” covenant-group event a couple of weeks ago. And liked it. I don’t remember what the discussion topic was, exactly, but I remember that it prompted me to talk about my experiences with blondes and Thursdays. (Long story.) By the time the meeting was over, our whole group was agreeing that, if we would have continued that group as a formal covenant group, we should definitely meet on Thursdays.

Only one meeting, with people I had never really met before. And it was very cool, because we felt safe sharing things that we wouldn’t share with just anybody under just any circumstances. (Hence the Thursday thing.) It reminded me of two other groups I’ve been in at this church — the men’s group, and the adult OWL group — where I’ve also gotten to know people on a deeper level, and built that same sort of trust and connection. I’ve always been an introvert, and a loner for much of my life, but… this is something I really like. I’ve never had many friends, but those few were close. And covenant groups would give me more.

I’m just disappointed that they’re not going to start covenant groups for real until next fall. I still haven’t gotten used to the way Unitarian churches basically shut down over the summer. (They’re also not through planning all the details of how the groups will work, so it can’t all be blamed on summer vacation, but still.)

The town-hall meeting was a chance for people to ask questions and talk about the whole covenant-group idea. There were some very good questions, and good answers. And then, toward the end of the meeting, I raised my hand and got the mike, and said basically what I just wrote — that I’ve always been an introvert, but that I really like groups where I can build these sort of relationships with people — and that if they got something started over the summer, rather than making us wait until fall, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings a bit.

After the meeting, Eric, one of the people who’d been in my group at the “try it for a night”, talked to me, and suggested that if the official program wasn’t planning to start until fall, then maybe he and I could try to get something together before then. The idea wouldn’t have occurred to me, but I didn’t take much convincing. We talked to the minister (he’s heading the covenant-group program), suggesting that we start a sort of pilot program over the summer, with the expectation that not all the wrinkles would be out of the system yet; and he seemed open to the idea. He (the minister) will put out some feelers to see if anyone’s interested. To hear the comments of the people who’ve been in the first pilot program, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them wanted to do a group over the summer.

We’ll have to see where it goes, but whether it’s over the summer or not until the fall, I’m definitely looking forward to the covenant-group stuff. It’s forming relationships with other people, it’s having spiritual discussions (something else I’ve been looking for); it’s spiritual growth. Most of the spiritual growth I’ve done in my life has been on my own, or, sometimes, while reading books. But it’s occurred to me that I really haven’t done a lot of it lately. I’m anxious to start again.

Which brings me to the second interesting thing that happened today. After playing video games all afternoon (with a two-hour break for a nap), I finally, a little after 11:00, decided I should probably fix some supper. On a whim, I went to eat in the bedroom, and flipped on the TV. The channel it happened to be on (ABC Family, I think) was showing a Christian minister speaking to a baseball stadium full of people.

Now, I’m not a Christian. I’m not really sure what I believe in, but some of the core Christian beliefs just don’t work for me. (Some days, I’m actually a little envious of Christians who are sure of the answers, when I’m not even sure of the questions.) Most days, I would’ve flipped the station. Today, again on a whim, I listened half-interestedly (at first).

They were evidently showing a service that had been taped on an Easter Sunday, and the preacher, a guy named Joel Osteen, was talking about forgiveness. And he had some interesting things to say.

(Side note to any Christians in my audience: Don’t think this means I’m about to go and get saved. I’m a Unitarian. We’re tough to convert. But I wouldn’t be much of a Unitarian if I weren’t looking to adopt the best features from every religion, and leave the rest.)

He talked about people he’s known who have been through rough times — a divorce, perhaps — and while they moved on with their lives and forgave everyone else, they couldn’t forgive themselves. He said that’s ridiculous, because God had already forgiven them — that, in his language, believers are automatically forgiven for all their sins, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; that any of their sins were in the past, and God had already forgotten them; so what right did these people have to hang onto guilt that was already done and forgotten in God’s eyes?

Self-forgiveness. I listened to this guy, and I started to think. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and it’s getting to the point where stress and anxiety are starting to keep me up at night. Some of it is work-related, some of it is money-related, but I’ve started to suspect that most, or all, of it is coming from me, not from the people around me. And listening to this preacher, I started to wonder how much of it came back to me feeling guilty about one thing and another — about things that are in the past, that I can’t change. I started to wonder if there’s room for some self-forgiveness in there.

I went for a walk after that. I used to go for late-night walks, back when I was in high school and college. And I would think about things. When I think back, and try to figure out just what it was I would think about out there, I draw a blank, but I loved those walks. They recharged me. They got me away from the stress of the rest of my life, and brought me back to me. I think, now, that I used them as time to let my spiritual side out, just for a little while.

I haven’t been on those late-night walks as much lately, because they don’t recharge me the way they used to. But I went on one tonight, and I didn’t think about money, and I didn’t think about work. I thought about music, I thought about the book I want to write, I thought about what the preacher had to say on TV, I thought about a lot of other things. I didn’t resolve anything, but I wasn’t expecting to.

Stress. Guilt. I do have to wonder how closely they’re tied, inside me. I’ll keep on wondering, and trying to figure it out. But man, I wish I could talk about this in a covenant group.

Footnote: I didn’t realize it while he was talking, but after he finished speaking, they showed a picture of Joel’s book, “Your Best Life Now”, and I realized that Jennie already has a copy of it. I think, now, that I’ll have to read it.

Then he urged the viewers at home, those who weren’t already Christians, to accept God’s forgiveness, and go out and join a Bible-based church. I had to laugh at that. No offense intended to any of my readers, but I already tried a Bible-based church, several years ago — they’re the biggest reason I’m not a Christian.

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