Welcome to the first post in a series I’m calling “Churchin'”. It seeks to explore spirituality, theology (without the theologians), and current events all under the overarching theme of Life as a Journey as the core of religious understanding and experience. I’m going to tell the story of how I ended up where I am, and the road I’m walking now that I’m here. I welcome the addition of your stories and comments as well. Remember, I’m not out to stand on a rock and proclaim myself the best religious scholar of all time, nor the teller of absolute truth, so please be gentle.
Religious uncertainty has been the name of the game since I was born. My mother’s parents were Methodist and Episcopalian, but compromised under pressure from both sides that their particular denomination was “the best one” and chose to raise my mother as a Lutheran. My father is a Roman Catholic. When my parents were married, my mother refused to raise her future children in the Catholic Church so we (my brothers and I) were baptized as infants in the Lutheran Church where she spent her young adulthood. The pastor was her best friend’s dad.
We were consecrated to the Church as infants, yes, but that’s basically where it ended. We didn’t attend Church regularly. We weren’t part of any education programs or youth classes. We didn’t talk about what we were or what we weren’t or what either of those things meant. There was an unmentioned consensus that we were “just like everyone else” (by which the demographics of this area say: Protestant), but we didn’t have much of an idea what that meant. We didn’t feel like we were missing out.
Ours was a house filled with love and fun, but not talk about G-d or Church or religious doctrine. When my brother died at 18 months old (I was 4 …) there was talk of angels and heaven and some vague stories about that being where he was (a difficult concept for a 4 year old … here one minute, not the next … ). I don’t remember a funeral. I can’t honestly tell you there was one or wasn’t. He was cremated and his ashes spread in the National Forest … an event I was not a part of, but have been told stories about. My religious understanding at this point consisted of knowing that sometimes people leave, and when they do, there are these ‘angels’ that look like really wispy wing people that come to your house and take the person to live in the sky.
This is probably the problem with feel good religious imagery that lacks theological background. I don’t fault my parents, though. My mother was grieving intensely and trying to deal with explaining to a small child where her brother went while that dead child’s identical twin remained alive, a constant reminder of what might have been. I don’t blame her for not walking me through the Jesus story or taking us to Sunday school. She had enough on her plate trying to get out of bed everyday and keep us fed.
Stories about angels and sky castles and a perfect world where no one ages are comforting. If they work for you, awesome. They led me a bit astray though, because they weren’t coupled with the “Why?!” behind them. I didn’t know about the Bible. I didn’t know about the crucifixion or resurrection or redemption. I didn’t know about the loving (and occasionally vengeful) G-d. It was like I got to watch the highlight reel without the sound on.
This set me up for a generally unreligious childhood … until my great grandmother bought me a copy of the King James Version and started secretly sending me to Vacation Bible School while my mother thought she was babysitting.