Welcome to the second post (you can see the first here) 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.
(So, this may be the longest post ever. You have been warned.)
When we last talked, I was telling you about my largely unreligious childhood. We did have some exposure to Church (I use the capital C to specifically highlight the institution that is doctrinal religious gathering) occasionally. My mother’s parents would babysit us on Saturdays while my parents worked so that they could bring us along to their Episcopal Church at the pre-crack of dawn on Sunday mornings. (funny story: they went to a Lutheran church when my mother was growing up because my grandmother’s Episcopal family couldn’t agree with my grandfather’s Methodist one about what denomination was better … lame)
We didn’t go to Sunday school or the nursery (unless it was my grandmother’s week to volunteer). We sat on those very hard pews for what felt like decades and spent more time coloring or fighting with each other than we did listening. When everyone got up and walked up front for communion we went along so we could (be forced to) kneel next to my grandparents and have our foreheads anointed by the ‘Stinky Oil Man’. Afterward, we went out for pancakes. Those I remember vividly, any mention of Jesus or salvation or G-d were lost on me completely.
On my father’s side, my great grandmother babysat for us during the week. My father is Catholic, but I don’t think my great grandmother was much for choosing sides. One summer, just before my 9th birthday (I think … I really have no official idea), we were driving home from some errand when my great grandmother saw a sign at the local Assembly of G-d church for Vacation Bible School. She was an interesting lady, my Nonne (that’s little kid speak for ‘Granny’ apparently), and once she had an idea or a plan, there was no stopping her.
Every day for a week I went to the Assembly of G-d Church with my adorable brown paper bag lunch. We made crafts. A lot of people talked about how awesome Jesus was. That was all well and good, but gushing about this guy JC wasn’t so helpful to a girl who hadn’t the foggiest who He was.
On Friday, there was a big program in the sanctuary (until then we’d been in a building next door). They showed a movie about a far away kingdom and everyone wore their little paper crafted crowns and cheered for the good guy. They kept the lights turned waaay down, and offered up what I now know is referred to as an ‘altar call’. Adult volunteers worked the crowd, finding child after child to bring (drag) to the front to ‘accept Jesus’. I averted my eyes. I tried to look really busy flipping pages in the hymnal. I was really unclear what was going on, but I knew I didn’t want anything to do with it.
And, in a moment that would shape my understanding of Jesus and Christianity for the next 15 years, they found me anyway. First it was one volunteer speaking quietly to me about love and friendship and rainbows (ok, maybe not actually rainbows … ). Then it was two of them talking Peer Pressure 101 about how all the other kids had already ‘given their hearts’. Then it was three of them with me, in a corner in the front of the sanctuary talking big about how my parents would be proud (my parents?! the ones that didn’t even know I was there?!) and this would be the only way I got into heaven and there would be cookies at the end.
And I caved.
Because I was a child.
And I said what they wanted me to and it meant nothing to me. Nothing at all. Not a damn thing.
Reflecting on that day as a grown up, I’m disgusted. Those people and that experience are part of the reason I made a decision to have nothing to do with Christianity for most of my life. What good is a religion that seduces vulnerable children with fear and promises of food? I didn’t want to be one of those people with the lying and misleading and manipulating. If that’s how they acted, their G-d, their Jesus, couldn’t be the kind of person I wanted to be buddy-buddy with.
(fast forward to my 14th year)
I was feeling kind of lost. My very expensive (and largely overrated) psychology degree tells me every teenager feels like that most of the time because they’re trying to hash out exactly who they’re supposed to grow up into. I felt like some part of me was missing. I was really compelled that part of that absent feeling had something to do with my complete disassociation with religion (the divine, the universe, the afterlife, or something …). I started searching …
I did what every nerd on the planet does, I started reading things. The Qu’ran … the Bhagavad Gita … a Tripitaka … the I Ching … the Upanishads … the Talmud. I went to a bunch of different services (well, as many as a non-driver’s license holder in a rural-ish area whose parents have no idea she’s on an out of the blue spiritual quest can). The more I read, the more I was drawn to Judaism. I’m not sure I’m ready to share the ins and outs of that decision making process, but suffice it to say I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out before making a decision.
I found a rabbi. And then another one (long story). I studied the Tanakh and the Midrash. I had that awkward conversation with my parents about how I was disassociating myself with their religion (even though they were only vaguely associated to begin with) … and let me tell you, that went great (/sarcasm). I learned (well, I tried to learn …) Hebrew. I attended synagogue. I ate kosher (most of the time … damn you bacon for being so delicious). I fasted on Yom Kippur and rejoiced during Tu B’Shevat. It was a happy medium for me. Judaism was the foundation of Christianity, but without the massive recruiting effort. I identified as, prayed as, and lived as a Jew for the next … well, I still kind of do.
Judaism was a safe place for me. It was tradition founded on 5000+ years of practice. It was a community worldwide. It was belonging. Judaism taught me that there was in fact a G-d (crucial on the more than one occasion I was convinced there wasn’t), that I could talk to Him (Her? I’m ok with either, neither, or both), that life had meaning. Ugh. All of that sounds terribly nauseatingly mushy, but it’s real. It happened. I was there. Ha.
I tell you all of this so my present tense conversations about religion will make sense, so that you know where I’m coming from when I don’t understand how this or that part of doctrine is practiced or needed, when I speak in abstraction because I still struggle to say the word “Christian” with anything other than complete disdain, when I still cannot believe how bizarre this journey has been, when I stand in awe of the little things like a child with new eyes (because I am one, basically).
Stay tuned (if you’re so inclined), loves, I promise there’s more to this story coming …