Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Church Quandary

I've been reluctant to post about religion because it is such a volatile subject matter. My friend Morningside Mom inspired me to take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and put my fingers to the keyboard and just write. Take a look here at what she wrote on the topic. She's way more eloquent than I.

Deep breath. Exhale. Blow it out now. Lather, rinse, repeat. Crunch of the knuckles. Ready to roll.

I wrote about my disdain for Sundays once before. Sunday is church day, only not for us. Since moving to North Carolina, I can't count how many people have asked if we've found our church family yet. WTF? I can barely stand dealing with the family I have so why do I need another one? Especially another one that has a gold medal in the guilt relay. And why is religion wracked with guilt in the first place?

I'm not going to wax on about various religions and pass judgment here. Well, I might pass judgment, but it's my prerogative. (Cue tune here. Tell me you don't think Bobby Brown any time you hear the word prerogative.). I'm no theologist, though I did take a whole mess of religion classes in college. Perhaps my searching started there.

My family is Hindu. I don't even know what that really means. I've read some of the stories and took some classes but I wasn't raised going to temple or anything. My mom had a little worship station in our house with little idols and stuff made out of ivory and marble. I used to cup those miniature deities in my hand and marvel at the smoothness of the stone when I was a kid. I waited patiently for her to say her prayers and make her offerings just so I could eat the sugar cube when she was done. That sugar was some sort of offering. Maybe I am indeed Hindu if the gods have such a sweet tooth.

I grew up going to mass with my friend Jenny's family after Saturday night sleepovers. I didn't really get much from it except for a headache from all that incense and a sore back from the constant kneeling and standing. I remember feeling so lost because I didn't understand the rituals and feeling a bit creeped out because the cacophony of all those voices saying prayers in unison sounded rote and lifeless. Plus, my kind of god isn't going to make me don nylons and heels just to worship. As I recall, her parents bitched a lot about changing out of comfy pajamas into a suit and tight high waisted skirt just for the one hour of mass. I'm pretty sure the god I believe in is at least a casual Friday kind of guy...or gal. And he (she?) is cool with me bringing in a cup of java to warm my body while the minister warms my soul.

Let me clear here. I do believe in god. The miracle of feeling those babies swim in my belly is testament to a power far higher than anything I can comprehend. And yes, I also believe in science. I get the whole sperm/egg thing that made those babies in the first place, but there must be something greater than that to have created the system in the first place, don't you think? Come on, god created babies as a result of sex! It could have just easily been from a high five, but god gave us mortals something really awesome instead. Rock on, god! Oh, and I realize I am not capitalizing "god" here. I believe in the concept of a god, just not a definitive one and only God. And is god Christian? Hindu? Neither? I dunno. I don't think I really care how god is categorized. Therein lies the problem.

And that's as far as I've gotten.

Not enough to teach my children about spirituality. By the way, being spiritual is possible without being religious. I'm not a fan of organized religion. Mac Daddy and I actually joined the Unitarian Church in town and really enjoyed the services for a while. The minister was a fabulous raconteuse who was inspirational, funny, and honest. Her candor about her shortcomings made her so damn human. I felt like I was learning something and getting a sense of peace each week; I never felt preached to. I left feeling centered and happy, not confused and guilty. Then she moved away, and the subsequent ministers sucked. A bad minister can kill a service just like a great teacher can make math exciting (Thanks, Mrs. Kovatch!).

Mac Daddy and I left the church soon after we had kids. Contrary to common practice, I know. We've been on sort of a hunt ever since. Well, not really an active hunt. It's been more a passing conversation when all our friends are at church and can't go bike riding with us on Sunday mornings. We would like to equip our boys with a sense of spirituality and teach them about both Hindu and Christian principles. The thing is, we're not really into teaching about Jesus and the Bible. Well, unless it's thumbs up Jesus. That Jesus from Dogma was way cool.

There, I said it. Commence the stone throwing now.

Oh, and let me go ahead and offer full disclosure. We do go to church (Unitarian) at Christmas. I just love the tradition of Christmas and the peacefulness and giving that goes along with it. Yeah, I know it's all about Jesus. But hey, even in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, Christmas is celebrated, embraced even. But baking a birthday cake for Jesus? That's too far for me, even if I did bake.

My kids go to chapel at their preschool, and it's been a wonderful experience. They are learning about universal principles that transcend religion. I hate to break it to you, but Christianity does not own the principles of honesty, patience, honor, and virtue. Am I a heathen because I believe in ending this disastrous, shameful war, because I want to preserve the earth, because I believe in equal rights regardless of gender, race, religious, or sexuality? I think not. The ten commandments are pretty good rules to live by, Christian or otherwise. Likewise for karma. Does the saying "what comes around goes around" sound familiar? One more thing, Republicans don't own religion. Being progressive and being spiritual are not mutually exclusive, my friends. Since when did liberalism = paganism. Just because I'm a Democrat doesn't mean I need to be saved. Just save me from the Bible beaters who lurk in my neck of the woods! Separation of church and state, people!

So, Bird and Deal are starting to ask questions about God. At the beach the boys asked me who made the ocean. I confidently answered, "Nature. Nature invented the ocean." "Oh, you mean God?" remarked Bird. I was stumped and pointed out the baby seagulls pecking at the scattered Kix cereal on the beach as a distraction. Let it be known that Bird still thinks Jesus' name is Cheesus. He says he has a lot in common with Cheesus because he loves cheese too (chalk that up to his Wisconsinite father). Mac Daddy and I roar with laughter at this but are a tish embarrassed when he says this stuff in the hallways of school around the other church going parents. Lighten up, I say! Is it just me or do the church going ilk often have their panties in a tizzy?

We do, however, owe it to our children to teach them about religion and equip them to find their own path. In a way I am envious of people who blindly and unequivocally Believe. It's like Polar Express except with Jesus standing in as Santa. A whole different ball of wax that I'm not about delve into. Mac Daddy and I want Bird and Deal to have a spiritual upbringing. The question is how to do so without bringing Jesus into the picture? Can't we just teach the parables from multiple religions? My hunch is that there are more similar moral standards and shared stories than dogma that separate us all. Is it possible to teach spiritual religion without a deity to worship? We thought the Unitarian route was the answer so maybe we'll give it a go again.

In the mean time, I'm considering home churching.

Come on, if people can take the entire curricula of K-12 and teach it from home with total acceptance and accredidation, why can't I do Sunday school from home? I'll start with the lesson of love thy mother. Do I have any takers?
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Anonymous said...

Oh hon. You KNOW I have your back on this. Awesome post. Honest. And there is nothing to apologize for here.

Shoot, I am beginning to feel like there are a whole bunch of us coming out of the closet, looking for God (in all the wrong places... cue song here too).

You touched on a whole area I forgot to. The whole "God exists because of nature around us" thing. I too knew there was a God when I heard my baby's heart beat. WTH started it? God, thats who. But, the real quest is to find a way to celebrate that God. Tell me what you find, I'll tell you what I find.

And I love that your kids are getting some religion in preschool. And speaking of home church, I'm looking for a children's book that talks about ALL beliefs. If anyone knows of one, please share.

You rock, girl. As always.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I grew up a strict Southern Baptist! However, I take the boys to a church that believes you "should come as you are" and they really DO MEAN IT!

Have a safe trip to Cali!

Angel said...

Great post! I am one of those people who also struggled with religion. I wasn't raised with anything particular. I recently took a world religion class and learned more about Hindu, Buddhism, Doaism, The Jewish, Confuscianism, Muslim, Christianity, etc. It was a great class. I found myself being able to believe a little bit of each one! I had always embraced Buddhism and really wanted to study the practices more. My heart believes in reincarnation and karma and loves the peace and tranquility of this practice.

Then, while I was in Arizona in May with my family during my step-dads ordeal, I began reading out of boredom. I picked up a book that I had read before, part of a series. The Left Behind Series. I read through 4 1/2 of the books in 2 weeks. If you know me and how little I read you would truly be astonished.

It wasn't the fact that I was reading through them so fast... it was that I was truly learning and regaining faith I had one lost touch with. I never lost my faith, I simply lost touch. I have never been a regular church goer.. though I have gone and tried to go regularly during periods of my life. For me, it's pure laziness, not lack of desire. I am NOT a morning person and Sunday mornings are not meant for getting up early and taking a shower to go somewhere:)

Anyway, that series is not the end all be all of Christianity teaching. It's a fictional depiction of the Rapture. That's all. But, for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it the second time around and got more out of it. It basically brought me back to everything I already knew and rekindled a stronger and better faith than I had before. It's like I have less and less doubts now. I still struggle a bit here and there because I am such a generalized person and want to believe a little bit of everything, but the time in my life has come to "pick a side". Stand for something instead of wavering. So I have and I feel empowered and stronger for it.

Sorry for the novel... that's just my story.

Oh and for the record, I am a baptized Lutheran (baptized as an adult) and my boys are baptized Catholic. So, it's hard for me right now because I want my boys to go to church with me and experience Sunday School but they don't have that in the Catholic Church. I guess kids go right into the whole communion and stuff like that. I have very very very Catholic in-laws so I felt pressured to baptize them Catholic by them and my husband. They weren't outwardly outspoken about it.. it was more and unspoken, they will be Catholic, kind of thing. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Being a Catholic since birth, I have done a lot of thinking about religion. Only in the last few years have I done lot of questioning about their beliefs. I feel that if I beleive in "someone" of a higher power that is important and how I live my life. I do want my son to believe in something and we do talk a little about it, but I don't want him confused or have all the questions that I do now. I would like to find the right church for me, but I don't really have to time to search. If we didn't have to move I would have gone to the free church in my hometown. I enjoyed reading all the opinions.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed all that you had to say in this post. Religion is a hard one. I was/am a devout catholic, yet g is a practicing Philosopher, meaning that he actively practices nothing, ponders everything. When we married, I felt very strongly that I would continue in my traditions, going to mass very week, remaining active in community service through the church, etc. It did not happen. Now the kids are getting older, and I want them to believe SOMETHING. I dont care what it is. I just want them to have a conviction about their belief system, what is right, what is wrong and what GOD means to them. I want them to be able to defend it. Give the plusses and minuses - all that give stuff that only someone who has been through that blinding faith can have. But in the end, I want them to own it, internalize and have it mean something to them. A tall order, I know.
By the way, I am quite proud of the fact that my son refers to God as "she".