But it’s something that’s been on my mind and hey…that’s what my blog is for, right?
I am not what I would consider a religious person (although I would argue that I’m a spiritual person). I was raised in a not-very strict Catholic environment. I went to Catholic school from Pre-k to 3rd grade and then my parents transferred me to public school because, sadly, the education I was getting at the Catholic school was poor and I was very behind my classmates when I transferred in the 4th grade. We attended church every Sunday and if you’ve ever been to Catholic services…*yawn* For a child, they’re pretty long and boring. It only gets worse when the priest speaks in a monotone and stutters while reading his sermon.
The highlight of my Catholic church experience? When I was about 15 or 16 and the local wandering man(that’s a polite term for someone who walked up and down the streets of my town, talking loudly to himself, pedestrians and gesturing rudely at traffic) came into the church in the middle of the sermon, with his wife and child following dutifully behind (I always felt sorry for them) and walked to the front, where there was a statue of the Virgin Mary in an alcove at the front, to the right of the pulpit. He walked right to that statue, in front of the entire congregation, and placed his hands on her feet and began speaking loudly about…something. I don’t remember what, but it was bizarre…and quite thrilling to witness during what had shaped-up to be another snooze-worthy sermon.
My dad was a local law enforcement official and got up, walked to the front, and escorted the man and his family to the back of the church, had a discussion with them (apparently not the first time because I found out later they were on a first name basis) and I think, sent them on their way after a stern warning (my dad is the nicest, funniest guy, but can be awfully scary when he wants to be)
Isn’t it kind of sad that that memory is what I remember most vividly about church? Beyond the extreme boredom, that is.
Anyhow, my mom died when I was 17 but we had stopped going to church as a family in the year or so prior to that. My dad remarried several years later and my step-mother is very active in her church (Lutheran) and a part of the prayer tree (is that the right term?). But I have never felt that she was shoving her religion down my throat, although I know she probably wishes that she could be certain I had accepted the Lord into my heart.
I did have a brief flirtation with the Born Again Christian crowd in high school (I was trying to find my niche and I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I eventually settled on the drama crowd!) but that ended after about a year and I can clearly pinpoint when my disillusionment happened. I was faithfully (no pun intended) attending prayer meetings and bible studies. I was enjoying it. Part of the reason, I think, is because I have an active mind and I like to debate. Theology provides a lot of opportunity for discussing interpretations of scripture and similar things. At the last bible study I ever attended, a discussion arose about prayer and those that don’t get “answered.” It was an interesting discussion and I made an off-hand comment about a Garth Brook song, here’s the verse I referred to:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
Seemed like a relevant remark to the discussion at the time (and it was, I still believe). Do you know, the preacher who was leading that bible study sneered at me- literally sneered- and said in a snide voice not at all suitable for such a discussion, let alone coming from the preacher himself (what a poor example to set for a group of teenagers and several adults trying to learn how to live as God teaches. *snort*) and said “I hardly think we can consider Garth Brooks an expert or relevant to this conversation.”
Goodbye rose-colored glasses.
An image comes to mind whenever I think of this experience. In my head, a government official is rubberstamping papers in a gleeful manner, and you just know they’re pissing in someone’s cornflakes. In red ink, across my memory, they’re stamping JUDGEMENT. That one sentence, spoken in that tone and dismissing what might have been a starting point for us, as teenagers, to be able to relate to what was being taught, was a definitive moment for me. Even at the age of…oh…16 or so, I knew what he’d said was wrong. At the time, I was stunned literally speechless (and I may have been a little teary, as well) but later I wished I’d had my wits about me and thought to make a cutting remark about wondering who he was to judge what was in the heart of Garth Brooks?
Since that time, I’ve avoided organized religion, for the most part. When I was in college, and engaged to be married, I wanted to get married in a church. My fiance and I found a progressive Lutheran church that we liked very much. It was a young church, had lively services and felt…open. I would venture to say that if I still lived there, I’d still be a member of that church. But I’ve moved five or six times since then and have never put forth any effort into finding another church community to join. I’ve toyed with the idea, especially since Brianna was born, as I think it would be nice for her to have some experience with it, so she can form her own opinions about religion as she gets older. But, come Sunday morning, motivation is sadly lacking.
And if I’m being truthful (and finally getting to the original reason for this post- holy Moses, was that a long lead in or what), I’m not all that eager to re-experience some of what I see as the pitfalls of organized religion. Namely, the people who proclaim themselves “Christian” and proceed to lecture and judge those around them. I like to think that I’m pretty honest about my shortcomings. I know I can be bitchy and sarcastic, I get impatient and sometimes I look down on other people. I expect the same honesty in the people I have relationships with. I don’t expect anyone to be perfect and by God, they shouldn’t pretend that they are.
I’ve discussed this with others before, and a common agreement in those who share my hesitation of organized religion is this overwhelming feeling that the people in the church community have this air of Superiority. As if their opinion is always right because, well…they go to Church. God is speaking through Them. They study the Bible and the bible is It. Unfortunately, I often get a negative impression from people living this lifestyle. Trying to put into words why is more difficult than I imagined it would be, but I think it’s because I often feel they aren’t being honest with me- or more importantly- with themselves.
Going to church does not make you an expert on my life or how I should live my life. It doesn’t make your life better than mine or put you in a position to judge how I live my life. Chances are, there are many things about me you don’t, and will never, know. Because, it seems, that when you enter the doors of church, they pass out the special narrow-vision glasses that allow you to see things only from one perspective and blind you to not only the positive things about my life but to your own imperfections. And is there some sort of free-pass in your welcome packet that gives you the go-ahead to shove your religious views down my throat? *snark* (okay, that was harsh, eh?)
Of course, keep in mind, I’m making some rather sweeping statements here, not meant to include every individual but more as a generalization and the feeling I have. Admittedly, part of my own persepective is tainted by my past experiences (as all perspectives are) and since past (and some present) experience with self-proclaimed Christians has not been all-together positive, I’m a bit cynical about the whole thing and that also sets me up to have a negative impression until proved wrong, rather than entering into the relationship with an open mind (see? Honesty.)
I will happily say that I think my step-mother is an example of the opposite of what I’ve described here. She’s an absolutely lovely woman, who always strives to be better but is humble and willing to admit to her own short-comings. I don’t think she’s ever done any of the above things (not with me or where I could witness, anyhow). There are other people in my life who hover somewhere in the middle.
I’m guessing there are probably a few people out there reading this who agree whole-heartedly (can I get an Amen, sister?) But I also know there are people out there who might want to prove me wrong and I welcome you to try! Anyone want to share their experiences with organized religion?