Although my mom and step-dad did not themselves attend church on any sort of regular basis, they required it of my sister and me. For what reason, I’m not 100% sure, but, I am guessing it was to provide additional socialization outside of the traditional school environment; with children we did not normally see and adults other than teachers. Also, perhaps, to instill in us the beginnings of thought regarding religion, without being terribly influenced by what they personally believed.
The thing was; mom was brought up Methodist and dad a Quaker. Neither one of them necessarily felt we should subscribe to one of these religions or life-styles; otherwise, we would have all tromped off to Friends Meetings or sat as a family in the pew at the nearby Methodist Church every Sunday morning.
As it turned out, my sister and I DID go to the local Methodist Church, but I’m thinking that was due more to the convenience of proximity than anything else as it was close enough to our house for the two of us to walk to on our own.
So, throughout my very early days, my involvement with and exposure to organized religion was conducted through the pretty vanilla doctrines of the Methodist Church. Frankly, what I remember most about those few years wasn’t the sermons or sitting in Sunday school class but, rather, being an Acolyte (how the heck that happened I really don’t know) and singing in the choir. There were also annual church banquets, and, at one, I received a plastic flute as a gift from the choir master (another mystery…WHY a plastic flute?)
By the time I was in 3rd grade, my involvement with church had pretty much gone by the wayside. We’d moved away from the neighborhood with the convenient church to a new housing development where a church (as such) did not yet exist. Then, we moved to Kentucky for a year (did they even have churches there? Certainly it seemed like a God-forsaken place to me!) Then, it was back to the same previous churchless neighborhood in San Diego but, this time, it was no longer churchless! There was now a Catholic church, a Baptist church, and a Lutheran church. A lot happened in the year we were away.
The Lutheran church was a fledgling; it didn’t yet have its own building so services were held in the auditorium of one of the elementary schools. Slowly, over time, I began attending this church with one of my girlfriends and her family (usually if I’d spent the night at her house on a Saturday; part of the deal appeared to be I had to go to church with them on Sunday). After a few Sundays of this, I started to think that maybe it was ok. Well, in all honesty, what was REALLY ok was the fact that several cute boys went to the church/attended the church’s youth group. But, hey, whatever path gets you there, right?
When I was 16, I decided I wanted to be baptized into this church. I really wish I could remember why. I’m not trying to be flippant here; I seriously do not recall why I did this because, in my entire recollection of thoughts on the subject, I’ve never been particularly religious. I enjoyed the fellowship of the folks that attended this church, yes. I had fun in the youth group, most definitely. I liked listening to the Pastor because his sermons were not totally boring (he also led the youth group and, although a bit naïve, had a more than decent connection with teenagers). He had a strong, pleasant voice and he was kind-hearted. But, I wasn’t going because I felt a draw to God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. I felt going somehow made me a better person and maybe it did. Of the many things Pastor talked about, I was most interested and engaged in the stories about people being kind, friendly and of service to others.
Probably because it seemed the next logical step in the process, after my baptism, I signed up for Confirmation classes. This was a year-long commitment whereby I (and maybe 10 others) attended classes, taught by Pastor, at least once a week, if not twice. In conjunction with the classes, at-home study, thought, prayer, small projects and various acts of community service were required. Each month focused on a different area and there was a corresponding colored paper workbook that went with each month. I still have every one of them in my hope chest; why, I can’t say; other than they obviously mean something to me; along with the countless greeting cards, letters, stuffed animals, old dollies, baby clothes, silver dollars from my grandfather, old costume jewelry, my cap from high school graduation, the front page from the LA Times 9.11.01, keepsakes from my now departed cats Nigel and Clyde, my 6th grade report on ducks, etc., etc. etc. that are also residing in the hope chest.
On a sunny Sunday morning In June of 1981, after successful completion of the classes, all of the project work, studying and two retreats and just a few short days prior to my high school graduation, I was confirmed.
And that was the last time I went to church.
I don’t know why.
This period of time in my life MUST have meant something to me, for, in addition to all of those colorful workbooks, I also have, locked in my file cabinet, both my baptismal and confirmation certificates. For what purpose? Certainly not to prove that I have the right to enter heaven (but I’m supposing that this is exactly why some people hold onto theirs).
In the ensuing years, distinct bents have formed in my mind regarding the subjects of religion, faith, belief, spirituality, church…fill in the blank.
I believe in hard work being its own reward, honesty, integrity, kindness, giving to those truly in need, and, having a good time as much as possible without upsetting or interfering with other people’s right to existence. I believe that, for the most part, things happen for a reason; reasons which we may or may not ever completely understand but, usually if we are paying attention, we’ll eventually “get it” (although it may be many, many, many years later before we can see how the twisted paths of fate play out). I do not subscribe to the concept of hell, but I do like to think that, when we die, we go somewhere that is our own individual idea of heaven. Mine might be different than yours, but, if we liked each other well enough in life, we might be making cameos in each other’s version.
I do NOT believe that there is one true religion or God. Further, I cannot fathom how anyone can; anyone who thinks logically, that is. For, how COULD this be true? Following this, I don’t subscribe that only those who believe in the (fill in the blank be all save all) religion will go to “heaven”; the rest, damned forever more. Again, this just doesn’t add up, given the MULTITUDES of beliefs out there. How can only one be the only one?
As it stands, I don’t have a problem with those who chose to believe this, as some might call it having faith. Fine, whatever; the faith in only one God or religion isn’t much different than mine in the “everything happens for a reason and one of these days, BTW, I’m gonna see everyone and everything I ever loved in the great wide wherever” concept.
My issue is with those folks who trumpet loudly about how right they and theirs are and how wrong everyone else is. And, I think, what it really comes down to is, they’ve just opened up their mouths and declared themselves ignorant and I don’t want anything to do with them. They probably don’t want anything to do with me, either.
I entitled this entry “Losing My (Organized) Religion” but, after working my way to the end, I’ve realized that old adage of not being able to lose something you never had in the first place is actually more accurate here. I’ve not lost it, I never had it. Yes, I was (somewhat) reared in and around it. I studied it. I pondered it, even admired it. But, it was never ever mine.