Last year I had the opportunity to vist a few different churches, to check things out. It was during the period that I was looking for a label for myself (why this is necessary, I don’t know. But I guess it’s important for humans to have a sense of communal belonging, so we have labels for groups and ideologies and whatnot, that we can say we belong to. When someone asks me “So what are you?” in a religious/theological context, I’m tempted to just say “Human.” but being a smartass rarely gets you anywhere. And usually not into an intelligent dialogue. So for a while I was calling myself a Christian-Buddhist, since I value most of the lessons Jesus supposedly taught as well as was studying Buddhism. But, I’m really not a Christian and while I really value Buddhist philosophy, I can’t really call myself a Buddhist. So then it was “Freethinker”. Which still applies, but doesn’t really capture my theistic belief.
Anyway, it was also during a period (which really hasn’t quite ended,) when my wife and are were looking for a church family to belong to. Look, I reject religious dogma, but I still highly value the concept of theistic fellowship. Some of my best experiences, even if based on fallacies, were growing up in a strong church family (not blood related family…the family created from the members of my church.) Going to choir practice (yes this may surprise everyone who knows me, but I was in choir,) the youth group, my pastor…. I loved the pastor that was there most of the time I lived in that community. Pastor David Norberry. He even performed our wedding service. He was a very open-minded, liberal man who was willing to investigate any possibility. Mark reminds me a lot of him. highly intelligent, very curious, ultra-friendly, but very devoted to Christianity.
I know, if I reject Christianity why do we want to find a church to belong to? Isn’t that hypocritical? Yeah, I’m working on dealing with that one. I’m going to find it very difficult to be able to sit and listen to a sermon, or go to a Bible study without feeling smug and superior and self-righteous. Not feelings that I like so much. Despise actually. Because what I really want to be able to do is share my thoughts and revelations, but I know it’s pointless and would just lead to negativity.
But, thing is, I want our daughter, 6 years old now, to have a lot of the stability and fellowship and experiences I had growing up. I don’t plan on disindoctrinating her of the stuff she learns in Sunday School, but I will also be teaching her Deist and Freethinking concepts (at proper age levels.) It’s something I’m really struggling with. I’d love her to be able to have similar experiences I had, but, the experiences I had was because I was 100% a believer of the Christian dogma and allowed myself to be manipulated. I don’t want her to be mentally and emotionally manipulated. But…and yet…however…. It’s tough being a parent that wants the best for their child, but at the same time doesn’t want to stifle their deist/theist development process. We’re not exactly what you’d call very liberal parents, we’re not the kind to let her just “be who she is and not stifle her creativity!” BS. Kids need boundaries, they need limits, they need to know that there is right and wrong, OBJECTIVE right and wrong *wink*. Always use your best manners, always think about how other people feel, how would doing X make you feel, that’s the wrong thing to do, that’s the right thing to do, that is appropriate behavior, that is not, etc. We don’t need a church family to teach our daughter moderate behavior, loving and considering others, not to judge lest ye be judged. But, well, I’m getting way off the point of this missive….)
How’s that for the world’s longest parenthetical.
So, back to the church visit stories.
Since I was raised Methodist we went to a local Methodist church. Nice, very nice. Just like the one I grew up in. Lots of wood, lots of room and dark colors. Pews and Methodist symbolism all over. A good example of why Methodism is called Catholic-lite by some. =) Very upbeat and comfortable. However…the service had about a million things going on, and the sermon was only 5 minutes. (Funny how I’m saying that’s a bad thing?) Even as a teen I more appreciated the sermons than anything else. Not just because I really liked our pastor, but because it was a chance to use my mind and think about ideas and concepts. I HATED the chant crurp. The mindless, monotone repetition like a bunch of brainwashed zombies. The hymns, eh. never cared for em. The other stuff, distractions. I looked forward to the sermons, where I would take notes even. As motionless as possible, of course. I was raised that you were to sit perfectly still through church. From as early as I could remember to about age 15, I recall sitting so still, never moving a muscle.
Anyway, so this Methodist church was nice, somewhat contemporary, but harkened back to my upbringing.
Then we tried the local Unitarian Universalist church. Holy mother of god. Unitarianism was appealing to me at a time I was looking for labels. Being a huge fan of the Founding Fathers and knowing most were deists, freethinkers, and unitarians, I was willing to check it out. Unitarian Universalism is not your Founding Father’s religion! It’s now an amorpheous waystation for every and any belief. On the plus side they don’t judge! They accept all with welcome arms and don’t knock any belief. On the downside, they accept all with welcome arms and don’t knock any belief.
You know, there are some beliefs that really need knocking.
The service was interesting. A traditional, non-denominational Christian hymn here, a song, of…some sort I don’t recall there, a prayer here, a call for thoughts there. Pretty traditional although non-ideological. And the speaker was a guest speaker, a former Protestant minister who spoke about faith and dealing with guilt when bad things happen. It was all…OK I guess. A little weird. Going to a Catholic mass a couple of times was different, this was weird.
My wife and I, I think, were kind of boarderline about it until we picked up our daughter from the childcare center. And she showed us a picture of, I think it was a cockatrice that she’d colored. And the adult kid-watcher was all happy to show us the lesson they learned about…I don’t even remember. And being the moderate, well-behaved adults we are we responded as we’re wont to do in situations like this: complete blankness. We looked at each other and saw each others’ stark blankness, and after 12 years of marriage we knew exactly what the other was thinking: “Oh haaiil no.” We were able to stifle our laughter until we got to the car.
I’m sorry, I’m pretty open-minded, but c’mon. There was no way that I was going to belong to a church that encouraged belief of mythical Greek animals, the power of crystals, or any New Age crurp.
(As I’ve now come to accept that it’s also difficult for me to support unquestioned belief in being swallowed by giant fish, giants that walked the earth, living into the 900+ years, beasts with 7 heads and 12 horns, lakes of fire with horse riding bringers of death with swords for tongues, walls being felled by horn blowing, etc etc.)
Anyway, so we blew THAT taco stand as fast as we could.
Next was a contemporary Lutheran church, who Mark is a member of. (Can imagine Mark cringing at reading that, wondering what I’m going to say. We just had a heated arguement, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love the guy and liked his church. So I continue….) It was interesting. It certainly isn’t the church of the Lutherans from Lake Woebegone! It would have been my perfect church as a teenager. If I recall, just about every song sung was a contemporary Christian pop/rock song. When I was a teen, I was a HUGE contemporary Christian music fan. From the bulwarks of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, to lesser know Jamie Page to more hardcore Mortal. (I actually still listen to Mortal’s “Fathom”.) But I haven’t listened to the genre in years. So the only way we even recognized the songs were from watching those TV commercials for CD collections of contemp’ Christian hits. *grin*
Everyone was very friendly, extremely upbeat, and welcoming. Although, while the pastor was lively and excited, if I recall I really didn’t care for the sermon. It was the last in a series regarding the movie “The Passion of the Christ” (a religious sado-masochist’s dream, but I digress.) I wish I could recall it, my wife may still have her notes, but I remember really disagreeing with a lot of what he said. It really made me long for ole Pastor Norberry.
It’s funny. When I was a teen, I would have been all over a service that was upbeat and filled with contemporary music (so long as it also had a meaningful, thoughtful sermon.) But there, I felt uncomfortable. I’ve never been comfortable outside of Church Camp and Youth Group trips, around outward displays of faith like when people raise their hand in the air when they feel “moved.” That always felt staged to me. A little TOO pious and outward. (Although I still cry when I hear “Friends Are Friends Forever” (my wife sings beautifully) and used to feel compelled to say out “Amen!” from the heart when I was a teen and heard someone testify movingly.)
I don’t know. Might be a good place for my daughter to find a good, active church family.
I just felt most comfortable at the Methodist church, with what I was familiar with. Just kind of proves to me that we get indoctrinated with what we’re raised with.
One thing I miss in all new churches, like the Lutheran one and my mom’s new Methodist church as well, is the lack of solidity. In the structure itself. Everything is so stark, so white, so drywall. Padded folding chairs, small speakers (even if they’re better quality,) no or very little stained glass, etc. Maybe some religion IS genetic. *grin* My father’s family was strong Irish Catholic. Maybe I just prefer wood, stained glass, long dark (but comfortable) pews, alters and symbolism, large choir areas and big chairs the ministers and co-ministers to sit in, candles….
How contradictory can I get, huh? I reject dogma, religion, but I feel most comfortable around solemn and traditional religious environments. Displays of age and stability. Some things are just engrained I guess.