I have a cousin I was once very close with. She and I drifted a few years back, and our story is a topic for another time, but the fascinating thing about her, has been her deep dalliances in religion over the years. They seemingly come out of the blue, although I’m betting it goes deeper than that. She wasn’t raised attending a church of any kind to my knowledge, although she might have done the tag-along church services as a child.
I think a lot of us who weren’t raised with roots in any one church, did this. On my own tag-along process, I can say that I’ve attended dozens of services of religions all over the spectrum as a kid. It works like this: Your kid and I are friends and she is Christian Science? What the heck, I can be for a day too. I head off to services with her, and either it sticks, or it doesn’t. I suspect mostly, it doesn’t. My mom’s thought on it was as long as I was going somewhere where good behavior was expected and they weren’t teaching me anything cult like, she was good with it. Unless it was Mormon*. I brought home, The Book of Mormon one day, a school friend had gifted me with it, and by my mother’s reaction, you’d have thought it was the Original Book of Satanic Rites. My mom had deep seated issues with the Mormon’s having grown up in a few small towns in Utah as a Presbyterian, but I don’t think I really realized the scarring it did until then. Accepting Liberal be GONE occurred that day.
Anyway, back to the cousin. As an adult she really seemed to embrace religion. The first time was Seventh Day Adventist. That lasted about …. I’m going to say five or six years. She was heavy into it, but not with fervor or anything. She never got preachy with me. She’d just get up early on Saturday mornings and head out to church. She even looked for ones in my area when she came for visits. Then she went through a lull. A secular lull, where she didn’t follow any organized religion. I like to think of those as “The Fun Years”, because as she once noted to me, “Gina, Sin is fun.” That was probably for at least a decade or more, and then we lost contact for a couple of years. When we reconnected she was full blown religious once again. Made her Seventh Day days look like heathen’s play. I’ll be honest I was confused about the church she had joined. Services were Saturdays, but no, she wasn’t Jewish, or Seventh Day. She did relate heavily to Jewish practices and their holy days, but she was still a follower of Christ. So when people asked I told them she was sort of a Jews-for-Jesus kinda gal.
Myself? Even with all those tag-alongs as a kid, nothing really stuck. I was baptized and “raised” Presbyterian. I say raised, because my mom wasn’t a devout church attendee. She used descriptors like, “Jesus H. Christ” when she was angry. “God Damn it’s!” flew through our house on a regular basis. But she did take offense when as children we would say, “Oh God!” and she would correct us. I think she had to start popping us in the mouth, because those “Oh God’s” simply wouldn’t stop flying out of our mouths. Especially mine. The biggest fear that one of these gems would come flying out of our mouth’s when time came for the grandparents to visit. We never said prayers, or used the religious holidays for anything outside of the joyous kid loving days they were to us. To say she wasn’t a practicing Christian would be a wide fact. In fact I don’t ever recall her stepping foot into a service. Ultimately, she raised us to believe in God, and respect the rights of others and their choice of religion (except sadly, the Mormons).
When I was little, I went to the corner Baptist Church, within walking distance of our apartment in Hollywood. There I attended children’s Sunday School services, devoutly. I learned through felt-on-felt boards (does anyone remember those?) how Jesus loved ALL the little children. ALL of them. Red & Yellow, Black & White, they are precious in his sight …. At the end of these classes I handed over my dime for the donation basket and in return I got my watered down warmish kool-aide in a Dixie cup, along with a graham cracker or vanilla wafer.
I loved my time at Sunday School, even though the details are mostly a blur. I don’t remember the teachers, or even anyone else who might have attended that church with me. I remember putting on my school clothes, and school shoes, and being given my dime for donations, and walking the ¼ block. I liked the stories and how the felt boards brought them to life. I completely bought into them, as children are wont to do. Noah’s Ark. Baby Moses. Sampson and Delilah. But I really, really loved Jesus. He quietly offered me this sense of safety. Like someone warm and good and kind was always watching over me. For an overly fearful child, this is a HUGE comfort. I would draw pictures of him off and on for years. On the cross. Close-ups of his face, head hanging, wreath of thorns on his head. The fact no one spoke of his childhood baffled me, so I created pictures of him as a child. I don’t know what my mother ever thought of this religious artistic phase I went through, or if she even wondered anything at all.
When I asked my mother once what religion we were, she told me Presbyterian, but that any church under the Protestant religion would suffice. So Lutheran’s, Protestant’s, Methodist’s and Baptist’s all sort of seemed like my Jesus-Cousins. It’s also why it was completely natural for me to attend a Baptist church. To this day, even though I don’t attend any type of church, I always feel a little child-like kinship with those under this “umbrella”. Like we’re supposed to give each other the little silent gangsta nod, the all-knowing secret Jesus handshake, that only us Cuz’s know.
Here is a weird little side note though; I don’t recall my little brother ever attending with me, and he doesn’t remember attending himself. The weirder thing, is I don’t recall that my brother was ever even baptized. I mean I have my baptism certificate. I most certainly don’t recall the event, as I was a less than a year old, but I remembered seeing that certificate, and learning that it meant it was sort of my ticket into Heaven.
Year later as an adult, my mother would make me a beautiful scrap book as a gift for Christmas a few years before she died. It held hospital records from my birth, and report cards, and one page, there it stood. The Baptism certificate, with all its holy scrolling, with my Grandfather and my Aunt’s signature there, as witness to the occasion. My Aunt was a mere 18 year old, and she still signs her name the same way. On the following page was a church program from a Mother’s Day event that same year. It took me a few go throughs in the book to realize I was actually baptized on Mother’s Day, 1965.
Maybe it was only my soul my mother wanted to save. I suspect it was more of one of those things where you do everything by the book for the first child, and by the time the second one comes around, you’re too tired. Too lazy. You mean to get around to it, but …. Anyway to my knowledge religion has never been a big deal for my brother in any form or manner. Is it the lack of holy water in his soul? Possible. 😉
As for me, I’ve dabbled. After we left Hollywood and the corner Baptist Church, my mom got real lazy about religious education. There was a beautiful Presbyterian Church close by in our new neighborhood in Redondo Beach, but not close enough to let your nine-year old walk alone to. So my only forays were the tag-alongs with other friends. Sometimes I would attend once, and other times I’d start up attending a few times in a row, almost looking like it was about to stick, only to have it sputter and fizzle out.
As much as I liked Sunday School, Church was another ballgame. It was scarier. You had to be more well-behaved. They didn’t welcome questions, nor those who questioned. It was stark, stern and frightening. Yeah from Day 1 I knew church and I were probably never going to be tight.
But things started back up when I was in middle school and became a Job’s Daughter. That was a big deal in my family. All the females (and we were the predominant gender in our small family) had at some time or another been a Jobbie. While Job’s doesn’t cater to any one religion, it’s no surprise it’s foundation is based on the Bible. I mean, after all, the name isn’t Jim’s Daughters. Like all of the other times, I took it super serious, until — one day I just didn’t.
That’s how religion has been for me for most of my life. I’ll visit it, sometimes I will immerse myself in it, and then – for a variety of reasons I will end up leaving it.
My last foray into it, I decided to take a bit more serious. I wasn’t doing this because of the guy I was seeing; that happened years prior, and while it was a good experience with the church, it was a bad experience with him as a whole. Nor was it because I was depressed and using religion as a cure-all; I had a friend who did this. To no one’s surprise it didn’t last. No I wanted to learn. Religion on a whole has always interested me, so I decided I was going to read the entire Bible.
I had a friend lend me a modern version of the Bible; one column had the King James based scripture, and then a modern day interpretation on the other. I’ll admit it made it for much easier reading, but just like when reading re-interpreted Shakespeare, something is lost. I tooled along, starting with the Old Testament, and making my way through quickly enough.
And then — I got uncomfortable. Unhappy. This book that was supposed to bring me peace and knowledge – it wasn’t. This God that I had been taught about, the benevolent old man, with the big white beard up in his throne in the sky – that’s not the God this Bible was teaching me about. This one was vengeful, and horrible in testing his followers. The ones who meant the most, seemed to go through the worst. He seemed to rule through fear.
IF religion was right, IF out of about 4200 religions that are in the world, this is the right one, it was terrifying.
I sat with the friend who had lent me this Bible (who let me tell you, surprised the hell out of me that her religious convictions ran so strong – she was almost the antithesis of what you expect from a “good little Christian”) who laughed when I explained how I didn’t think I liked this version of God I had been reading. She explained that I may have been taking things a little too literal, and as I completed the First Testament and got into the Second Testament, I would understand how God changed, and how in giving his only son — the Jesus part. That’s what I really wanted. I realized maybe it wasn’t knowledge I wanted as much as that connection with the Jesus that I knew as a child. I wanted to feel that childlike love.
Let’s just say that my passion for Christ (yes, I did a religion pun there) fizzled soon after, and I never made it through the entire book. So I am knowledgeable a bit in some areas, and completely ignorant in others. Fortunately I don’t think I’ll ever try out for Jeopardy, and that seems to be about the only place that lack of knowledge would truly hinder me.
Because as I see it, really it’s just a book.
This is where my philosophy on religion has pretty much cemented. I highlight the words my philosophy on purpose. Your mileage may vary. You might gain great solace, and comfort from the book. From the churches and the speakers. I don’t. I get the point behind it, but without intentionally insulting anyone, I view it completely different.
The happiness I had as a child from the teachings of Jesus, were based on the good. Anyone who has been taught, or practiced the Christian based faith knows that Jesus was kind. He believed in putting others first. Turning the other cheek. There wasn’t anger, or vengeance in his ways. There wasn’t ego, or small-mindedness. He put others first, and really, the Golden Rule sums it all, and I don’t need a 1200 page book to tell me:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Which brings me full circle back to my cousin. When my cousin became involved in her new church, she really removed herself from all things “Christian-like”. None of the holidays, which she said were actually pagan in nature. (Correct) She celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday, not Sunday (hence part of the reason I explain it to be something like Jews for Jesus), and the biggest; I noticed she didn’t call herself a Christian. I asked why, and she said the term meant to be “Christ Like” and in her teachings we may strive to be Christ like, but we can never expect to achieve it on Earth.
She read the Bible, at least a half dozen times. From back to front. This, from a non-book lover. Actually non-book lover is putting it to mildly. She HATES to read for pleasure. She never got what bibliophiles like myself get from it. But she studied the heck out of that book, and whenever I had a question, I could call her and if she couldn’t answer, she would look into it and come up with an answer.
I had to have some respect for her on that. She was my go-to person on anything remotely Biblical.
The biggest key of respect though? Was her ability to put aside her religious beliefs and do what she could to be Christ-like. She had flaws. We all do. But while many of us do nothing to try and change those flaws, she did. And for someone who follows religion to the closest she can to the teachings of her book, she was handed a doozy of a situation.
Her best friend was Gay.
I wondered soon after she announced her new followings, how this would affect their relationship. I needn’t have worried, because I immediately noticed she never stopped being his friend. Their friendship was as contentious and argumentative and loving and wonderful as it always had been. Being as Orthodox as she is, I marveled at how she managed that, because I knew how far from her world it was. I finally asked her about it, and she explained it simply. She didn’t have to agree with his choices, but it didn’t mean she didn’t have the capability to love the man.
That seems like the path of Christ-like to me. She never judged him. Or if she did, she did it quietly and to herself. She simply walked the walk that she was taught. She presented the best case Christian I could fathom, which is to place love before your righteous belief system.
Now of course I have a point to all of this. I am always very long-winded in getting to that.
One of my aversions to Church and church-goers is the general hypocrisy and judgement. It’s a huge aversion. It’s akin to the feeling you have in those “arrived naked at school” nightmares we all have had. I’ve attended, as stated above, a lot of churches over the years. I’ve yet to find one that didn’t feel exclusionary, and judgmental. I’ve done the Protestant umbrella, the Born-Again, the Non-Denominational, and every single one of them felt the same way. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh you need to try my church” and I have, and while I am with them, it did feel right, but once you’re alone, you are invisible to the people again. Or worst yet visible in the worst way.
Now, let’s take into account the history of the Bible per say. I have questions. Like I said earlier, too many questions. Some are silly child-like questions, like if Adam and Eve were the only ones on earth and they had two sons (Cain and Able) where did Cain and Able’s wives come from? (that question got me a stern warning in Sunday School once) Interpretations over the years, changes made on behalf of different churches , spins on things that suit different churches.
Let’s ice all that up with the historical and current power of the churches. Not just one. ALL of them. They build and destroy countries, and the people who follow along in the name of God, or Allah, or whatever name you use. Almost every war fought, had a religious undertone. Almost all powerful people were either fervent in their own religion, or were puppets to those who were.
But none of it, not one ounce of it followed the path of Christ.
So it confounds me. These people who fight, these people who exclude the unknown, these people who judge, are the same people who will stand and scream for doing things God’s way. We will kill doctors to save embryo’s. We will pour money into the coffers of the governments pockets, that won’t feed our homeless.
Our current administration, and many of their followers are using Romans 13 as an excuse on the immigration issue.
The same people who argue that we need to worry about our own kind before we start helping others, are the same ones I see posting “Type Amen if you agree” meme’s. The Bible Belters who stand fierce and strong are the first to snarl at a small child being ripped from the arms of their mother, coming to this country desperate to escape poverty and violence of their homeland. The Administration who uses Roman’s 13, but ignores Matthew 25:31-46.
See as I see it, is many of these people, they all want to play the part of God in the Old Testament. They want to be the one swinging down the hammer of vengefulness and judgement. They want to be the scary one, but they forget that the true end of the story – at least how I see it, was the kindness that Christ that compelled to everyone.
I mean if we are going to tell the story, shouldn’t we tell the whole thing? Shouldn’t we stop the piece-mealing we are doing here. Grabbing the bits and parts that are relevant to the spin we want to place on something? I think when you open the Pandora’s Box of Religion, you better be able to dish as much as you spew.
I know, I know. Way to religious for some of you. Heck it’s too religious for me. But when in Rome, do as the Roman’s. I don’t pretend to be a good person, but I do strive for it. Most of the time I think I am reaching it, but I think we all have dick-ish qualities that seep out here and there. I know when I’m being less than what I should be, and not because God told me, or a Nun, or Minister, or Religious Person. It’s my heart. My conscious. I have a personal relationship with the God of my choosing. You’ll never knock the Christ out of me. It’s too ingrained and he is too much of a reverent part of my life to erase. While I can’t be certain where logic and fact blur the lines that intertwine with faith, there is little doubt I’ll ever follow an organized religion.
I have a few hot buttons, and hypocrisy is definitely one of them. We can’t have our leaders, who let’s be real here, were never religious before they took the current job (I think they call that pandering) use religion as a tool, if they aren’t going to use it all the way.
It is simply a way of taking what is important to someone (the Bible) and using it as a tool of submission. “Hey hey hey! I found this rule that says as Christians you need to follow my authority, or deal with the judgement that comes!” 45 might as well say. But wait, I have a question *raises hand frantically*
What about the separation of Church and State? If we are following Romans 13, isn’t that in direct contradiction to the powers of separation? Aren’t we also deposing the freedoms of religion and liberty? I mean we are supposing that the Christian way is the only way. No offense to my Christian brethren, but what about the voting Jews? And Hindu’s? And Muslims? I mean what IF I have a religion that states, I don’t know, that there are no such thing as borders. Does my religion trump your rights as an American?
No, you say? Then please for the love of whatever is holy to you, gives your religion the right to trump MY rights as an American? Why does your religion, your interpretation of the Bible, of Roman’s 13 give you the authority to imprison innocent children? Children whose parents are doing nothing more than seeking a better way of life, of political or personal asylum? For the record, coming here isn’t illegal. Attempting to stay here without the proper authorities is. So please, stop calling them all a bunch of illegals.
In a HUGE and overly worded, semi complicated nutshell; you never know who Jesus is, so treat all as if they could be him. ALL. Including brown people crossing your border. With small children. This doesn’t mean open the borders and let all come and go freely. I’m not insane. But how about stopping the assumption that anyone who wants to be here is a criminal. How about we treat them as we would if Jesus H. Christ himself had come knocking on the door. That’s how *I* interpret the situation and Matthew 25.
And heck I know nothing.
*In an ironic way, my mother was nearly Mormon herself. Her mother was one. Her grandfather was an Elder in his church. Her older sister was raised Mormon for years. But for some reason, maybe it was a test of wills, or a compromise, or a change of heart, my grandfather won out with his Presbyterian ways, and the last two kids – my mother included – were baptized and raised Presbyterian. My grandmother eventually left the Mormon Church completely. Maybe she waited for her own father to pass, I don’t know the particular’s. I do know that I have a large family, through cousin’s (not the one mentioned here) and half-siblings that are Mormon now, so trust me when I say no ill intent was ever meant in any of my words here.
Myself? I decided to break the chain of making your kid be whatever you were, for specifically this reason. I am only a hair away from having been raised Mormon, and while I am ingrained to respect the Presbyterian Church, it’s because my mother was, not because I found it on my own.
Go out. Learn religion. Make an educated choice.