Do I even belong here? aka the mess that is in my head right now

Note: I broke this up into three posts to save you from reading pages and pages of text, but this post will be all about my confusion, so be forewarned it will be a long, rambling mess.

Clearly, my religion is not something I think about on a day-to-day basis.  But on a daily basis, I do think about what it means to be a good person and how to raise my children to be good people as well.  For me, that means teaching them the following:

  • Be thankful for your family
  • Be thankful for what you have
  • Realize that others don’t have it as well as you do and find ways to help
  • Be considerate of other people’s feelings
  • Be empathetic, think about how you would feel in their place
  • Be kind (my kids think that “stupid” is a bad word)
  • Don’t stand in judgment of others (see the empathy up above)
  • Forgiveness is key (again see empathy)
  • Love is the most important thing

For me, religion at its core is about all of those things.  I’ve always felt that church was a safe, familiar place.  As I said, I don’t have issues with religion’s core teachings but how these things are applied.  To me, all of the above means that I sometimes disagree with what the Catholic church teaches:

  • I support good people falling in love and getting married (even if their body parts don’t match up)
  • I believe in the value of other people’s beliefs (Catholicism is no better than any one else’s religion)
  • I understand how people feel in tough situations and I support their decisions on how to extricate themselves (e.g., unwanted pregnancy and abortion), no matter how difficult that decision is

But they never really talk about these things in church, or at least they didn’t.  Therefore, I would go to church and feel bored, disinterested, but never in disagreement.  Religion to me means all good things at its core.  I generally view gospel readings as a collection of stories that teach the above lessons.

So Sunday, I went to church for the first time in 19 years and the experience was unsettling for me, in a number of ways:

  1. They took my kid away!  I purposely took him to the family mass, so it would be kid-friendly.  I had fond memories of family masses as a kid, being brought up to the altar, etc.  So when they called for the young disciples, I sent him off, and he just didn’t come back.  It was literally the longest he has been out of my sight in public, ever.  He came back super happy, so I guess it was all good, but it took me way off guard.
  2. The new translation – it stripped away any level of familiarity I had with the mass.  All of the prayers/responses I had painstakingly memorized through 17 years of Catholic schooling changed.  And replacing “and also with you” with “and with your spirit” is kinda creepy.
  3. No one sings!  WTF!  The music is better, more approachable and more upbeat than I remember it, so people totally ignore it, at a family mass??
  4. There is very little kneeling, which was kinda good, even those padded kneelers are tough on the old knees, but it was another level of strangeness for me.
  5. Lastly and most confusingly – The gospel and homily made me sort of angry.  I am going to escape from this neat little list now and go into full-on ramble mode.

Apparently this past Sunday was the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”, so I am not sure this is typical of today’s masses.  The homily was all about how Christians are still sneered at for their beliefs, which I can get behind as wrong.  But then he went on and on about fighting against secularism, and that’s where the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  We need to fight against secularism in schools and courthouses.  Actually, no, no we don’t.  Catholicism doesn’t belong in those places.  This goes back to me valuing the beliefs of others and being empathetic to their situation.  We have every right to our beliefs but so do they.

Are we really so conceited to think that Jesus is the king and EVERYONE should acknowledge this fact?  I started to wonder what they were teaching my son in the little room the young disciples were brought to.  Did I approve this message?  My son tends to be someone who really takes in all of his learnings and lives by them.  Did I want him living by this type of message?  This kind of myopia?

And a bigger question came to mind – If I am not going to get on this bangwagon of Jesus is the king and you should all heed His word, do I belong in a Catholic or even Christian church?  I never felt like I didn’t belong in the Catholic Church.  I always felt I could agree with the key messages and beg to differ with how they were applied.

However, a belief in Christ as the Messiah is Christianity.  If I don’t believe that He is the be all and end all, can I still be Catholic?  Can I believe that all religions have equal value and still be Catholic?

Is it okay for me to view the Bible as just a collection of stories that provide important guidelines on how to live and still be Catholic?

If I am not Catholic, what am I?  Being Catholic is more than a religion for me.  It is about my childhood, a lot of beautiful traditions that will otherwise get lost.  My son came home from religion class yesterday with a picture of an advent wreath.  My mind immediately went back to my elementary school days, where these wreaths would be on full display during Advent, as a reminder that the season was about more than presents.  I remembered painstakingly recreating these wreaths from paper.  My dad and my husband had never even heard of an Advent wreath and that made me sad.  If he had never gone to religion class, I wouldn’t have had these wonderful memories and a tradition that used to mean so much would be lost.

Is it okay that I find meaning in these symbols, without believing that Jesus is the one king we should all follow?

I totally believe you can be a good person without being a religious person and I think I am a good person.  But how much of who I am was created by this religious foundation?  It is becoming clearer to me that there is still a lot of religious teachings hiding beneath my non-religious exterior.  If I don’t give my children the same foundation will something be lost?

Is it okay for me to view the religion as a place for comfort, a place for community and a place for my children to learn a strong foundation of what it means to be good, without buying into all the rest?  Am I just over-thinking this whole thing?

If you know me, you know that I am always open to discussion, debate and more information.  But this time, I am asking for it.

Did Santa create the universe?

My son started saying/asking things that bothered me.

First he said, “Oh God!” and I responded with “Don’t say God’s name in vain!”  Then I promptly looked around to see who had said that.  It certainly wasn’t me…but it was.  He asked me what that meant.  I said “we only say God when we are praying”.  He asked me what prayer was.  That question hurt somewhere deep inside.

Last Christmas I had an internal struggle of how to explain the holiday to him.  I wanted him to know that it was about more than Santa and getting gifts.  But what did I want to tell him?  What did I believe?  I really wasn’t sure.  I believed in a higher being, but did I believe that Christmas marked the birth of a baby that was our Messiah?  Eh, probably not.  When I start really looking into the “stories” that make up our beliefs, I start to wonder what separates Western religions from cults?  Is it just that we don’t sacrifice animals or drink blood or poison kool aid? I don’t mean to be offensive just thoughtful. What makes these stories any more believable or normal than the belief that aliens will come to earth to save the righteous?

At the time, I decided to shelve these questions and tell him that Christmas was about being thankful for the people we loved and celebrating this love by giving to and helping others.  Then he asked if Santa created the universe.  That question hurt too, in much the same way as “What is praying?” hurt.

I slowly began to bury these questions as the business of living took precedence but then it became time to sign him up for religious education if I wanted him to receive communion on time.  Did I?  Again, I really wasn’t sure.  This time, my husband didn’t really have an opinion, but shock, surprise I did.  Those hurt parts of me way deep down inside wanted him to know who God was, what prayer meant and that there was a deeper meaning to all of these holidays (even if I wasn’t sure what they were).

So I signed him up for religion and consistent with my feelings about his baptism, I decided that we would start going to church.  I didn’t want him to learn about a religion we didn’t practice.  I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite about it.

So for the first time in nearly 20 years, I went to church for mass – not to celebrate a wedding or a christening or to mourn the dead – but just to worship…

Not even an A&P Catholic

I like to call myself a lapsed catholic. I went through 17 years of catholic schooling which appears to be a polarizing experience. You come out of there embracing your religion or shunning it. I chose the latter route – Not because I had issues with the core church teachings but because I had issues with how people interpret and follow these teachings in ways that are not authentic at best or intolerant and mean at worst.

People who go to church and consider themselves religious aren’t necessarily good people. The bible is not a historically accurate tome. I could be a good person without sitting in a church mindlessly spouting prayers every week. So as soon as it wasn’t a school mandated requirement I stopped going unless someone was dead or getting married.

Then I met my future husband and we started planning a wedding. I had no need to marry in a church but he wanted to so we started the process meeting with my church’s pastor at the time – the church that was the foundation of my religious schooling. He proved to be one of those not nice people. No church for us!

Then we had kids. My husband wanted them baptized out of a sense of tradition. Having been surrounded by religious education most of my life I was against it. I wasn’t prepared to stand in front of a church and lie and say I was going to raise my kids to be active in the faith. I had too much respect for the religion to spit in its face like that. The husband was adamant. I relented. What was the harm?

In my mind though, I was well on the road to not exposing my children to any religion. However, a lifetime of religion proved easy to ignore but not easy to erase and forget.

There was more religion ingrained in me than I even knew….