Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Religious Upbringing

We became Presbyterians because the Grace Presbyterian church was only one block away from our house on 122 Grace Street.  My mother attended the Broadway Methodist church as a child which was only three blocks further away but she became disappointed in the pastor or the Sunday school experience for her children, I am not sure.  Later on, we changed to the Methodist church for a couple of years after we moved away from Grace Street.  Then we returned again to the Presbyterians.  I am under the opinion, that we changed depending on the pastor and whether my mother liked him or not.   

I remember one incidence during the first Presbyterian experience.  My sister, Jane, four years younger than me came home after Sunday school in tears, with a piece of paper which showed two hearts, one white and one black.  The white heart was the heart of Jesus and the black heart was hers.  My sister was in tears, both my parents were upset and even at my young age, I knew this was way out of line.  This incident has stayed with me, representing the evil done to the development of children in the name of religious indoctrination.

Still, this incident, while not forgotten, was ignored in terms of my being Christianized.  I attended church quite often with my mother getting absorbed into the rituals that helped people feel togetherness within the security of blue eyed Jesus watching us from the huge stain glass window that dominated the sanctuary.

 After my parents were divorced, mother embraced the social aspects of the church more and dragged my sister and me along with her.  I went to Sunday school for a while with 3 of my buddies and we tormented the poor man trying to instruct us about how Jesus would take care of us if we were good Christians and prayed and worshiped as we should.  When we tired of that we stopped going to Sunday school and instead when to a restaurant a block away and ordered soft drinks with our money given to us for the offering.  When Sunday school time was up I would leave and join my mother for service.  As far as I know, she never knew about my “sinful” conduct. 

Later on, the 4 of us when to church youth retreat for a week.  I am not sure how all four of our parents managed to make this happen.  This included a lot of group activities and praying.  What I hated the most was the 15 minutes after breakfast where we supposed to go off by ourselves and communicate with god, a connection I failed to make.  I could never get past the feeling that I was trying to fool myself into believing god and I were making a connection.  And I felt inadequate for failing to do so.  So eventually, the four of us would find each other and shoot the breeze until time was up.  It felt so much better than trying to manufacture a sacred cone filled with pure thoughts and deeds.  Not that I ever expected god to talk to me because that would have caused a new level on concern about my sanity.

Looking back at these moments, I think I realized even then, that I was talking to myself and wishing for things that defied the laws of physics or things that I had not earned.  My Midwestern upbringing honored hard work as the pathway to success and I accepted the adage that one can pray all you want but if you want something, get off your knees and make it happen. 

The only thing I disliked about church camp was religion.  I had a good time playing sports, joining in the group activities, and oh yes, there were girls there.  

The next time I remember religion in my life was during high school football.  One member of our team was quite religious and he gave a prayer as we gathered in a huddle before the game started.  I always wondered why this was necessary, but as a team member I kept quiet because did seem to bring us together as a unit, which is paramount for a team.  We had a good team so we won most of our games, but somehow we got ignored when we lost.  Maybe the other team had a better connection with the man in the sky.

In college I would occasionally attend church, but I really never felt I gained anything out of it and did nothing to ease the stresses of trying to attend to my grades, work for money, and participate in the track team. 

Outside the English Dept. was a bulletin board and I also stopped to see the New Yorker cartoons posted there along with other articles of interest.  I remember reading an article on the Unitarianism.  What I remember was that Unitarians had no creed and people were free to make their own decisions.  There were many things I was never exposed to due to where I grew up and this was certainly an eye opener. 

My last encounter with traditional religion was when I prayed out of desperation during a 2 ½ day period when my wife was labor with our first child.  This was after a full night and day in the waiting room listening to women announce their labor pains with loud and long screams.  I remember praying to keep my wife safe and have our child alive and normal.  I wanted to do something to help and this seemed to be the only option available.  After living a few years now, I have come to realize this is probably the main reason people pray, they are faced with something beyond their control and praying allows them to do something they hope with help. 


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