Posted in Written Word Wednesdays

Written Word Wednesday: A Slow Start (NaNoWriMo 2012)

In-Progress Writing Projects to Finish 5) “Out of Place”

So I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of a writer and issue an apologetic disclaimer before you read my work.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, in its simplest form, it’s writing 50,000 words in 30 days.  Check out the website if you want to find out more.  The other big thing about NaNoWriMo is, in order to write those 50,000 words in 30 days, editing is pretty darn near impossible to do.  So this has not been edited for loopholes, typos, grammatical errors, etc.  Just sayin’.  I’m stopping all you editors out there before you can even start in with that.  😉

This other part is important, so I’m going to take the time to be annoying and bold and italicize it because I really want to drive the point home:
***Please remember these are FICTIONAL characters.  Though in the long run (read: as the story develops and reaches its ending, in a hopefully non-preachy way) it does reflect my morals (I AM the author of the story, after all), I do not–repeat DO NOT–hold all of the same beliefs as the main character.  I have the feeling some people may get offended by some parts of the book.  To those people, I want to quote the great Jenny Lawson:

“…[S]omewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think  it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, ‘Oh, that is way over the  line.’ I apologize for that one thing.  Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Seriously, though, it was not my intention to offend people with this story.  I just feel have a point of view to get across, and I hope that that point of view will be obvious as more of the story unfolds.  Please give it a chance before assuming things about my stance.  Because you know what they say about when you assume things.  😉  And I would like to just throw out there, if you’ve been reading my blog or if you know me in real life, you’ll know which parts I’m serious about and which I’m not.  To those people, I thank you for not hating me.

One last stalling method thing I want to emphasize:  Though it may seem like it, I really wasn’t trying to diss/make fun of/stereotype the South.  I’m trying really hard to not make it come off that way, but I fear I’m not doing a good job so far.  To the contrary, this story was greatly influenced by me desperately wanting to pay homage to the unique beauty of the South:  people steeped in history, southern charm, fierce loyalty to family, and an unshakable faith; a rich setting full of stories, specific mannerisms and comfort food.  I greatly respect the South even though I only lived there for about a year.  I find it a romantic part of the country and in this story I hoped to capture my fascination and love of it.

Okay, enough stalling.  Here goes.  Constructive criticism welcome (hateful comments will be deleted).  Enjoy!  🙂

(c) Copyright VC/GS listlovelaugh.wordpress.com

Out of Place

Prologue

Mama patted down a nonexistent stray hair on her slicked-back, tight bun.  The contact of dry lace glove on layers of hair spray caused her to retract a little from the static electricity.  Out of the corner of my other eye, I saw Daddy reaching into his good dress jeans’ pocket to pull out his old white cotton handkerchief and hand it across my lap.  Mama took it appreciatively, carefully dabbing at where her eyeliner turned up precisely, leaving a black smudge on the monogrammed T.

Probably hand-stitched on there by Memaw herself, I thought, as Pastor Jim took his place at the lectern.  I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Memaw would never hand-stitch another monogram again.

“Roberta Faith Tucker was a woman of God until her very last breath,” he began.  I looked around the room at the congregation, which, as always, was the entire population of Duncan.  Being that our little town only contained 200 people, it wasn’t so hard to do.  The community ball game was cancelled, so if anyone missed Memaw’s funeral, I’m sure all the other blue hairs would be making some behinds red and raw for disrespecting their dear friend.

“She was the epitome of this town, born in Duncan General and never missing a Sunday morning here at First Baptist.  She took the land that God gave her and lived off of it.  I’ll always remember the extra tomatoes and fresh eggs she’d deliver to us.  And she’d put the best hoedowns on, didn’t she?”

The town nodded in agreement.

“I think when I learned how to square dance from her, she had the loudest ‘yeehaw’ of them all.  Oh, and her sweet tea and peach cobbler.  Don’t mean no disrespect, ma’ams.”  He dipped his head quickly in the direction of Memaw’s closest friends in the front row.  It was completely eerie and surreal watching every one of them mumble in agreement.  If it was any other day, they’d stop short of exchanging blows arguing over whose sweet tea and peach cobbler were the best in all of Georgia; in all of the south for that matter.  In other words, many “bless your ever-lovin’ heart”s would be uttered.  Them’s fightin’ words among the old bitties.

“Like everyone else in this town, she was born here and she was called to her Maker here.  She loved this town too much to leave.”

I started to squirm, and Mama mistook it for a gesture of grief.

She reached out and tried to comfort me the way she always used to, by tucking a stray curl behind my ear.  Out of habit, I immediately pulled the ever-present hair tie off my wrist and slicked my hair into a ponytail to avoid further contact.

“I don’t know why you never put it into a braid like when you were little,” she whispered. “Your Memaw always liked it that way because it made you look like Laura Ingalls.”

“Because that’s when I was little.  I’m not little anymore,” I replied, a little harsher than I meant to.

“Roberta Grace Tucker,” my mother started.  “You do not take that tone with me.  For one, I’m your mother.  For two, we are in the House of the Lord.  And three, you are disrespecting the very person we named you after.  While she’s being praised, no less.”

“Sorry, Mama.”

I shifted my focus back to what the pastor was saying, trying to glean a lesson from the few words I actually paid attention to.  He had taken a break from soliloquizing Memaw and got swept away in his hellfire and brimstone shtick.  When he switched to “I’ll strike the fear of God into your hearts” mode, everything started to blur together and it became hard to differentiate this particular moment in time from any other Sunday.  Those were the times where wished I had a tape recorder so I could go to Ginny’s Saloon next door, replay it, and turn it into a drinking game:  one shot every time he said “sacrifice,” two shots every time he said “mighty”, and chug if he mentions a second coming.  No matter that I was underage; Ginny’d known me since I was born.  She’d been offering beers to me with a smile ever since Daddy started taking me with him when I was thirteen.

“As you know, Miss Berta was a prominent socialite here in Georgia, and was well-known at many country clubs all over the south.  The Lord had blessed with her with many riches, and she was gracious enough to leave First Baptist with a third of that.  Another third she donated to her favorite charities.  The third, of course, went to her precious granddaughter, our very own Bobbie Grace.”

For a second, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I knew my Memaw loved me, and I also knew she was loaded, but I never really imagined the two would come together in this strange way.

“Mama?  Daddy?”  The looks on their faces confirmed what she was saying.
“She saw God in your heart, honey.  She knew you’d do His will with what she gave you, and we agree.  That, and she knew you’d be needing some money for a wedding and little ones soon.”

My face turned red.  Maybe the only thing that stuck in my southern upbringing was to respect your elders, and I respected my Mama enough to not break her heart and tell her I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God.

“Oh, that’s okay, honey.  We know you don’t have a southern gentleman in your life right now, but you will soon, if we have anything to say about it.”

Misread me again.

“Mama, I’m eighteen.”

“That’s okay, honey,” she said again.  “Ain’t too late yet.  Don’t you fret none.  Remember that Lonnie Mae didn’t get married until twenty?  You’ve got time.  But you can’t wait too long, now.  Your eggs are probably already drying up.  You got your Memaw’s money, now.  That’ll attract you someone.  And you’re pretty, too,” she added, as if that fact were an afterthought.

I bit my tongue and took a deep breath, choosing my next words carefully.  “Don’t you worry, Mama.  I am going to do something great with my future with that money.”

***

Chapter One

“Classes went great, Mama.”  It was Sunday, and our once-a-week calls had started to get less awkward for me.  The first few weeks she’d put Daddy on the phone first so that he could tell me how disappointed he was in me, and how much I was disrespecting Duncan for doing what I did.  Then Mama’d come on the phone and cry and tell me everyone at church had been praying for my soul.  I don’t think I quite convinced her that Portland, Oregon wasn’t hell yet.  Baby steps, though.

“That’s good, baby.”  I could tell she was forcing her enthusiasm, so I tried a different approach.

“I put my hair in a braid today and the boy who sits behind me in debate said it looked nice.”  It was mostly true.  My hair was in a braid, and the boy who sat behind me did compliment it, but that was only because the braid brought out the purple and blue highlights I put in my hair.  He was an art major who said he admired the light and shadow and that he may have to borrow me to paint someday.  I told him that sounded like fun.  But if I told my mom that, she’d not only get at me for ruining what God had already made perfect, but also for acting like a lady with questionable morals.  Best not to tell her that part.

“I told you, Bobbie Grace.  The good ones will take a proper country girl over a devil-worshiping city girl any day.  Is this boy handsome?”

“Yes, actually, he is.”  I didn’t think about that until now, but now that she’d mentioned it, he was easy on the eyes.

“What’s his name?”

“Elijah.”

“A wonderful Christian name.”

Uh-oh.  I knew that tone in her voice.  She was already planning a baby shower for me.

“No, Mama.  It’s not like that.”

“Sure, honey.  Now I’m gonna get off the phone with you because you know what time it is.”

“Time for me to go to church?”

“I taught you well.  Love you, baby.”

“Love you, Mama.”

 

Chapter Two

One of the great ironic things I found nearby Portland State University’s campus was a bar.  The fact that there was a bar wasn’t the ironic thing; it was the name of this particular one.  What was great about it was that you didn’t have to be twenty-one to enter.  If you showed your student ID at the door, they’d let you into the restaurant part to study.  I didn’t think anything of it the first day I went there until a waiter came up to me and said, “Welcome to Church.  What can I get for you today?”

“Wait, what?  Did you just say Church?”

“Yep, that’s the name of the bar.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope.  We get that a lot, actually.  You know how there are bars with funny names, like ‘At Work’ or ‘None of Your Business?’  Well, the owners decided to call this place Church.”

I was astounded.  I’d found a place to go where I wouldn’t have to lie when I told Mama I went to Church on Sunday.  It was a sign.

“Did you need a minute?”  He was asking politely, but you could tell he was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Do I ever.  “Yes, please.”

“Sure thing.  I’ll be back in a little while.”

While perusing the menu and trying to choose between angel wings (with a side of Daily Bread, no less) and the Sunday Fried Chicken (Christ’s Casserole being a close third due to my curiosity), I heard my waiter and his boss chatting.

“I didn’t know he was moving back!  Well, this calls for a celebration.  Go ahead and go early.  The rest of us can hold down the fort.”

The waiter hurried back with a huge grin.  “Looks as if I’m heading out now.  Bridgette will be taking care of you now.”

“Thanks,” I replied.  “Enjoy your night off.”

“Oh, I will!”  In his haste he forgot to take off his nametag and apron.  My gaze followed him out through the front door, where another man was waiting for him.  To my surprise, he picked up my waiter, twirled him around enthusiastically, then planted a passionate kiss on him on the way down.

I felt a little sick inside.  It wasn’t ever something I’d seen before in Duncan, and it made me horribly uncomfortable and even a little offended that someone would be outright sinning in front of Church.  Never mind that it wasn’t really a church.  It was the principle of the thing.  All of a sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore.  I set the menu down and walked out the door, turning my head in the direction facing away from the newly reunited homosexual couple.

***

Since that day, I’d been back to Church several times, but always cautiously.  I couldn’t really deal with running into the waiter I met on my first visit.  I assumed that the boss had let him take some vacation time to be able to hang out with his surprise visitor.  I counted myself lucky in the regards that I hadn’t seen the waiter or his offensive behavior since.

“More tea, Bobbie, hon?”  By now I’d been coming here so much that Bridgette knew me on a first name basis.  Though for some reason, it really bothered me that she didn’t add “Grace” to it.  My name just didn’t sound right without it.

“Yes, please.”  I held out my cup to have it refilled.  Mama would probably call me a sinner if I told her that Church’s sweet tea would hold its own at the annual contest at the Duncan County Fair.  Truthfully, it was one of the only reasons I kept coming back to Church.  It was the cheapest thing on the menu and it came with endless refills.  So far, none of the food I tried was anything to write home about.

“Let me go and just grab a full pitcher for you, too, so you don’t have to wait for more,” Bridgette said after emptying the one she held in her hand.

“That would be great, thank you.”  I buried my nose in my education 101 textbook while Bridgette disappeared to the drink station.  I was really enjoying what I was learning so far, and I started to get lost in the material about different learning styles.

“Bobby!”  I heard Bridgette call excitedly on the way back to me.  She almost dropped the pitcher of sweet tea in her haste to the front of the bar.  I was a little confused; I didn’t realize she enjoyed my patronage so much.  I opened my mouth to answer her enthusiastic calling out of my name, but stopped myself when she just plopped the pitcher hurriedly on my table and ran right by me.

Huh.  When they said “Keep Portland weird,” I guess they really weren’t kidding.  I shook my head in amusement and turned to see what the fuss was about.

Bridgette had her arms around the first waiter and his—it disgusted me to even think about it—boyfriend.

“Welcome back!  We missed you around here.  Almost thought you were going to leave me all alone to rot.  Hey, good lookin’.  Long time, no see.”  She winked at the visitor.

“And miss out on all the fun?  Not a chance.”

“Ha.  You mean the money.”

“Shh, don’t let Shawn hear about that.  You’ll ruin the impression we worked so hard to build that we actually like working here.”

“Too late, slackers.”  The manager walked out to check out the commotion, but when he saw who it was, he playfully punched both the waiter and Bridgette in the arm.  I couldn’t help but wonder how long the trio had been friends to have such camaraderie.

“Well, look.  It’s the new girl!”  The waiter took the hand of his guy and brought him over to me proudly.

I could feel my face heating up from embarrassment.

“Good job, Bridge.  Kept her coming without me.  What’d you do, bribe her?”

“Nah, I just flashed her a little leg and made an agreement to always wear revealing shirts around her.”  She winked at me, and for a second I had a horrifying realization.
“Wait.  No, no I’m not attracted to her.  I’m not…I…wait, is this…?”  I couldn’t quite get the last words out of my mouth.

Bridgette and the waiter, who apparently had the same name as I did, exchanged a mental conversation that didn’t include me.

“Don’t worry, I got this,” she said aloud as she took a seat across from me.

“Um…you don’t have to give me special attention.  You can go ahead and take care of the other customers.”

“Uh-huh, sure.  When we get them.”

I followed her glance around the place and realized I was the only one there.

“To answer your question, no, this is not a gay bar.  Also, I was just messing with you.  I didn’t realize you’d take it so personally, so for that I’m sorry.  Don’t you ever mess around like that with your friends?”

I exhaled in relief.  I wasn’t sending out a bad impression, after all.  “No, no I don’t.  That’s really a horrible thing to call someone, you know.”

“What?”

I lowered my voice, not wanting to be rude.  “You know,” I repeated.  “Like the boy Bobby.”

“Honey, if you can’t even say the word gay, I’m not sure this is the place for you.”

“Are you?”

“I’m not, but I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“Doesn’t it bother you to see Bobby kissing another man?”

“Does it bother you to see two people who love each other show their affection?”

“Not at all.  As long as it’s a man and a woman.  It’s what…”

Bridgette put her hand up in protest.  “If you finish that sentence with, ‘God intended’, then I think we’re done here.”

“Do you have a problem with me having faith?”  I couldn’t figure out why I felt the need to defend myself.

“Of course not.  In fact, Bobby and Peter—his domestic partner, though it would be his husband, if they both had their way—have both been going to the Presbyterian church down the street for as long as I’ve known them.  I do, however, have a problem with you disrespecting my friends.”

“I wasn’t disrespecting them.  I’m just telling the truth.  They’re committing a sin.  What would you do if you saw someone murdering another person in your restaurant?  You wouldn’t just sit idly by.”

“In what universe is murder and being gay even remotely the same?”

“In mine.  You know, maybe you’re right.  Maybe this isn’t the place for me.  I’m sure Bobby and Peter are lovely people, but I don’t respect their values.  Thank you, though, for having such great customer service.  I’m going to have to find a different place to study.”

“Just as well.  You don’t fit in with this crowd, anyway.  Continue with your education.  Something tells me you really need it.”

Before I could come up with a retort, Bridgette was already at Bobby’s side, relaying the story to him.  Instead of looking angry as Bridgette had gotten, though, Bobby just looked incredibly hurt.  I caught a glimpse of him waving to me in a gesture of hopeful reconciliation, but like the first time I met him, I turned my head away and walked out the door.

I wasn’t in the wrong back there, I told myself as I started down the sidewalk back to my apartment.  A romantic relationship should be between a man and a woman.  That’s just how it is.  People love their pets, but it doesn’t mean they should marry them.  What a ridiculous notion.  Even though I knew I was right, I couldn’t shake the image of Bobby’s hurt face.  I started to get an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the complimentary slice of Coca-Cola cake.

***

(c) Copyright VC/GS listlovelaugh.wordpress.com

Hopefully Next Wednesday I’ll Have Actually Made My Word Count Goal!!!  (Right now I’m about 9000 words behind.  Ugh.)

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Posted in Spiritual Sundays

Spiritual Sunday: The Full Church Experience

I would so appreciate it if you could read my Terms & Conditions for reading Spiritual Sunday posts before continuing.  Thank you.  🙂

Before I start, I should mention that I have indeed seen the article about the nuns vs. Pope Benedict.  I guess the reason why I chose not to do a full-on blog post about this is because I feel it’s being discussed everywhere and the general consensus is to say, “God bless those nuns.”  Or, rather, most people are on the nun’s side, me included.  If you’re curious, this is what I said about it on Facebook:  “Oh, dear Benedict…you’ve definitely let this whole popetatorship go to your head. And with that, I say God bless these nuns.  Because, really? Poverty? Social justice? *sarcastic gasp* How DARE they?!? Also, WWJD (in the whole Who Wants Jelly Donuts sense…okay, fine. Really. What would Jesus do? Certainly not this.)”

Anyhow, when I set up this blog, I knew that I didn’t want to get horribly political in my discussions.  I suppose that’s what political blogs (and agendas) are for.  I want my posts to be civil and open-minded, and I want to avoid any heated debates at all costs.  Therefore, I choose to post things that are more friendly-discussion-based in nature, mostly for my own (and others’) education.  So with that, here’s my actual post:  🙂

*~*~*~*~*~*

As I’ve previously discussed, I’ve been to different kinds of church services.  With each experience, I learn something more about myself and my religious beliefs.  In addition to that, I start to form what kind of church experiences I enjoy and feel comfortable in.  Within the last year or so, I also came to form my (very humble and unique) opinion of what “the full church experience” should be.  In other words, I’ve discovered what my own personal “important parts of church” are, or which things contribute to it.  They follow, in no particular order of importance:

      1)  A welcome to everyone, new and visiting–I think it’s important to emphasize that the church is a welcoming community to all.  Taking the time to acknowledge everyone is important in a service to me because I want everyone to feel comfortable with the choice to come and worship.  And even if the ones who step into a church are not religious people, I want them to feel as if they are not being shunned.  I will always maintain that the God’s and the church’s message is one of love and acceptance for all.  If a church didn’t have this, I would say they’re not even practicing the fundamentals of Christianity.

  2)  The Bible, or equivalent religious text–It’s my assumption that churches and religions are bound together by a common set of beliefs.  In that way, I think some reference to these stories and ways of life is necessary.  I personally like having examples by which to live by; otherwise, I (humbly) believe that church would simply be nothing but a speech.  After that statement, though, my thoughts on religious text and how to present it in a church become much more complex.

I know I will get criticized for saying this, but I do believe that we as people should be smart and independent enough to figure out what parts of these religious texts to follow.  To put it simply, I believe religious texts should be used as a vehicle for good, not evil.  Keeping just those qualifications in mind, I would say that the Tao Te Ching (the book on Taoism) is perhaps the most perfect example of a “religious text” (though, as those following Taoism know, there really aren’t hard, fast rules when it comes to Taoism…just suggestions and simply being).  What I know of the Tao Te Ching is that it has applications, but no “you shoulds” and “you shouldn’ts” as most other religious texts do.

So I suppose in my perfect church world, we would reflect on the humanitarianism, love, acceptance, and miracles of the Bible, not all the horrendous things like murdering, casting people out, and suffering.  Now, I know what some of you may be thinking:  the Bible is God’s word, and it should be followed to the core.  Not true.  The Bible is actually composed mostly of human accounts, with many differing versions of the same event, because as we all know, humans aren’t perfect.  On top of that, it has been translated into so many different languages that original meanings can definitely get lost in translation.  And if one wants to follow the Bible to its core, then they should themselves follow through 100%–not just stopping at ostracizing those who are different from them (homosexuality comes immediately to mind), but also cheating on their spouses, stoning (i.e., murdering) disobedient children, wearing hats or having a shaved head when going to church (if you’re a woman), not owning any possessions (ANY.  Like, not even a toothbrush.), not planning ANYTHING in your life (marriages, kid’s birthday parties, what you’re going to have for dinner…), still have slavery, forgive all debts after 7 years…the list goes on and on.

How the religious text is introduced in church is another story.  Really, I think it should be in any way you feel comfortable with.  Personally, I’ve been uncomfortable in churches that treat their service like a college lecture, with everyone having their Bible for reference to highlight certain verses they cover during sermon, taking notes, and having those verses behind the pastor on a PowerPoint presentation behind them.  But that’s me and my own learning style.  Many people do very well in that setting, and learn the best in that way.

3) Prayer–I kinda figured this was always a given, but I’m not an expert on every single religion/church out there.  I’m more about the quiet, reflective prayer to yourself, or the group prayer where you and the congregation pray for peace, but if loud prayer’s more your style, go for it.  I just think a conversation with your respective god is important in the faith.  After all, if you’re believing in something you can’t technically experience with your senses (though I argue the opposite…I truly believe God is in nature and in humanity and you can see it through the beautiful colors He provides us, the sounds of laughter, what the heart feels with love…that is experiencing God through the senses…but that’s a different topic), then speaking to this thing you can’t see is the best expression of your faith, no?

4) Hymns/Singing–There’s something so healing about joining with the congregation in worshipful singing.  I especially like songs based on original prayers or hymns from the Bible (or your respective Holy Book), because then it’s applicable to what you’re being taught or what you’re “supposed” to read (see point #2).  To put melody to the healing/happy parts of the Bible/Holy Book gives one the chance to reflect in more detail on that passage, in my opinion.  With me, for example, the Prayer of St. Francis sticks out.  I’m not the type of person who could quote Bible passages by heart, but I can definitely tell you my favorite hymns and why, and refer fellow Christians to the lyrics of those hymns during difficult times.  I guess it doesn’t hurt that I used to be a pianist for a church and so would know hymns better than most, but I could do this before I even had that job. 🙂

5) Communion–Out of everything, I think this might be the one that most people would disagree with.  But there is something about the sacredness of communion to me, a symbolism of everyone coming to the table and being able to partake in something holy, no matter what your station in life is, is absolutely beautiful and very epitomizes what I think church–and religion, for that matter–should be.  I should now take the time to emphasize and repeat what I just said:   no matter what your station in life is.  I realize this is a major point of contention in many churches, but I believe that anyone, as long as their heart is in the right place, should be able to receive communion.  I disagree with churches of certain denominations (mine included) that have a sort of unsaid rule (actually, it’s usually written in a book or program) that if you’re of a different denomination, you should be respectful and not go up to communion.  But they don’t necessarily check up on these things beforehand (except for the incident where a lesbian was denied communion at her mother’s funeral, which, if you haven’t figured it out by now, completely disappoints and enrages me).  Still, this shunning practice is something that I believe should be done away with.  If someone is truly wanting to give their heart to this particular religion, who do the higher-ups think they are to stop that person?  There are many instances that I can think of where God/Jesus welcomed someone into His arms that society otherwise shunned:  lepers, blind people, poor people, etc.  Now, this statement is null and void if someone is going up to communion as an act of mockery and spite.

So that’s it.  The full church experience, as outlined by one opinionated Violet.  What do you guys think?  Is there anything I left out?  Any of the above that you don’t think should be a part of a church?  I would love to know below.

To experiencing things you have faith in to the fullest,

 

 

Posted in Spiritual Sundays

Spiritual Sunday: To baptize or not to baptize? That, among many others, is the question.

Please read my Terms & Conditions for reading Spiritual Sunday posts before continuing.  Thank you!  🙂

I have to start by saying I’m not a parent yet, but my husband and I definitely want a kid in the future.  If you’ve read my religious background, you may understand why I’m a little torn on the subject of how to religiously bring up our future offspring.

The topic of religion and what we plan on passing on to our kids (if anything at all) has come up many times in our marriage.  For the most part, I think we agreed that he’s okay with baptizing the kid as a Catholic, just to have a religious basis, but to let him or her decide for themself what they want to believe in (or not believe in, if the case may be).

This agreement has since brought up many other questions:  who would we choose as godparents?  Would my husband then agree to convert to the Catholic faith?  What about the godparents?

The idea of godparents are also a strange one.  Traditionally, godparents are chosen to help the child in his or her religious education and to support that child spiritually.  More often, though, godparents are seen as the people who take over guardianship should the legal parents become incapacitated.

One thing I have to disclose is I’m sorta kinda (okay, fine, REALLY) obsessed with the TV show Gilmore Girls.  I’ve watched the entire series at least 5 times over and can probably tell you the entire plot of an episode after only 3 seconds into it.  I tend to talk about the characters in the show like they’re real people sometimes.  So relating posts to Gilmore Girls episodes may happen more often than not.  (I promise this is going somewhere…)

There’s one episode that I remember when Lorelai (the mother) and Rory (the daughter) are asked to become godmothers to Lorelai’s best friend Sookie’s two children (Did you follow that okay?  Sorry about that).  Neither Lorelai nor Rory are terribly religious (they’re pretty accepting of everything), but both felt like they were under a microscope when they were presented with godparent responsibility.  They engage in a one-upping “I’m holier than thou” contest in front of the pastor who’s giving all the godparents a “religious interview,” for lack of a better term.  The comedic conversation goes as follows:

(Taken from crazyinternetpeople.com)
REV.SKINNER: So, I always like to take a few minutes before my baptisms to get to know the godparents a little bit. Of course I already know you two, but I just want to touch base and make sure you understand the obligations of what you’re getting into here today. Now, basically, godparents are responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their godchildren. I certainly hope the parents throw their two cents in, but the godparents are vitally important figures in a child’s life. So, tell me, what are your religious affiliations?
LORELAI: Oh, well, Reverend, you’ve known us forever.
REV.SKINNER: Well, yes, I have, and I still have no idea what your religious affiliations are.
LORELAI: Oh…
RORY: Well…
LORELAI: We’re a bit lapsed.
REV.SKINNER: Yes. From…?
LORELAI: Well, um…religion. But, you know, I can’t speak for Rory, but I have a strong belief in good…you know…over evil. I mean, if I was asked to choose a side…
RORY: I read “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe”.
LORELAI: I have a bible. Although I may or may not have accidentally given it to Goodwill, because I’m remodelling. But Goodwill is a religious organization… I think. But even if it’s not, good will. It’s in the ballpark.
RORY: I buy tons of girl-scout cookies.
LORELAI: I have two “Mary is my homegirl” T-shirts.
REV.SKINNER: Well, these are all very positive if somewhat irrelevant things. And it seems like your hearts are in the right place.
RORY: Absolutely.
LORELAI: Definitely.
REV.SKINNER: And it says something good about you both that when a friend calls you up and asks a favour, you come through like this.
LORELAI: (obviously having figured something out) Right, right.
REV.SKINNER: Shall we?
RORY: We shall.

This brings up an important point.  Above even spiritual upbringing, I’d look for good role models for my children.  If they are good people and their hearts are in the right place, then I think that’s who I’d entrust my children to.  But what happens when the people you want to be your child’s godparents are atheists?  I would feel bad forcing someone who didn’t believe in God into such a religious ceremony.  And what would the church think?  Or would we all just try to cover up the fact?  Has anyone out there with kids ever run into this problem, or know what the solution is?

Then comes up the religious upbringing itself.  If our kid is baptized Catholic, he or she would then eventually be expected to participate in the other sacraments:  confession, confirmation, and communion being among them.  We’re both a bit wary of our kid going “that far” into the Catholic religion.  At that point, we’d feel like we’re forcing only that one belief on our kid, and he or she wouldn’t feel quite comfortable exploring other religious/non-religious avenues.  So why even bother with baptism, you ask?  I guess I’m not so sure myself.  To me, it’s just something that I’ve been brought up with…a ceremony as much of a rite of passage as getting a driver’s license or graduating high school.  It’s as logical to me as a first birthday party when it comes to normal childhood events.  Of course, this isn’t true for everyone.

What happens as the child grows up?  We’re both afraid of the time when the child is old enough to realize that Mom & Dad don’t go to church together.  How to explain that awkwardness?  Would I even bother to take the child to church if we want the child to be free to choose their own belief system?

In the end, I think we both want to provide our child with something to believe in, no matter what that may be.  If there is anything we both agree in, it’s that it’s important to learn faith in something, if in nothing else but humankind.

What do you guys think?  Do you think it’s important that both parents have the same spiritual/non-spiritual background?  How vital do you think religion is to a child’s development?  If a child is left to their own devices to figure out what they want to believe in, do you think this will just end up in them being spiritually confused or lost?

I know I’ve asked many more questions than I usually do, and that I’ve wandered in thought much more than I usually do, but it’s a conversation I’ve been wanting to start for awhile.  And I believe that the best conversations have lots of questions!

Here’s to believing in something,

Posted in Spiritual Sundays

Spiritual Sunday: My Religious Background & What I Gave Up for Lent

Leave it to me to do the heaviest topic on my blog days first.  I guess I’m a sucker for a challenge.

Since this is my very first blog post, I’d like to give you the courtesy of talking a little bit (or a lot a bit, depending on how this goes) about my religious background.

But before that, I’d like to reiterate what I ask for on my Spiritual Sundays posts: that this be a forum full of respectful discussion and comments.  It takes a lot of guts for me to talk about something so personal, and I’d like to think that the blog followers I attract are people who are good people in the world.  I know that in reality that may not be humanly possible, but a girl can dream, can’t she?  Okay, carrying on…

My Religious Background:

About five years ago, I started describing myself as a “rebel Catholic.”  Before my parents got married, my mother was a devout Catholic, and my father was a different religion.  Since the wedding was a traditional Catholic one, my father quickly and only-too-happily converted.  So as a child, I was raised Catholic:  I was baptized, had my first communion (beforehand, I did my first and only confession.  Being only eight years old at the time, the only thing I could think to confess was lying about my little brother being the one who accidentally broke a coffee cup.  Deep, I know.), went to Mass every Sunday.  I owned (and still own) a rosary.  I said my Hail Marys.  I could probably tell you the (old school—but we’ll get more into that later) Order of Mass (as in, when to sit, stand, and kneel) in my sleep.

Even though I went to public school, as luck would have it, all my friends just happened to also be Catholic.  At least, all my friends who felt comfortable enough to share their religious beliefs with me.  So when holidays came up and they asked me to go to church with them, I went, and of course the routine was familiar.  And so I went blissfully and naively along in my religious journey.

Then came a day my junior year in high school when I learned something I didn’t know before.  Sitting at the lunch table, someone asked the group what our weekend plans were.  Ironically, I think it was the Friday before Easter weekend, or Good Friday for all you folks in-the-know out there.  I told her I was most likely going to Mass on Sunday.  Specifically those words.  I remember her nose scrunching up a bit, and her head tilting to the side.  “Mass?  Huh.  You must be Catholic.”  She said it with a hint of criticism in her voice.

At once I felt self-conscious.  But then the curious and sassy, defensive part of me came out:  “Yeah, I’m Catholic.  Is there something wrong with that?”

“Well…I don’t know.”

Then my friend, bless her (pardon the expression), came to my rescue:  “You don’t know?  What’s the big deal?  Why, what religion are you?”

“I’m Christian.”

“But what kind of Christian?”  My friend asked.

“Mormon.”

Now, I realize that this could’ve sparked a whole new debate, but I quickly interrupted:  “Wait, what?  There are different kinds of Christians?”

The girl looked flabbergasted.  “Of course there are.  Where have you been?”

“Well, I thought everyone who believed in God are Christians.”  (I’d like to put an aside here, that I wasn’t so completely out of touch with the world that I didn’t know there were different religions/non-religions.  I was well aware of the existence of atheism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Bahai, and on and on and on…)

“Well, sort of.”

“Sort of?  What does that mean?”  I thought it was pretty cut and dry:  you believed in God, you were Christian.  You didn’t believe in God, you weren’t Christian.  I was completely confused.  This whole time I thought that Catholicism was Christianity.  The fact that there were different ways to be a Christian had never crossed my mind.

She remained quiet, not wanting to start a commotion.

I pressed on:  “I’m confused.  I thought all Christians went to Mass?”

“Well, no.  Only Catholics go to Mass.  Other Christians go to service.”

Service?  Hm.  I’d never heard that phrase before.

I remember going home and telling my mother about the conversation.  She looked amused and a bit concerned that I hadn’t yet learned about the denominations, but I told her it was just something that hadn’t ever come up before.  She just shrugged her shoulders and didn’t go more into anything.  She admitted she didn’t know much about other denominations since Catholicism was really all she knew, and that if I wanted to learn about the other denominations, I’d have to ask someone else.

Being that I was 16 and had other homework and social obligations to attend to, I decided to not take on that research project.  Miraculously, the subject of religion only came up once more during my high school experience.  It was when my best friend moved away, and per our rules that we set forth for letter-writing to do a back and forth version of 20 Questions, he asked, “Do you believe in God, and if so, do you think he’s out to get you?”  For the life of me, I can’t remember how I answered that.

Freshman year of college came around, and as irony would have it, the “Mass” conversation happened again.  This time around, I got a smirk from a Baptist girl who lived on my dormitory floor.  As I was a little older, and I was feeling a bit more experimental because I thought college was the perfect time to figure out who you were, I actually got the nerve to say, “Well, I’m looking for a bible study to join around here.  Do you have any suggestions?”

“Actually, yes!  I’m going to bible study tonight and you’re welcome to come with me.”

That bible study was one of the most emotionally traumatic experiences I went through in college.  Since I was a little homesick, missing my friends from high school, and a single girl who never had a serious boyfriend, I came into the bible study already feeling emotionally fragile.  But I went there with an open mind and heart, fully wanting bible study to be a good experience where I could get spiritual support from the community.  At the end of the bible study, which admittedly was fine until that point, the pastor opened up the floor for any questions we had.  In a small, timid voice, I asked, “Is it wrong to ask God for love?”  It was such a hard question to ask, to admit that I was selfish enough to ask God for such a thing.

The pastor was quick to answer with a question of his own:  “Have you taken Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior?”

I paused.  I had never been asked that question before.  It was really never something I’d thought about.  I knew what I believed according to the Apostle’s Creed, but I didn’t know about this whole taking Jesus into my heart thing.  It sounded a little hokey to me.  And what did that have to do with asking God for love?

I must’ve thought a little too long, because then the pastor said, “Well, if you have to pause to answer, then obviously you haven’t.  Until you can say for certain and without pause that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, none of your prayers will be answered.”

I was shocked.  And also very, very hurt.  It took every ounce of pride to keep my head high and walk out of that bible study.  Once I reached the privacy of my dorm room, I burst into tears.  Here I had very vulnerably revealed a piece of my heart, only to be completely made a fool of.  Suffice it to say, I never went back to that bible study.

Eventually I found the Catholic student group on campus and fell back into my familiar routine.  I was so scarred by my one attempt to try a different denomination that I didn’t dare want to do it again.

(**Author’s note:  Though it sounds like I have something against Baptists, I genuinely don’t.  I just unfortunately had really bad experiences with them in college.  I actually have since made many Baptist friends who have proved to me that, as I always believed, there are “bad seeds” in every religion or non-religion.  It’s the PEOPLE, not the BELIEF, that are crazy.  But more on that later.)

As freshman year went on, I befriended a girl a couple years older than me from my floor (though she was also Baptist, she wasn’t the same girl who invited me to the bible study).  We actually ended up becoming really close, and we’d spend a lot of time together talking about life, eating lunch together, watching movies, and walking all around our small college town.  Eventually she invited me to attend church with her.  Since by then I respected and trusted her, I agreed to give it a try.  Again, I went with an open mind and heart.  Though it was a different format than Mass(they brought bibles to service and took notes, so it felt more like a class than worship), I generally received the same message.  I really enjoyed myself and continued to go several times.  In turn, I invited my friend to go to Mass with me, and likewise, she agreed to go.  Like me, she was a little taken aback at first by the different format, but she also quite enjoyed herself.  I participated in some of her church’s activities and really thought this experience was really helping to broaden my horizons.

One day as we were walking back from the grocery store (I didn’t have the luxury of a car back in my college days), the conversation took on a serious turn.  “Violet, you know you’ve become quite a dear friend to me.”

I was flattered.  “Aw, thank you.  You’ve become quite a dear friend to me, too.”

She paused for a bit.  Whatever she wanted to say, I could tell it was hard for to do.  I smiled at her encouragingly.  “When I pass away, I really look forward to seeing all my loved ones there.”

Immediately, I was concerned.  Was she dying?  “Me too,” I replied.

“The reason I bring this up is because I’m sad for you.  You see, even though you’ve been going to my church, you’re still going to your church, too.  Do you still call yourself a Catholic?”

“For all intents and purposes, yes.  That’s what I associate most with, and what I feel most comfortable with.  So yes.”

She sighed, looking completely torn apart.  “That’s what I was afraid of.”

I braced myself for what she was about to say.  It didn’t sound like this conversation was going well.

“I’ve been sad these last few weeks because I know you won’t be going to heaven.”

“What?!?  What are you talking about?”

“Even though you are a wonderful person, you’re not a true Christian.  And I know that if you’re not a Christian, you don’t go to heaven.  It’s not my rule, it’s just the truth.  That’s just how it is.”  She looked at me with sad eyes.

I was infuriated, to say the least.  I couldn’t even begin to form a response to what she was insinuating.  Who was she to tell me whether or not I was going to heaven?  I opened and closed my mouth a few times, but nothing but squeaks came out.

“Violet?”

“I don’t know what to say.  Are you serious?”

“I would never joke about something like this.”

Extremely hurt and angry, I took off running, never once looking back at her.  Our friendship, if we even had one left, was never the same after that.

By my sophomore year, I had established a small but close-knit group of friends.  One of the guys in my group invited me to attend a bible study group with him.  A girl in the same group of friends, who was a Catholic wrestling with her skepticism about religion, reassured me by saying that it was a very low-key, nonjudgmental, accepting group that she enjoyed going to.  Once again, I gave it a try.  The setup was two pastors of different denominations (one Presbyterian, one Lutheran, if you must know) took turns discussing passages in the bible.  Afterwards, we would have go into further discussion over dinner.  It was a format that I ended up enjoying very much.  The group consisted of people of all different faiths, and true to what the girl told me, it really was low-key, nonjudgmental, and accepting.  It turned out to be the bible study I most enjoyed going to (even though I really enjoyed the Catholic bible studies, too), and the friends I made from that group remain my friends to this day.  I learned so much about the bible and was able to look at it from different angles.  More importantly, though, I found a community where I was accepted for who I was.  And even though our faiths were all different, one belief united us all:  that we should treat one another the way we wanted to be treated.  That, in my humble opinion, is what church should be.

I ended up being the pianist for the Lutheran church that one of the pastors worked at, and it didn’t matter that I still identified myself as Catholic.  The people in the congregation neither cared nor knew that I wasn’t a Lutheran.  It simply didn’t matter.  My mother was a bit puzzled by that decision.  She wondered why I didn’t apply to be the pianist at the Catholic church, and I replied simply that they weren’t hiring.  I didn’t let her press that issue further.

I graduated college relatively unscathed and moved back about an hour north of my hometown.  During the times I had a Sunday off, I still attended Mass at the local church, but it was sporadic.  Sometimes I had a Sunday off and decided to do something else.  I became somewhat of what people call a Christmas Catholic, only going when the mood striked me.

I married my college boyfriend (who just so happened to attend my favorite bible study group).  It wasn’t a traditional Catholic ceremony like my parents had.  That’s because my husband wasn’t (and isn’t) Catholic.  The best way to describe his faith is that he’s spiritual, but not necessarily religious.  It’s something he’s still figuring out himself, which remains to be just fine with me.  I could tell my mother was a little disappointed about that fact, but I, stubborn person that I am, wasn’t about to do anything about it.  The important thing was that we respected each other’s beliefs.

We had two ceremonies:  one at the courthouse to make it legal, then the bigger ceremony with the whole shebang—white dress, wedding cake, and all.  The bigger ceremony was performed by a dear friend of ours, though he wasn’t ordained.  There was a touch of religion in the ceremony, but overall it was pretty respectful of all faiths.  There was no talk about the union being good in God’s eyes, or God being the head of the household, or anything like that.  And frankly, that’s the way we wanted it.  While I fully respect those who do keep God at the center of their lives and marriages, it was something I couldn’t bring myself to force him into believing when he didn’t fully believe it.  Some couples mark a mutual belief in God the most important thing when looking for a life partner.  For us, the most important thing was to keep the promises we set forth on the day we married–that we’d love each other all the days of our lives, that we’d respect each other, and that we would support each other through good times and bad.  In my opinion, neither belief is wrong.  They’re just different.  And that’s okay.

*****

What I Gave Up For Lent:

      So flash forward to present-day.  Still largely relating to Catholicism—mostly because it’s familiar and comfortable, not necessarily because it’s the best religion/denomination to follow—I ventured upon this year’s Lenten observance.  Lent is another creature in and of itself.  I don’t recall my mother, devout as she is, ever doing the whole traditional Catholic Lenten observance in our household.  We had meat all throughout Lent, and she never asked what we were going to give up.  In fact, the only Lenten observance I remember as a child was when a Lenten weekend at my best friend’s house and we ate a vegetarian diet for every meal every day except for Sunday.

It wasn’t really until college until I even gave the practice of giving something up for Lent any thought.  I was hearing Catholics around me, and even non-Catholics who were curious about the act of giving something up for 40 days, share what they were giving up with each other, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Without going into too much detail, there were Lents that I gave up candy, coffee, and meat.  My suffering was indeed felt.  One year recently my mother finally called to ask me if I was giving anything up.  I think that year I didn’t give anything up, but she told me she gave up shopping.

*****

This year, I wanted to keep what I gave up private for personal reasons.  Until today.

What I gave up for Lent 2012 was my adherence to any one belief, in favor of more sharply defining what exactly it is that I believe in, and also to explore other beliefs to see if it better fit my own dogma.

As I lived more of my adult life, my religious practices became more lax.  As mentioned before, I didn’t go to church every single Sunday.  My ritual of doing a daily evening prayer (of the “Now I lay me down to sleep” variety), which I remember doing every night without fail for as long as I remember, started to become more random.  I didn’t pray as much as I used to.

I also started to form my own opinions about certain aspects of Catholicism, which is why I then started to call myself a “rebel Catholic.”  I may get some heat for this, even be called a poor excuse for a Catholic, but here it is:  I don’t believe in the Virgin birth.  I don’t believe that the Earth is only a couple thousand years old.  I believe in dinosaurs.  I am pro-choice.  I am a supporter of the LGBT community.  I have friends of all faiths.  Some of my best friends are atheist and I don’t look at them like they’re crazy for not believing in God.  We just respectfully agree to disagree.

Yet, when it comes down to it, I still believe in God.  If ever there comes a day where someone holds a gun to my head (knock on wood that it never actually happens!), and I am asked if I’m a Christian, I will most certainly profess my faith, even if that means my death.  To me, it’s the equivalent of a proud gay person being asked if they are gay.  They are gay, and I’m a believer.  It just IS.  There’s no changing it, that’s just how we are.  We’re not going to pretend to be something we’re not.

When life gets hard, I turn to prayer and take comfort in God’s healing power.  I look around at the beauty that surrounds us in nature and the miracle of life and think to myself that there’s no way something so complex didn’t have the hand of a supreme being when it was being created.  As funny as it sounds, it’s the most logical explanation to me that God exists.

So with this dichotomy in mind, I went into the Lenten season.  I told only my husband about what I was giving up.  In a well-meaning and sweet gesture, he bought me one of those “holy candles” with a prayer written on one side and Jesus on the other.  He told me that he hoped it would help me with my prayer and my religious exploration.  I appreciated his show of support, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

During this time, I found myself unabashedly leaving more religious quotes and status updates on my Facebook profile.  I found myself praying more.  After experiencing a lot of loss this year, I lit a remembrance candle at Mass and knelt in prayer at the altar—something I’d previously been afraid to do.  All of these acts made my heart lighter.

When a friend of mine invited me to go with her to church, I eagerly agreed when normally I’d politely turn her down.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but from what I knew of her, I expected it to be somewhat of what I call a “stereotypical” church service.

Boy, was I in for a surprise!  Now, I’m not sure if it’s true for all Foursquare churches, but this one was unlike any other church I’d ever been to.  Upon entering, I felt as if I were transported to another church universe.  I felt more like I was going to a dome or stadium rock concert than what I have come to know as church.  There were video cameras rolling to record the whole thing, the seating was very much reminiscent of a maximum capacity university lecture hall, the room’s lights were turned off and blue lasers put on a show in the background, and a movie screen served as background with which to magnify the worship band.  There were amplifiers aplenty and the notes coming from the bass guitar reverberated throughout my entire body.  I had to yell to be heard, and I had a feeling my ears would be ringing when service was over.

The congregation was quite loud and outspoken, and quite proud and encouraged to be so.  They were louder even than what I would imagine the most spirited stereotypical Southern Baptist church would be.  (**Side note:  I’ve always, always wanted to attend a stereotypical Southern Baptist service, complete with gospel choir and gray-haired ladies running up and down the aisles with their hands in the air.  There is such genuine energy and celebration in this scene that I know I wouldn’t be able to help myself from being swept up in it.  Alas, my one opportunity to do so in college was taken away from me because I was scheduled to work that day.)

      Needless to say, I experienced a bit of a sensory overload, especially when they closed their eyes and reached their hands up high when they sang worship songs.  The emotion and devotion in this crowd was extremely tangible, that’s to be sure.

I took it all in and remained open-minded when normally I would be cringing and running for the door.  I reminded myself of my goal for Lent, and I focused on that night’s Word.  I also reminded myself that even though it was a different way of worshipping, they were still worshipping the same thing I was:  the existence of God.  With that in mind, I began to relax and enjoy myself.  I even sang along to some of the songs.  I couldn’t, however, bring myself to raising my hand in the air, except for when we did a collective prayer for a group of people who had come to the front of the room.  That just wasn’t my style, though I understood the meaning behind the gesture.

I remained open-minded until the pastor went into an “our church is better than their church”-type monologue.  He referred to churches who were quiet, the ones who had a “script” and a time to do certain things at certain times as “dead churches.”  I was immediately turned off by that, because he was doing everything but specifically naming my own church.

I took offense to this, because in all my years of being a Catholic, and with all the different Catholic churches I’ve gone to (I’ve gone to a lot…I was an army brat growing up), I have never, ever  heard the priest do an “our church is better than their church” rant.  My experience with the church was very much a “This is who we are.  Take it or leave it” mentality.  Never once did they claim to be better than others.  Never once did express other churches as inferior.  Now, I can’t say this for every single Catholic church in the world, but I will say that I count myself very lucky in that regard that I didn’t experience that type of superior vibe.  I’ve been raised to believe that it’s not my job as a mere human being to decide who’s better than someone else.  That is God’s job, and if I remember correctly, this guy’s purpose is to love the world as he did his only son.

But I digress. (Also, I’d like to note here that my first inclination was correct about my friend.  Apparently she came from a “dead church” background, too, but she wanted to be supportive of her friend who went to that church.  “And isn’t it ironic…don’t cha think?”  🙂  )

I came away from that experience thinking that it was an enjoyable albeit different one (save for the “dead church” remark), but I also came to the conclusion that it simply wasn’t the type of church for me.

I celebrated the rest of Lenten season with not much more fanfare, just a lot more reflection and trying to define my beliefs.

Easter Sunday rolled around, and I had slept in because I had stayed up all night (until 2:30 am, setting up this blog, if you must know).  I fully intended on attending Easter Mass all week, but now that it had actually come, I felt I wouldn’t be able to make it without coffee.  Just when I resolved to not go, trusty hubby comes in and asks me if I’m going.

“Nah.  I’m too tired.”

“What?  This is like the finish line for you.  You should go.”

“Why does it matter so much to you?”

“Because I know it means a lot to you.”

I let that sink in a little bit.  He was absolutely right.  It was the end of Lent and I wanted to celebrate.  Plus, I wanted to get some great Easter pictures in so I could check it off my “pictures to take” list.  So off I went.

I got there about 10 minutes late (gasp!), and there was a crowd outside the open door because the church was understandably full.  I took in the scene around me, admiring the cute pastel floral dresses on the little girls.  The smell of lilies and daffodils met my nose, and I opened my ears to hear the gospel reading.  I tuned in just as he was talking about the miracle of finding the tomb empty and wondered if that story was something I truly believed in.  To be honest, I’m not sure if I do.  But I do believe in miracles, so the possibility still remains.

Eventually I did find seating, and I was able to fully take in the Easter decorations.  I admired the crosses and the stained glass windows with a dove at the top.  I listened to the priest giving his sermon, and the words really spoke to me, considering what I’d given up for Lent.  It went something like this:

“Easter is the perfect time to celebrate a new day, a fresh start.  It’s the time to take the blessings you’ve been given by God and to do something with them to help spread goodness and love in the world.”

Such simple words, but such profound ones.  At once, I realized what the core of my religious beliefs were:  to take what I’ve been given by God and to make the world a better place with them.  Once I realized that, the rest didn’t matter to me.  It didn’t matter which denomination I was, it didn’t matter that some of my beliefs didn’t quite match up with what the Catholic church is “supposed” to believe.  It also didn’t matter that I believed in God.  And, like always, it wasn’t my plan to have others believe what I believe.  The most important thing to me was to love with all I have, and to do the best I can possibly do with what I’ve been given.  In an ironic way, by giving up a strict adherence to any belief and being more open-minded, I ended up strengthening what I didn’t realized I believed in so strongly.  Overall, I think Lent was a success.

So even though Spiritual Sundays don’t come with a corresponding checklist, I’d still like to provide a checkmark for completing my Lent goal.  Because, I think I was largely successful in at least exploring what religion means to me, and going further into defining my own religious beliefs.

Start defining my own religious beliefs.

 

 

Here’s to hoping you find your own something wonderful to believe in,