Monday, April 20, 2009

A Long Time Coming

In an unexpected twist, I've found myself contemplating religion again.

I was raised in a Christian household. We went to church every Sunday, complete with yelling and crashing and banging, jumping on the bed moments before we needed to leave, outfit changes and hasty breakfasts and everything that comes along with corralling overactive three children into nice clothes and out to the minivan in time for an 8 am service. Church was fun, back then. There were snacks when we got there, and books with so many songs that it was impossible to sing them all. There was summer camp, there were plays, there were stories told with cutout figures that pressed onto a felt desert backdrop.

It was ideal for a young child - a caring, giving community that worked together to raise their children with common ideals and support their growth into adulthood. When I was ten, an elderly woman in the church became my mentor and we occasionally had brunch together, mostly talking about the things I learned in school and the petty grievances I had with my brothers. I don't remember her name, but I'm glad she gave her time to me. Most of the adults in my life then gave selflessly, perhaps not knowing I would barely remember them later, but at least knowing it was a one-sided effort.

Then I grew older, into my teens. And I noticed the discrepancies between what we learned in church and what we did outside of it. The strangest part was that I found myself getting along better with the people who didn't believe in religion. These people were kinder, more open, more excited to enjoy their lives. The people I went to church with were catty and cruel.

I realize now, years later than it should have taken, that this behavior had more to do with the specific church, the specific town, and the culture it encouraged.

There are incredible people in my life now, both those who have a religion and those who don't, and I've found that judging a person by their beliefs is unacceptable. This goes two ways - I can no more assume that a person will behave as kind and honest as their religion says they should than I can expect them to behave like a hypocrite.

Now that I've let go of my anger and disappointment, I can turn to the important issue: What I believe. It's a long and personal search, one that will likely never have a true answer. I'm picking up the pieces of a religion I threw away long ago, dusting it off, examining the broken and unusable bits, and trying to discover if there's enough left to make something whole. No one can say if what I make for myself will match anyone else's, but I want to get the message out there: I'm reexamining. I'm not confrontational anymore. I want to hear what others have to say.

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