Sunday, March 27, 2011

Religious Inexperience

A week ago I substituted for an injurred handbell choir member. No, not injured in the line of Bell duty.  I got to do my pre-babies routine of arriving at 7:45 at church, ringing for the 8:30 service, hanging out with the bell choir (and E) over breakfast during Sunday School hour, and ringing for the 11:00 service.
I ducked out after we played the offertory for the late service, to spring the girls from the nursery. E was happy to see me and wanted the heck out because, sweet and expertly trained as those nursery mommies are, they are not HER mommy. Love it.  Maddie didn't whine to high Heaven at the thought of leaving, this time. Bonus.

We headed home for lunch & naps, a playdate in the park on the afternoon's horizon.
When we turned onto our street I saw 3 carfulls of people in nice clothes with pamphlets in their hands, pointing to various houses on my street.
"Aw, man...".
The Jehovah's Witnesses were back in the neighborhood.  And they love my doorbell.

Nosey-posey M immediately demanded to know what I was aw-maning.
"Nothing, babe."

Flash forward to lunch: Maddie is griping about naptime (Yes, I still make her take a rest. It's not for her sake.  Wait, actually, it is.) Ellie is refusing to eat whatever I have on the spoon, because Maddie has chicken nuggets.  The dog is barking to go out.  And the doorbell rings.
"Aw, MAN!"
Obviously, we're home.  They can probably hear my baby screeching.  They can plainly see my dog through the front door's glass.  But I sit there and set a lovely (bad) example by not being polite and answering the door.  I just don't have it in me to be told that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that I should not accept blood transfusions.  After 3 rings they stick something in the storm door and leave.

"Mommy, WHY didn't you get the door?  Who's there?"
"Um..." What the heck, why not?
"People who want to talk to us about going to their church."
"What's their church?"
"Why don't we go to their church?"
"Cause we go to our church."
Silence. Chewing.
"Why don't they go to our church?"
Here's where I stumble a bit more.
"Cause they like a different kind of church."
"I wanna try their church!"

I explain to Mads that we go to our church because we like it.  Our friends are there.  She loves the nursery, she loves Sunday School, she loves...(fill in the blank, there's a bunch of 'em).  And Daddy went there when he was younger, because he sang in the choir with some high school friends. You know, those nice, superficial yet oh-so-crucial explanations as to why we go to St. Paul's.

"But why can't my friends all go to their church?"
"Because they don't. They go to our church,, that's where their families go."
"Don't worry Mommy, they can try it with me!"
"Honey, we go to St. Paul's, we like it there!"
Oh my goodness.

How do you explain to a 4 year-old that while your personal ideology sometimes differs from the officially accepted church "laws", you look past those discrepancies because there are really wonderful elements of the place that benefit your family as a whole?  In other words: I am less than ok with the more conservative views the Presbytery sometimes expounds.  I'm just hoping they won't be covered in Sunday School for a while.  After all, while visiting another church at around 8 years old, I was once told that TV was a tool of the devil and that I was going to Hell for watching the Ninja Turtles.  
Oh yeah, reeeaaal satanic.
I'd love to tell Miss M...

  • That I was raised attending a Evangelical Lutheran church in which the (pretty liberal?) pastors explained, when we asked about mortal sin in Confirmation class,  "God doesn't want you on Soul Police, just do what you know is ok with him."  I. E., it is not your job to make rules, it's God's.
  • That I think it's those who loudly profess that they've got it more right than everybody else that are probably the most wrong.
  • That I'm not madly in love with organized religion's track record. Like many, I find the historical record of Christianity's silent or not-so-silent endorsement of  the ill-treatment of women, slaves, gay people, pretty much everybody but white, straight, upper-class men... abhorrent.
  • That I love the Kevin Smith movie Dogma. A little bloody, but this mass media introduction to the concept of "ideas" over "beliefs" is brilliant.   Chris Rock's character: "I think it's better to have an idea.  You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier.  People die for it, people kill for it."
And Alanis Morissette got to play God.  Love.
  • That I have the hardest time with evangelism, particularly this door-to-door, face-to-face type, because it makes me  wonder how someone can push what they believe to be an obviously correct, one-size-fits-all religion.  Religion is way too personal to be sold like newspaper subscriptions and girl scout cookies.
  • That I'm half-way in it for the music anyway, because nobody has to debate the morality of a song written/sung/played in the name of God.  It's just there, you can be glad for whatever beauty you find in it, and the nitty-gritty questions about who's right and who's immoral don't matter.  And I think our church does the music thing pretty nicely!
  • That, while I love our church and church family, I don't agree with a few of the "rules", including the West Jersey Presbytery's rules for church elders' and pastors' personal lives.  Lay off and be happy that someone's willing to lead your church.  You have to know about their love life when they're reading the week's announcements? Really?? Get a life.
  • That maybe I'm letting religious ideals take a back seat to my parenting needs;  I adore the feeling of warmth and the very palpable sense of the existence of one church family. Anybody's kid is everybody's kid.

E, enjoying the arms of highly trained grandma, Marian, on our Music team last summer.  I was teaching the 1st graders at the time.
This is how she napped.
  • You can let your kids run off and play nearby and know that there are caring eyes everywhere, and good influences at all age levels.   I am currently trying to bribe the young man who lead my daughter's VBS class last year to move up to the 4 year olds class this summer.  He was wonderful, and I promised him a case of Redbull to get him through the week this year.
  • That there is nothing so freakin' cute in the world as my husband leading his weekly Music Time, doing the motions to little Sunday School songs while the older kids follow his gestures and the younger ones dance randomly on the chancel steps.  Melt. 

I've gotten no more in-depth with Miss M's religious education than general values.  Be nice, share, etc.  
Some day we will undoubtedly have to address deeper, darker stuff with our kids.  While I know what we'll say, I'm wondering how our personal beliefs will jive with the curriculum of the Sunday School I hope they'll still be attending.  We'll see what happens, it may be a non-issue.  

I'm wondering what other people think about their personal values vs. their church experiences, and what it meant for their kids.

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Shannon said...

Don't worry about teaching your kids about religion. Teach them about Jesus Christ. Use the Bible as your guide and teach them how to live based on what the Bible says. If your church doesn't teach this way, consider finding one that does!
(I know a good one;)

Megella said...

Thank you, Shannon. As I said, we love our church family. I'm not worried about what we'll teach our kids, I'm just wondering about how it may or may not contrast to what they'll hear if they ask at church. That's a bridge we'll cross when we come to it. Like it or not, the Bible is interpreted differently by different people, even at the Sunday School teacher level, because everybody experiences it in a different context. (Ninja Turtles are evil? Really?) Our pastor has been stressing that we have to remember the context in which the Bible itself was created, as well, and I've found that so helpful. I'm also saying that the many spiritual, social, and personal "perks" of where we are outweigh any specific contrasts of belief that may arise when the girls start asking BIG questions.

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