Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reason for the Season

I grew up a Southern Baptist girl, when I went to church. Mostly I didn’t go. My parents weren’t big church-go-ers. Sometimes I would sneak off with my Aunt Bee, sneak off and go to church. I loved that! And let me tell you there is no better speaker than a Southern Baptist preacher, hellfire and brimstone and all that. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!! Once during lecture I caught a couple of my students raising their hands in response to something I said, raising their hands toward the heavens and nodding a bit, muttering a slightly stifled Amen. It’s exciting, the power to move people like that. I imagine myself in a stiff gray suit with aging hair, standing behind the pulpit, inFLECTing and proJECTing and LIFTing the brothers and sisters in the NAME of the LORD JEEsus! I could do that. But, no.

There comes a point in every child’s life when she packs her spiritual bags and sets out to find her way. This point, for me, was during college. I knew the Southern Baptist way was not for me. While I appreciated the foundation that had been laid, I questioned the basic ideology. So, with a friend in tow for both support and encouragement, I stepped into a Methodist church to have a little look-see. It was okay. Boring, but okay. I found the Methodist faith a nice reprieve from the in-your-face approach of the Baptists. Methodists required nothing much of me, and nothing much was given. I could sit down on Sunday, soak in a little religion, get up and leave. I liked that. I didn’t much understand the point of the church, but it didn’t matter at this stage. I was looking for nothing more than some space to think and figure out who I was as a child of God. I got that.

But then came marriage and baby number one. My husband was raised in the Episcopal faith, but had not been to church in forever. I knew that I wanted church to be a family thing and an all the time thing, not just a sometimes, when we feel like it thing. I wanted our children to have the basics, the foundation from which to make their own decisions later in life. If that were ever going to happen, I knew, I would need to cross over to the Episcopal church.

And so I went, by myself in the beginning. Imagine a Southern Baptist girl entering quietly, reverently through those big oaken doors, kneeling, genuflecting, kneeling, standing, kneeling, standing. What the hell is a prayer book anyway?! And I have to do communion EVERY time? Good Gawd!! This is going to be some work. But I did it. And I grew to love it. This foreign spiritual language became my home, became OUR home.

A friend recently asked me with what church I associate myself. This was difficult because while my label is Episcopalian, I don’t feel the need to BE Episcopalian, to be anything for that matter. More than anything I strive to live a kind and gentle life. That’s it. I believe in Love. That’s my faith, Love, with or without the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven. I could easily be a Buddhist. I identify with much of Eastern philosophy. I am attracted to the underlying theme of compassion. I cannot tell you how excited I got when my son had to do a research paper on Shintoism. The ultimate goal of Shinto followers is to live a peaceful coexistence with all living things, including nature. Peace, harmony, and a sense of interconnectedness are the key tenets of the faith. There is no church, no building, no sitting down and “getting your religion” so you are good to go until the next Sunday. You ARE the religion. You LIVE the religion. How cool is THAT?!

At this time of year, when so many are celebrating the birth of Christ by purchasing electric shavers and handheld electronic devices, by stocking up on ribbons and bows and Grinch and Santa wrapping papers, and by bringing once-living trees into their family rooms, much is made of the whole keeping Christ in Christmas concept, much is made of keeping the holidays holy. This is the thing. People get irate over this. They get nasty. They’re not very nice, not very accepting of others’ beliefs or tolerant at all, even. I’m talking both sides here. How about we do this. How about we forget church and Jesus for a second. I know. It’s Christmas. Still. Let’s forget church and Jesus for just a second and pretend that our religion is love. Let’s BE the religion. Let’s LIVE the religion. Instead of focusing on keeping the Christ in Christmas or keeping the holidays holy or ridding the world of all the religious zealots, let’s just keep the LOVE in Love.

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