My favorite quote about religion is one I coined myself to put on Facebook to describe myself when it comes to religion. I know, I’m tooting my own horn…scandalous…I know…who am I to think that I am quotable?…but here it is:
” I may believe a certain doctrine, however fervently. But that does not mean that God agrees with me, because God does not take religious instruction from me.”
My parents had no religion. My mother’s German Lutheran family left Germany for Russia, and the German speaking village they settled in had a German Reformed Pastor.
So, in the blink of an eye, they became Reformed, and this travelled with them 70 yrs later when they moved to Nebraska in the United States. My mom was soured on faith because she was worn out from a childhood and youth of being screamed hellfire and brimstone sermons in German every Sunday. Dad’s father’s family were Lutherans in all three places, Germany, Russia, and here. There’s a story that the local Lutheran Church asked his parents not to let my dad go back because he’d had polio and they were afraid he’d fall down the stairs. Dad was bitter about that. He never went to church again except for weddings.
When I was very young, I was invited to go to Sunday school at a small Presbyterian church four blocks away. A right turn instead of a left turn, I could have been Lutheran like my ancestors, instead. I loved Sunday school. My best memories growing up at church are from there. We kids were loved and nurtured. I was also cautioned constantly by the older women to walk like a lady once I hit my teens…If only they’d succeeded! Every Wednesday we had a program at church where we went, did crafts, had a Class in which we sang and were taught lessons on a flannelgraph by a gifted teacher named Evangeline Robles. We then were turned loose to play if it was daylight savings time. Every session ended with dinner, after which we went home. This cost us all of a quarter! When my 6th grade teacher tried to keep me after school on Wednesdays because I was hopeless in Math, I was shattered. My mother had to intervene. I had very few enjoyable things in my life, and my mom put her foot down because I came home so happy on Wednesdays. I attended this program, called Open Door, till it ended. We also had Vacation Bible School in Summer and when I got older, Church Camp and Youth Group. I have amazing memories of growing up in that little place, and it was where Steve and I got married. When you hear me criticize the Christian faith in other writings, this is not where I am referring to…I am referring to places I attended much later.
I had the same Sunday School teacher from 7th grade until I left home to go away to finish college. He kept me spellbound, and amused. He had an intimidating stare, but he knew I wasn’t afraid of him, and we teased each other. When he was away, he gave me an excuse note from his wife, and when I was away, he got a note from my mother to make him laugh. At Easter we each got an Easter egg. Mine, however, was special. It was always the ugliest shade of grey he could get it…hard to explain, no it didn’t shame me or embarrass me, it made me laugh. Everyone else got whatever color he pulled out of the bag. Mine he made personally. I looked forward to it every year.
We got a good grounding in the Bible that rivals anything taught at a good seminary. Having edited and punctuated my husband all through seminary, I know. That plus I took a Bible as Literature class in college. It was the only class that didn’t require that I study, since I knew the subject.
We were constantly told to challenge our Sunday School teacher and question him. None of us did, but I liked that we had the freedom. He had one habit that I loved. If he had a question about Catholicism, he would call up a priest. If he wanted clarification on Jewish customs when he was teaching Old Testament, he called a Rabbi.
This got me interested in different religions and cultures, and how important they were to those who follow them. We had a very large Pentecostal holiness church in town that had a dress code. Women could not cut their hair, or wear pants. The dresses were well past the knees and sleeves had to be no shorter than 3/4 in above the elbow. Men could not wear shorts. These girls had to wear culottes instead of gym clothes that the rest of us wore. They didn’t dance, go to movies, and some didn’t watch TV. I became curious about their beliefs, because we saw them everywhere…no belief in the Trinity, wild worship and a belief that the only way to Heaven was the ability to speak in tongues.
The first friend I met in first grade was and is,Catholic. I became such an expert on Catholicism from my own library reading that many, many years later when I joined the church, they brought me in early, since I could have taught it to them.
In high school had the life scared out of me by a Church of Christ girl who stalked me and criticized my dress (modest by most standards), insisted that instruments in church were wrong, and unless I was baptized by Immersion in her specific church building, I was going straight to hell. She stalked me, called me and wouldn’t leave me alone. I had nightmares. She didn’t succeed in getting me.
I felt uncomfortable by those in the Jesus movement that wanted us to pass out tracts threatening hell and damnation to those who didn’t read the tracts or to those of us who refused to pass them out because. They felt that if we didn’t acknowledge Jesus by sharing our faith this,way, we were certainly going straight to hell. That worried me. I had no trouble admitting to,being a Christian and telling anyone what they wanted to know if they asked. But I saw firsthand how having religion forced down their throats by an aunt impacted my parents. But it was another movement that I met in college that encouraged you to pretend to be someone’s friend, convert him forcibly by scaring him and successful, drop them as a friend and move on, that made me cringe. What hypocrisy! Where was the idea of being friends with someone just to be a friend, because you shared common interests? They also wanted us to go away to a certain college and we all should become missionaries….that should be our only option. There was a heavy push to go to an expensive conference to sign up and train for the mission field.
Another close friend I grew up with was and is, LDS, commonly known as a Mormon. I read the Book of Mormon out of curiosity, and learned a good,deal of their doctrine. I exasperated a teacher who later when we became good friends tried to convert me to the LDS church, because I could repeat so much of his own doctrine back at him. As he said:” How can you know ‘The Truth’ and not give in?
I wrote a good friend from high school when he was on his two year mission for the LDS church. While he and I were just friends, I teased him with perfumed letters to amuse his roommates, who thought we were involved. He appreciated the letters from home and enjoyed the joke on his roommates.
In Junior college I reluctantly took a required anthropology class. Much to my shock, I not only got an ‘A’ easily, but it was more of the same thing, I was and am fascinated with! Culture, Belief systems and how people live.
I made friends in high school with Baptists, and discovered that they had the same fervor in their faith that we had been taught to have at ours, except we baptized babies, they dedicated theirs, baptized their adults, while we confirmed ours. My youth group sang concerts in many of those Baptist churches that my friends attended. As I got older I started to realize that while many adherents to Christian groups had different beliefs and customs, they actually had very equivalent rituals, that in fact, pretty much mean the same thing. But they couldn’t see it. When you baptize a baby, you promise to bring her or him up in the faith. When a baby is dedicated instead of baptized, the same promise is made. Adults that are confirmed, confirm that they believe. Adults being baptized do the same thing. I’m not arguing the theology behind the different customs. I can put you to sleep explaining them to you, and why each group ‘knows’ the other is wrong. But, honestly, as I said, it boils down to the same basic idea, culturally speaking. I met many, many people during the time that my husband was in the Army that had very different beliefs from me, yet a very deep faith and relationship with God as they understood God. They had lots of wisdom, and lots of love. Who was I to tell someone this positively affected and in love with their faith that they were wrong, when you could see the evidence in their lives for the positive?
In the Chapel we attended in Germany, while my husband Steve was with the Army, I found what is still my model for people of,different faiths and customs. We usually had three chaplains of different Protestant denominations, and a Catholic priest assigned to the Chapel. What I have never seen since was the amazing cooperation between the chaplains, and how those they served became caught up with this idea of cooperation. If someone had a religious need, and no-one there could do it, Heaven and Earth was moved to fulfill that person’s need. This is still the job of chaplains today. Whether they agree with your faith or not, it is their job to care for you and help you find what you need, should you have one they can not fulfill. Sadly, some chaplains ignore this.
Communion Sundays in the Protestant chapel both amused me, and earned my respect. It was a three ring circus. We had pews reserved for people who could only receive communion kneeling, and a chaplain standing at the front for those who could only take it standing from an ordained minister. Lastly for those of us who were Presbyterians, unable apparently to move….they passed communion down the rows of the pews, the wine segment with both wine and grape juice. ( I was thrilled; I HATE grape juice)
When someone in the Catholic congregation needed someone fluent in sign language to teach a Catholic child his faith. I volunteered. The priest gratefully passed my offer along, but in the meantime, the child’s mother decided to do it herself.
It was hard to leave that place. We became friends with the chaplains and met frequently with them and their wives for dinner. Our favorite chaplain was one who came from such a different background religiously that we were on different pages in that respect. True friendship surpasses these things as inconsequential. We had lots of fun. Our sense of humor meshed with his and that of his wife. Or, true friendship SHOULD, surpass religious differences and customs in my opinion. But he helped us when we needed him, helping Steve to make the decision to become a chaplain himself, and gave him sound advice.
Since then, we have attended many churches….some I’ve adored, some I haven’t, some with good, sensible doctrine, some questionable.
As I have gotten older, I’ve become sure of one thing. I don’t know it all. I don’t have the corner on the truth. I’m secure with this. I believe that God, if God is God, uses the information we have about our knowledge of faith, no faith, and customs, to work with us to,reach us. It’s the same, I think, of speaking Spanish or German or whatever to talk to those who speak that language. I think our Creator is comfortable with us believing different things, even vastly different things.
I am finally after all these years, comfortable discussing things night and day different from what I have been taught. Don’t come to me dissing Native American Religion and customs. It has worked for Native Americans for Centuries. I respect it tremendously. I won’t attack you if you believe in reincarnation.( To those who don’t approve-throw the rocks)If you DO believe in reincarnation, I am interested in hearing about it. I’ve always been curious.
I’ve met Wiccans, and know so little about them that I am embarrassed. Steve, my navy chaplain husband, had a great rapport with them on ship. Why not? It’s his job to care for people. That’s what he does. He’s good at it. There’s more to diversity in the military and the workplace than accommodating Seventh Day Adventists, and Jewish Holidays. I read a book recently by two doctors, brothers who grew up in India, and are Hindu. They discussed the various Hindu deities, who there were, and old Hindu legends, if that is the right word. I was fascinated! I feel,sad that I know little of Buddhism, but I adore the Dalai Lama. I read his autobiography. He is,truly a great man who is not afraid to tell you that he thinks you may need to return to your own religious tradition. That alone caught my interest. If you have no religion, like my parents, I am fine with that, too, and interested if you want to talk about it.
As a chaplain’s wife, (one of few, I’m sure) it is my interest in as many faith groups being represented in the military as possible. I have given the LDS missionaries that have come to my door contact information for their chaplaincy representatives. I felt like I was about to be stoned at a meeting of chaplain’s wives once, when I told this story.
I’ve met Muslims and enjoyed talking to them.
I have, finally satiated….almost, my fascination with the Amish. I have Mennonites in my family. I don’t know them, but I have absolute adoration and respect for the way Mennonites care for people.
As I start to wind this down, there are some things I wish: We as religious and those who have none would do. Scorn not the person different from you that you do not understand. Do not ignore the poor, even if your church believes that only the rich have God’s favor. You might miss out on having a good, wise, friend. Do not shun your family that believes different from you. Good relationships with family nurture. Separations because of disapproval hurt. Love them, cherish them, and have fun. Celebrate your common interests and celebrate your heritage. Don’t do what my aunt did: send my mom a birthday card wishing her a very happy birthday and many more, accompanied by a tract that says, believe this, or you’re going to hell! Rejoice in the milestone of your niece or nephew’s confirmation in a faith that you might even abhor, or not understand, because it’s important to them, and they should be important to you. Give them an appropriate gift, money, or that religious book they can’t afford, even if it makes you shudder. You are showing love to the young person. Be respectful of those who don’t consume certain substances, but don’t condemn the cultural practices of those who say, drink alcohol when you are horrified by what you perceive as the mere sinfulness of the fact. Some people drink their ancestors’ ashes mixed with water. This horrifies me. But it is very important to them. Why should I dismiss this custom to them? They’re not forcing me to do it. Likewise, If you believe that only YOU are chosen by God to be in Heaven, it wins you little admiration if you treat those you deem are not chosen like trash.
Finally, my last wish : if you have always shunned them, please respect and love the gay, lesbian, and transgendered, regardless of what you have been taught. The Bible (should you follow it) doesn’t say that ‘God made us in his own image,’ “except for those people over there.” Don’t do the condescending ” Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” thing. That’s looking down on people, right there. There have always been people in these categories. They have feelings, fears, experiences and emotions. They have the same needs as straight people. The only difference is that in many states, it is still legal to treat them shamefully. Nobody is forcing you to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with.
Women finally have rights. People are no longer allowed to put signs up that say “No Irish need apply”. It is no longer legal to turn down a disabled person for a job they are well able to do, like it was for my dad, who had polio. Or refuse to serve me at an office because you claim my speech is too poor for you to try to understand, and talk to the person with me like I’m stupid. Yes, this happened.
Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered people are the only people left that we can deny basic human rights to….I don’t want to hear how horrible you feel gay marriage is. Fine. Your church doesn’t have to marry anyone it doesn’t want to marry, including divorced people if that’s an abomination to you. But marriage in every country is essentially, a civil contract. You get your marriage license from the state. Do you know how painful it is not to be able to give someone spousal benefits, such as insurance? Don’t bring the sex part of it up to me. Do I ask you about your sex life? This is about basic security. This is not about religion. The state above all, should not deny basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by most to a select few, just because some people don’t approve.
Rocks? Do I see any incoming?