The Churchless Sunday
With the heated-up rhetoric about a war on religion, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve kept my status as a non-believer on the down low. Most of the people I know are believers of one ilk or another. We’re polite with each other and very rarely does the issue of theology come up. We’re not in college anymore, so having deep conversations on the nature of the universe has been replaced by discussions about our crappy health insurance, should we be so lucky to have some.
Today my family did what it usually does. We went to visit my mother-in-law at her nursing home and then went out to lunch. We returned home ready to unwind. My husband took his Sunday siesta. My daughter played her viola in the garage. I went out and started working in the garden beds, which usually entails me staring at bugs and birds a lot. Tonight I’ll be reading, he’ll watch TV and she’ll be playing some more until I tell her to knock it off. It’s a simple, low drama, casual dress routine. I thought about how other people spent their Sundays.
Both my husband and I grew up attending church. He has fond memories and connections to his Lutheran church – a church attended by his neighbors with a strong Scandinavian bent to it. I grew up and was baptized in the Seventh Day Adventist church which at the time was pretty fundamentalist and in the 70s, literally preparing for the second coming.
I attended church on Saturday with very strict rules about not working, not playing with friends, and not eating things with cloven feet. I memorized the Bible and did what I was told and believed everything that the pastor said. We were a poor family in a wealthy church. When we got scholarships to attend the private church school, my mother took us out of the school I’d been attending Kindergarten through 6th grade and stuck us in a school where girls couldn’t wear pants with pockets and rock and roll music was forbidden.
The next year we moved to a community with no Seventh Adventist church. That was the end of my churchgoing. It wasn’t the end of my belief system, but as I got older and read more and met more people, I knew that religion in and of itself did not provide the answers to many of my questions. Every few years I’d go through a church search, attending Catholic, Methodist, Universalist, Episcopalian and some church where I was creeped out because we had to hold hands in a circle in the park.
Perhaps it was that I’d begun to read more history and took an interest in Eastern religions which seemed to have more wisdom and fewer rules. Or it could be that my introverted introspective nature began to dominate and anywhere people gathered was where I didn’t want to be. I decided that I didn’t know if there was a God, but since I didn’t know, I didn’t want to spend time trying to sort it out or hanging out with people who knew they were right and wanted to tell me how wrong I was.
Having a child returns the issue to the forefront. In respect to my husband’s beliefs, I told him he could take her to church if he wanted. But by the time she was old enough, something changed my mind and I think, his as well. She asked a lot of really good questions. She asked so many good questions that I couldn’t bring myself to lie about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.
This got her in a little trouble along the way. One of her friend’s parents called me. Your daughter told my child that I was lying to him about Santa Claus. I was mortified and secretly proud. I apologized and then talked to my daughter about how families have different belief systems and that we need to respect that.
It got me in trouble on the way, too. In parent education classes, when we talked about the holidays, one mother was horrified that I’d essentially ripped my daughter’s childhood out from under her. Never mind that we have lovely holidays with our own family traditions. And that her kids were constantly in meltdown/ sugar crash mode, while mine had a pleasant, consistent temperament. Yeah, I judge a little when attacked.
It hit me the other day that I’ve raised a skeptic with critical thinking skills. I don’t know how I feel about that. It sometimes gets suggested that nonbelievers of deities are lacking in beliefs in general. But we have some pretty strong beliefs and we’ve passed them onto her. Be kind and considerate. Be stewards of animals and the earth. Work hard. Appreciate your good fortunes. And believe nothing without verification from multiple sources. It’s no surprise that she wants to be a scientist (with a side job as a violist in a movie soundtrack orchestra).
There is something to be said for the sacred and taking the time to honor being alive, being here with whatever patchwork of friends and family we have. There is something to be said for turning off and tuning out and slowing down and being grateful. Right now I’m sitting here and I can hear mowers and blowers and trimmers in our neighborhood and I think that maybe it’s a bit of a shame that not everyone has a quiet day. But it’s always an option, with or without our Sunday best.
How did you spend your Sunday?