August 30, 2009
A rare event
Church. Yup, you heard me, church. And not for a wedding, funeral, or other such occasion. Just church. If you know me, you know that this is something that isn't likely to happen and yet, this morning, I got the boys up, showered, dressed and out of the house with little or no stress and headed off to church.
The real reason was to see a friend who was playing in the band this morning. Their family is very, very dear to me. In addition, I've always promised that if the boys were interested, I would take them. I won't make up their minds for them. They can choose. It isn't like choosing to be a Yankee fan--that will get you banned and disowned--this, this I can almost understand. Almost.
It was much as I expected as far as the contemporary worship went. I wasn't surprised by the logistics of it all. I have to admit though that I was feeling awkward and out of my element. I couldn't relax, couldn't stop feeling like I was the square peg, couldn't stop twitching at my meditation bracelets and picking at invisible fuzz on my shirt. The boys were good. They were just a little restless but enjoyed the music. But see, here's the thing: I enjoyed the idea of the music. It was played well. I enjoyed it on that level. I loved watching my friend play. But somehow, I couldn't get past the lyrics. There was a part of me that would have liked to sing but not to worship, only because I love music. I get something out of harmonies and rhythms that as I looked around I realized that other people get out of the lyrics. It felt hypocritical to sing. In a traditional church I sing. I know the hymns and they are, well, traditional. There's something about the history, the composers, the choral structure that allows me to sing and participate without feeling that I am being hypocritical. So, while I enjoyed the talent and the music, there was no singing for me.
It was very contemporary which for me was both interesting and unsettling. I'm an atheist. I can, however, see a draw in the tradition and social aspects of religion. I can see how one might take comfort in a community of like minded people. It makes sense to me. And in that way, I can see how even a contemporary service allows for that kind of interaction. For me, stripped of tradition, I am left with only the theology and that is problematic.
The pastor was engaging and entertaining. I didn't find my mind wandering even once during the sermon. I did however, experience a near panic attack early on--my eyes darting over to the door, wondering if I could use the boys as an excuse to bolt. But the boys were on their best behavior and I would not influence them. So I took my meditation beads and one after the other passed them between anxious fingers until I had settled back down. I looked for a common thread instead of focusing on how different we were. It is difficult to find. It is difficult, but it is indeed there. The difference is not whether or not we are moral or whether or not we want to live a life that is worthwhile and meaningful. The difference comes in how we choose to focus our intent.
I tried. I tried to listen and understand but it is not who I am. It apparently is also not who my boys are either. I am sure that I have influenced them. It is inevitable. But they were respectful and curious and I was proud of them.
I am willing to admit that there are things that I will never be able to explain in this world--that there are things that no one can explain--and to me that's acceptable. It's even awe inspiring. The difference is that I don't assign that awe to a god. It isn't a flaw in my character. It is what I believe. Interestingly, my friend said that he didn't think I could be converted because I had no beliefs to convert. That isn't true. It is not a lack of belief, it is not a lack of a moral compass that makes me an atheist. I believe differently than he does, than most of my family does. I have faith in people, in the people I love, but do not need to and will not hand over the control of my life to a mythology that seems not to apply to me. I am who I choose to be. It is a mantra that I use often when meditating. I have free will. I have a choice. And I am who I choose to be. It isn't easy to take that kind of control and more often than not I fail. But I still try.
Two good things came out of this morning--at least two good things, maybe more. I got to share something that is very special with a family that I respect and love almost as much as my own family. I got to see a major part of their life and understand them a bit better. Because I don't agree doesn't mean I don't respect the kind of commitment that they have to their faith and to that community. I envy them that on some level. I respect the way that they live their faith. I would love to sit and talk with them and find the common ground. I know that it is there. The other thing is that, in some way, the service only reinforced my own beliefs. Once I felt less like a stranger and more like an observer, I was comfortable because I knew who I was. It took a very long time to get to this point in my life but it is a good place.
Am I going back? That's up to the boys. For them, I would go. For me? It was good to share that and to experience a part of something that I usually am on the outside looking in at. I know that it is not for me but knowing that allowed me to appreciate this morning in a way I could not have done not so long ago. So yes, I went to church and I didn't wear a sign that said atheist and no one tried to convert me. We just shared a little of who we are and I'm glad for that