Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Parents and Religious Talk

My Mom's godchildren are staying with us this weekend. They're adorable, Andrew is five and his little sister Erin is three. Very cute. Like, we were just outside in the driveway playing. They have sidewalk chalk and their scooter and Playschool bike. They've been waiting for it to get a little warmer so they could go out and play so they're both very happy. Andrew's got his Batman helmet on and Erin's is pink but I can't remember what the pattern is at the moment. She likes penguins though. Girl after my own heart!

So I was thinking about godparents and godchildren and how it's not what it used to be for the most part. It used to be that the godparent was responsible for making sure that the child was educated properly in their faith. If the parent died, or was unable to get the child to church the responsibility fell on the godparent. The ties were considered so close that they were like blood family. A godchild couldn't marry the blood child of their godparent because they were like their brother or sister. Now days it's honor. For the most part. You know, have your best friend or sister, or aunt, or whoever stand as the godparent. But you don't expect them to take on those old responsibilities.

My parents are both technically Mennonites. They left that church several years ago and now attend a non-denominational church, but they haven't officially joined. Her best friend and the mother of these two kids is a Lutheran. I mean they go to a ELCA church, so it's a fairly liberal church. Which, I think, is how the pastor let them have a godparent who isn't a Lutheran at all. We were Lutheran, but my mother converted to Mennonite (though it's a very reformed version thereof) to marry Dad. And I had only been nominally Lutheran (in the sense that I never officially left the church, even though I hadn't believed or set foot in there since I was 14) for more than ten years before I became Roman Catholic. Regardless. Because of the responsibilities of the godparent a really key factor in choosing them used to be that they had to be the same faith as the parent. The faith that the child was to be raised in.

It doesn't bother my parents, or the kids' parents, and it's not really my problem, but it illustrates the difficulty I have here.

I was essentially dragged to the Mennonite church when my parents married. I was an adult, but Dad's parents were living here at the time, and they didn't believe that anyone should not attend church. Hell, I was still a practicing witch at the time. Though they didn't know that, of course. So I *had* to attend the Mennonite church every Sunday. Which I loathed. I had to fight the urge to get up and tell the preacher where he was wrong. He was a very nice man, but I found his theology weak and I didn't even have a horse in the race at that point.

That was when I made the compromise with my parents. I didn't have to go to the Mennonite church but I had to go to one. Which began my rota of the churches in the area.

When I actually got interested, trying to sort out which church was the true church I ran into this terrible block at home. As far as my parents were concerned as long as I didn't join one of those cults like the Mormons or the Seventh Day Adventists then it didn't matter. And I wanted to use them as sounding boards for theological questions. But theology doesn't seem to matter to them. I was astonished to realize that they couldn't tell me what the Mennonite's believed. What they believed. They believe that Christ is God, in the Trinity but that's about all I could get out of them. My mother grew up being taught that the Eucharist consubstantiated into the Real Body and Blood of Christ, but that just didn't matter any more. It didn't give her a pause that the Mennonite's didn't believe that. That they didn't even hold communion every Sunday.

None of that mattered. It still doesn't seem to matter.

I never even bothered telling them that I was considering other faiths. I don't think they would have had a problem with it, really. I just don't think that I would have been able to have a discussion with them about that either. Because there's not substance there for them.

I cannot have a discussion about religion in my household because there is no reciprocated interest. I can talk and talk and talk about the differences between this denomination or that. I can discuss the different views on free will, on heaven, on hell. Angels, demons. Saints, icons, the priesthood. Women in the Church. Headcovering, modest dress. Should women be in the home? Should there be such a clear distinction between 'women's work' and 'men's work'? What are our rights against each other? Consubstantiation, transubstantiation, just a remembrance? How does the Trinity work? How does it relate to us? Prophets? Miracles? Is the Bible literal or figurative in places? Nothing. They don't seem to have opinions or care about any of it.

And I don't get that. I cannot imagine belonging to a faith and apparently knowing nothing about it. Why wouldn't you want to know? Why wouldn't you want to learn? To talk about it.

But they don't. So I stopped talking to them. I mean, they know what I do. They know I've stopped going to the Roman Catholic church. They know that I go to the Orthodox church as often as I can. They know that I've been considering converting but that I'm taking my time with it because I feel like I made the decision to convert to Roman Catholicism too quickly. What they don't get are the reasons why. It makes no sense to them that it matters to me which church I go to. They don't see why it's all important. They believe in God and Christ and they try to live Christian lives and that's all that they need.

This is why I'm grateful to have the internet with it's forums and blogs. Because I can find people who do get it and who are willing to talk about these things.


  1. I think for a lot of Christians, Christianity is not so much a system of beliefs as it is a means of spreading this one crucial idea that Jesus lived and died for humanity. So all the other stuff is details, and is dismissed as stuff that is unnecessary and only leads to divisions if people get too hung up on it. It becomes about how you're saved instead of about what that means for you after the fact.

    For people who are actually looking for a religious system that will be a more central part of their lives, though, that isn't enough. I think a lot of the more mainstream Protestant denominations are tending to focus more on this one message instead of on doctrines and guidance, and I wouldn't be surprised in that case if a lot of people start to want something more and the more Orthodox denominations start to grow. Or maybe that's just my limited experience, who knows? :)

    But yeah, the internet is good for that. Lots easier to find like minded people when your community spans the globe. YAY TECHNOLOGY!

  2. I think I get it and what you are saying....

    I may have said this before, but I will type it again.

    Alot of people are looking for a religion that has guidelines to follow. And is an every day religion. Not just something for a sunday.

    I think this is why quite alot of people are drawn to Islam. From the outside, it seems as if the doctrine is there and through modesty and hijab, it is a visual show of faith.

    it is hard to describe in typed word, all would be better conveyed in the spoken word.

    but I think in todays, day and age, people feel tense, lost and left wanting. the void is there and they dont know what it is. some people fill it with stuff and some people listen to the void and realise they are actually seeking faith.

    I see it at work, women running around like headless chickens. 1 small bit of bad news and the end of the world is here.

    I was told the other day that someone envied me. I said "what?". they answered that I looked like I knew what I was doing and that I have a strong direction.

    I think because of my faith, I know that I have prayer etc. And probably heal alot of the confusion alot of people have by having this as a guide.

    as I said to the person who spoke to me. "other people have faith they just dont realise it. people start to pray when they are sick. or hurt. Prayer is a type of meditation. People who have faith live longer, as they are able to talk things through out loud, relieving some of the stresses of everyday things. I bet you have done it. Maybe when one of your kids has been sick? Traded with God, if you make them better, I will give up.... or do ...?"

    I suppose when it comes down to it, faith is like food, some you like and some you dont like. Some people love food, have a huge interest in it. And other people just view it as fuel.

    the internet sure brings alot meeting of minds. like Sanil said.

    great post as usual.

  3. I think that, when we're raised in a faith, we have a tendency to listen to what our parents and the preacher say and leave it at that. Most Christians I know don't look into the faith at all, much less extensively. They just take it for granted that that's what it is. In changing from one denomination of Christianity to another, the most basic tenets are still there, so many people don't look past the whole God/Jesus/Holy Ghost deal. Close enough is close enough. I think that when we go looking at other faiths that vary fundamentally (as, say, Islam does from Christianity), that's when we get down to the nitty gritty of our own faith, as well as the one or ones that interest us and that we may consider converting to. At that point, we are searching for the things that we truly believe in. How can we say what we believe when too often we don't really know much about the faith we claim as ours?

    Interesting and thought-provoking post, as usual. : )

  4. sanil,

    I think you might be right. It's all focused on that one moment of choice and then the rest of it just doesn't seem to matter. Which doesn't work for me. It's just not right...

    I've noticed that too, that a good percentage of the people that are looking aren't satisfied with the more modern denominations. They're looking for something that encompasses their entire life and they're finding that in the older forms of their faiths.

    Yay internet society!

  5. slice,

    Yes! I get exactly what you mean. There's this void that people are trying to fill and we shove all sorts of things at it. Sometimes people feel as though they are satisfied with that and they can live their lives that way. But more and more people aren't and they look at the faiths that they came from and have to keep looking because obviously that faith, that set of lax rules didn't give them what they needed or they wouldn't still feel this need, right?

    And they come across the more structured, older forms of the faiths and it works. It clicks and it makes sense.

    That is one of the reasons that I found Islam so attractive. It was a religion that took in all the parts of your life as opposed to just being something that you said and went to for an hour or so one day of the week. I didn't realize that Christianity had all that too, in the original form.

  6. Heather,

    I think you're right, and that's just sad actually.

    Shouldn't we all want to know what we're professing to believe? And what makes some of us question in the first place? I mean I can trace my own particular journey and I know why I left and all that, but I don't think that everyone who questions has a background like mine. Or at least I hope not for their sakes.

    It's the complacency that gets me, I think. The...the almost willful ignorance. The information is out there. Why don't they want to know it?

  7. Wow,great post. First, I am glad you enjoyed a weekend with your mom's godchildren. Another penguin lover -- ahhhhh! :-D I enjoyed what you had to say about that role. It really has lost most of its meaning as far as helping raise a child religiously if needed. We never did that, but I know a few who have.

    As far as family life, my experience was very different than yours. My dad has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with mostly theological books so discussing these things with my parents wasn't like talking to a brick wall. Earlier this year I read a few books my dad had on historical OT and stuff that I blogged about. Also most of my close friends are ones who like and can talk about spiritual things. We pretty firmly know what we believe and why. Maybe attending Christian school and church 3 services a week plus Sunday school helped with that.

    Maybe they don't know so much why they believe what they believe (i.e., why Christianity and not Islam for instance) except that they have experienced the goodness and faithfulness of God and believe if you've got the best already, why search for another faith.

    Growing up in a Baptist church, I'd say we had plenty of rules so I felt my life was structured. No, we didn't have "you must cover knees and ankles" or "pray at certain times of the day" but we had plenty of guidelines at least in my area. :)

    Enjoyed this!

  8. Susanne,

    You're probably right. I think my problem is more that I don't understand the lack of curiosity. Why would you not want to try and understand your own faith better? All the ins and the outs, everything you could get?

    Also, I'm adopting your dad. :)

  9. :-D

    Ha, ha....we could be sisters! :-D

  10. Cool. I've never been the younger sister before. *pesters big sister Susanne**pesterpesterpester* :p

  11. Ah greaaaaaaaaat! A pesky baby sis. :)

  12. LOL, Susanne and Amber! You're acting like sisters already. All you need is "Moooom! She's TOUCHING ME!!!" to make it complete. : P Actually, my brother and I did that when we were in the backseat of the car going somewhere with our mom and stepdad. My mom's response: "How old are we?" LOL

    As regards the actual subject matter - ahem - I think for many people the prospect of death is too hazy and distant for them to be interested in their religion.

    I think many of us younger folks in particular suffer from "invincible" syndrome. That is -- "I'm not old or sick. I'm not going to die for a long, long time." We conveniently forget that we don't know the hour of our death. It could be 70 years or seven minutes from now. I think my own comprehension of the fragility of life has definitely been impacted by my current experiences.

    Also in my experience, most Bible studies are more devotional type things. You know, "how can I apply this story/parable in my life" deals, rather than seeking an actual understanding of history and what the Bible says. I've always gotten an impression of studies like devotionals as watered down, which is both annoying and frustrating.

  13. Heather, glad you could relate to my frustration over my pesky Baby Sis. :)

    I really enjoyed what you had to say. I agree that devotionals often are as you said. I don't think that's necessarily BAD because it's good to realize how we should apply forgiving our enemies (for instance) to our own lives. However, I can also see where other studies would be good. What exactly would YOU prefer? I was curious if you could delve more into what you mean by "rather than seeking an actual understanding of history and what the Bible says."

    I think I know, but I would like to hear your point of view if you don't mind sharing.

    Interesting point about people not knowing or caring because they believe they are invincible. I don't think I've ever felt that way, but maybe I have always been too preoccupied with the frailty of life and how I am not promised another breath. I think you are right about people in general though.

    I so enjoyed what you had to say in your follow-up comment. Hope you are doing well these days! :)

    Happy Veteran's Day (a few days late).

  14. Susanne,

    You love it and you know it! *pokes*

  15. Heather,

    My sister and I totally did that too. Sometimes we still do it at the dinner table. :)

    *nods* The invincible syndrome. Yep. But it's just...I don't know why. No, that's a lie. I do know why I never went through that belief that I was going to live forever. Sometimes having life kick you in the face from a young age is helpful.

    It's just, from my perspective, religion isn't a death thing. It's a *life* thing. It's how you live your life. The other attitude is sort of incomprehensible to me. Even if you come down on the side of agnosticism or atheism, that impacts your life. So I honestly don't understand why people don't think more about it. Even knowing that they might not think it matters until their old or what have you doesn't make it any easier to understand for me.

    I get the same impression of Bible studies. It's why I haven't been to one since I got out of the school that made me go to them. Baptists. *rolls eyes* *sticks tongue out at Susanne*

  16. Ha, ha...well, I quit the last Bible study I started. I hated all the sharing stuff...blah. I'd rather go learn about the Bible on my own.

    And that wasn't a Baptist there! :-P

  17. I'm probably a bit "late" but as i read this post today, this sentence, about how your parents just care about leading a christian life and that's pretty much it, seemed to sum things up.

    That is very often, i think, the problem.

    There is no such thing as a "christian life" if you limit that "life" to what takes place outside of the heart. So, according to the Fathers of the Church (and i think, according to any honest and brave conscience)a christian life is the life that takes place inside the heart where we expect to come into communion with the face of Christ. We are supposed to live in this mystery that is His face. To actually know Him, not through our imagination, not through our thinking and understanding, but to really know Him, to see Him, to have Him reveal His existence to us in the chamber of our heart. So, i suppose this is not attainable outside of the Church as the Church is Christ's Body and the "place" where one encounters the Holy spirit.

    I was just thinking that if you limit God's existence to a human thought, or to an image that we can keep in our heads, or something that derives from us (in the sense that we "form" God through our thoughts and forget that He exists in the specific way that He does, no matter what we think or not think) somehow then you can easily mistake a system of rules or a bunch of nice thoughts for christian life. But the problem is that this kind of perception leaves you in your loneliness and self-sufficiency and deprives you from the chance of meeting a Person. And this meeting, to actually encounter Christ through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is the end, the goal of our "christian life".
    Sorry for such a long text and for most inadequate expression of my thoughts.

  18. Athena,

    There is no late in blog posts! At least not mine anyway. :)

    I think I get what you're saying - that a Christian life must be, first and foremost, lived in the heart. You have to internalise it - you have to encounter the Holy Spirit within yourself. And no, I don't think that that's possible outside of the Church.

    It's a fine line to walk though. I think my parents, and many other people, fall to the side of 'a bunch of nice thoughts' being the Christian life. I know that I, personally, have fallen too far to the side of a system of rules being the Christian life with no real understanding that it has to be within me. When I first came back to Christianity I went whole hog to the Messianic Judaism side of things - I thought that I needed all of those laws to control myself. I know better now. If it's not within me to do the right thing then all the laws in the world won't stop me. Eventually I will do what I wanted to do.

    Which isn't to say that rules aren't necessary or important. Just that, by themselves they don't save us.

    Never apologize for a long comment! :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...