Monday, June 25, 2012

Turn on, tune in.

I started attending church, mostly, because my girlfriend attends regularly and it's a nice place to see her. She dresses up for services and I love the way she looks at me as I come through the door --occasionally late. What I like is she never completely expects me to be there, but is glad I showed up just the same.

She's been attending the same church for as long as she can remember and probably before. My attendance at church prior to the past few months might be considered spotty at best. Oh sure, I was the vice president or secretary or something for a Methodist church youth group in high school --but I was mostly recruited, I think, to help mow the cemetery plot the group maintained.

I never joined the church, just attended youth group meetings and went to services maybe three times in two years.

I also became a member of the Southern Baptist congregation about a dozen years back. At the time I was in emotional free-fall. A friend suggested I come along with him to church and I was desperate enough to give it a try. The message was soft-soap Christianity with a heavy dose of general counseling --plus they served donuts in the morning. As I was broke and hungry almost every weekend, the donuts were kind of nice. I always had two --even if they were invariably stale.

With the Baptists, I was good up until the pastor actually delved into the nuts and bolts of the religion. The preacher and I exchanged many e-mails on why I didn't agree with the contents of his sermon either on Biblical grounds or because it just sounded like thinly veiled political bullshit.

Periodically, he would tell me I should have been a preacher, too. I don't know that he really meant that, but may have been looking for a way to shut me up.

I was never a very good Christian. This isn't to say I was out looting and plundering or sacrificing goats to obscure Byzantine gods on the side. I lived a pretty good Christian life. I prayed a couple of times a day. I attended every service I could. I read my Bible and whatever was considered the hot new religious text of the moment --"The Prayer of Jabez" was popular, as was stuff by Rick Warren. I watched Kirk Cameron in "Left Behind" and was sober --at least the first time through.

The second time, I realized it was too damned silly to take seriously without something to help suspend disbelief.

Quite frankly, I think the rapture is bullshit and about as likely as the world ending because of the return of a flying winged serpent.  

Anyway, I walked the walk --at least as best I understood it. I tried to live by what I read and what I was taught in church. I believed, but then the belief system I'd established was challenged and my faith collapsed like an empty aluminum crushed against a frat boy's forehead.

I was never a really good Christian, I guess. When the real trials showed up, my belief in a benevolent god withered. As much as preachers and pundits talked up the idea of spiritual trials, I could never wrap my head around what was served by making even one child autistic or blind or born with a broken heart.

So, I began to look elsewhere. I wound up reading a lot about Buddhism and a few self-help-y new age books (just not the stupid ones that promised to connect me with dead people, put me in contact with my guardian angel or help me decipher my fate from water). I even called myself a Buddhist for a while, not that I really was.

I liked the idea of letting go of attachment and the notion of responsibility in Buddhism wss very attractive to me. Part of what I didn't like about Christianity is that there was a vein in it that tended to turn everything over to God, including the stupid things people do just because they can, like screw each other for money or dump poison in the water. 

I liked Buddhism's pretty specific, though very broad, code of conduct, but the concept of reincarnation sort of stalled for me, as did the complicated system for determining karmic merit. It seems unlikely that the universe was created by an accountant.

I'm not entirely sure the Buddha believed that either.

I've been hot and cold on religion. These days, I think, I'm moving toward warm. It's been a while, but I'm interested in spiritual things again. 

Attending church is odd for me. I'm not really there for the message, though the man giving the sermon is a nice, earnest and plain-spoken kind of preacher named Mike. Earnest counts a lot in my world. I appreciate having an honest intention and Mike seems like he's in this for all the right reasons. Of course, he also reminds me ever so slightly of Glenn Beck, but without seeming like he drinks gasoline straight from the pump.

Mike is also smart enough to know I'm there for the girl, not for the guy he's talking about. There are times I feel a little bad about that. It's a very nice church. The people are thoughtful, sweet and kind --just very decent people who don't seem to do a lot of grandstanding or chest thumping about how swell they are because they're Christians. I feel a real sense of humility in the bunch as a group.

They're warm and welcoming, but I'm an "other," a visitor, a tourist and an alien. It's not them, of course. It's me. I hear the words, but they don't really move me. I feel nothing much beyond the warmth of my girlfriend's hand and the joy from watching her smile at me, but I wait to see if there's anything else. I never stop hoping there is.

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