Thursday, April 12, 2007

Religion, Calamari, and Vitamins

Ok, it's been another ultra-hectic week; more overtime, busy lab, laundry and dishes piling up... but work today is a little slower so I am going to start (and hopefully finish) a post.

I am starting to teach my kids to pray. This might sound weird - after all, they are (almost) 3 and (almost) 6. We don't go to church except when we visit my folks. I know, I know, we should. This subject is probably the biggest dilemma I face on a moral/ethical level.

I grew up Catholic - not hard-core Catholic, but go-to-church-every-Sunday Catholic. Religion wasn't a huge factor in my life. We went to church every Sunday, I did all the Sacraments, went to Catechism, and was in Youth Group. My two best friends were in all these activities with me, which was probably a major factor in my drive to be involved. Church provided me with faith in something larger than myself, which is so important; it also provided me with a lot of uncertainties and anxieties.

My dad wasn't Catholic (still isn't technically, though he goes to church every Sunday with my mom). As a child and young adult, I frequently worried that he would go to Hell because he had never received the Eucharist. The Catholic church proclaims themselves the only "true" religion. Indeed, Catholics say a prayer referencing the "one holy Catholic and Apostolic church." Growing up, I wondered - in fact I still question - how any Christian person let alone an entire Christian organization could justify proclaiming superiority and passing judgement on others based on religious beliefs.

As a family, we didn't keep all the Church rules; we made our own "modifications" to the rules. For example, you had to give something up for Lent (church rules)...but, you could have it on Sundays (our rules). You were supposed to go to Confession (church rules), but if you confessed to God in private, that was ok (our rules). I spent a lot of restless nights thinking about how you can be Catholic but sort of pick and choose the rules you want to follow. My mom always told me that the church provided us with "guidelines" for life, but we ultimately could decide what we think is important and what isn't so important. I would never blame my mother for doing this - she did what she thought was right; I also think following all the rules and teachings of the Catholic church would be both unfulfilling and practically impossible. As a child, I accepted my mom's point of view without question because it made perfect sense. As an adult, it has left me in a bit of a moral quandary. I don't know if the "cafeteria Catholic" concept (taking what you want and leaving what you don't) is one that I want to espouse or teach to my own children. On the other hand I also can't think of a single church whose rules I could choose to follow 100%. I have toyed with the idea of switching religions, but frankly, I don't have the time or energy to devote to learning all about a new religion so I can in turn teach my children.

JeepMan was baptized Methodist, but that is where his religious training began and ended. His mother has told me she wishes she had taken him to church; yeah, too late now. Given his past, it is no wonder that he has struggled to have faith in anyone or anything outside himself. His limited contact with the Catholic church has been through me (wishy-washy) and through the media (financial and moral corruption, pedophilic priests?: that would be a definite thumbs-down...).

When we visit my parents and go to church with them, he sits there through the whole Mass with this blank look on his face. The "stand up, sit down, kneel down, stand up, sit down, fight-fight-fight!" (as he calls it) is meaningless to him. The beauty and ceremony of it all is completely lost on him. The kids are often fidgety, and Lulu usually needs carried out for disruptive behavior or potty breaks at least once. It's hard for me to enjoy any of it, especially when I know it does nothing for him.

It all started even before we were married. Our premarital retreat was absolutely horrible: an entire poorly planned weekend of preachy, borderline psychotic couples trying to "lead by example." One after another, after another, after another. For two straight days. We listened, mortified, to one couple talk in lengthy and embarrassing detail about how they had gotten pregnant without even having sex. In an effort to illustrate the evils of birth control, another couple told us all about their experiences with (Hellfire and Brimstone!) an IUD - I specifically remember the phrase, "bled like a stuck pig" being used - ugh. The weekend was expensive up front, and a total disaster in retrospect. The icing on the cake for JeepMan (and me, too) was when the church had the gall to solicit a DONATION when it was all done!

Our premarital meeting with the priest turned both of us off, too. We had 3 separate meetings. The first was an hour-long "compatibility test" (after 3 years of dating I would hope we might know if we were compatible). At the second, the priest asked a lot of very personal (nosy, weird, inappropriate) questions. The third meeting culminated in each of us (separately) being asked to put a hand on the Bible and swear "to have sexual relations with my spouse for the purposes of procreation." Ugh and double ugh.

My children are baptized, both in the Catholic church. Given my ambivalence about religion, especially the Catholic religion, I have pondered why I even felt the need to do this. I don't believe that unbaptized people go to Hell when they die. I suppose I was drawn to the ceremony of it...and frankly, I wanted to keep the kids' options open.

The plain truth is this: if I were married to someone who had a strong religious convictions, Catholic or otherwise, I would just follow along. For myself, I don't have a need for organized religion. I am actually a bit suspicious and skeptical about organized religion as a "business" or an "industry." I am secure in my own faith. I am teaching my children about God, and most importantly about belief in something larger than themselves. I am teaching them humanity, humility, gratitude, and generosity. I am teaching them about the Bible, and to pray. By not going to church, I am spared having to explain away the contradictions between what the church tells us we should do and what we choose to do. I am spared having to reassure them that their father isn't a heathen, and neither are many of their friends (our community is extremely diverse). On a more selfish level, Sundays are our lazy family days. Forcing everyone to get up, around, and sit in church for an hour doesn't budget into our precious, limited weekend time.

So why am I conflicted? I can't get past the feeling (guilt?) that maybe I SHOULD be exposing my children to church. Plato's first communion would be coming up soon (if I decide he should do it). I sometimes wonder: who am I to make the decision for him that he should or should not partake in the ceremony and community of organized religion? Will he resent me if I don't at least expose him to it? Should I "keep his options open" and let him make his own decisions later in life?

I am married to a man who is quite content not belonging to any religion. It fills no need in his life either, and it asks for his time and his money - both things with which he is reluctant to part. I am simply not going to get his support in this. If the kids are involved in any way in church, it will be entirely because of me. There will be grumbling, griping, and foot-dragging, both from him and the kids at times. In truth, it is almost too much to think about.

So Sundays come and Sundays go, each with a little twang of guilt and a thought that we should probably start going to church again one of these days. Maybe.


At bedtime prayers last night, we were telling God about the things we are thankful for:

And what are you thankful for, Plato?

Plato: Uhmmmm.....(looks around)....I am thankful for bedrooms. And stars. And food. And Mom and Dad and Lulu.

And what are you thankful for Lulu?

Lulu: Uhmmmm....I am tankful for...ummm...CALAMARI!!

Calamari? (we haven't eaten calamari in months!)

Lulu: YEAH! CALAMARI!! And...ah...I am tankful for...ah...BITE-A-MINS!!

Vitamins, yeah, me too. Thank God for vitamins!


Monnik said...

Wow, this is a great post, and a very well articulated one. I struggle with these exact issues, for the very same reasons you do.

I do go to church, but not every Sunday. Sometimes mass cheers me up, other times it's a struggle to make V behave. D comes with me on major holidays, and if I beg, but mostly he stays home.

I struggle with the 'Cafeteria Catholic' concept too. I didn't get married in the Catholic church, so I didn't go through the weekend or the counseling, and that's fine with me. Because seriously? Swearing on a bible that you'll have sex for procreation only? C'mon... No freaking way.

I worry that my half assed attempts to educate my children are backfiring on me because what I'm really teaching them is that church is important when a.) you don't have anything else to do on a Sunday morning, b.) it's driven by guilt because it's been xx weeks since you've gone, or c.)you're not hung over from going out the night before. Not a very consistent message, to be sure.

I think a lot of working moms face this issue when their partners aren't religious. My weekends are precious and very fleeting. Is going to church worth the time spent getting kids ready for church, and wresting with them at mass?

However, having said that... Mass is kind of relaxing when I'm just with my older children. Which is to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel, should you decide that going regularly is something you want to do someday.

See? You articulated your viewpoint much more eloquently than I.

The basic gist is this: I'm with ya, sister.

ally said...

Hi, Mom-in-Scrubs...I enjoyed your post and came upon it quite accidentally as I was researching the link b/t religion and food and vitamins. I'd like to talk w/you more about this concept, as LuLu's comment about vitamins intrigued me. I, too, am a Mom of three grown sons, and I can identify w/most all of your thoughts. Also, this is the first time, ever, I've responded to a blog, so I'm new at this. Please advise as to how I can share w/you, other than the blog, a new concept/product related to vitamins. Respectfully...Ally