Monday, March 30, 2009

the postsecret that led to an introspection and my own secret

Yesterday, the boyfriend informed me that his parents were asking him to come to church with them again. That same morning, I had visited PostSecret (as I usually do on Sundays) and thought the post card above was particularly interesting. With the card in mind, I asked Jesse why he didn't want to go to church.

"I'm afraid I'm going to be brainwashed."

So I told him about the secret on PostSecret that I couldn't stop thinking about and he asked me, "Are you scared to go to church?"

It certainly is a valid question. When I first read the postcard, I immediately thought the person who wrote it might be afraid of going to church because a priest/minister had abused him/her. The beauty of PostSecret is that the cards can be interpreted in many ways and that was one way I interpreted it.

But when Jesse asked me if I was afraid to go to church, I had to seriously think about it. Am I afraid and, if so, what am I afraid of?

It's hard to believe (and some regular blog peeps might be shocked to hear) that I used to go to Mass every day. When I was younger, I would go to Mass with my mom first thing in the morning and she would drop me off at school right after. This stopped when I went to (my private, Catholic) high school, but even then, I would still go to church. There were mini Masses during lunch and I would often go then (maybe not every day but regularly).

That church-going past of mine seems a world away from the here and now.

I don't think I'm afraid of actually going to church. I think I'm afraid of the ramifications of going to church. I'm scared that I will sit there and actually listen to the Word of God with an open heart and open mind as I did when I was younger. That I will be reminded of Jesus and all that He did for the poor and for the sinners. That I will remember how the works of Jesus inspired me to help others, so much so that I made a career out of it. That I will be reminded that God loves everybody and for that He sent His only son to save us. That the process of the Mass and the interaction with the faithful would remind me of how innocent I was, when I believed everything that the Church taught.

Before I grew up and began to question everything.

Right now, the Church doesn't represent those things to me. Religion has been politicized and the Church has worked to dismantle the seperation between Church and State. Those few times I do go to church (when visiting my family), I sit there and listen to a politicized sermon about the immorality of gay marriage (or whatever the talking point of the month is). I watch the collection plate being passed around to help fund all those settlements for the victims of priest abuse. And then I realize that my closed heart is justified in not listening to the teachings of a priest who belongs to a Church that has not evolved.

The reality is that I have evolved and there is no place for me in the Church as it currently exists. But that doesn't mean I don't miss being the innocent, God-fearing girl I used to be.


Juliet said...

Okay, I can leave a comment because I'm not going to debate with you (you know how I swore off debating for a while). :)

I can't tell sometimes when you talk about "the Church" whether you mean the Catholic Church or American Christianity in general, which are two vastly different things. There is such variety in Christianity that it seems to me if you were open to attending a Protestant church, you could undoubtedly find one that isn't entangled in clerical abuse and welcomes gays. I am Catholic and chose to be Catholic and I'm happy to be so, but I don't think Catholicism is for everyone and I think going to church where you can find God, wherever that is, is infinitely better than not going to church at all, if finding God is what you want to do. Most Episcopal Churches are gay-friendly (this is, as you probably know, a big issue for Episcopalians right now, and there are some separatist Episcopal churches, but this goes for the majority), and they have a similar liturgy to the Catholic church, so I think you could feel at home there without all the baggage the Catholic church has for you. That's just one example; there are lots of possibilities.

I would also say--as someone who has been Christian for a while and done graduate work in religion, so I have about a gazillion Christian friends--the majority are probably more liberal than I am. Even the Catholics! There is such variety even within Catholicism; I converted to Catholicism in a very post-Vatican II church in the relatively liberal diocese of Richmond, so I think that's a big reason my perspective on Catholicism is so different from yours. The more I think about it, the more I realize that growing up Catholic in the O.C. would be a hugely different experience from what I know of Catholicism. I don't think either of us knows whole story. And like I said, you don't even have to go to a Catholic church, and maybe (probably) no matter what it's just not for you.

I suggest researching churches in your area (you can usually glean a lot about ideology from their websites) and visiting a few different churches from different denominations. Just see what's out there. It's a process, but that's okay.

Anonymous said...

That's tough. Religion itself is just a very difficult thing I think. The most important part is finding what works for you. I think religion is a deeply personal and each person needs something different from God. I think that's why religion is so diverse too. What works for one won't work for all, but in the end, all rivers flow to the same sea.

anOCgirl said...

juliet: The Church = Catholic Church; the church = building where mass is held. i think that if i started following a different denomination, my mom would be even more upset. for her, catholicism is the only real religion.

i think some context would be helpful (oops, my bad). yes, being catholic in the reddest county in california (OC) may be vastly different from your experience with the Church. liberalism is simply not allowed. and the hypocrisy is outstanding. oc had it's own priest sex abuse scandal, one that involved a teacher at my high school that WAS STILL ALLOWED TO TEACH despite the victim's pleas, another one involved the principal of the HS when my bro and sis were there. if you google "OC weekly" and "church sex abuse" that should get you most of the articles chronicling the abuse and the OC Church's attempt to cover up. it's disgusting.

so yeah, i don't think i could ever feel comfortable in the OC Church again. however, my experience in DC has been no different (w/o the scandal, of course). so where does that leave me?

instatick: yes, religion is a very personal thing. personally, despite all the things i support and do that the Church says are wrong, i think i have a good relationship with God. but it's my own relationship with him. as i said to juliet, my mom would not approve of me looking into denominations that might be a better fit than catholicism so i wonder if the status quo is better than becoming episcopalian (for example).

Generation Next said...

You say that your mom would not approve of you looking into other denominations. My question is, why does that matter? It's your life, and if you are trying to find a church that fits your ideals, then you shouldn't be kept from that just based on what other people will think. I assume your mother is important to you, but if this is something you really want to even just look into, she would have to understand.

It's really funny, the feeling of most lapsed Catholics that they are still Catholic, even though they don't agree or subscribe to most of the church's teachings. I hear some of that in what you are saying about keeping the status quo. I don't understand the cognitive dissonance there.

Juliet said...

I agree with Generation Next, and also want to point out that you are probably going to have to make decisions in the next few years about what kind of wedding you want to have, whether you baptize your kids, where you send them to school, etc...and those are hard enough decisions to make with your spouse; it's not fair to you or to Jesse to let what your mom thinks determine what is best for you and ultimately your family. I understand that you don't want to disappoint your mom, but how can you let her expectations influence you and yet still stay true to yourself? Even if you're happy with the status quo, you can't maintain it indefinitely.

anOCgirl said...

gen next: yeah, you're right. it shouldn't matter what my mom thinks. but, to her, going to a church that isn't catholic, would be more disappointing than the combo of being a catholic in name only + living with the bf before marriage. i've disappointed her enough. oh and she's totally in denial about my catholic in name only thing.

i guess, because i was raised catholic and went to catholic school for 13 years of my life, the religion will always be with me, whether i like it or not. despite my disagreement with some of the Church's major teachings, catholicism has shaped my world view.

hmmm...i don't know if i explained myself very well...

juliet: my mom is already sticking her nose in those decisions. i can't tell you how many times she's asked me when jesse is going to convert despite my constant assurances that i will never ask him to convert.

as much as i tell myself that i don't care what other people think about the decisions i make, my mom's opinion is pretty important to me...even if i don't follow her advice.

Vinoth said...

My 2 cents...its always better to leave "organized religion" and search for god from a personal point of view...just listen to your heart and cultivate your fellowship with God...don't let yourself to be influenced by the priests (they often speak their minds and not God's word)...

anOCgirl said...

vinoth: i've always justified my desire not to spread catholicism (convert some people) by thinking that everyone is entitled to have their own relationship with God. perhaps, i don't need an organized religion to define that relationship for me. thanks for commenting!