It was thirty years ago this summer when my oldest sister got married. I don't remember much about the first wedding I'd ever been to. I remember wearing a lime green leisure suit that I wish I still owned and fit into. I also remember at the reception there was a low ceiling just out of my reach. I spent a lot of time trying to jump up and touch it. I couldn't have been more than an inch away. And I wouldn't give up, figuring that eventually I could cheat gravity just once.
It's quite certain that getting married changed my sister's life. (Her son graduated from Stillwater High School a couple of weeks ago). It also ended up changing mine. Because we hadn't gone to church my entire life up to that point, the wedding was the first time I remember being in a church. I think my Mom realized this and decided that our family should start going to church again if only to expose us kids to the concepts of religion.
The whole church service fascinated me. I loved being able to sing unfamiliar songs in a public setting trying to figure out the melodies and strange words merely by reading the hymnal. I tried to imagine the circumstances of the list of people that was read every week who we were praying for.
(A little girl goes to church one Sunday and looks at all these fancy plaques hung up all around. She has the chance to ask the minister a question. "Father, what are all those plaques hung up with flags on them?" The father responds, "Those are to honor those who died in service." The little girl looks at him wide-eyed and asks, "Which one, the 8 or 9:30?")
There were a couple parts of the church going experience I didn't particularly care for. When communion began we wouldn't go up to the altar because we hadn't been baptized or confirmed. As the ushers slowly let row by row go up, I felt embarrassed when they got to our row and we all just sat there, feeling unworthy.
The part of church that I hated most however was going off to Sunday school. Right before they let us out, Father Henry Hoover would read the announcements and my stomach would turn in knots, butterflies fluttering like dandelion seeds on a windy day.
I hated Sunday school because I didn't know anything about what was being taught. I had never read the Bible. And since I was the newcomer in class I felt like all the other kids in my class not only knew a whole lot more, but also knew each other. I not only felt dumb and alone, I felt God would punish me for my ignorance.
Mr. and Mrs. Miel, who were the teachers, seemed to sense my uneasiness and didn't try and call on me unless I had a look of certainty on my face. Who would have guessed I'd grow up and one day shake the Dalai Lama's hand? (Years later when the Miels came to my Mom's funeral, after it was mentioned during the service that I was a Bob Dylan fan, Mrs. Miel came over to me and said that she used to babysit Bob and his younger brother. "His brother was a really good kid, but Bob never said a thing.")
Through the years my own personal spiritual beliefs have been challenged and changed although the basis remains the same. I don't believe this world is the end. I think there's something else, some greater purpose that comes next. I have no proof (other than certain dreams and an undying faith that humans can't possibly be the highest being). I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who believes differently. I think the greatest danger facing our existence is the growing blurring between politics and religion.
That said, I don't understand those who don't seem to be curious about religion. I don't understand how you can't be. Maybe it's being able to live entirely in the present (or for some in the past) getting lost in what's going on today without trying to figure out what comes next. But at some point don't you have to stop and wonder what it all means? Am I the only one losing sleep over this?
That's why I will faithfully be watching Bill Moyers' new PBS show, Faith and Reason. The show features interviews with famous writers (the first show featured Salman Rushdie). Ultimately Faith and Reason strives to answer Moyers' question, "In a world where religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together?" If after the seven episodes air I have a better understanding of that, it will be seven hours well spent. Thank God.