Friday, March 21, 2008

Jesus and the Red Dress

One Easter, when I was nine or so, I spent the morning with my parents eating chocolate and our typcal holiday breakfast of eggs and bacon. Then I settled onto the sofa with a copy of the Bible.

There was a pause while my parents digested this heretofore unwitnessed Bible-reading scene.

"What are you doing?" my mom asked.

"Looking for Easter," I said, flipping through the fine pages. Would there be a chapter heading entitled "Easter: What it All Means"?

"Well, hurry it up, because we have to get ready to go to Aunt Rhonda's," she said.

This led to a Q & A about why we got together at Aunt Rhonda's for Easter, and why we brought chocolate eggs and Peeps in little baskets for the cousins, and what any of it had to do with this book I was holding.

"Well," she said, pausing at the edge of the living room in her nightgown and bathrobe. "This is the day that Jesus rose from the dead."

She obviously didn't know.I turned my attention back to the Bible. I wanted the story. I wanted the back story. I wanted the spiritual signifiance.

I still want the spiritual significance of most things (though Christian holidays in America no longer rank high on my list). I want my children to know the spiritual significance of things, too. When they begin to wonder what it all means, I want them to have some tools, some steps to take, so they don't have to scramble through impenetrable books when they're supposed to be getting dressed for Aunt Rhonda's. In fact, Matt and I have been knocking around the idea of finding a church we could tolerate for, oh, eight years or so. Since he was raised a Unitarian, we thought we might check that out. Since Unitarians tend not to be connected with witch burnings, gropes for political power or abortion-clinic bombings, I figured I could probably stomach it.

Reader, I figured wrong.

When the day finally came that we had agreed to meet my mother-in-law at her Unitarian church here in Seattle, with the kids, I was gripped with the realization that I would much rather stay home and stick my hand down the garbage disposal. I flung my clothes on the bed. I sighed heavily and stomped around the room. I wanted to wear serious lingerie. I wanted stiletto heels. I wanted something that said, "I don't belong in church."

In the car ride over, my husband and I didn't say a word. The children filled the silence with their own arguments about whose turn it was to hold the Red Robin balloon that we'd left in the car the day before. Finally, I spat, "Remind me why we are doing this? To make your mother happy?"

"Because we agreed that we wanted to do this, a long time ago. Remember? Remember how we talked about wanting to find a place we like for the kids?"

"Yeah," I admitted with great bitterness. I couldn't remember what that felt like, to want to find a church for the kids. I couldn't remember what it felt like to want that for myself. I had yoga now, I had Tantra to delve into, I had meditation and my yoga community. What could I possibly want with nice white people dressed in ironed clothing sitting with pleasant smiles on their faces?

"You obviously don't want to go," he said.

"That doesn't matter," I snapped. "I'm going." The children, previously riotous in the back seat, went quiet.

By the time we pulled into the parking lot, he was telling me that I had a problem with church and was acting like a brat and was going to ruin it for everyone else.

I denied everything except acting like a brat. And I pressed on with my commitment by rising from the car and unbuckling the kids.

We filed into the entry and began searching for Matt's mother. I looked away when nice ladies wearing big "WELCOME NEWCOMERS" badges on their bosoms caught my eye. I stalked over to the tea and coffee table. I had put on my most masculine, clunky boots, the heels of which now pounded the scrubbed wooden floor. I wondered, while pouring apple juice into paper cups for the children, why the idea of going to church always makes me want to show up in a red cocktail dress, smoking.

Inside the sanctuary, I looked around at the other families. I paid close attention to the expressions of the men. Were they dragged here by their wives? Was this their choice? Why did I think it might not be?

During the service, a storyteller came to the front and asked all the children to gather round. She was clever, and warm, and amusing, and the children responded to her with laughter and rapt attention. When she sent them back to the pews, I stood to be sure Jonah and Audrey were finding their way. I saw Jonah holding Audrey's hand, leading her confidently back to us. She followed mutely, her blue eyes wide and vulnerable. For a moment, I was swept up in the feeling of belonging, of goodness. "Those are my kids," I wanted to tell someone.

But then the singing started, and I stood silently while on either side of me Matt and his mother sang reedily into their hymn books.

The service drew its content from the Gospel of Recycling. I kid you not. They talked about green living. I was deeply unmoved. I couldn't get into the mediocre art hanging on the walls. I couldn't feel any power in the dull hymns. I felt exasperated by the relentless, nice humanism of the place. It felt like being in a public school, only everyone was better behaved and a lot older. My kids liked the place and my mother-in-law was clearly pleased that we were there, but I just couldn't feel anything there but a great urge to bolt.

I don't know how we are going to bring a formal spiritual lfe to our children. When my mother-in-law is here on her long visits, she can take them to church. I have no problem whatsoever with anything they are going to learn at a Unitarian church.

I just don't want to go.


Anonymous said...

I too have been struggling with the decision to go or not to go....My husband doesn't want to go to my church (non-denominational) because they have a band and they raise their hands when they sing. It doesn't phase me because I was raised that way. My folks want me to go which makes me not want to go...hello I am 33 what is my frickin problem? Why would I feel like rebelling at my age? I like a lot of what they say and then they say something I totally disagree with and it starts feeling very judgemental..I am not sure I want to raise my kids the way I was raised. I came into adulthood very close minded and I don't think that is right. I don't want my kids to have preformed ideas that I fed them. I want them to decide for themselves. So if they want to go with my folks or the Jewsih girl down the street or the mormon family next door or the hindu kids at school, they need to know and respect all walks of faith. I am still trying to find my niche without being a "member".


susie said...

Rose, I think people like you and me never get over our need to rebel. I wonder if we were just born that way. It sure irritates my husband.

When I was a kid, my form of rebellion was to live a clean and good life. I worshipped at the altar of vegetarianism, Greenpeace and political awareness. My instinctual move toward the fringe wherever I could find it was a nice companion to to my rebellion and seemed to be inborn. I focused on not being a sheep in the way that I used my brain. That's why I explored alternative eating at 14 (and never went back to hot dogs and Rice-a-Roni)and chose to go to a wacky hippy college even though I wasn't outwardly a wacky hippy. Religion scared the hell out of me, because the religious people I'd known were oppressed by their parents (my Mormom friends and the preacher's daughter) and never seemed sincere. As I tried to evolve beyond black-and-white thinking, I found it harder to find the spiritual reverence for Life in the religious practices I witnessed among my friends and family. It all looked phony and smug.

I realize my understanding was, and is, limited by adolescent mental blocks. But I have been fortunate to know a few comitted Christians who were also smart, funny, self-deprecating and not knee-jerk Planned Parenthood picketers. I have opened my mind considerably because of them.

But if I can't even tolerate a Unitarian Church, where they don't even talk about Jesus too much, I still have a serious mental block.

I actually find this troubling.

Anonymous said...

You are ME only articulate!! I knew i should have gone to one of those wacky hippie colleges. My problem is I never Outwardly rebelled, I do it very quietly by avoiding conversations and situations and I am actually really afraid at some point I may become completley closed off. I so don't want that but I don't know how to get through the block, why is it there? I have experienced the same people the churchy types...the young lifers...who would then show up wasted at a dance. There are a few people I know with this great Faith that I feel good around, one of my best friends is mormon she is so honest and so cool, I admire her for being herself and still following her religion. Why are we this way? My mom would tell me to pray about it....Everytime I go to a church i wonder..when is this guy gonna be in the news for cheating on his wife or embezzeling...his jeans are too nice, why is he wearing a leather jacket, why is his wife's hair so perfect, what are they hiding? I feel like maybe I have blocked something from my memory to feel this way. another part, and I hate to say it, is my parents would be so proud, why do I care? This church I went to a few weeks ago felt sooooo fake, So many people came up to me as I was entering and they were so cheerful and wierd I felt like i was walking into a big cult. My hubby would have turned around and walked out.
I do want my kids to have faith but not the way I had it..which was totally fear based. I want them to think..hey god is cool, God is great he is there for me no matter what I do and say. I would just hate for some stupid volunteer sunday school teacher to say something wrong and warp them you know? Ugh, I am all over the bored with this one. It is so interesting that we are both at this wierd fork in the road...we are reliving our childhoods by having kids does everyone feel that way?