My family over the years, has included Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and much further back, Dunkers.
My parents were not particularly religious. We never attended a church, never said grace before meals, never had a Bible in the house.
The closest I got as a kid was that my babysitter was the wife of a Pentacostal Holiness preacher. When I was small, I’d spend Saturday night with them, while my parents were out on the town, dancing, drinking and enjoying themselves. I’d go to Saturday night service at the preacher’s make-do church, where he thundered against sins like dancing, drinking and enjoying yourself. I never caught the irony until years later.
At 13, I got religion. I had joined a local troop of the Boy Scouts, and since we met in the basement of the local Methodist church. I went to sessions with the minister before joining the church formally, with a couple of others the same age. I went to church for a few months and then drifted away.
In college, I was a troubled soul and took several classes in philosophy and other fields with the campus minister, a sort of non-denominational but generally Christian man. The campus was maybe the most wildly leftist college between New York and California, and had a small and old Quaker meeting house. Despite the sharp leftist slant of the college, the man—named Al Denman—was respected as a caring and thoughtful man. The college had an odd kind of dedication to educating students to help others, perhaps left over from the history of the place as a stop on the underground railroad before the Civil War.
I didn’t darken the door of a church for many years. Several memorial services for family members who died were held in the chapel of what was oddly called a “mortuary home.” The most religious event in all that time was at my mother’s death, when the college minister I mentioned earlier led a service. Scores of people attended, and he began with “What I remember about her is her easy laugh and good humor.” That resulted in many people sharing their feelings, a lot of tears and a lot of laughter, too.
Other than that, I went to the rehearsal for a wedding of two friends in a Catholic church—I didn’t go to the actual wedding. And that was my experience in churches from the time I was 13 and for many years.
I considered myself an atheist, and thought that Christianity was simply weird. Communion reminded me of cannibalism. I was bothered as I read that past so-called Christians had endorsed slavery and further back had engaged in genocide against dissidents like the Albigensians. I flirted a little with Zen, and read the Book of Mormon for a class presentation. I became a fervent environmentalist, and I guess that was my religion for all those years.
Fast forward to four years ago when my marriage was disintegrating because of my spouse’s becoming an alcoholic. I reconnected with a friend and his partner. I talked with them and mentioned that I needed to get involved with something and associate with interesting and caring people. He and she decided that a local liberal and activist church might work, and they got me going to Allendale UMC here in St. Pete. That gave me a place to go, although my then-wife, by then in a deep and angry alcoholism made every Sunday morning a small hell.
She didn’t throw me out of the house, but wanted me gone, and after a couple of months of saving up enough money, I left and found the small cottage where I now live.
All I have written so far is the set-up to the real story.
I met someone online and despite having absolutely no intention of developing a relationship, found myself in one.
Then she became very ill and was in the hospital and she was far away and there was nothing I could do. So in desperation, I decided to pray. And I joined an online group called Appalachians in Prayer—I qualified because my mother’s family has been centered in an Appalachian county for a couple of hundred years. I posted a brief request for prayers for my friend. And incredibly, I got almost a thousand prayers in a day.
And my friend—who has since become maybe the most important part of my life—recovered and was out of the hospital in days.
That somehow changed how I thought. The church I joined was—and is—a medium sized congregation of caring people. I remain deeply impressed with my church community. I still don’t accept all the theology of Christianity, and I believe that works are more important than faith. I don’t conceive of God as an old guy in the sky with a long beard, in white robes and sitting in a rocking chair somewhere above the clouds, the way many people seem to.
I’m not entirely sure about heaven and the hereafter. I have come to believe that there are important things that are beyond human understanding, such as the why? of the universe. I have come to believe that life is the creative force in this universe and that maybe what we call God is that creative force. I have come to believe that love and caring have meaning beyond the people involved. I have come to believe that love exists beyond ourselves and that the love we create will last forever. I have also come to believe that laughter is as good as a prayer, and maybe better.
Deep knowledge, every day.
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