What was I doing there? I didn’t have an answer then and, honestly, I don’t have one now as I look back on my Sunday school years during grade school. Was this where my faith journey began more than seven decades ago?
Church membership was like a telephone, every family had one whether they attended regularly or not. Running a store six days a week, going to church was not a Sunday priority for my Dad, and so I rode my bike to get to Sunday School at the Methodist Church in Quincy, IL. Classes were largely populated by residents of Chaddock Boys School, a ministry of the Methodist Church which “serves thousands of children and families every year through foster care and a full range of preventative, educational, and treatment services,” according to their website.
They wore uniforms and were not a particularly gregarious group. There were no classmates or playmates of mine, which left me as pretty much an outsider. So, what was I doing there? I didn’t know then and I still don’t. We moved to another town to start my high school years where I attended a church of the same denomination.
A New Church?
Many of my new friends were Catholic and it seemed to me that their religion touched them in ways that mine had never done. The confessional and communion are two examples. When I became romantically involved with a Catholic girl a couple of years after high school, I decided to learn more about the religion and took instructions from her uncle, a resident priest at a Catholic seminary.
Although I completed the instructions, I did not go ahead with baptism and membership for several reasons, personal and institutional. Shortly thereafter, I was drafted into the military and attended Mass every Sunday for two years. After service, I returned to school to finish my college education and had little inclination to resume attending the Catholic church (ineligible for their sacraments) or my old religion, heavy on hell-fire and damnation.
Ten years later, raising a family, my wife and I felt it was time to provide a religious foundation for our young children. We wound up at an LCA Lutheran Church where I heard the pastor say “you don’t need to do anything to achieve salvation; it’s a gift from God.” No angry, vindictive God to send me to hell for a minor infraction and no mortal sins or obligations. I had finally found my church home and it has continued to be for four decades!
Literal translation of the word mediocre from its Greek roots is, halfway up the mountain. Was I there yet?
My real faith journey was just getting started. Now, I began to look for answers to real questions that revolved around why things are the way they are? Who are you, God? What do You expect from me? While I have not stumbled across any stone tablets or had a burning bush conversation, I’ve gotten glimpses, flashes of some things wonderfully profound. Life is good.
I am 84 years old, free of pain, and have no prescribed medication. Thank you, God! Sitting outside on a perfect summer day, I look up at a pure blue sky and realize that just on the other side of that protective shield, I would be irradiated and fast-frozen, ready for the freezer section of my grocery store. Thank you, God, for beautiful planet Earth. I awaken in the morning and look over at the most beautiful woman I have ever seen; a best friend who brings joy to me every day. Out loud I say Thank you, God.
There have been epiphanies, like the one that occurred while ushering at a funeral a few years ago, when I realized that my life was infinitely better because of faith. That was an amazingly positive event but left me sad for all the people who make this journey without a faith connection.
I had a conversation with a church friend who was conflicted by our decision to accept people with sexual orientations contrary to that prescribed by the Bible. Several members left our church when that decision was made and he didn’t know how he should feel about that until I reminded him that judging them was not our job. It is amazing how not judging people simplifies life. I have acquaintances that I’m drawn to by common interest; with others, not so much. Being non-judgmental frees me to follow my interests with a clear conscience.
Recently, I have nuanced my relationship with God. Instead of that invisible, awesome power who was “out there somewhere,” I have begun to think of Him as a friend who is with me always. It gives me a warm and secure feeling to have a friend who accepts me with all my idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.
Along the way, I have reached a conclusion that many of my church friends disagree with. There is not just one way to achieve salvation. In Bible study, I have encountered those who take literally Jesus saying, “I am the way,” meaning that only Christians can reach Heaven. The God I love is a God of infinite mercy and grace who would not arbitrarily consign a few billion people to damnation.
Do Your Own Thing
What is the truth? It is a belief system based upon the way we choose to live our lives. I am reminded of a story told by a pastor in a sermon many years ago.
There were some water bugs who would hang out together at the base of a lily pad in a pond. One day, their conversation turned to the observation that every once in a while, one of their group would crawl up the stem of the lily pad and never be seen again. After much discussion and speculation, they made a solemn pact that when any one of them went up the lily pad, they would come back and tell the rest what they saw. Soon, one of them made that journey and emerged into bright sunlight. As he sat there on the sunny side of the pad, he thought about the solemn pact with his friends and had an urge to go back. And then he looked at the wings he had sprouted and other ways his body had changed and realized he could never go back.
I am still at the base of the lily pad and, although I don’t have the big answer, I have developed life-guiding principles by taking in the landscape on my journey. This life is simply a test to measure how we handle the good and the bad. I know people who scour the Bible looking for aha passages but, to me, how to lead a Christian life is simple to understand. I did not say simple to do, but there is no mystique about how we should treat people along the way…and that’s the whole ballgame. Everything else is batting practice.
I am convinced that God looks favorably on anyone who follows the Golden Rule, regardless of where they spend their Sundays or, for that matter, whether their spiritual home is a church, synagogue, mosque or elsewhere.
Personally, I go to church every Sunday, not out of any sense of obligation but because that’s where I get energized for the coming week and to see all the friends I have made there through the years.
Life is good because God is good.