Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Making of an Existential Pagan, Part I

As I have inferred in earlier posts, I'm not big on going to church. My parents both were raised as church-going folk; my father a Methodist, and my mother an Irish Catholic, but for different reasons, they abandoned their religions. Navy Dad

When my father was in the Navy, during the Korean War, he was onboard a ship that went to China and Hong Kong, and as the ship's doctor or medic, it was his job to check out the brothels, etc. to make sure they were "clean". He said the things he saw in China and Hong Kong made him question his faith; the faith that said God was good and would help those in need. I can only imagine the horrors, because he won't really tell us what he saw, other than to allude to children starving and (no doubt) working in places like brothels. When he came home from the Navy he had a hard time picking up where he had left off, and he stopped going to church.

My mother married her high school sweetheart, either right after high school, or near the end; its never been really clear, and if you knew my mother, you would know why I'm not asking her. (hint: see you next Tuesday, maybe.) She and her sweetie got married because she was pregnant, and she went to stay at a local convent when her condition became obvious, to keep the neighbors from talking, presumably. It was how it was done then, with teen moms - aren't you glad we' ve come a long way baby? When she gave birth to her first child, it died shortly afterwards. Her sweetie's parents had the marriage annulled and she was left to return to her parents' house, where I'm sure very little sympathy awaited her. The conversations she had with her priest after the baby's death, about the unshriven/unbaptized state of the child she had lost (it was headed to hell, according to Catholic doctrine) led her to abandon her religion. She didn't give up being a spiritual person; she tried on several different religions before settling for Ba'hai-ism, with a healthy dose of Buddhism thrown in for good measure.
Family Shot, about 1967

One summer my parents went to San Francisco and my grandparents came and stayed with us. I remember it as being a fun time, with my grandmother making customized pancake shapes for breakfast, etc. But I think she and my aunt decided that while my parents were gone, they would send us to Sunday School, in an effort to "save" us from our parents. I distinctly remember standing out in the front yard, waiting to be picked up for church. It was springtime and the lilies of the valley were blooming around the front steps. My sister was singing the Lilies of the Valley ditty that I posted here. It was a beautiful spring morning, that looking back at it, it seems as if the die was cast for me right there in that yard.

When we got to church, people inquired of my aunt who we were, and there was a general head shaking and grown ups talking to us in that artificially high voice that always puts my neck hairs up. We were sent to different classes, based on our age. I wish I could say it was a crystalline moment, something I could concretely describe to you as the moment I knew. What I remember of it is that I felt like an exotic animal, who everyone knew didn't really belong there and might just go wild at any point. There was no sense of welcome or of anyone wanting us to really be there.Dad's Graduation 1974

When I was older and we had moved down south, away from the rest of the family, there wasn't as much external pressure on my parents to send us to church. We went a couple of summers to Vacation Bible School at a Baptist church with our neighbor, mostly, I think, to get us out of the house. I can't say as I blame my mother; four kids to handle and a husband who only came home on the weekends. Oh yeah, she needed the break! It was actually less judgemental at my neighbor's church than it had been at my aunt's church, though we still had the outsider vibe from the other kids, and the adults still talked in that high little fake voice that says Condescension with a capital "C". It wasn't horrid or nightmarish, outside of the music director's extra arm skin flapping as she led us in yet another badly written hymn, but it wasn't exactly selling any of us on getting good with God. (That extra arm skin thing STILL haunts me - I never could tear my eyes away from the horror of it, all that mysteriously superfluous flesh, dangling and dancing every time she moved. I was a kid; I had no idea of the indignities of feminine aging at that time - karma is a real bite in the ass, sometimes.)
To be continued...


Ben & Bennie said...

I'm very interested in where this is going...not that I'm going to try and save you from hell or anything. ;)

Organized religion sure can do a number on some folks. And I think the more one deeply thinks about things (read creative types) the worse it gets.

jennifer h said...

I wish I could say the die was cast that early for me. I was in my 20s, after being brought up in a very strict religion, before I was able to untangle myself and know that it wasn't for me.

My heart goes out to your mother at that age, dealing with all of that. I'm curious, always, to try to identify the events that shape our parents and make them the parents they become.

Can't wait to

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Church felt forced and phoney to me early on, so I know of what you speak. It left me searching for some form of spirituality all through college. This was an extremely engaging post, Im looking forward to the next installment.

The "aloha arms"(waves at you coming and going) story cracked me up. Oh yes, Karma has a wicked sense of humor.

flutter said...

Oh this is totally fascinating, I can't wait to hear more. You are quite prolific in your blog break;)

Revenant said...

Wow this seems interesting. I am more of a Richard Dawkins reader myself, but, let's see where you go with this.

FairiesNest said...

WTF!!! I'm reeling from the third paragraph!!!!!!!!!

and as an aside I had to go to Sunday school with Suzanne all the time...how did you get to miss all that fun?

Revenant said...

What had the Lady Jessica to sustain her in her time of trial? Think you carefully on this Bene Gesserit proverb and perhaps you will see: "Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere. Climb the mountain just a little bit to test that it's a mountain. From the top of the mountain, you cannot see the mountain."