I saw a bumper sticker yesterday. “God, please protect me from your followers”. How I wish I had the balls to put that one on my car. The fact that it would offend some is fine. The problem is that it might offend people I care about. People for whom church and God are very important. I should mention at this point that God is important to me. The standard God. Jesus on the cross. He who created all that we see. I don’t dispute that. What I dispute is that a loving God...MY loving God...would create people so that his followers could revile them.
I was raised Catholic but don't feel compelled to label myself a CHRISTIAN -- you know, the upper case, fish on my car kind of Christian. No, I haven't "found God" because I don't believe I ever lost him. I remember my daughter asking me once if we were Christian? Of course. Why? "Well, Christie said we were Catholic so were weren't Christian." Out of the mouths of babes, or more accurately, their Baptist parents.....
No surprise that I’m a lapsed churchgoer...the classic “cafeteria Catholic”. I consider myself Catholic but don’t attend church. I believe in God. I still find comfort in the church and it's smells, the candles, the statuary. It is the people I'm not comfortable with. The people that I feel have interpreted the Bible to justify their intolerance. Those that think that, by allowing same sex marriages, we would be desecrating the sanctity of marriage. Huh?!
I miss going to church or at least I think I do but I finally realized that, more than missing church, I simply feel guilty for not going. I feel it on all religious holidays but especially on Christmas Eve when the priest welcomes “those of you who we only see once a year”. Yep, nice Catholic traditional guilt. Once a year, my family walks to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It seems like each year, I tell myself I’ll start attending church on a more regular basis but I never do it. My daughters are all baptized and I've raised them to be kind and to believe in God but I'm sure I've not been convincing. After all, their friends that go to church are the "real Christians" at least according to those friends. Hauty, holier than thou...my fish is bigger than yours. My oldest considers herself agnostic and has educated herself on other religions because she has trouble reckoning a belief in Jesus Christ with hatred (or at the very least intolerance) for many of her gay friends. Can't say as I blame her. My other daughter occasionally attends services at the church her boyfriend's family attends. It's a "fundamental" Christian church. It's attended by many people involved in 12-step programs and the pastor often reminds everyone that they are lowly sinners. My daughter doesn't figure she's all THAT bad but the people around her seem to need that weekly verbal beating.
So, we recently attended an concert where Arlo Guthrie performed with several of his children a mix of his songs, their songs and his father, Woody’s, songs. In between, there were stories. Long, rambling, warm funny stories. Among the stories, was his tale of purchasing the church that was the focal point of the traditional Thanksgiving song.....Alice’s Restaurant. He bought the actual church and has opened it as a community gathering place. Sitting on a stool on stage, guitar in his lap, Arlo told the audience about a pastor that showed up on the doorstep of the church and inquired as to what kind of church it was. After some consideration, Arlo told him that it was a “Bring Your Own God Church”. His daughter commented that “it’s cool cuz there are a LOT of `em”. This was an epiphany of sorts for me. A real lightbulb moment when I realized that maybe I didn’t connect with my family’s God because it was a different God than I worshiped. Same name. Same likeness. Altogether different teachings.
Arlo also shared, actually taught us, a song of his Dad’s called “My Peace” -- “I pass my peace around and about `cross hands of every hue”. I thought about the "handshake of peace" offered during Catholic masses where we take the opportunity to shake hands and/or hug our neighbors. When I was in high school, during the folk mass where I played guitar, we often had to round up Father Tom, so wrapped was he in the whole handshake/hug process. I miss that feeling and it's been a long time since I felt it in church. After Arlo sang, he commented that “if everyone had the little peace in their heart, the big peace would take care of itself”. Amen Arlo! Thank you.