Old Time Religion

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The neighbor girl goes to church every Sunday. We never do. The very idea of church is as mysterious and fascinating to my five-year-old daughter as the reality of Sunday services were tedious and agonizing to me as a kid. I woke up every Sunday morning as a child and went to a Baptist church downtown with my mom; my dad, still scarred from a Dutch Christian Reformed upbringing, refused to set foot in any church unless someone was getting married or buried. As my sister and I grew older, mom seemed to grow less devout, and I began to suspect it was always more about fellowship and ritual than salvation. I grew grateful for the ritual; it gave me an opportunity to sneak away each Sunday morning to worship in a different sort of sanctuary: the newsstand across Main Street. It was open every Sunday, and there I grew to love the the feel of glossy magazine pages, the covers of the Bantam Classics, the smell of freshly-inked newsprint and unsmoked cigars. I discovered the world in there. Faygo and Necco Wafers may not make for much of a Eucharist, but there is nonetheless something holy in a small town newsstand.

All of this curiosity about where the neighbor girl goes on Sunday morning has inspired the sort of questions that should belong to the philosophers and theologians who've been wrestling with them for millennia, not five-year olds who demand actual answers. The wrong kind of church is the one that has all your answers, I would tell her. On the radio I hear some woman plugging her book to Diane Rehm all about the importance of taking children to church, if only to give them ritual, to give them something to wrestle with when they're old enough to question belief. I nodded. I do not want to raise her in the Church of Smug Secular Humanism, to think she already has all the answers. We never go to church, true, but we do not want her to think people who do are silly. Some people, we explain, believe in Buddha. Other people believe in Muhammad and Allah. Some believe in many Gods, while others only believe in one. Lots of people believe in Jesus. We tell her that as she grows up she can study everything and decide for herself what she believes.

She pauses and nods, as if she understands. "I believe in Pegasus," she says earnestly. "Don't you?"