Sunday, January 24, 2010

Not Everybody is Catholic

And other religious lessons learned in small-town New Mexico

When Mike and I decided to get married we were faced with quite the conundrum: My parents said that their only request was that we get married in the Catholic Church. This "tiny request" presented us with quite the conundrum, although Mike was raised Catholic he was not confirmed. Further, Mike and I were already living together and couldn't even consider ourselves Christmas and Easter Catholics, big no-nos that would require major reconciliation in most churches before we'd be allowed to walk down the aisle. We looked around at churches and finally found a liberal church that would let us get hitched with minimal adherence to Vatican doctrine. I was delighted with our new church's lack of pews and what can only be described as "Happy Dancing Jesus" in place of the crucified Christ that adorns most Catholic churches.

Despite the church's lack of conventional furniture I was still not prepared for our first and only meeting with the Priest. We walked into his office and the first things I noticed were his lack of a collar, the giant bottle of gin and a giant, friendly chocolate lab. He started off the conversation by asking if I was on birth control and I freaked because I was afraid if I told the truth we'd be kicked out right then and there. Imagine my surprise when he encouraged me to remain on the pill until I was ready to have children, and further explained that this wasn't the 50's when we knew nothing about child psychology and we weren't "raising a farm" so I should not feel obligated to have tons and tons of children. My jaw nearly hit the ground when he said that we should encourage said children to explore their sexuality and to never make them feel ashamed for masturbating. At this point I gave a quick look at the priest's pupils because I was sure he was on acid. After I confirmed his sobriety and got over the sheer embarrassment of having such a conversation with a priest I realized that even not all Catholics are the same and started thinking other times when I realized that not everyone believed exactly what I believed.

Lutherans make the best snacks

The first time I ever went to a Lutheran church was when I was 4 or 5 years old and my mom sent me to a vacation bible school at a church a few blocks from our house. I must have been a particularly annoying child that summer for my mom to hand me over to the Lutherans, but nonetheless, I LOVED that place. Particularly because every time we passed the church, which was often because you couldn't leave our neighborhood without passing it, I saw my first true crush: the Holy Grail of swing sets. It was big, shiny and had a spectacularly amazing looking slide. This is the kind of thing that can stir up incomprehensible longing in a young girl. I must have told my parents that we should join that church at least 10 times a week. After what seemed like years of yearning the bible school finally gave me my chance to swing to my heart's content, teeter-totter like an Olympian and scorch my baby thighs on the slick metal of that glorious, glorious slide heated to a perfect 200 degrees in the July sun. The church service itself seemed pretty familiar: I had to sit still, be quiet and listen to some old guy talk endlessly about stuff I didn't understand. The upside was they gave me my very own miniature bible (which I couldn't read but didn't have to share with my brother and sister -- even though I'm sure Jesus would've appreciated it) and introduced me to one of the greatest culinary delights known to man: the cupcake in an ice cream cone. This little confection took the two most incredible known kid foods and made them into one harmonious child-size delight covered in gobs and gobs of icing. I was in heaven -- however, I must have liked the Lutheran vacation bible school a little too much because for some unknown reason I was taken out halfway through the week never to go back again.

More recently I attended a Lutheran service for passing of a dear friend's father and found myself thinking many of the same things: It was a lot like the Catholic church (they even do the Apostle's creed!) except there was more singing, less standing up and sitting down and once again the superb snacks. I ate something that can only be described as chocolate, marshmallow ecstasy as well as about 20 different types of miniature sandwiches.

Oh, and as life would have it, I now pass the old Lutheran church of my youth on my daily commute to the cube farm and that old longing creeps back up. Over the years they've upgraded to a FULL PLAYGROUND. It looks so awesome that most days I am tempted to call in sick and swing all day long.

Jews are Catholic because Jesus was Jewish, right?

In the first grade my best friend, Bristol, was the coolest person I'd ever met. She was smart, fashionable, sassy, and always smelled really, really good. She was also Jewish and this was totally awesome in my six-year-old mind because Jesus was Jewish and most of the songs I knew at the time were either about Jesus or jump roping. Needless to say, I wanted to be just like Bristol. I didn't understand why my family didn't own a menorah (probably because I was a mini-pyromaniac, but that's another post) and I wanted to go to Hebrew school rather than catechism. I even went so far as to select the one and only RIF book specifically laid out for the two Jewish kids in school (Bristol and her brother) at one of the bi-yearly book giveaways. It was a bright shiny Hanukkah activity book and had stickers and wicked cool pictures of colorful soldiers. I actually remember Bristol being seriously peeved at me for choosing it because for whatever reason I was allowed first pick of books that day and she really wanted it -- but I didn't care it was the coolest book in the world and it was MINE. I think that book lasted about 1 week in our house until it some how disappeared in the way things that parents don't exactly approve of do.

The hardest thing for me understand at that time was why I couldn't be both Catholic and Jewish. Maybe it's because a lot of the stories used to teach young children about the Bible are from the Old Testament. Think about it: Noah's Ark = practically every nursery's decor in America. I seriously felt like they were one in the same and didn't understand why the adults had to constantly point out that they were different. We were different: Bristol was one and I was the other. The older I get the more I understand that these kinds of definitions have caused 90% of the wars in the world. Stupid adults.

The Rapture is not the same as a raptor, but almost.

In high school, still believing that essentially everyone believed in same thing that I did, I started to get involved with the Born Again Christian movement that was growing mighty popular at that time. The Left Behind series could be found at any local Wal-Mart end cap, Mega-Churches were the new Club 54 and anyone who was anyone had a deluxe personalized bible cover. I know it's hard to believe, but in high school I was determined to do exactly what everyone else was doing, so I tagged along with my to the charismatic services and pizza buffet Bible studies with glee.

The thing about these kids is that the kept talking about THE RAPTURE (which I'm pretty sure always appears in all caps). I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about. Let's be clear here, the Catholics have more books in their Bible, not less, so we definitely have the Book of Revelations. We just don't take it that seriously. I once asked a priest about it and he said something like "Eh, we kinda take the Book of Revelations with a grain of salt -- it was written long after the other books of the Bible and we don't know if those guys really knew what they were talking about. But it's a good story."

It scared the shit out of me. Of course I never actually took the intuitive to read it, but my friends were more than happy give my all the gritty details. There were horsemen and Prophets and some kind of global speaker system. You were guaranteed to either to get vaporized or your have head chopped off. And most of all JESUS HATED CATHOLICS. Believing in Mary or Saint Anthony was pretty much the Mark of the Beast itself -- I was destined for hell.

Still, even though many of my Catholic friends were more than happy to give up Communion wafers for Vanilla Wafers, I was not so sure. Instead I created some kind of religious hybrid -- I was determined to reconcile both religions within myself and cover all my bases. I threw my hands up and sang Christian Rock and went home and prayed the Rosary. I went to two youth groups a week and spent copious amounts of time defending each side to the other. I was intensely religious and I probably freaked a lot of people out. I wore a gold necklace that said "Worth Waiting For" and I once spent 45 minutes in drama class explaining how the greatest wedding gift I could give to my husband was my virginity (ha ha).

And Now? Where will I spend eternity?

Eventually just became too much or maybe I just went to college, but either way I pretty much gave up on all of it. I stopped listening to everyone and just listened to myself. I haven't been excommunicated but I guess I'm still technically a Catholic. I can't believe in a God who sends people to hell based simply on semantics and I don't understand why you'd ever start a war over God because I think that would seriously annoy him. I call God him because there isn't a respectful genderless pronoun but I don't think he really cares. I guess I'm just like every other cliche 20-something bleeding heart out there and I really don't know if you go anywhere after you die but I think you shouldn't live your life any less because you're afraid of the answer. I'm just trying be a good person and that should get me points with someone, somewhere. :) OH MAN, I couldn't resist ending this with an emoticon!