“What is your faith background? What of it are you hoping to pass on to your children–or spare them from?”
The kindly old man smiled as his question hung in the air. From his space at the end of our small room where the “Good Parenting Support” (aka GPS, Episcopalians are so clever!) he could watch each of us think out our answers. One by one, each parent responded: the group was apparently split 50/50 between those who grew up in mainline congregations and others like Mikala and myself who sprang from evangelical roots of one kind or another. All had good and bad experiences to relate; all had something they wished to pass on and something to discard.
While I tried listening carefully to each of these experiences, I couldn’t help my mind’s wandering as I contemplated my own complicated journey through faith. How my young life was swaddled within the folds of the church: both of my dads1 were pastors in the same conservative tradition and nearly all my most important memories are set in their places of work.
Like running through the darkened hallways of an emptied church, the musty air pumping through my small lungs, feet pounding on linoleum floors and my shrill voice echoing off the cinder block walls.
Stacking tiny plastic communion cups with my friend Marcus after service, trying to see whose perilously leaning tower could stretch higher before inevitably crashing down, spilling Jesus’s leftover blood everywhere.
Innumerable Sunday School lessons told by flannel graph, video, song, and a handful of blessed–and often crabby–old people.
Learning to like coffee—especially when it had at least four Sweet ‘n Lows and three creamers.
Waiting in the worship pastor’s office after worship sets so we could skip the sermons, laughing at the more ridiculous “musical critiques” left on bulletin prayer notes by some of the older folks.
Spending more hours playing church music than almost any other activity in my life . . . and floating weightless into one of these rehearsals late on a Wednesday night, still walking on air only minutes after my first kiss.
Talking in church parking lots late into the evenings, discussing God, life, and everything in between.
These and many other memories flashed before me while the group continued to discuss their experiences. I tried to figure out what it was that kept me coming to church year after year despite all of the heartache and pain and rejection and downright treachery I’d experienced. Despite decades of feeling this eternally unmet hunger in the pit of my soul, believing I was somehow broken because I could not for the life of me feel the presence of God; could not experience the Divine in any of my songs, prayers, or the hours I spent reading the book we held in so much reverence.
But . . . the Book. Now there is something I could say I loved about this faith.
But what was it about the Bible that drew me? God (or whoever) knows I’ve had my fill of theological and interpretive squabbles—I have little stomach for or interest in trying to “prove” my understanding of the Divine Will by proof text. Debates and discussions centering on the Bible as the sole battleground for revelation and rule of life have never seemed of less concern to me than now.
So what was it? I haven’t even read the damn thing in months except when called upon for some activity, so how could I say this was the thing that drew me back—the lodestar and cornerstone of my path of faith? And in what way could I be said to pass it onto my children?
I took a breath, preparing my own rambling answer to the question when the leader looked at her watch and said, “Well that’s all the time we have today, you all need to go get your children from Sunday School. Thanks for the discussion.”
Literally deflated, I walked upstairs to my 5-year-old’s classroom and asked him about the picture he was coloring.
“Who’s that, buddy?”
“Ummm, Abe-Abrahum. He wanted a baby and prayed and didn’t get one and prayed more and God gave him one and said as many stars in the sky, that’s how many babies he’d have.”
“Wow, that’s a cool story! You know, there’s some really crazy stuff that happened to him; I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.”
Subscribe at the bottom of the page to be updated on all postings! We’ll continue with Part 2 next week.
1. My birth father passed away when I was 7. Guess Mom had a type.↩