God, Heaven, the After life and all the rest of it

Well the day has come.  I’m actually going to talk about faith and God and all of the rest of it on this blog.  If you read the entry all the way through, you will see why this was all pretty unlikely until recently.

Recently I started going to a bible study group.  I was invited to go by a dear, dear friend of mine.  I initially joked that I started going because my friend has two adorable children and had a dog until recently.  The dog upped stakes and moved to Canada.  I mean without thumbs or anything.  Arranged a moving van and moved himself to Canada.  Nah, I’m kidding.  The dog went to live with my friend’s brother while she deals with the toddlers.

Every week we gather for the bible group and its meant a lot to me.  We support each other and we talk about general themes and get comfort from one another.

I joke a lot about what it even got me to get into the door of the bible group.  I did not grow up with faith and neither did my parents and what I saw of it growing up and later as an adult did not sit well with me to put it mildly.

As a kid, I’d go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York for mass sometimes, more sporadically than anything else.  It wasn’t something we did on a regular basis, religiously if you will.  My dad used to like to listen to the organ music.  I kinda couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Sometimes when I went to Poland as a kid, I’d go to church with my country grandmother.  I had a country and a city grandmother.  The city grandmother was an atheist and the country grandmother went to church sometimes because she wanted to be buried in the cemetery next to the church.  All the right people, I guess.

Generally the Polish churches were gloomy places filled with what my mother termed as “klecha,” which is this pejorative term for clergy.  This sort of clergy that was backward, stuck in the past and generally close minded.

Through the years, I attended church, most of the time at the behest of a friend or a relative.  I never got anything out of it to be totally honest.  Every service I went to involved some talk of the afterlife, after we all went to heaven.  Oh that wonderful stuff that we will all experience when we are dead.  Most of the time, I wanted to stand up and say “what about now padre?”  What about the here and now?

I have plenty of negative stories from my years of going to church.  One in particular was when my grandfather died when I was 16.  The whole situation deeply upset my father and we went to this Catholic church in Valhalla, New York where we lived at the time.  My dad wanted us to go to light candles for my grandfather and I think in a way my dad was hoping to get some kind of comfort from the church.

Well, comfort my father did not get that day.  First when I walked into the church, I realized that every single person I went to high school with went to that church.  These were people who spent the weekdays talking about the drinking and drugging they had done on the weekend.  Here it was Sunday, so I guess it was time to go and repent.  Worse, nobody even smiled or came to talk to me or anything or wondered why we were even there in the first place.  Oh well.  I mean it isn’t as if I expected them to talk to me in the first place.

The service started and it got yet worse.  The priest spent the entire sermon going on about how expensive the gutters in the church were and how expensive it was to replace them.  I’m not sure what this even had to do with God, the church, the holy spirit, Jesus or anything else.

I always pointed to this as an example of how ridiculous the whole concept of religion even was in the first place.  People told me over the years that I had to go to a different church, but this to me was the perfect illustration of what was wrong with going to church in the first place.

I also saw so much hypocrisy with respect to religion.  I saw people doing awful things, acting in horrible ways towards people and then sort of hiding behind religion as some kind of justification.  I had a college roommate who was heavily involved with the Christian students group at the college I attended.  She kept her entire life a secret to her parents.  She smoked, had tons of boyfriends and generally acted un-Christian but yet she hid behind the religion thing.  Another hypocrite.  Another reason to turn my back on religion in general.

The final nail in the religion coffin for me came in 2012.  My parents have periodically invited my cousins to the United States over the years.  Generally my cousins were well behaved and made me look bad in the chore department!!!!!  Nah, again, kidding.  They were nice but that all changed in 2012.  A cousin who I had some small amount of contact with over the years came to stay in the United States.  I offered to let her stay in Le Minuscule Chez Kelton for the duration of her stay.

My cousin made me go to mass with her during this time.  A friend reminded me that churches usually had pretty good bakeries nearby, which is a pretty good argument for church attendance.  I enrolled my cousin in the school I used to work in and I would take her around Boston after school everyday.  Now I’m biased.  I will never say anything against Boston.  I took her to different places that I loved in the city.  I took her to the Public Garden one day and I said “this is my favorite place in Boston.”  She goes “they are all your favorite.”  Ok well, bad me for loving the place I lived in.

One day I took her to Harvard Square, where I have passed many a pleasant afternoon over the years.  She had the same weak reaction to the place that she’d had to every other place we’d visited.  I asked her what she thought of Harvard Square and she goes “my religion teaches me that the greatest rewards are in heaven.”  Now excuse my French, but that is the largest load of bullshit I have ever heard.  It felt like to me that I was being told that I was some fool for enjoying Harvard Square as much as I did.  It was kind of awful and further turned me against organized religion in all forms.

Which brings me back to the beginning of the entry.  Until recently, I was on team atheist, further team anti-religion.  Opiate of the masses.  I did however always think that I would explore the whole religion thing, but I thought it would be when a great crisis had struck my life.  The last two years haven’t been that great crisis, but they aren’t a time I will look back on with unadulterated fondness.

So, this past summer I started going to a once a week bible study.  My friends started talking about the ideas and I thought “wait.  Open yourself up to this.”  We explored further.  I realized that I had always believed in some kind of greater power, call it God if you wanted.  My friends showed me how to pray and what to pray for.

This past weekend I went on the first church retreat I have ever been on.  It was in New Hampshire.  It was like a ski trip without the skiing.  We went to services.  The pastor was this jovial older man who told wonderful stories.  We were encouraged to share our stories.  No judgement.  The tears flowed.  Everyone seemed to be going through some kind of difficult stuff in their lives.  It was really refreshing to be in an environment like that.

Whatever path leads you there:

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