This was one of those photos that spoke to me. I had no idea at the time what I was capturing, I was just snapping away. And then when I was editing there was a kind of funky irony to a street sign indicating a crooked road in front of a church. Are we to assume the path to true piety is crooked? Or am I being jaded?
A friend and I were discussing religion today. More specifically Catholicism. He asked me if I went to church regularly. (We are both Catholic) I said no and that honestly I had not even picked a church to attend in Chester County since I moved out here. He asked me if I missed church and I said, honestly, no. (And understand this friend of mine is a little right of Attila the Hun as far as conservatism and religion go.)
Ok not a nice thing to admit, but I am totally conflicted about the Catholic Church, especially given all the issues in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As an adult who is free thinking I have a hard time with why it is I should believe in a church that allowed so many predators and pedophiles of children to roam around unfettered. When I was a child I never knew priests like this existed. I went to church, to Sunday school. I believed. Maybe it’s that whole thing about when you are a child you believe with a child’s innocence. (Of course that is why I am glad there are non-profits out there now like Justice4PAKids.)
(Ok so I mean no disrespect for the Mennonite Church. I just like to photograph fire and brimstone as well as amusing religious signs. Just thought I would say that on the record.)
Anyway, we got into this whole deep and slightly esoteric discussion about faith and faith based lifestyles and how people should go to church more and how the world would be a better place if people went to church more.
Ideologically, yes, perhaps. But we live in the real world, right?
So I am a Catholic, I have my faith, but am conflicted by my church and the actions of said church. How do I resolve that? Do I pretend questions don’t exist?
And then there is the whole thing of joining a new church. How do I pick one and will I feel like the new kid transferring into school if I go to mass at one of them? I have already had a couple of years of that new kid in town feeling, and well it was much easier to deal with when you are a kid because I think we are just more flexible when we are younger.
But some days my brave new world is daunting. You know because it’s new. It’s exciting and happy and all sorts of positive and amazing things, but some days it is like being the new kid in school. It took me a year before I actually recognized someone in a grocery store. So the idea of all eyes on the newbie in the church pew is so utterly unappealing.
When it comes down to it, how do I even go about choosing a church? I thought about checking out Saints Peter and Paul on Boot Road. But then, one day driving by I saw all these extremely disturbing anti-abortion signs along their property line facing the road. I might be Catholic but I believe in a woman’s right to choose no matter what that choice
is. What I believe is right for me personally is not something I feel I could foist on another woman. Nor do I believe things like this belong on either a political platform or a pulpit. So to say I dislike these signs is a bit of an understatement. (Don’t even get me started on the pro-life billboards!)
Of course the other thing is the whole idea of living in faith based world. Do we live with faith as part of our world or is it supposed to control our world? When I see websites or articles about “faith based investing” for example, I have to wonder. Will I next see faith based grocery shopping ?
How do I join the beliefs of traditional religion to the modern world in which I live? I still consider myself to be a person who believes in God and has faith. But I don’t know what to do with the rest of it. How can I still be Catholic if I question so much about my own religion, for example?
Of course there is also the whole thing of meeting some people in recent years who professed to be oh so godly, so pious. Quite literally holier than thou. They were as mean as snakes to some and do the whole “bless your heart” thing to most.
“Bless your heart” is basically a Southern Idiom as I know it and considered pejorative. When you meet these official “bless your heart” types they will smile to someone’s face and stab them in the back before they are turned around, and well to me it is a sad commentary on humanity.
So are we more politically correct to be faith based, or is it a marketing tool of lobbyists and way too conservative for me personally political groups (or aspiring politicians)?
Faith based by definition is “affiliated with, supported by, or based on a religion or religious group”. We live in a country founded on religious freedoms, so how does that compute?
What kind of God are we supposed to believe in? Allowed to believe in? Is religion supposed to be gentle and all enveloping or punishing? Is religion supposed to be a private belief system or a political platform?
So many questions.
I know truly religious and pious people who do amazing things and then there are the others who use religious beliefs as judgment, i.e. how people stack up against their moral high road to nowhere fast.
I was always told in the scheme of manners the things you should refrain from discussing at a dinner party are religion and politics. How about on blogs? Today might be the day for some rule-breaking as the topic of religion is on my mind.
We’ll start with me. I am born, baptized and all that good stuff a Roman Catholic. To me the church I was born into was quite different from the one which exists today. Maybe that is because my first parish was a Jesuit one called Old St. Joseph’s on Willings Alley in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. It was and still is a beautiful church with an amazing history steeped in the very formation of this country given it’s location. We have a family pew there. If I am deadly honest with myself the last time I felt at home in a Catholic Church was that one. It was a church where both the beauty of the actual building as well as the disposition of the priests really made you believe.
We moved to the Main Line when I was 11 turning 12. There we joined a parish called St. John Vianney. When I was young, the pastor there was this amazing man called Father Ignatius Reynolds. My great-aunt Josie had sung at his ordination mass as it turns out. I liked him and his teachings, but was turned off to an extent as a new kid there when I had to go to Sunday School at the then parish school. There I learned the cruelty of children of “good Catholics”. One of the nuns who taught us was completely senile. The kids were merciless with her. But then again, so were some of the kids with others.
Believe it or not, in 7th grade I was bullied in Sunday School of all places. The girl had a fairly pleasant sister, but she was the kid who had the less pleasing personality in the family and at that time she was mean as spit and a bully. It wasn’t much fun to be bullied in Sunday School. I learned to stand up for myself when I realized no one else would and thankfully when I told this girl to buzz off, eventually she did.
The fact that this Sunday School was attached to a Catholic Church which did nothing to control some of the kids did in a way create an issue for me with the Catholic Church. Next issues for me would be when I got a little older.
When my parents moved from suburbia back into the city decades later they had their records transferred to a new parish close to them. My records were to stay put as I was still on the Main Line. But then I realized mine hadn’t stayed put. So I called up the rectory and spoke to Father Lexus (what else would you call a priest who you had seen driving a Lexus?). Father Lexus said to me “well I don’t know who you are” I asked him with all due respect if he could possibly know all of his parishioners because not only was he new to my parish, he had another parish, which made him responsible for what is known as a twinned parish. Father Lexus told me he would have to interview me and then decide. Talk about a turn off. I had been confirmed in the parish, him appointed about two seconds to the parish. But hey, unfortunately with most affluent parishes, it is always all about the money. As a fairly ordinary person in that regard, I was in a sense forgettable.
Then an amusing thing happened after that. I was on a train bound for NYC with a friend for a party and this little man in full clerical black robes to the floor glides by on the aisle.
“Who is that?” my friend asked.
“Cardinal Bevilaqua. I think I will go say hello.” I replied
So I went up to speak to Cardinal Bevilaqua. After all how often do you get to converse with a Cardinal? He was a very pleasant man. Of course because at his core he was a priest, he asked me what parish I belonged to. I told him honestly I did not know and recounted a gentler, more polite version of the Father Lexus story. Miraculously, a few weeks later, I started getting donation envelopes and parish mail again. I was back in. No great surprise there as he had appointed Father Lexus to my parish in the first place.
As a Catholic, and a resident of the Philadelphia area I will admit there have been many challenges to faith over the past decade or so. Look at all the pedophile priests, one of whom the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and then Rome released from priestly duty and put back into my old neighborhood unsupervised for years. Eventually he was one of the ones who went to jail but what kind of church puts a person like this BACK into a neighborhood full of children in the first place? And what kind of man who called himself a priest ever drove an old gold tone convertible Rolls Royce occasionally?
And then there is the whole Pre-Cana thing. Back in the day, it meant that you were counseled prior to marriage by the parish priest who undoubtedly baptized you and knew your family. Times have changed, priests are fewer, and the Catholic Church also has turned this in to a warehouse money-maker.
Weddings and funerals are BIG business – don’t get me started on the story of a friend who had to pay off her parish so she could have the music of her family’s choice and not the church’s at a family funeral. Or the other friend who buried a family member out of a church close to where they lived in Philadelphia who had the priest who conducted a funeral mass like “INSERT NAME HERE” and said during his sermon “well we don’t know where [X person] is now.” Uhh we’re Catholic, this was a good man, so Padre how about trying heaven because if you as a priest can’t summon up the concept of heaven well Houston we have a problem, don’t we? I am to this day, incidentally, honestly glad that the family was bereft enough that they did not actually comprehend what this priest had said.
But back to Pre-Cana. If you want to be married in the church you are supposed to go to Catholic boot camp. Now it is not being counseled by your parish priest it is instead teams of married couples who probably know little to nothing about you overseen by priests who know little to nothing about you. Rah rah go Catholic! But you have to go through this process which includes a “Marriage Preparation Course” get a certificate and whatnot while trying to keep family members from going off the rails while you plan a wedding. And oh yeah, you have to pay for this inconvenience. No wonder so many couples are stressed out when planning weddings, right? And don’t you love the concept of people who have zero commonality with you other than Catholicism telling you how you are supposed to enter your marriage and live your life?
And then there is the whole thing about divorce. You are supposed to get an annulment if you were married in the Catholic Church. I still wonder to this day when a friend of mine’s mother in law got an annulment so her remarriage would be recognized if she annulled her first marriage like it did not exist did that make her children from that marriage illegitimate? After all she was getting her Catholic get and *poof* making the marriage disappear in the eyes of the Church, right? People I know who have gotten annulments who are more my contemporaries age-wise have spent oodles of money in the process and it took forever, like you were being punished for getting out of a failed marriage.
I will admit freely I am a haphazard church goer. Maybe it is indeed because of the rigidity of the “You.Must.Go.To.Church” of my youth. Maybe it is because of the occasional Catholic guilt I get from my mother as an adult about not going to church regularly.
But contrary to what some uber-Catholics might think it does not mean I did not know who I am, or what my faith is because I do. I just sort of figured God is all around us so would he really judge so harshly if I wasn’t an every Sunday church goer?
I had bits of this discussion with a younger priest (as in not older than dirt) I met while going through breast cancer treatment. His name is Father Denny and he is the pastor at Our Mother of Good Counsel in Bryn Mawr. He reminds me of the priests I knew and admired as a child. He is a remarkable man and one of the reasons I liked him so much other than he was there for me to occasionally chat with when I was going through something difficult (breast cancer), he is also a gardener. If you live on the Main Line and you are looking for a priest who actually walks the walk and doesn’t just talk the talk, he is your guy.
I have friends of many different religious persuasions. Catholic, Jewish, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Unitarian, Baptist, Lutheran, Quaker, Greek and Eastern Orthodox, and so on. I have watched them struggle with their religions and churches, sat on the sidelines while their churches had some amusingly juicy scandals from time to time as well. I also have friends who became ministers or who were off spring of ministers and rabbis. These people in particular are amazing – they live their beliefs, they don’t foist their beliefs onto you and they are Godly and accepting for lack of a better term. Really good people.
Now to where I am going with this post. I might not be a devout Catholic, but I know that is what I am. I have no issue with people practicing and embracing mainstream religion (although I prefer religion in moderation). Where I go off the rails is with the super evangelical and so-called “born again” Christians. Off shoot religions. And these are the people who never in any way shape or form can ever truly respect you are not like them as far as religion goes and they love to recruit new blood and foist their beliefs onto you. I have a huge problem with people who try to foist their religion on you. It’s not right and I do not know that God.
In any event, have noticed an alarming and disturbing religious trend in this country and in this state over the past few years. It may partially be like a knee jerk reaction to politics to an extent, or a reflection of the economy, but in a lot of cases I see people struggling to define themselves who in their quest for that fulfillment are getting sucked into groups who I find disturbing and almost cult like.
I know people who were born into traditional religions who have become “born again”. At first I was happy for them because it seemed they had found peace or whatever. I even went to bible study with one of them to check it out and to try to be supportive of a friend’s new religion choice.
What I found wasn’t so holy or spiritual, it was kind of disturbing. And cultish.
I entered this room of mostly women. There were some men. There was all this singing and evangelical tent preaching hand waving and I found myself struggling, but tried not to judge. Then there were these weird God discussions. I kept waiting for the bible study format I was familiar with to appear – you know when they discuss actual bible passages and go over bible passages they were supposed to review from the previous week?
I looked around the room at the people. One woman I recognized. An older woman who at one point had lived in my old neighborhood. She was born Jewish, married I believe a Catholic. She then became a Jew for Jesus and then joined that cult-like Church of the Saviour in Tredyffrin Township. Ironically, in spite of all her attempts at piety, she was one of the nastiest women I had ever met. She never did anything to me, I gave her generally wide berth – but I saw her do things to people which blew my mind. I also once witnessed her go into a racist, profanity laced tirade in front of a police officer when she had caused an accident that was so astounding I seriously thought she needed an exorcism. (She was practically foaming at the mouth while spewing her vitriol) And there she was reinvented once more, this time a born again Christian.
After the bible study I remember asking my friend about people in the meeting. Some had given off weird vibes. Ends up a few were recovering alcoholics and whatnot, but instead of going to traditional AA and NA meetings, they were part of this group. There was also someone with serious emotional imbalances who was a danger to themselves and others unless medicated, but this group thought meds wouldn’t help him but Jesus could heal the person so they prayed over them.
I never went back to another meeting although I was asked. I was polite, I was not critical or judgmental. But as time has passed this group has sucked this person I know in further. Now it is at the point where these born again people have replaced a lot of their long-term friends. They go on these trips to see all these Christian speakers. Now I thought the Catholic Church liked to make $$, well you have seen nothing until you see all the little nickel and diming that all adds up in the realm of being born again.
These born agains follow people like Joyce Meyer and Sid Roth just to name a few. Joyce Meyer is one who has been watched for years and in 2003 watchdog groups called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Meyer and other TV preachers. Every summer Joyce Meyer does this evangelical conference in Hershey PA that people do bus trips too. She is like this multi-million dollar brand and didn’t people learn from the fraudulence that was Jim and Tammy Faye Baker? If Jesus walked around with bare feet and plain robes giving things away, how is it these people are raking in the dough and claiming to live in God’s image?
Truly, I try not to judge where religion and religious beliefs are concerned. However I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the fact that some of the born again Christian beliefs some people are turning to is kind of scary.
What scares me is that these groups have turned some people who used to be very much live and let live into incredibly intolerant beings.
How is worshiping that brand of God productive or positive? How is going from believing in an all-embracing God to a judgmental deity a good thing for anyone? And how is it positive in the way they try to control everything that goes on amongst their members lives? If you know people who are part of these groups, you know the deeper they get into the group the less time they have for people in their lives who aren’t part of that group. Almost cult-like in some cases.
Extremism isn’t good for the soul. Be who you are.
And do I believe in God or a higher power? Yes. Perhaps I am more spiritual at times than religious these days, but that is o.k.
Anyway some may not like this post. Some may find it irresponsible or wrong, but I think we need to talk about these things. Discussion is not wrong.
Door to door anything drives me bananas. But within the culture of door to door, what I find the most offensive is door to door religion, or Jesus drive-bys.
Well ’tis the season in East Goshen and many other parts of Chester County. But what is new for me here, versus where I have spent the rest of my life, is that what I used to see was annoying, but not as intrusive – the people parked on the public street and went door to door. But here? Here they drive up with a gaggle of God’s soldiers in a mini-van.
Today, first I got one set, then another. First of all, it’s raining. Second of all, it is incredibly intrusive.
So there they are at my door early this morning. Said “no thank you” to the first crew. Then came the second wave. I will admit I wasn’t so nice to the second set.
When you say “no thank you” and you are all driving in the same freaking mini-van respect that. Don’t send the second set who has someone who asks you if you are sure.
Yes I am sure. I have my God. And my God does not encourage me to foist my beliefs onto others door to door driving up people’s private driveways proselytizing. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists and other various and assorted prosletory groups should not be able to just waltz on whatever private property takes their fancy under the guise of religious solicitation. I do not and never have approved of religious solicitation. And these crews also seem to make people give back parts of their salaries to these “churches”, which of course might be one of the reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest landlord in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn and have a crazy amount of real estate holdings. It is cult – like to me. I mean is it normal to want to set one’s self on fire like a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia did recently?
I have my God and he doesn’t need replacing thank you very much. I find these “visits” intrusive, not Godly. I must not be the only one as I found a website of born-again Christians who are runaway former Christian Scientists.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!, and refusing military service and blood transfusions. They consider use of the name Jehovah vital for proper worship. They reject Trinitarianism, inherent immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines. They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity. Adherents commonly refer to their body of beliefs as “the truth” and consider themselves to be “in the truth”. Jehovah’s Witnesses consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.
What do all of you think? Do you think Jesus should deliver? I have also noticed that much as was the case in the depression, the worse the economy gets, the more people who are turning to alternative and non-traditional religion and religious practices. Which in and of itself is very interesting, sociologically speaking.
At the end of the day, how you worship God is a personal thing. I have friends who are many different religions. We respect each others’ views and don’t foist personal beliefs on others. They don’t drive their mini vans full of Onward Christian Soldiers up the driveway, either.
According to a Google search, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are located at 1200 Phoenixville Pike in West Chester. May they learn to stay in their own driveway and consider themselves disassociated or disfellowshipped from mine – ya know since I am one of those pagans who celebrate things like Christmas, anyway?