Holding Forth

Published on October 19th, 2014 | by Richard Black


Finding Faith


How do they get those plants to grow to so conveniently hide genitalia.

Many, many years ago I attended church on a somewhat regular basis and by many years ago I refer to the time before I was in high school and found alcohol in lieu of Jesus Christ.

I can honestly say that I’ve run the gamut as far as conventional religions are concerned. I was brought up as an Episcopalian largely because my father was heavily involved in the church for reasons I’m not certain about to this day. I suspect his interest had something to do with the fact that my mother was, and I’m not kidding, a nun. At least she was before they met. She left the convent before taking her final vows, ended up in Ann Arbor Michigan shortly thereafter and met my father a few months later once he’d completed a tour in Vietnam.

It should come as no surprise that they divorced some twelve years later and I’ve spent then of thousands of dollars in therapy attempting to discover the reasons why they came together. I cannot imagine two people more ill suited for each other.  Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas had more in common with each other than my mother and father and I am the product of their union.

Looking back I firmly believe that my father’s  conversion to the Episcopalian church was an attempt to entice my mother (who I remember being at church precisely four times throughout my life) back into the fold.  He was raised as a Presbyterian because the snobs at the Methodist church in the small town he grew up in had shunned my grandmother and presumably because the better denominations weren’t accepting applicants.

Many years ago I asked my old man why he was so involved in the Episcopalian church given his Methodist upbringing and the fact that he did not believe in God or an afterlife.  Being an attorney he took the next three hours to essentially say two things: It never hurts to hedge a bet regarding an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God and going to church reinforces family values.  A lot of Episcopalians in the church were also fairly well off, pushing a hundred and fifty and in need of estate planning which probably added to my father’s interest.

Not coincidentally this is around the time when I began to drink and smoke. And so for the next four years when I wasn’t reeling from a massive Crème de Menthe hangover on Sunday, that being the only alcohol I could consume that wouldn’t cause undue attention, I began to explore other spiritual options.

I began with the Baptists mostly because minister’s daughter was pretty cute and she had accidentally brushed up against my junk one day in school. I’d always heard that minister’s daughters were easy but that accidental brush of my genitalia was as much action as I was going to see. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that particular fact at the time and, for the next two weeks, I became an enthusiastic Baptist for the sake of lust.

Once I began listening to their message it was pretty evident that small town Baptism wasn’t for me. There were an awful lot of rules to begin with and ones with fairly dire outcomes if they weren’t followed to the letter. Growing up in a small town there weren’t many gays around but damning the two of them to hell seemed like a bit of an overreaction. As objects of constant ridicule it seemed like they had their hands full in the here and now. I can’t say that I questioned my sexuality much in those days but but I wanted to keep my spiritual options open in the event I was struck by the gayness.

For the next few years I bounced around the muzak of mainstream Protestantism until I went to college and spent my Sunday mornings trying to re seduce any woman with poor enough judgment to come home with me the night before.

“I know you’re hungover but since you’re already here…”

During a few brief stints in college I sampled them all; Protestant religions that is not young women.

I dabbled in Methodism and found it to be a nice experience but had to part ways once I learned of their intolerance for alcohol. I’m not a biblical scholar but I’m pretty sure Jesus said something about take this bread and wine and think of me. I have yet to read any bit of scripture that mentions grape juice as a viable substitute for the blood of Christ. There’s  something profoundly lame about drinking grape juice in lieu of wine that is in lieu of the blood of Christ.

I moved on to the Lutherans who were just plain nuts. The only difference between a hardcore Lutheran and a hardcore Baptist is that Baptists will instruct their children to ignore science classes in school while the Lutheran will simply forgo public education. It’s an elegant solution really and at least it’s one that is theologically consistent.

I found a level of intolerance in the Lutheran church that I had only seen at family gatherings and a very select few right wing born again tent revivals in the Appalachians. Granted my experience was limited to a small sample and one that I hope is not indicative of the faith as a whole but I found the experience to be an abhorrent bastardization of what was purported to be Christ’s message. Never have I witnessed a group so insular and one that would resemble a cult in any other description.

Not Lutheran? Destined for Hell.

Believe in evolution? Off to Hell.

Shake your penis more than three times at a urinal in a public or private setting? Enjoy eternity on fire.

What really put me off was that none of them got my jokes or even pretended to appreciate them. Around the time I realized that the Lutheran faith and I were not simpatico I began to joke about how the flyers to elect a new Board of Elders would be better suited for the front door of the church instead of a cork board in the back of the kitchen. I tried the bit a few times and rarely got more than a blank stare as a response.

My next foray into faith was with the Presbyterians. To be honest I don’t remember much about the experience but, in all fairness, I think that’s true of most people who are Presbyterians.

I could go on about my experiences with the other branches of Protestantism but I won’t as I have the good sense not to alienate my entire audience.  Suffice it to say that I experienced the width of what Protestantism has to offer if not the depth.

In hindsight and as I continue my journey I’ve come to understand that my method for finding a path towards faith was flawed. Faith is remarkably personal and developing and understanding of it requires a lot of work and more than a little introspection. Hopping around from church to church to find THE ANSWER is akin to switching political parties (unless it’s wackadoo party or religion at which point one should most certainly switch or at least question one’s involvement). They all pretty much believe the same sorts of things and inhabit the same realm of belief.

In many ways one’s religious affiliation is a lot like one’s family. You’re generally stuck with the one you’ve got and unless there’s some creepy uncle trying to take off your pants in a broom closet there’s really no reason to change.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to dislike people who change their religious affiliation like it’s a set of clothes. If they’re not outright flakes then they seem to be incredibly dogmatic members of the right wing Christian variety intent upon splitting into ever smaller sects because no one else feels as passionately as they do about chewing gum in public or humping otters or how many times one should flog their wife because she wore a shirt woven from linen and wool.

It really all comes down to faith and tolerance. Faith in your ability to find your own truth within the confines of an open minded church and the tolerance of others who believe differently and have found the truth through a different path.

To paraphrase the Golden Rule. Just be cool baby.

Here endeth the lesson.

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