Thinking about talking about churching

A strange thing has hap­pened to me.

Ever since join­ing our hip­py-go-lib­er­al UU church, I find myself men­tion­ing it in casu­al con­ver­sa­tion. For forty-odd years I haven’t ever talked about church, except when asked, and then only to indi­cate that no, I don’t real­ly attend any church.

But since join­ing SMUUCh, I find myself talk­ing about church. I’m not entire­ly sure why. I don’t bring it up out of the blue. Usu­al­ly it’s some­thing rel­e­vant to the con­ver­sa­tion, like about heck­ling Rep. Yoder at the 4th of July parade, or about the sto­ry the min­is­ter told at din­ner with age-alike church folk. Once or maybe twice I have crowed about some­thing the church does, like about their com­ing of age pro­gram (like Con­fir­ma­tion, except hip­py-go-lib­er­al). But usu­al­ly it’s just about some­thing I heard on Sun­day, or some­thing the church did, or some­thing they might do.

And it feels weird to hear myself say­ing, “At church the oth­er day,” or “My church is going to…” But good, too. I like talk­ing about it. I don’t feel I need to hide that I go, or what it is they espouse. I used to dread con­ver­sa­tions about church, I guess because I felt I had to play down my beliefs. My lack of belief? My cer­tain­ty that humans can achieve spir­i­tu­al great­ness with­out a Guid­ing Hand. I didn’t want to get into it. But being a mem­ber of a church, a big church with lots of mem­bers, it lends legit­i­ma­cy to my beliefs. It makes me want to talk about how awe­some they are.

Which leads me to rec­og­nize that I could come across a lit­tle smug (my church is bet­ter than your church!). But most­ly I think I am just proud to be a mem­ber of this inclu­sive lit­tle denom­i­na­tion that thinks like I do and makes me want to be bet­ter than I am.

It’s crazy, but I think this must be how oth­er peo­ple feel about their church, right?

Huh.

Part of a com­mu­ni­ty they are proud of, and want every­one to know about?

Makes me think I should, at the very least, respect peo­ple of oth­er reli­gions, despite my dis­agree­ment with their atti­tudes about race, gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion or whether I am going to Hell.

Every­one deserves respect. Even when my church is bet­ter than theirs. :)

The search for church

I’ve nev­er been a reli­gious guy. I don’t believe in God. I see a lot of the crap that goes down in the world in the name of one God or Anoth­er, and it doesn’t do much to change my opin­ion. My moth­er used to take me to church when I was lit­tle (she took the whole fam­i­ly), but all I got from it was an abid­ing love for sug­ar cubes and a mem­o­ry of a burn­ing bush col­lage I once made.

As a young and not so young adult, I dab­bled in church­ing, but noth­ing ever stuck. I mar­ried Catholic, so we tried that (shout out to Sacred Heart in Oma­ha!) but we also checked out the Methodists and sev­er­al Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist con­gre­ga­tions.

But you know what? Going to church every freakin’ week is hard. So we didn’t.

Then we had kids. Cou­pled with our recent move to Kansas City—a move we hope and plan to be our last—that set us to church hunt­ing again. The local Catholic parish is pret­ty strict­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, so they were out. We tried a UCC con­gre­ga­tion in the neigh­bor­hood, as they are pret­ty inclu­sive, yet still Chris­t­ian (some­thing we want­ed to try on for size), but between feel­ing like fresh meat and their pub­lic recit­ing of the creed (which I will para­phrase as “do good in the name of Christ”), we did not feel com­plete­ly com­fort­able.

So we went back to the well, and looked up the local Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist church. The Shawnee Mis­sion Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist Church (SMUUCh, and if that isn’t rea­son enough to join…)

The first time we vis­it­ed, we found it full of peo­ple. Young, old, fam­i­lies. There was singing, and food after­wards, Sun­day school and a ser­mon. It was like real church! As we walked up to the front door, see­ing Prius­es in the park­ing lot, the hip­ster glass­es on the woman greet­ing us at the door, I turned to Tiffany and joked, “these are Our Peo­ple.”

But I was right, I think. Four months lat­er, we are mem­bers (if you know us, you know we don’t buy ice cubes with­out research­ing them for a month pri­or). The com­mu­ni­ty is large, vibrant, engaged and engag­ing. They have exten­sive reli­gious edu­ca­tion class­es, exten­sive adult groups, and a strong com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice eth­ic. The church is active in the nation­al UU orga­ni­za­tion.

And, if you’ll par­don the lan­guage… they are Lib­er­al as fuck.

So, we’ve found a com­mu­ni­ty. It hap­pens to be a church. They have accept­ed us despite our foibles, as they accept every­one. They will help us learn and grow and most impor­tant of all, they will help our chil­dren learn and grow and be Good Peo­ple.

I still don’t believe in God, but I have always believed in some­thing. Now I can go, once a week, to be with peo­ple who also believe in some­thing. This isn’t our first time at a UU church. They vary wide­ly, and depend sig­nif­i­cant­ly on the min­is­ter at the front of the room. But more impor­tant­ly, the com­mu­ni­ty behind the church is what dri­ves it (and, more pro­saical­ly, hires and fires the min­is­ter…) That com­mu­ni­ty is what we were look­ing for, what we have found, and what we have joined.

Thank God.

I wish you all the best of luck find­ing a com­mu­ni­ty you can con­nect with, churchy or not.

This is not the religious freedom you are looking for

Atten­tion, reli­gious con­ser­v­a­tives decry­ing the government’s crack­down on your reli­gious free­dom: you’ve got it all wrong. See, you think reli­gious free­dom means you have the right to prac­tice your reli­gion wher­ev­er, and when­ev­er, you like. Not true.

Reli­gious free­dom actu­al­ly means “free­dom from reli­gion.”

Let me explain.

Clear­ly, you are free to prac­tice what­ev­er reli­gion you like. We agree on that. I can­not force you to prac­tice my reli­gion. Like­wise, you can’t make me prac­tice your reli­gion. Nobody is drag­ging any­body into a church here. Your reli­gious free­dom is actu­al­ly the free­dom to not be dragged into my church.

In oth­er words, you (or your daugh­ter) are free to not wear a hijab. Not your reli­gion, so nobody’s going to make you do it. Awe­some. That also means that my kids are free to not pray in pub­lic school. Not their reli­gion, nobody’s going to make them do it. Dou­ble-rain­bow awe­some.

So nobody impos­es their reli­gion on any­one else. Reli­gious free­dom in Amer­i­ca, as the found­ing fathers envi­sioned it. Huz­zah! Don’t you think we should all be able to agree on that?

Please apply this to your own life. And get your reli­gion out of mine. Thanks.