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.