Living Your Religion

The thing that frustrates me most about my parents is also the thing I most admire: their commitment to their faith. As I’ve alluded to, my dad set aside his dream (which was, oddly enough, to be a YMCA director) to become a minister; and, though my mom is a teacher, which is what she wanted to be, I deeply doubt she thought she’d be changing schools every three or four years.

Still, though this might not be the life they would have wanted, this is the life they are committed to.

I, on the other hand, can’t be so generous. I could write a long essay on why I’m done with the United Methodist Church, but I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, I’m done with small midwestern towns; I’m done with sanctimonious bullshit, backstabbing, and judgmental hypocrites. I’m done with people who pull me aside to outline all the shortcomings my dad has–both pastoral and parental and I’m done with an organization that doesn’t respect its ministers.

This, as you can imagine, is one of the greatest sources of strife between my parents and me. Their whole life is infused with religious belief and given meaning by their relationship to their god. The recalcitrant brother goes to church, the Butcher works on Sundays, but I, who could attend church regularly with no problem, refuse to go. That hurts them.

You’d think it’d be the hopeful, but agnostic, polytheism that came between us, but, no, it’s the not going to church thing. As far as they’re concerned, all of my woes can be traced back to my not going to church. Money, men, love, and happiness would all be mine if I could but bring myself to sit through services down at the West End United Methodist Church once a week.

Of course, their lives are full of woe and they are always at the church.

They don’t understand. What can you count on if you can’t count on God?

I count on them.

I don’t know if there is a god or many gods or what their relationship to me is. I’ve had some stuff happen to me that made me think, “Wow, the world is a mysterious and wondrous place.” But the mind does funny things to a person and human beings love to ascribe meaning to everything. Me more than most. So I can’t say for certain if there is a god.

I can tell you for certain that my family exists. For better or worse, for all their fucked-up-ed-ness, for all their crazy, tender hearts, my family is here for me and I am here for them. If that can extend beyond the grave, then it does. If my Grandma A. can be here, she is here. And not just her, but all my aunts and uncles and great aunts and cousins twice removed and folks who died alone in camps in Alaska or in trailers outside of Chicago, or folks who died with other folks curled up next to them in nursing homes in Marshall, Michigan.

If there is an afterlife, my family has filled it with the same loud, argumentative meddling nonsense they filled here with.

I count on that.

My dad used to say to us all the time when we were growing up: OFST–Our Family Sticks Together. This was our motto, our way of dealing with yet another move, yet another set of goodbyes to friends and schools and brief lives we’d lived.

I used to think it was an order–we must stick together–but now I see it as just a truth. We meddle. We piss and moan and bitch and fight. We say things we shouldn’t and are too proud to apologize. We keep score on things we shouldn’t–who came to see who last, who Mom loves best, who’s gotten the most money from whom and who still hasn’t paid it back. We don’t get help when when we need it. We let things go on too long.

But, if something were to happen to me, right now, if I were struck by lightning before I could finish this sentence, when I woke up at the hospital, my family would either be there or be on its way.

I don’t have to have faith in that; I know it.