Inner Sanctum

Today is my birthday and I’ve been in sort of an reflective mood. I think we should have birthday resolutions instead of new year resolutions. I have a few things I need to consider as I move forward into my sixty-eighth year. The doctor wants me to get more exercise…OK, I’ll try. My health is getting better after a strange reaction to a statin drug that left me barely able to walk and I’m getting up to about three miles a day on average. I’m feeling that I can start getting out again to do some hiking and fishing.  I also need to become more socially connected so I’ll be working on that. Maybe a new volunteer spot would accomplish some of that.

In reflecting, I’ve been thinking about the difference between faith and religion. Fair warning. You may want to stop reading here. Really.

I am a religious person, in my own way. I am a member of a strict, conservative protestant Christian denomination. I didn’t say “I belong” to it…as some would say. I’m unsure about belonging. It implies ownership in one sense and also, in another sense, acceptance. I have my differences with church dogma but I keep them to myself. I am comfortable with that. People marvel at the fact that I am a member of such a strict and conservative denomination because I am generally liberal in most things. I feel that this dogma is all mans’ creation and it is flawed from the start and I have no problem overlooking or side-stepping the flaws.  I prefer a traditional worship service. Banjos, drums and electric guitars have a place but not in a church service…in my opinion.  But that’s my preference…others might like it.

I moved across the country about two years ago away from my home of almost forty years and the church I attended for over thirty years. My move meant that I needed to find a new church. I am surprised at how difficult this has been. When you are used to a church and attended services for three decades everything else seems quite alien, even if it is the same denomination and they use the same general service format. It’s like wearing someone else’s shoes — it doesn’t feel right.  I visited several churches and was not particularly happy with any of them. Some seemed downright unfriendly and unwelcoming. I finally settled on one (settled is probably the correct word) and transferred my membership but it is quite alien in many ways. It was the best of the bunch but it’s about a 30 minute drive so I try to get there once or twice a month. I’m OK with that.

I like to visit churches and I do visit churches when I’m on vacation. Where I live now there are some very old mission churches dating back to the 17th century. In Peru I visited the massive cathedrals in Cusco and in Lima.  When I was in Italy I made the rounds to a number of important churches. I attended a wedding at a sacred shrine built on the spot where a miracle took place. I may be Protestant but these old Catholic churches carry some weight in my own religious values. The double basilica of St. Francis in Assisi is one example. The duomo in Florence, St. Marks in Venice, St. Peters in Rome and Milan’s cathedral all are impressive as sacred spaces. They are no more sacred than the little provincial church or the pueblo mission church but they are very ornate and grab our attention. Surprisingly to me, the one place that I had the most intense spiritual connection was not a huge cathedral or basilica. It was an ancient 5th century church, or temple, dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel in Perugia in Umbria.

My thought on religion is that it is a very personal thing. God is largely unknowable but we do the best we can. The popular concept of God is one created in man’s image. We often view God as a domesticated animal out in the barn where we get butter, pork chops and eggs. We are aghast and befuddled when God breaks out of the barn and stampedes through the house or destroys the crops.

In recent months I’ve been disappointed by the reaction of many church leaders — including mine — to the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. I was more than disappointed…I was livid. I decided to wait a few days and give it some thought. I was still livid. My church and many others are very busy driving people away and then wonder why the pews are empty on Sunday morning. It treats women as second-class believers. I can remember when women were first allowed to vote in church affairs — not all that long ago in my church — maybe 50 years.

(It’s not too late to turn back…)

For years religious zealots have been proclaiming the need for a national solution to the “problem” of Gay Marriage. They pursued various avenues but the Supreme Court was where they finally got their chance. They all waited for the hammer to drop — the final authority would surely side with them.  Well, it went the other way. Then they were squealing with all sorts of absurd arguments and scenarios. The Federal Government and the Supreme Court have usurped states’ rights!!! What fools these mortals be.

Think back. Contrast the hateful tirade and venom coming from “religious” people to the loving forgiveness and faith of the congregation at Charleston’s  Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after the shootings. They are on two different planets….one of faith and love and the other of religious dogma, bigotry, and fear.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you up there in paragraph two.

Well, as I turn my attention to my birthday cake, I’m thankful to have another year to figure this stuff out.  Maybe I need to work on my curmudgeonry this year as well.

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