Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Morning in the South

Everything revolves around church on Sunday in the South. It was one of the first things that we noticed when we moved here, and my hubby observed that we would have to join one just to have something to do on Sunday mornings. Not much is open, so you really can't do anything (which was disconcerting for us when setting up house and needing to do much procuring of many items). The second thing we noticed was that church starts later here. Not that there aren't early morning options, but most everyone goes to a 10:30 or 11:00 service (with Sunday school before). The good thing about this for churchgoers is that you can have your cake and eat it too: sleep in and then go to church. In California churchgoing often means forgoing Sunday sleeping in, so this was a clear side benefit.

The third thing we noticed was that the entire town comes to life around noon, when the late services get out and EVERYONE flocks to the local eateries for Sunday lunch (and I thought everyone cooked big roast dinners on Sunday afternoon down here... another myth exploded for me, along with the porch-sittin' and mint julep sippin').  We quickly learned that it was wise to eat by 11:30 if you wanted to avoid the competition.

Someone had warned me that here it would be not, "Do you go to church?" but "Where do you go to church?" The implication is clear: it is expected that you are a Christian, and a churchgoing one at that. The only people who don't ask this question are either a) fellow academics from the local university/colleges, b) followers of other faith traditions (thus far remarkably rare, even in this relatively large city), or c) gasp: those who do not attend church, for whatever reason (referred to widely here as the "unchurched," which I find offensive because it's presuming an awful lot about someone you don't know and is paternalistic and very judgmental).

Now, I want to be clear about my position. I was raised in a mainstream Christian denomination, and have attended several other churches in the past, both denominational and non. But for the most part I have found it very difficult to be part of a church. I have believed for a very long time that there are many valid paths toward the higher being(s) out there. This belief began as an instinct in my youth, and has only been confirmed by my education. I am not the least bit interested in debate, so if this makes you feel "called" to teach/preach/share, please resist the impulse and keep reading, because there is more to this story and now is not the time to get on any soapboxes or start praying for me.

I made peace with the fact that I just wasn't going to be able to be a part of organized religion, and took a siesta from the spiritual journey for awhile. Not that I didn't have certain moments of feeling a spiritual connection. Those happened, organically, in surprising times and places. It was an important time in letting go of much of what had stood in my way, in fact. I was comfortable with my life, and there was a harmony between my personal ethics, politics, and spiritual beliefs.

But then we moved here, and my daughter was no longer a baby. We were facing questions of what we would tell her, how we would explain the bigger questions of life, and I realized that there were entirely new concerns in this realm. For my husband, it was simple. His beliefs were certain, and he knew what he wanted to teach her. I was uncomfortable with this, but didn't want to confuse her entirely. I struggled for quite awhile. And then I read an essay in Wondertime while waiting at the doctor's office recently, and it was one of those moments of clarity for me. I wish I'd stolen the magazine from his office so I could tell you which article, but I think it was in the March or April issue.

Anyway, so the author was writing about her similar struggle with this issue, and I think it was a friend of hers who pointed out that our very grown-up conflicts with religion might just be a bit too much to lay on a little kid who needs something bigger than this crazy world to hang onto. Her friend's teasing comment had been the turning point for the author, and reading the essay then became mine. Why not struggle with the issues from within instead of rail from without? Why not give my daughter at least a foundation from which to start her own journey? As she grows, I can explain my thoughts and feelings and add whatever degree of perspective I feel her spiritual education may lack. And fortunately I found a church that seems sufficiently open (if not yet officially open & affirming, but they're working toward that, I'm told). So the journey continues. Just not this morning. I'm a total flake when it comes to actually getting there every Sunday. But I'm working on it.

I won't be writing much about spirituality or religion here, so if you're looking for that, sorry, and if you're not, you're welcome. It's a personal thing, so I'll be keeping it mostly to myself. I'm not even sure why I wrote about it today, other than I think it's important that there be more voices out there that say yes, you can be a highly educated, socially liberal, ecumenically-minded person and follow a particular spiritual path without losing integrity. At least I think that's what I'm trying to say. (Fortunately it's Sunday, so no one is likely to be around to read this today anyway.)

Alright people, enough seriousness! I owe Catnip a meme, so I'm committing to do that tomorrow. I promised to finally get a Twitter avatar, and I shall not sign on again until I find the one I want. And I really must read some FAQs to figure out how to hyperlink within my posts. Be patient with me... I'm still learning this stuff.

UPDATE: The author of the Wondertime piece, Katharine Whittemore, somehow found my post and very nicely commented, including the url for her article. I was delighted to hear from her, and to have the link to the piece (especially considering the fact that my doctor interrupted my reading that day so I missed the ending). Go read it, especially if you've struggled with your own ambivalent feelings about religion. (Another nice piece: Karen Bender's Oy to the World.)


catnip said...

Once again, you are in my head. One reason why I'm glad I moved back North. No one asks you religious questions or makes any assumptions.

Next time we chat I'm walk you through hyperlinks - but you might have to have a couple of tabs open at once :)

Speck said...

I'm with you on this one sister. I consider myself a very spiritual person but never set foot in a church except for weddings and funerals. I'll have to stop there with the religious comments before my blood pressure gets too high. Pfft.

michellefromwondertime said...

Hi, I'm the writer of the Wondertime piece about taking my kids to Sunday school. Thanks so much for your nice mention of the piece in your blog. I
hope you don't mind if I post the link so others can read the piece on (Actually, one of my coworkers will post this, since she has an Open ID account and I don't.) Thanks so much, Kathy Whittemore