i make no bones about my discomfort with organized religion, 7 years in kentucky and i had many an opportunity to sample the 'spiritual buffet'. as with many things in life, i was able to hone my 'what i don't want' list. perhaps the resistance comes from hearing stories from my parents who had difficult times with the pedagogy of vindictive nuns and distant jesuit priests at an early age. i grew up in countries where religion was extreme and sometimes violent. christmas trees (a pagan, not secular object) were thrown out by saudi authorities when expats' shipments were inspected, but it was accepted, we were "guests" as our fathers earned tax-free salaries while we attended private school, camped, soccer-ed, ballet-ed, swam, taikwondo-ed and had rather oblivious but enjoyable childhoods. trips home to visit grandparents and cousins in england were accompanied by terrorist bombings in the name of irish catholics versus protestant. i had made friends with hindu's and muslims in bahrain, while different sects of the muslim community were violently protesting against each other. my first boyfriend's stepmother was a baptist lady who would not tolerate an "oh god" or "oh damn" let alone anything else of the 4 lettered variety. and grape juice, not wine was part of her daily bread.
moving to louisville i made several friends, and a boyfriend who were jewish, while living with a girl who was a "born again christian" and informed me we were all going to hell while she would be living the high life in her gold plated castle in heaven- oooh, bad ptsd flashback. i was intrigued by her ability to speak in tongues and wondered as to the usefulness of such a skill when she was oblivious as to what the translation of the message was. i was uncomfortable sitting with her as she prayed over her burger and fries at a microbrewery. i was aghast at her statment of "one less arab" when i informed her that king hussein of jordan had died. this was this same week i was recruited by a rather well meaning retiree that i would be a "catch" for their church. i am used to public displays of reverence, however this had historically meant being ousted from the supermarket during one of the many islamic prayers while my mum was running around trying to pick out that night's dinner menu. this christian phenomena was too close to home (my parents said we were "catholic", but there was not a whole lot of practicing going on, except perhaps the "guilt" that seems to be the universal stereotype of catholicism), but not having grown up with this "home", i felt rather alien surrounded by so many churches.
in my efforts to experience all things new, "american" and southern (drive thru banks, no alcohol sales on sundays, wal mart at 2am, french fries dipped in frosties) i accompanied my born again roomate to church. this was my first introduction to mega churches. i realize that to many people they are a "home", but i appeared to be homeless. stained glass windows, white linen, big gold crosses and hard wooden pews are familiar to me. we were "made" to go to chapel every morning before classes at boarding school ('church of england' was the denomination, when henry viii split off from the catholic church so he could marry anne boleyn) and hour long services on sundays. they seemed to have the requisite hymns, prayers and communions, some of which i could parrot back. no strange underwear, random babbling, reptilian juggling, or cotton underwear to be seen. in the states, church suddenly seemed rather akin to a theme park or stage production. i was shocked at the sight of school buses transporting people across a car park towards something that resembled the cross pollination of a modern shopping mall with a UFO. cant people walk? my first reaction was that i was attending an andrew lloyd webber musical (and i have never actually been to one) there were programs, greeters, flip down seats, a stage, a swimming pool, giant screen tv's and even some dry ice thrown in for good measure- it was fascinating to me, but then so was the potential to dissect frogs in biology class.
i have come to realize that a building and parishioners do not create faith, no more than 15 basketball courts, climbing walls, drive thru mcdonalds, starbucks in the lobby with wifi, or the offer of a free hummer or gas to first timers, do. it is about the individual's relationship, beliefs and goals. this i can relate to. this is the primary priority of what i do every day. while i have joked with friends about the possibility of the "mcmunion" (freeze dried wine in a bread style doughnut), faith is about working on your own spirituality and not taking inventory on others. god needs to send a lot of strength my way, as i apparently have a bad case of ADD and last time i checked raptureready.com, my bags were packed, but i seemed to have misplaced my boarding pass and visa.