With parents who were raised in fundamentalist churches in the South, my earliest knowledge about religion was confusing and contradictory. You see, my parents abandoned their churches and any discussion of religious principles when they left Mississippi for the North.
There was a church bus which came through our rural Michigan neighborhood and picked up children who were bound for the Methodist church quite a few miles away. I asked if I could join, thinking that it must be something fun if so many kids were going. My parents weren’t enthusiastic, but allowed it.
All I can remember is that there was a Sunday school class after the main prayers which were said by what seemed like old, old men. Also, there were presents when you came for the first and third times to the church.
Well, this made my mother crazy. “Giving gifts for attending church is outrageous!” I heard her complain. To me, it made all kinds of sense. The gifts were real cool, and the only real fun was riding on the bus and seeing kids all dressed up. Oh, and I loved to dress up. Suddenly, I had what other kids called their “Sunday” dress.
My next church experience happened when I spent a Saturday night with my friend Kay, and asked if I could go to Catholic mass with her family on Sunday. Again, my parents relented, and off I went to this very unusual ceremony. It was nothing like those earlier Methodist forays.
Fact is, that Catholic gathering scared the daylights out of me. I already knew that they had some strange habits like having to cover the head, not eating meat on Friday, and wearing a big black blotch on their forehead once a year. It was all very arcane and even scary to me, especially when they seriously told me about the array of sins to be avoided. One of the biggest was missing mass on Sunday. I’ll just finish that story with the truth that that big Catholic church was the creepiest place I had ever been in. I can still remember my mother’s face when I asked her about holy water.
Depending on what article you come across these days, it seems that we baby boomers turned away from our religions of origin largely because of our distrust in institutions. Now statistics are showing that as we age and see the mortality of our parents and others around us, we may be giving organized religion a second chance. To quote 17th Century philosopher, Pascal, ”There is a god-shaped emptiness in each of us.”
Using myself as an example, I will attest to the above. After my mother’s death in the 90’s, for the first time ever, I began to explore religion, largely to know more about “the other side” as some call it. I also felt a strong desire to be less self-centered, and more like my mother. It was a wish to honor her goodness and generosity even though she rarely spoke of religion.
I do recall her saying “There but for the grace of God go I.” when she would see people in dire situations, or overhear me making fun of someone. I admit that that verse/phrase comes to me at times when I see the victims of recent bombings and the persecution of gays and others outside what we call the norm.
I’ve spent many years trying to overcome my prejudice against the Catholic church. You see, my first husband was Catholic, and even though he never attended mass, the hard and fast rules of married behavior as he saw it were part of the demise of our marriage.
Through the years, I have had many friends and acquaintances who described themselves as “recovering Catholics” because of the ill treatment they experienced from nuns and priests when they were young.
Conversely, I know some folks who find great comfort in attending mass and partaking of the rituals that have brought them peace and a sense of belonging. They feel that the man-made rules and human failings of the church leaders don’t diminish the good that they found in a lifetime of faith.
As for me, this baby boomer is still searching, still researching – and praying daily.
•By the way: A survey conducted by Gallup in 2010 found that people ages 50 to 64 were more likely to say they frequently went to church, temple or mosque than those 18 to 29 did. The figures were 43 percent versus 35 percent, and for the group containing the oldest segment of the baby boom population – 65 and up – the figure was 53 percent.