Monday, March 16, 2009

Losing My Religion



(WARNING: This post is extremely long.)
I have never been a very religious person. Much like the rest of my childhood, my religious education has been quite eclectic, you could say.

I wasn’t baptized as a baby, like most babies. No, I was baptized Catholic at the ripe old age of six. This came about in a very strange and unfortunate way. My mom had an older sister, Helen who had three daughters. I speak in the past tense, because Helen was murdered by her second husband in 1991 when she was 36. And I speak in the past tense about her three daughters, because when I was six, her youngest daughter, Theresa, died from pneumonia (she was three). Apparently, Theresa wasn’t baptized as a baby either, because when she died, my mother, grandmother and Aunt Helen must have collectively shit their pants in a panic that Theresa was going to purgatory or something because that’s when my two cousins and I were finally baptized. I always thought that Catholicism had all of these rules you had to follow regarding getting baptized and all of that – but I am thinking that there are no prerequisites regarding baptisms, because it just happened. My maternal grandmother belonged to a Catholic Church at the time (I don’t remember the name, but I do know the church is long gone, because I had to request my baptism records from the Archdiocese of Detroit when I was getting married). So, I was baptized Catholic along with my two cousins. I don’t really remember much from it other than the matching dresses we all wore (yes, clothes have always been important to me) and that I got some water sprinkled on my head. I also remember the church as big and old-looking – it was probably one of those really old, beautiful Catholic Churches they just don’t build anymore. *sigh*

My Catholic education ended that day at the baptism, because I never really ended up going to a Catholic church very often, and never attend catechism classes. I never had an official First Communion, Confirmation, or any of the other stuff you get to do as a Catholic Kid. For some reason, even today, I feel cheated. But, that doesn’t mean, my religious education ended…oh, no.

When I was 8, living with my parents, they rented a house across a major freeway from a Baptist Church. Somehow they found out that the this church had a bus that picked the kids up for Sunday School and delivered them to church the hour prior to the lecture (or whatever you call it in the Baptist religion. I want to call it “Mass” but I know that’s Catholic). Every Sunday, the church bus would pick me up and take me to Sunday School. This is primarily where I learned about religion. I remember making little craft-type things in Sunday School, and singing “The B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me, I stand alone with the word of God…the B-I-B-L-E!” You get the picture. I liked Sunday School, but hated the lecture part of it. And the bus driver obviously was part of the congregation, so it’s not like he was going to drop the kids off until mass was over. And my parents weren’t going to church (funny how I had to go, but they stayed home, isn’t it?), so I had to sit through the lecture for an hour. Some days were kind of exciting, like when someone was getting baptized…because these people took a swim in a massive dunk tank. No sprinkle of water in this church. No, Baptists go all out and wash away your sins with a full-body bath.

Once in a while I got into trouble with the activities I did to pass the time during the lecture. Like the time I brought my cousin, Michael with me. Michael and I – he was about 6 months younger than me – we somehow got on the subject of trying to think up as many swear words as we could. We started writing them down in the little notebook I kept in my purse. (I’m sure you see where this story is going). Well, here’s a couple of 8-year-olds writing down swear words like “Motherfucker” and “Shit” in a notepad IN CHURCH. A while later my parents went through my purse and found my list of swear words, and my dad beat the living shit out of me with a ping-pong paddle. It was one of the major spankings of my life. My mom and I joked about it a few weeks ago, actually, and I told her about how I was with Michael (he’s also passed away now…he died when he was 20 in a motorcycle accident) and how we were just trying to pass the time since the lecture was boring to us. We both kinda laughed about it – especially considering the inappropriateness of it, you know -- being in church. But geez. Kids do dumb shit and really don’t think about how appropriate it is, now do they?

Sometime in the next year or so, my parents found religion too, and became “Born Again”. Whatever that means. We had moved out of the house across the freeway from the Baptist Church, but we never attended church as a family. My parents just ended up watching televangelists and thought that was good enough, I guess. I remember watching the shows with Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Kenneth Copeland, and even the PTL with Pat Robertson. I guess TV church is better than no church.

That phase only lasted a little while. In the meantime, my religious education practically stopped. I did go to church services here and there at Easter and Christmas – I’ve been to non-denominational churches, Methodist, Presbyterian…you name it. I’ve probably attended a service there once in my life.

Fast forward now, to 1991, when my Aunt Helen was murdered (and you thought I only told that story to get your attention and not because it was important to the story, didn’t you?) Helen and my mom were only one year apart in age. They were relatively close, and when she was murdered, my mom flipped out a little. I think some of it was due to the fact that she was only a year younger, and the emotional part of realizing your own mortality is kind of scary, and I think some of it was there are probably some things in my mom’s life that she’s done that she’s not proud of – and I’m sure there was also a little part of it that had to do with my dad.

I don’t really talk much about the scary times with my dad, because I choose to keep those memories under wraps. But besides the fact that he’s an alcoholic, he’s also a Vietnam Veteran, and goes to therapy frequently. I know he had a really shitty childhood (his dad used to beat the shit out of him on a regular basis) and I know he’s got his own demons he tries to kill with alcohol (my non-professional opinion). Well, when I was a kid, he was not attending therapy, and the alcoholism was not something that my mom really realized – probably because she was young and didn’t know better. Anyway, I can remember them having horrible arguments throughout my formative years (I’d say maybe from 12-17) when he would stop going to therapy, probably go off his meds, and go out drinking. He’d come home blinding drunk, start some shit with my mom, and then they’d have crazy arguments, with my mom throwing shit around and destroying things (during one argument, my mom cut my dad’s head out of a family portrait and once threw a coffee mug through one of their living room windows). I usually tried to shut these things out, but I remember one particular argument when my maternal grandpa was visiting from Florida (and whom I worshipped and loved to death) – I was about 18. My dad owned a gun and during the argument, he pulled the gun out, and threatened to kill my grandpa along with my mom. I overheard all of this from upstairs, got so scared, that I grabbed my little brother (who was about 8 years old at the time) grabbed the telephone, and went outside to my car. It was like midnight. I called the only person at the time that I could count on – Husband. Husband and I had only been dating about a year, but he rushed over because he was going to protect me. Once he showed up, the situation had already been diffused, but everyone now knew that Husband Knew. Husband Knew How Fucked Up Everything Was. (Now you understand one of the reasons why I love him and need him in my life. He has always protected me, and came like a knight in shining armor to my rescue when I was scared shitless and hysterical. And despite coming from such dysfunction, he married me anyway. He must really love me, huh?)

After the incident mentioned above, my dad went back to therapy and the gun got sold. To this day, there are no weapons in my parents house, and my dad still goes to therapy. I don’t understand why my parents are still together, because frankly, if the man I was married to pulled out a gun and waved it in my face with my kids in the house, I probably would have called the cops, pressed charges, and then divorced him. That shit is called aggravated assault with a deadly weapon! I also don’t know why I didn’t call the police, and the only person I called was Husband. Maybe I was embarrassed, maybe I knew everything would be OK (although, let me tell you, I sure didn’t feel that way at the time), or maybe because this was during a time where people just didn’t do shit like this (like you never heard of someone killing their wives or family or whatever. Times are different now, and this was a couple of years before Helen’s murder). You’re going to laugh, but I think at heart, my dad is a decent person. I just think he has a lot of problems (understatement) and is probably a horribly tortured soul. I don’t think he would have killed anyone that night, because it’s been 20 years since that incident and there’s never been another similar altercation. And while he and my mom still have arguments, I don’t think they’re life threatening. For all the shit she tells me, I know she’d tell me if something like this happened again.

Anyway, you see, this story is important to why I think my mom flipped a little when Helen was killed. She may have seen herself in that coffin. Who knows. My dad wasn’t physically abusive – it was more mental. Helen was stabbed to death, which to me means that her husband must have really been in a rage. She was stabbed all over her body and was left to die on her kitchen floor. He really did a piss-poor job of trying to cover anything up – he was the first and only suspect. He’s currently in prison, in case you were wondering. He was convicted of second-degree murder, and I think got a 20-year sentence (I always thought it should have been first degree murder, but he must have had one helluva lawyer who argued it was heat of passion or something). I imagine he’ll be up for parole soon, if he hasn’t already. I do know he’s still in prison and I really hope he never gets out. Besides being a murderer, he also molested my two cousins for YEARS (the ones who got baptized with me – his stepdaughters – which pretty much fucked them up for life), which was the whole reason for his and Helen’s argument that night. One of my cousins had finally told her, and she confronted him and told him she was divorcing him.

So when Helen died, it was 1991. I was 20. My mom found Jesus, and we started attending an Orthodox church. Which I came to realize pretty soon, was a version of Catholicism. Only the priests are allowed to marry and mass is like an hour and a half, instead of an hour. Really, those are the only really big differences, far as I could tell. By this time, Husband and I had gotten pretty serious about each other, and he mentioned to me that instead of going to the Orthodox Church, I should start going to Catholic Mass with him. Which is what I started doing. We went to mass together for a few years, in the same church we ended up getting married in. I have to say, I liked going to church with him. The church had a band with an electric guitar, and they rocked the house during all of the songs (Imagine the “Hallelujah” or “Hosanna in the Highest” sent to electric guitar with drums). It was, dare I say it – fun. Husband knew my Catholic education was dismal, and that I had never had communion. I remember the very first time I took communion – it was with him, and at his encouragement. He told me that I should do it, and the fact that I hadn’t had a “First Communion” didn’t matter. But I thought there were rules? Just go! And in that church, in that pew, he showed me what to do when I went up there (“and don’t forget to say “Amen” when he says “Body of Christ”!). Like I said, I’ll never forget it. Like many of my firsts in life, he was there to see it.

After we got married, our church attendance waned, and I can’t say we’re regular church-goers. We’re bad Catholics. I mean, we don’t even make it for Easter or Christmas. Bad, bad Catholics. I did manage to get Daughter baptized – and I need to get my shit together, because she’s going to have to start going to catechism because her First Communion will be next year.

But I must admit, I’m not very religious. I sometimes even wonder if there is a God. I like to think that there is – but to be truthful, I really wonder. I think I am more of a believer, than a non-believer, like maybe 75% of me believes, but then there’s 25% of me that wonders. I still pray occasionally, and I really believe that there’s SOMETHING (maybe God) out there helping us with our journey in life. And I just don’t believe as a just-in-case…you know, just in case there IS a God. I truly believe just because I do. I can’t imagine that life is a random miracle. Although I do believe in evolution, and think most of the stories in the bible are akin to allegories…meant more to teach lessons, and less as Actual Stories of Real Events.

The whole point of this post, is that lately – and by lately, I mean in the last couple of months – Husband has seemed to find his religion. Raised in an Italian-Catholic family, Husband had the typical Catholic upbringing. He had a First Communion and a Confirmation, and knows all of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with being Catholic. Which, at times, I am jealous of – because I wish I knew about all of the saints, and understood what transubstantiation meant (actually, I do know what it means, because I looked it up). But you get the idea. I even bought a book a few years back – “The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Catholicism” because I wanted to know what everything meant.

Husband has started going to Mass (mind you, he goes during the week and doesn’t invite me), regularly, and we also have shrine-like candles lit that burn all day in our bedroom. There’s two of them – one is for me, in the hopes that burning this candle will somehow help me pass the Bar exam – and the other is for his cousin, Anna, who has now undergone her second liver transplant in the past month (her body started rejecting the first liver she received).

Husband has even found a website for St. Anthony, who among other things, is the patron saints of “lost causes”. He put a prayer for me on this website. Nevermind that I find it both offensive and funny that Husband considers me passing the bar exam a “lost cause” and when I mentioned that to him, he basically brushed off the literal meaning and said “It can’t hurt”. But the St. Anthony website also had a novena that you are to recite everyday for nine days – and Husband has printed it for me. I did say the novena this morning before our shrine of candles (and before I blew them out). But I got a text this morning asking me if I remember to say my prayers from Husband (along with a second, rapid-fire text, that also asked me if I remembered to take my vitamins and eat my veggies, like a good Hulkamanic? -- 80’s reference if you didn’t get it) – which I found hilarious.

I apologize for this long and winding post. I bring all of this up, because I don’t know how to feel about God, let alone with Husband finding religion. I’ve been a Catholic, a Baptist, a Methodist…and non-denominational. I’ve seen tragedies in my life, I’ve seen miracles (with the birth of my daughter) and I’ve lived through hell to see another day. I’ve seen shit and have questioned God on why it happened (why did my cousins have to be molested? Why did Helen have to be murdered? Why did Michael die that day on that motorcycle?) WHY, God, why?

I have been saying to Husband for a very long time that we should go to church as a family, but I haven’t been saying it for myself, I say it because I think Daughter should have some sort of religious foundation. Even if she chooses not to continue with it when she’s an adult, and even if she ends up where I am, not even being a 100% believer – I still think having that foundation is important. Part of me thinks it’s nice that Husband has started to go to church more often, but part of me has to question his sincerity. I’m cynical that way. He seems earnest. He seems genuine. He says his reason for it is that he wants to be a “better person”. He even went so far as to buy a Blessed Mother statue for our yard. When I joked that we have truly arrived and finally told the neighborhood that We Are Italians! – he got a little offended. Geez, learn to take a joke. I didn’t say it to mock the Virgin Mary. I didn’t say it to mock religion, nor to mock him Finding His Religion. I said it just as a joke, because it’s a stereotype, and I love stereotypical humor. Get over yourself.

But I just wonder when I am going to find my religion, too. I don’t want it to come to me because of some tragedy, like my sister being murdered (although, I don’t have a sister, but you know what I mean). And I don’t want to find it because I’ve decided that passing the bar exam is a lost cause and my only way to pass it is to invoke the help of God Almighty. Or because I think I need to be a “better person”. I’d rather find it just because -- just because I have faith, and want to be filled with the love of God that so many people talk about. I only wonder if that day will every come – the day where I trust God enough not to question him anymore, and to believe that He knows best. I doubt I’ll stop questioning, though. But I’d at least like to Believe in the way so many people I know do. When will I find my religion? When, God, WHEN?

1 comment:

Samantha Grace said...

You guys are going to be even more East Side than you already are with the shrine. You've truly arrived, now! :)

I really liked reading this. I don't have much to comment on, but I really did like reading this.

Religion is a tricky thing. Tricky.