Friday, May 5, 2017

Why I go to church

I was raised Catholic, but tended to let Christian Doctrine go in one ear and out the other. For many years, as a young adult, I gave little thought to religion at all. A childhood friend had died in a mountain-climbing accident at age eighteen, the first death that really mattered to me. Because I was out working on my dad’s commercial fishing boat on the day of the funeral, I couldn’t’ attend. I didn’t behold a corpse until I was twenty, a former football teammate of mine, killed while driving at high speed along a lake. It wasn’t until Paula was pregnant with our first child did I think much about going to church. We made a point to baptize our son in a timely manner, as a kind of spiritual insurance policy. Eventually, we moved to another Episcopal church, this one within walking distance of our home.
For years, my attendance was sporadic. Back when I was  working full-time, Sunday morning was my time for writing. I would get up fairly early, and sometimes write for four or even five hours. I envied writers and other artists who had a spouse who was the primary breadwinner. And, then, suddenly, I got my wish: I wouldn’t have to work. It came at the price of Alzheimer’s.
My disease is known for eroding one’s powers of concentration. And that is one of the reasons why I aim to attend church weekly. I seek structure in my days, even on Sunday. I rarely find the correct hymn in time to join the rest of the congregation, and tend to fall behind in reciting the liturgy. In those moments, I just mumble along, usually a bit behind the rest of the congregation. I often gaze into the church’s nave, with its massive, darkly stained timbers, built in the nineteenth century. The nave is especially striking when sunbeams illuminate the motes.
For decades, journalists have highlighted the political power of the “religious right.” One of my early assignments for my college newspaper was to cover a rally by Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, a vaguely Orwellian turn of phrase: not a majority, and a dubiously selective morality. This was in early 1981, just a couple months after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Falwell quipped, “In the Bible, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” His audience tittered.
Much less often do you hear about a “religious left,” but there has been such a thing since the decades leading up to the Civil War. Quakers have practiced non-violence for centuries. I somehow managed to avoid reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin until this spring, and I found it eye-opening. There is a reason why Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel has outsold every other book except the Bible. Her novel depicts the horrors of slavery in the decade leading up to the Civil War as no other book has. And, most sadly, even after Martin Luther King’s historic accomplishments, even after eight years of a black president—perhaps because of a black president—the “Black Lives Matter” movement is vitally needed.

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