Friday, February 12, 2021

Back to Church - Part 2

It was the first summer after starting to attend church again. We (the church choir) were taking a trip to Florida and back (from the Chicago area). Stopping at churches along the way, doing concerts, spending the night in churches or at the homes of folks from that church. Making it to Orlando to spend a day at Disney, then back with the same plan. Don't recall a lot of things, but here is one memory.

It was after we had returned from the trip. Someone approached the Youth Minister and asked how things went. He replied that overall, things had gone well, just a few minor bumps in the road. Like the one kids who showed up wearing a Budweiser hat. That was me! It just never dawned on this son of German immigrants, former Catholic, that that would be frowned on. Did he remember it was me? Did he know I could hear him? I recall thinking, if that was an issue, why didn't you talk to me about it? Not one person, adult or youth, made any mention that such apparel might be considered inappropriate by some. So that we a glimpse into legalism. I was careful not to wear such apparel around church kids again. In fact. that hat "disappeared" somewhere on the trip. I sometimes wonder...

I look back and see a lot of legalism in the church. Like how we talk about dating. Seems like everything is about finding that magic line, and making sure that it does not get crossed. Forget about teaching people to love and honor God with their lives, just stay away from crossing that line! Thank goodness we weren't Baptist. At least we could go to movies and attend dances. But in many ways it was the same thing, only different rules. Tithe, don't use certain words, look good for Sunday service, etc. The Scribes and the Pharisees were also good a making rules. Got to have a pretty dish. (Luke 11:37-41) We love pretty dishes. Problem is, some people get so caught up in doing dishes that they forget why that is so important. I am not advocating that behavior does not matter, as I have been accused of doing. What I am advocating is that the motive behind the behavior is just as if not more important that the behavior itself. If it were only the behavior that mattered, was Jesus death really necessary? 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Back to Church - Part 1

In the seventh grade, we moved from the city of Chicago to the suburbs across the border in Indiana. This move made sense, as dad now worked in East Chicago, Indiana. I had a hard time adjusting to the move, but eventually made some friends, one of whom invited me to church, where they had a robust teen choir, which I became a member of. 

Mom and Dad were okay with me attending church here, and even my younger brother eventually got involved. I think the basketball team became more of an attraction for him, as he never joined the choir. Shortly after getting involved with the choir, they put on a presentation for Easter, and Mom and Dad attended. Something must have struck a chord with them, as soon after attending the Easter presentation, they announced that they would be coming to church there on a regular basis.

Church soon became a central point of my life. Most of my friends were from there, youth on Sunday with choir practice before, Wednesday night study, activities, etc. The one aspect of this I regret is the distance it put between my younger brother and I. He was 2-1/2 years younger, and we had always been close. Now, as I had more friends, distance grew. Sometimes you don't want your little brother hanging with you and your friends. That distance continued and we never regained the closeness we had had when we were younger. He withdrew from the entire family and also had some substance abuse issues. I wonder if that might have been different had I been more inclusive with him. That is easy to ask, looking back. But in the moment, it was impossible to see.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Growing Up Catholic - Part 3

So we continued in this pattern of the kids going to church, and the parents staying at home. I think mom may have gone with us occasionally. In third grade I started going to catechism. This was cool because every kid who went to catechism got to leave school early. We would walk to the church a few blocks from the school. Third grade was when you started taking communion, and catechism was to prepare you for your first communion, which was a big deal with the Catholics, as least back then. They would have a special service for the newbies, where you would dress your best and family and friends would attend to witness it. You also go congratulatory cards from people, usually with gifts, mostly cash. Cha-ching!

Fourth grade was another year of catechism. (I do not recall if it was the full year, I really don't think it was, but I cannot say how many weeks it went. This time they were preparing you for confirmation, another big deal for the Catholics. Confirmation was to be in May. By January, I was already in classes for it. Then something happened that changed things. My grandmother on my mom's side was planning to come over from Germany to attend my confirmation. This would have been her first trip to the states. But that never happened. The January prior to that May she had a stroke and passed away. As I recall, I came home one day to mom crying. She had gotten a telegram with the news. That was how mom and dad found out about the passing of a relative back then. I don't think they ever got a telegram that had good news.

Shortly after grandma's passing, mom came to me and asked me me if I would mind waiting until the next year to participate in confirmation, that doing it so soon after grandma's passing would be hard on her. No problem, not a big deal for me since I still wasn't sure what it all meant. Soon after that, they stopped sending us to church, and the subject was not mentioned much again. I did not participate in catechism or my confirmation that next year.

My mom and dad were good people. They drank, as Germans do, but I never saw them drunk. They didn't curse, well, dad did let one slip a time or two and made me promise not to tell mom. They were good at taking care of us, dad worked hard and mom kept a clean house. And so on. I remember dad saying something once about how even though we didn't attend church, that did not mean that we did not believe in God. I just accepted that. And life went on.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Growing Up Catholic - Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that I would share an encounter I had with a Catholic priest when I was probably about 8 years old. I don't recall many of the details, but here is what is burned in my memory. 

I had stopped by the church to find my brother. I am not sure why I thought he would be there, but I thought he would be. I went into the church, and there was a service going on. I opened the door of the sanctuary and peered about, hoping to see him, but I did not. I closed the door, and was headed out of the building when I was approached by a priest who asked what I was doing. I told him that I was looking for my brother, but did not see him. He told me that what I had done was a mortal sin. Even now, it seems odd to me that he would say this. But I was eight, and in my eight year old understanding, there were two types of sin. One being venial, which I understood to be forgivable, and the other to be mortal, which I understood to be unforgiveable. I was stunned, as I felt that this meant that I was now doomed to an eternity in hell. The one thought that I strongly remember having was, I can't tell my mother about this, she would be devastated.

That is legalism, a death sentence to true faith. Catholics are not the only ones with a strong sense of legalism. I recall in high school how one girl in particular always wore modest, homemade clothes, and was not allowed to go to movies or dances. Other faiths have other conditions. I recall how the conservative Christian college I went to had many such rules, not that these rules were bound on us by Scripture, but that we needed to go above and beyond because we were under a microscope as ambassadors for Christ. So keep that face clean shaven and that hair above your collar. You don't want to look like Jesus, do you?

Growing Up Catholic - Part 1

I was born to immigrant parents. They were from Germany. Mom was Catholic, Dad was Lutheran. As a Catholic, mom had to have her marriage approved before a priest would perform it. Dad would have to promise that any children would be raised Catholic. I wonder how many people make that promise without thinking of the consequence or without intending to follow through. Whatever the case, when we were young, mom took us to church while dad stayed home. As we got older, mom just sent us to church. It was just over a half mile away, about a 10-15 minute walk.

Here's what I remember about Catholic church:

The kneeling. They had little padded benches that pulled down for when it was time to kneel. Seems like there was a lot of kneeling during the service.

The candles. A lot of them at the back of the church. You "donated" to light them, 25c for small and $1 for large. You lit candles in honor of loved ones. For each candle you lit, it shortened their time in purgatory. I'm not sure if the large candles shortened their time more or not.

Holy Water. There were small bowls mounted to the walls in the vestibule. You would dip your fingers in them and do the sign of the cross before entering the sanctuary. I guess that cleansed you before you entered a holy place? Not sure, but what kid doesn't like dipping their fingers in water?

Communion. They used real wine! And the priests got to drink most of it. Usually we just got the communion bread placed on our tongue. White circles and it melted in your mouth. Of course, the Catholics believe that the bread turns into the actual body of Christ once you partake.

Mary. The mother of God. You could pray to her and she would take your requests to God. I seem to recall also being able to pray to the apostles, but not sure about that.

Confession. This is where you go tell a priest all of your sins, and he offers absolution for you. For penance, you had to say prayers. Usually the Our Father and the Hail Mary a certain number of times. 

The priests. No, I was not molested, but I do have one encounter to share. Saving that for the next post.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Taking a Break - sort of

I am going to take a break from reading books of the Bible or other books, and share some of the experiences that I have had that shape my thinking of Christianity. 

We are all shaped by the experiences of our past. I am no exception. These experiences shape the way we think about everything, including our faith. Everyone has faith. Perhaps your faith is in God. Maybe your faith says that God does not exist. It is still faith, because regardless of your evidence, you cannot know for certain. You could be a staunch believer in evolution, the big bang, etc., that still does not prove that there is no God. Perhaps your faith is in many Gods or in the spirit world. Whatever your faith is in, your experiences shape not only what you believe, but how that belief affects you.

My experiences are just that, my experiences. Some are positive, some are not. They still have an impact. My purpose in sharing is at least two-fold. One is for me to reflect on the past and its influence on my belief system. The other is to perhaps share with others who may have had a similar experience to one or more of my experiences. Perhaps they might not feel they are alone in their experience, as I often do.

So here goes...

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Amos 9 - A Happy Ending?

Amos - Chapter 9

We all like and want happy endings. Hard to believe Rocky lost to Apollo in Rocky I. So many are still waiting for the hammer to fall, and the corruption to be exposed in Washington. Good luck, and I hope it happens, but not holding my breath. All things come in God's timing, and not mine. 

Chapter 9 starts out great, with the guilty getting what they deserve. There is no escape. Their power and wealth do nothing to save them. There is no where they can go to hide from God's justice. Vs 4 states, "and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good." (The word evil can also be translated "harm, adversity, affliction) The next section speaks of the greatness and the might of God Almighty. Then a promise is made. A very near and dear promise. Vs 8: "Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord." Jacob would not be utterly destroyed. There will be a restoration of a remnant. Most likely a remnant that has been through it all. A remnant that, while not utterly destroyed, has suffered and is broken. A remnant that has survived, and will see the fruit of their faithfulness. Like in so many movies, a remnant that will rise out of the ashes, to victory. I am reminded of the Princess Bride, and all that Wesley suffered including being "mostly dead." Yet in the end, they ride of on horses to a new and better life, while Prince Humperdinck does not die, but must live out his life in the shame of his cowardice.

I pray to be a part of the remnant. Not the one in the Princess Bride, but the remnant of the faithful.