Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Are you a block or a brick?

The older I get, the more aware I become of a most sad fact of life: religious people can be incredibly huge stumbling blocks between other people and God. I was raised in an evangelical protestant faith and attended the same conservative private christian school from preschool until I graduated high school. Between the hymns, scripture, and a somewhat biased education, I was also taught (among many other things both good and bad) that people who were of different races from my own should be looked at somewhat suspiciously; Catholics were idol worshippers who were going to hell, in fact, anyone who didn't believe the way I did would be headed there; and the only good christians were non-smoking, non-drinking dull people who didn't dance, barely laughed, and were generally unhappy. Oh, and since I was female, I was also taught to sew. Sadly I bought into this for a long time growing up and well into my teens. I'm ashamed of that now. As I got older, I realized more and more that what I'd been taught was mostly bunk. And even if it wasn't, I certainly didn't want anything to do with a God like that. No thank you.

I ran away as fast as I could and for years had no interest in anything to do with God or religion. Eventually I went back to college and majored in Social Work. My thoughts about Catholics were still very muddy, but the best program in my area was at a small local Catholic college, so that's where I went. While there, I was offered a part time job doing social work at the convent (which doubled as a long term care and assisted living facility) connected to the college.

All of a sudden I was surrounded by these amazing women who laughed, cried, joked, danced, partied, drank alcohol sometimes, smoked sometimes, argued with each other, loved God, and accepted and cared deeply for me. They were also very concerned for my spiritual life, and weren't afraid to ask questions. Nor were they afraid of my honest answers. I so well remember an elderly Sister in her late 80's who went for a walk with me in the outdoor garden one sunny day. She smiled serenely as I outlined what I'd been taught, and how that was why religion just wasn't for me, then just as serenely said "Well, darling, I don't know where they got their information because they're just wrong. Read your New Testament. My Jesus loved a good party. He loved hanging out with his friends. He loved his Mom. He had a special girl. He got mad at people and cried sometimes. Sure he was God, but he was also human. That was the point."

For the first time in my life, I was around people who taught me, through their actions and behavior, that God was benevolent and kind, and loved me no matter what my religion, race, or creed. Oh I wanted more of that!! Daily mass, the rosary, vespers, the Saints, the Blessed Mother. I've heard and read so many appalling stories of growing up Catholic, and the cruelty of Catholic school nuns, and I've always been grateful that I came to the faith as an adult, because I could appreciate the beauty of the faith without the guilt or the distaste.

Many of the Sisters that I knew and loved during my time at the convent are dead now, but their legacy lives on through me, and I'm sure they rejoiced when I joined the Anglican Catholic church near my home here in IL.

The evangelicals that I knew early in my life were blocks that made me turn and run away from God for many years. Those dear Sisters were the bricks that lined my path back to God and to a strong faith that sustains me today.

Are you a block or a brick?


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