catholic, church, lutheran, religion

I went to church today…

So, today was the first time I’ve gone to church in a very long time. The reason this is a big deal for me is because I’ve reached a point where I’m not a fan of organized religion. I disagree with the rituals, the rules, and some of the things/beliefs that are taught. However, I see why it resonates with so many people, and feel that if it works for others, they should participate in it. My beliefs and opinions are just that, mine. I recognize how different they are from others, and don’t feel that other people are necessarily wrong. I feel that all religions boil down to the same core: treat others well, and do good things, and it will come back to you. In Christian faiths, this the God’s reward for your good deeds; in Eastern faiths, this is Karma; different religions have different names for it. I feel that in some ways, all the religions are ‘right’, and whatever resonates with a person is what they should follow.

Personally, I don’t like how often religion is used for controlling the masses. I don’t like how often religions that preach acceptance and love, actually turn around and judge and shun those they disagree with. I don’t agree that if a special person says some special words over a glass of wine and loaf of bread, that it becomes a special glass of wine and loaf of bread; and i don’t believe participating in this ritual brings me any closer to God. I don’t like the idea that I need to ‘earn’ my way into heaven, and that any act I carry out in my extremely short amount of time on Earth can damn me to an eternity of suffering in hell, especially from a father-figure that is supposed to have unconditional love for me. The more i research different religions, the more i disagree with them. But i want to be clear that it is the details I have issues with, not the core beliefs.

I was raised Lutheran – for anyone that doesn’t know what that is, my favorite description I’ve heard is that it is Catholic without the giant stick up it’s ass. In a Lutheran church, there are no saints, there is no pope, you confess through prayer directly to God instead of in a confessional to a priest, etc. I always felt very at ease in Lutheran churches, and that it was very much about having a relationship with God, and less about the right and wrong way to ‘serve’ Him. For a few years of my young adult life, I was very religious. I went to Church every Sunday, often alone as my mom didn’t want to go and my dad was at work. I went through my first holy communion, and confirmation. I prayed daily, and tried to live my life with God leading my decisions. I felt connected to Him. I can’t remember when I started drifting away from that, nor can I remember when I stopped believing in church, but I remember questioning what I heard in a new way.

I’ve had a hard time seeing God as our Father. The reason for this is because it’s hard to see suffering, and accept that an omnipotent father would allow his children to suffer like that. The explanations that I received from church, priests, religious friends, etc never satisfied me. It all seemed a cop out to me- God has a plan, one day Jesus will return and after this big fight, there will be peace and happiness for a long time (but not forever). The devil is at work, and caused this. Whatever I heard, did not sit well.

I also have a hard time seeing God as our Father because we’re taught that if we sin, and don’t repent, we will spend an eternity suffering in Hell (Catholics are even taught that anyone not baptized Catholic will spend an eternity in hell). Anyone that is a parent can tell you that no matter what, they will never stop loving their child. Their kid could murder, torture, whatever people, and while they would be horrified, a parent would still have love for their child. This is the kind of love we are taught God has for us. Now, I consider eternity. Our lives on Earth, even if we live to an old age here, are insignificant when comparing it to eternity. How could I possibly do something so horrible in this short amount of time on Earth, that would warrant an eternity of suffering in hell? To me, that’s like a putting a kid in time-out for the rest of their life as punishment for something that they did one day. The punishment is immensely cruel in comparison. How could someone punish their child so severely?

So- anyways, I started questioning things. I no longer found solace in my religion. I settled on believing in God, and Jesus, but that the Bible (especially the old testament) was fables and morals to help people live good lives. For a long time, I just lived my life as best I could, and didn’t feel church was necessary.

I’ve always been very interested in learning about other religions. This last year, I’ve tried to get deeper understandings of them. I’ve been going to Shamanic guided meditations. I’ve read books delving into beliefs and practices of religions, and how they compare and differ. I’ve discussed religion with different people, and looked things up online. I now plan to go to services at different churches/temples/etc to try and get an even deeper understanding. That’s why I went back to my old church today. It’s been so long, I wanted to see what I remembered, if anything has changed, and I wanted to see if I kept an open mind and heart if it would resonate with me again like it did so many years ago. There were some small things I forgot about (like how extensively it’s taught that God wants us to have a relationship with Him), but mostly it was exactly how I remembered. As for connecting to it – I didn’t really. There were moments though. During some of the songs, I got goosebumps. And there were times that I could feel the connection to God of the people around me. And during the sermon, there was a period of time I felt my third eye opening as I was considering what the pastor was saying. But, I didn’t feel connected to the God they were talking about. It didn’t resonate with me on a personal level. I couldn’t get past the comments about His forgiveness, about Him wanting a relationship with us and to have a conversation with us; basically, the things that humanized Him. I tried to be open minded, but I guess I had more trouble letting go my personal beliefs to accept what I was hearing than I’d hoped I would.

I did not go with the hope/expectation that my opinions would change. I understand what it feels like to be close to the God that Lutherans worship, and I understand their interpretation of the bible. I just wanted to see if I would connect with those beliefs again, and what parts of the religion I still resonate with. What I found was that not much has really changed for me at this point. I still believe in a god, I still believe in doing good, and treating others well, and I still believe that we are souls that do not cease to exist when our bodies die. I still disagree with communion, god as a father, and other details that are taught. But the experience did remind me of the benefit and comfort of the community that comes from the church. I found that over the years, I’ve gotten so caught up with what I agree and disagree with about churches and religions, that I lost sight of how a congregation supports each other through hard times. A sense of community is a valuable thing, and a church is full of people willing to pray for you, hear your struggles, and even watch your kids or make you a meal during a hard time. So- no, I don’t believe going to church is necessary for a relationship with God the father (if that’s what you believe), or that you should blindly follow the church (because it has know to become corrupted at times), or that what is taught in the church always coincides with what the religion is supposed to teach, but I do believe that it is important for a person to have a place to go where they feel connected to their God, where they feel safe and welcome to practice what they believe, and where they can connect and grow with people that have aligning views.
I’m happy that my experience today brought me a new revelation about religion, even if it was a small revelation. I plan to visit a Mormon Church next, and possibly go multiple times to get a better understanding of their beliefs and ways of life. I’m excited to see what else I learn, and what new revelations I will have!