Monday, January 21, 2008


I didn't go to church yesterday, but last Sunday was the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday anyway. The new minister, after acknowledging how inadequate he's always felt in trying to give a sermon on King, both because of his feelings of smallness next to the great man and his acknowledgement that as a white privileged male, he can't ever come at it from any other place. His voice broke as he admitted it and you could feel the emotion waver around the room. And then he continued on, more forcefully, about how much the congregation has the ability to have an impact, and how he's going to make it his charge to work with us to do so.

But the really emotional moment was when we all stood to sing the last song, "We Shall Overcome," and he asked that we all join hands. I was at the end of a row, so became the link between the elderly man behind me (who could be heard snoring during the earliest part of the morning) and a young woman in the pew ahead. I was turned facing the room, and it was like we were in a large circle. And somehow, as the verses continued on, I felt the weight of emotion break over me unexpectedly, my voice cracking and forcing me to continue in a dry whisper. When the song ended you could hear the sniffing and blowing of noses as the music director played the closing song on the organ; so many of us, suspended in sadness.

The surprise was how it crept on me; I think now that there is something to be said for clutching the hands of strangers, for sharing in the delivery of a song that has such an emotional history. I can see where other churches are able manipulate that emotion to their own ends. But it wasn't like that at all. When you tear away the trappings of dogma and guilt and scripture, all you have is a group of people, experiencing human emotion.

The moment that ruined christianity for me was when I attended a "Spirit of 76" concert with my mother and some friends. My mother didn't realize it was put on by a born-again christian group until we were packed into the large room. I don't recall much of the show, but during one of the more emotion-laden songs, the performers started coming into the audience and pulling people on stage. One came up to me and asked me if I'd been saved, and I said, no, and she told me that if I didn't accept Jesus as my lord and savior, I'd burn in hell for eternity. And she walked away to find another more responsive target. I was 13.

I remember going to a pancake house afterwards, and being completely shattered. I had been raised a Catholic in a very lax manner; I'd been baptized and taken first communion and been confirmed again as a pre-teen. Although I didn't know what I really believed, I knew that it wasn't that only those who went through a "born again" ritual were doing it right. But I also didn't want to be left out of heaven, if there was one, because I'd chosen the "wrong" sect. I didn't want to believe in a god who would allow that to be true.

And so began my detachment from religion.

The UU minister told a joke at the previous week's service (here in full, as I've discovered he has his own blog of his sermons):

There's an old joke about the fellow who was walking across a bridge one day, he saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. He immediately ran over and said, "Stop! Don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" the man said.

"Well, there's so much to live for!"

"Like what?"

"Well ... are you religious or atheist?"


"Me too! Are you Christian of Jewish?"


"Me too! Are you Catholic of Protestant?"


"So am I! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"


"Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"

"Baptist Church of God."

"As am I! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"

"Reformed Baptist Church of God."

"Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"

Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915."

To which the fellow said, "Die, heretic scum!" and left the other one standing there on the rail.

That sums it up perfectly, don't you think?


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