I’ve been hesitant to write about the topic of religion for a number of reasons, although it’s important to me. Maybe I haven’t found the right tone yet. Or maybe I’m still working through a number of questions myself and don’t want to draw conclusions here on my blog only to change my mind later.
I was raised a Mormon in Ogden, Utah. My mother grew up in a strict Mormon home. My father did not. But once they married, they were loyal members of this dominant religion in Utah.
The only time I did not attend church for three hours each Sunday morning was when I was sick. I may have faked an illness when church overlapped with a Steelers game, but most weeks I was there in a light blue suit and clip on tie passing the bread and water as young priesthood holder.
I assumed everyone was a Mormon until I was well into my teens. Utah is one of the few places that could happen. It was a big deal to my friends and family when I asked a Catholic girl to a school dance. I don’t believe we ever talked about religion, and it’s probably for the better.
It wasn’t until I served as a missionary in Germany that I become acquainted with other religions. There certainly wasn’t a shortage of people ready to tell me how foolish I was to belong to such a strange and strict religion. I learned one way to diffuse their attacks was to ask them about their own beliefs. The more I listened, the more they opened up to me. Over time, I learned about the Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and many others. Most were Christian, but some were not. I remember one man called himself a naturalist. He believed God was “in the trees and the leaves”. They didn’t teach us how to respond to such a person at the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah.
The reason I refer back to my upbringing is because I now realize my eyes and mind were closed until I went to Germany. Until that time, I only discussed religious topics that confirmed what I already believed. None of my friends challenged me because they all possessed the same beliefs I did.
And I wonder if that’s what best for my kids.
Isn’t it a bit arrogant to assume that what’s best for me is also what’s best for my children?
We live in Seattle where my kids are exposed to a diverse group of children at school. Hopefully lead to more discussions among their friends, and they will see that many good people have beliefs that differ from their own. In Utah, I was able to select friends who attended the same church I did. If my children were to do that, they’d have one or two friends total.
I can’t help but see myself in my son each week at church. He attends church because we expect him to attend with our family. He’s respectful and reverent. He even occasionally sings. But much of the time, he props his chin up, crosses his legs and stares off into space. I can certainly relate because I did that every week as a kid.
I hope my children find the same peace and joy I’ve found by belonging to my faith. Most parents would feel the same way. I want them to experience my religion without having it shoved down their throats. I’m trying to share my experiences with them, but give them the leeway to find their own way. I believe parents who are militant about their beliefs find that level of control only works up to a certain age. Eventually, the child will rebel and take off in the opposite direction. I don’t want that.
My views on religion continue to be a work in progress. When I returned from my mission where I had to wear a suit and tie seven days a week, I needed a break from it all. Living something so intensely for two years extracted a toll on my system. I’m constantly searching for balance. I was religious for two years but was I spiritual? I’m still asking myself that question after twenty years.
And like Lincoln, I occasionally stare off into space during church meetings. That’s when I do some of my most productive thinking.
Trying to make sense of this mixed up world.