Monday, September 28, 2009

Am I the Only One?

Today is Yom Kippur.

I'm not Jewish, so I don't understand the history, the community, and the values that go into that holiday. Daddy has tried to explain about how it makes him feel, and I have tried to understand, but I just don't get it.

Raised in a Catholic/Protestant household, my religious life consisted of trying to duck out of Sunday school as often as possible. I was afraid of the nuns and lay-people who always seemed to end up thinking I was some sort of idiot seven year old child who didn't know what transubstantiation or reconciliation was. And for the record....I didn't. I'd missed that homework assignment.

After being told to stand in front of the class with my nose to the blackboard, and after having my hair pulled by the nun because I wasn't going to do it, I'd decided at the ripe old age of seven that I'd had enough of religion.

My mother didn't protest when I'd said I was done. As long as I made my first communion, to make my father's mother happy, she wasn't going to push. My dad, who'd had his own issues with the Catholic church, decided that it just wasn't worth the fight that I was going to put up, making me go. My first confession consisted of telling the priest that I'd fibbed to my parents, I'd hit my sister, and that I was just an all around bad person. Heck, I thought that I needed something bad to be able to confess, so I started making shit up. I didn't like my teacher; I'd cheated by watching tv when I was grounded...just to show that I was a bad person who needed to confess. I'd tried to remember what the commandments said and tried to fit each of them into something I could confess. Good thing that I didn't know what adultery was at seven. I can imagine the priest's heart attack having heard that one come out.

He didn't try to correct me, or show me how to be better, but instead, gave me five Hail Mary's and five Our Fathers as penance. I didn't know how to tell him that I didn't even know how to say either of them. I left the confessional, walked out the door of the church, and said, well...if that was supposed to make me feel better or closer to God, it missed the mark by a long shot. God already knew I got bagged for lying and hitting my sister...and he knew how sorry I was about it. What would pretending to pray add but yet another thing I'd have to confess about next Sunday?

I've been to church over the years...weddings, funerals, and I even tried to get over myself with this when I had children of my own. I'd hoped that after 20 or so years, things had changed. I enrolled my kids in Sunday school, and tried talking with them about what they were learning.

I'd joined the mother's club, offered to volunteer for groups and events, and was always turned down because I didn't have the background to "be effective". I was lost in a world I didn't understand, and despite my best efforts, I was again turned away. Nobody noticed when I didn't continue. Well, nobody except the church secretary who asked me if I wanted to make my monthly donation today because it seemed to be missing.

But what really got my ire up, was when one of my kids came home and said that he'd been forced to stand in front of the class with his nose against the chalkboard, because he'd forgotten his homework. And if that wasn't bad enough, they'd both been asked to leave the children's chorus because their voices were "too deep" and stuck out, thus "ruining the overall sound". I thought...huh, here's two kids that just want to sing, and they're being told they 'stood out too much'?

That's when I realized that religion wasn't about inclusiveness, love, understanding, charity, forgiveness or any of the lofty values that churches purport to have, it was about toeing a line and fitting in. For me, fitting in wasn't possible and so my only alternative was to not.

So over the years, I'd never given much thought to religion. It always seemed like something that other people "got", while I was left wondering what it was about me that just couldn't "get" it. When filling out cards that required a religion to be named, I'd left it blank. When holidays came around, I'd celebrated the secular and ignored the religious meanings. When my youngest sister decided to reaffirm her faith and be confirmed, I just smiled and went on my merry way.

So having a Daddy that is so very smart, doesn't mind my questions, loves to explain things, and doesn't think I'm an idiot child for feeling like this, is wonderful. He assumes that I know a lot of things about my own religion that I'm sometimes embarrassed to tell him that I don't. I've never even owned a bible, much less read it. In this, we're very much different. He knows about his own religion, and can tell me a lot about what used to be mine. But I don't think he can really know how it was to be brought up as a Catholic, anymore than I could know how it is to be Jewish. Both are religions. Both have rules, ritual, and rigamarole. They have a lot of commonalities and a lot of differences.

But the one thing that Daddy has always said, and he said it to me last night, was that the important thing with Judaism is the community. On Yom Kippur, sins are asked to be forgiven on behalf of the community. He said it's easier to ask for forgiveness if somebody else helps you. I find that an interesting contrast. In Catholicism...you're on your own. Alone in a confessional, and with nobody there to support you or help you.

I'm still not sure about religion, but it seems to me that this at least is one of the things that I'd always felt was a big problem in my own religion. Asking forgiveness alone, and thinking that you're the only one.

Somehow, I think that if I'd known that I wasn't the only one who was a bad child, or who questioned or didn't quite get it, I'd have felt a little differently.

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