Monday, April 09, 2007

God is in the details, not the church

One of my favorite bloggers, Denver Dad, wrote in a comment on a recent post about religion and faith

"It's a tough issue, because while I think many of us feel like we can make decisions for ourselves, suddenly we're making decisions for someone else who might want or need more than what we do.

I'm not making much sense . . ."
Au contraire, mon frère, le père, you are making perfect sense. As I've mentioned previously, Dad was a Christian Scientist whose behavior with his kids might have seemed a bit hypocritical from the outside. Although I never spoke directly with him about this, I believe that his rushing us to the clinic at the slightest provocation probably stemmed from a belief that until we were old enough to have faith, that he was responsible for protecting us from the damage that might result from illness or injury.

He always made it clear--to me, anyway, but perhaps this is just another benefit of being the last child--that I didn't have to go to Sunday School if I didn't want to. Of course, as a young boy, I couldn't imagine not doing what Dad did, especially something that he held so close to his heart. It was only as I got older, and the idea of getting out of bed, much less out of the house and over to church, by 10:30 seemed an inhumane way of treating myself on a weekend, that I stopped going. Some son, huh? "Hey, look Dad. I know that you love me and that you love church and that you'd love for me to go with you, seeing as how it's one time during the week when we can spend time together, but see, I'm really tired. I'll try to wake up before you get back, OK?" Turns out that he was right to take me to the doctor all those times that I cut myself to the bone, since my faith was not as deep as my need to get a little more sleep on a Sunday.

And he was also right not to force me to Sunday School or church against my will. I think that his refusal to do so came, in part, from an understanding on his part that his faith, Christian Science was, as he put it, "out in left field." Dad would have been delighted if I, or any of us kids, became members of the faith that he and his mother had both followed. But he knew that asking us to do so was asking a lot because it was always going to be different from other faiths. I also think that Dad was smart enough to know that nobody could be forced into faith--that true faith requires true belief, not coerced behavior. It also requires a certain presence of mind--hence rushing younger kids to the clinic, because we were too young to have the mental capacity for faith. And Dad was secure enough in his own faith that he didn't find it necessary to bring his children into it to confirm his own belief. Beyond that, I'd like to believe that along with his lifelong faith in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, he had a faith in his kids, a faith that we would become good people even if we didn't attend his church--or any church for that matter.

As I said, however, Dad and I never got the chance to discuss this directly, so I'm having to put this together from a distance--triangulate his probable positions on most of this from quite a distance. But while I could be wrong about the fine points, I know that Dad was strong enough and smart enough to never force us into faith, even as he was leading us down the delicate path of love, beauty, and laughter to success.

As Dad was leading, it was the small things that mattered the most to me; it was more important to me when I was a boy that Dad apologized after yelling at me than that he went to church every Sunday. Dad's priority was doing small, simple things well; this was as characteristic of him as his left-handedness, to the point that a coworker sent him the poem "Success," with this note:
"Seems that Mr. Emerson may well have written this just for you."
Actually, it's most likely that Emerson didn't pen those lines, but her sentiment rings true. I hope that as I'm "making decisions for someone else who might want or need more than what we do," I can be as successful at the small things as Dad was.

Next up: So, if I flunked out of Sunday School, why do I still believe in God?

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  1. Anonymous1:12 AM

    Here is the Kings take. I like the real King grew up in the Assembly of God church. I like the real King led a great childs life and teen life. I like the real King went nuts for booze and babes when out on my own. I like the real King have come to a better understanding of God as I passed 40.In the meantime the church that my old man helped build turned its back on him in the 90s and he and mum became Baptists. I on the other hand am ok with the Baps, but lean a little Lutheren. As someone who has toured with the biggest names in Christian music and some of the biggest TV preachers I have seen some non chistian things.I also screamed at God when told that mymother who never smoked a day in her life had lung cancer. Why her God? She did everything you told her to.I have made peace with God. And now I think I take a little from alot of faiths. I still think Born Again because hey what if its real? Why play with the fact that hell may be real? That place has a huge no fun zone. Besides I really want to get to Heaven and see Hendrix beat Moses in Ping Pong.(Simpsons)Faith in God is cool, wars over God is not.

    TCB on Amazin Grace
    By the way check out Fernando Ortega or Salvador on Itunes for some really well done God Rock, and genuine God Rockers.

  2. Your Dad sounds like a wonderful role model. Even if he didn't instill his faith into his children, he did show you his way to be a good person and a good father. To me, that was a far more important lesson than anything in Sunday school.

  3. 1 Corinthians 13 (a letter written by Paul) has some remarks about faith and love: "If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

    Leviticus 19:18 says "Love your neighbor as yourself," and Jesus restates it in Matthew 22, as the second great commandment (the "first and greatest" is to love God).

    I don't know the Koran well enough to quote it, but I bet you'll find the same sentiment there.

    Most religions are part bathwater, part baby. Actually, most religions I've run across are mostly baby; the amount of bathwater varies. In any faith you can find fine print to object to, but in most religions the words written in large gold print over the door are not bad ways to live your life.

    I try to be careful in distinguishing faith from belief or trust or understanding. Each has its place, and they support each other. But I think anyone who leads through love speaks volumes for his faith.

  4. Another really great post, Bradstein dad, and not just because I got a mention in it! ;)

    I think the example your father set was a very wise one. I know a lot of people who have been really disillusioned by faith, thanks to being pushed by their family. It sounds like your father, in his way, was letting you find your own faith, on your own terms, while also providing you with an example of how to live a practical life as someone with faith.

  5. Anonymous12:40 AM

    I like the way your dad handled this, I think it is a good example. Faith is always a tough one and I have seen what happens when you try to push it onto someone. We have decided to take Chins to church because this was a big part of life growing up for ZD and somethinf I always felt I missed out on. I was the one who got us going to church for a few years, but then I was left on my own to find my faith. This was tough, but very rewarding in the end. I think what I want for Chins is to know what faith is and that it is there for him if it is something he comes to believe in. I think your father taught you more about faith than you lead to. I think living our lives as good people is a better exspression of faith that what many exsperience. This is getting rambly, so I am going to stop.