Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Church Tours



I’ve told the story of why my dad left the Catholic Church before but I’m going to tell it again. Back in the 1920s when Dad was eight years old a priest, while teaching Sunday school, accused my dad of throwing a spitball. If you don’t know what a spitball is, it’s a piece of paper that’s been chewed and shaped into a ball. Dad always claimed he didn’t do it but that didn’t stop the priest from opening the door on a potbelly stove, picking my dad up by the seat of his pants and the collar of his shirt and pretend he was going to throw Dad inside to teach him about the fires of hell where bad boys go. After that, my dad refused to go back to Sunday school and while his siblings continued growing up Catholic my dad was sent off to the only other church in town, a Methodist.

I was grade school, too, when I had a life-changing ‘church’ event of my own. Less dramatic but just as hurtful and long-lasting. I can still see myself with long pigtails and wearing a pink print dress standing on the playground during recess and being told by a classmate that she couldn’t play with me anymore because I was a “heathen who didn’t go to church.” The day before, I had gone home with her after school to play and her mother had given me the third degree. “What church to you go to?” Blah, blah, blah. It was after that when my parents had my brother and me start walking up to one of the four churches close-by for Sunday school and it didn’t matter which one. Our choice. At one of those churches I learned that God was an image cut out of a book, pasted to a piece of flannel and slapped above a flannel-backed cloud in the sky where He overlooked a field full of cows. 

Oddly enough, my date for the junior prom was the son of a dairy farmer. A deeply religious farmer who beat his son for dating a girl outside of their church---that would be me in case you’re having a Dense Dianna Day. My friend ran away from home after that beating but he didn’t stay away long enough for his black and blue marks to fade. He told me that farming was in his blood and if he didn’t break up with me, his father would disinherit him and give the family farm to his cousin. I got over the breakup quick enough but I spent the ‘60s trying to figure out why God encouraged his followers to abuse little boys with spitballs, polite little girls with pigtails and a nearly grown boy who thought I was special enough to introduce me to his parents. 

Being brought up in what was known as the "city of churches" I learned the art of avoiding the topic of religion early on in life. I have a master’s degree in avoidance so imagine my surprise when I signed up for a senior hall tour of a church denomination that’s only been in town for ten years: The Unitarian Universal Church. Why did I want to learn more about this church? Because several (holier than thou) people I know think the place is the devil’s spawn and by contrast, one of my favorite and most admired bloggers is a member of the UUC. So I dusted off my eggshell walking shoes and hoped my seatmate on the bus didn’t want to talk Christian doctrine. She didn’t. The church tour series goes to two different churches every month and the other church on our agenda Thursday was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, another controversial church according to some. 

The local UUC church actually holds its services in a Jewish Temple and has been doing so since its inception which seemed weird until I learned that the UUC’s logo---a flaming chalice---has ties to an underground group during WWII that helped Unitarians and Jews escape Nazi persecution. Sometimes we’re so busy looking at the differences between people and groups that we overlook their similarities and where their histories intertwine. I was impressed by the minister saying they are an inclusive community that celebrates theological diversity. She is free, for example, to base her services on readings from scripture, Buddha, the Torah, Maya Angelou or wherever else she finds inspiration. A recent sermon of hers I found online was inspired by Donald Trump saying he doesn’t have time to be politically correct. Another thing that sets them apart from some other churches---if I'm understanding it right---is they consider Jesus to be a high prophet but not God, not part of a holy Trinity.

The other church we toured, the LDS, was everything I would not like in a church but the hour and a half we spent there was certainly interesting. If you’ve ever had two of their missionaries stand on your porch steps you’ll get the picture of the tag team that walked us through the workings of their church, throwing in a heavy dose of evangelizing for good measure. 

Tour or no tour, I do occasionally wonder if I’m still searching for that enlightenment I think I found in my twenties. Will I wake up one day with a desire to start attending church? If so, the UUC is probably the only place I could feel like I belonged. Life would be less complicated if I had a church here in the city of churches. A church comes with a social life and that would be nice, too. But I’d feel like a hypocrite if I took up a religion like the LDS that personifies the meaning of God as I have come to know God---that combined goodness of mankind, a force for and of goodness. Can you believe it, in one of the class rooms at the LDS they even had a cut-out silhouette of God/Jesus standing on cut-out clouds. The more things change the more they stay the same. Not since college have I seen so many prints of Jesus in one place. There must have been over fifty in the building.

When I was an art major in college, we studied a lot of religious works of art because throughout man’s early history anyone with an artistic talent was basically enslaved by the church for the express purpose of personifying God. And while many religious philosophies of the world used artists to do pictorials to teach spiritual concepts and lessons to the masses who could not read, the Christians were the most prolific, especially during the reigns of Sixtus IV and Pope Julius II. Fast forward a few centuries when the depicted messengers became more important than the message---how do you put that Jeanie back in the bottle? How do you embrace God if you think of God as something separate and outside of yourself, outside of your own ability to create goodness and love? How can a person claim to know God yet carry out actions rooted in hate? I guess that's a diploma for those who do it to explain because try as I might over the decades, I haven't figured it out.

I apologize to anyone still reading this super-sized blog post. I usually don’t post things longer than 900 words but try as I might I couldn’t edit down my thoughts and anecdotes any more than what I’ve shared above. I even cut a whole passage about drum circles, Christian hymns and wailing walls that I particularly liked. If I’ve inadvertently said anything unflattering or untrue about your religious beliefs, I’m sorry. Please feel free to correct any errors or misrepresentations I may have made. ©

19 comments:

  1. You've brought tears to my eyes. I think you, like me and so many others, have been Unitarian Universalists our whole lives -- we just didn't know it. When I found the local UU church nearly 25 years ago I felt I'd found the home I didn't even know I'd longed for as I made forays through various Protestant denominations from childhood into early adulthood.

    You may hear from some readers, as you mentioned, who reject UU because it isn't Christian. It is, though. And it isn't. We are a church of seekers and all are welcome. This doesn't mean we don't believe in anything; it means we believe there are many paths to a person spiritual life that calls us to love one another, to care for the earth and all its inhabitants (both flora and fauna), and to know that answers lie in asking questions and being open to an evolving understanding of our purpose.

    We have our roots in the Judea Christian tradition: we parted when Unitarians did not accept the idea of a Trinity, rather embracing one God. The Universalists did not accept the idea of a punishing God, rather a loving God who would not condemn His children to that fiery furnace of Hell. Both branches of our faith were persecuted by the Christians of their time for these heretical views -- and still are, although not generally imprisoned or burned at the stake.

    I am currently experiencing the very human problem of people within my church having significant disagreement over a policy decision and I am sad about the ensuing conflict. One of our seven Principles and Purposes (look them up at www.uua.org) is the use of the democratic process in our interactions with each other and the world -- that can get messy. But whatever happens between people in a UU community that is subordinate to that which binds us together in a tradition that upholds our very humanity and supports us in finding a way forward together by living our Principles and Purposes, upholding our tradition, and making love our highest aspiration.

    UUs almost never get on a soapbox like this, never proselytize (we hide our light under the proverbial a bushel), so thanks for indulging this bit of UU pride. And thanks, Jean, for your post. You might want to pay that church another visit...or two....or....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna, I probably will. I talked to the minister there when I caught her alone and got a link to her past sermons. So far, I like what I see. I was totally impressed by her openness and frankness. While talking to our group she said it's been interesting serving in a UUC in such a conservative area. She said they get a lot of "wounded" Christians attend who have had falling outs with their "birth churches" plus agnostics and Jewish people and she has to balance all their needs in her services. She talked about the social justice stuff that you've blogged about. Everything she talked about you've touched on which told me it's core beliefs of the church rather than regional, if you know what I mean. This congregation is around 150 active which I'm guessing is smaller than your church.

      While we were there, the Rabbi even greeted us when we came in. I've always loved talking to Rabbis so the idea of running into them from time to time would be icing on the cake. When I serviced weddings, Jewish weddings were my favorite. They all treated me great.

      I know two women who totally condemn the UUC but I wasn't really sure why until this tour. I'm guessing for them it's not believing in the Holy Trinity and that what makes them not "a real church" but rather a cult in their eyes. Church tours have become a popular group activity here---some for the stained glass windows and architecture but some for an introduction of dogma. Three groups I belong to tour churches around the city. These two woman absolutely refused to put the UUC church on the list of possible place to go. Love thy neighbor? Not those two.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Delete
    2. 150 active members is a good size. We have that many on the membership rolls, but not nearly that many active. Our average Sunday attendance is more like 80-100, I'd guess. But the UU church I attend is in a small suburban town north of Seattle, in what is actually a fairly conservative area. People flock to the "big box" non-demononatoinal Christian churches here -- not so much to our little UU church on the corner. But we don't do a very good job of outreach in my opinion. Hiding that light....

      As to being thought a "cult" -- Unitarian Universalism is actually "officially" deemed a cult by some far-right conservative/Christian groups. I find their radical judgements sad and in opposition to their stated belief in the Golden Rule and other Christian precepts. What would Jesus say? I don't know. I don't presume to speak for him, but it seemed to me he was pretty open and accepting and had some pretty radical beliefs in his own time. There are Christian UUs in my church who love Jesus and following his teachings...while still loving others who may or may not agree with their perspectives. But there's no convincing those who will not hear....

      Delete
    3. That's interesting about the "'officially' deemed a cult by some far-right conservative\Christian groups." That explains the two women I know. On our tour I didn't see or hear a single thing that would set off alarms bells with me where as I can't say the same about some other churches I've been in.

      Delete
  2. I am spiritual, and I don't attend church. I never intend to go to church. Church is filled with people that are imperfect and they do and say things that hurt others. I just don't need to be part of that. My faith is personal. That's how I view God.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Someone told me years ago to just say my faith is personal as a way of deflecting the what-church-do-you-go question. It never worked for me. LOL I, too, consider myself to be spiritual but a lot of people in this area just don't accept that as "good enough" and will bug you about going to their church. Don't get me wrong, there are many lovely and caring Christians to balance the score card of those in-name-only Christians and I generally get along with them all. I just feel the older I get the more I want to be more open about my beliefs than I was allowed in my younger years.

      Thanks for sharing, Sandee........

      Delete
  3. I have mostly felt like an anthropologist living among Christians. As a Jew, I have never paid much attention to the beliefs of the different Christian denominations because I am a secular Jew and religion in general is not something that I regard as a strong dimension of thought. That 'leap of faith' into belief in a supreme being hurts my logical and scientific ears. And yet, even while writing that, I know that thoughtful, intelligent people are religious and make coherent and reasonable arguments for their faith. Faith is difficult.
    Most of my knowledge of the UU is from Garrison Keillor (are you familiar with Prairie Home Companion?). We do have a UU in our town and it is the embodiment of all the jokes that Garrison Keillor used...they are a mixture of discontents from other churches, mixed marriages (Christians and Jews) and liberal partners and couples. They do hold Passover Seders, Gay Pride parades and all the other non traditional services that the Christian churches wouldn't have. But what I know mostly about the UU in our town is that they are an active service organization and they help people in need. They are also, as you have mentioned, as are the other churches, the social life of the community. It is true, here as well, that if you are not part of a church, you are not part of a lot of the social life of the community.
    One of the interesting aspects of Jewish life is that you are taught to question...from a very young age. With a real ironic twist, during the teenage years, most of that questioning leads people to move away from any identification with being Jewish. Was that the kind of enlightenment that you were referring to in your twenties?
    Regards,
    Leze

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, the kind of enlightenment I was referring to is more like clarifying in my mind what to believe about God and religious beliefs in general...not just Christianity which was the only thing I was exposed to growing up but the other major religions of the world. I'd call it a moving to rather than from. During my 'what's it all about' faze of life I had a wonderful talk with a Rabbi and he mentioned that Jews are taught to question. It's through having your faith questioned that you learn, study and can articulate your beliefs. As best I remember, that's what he said. I've always liked that idea.

      I listened to some of the Prairie Home Companions back when I used to plow snow but I don't remember him talking about the UU. Your description above sounds pretty close to the picture I got of the church on our tour. Only instead of Gay Pride parades their pet project, now, is Black Lives Matter. They only have one black member, though. The minister said the topic of racial equality is a topic the UUC will be taking up nation wide this year.

      Your sentence that I love the most is: " That 'leap of faith' into belief in a supreme being hurts my logical and scientific ears. And yet, even while writing that, I know that thoughtful, intelligent people are religious and make coherent and reasonable arguments for their faith. Faith is difficult." That belief in the idea of a supreme BEING was/is that hardest part for me to get and yet I know, too, that your are 100% right about those who do believe there is a being rather than a FORCE like I've come to believe.Thankfully, we live in a time and place where we can all believe what we want as long as we don't physically hurt others.



      Delete
  4. When I was in college, I went to the UU church with a friend, who was a German Jew. I found it to be interesting, but kind of wishy-washy for me. TOO many different beliefs or thought processes. But then, I am one of those people that don't like the Mega Non-denominational churches either. I have to have the Trinity, and Jesus being born of a virgin (at the time), dying and being raised and alive in Heaven. That's about all I need. The Morman Church in Salt Lake City, UT is a beautiful area! But, they believe that Jesus once roamed around America and I can't quite go there. I don't dig all the beliefs of Catholics. I don't believe in pre-determination as the Presbyterians, and the Lutherans just confuse me. So--although I haven't attended church in a year, it's out of laziness. BTW--in my entire life I don't think I have EVER asked someone what church they attended, and I don't remember the last time anyone asked me. That never mattered to me. In my family genealogy, I have found Agnostics, Lutherans, German Reform, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics and even a Morman. The most amazing thing to me--they all were Republicans! I guess that matters most to me, LOL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not so much anymore but it still happens here on my side of the state, asking someone what church they go to was about the first question anyone would ask in casual conversation. Good for you for never asking!

      That's interesting that you've been able to find out the political leanings of your ancestors. Other than the famous ones and the ones who wrote books, I don't know mine. Though I find it funny/odd/interesting that of my brother's three kids only one claims the same political party has her dad and grandparents...and she's the most educated of the three.

      Delete
    2. For some reason, back in the day, the newspaper obituaries were gloriously written of the person's life, religious and political leanings. They also described the people as "hard working, honest, with integrity." It costs too much today to have all that written in a newspaper obit. Too bad because those beautiful obits back then, gave me a real picture of the person. Because, on my Dad's side of the family, they NEVER threw anything away, I have access to the yellowed, over 100 year old obits. Fun times.

      Delete
    3. Don's family kept old obituaries, too, and I recently threw Don's stash of them away. I know what you mean about the cost of them these days. I wrote a thorough one for Don because he loved to read others. LOL

      I did most of my family genealogy through public records and now I can see why I should have gone to the library to look for old obituaries, too. Genealogy research never ends, does it.

      Delete
    4. I wrote a long obit for Dad. He loved obits. I told my brother that it was going to cost a fortune. He said, "Go for it." :) I know Dad would have loved it.

      Delete
    5. It's the last thing you can do for them, isn't it, so we do what they'd like.

      Delete
  5. This is a good topic for a Sunday morning. LOL Anyone else care to jump in?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was raised Catholic, attending their schools for TWELVE years. None of my five siblings are church going, let alone Catholic. But when Kate was going through recovery, she wanted to find a church. Friends would take her and she tried Morman, Lutheran, and many others. I went with her to UU and THAT was my favorite. It's like a group of (mostly) intelligent MORAL people who share camaraderie and family. I loved the "sermon" and the fact that they were also online.

    I, too, am at that point in my life where I would like to be around like minded spiritual but not quite religious people. I'm considering a Lutheran church (in Maui) because it is the closest to home. the UU church is a bit of a drive but I'm going to try it also. Let's have another session in six months!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting! Distance is my only issue with going to the UUC and it will be even farther when/if I move next year. But the local branch does sermons online, too, so I might just follow them awhile and just go to special events. The six months touching bases on this issue is a great idea!

      Delete
  7. I just wrote a long comment and screwed up and lost it.

    This was a fascinating post, Jean. One of the first blogs I ever read was written by a woman who attended a UU Church. I didn't know much about it before that, but I was intrigued.

    I was raised Baptist but stopped attending church over forty years ago. Last Thanksgiving at my brothers house, my aunt asked me what church I attend now. Imagine her surprise when I told her that I no longer attend. If I decided to start again, I would start my search with a UU Church.

    Fortunately my brand of Baptist was not fundamentalist, but on Wednesday nights, I attended a fundamentalist church with some of our neighbors. I didn't go for the purest of reasons. There was a boy and we had a mutual crush. His father was very active in the church. He played the piano and eventually became a minister. The only thing I remember about him was that he beat his son. What I remember most about the sermons was that the television was a devilvision and a woman should not want to meet God wearing fingernail polish or lipstick and that young people (especially girls) should not dance. When a girl moved her body in a suggestive way, it made boys sin. I guess it was the old lust-in-your-heart kind of sin. LOL

    Another great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing that memory. That sounds like the Baptist I grew up around. They hide TV antennas in their attics so people wouldn't know they had one. I guess if people don't know, a sin doesn't count? It always got to Don how they went from hiding TVs to having their own TV broadcasts stations. People make so much of some Muslim denominations making women cover up but it really isn't much different than the way some Christian churches viewed woman not so long ago...like they had to down play their femininity and looks or they were thought to be causing men to sin. Granted, young girls have gone too far in the other direction now BUT men are still responsible for their own actions according to the Church of Jean. LOL

      Delete