Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spiritual D.N.A.

Exhibit A (1)

I was baptized on All Saint's Day or Reformation Sunday (depending who you ask) as an infant, in an Episcopalian church. My parents were not regular church-goers at the time.

Reformation day celebrates the day Luther challenged the Catholic church. The origins of All Saint's Day skew more Catholic than Protestant. It celebrates those who have attained a beatific vision of heaven--which isn't, really, very Lutheran--and originally was meant to celebrate the prayerful bond between those in heaven, those in purgatory, and those on earth. Decidedly un-Lutheran.

The Episcopalian church ordains women. I happen to believe that women should be ordained. My mother, last time I checked, does not.

Exhibit B (1)

When my mother was young, her own mother dropped her off in front of a church on Sundays, offering money in her hand. My mother would wait until my grandmother drove away, then walk in her church shoes to the drug store and spend the offering money on candy or at the soda fountain.
I like this story about my mother.

Exhibit C (1)

When I was a baby, my mother was approached by Jehovah's Witnesses. She was young and, I imagine, hungry for a spiritual tradition. My father, who had been raised Lutheran, called bullshit and they began attending a Lutheran church. I'm grateful for this, as I would have made a terrible Jehovah's Witness. It is far more difficult to be a bad Lutheran; I still don't know if I've accomplished it.

My father's people were Swedish and German and Lutheran by tradition.

Exhibit D (1)

Three years after me, my infant sister would be baptized in a Lutheran church. She identifies as Lutheran to this day.

Exhibit A (2)

By the time Ayla was born, I had left the Lutheran church and was dabbling briefly in non-denominational Protestantism at a very large church. Around the time Ayla was one, I stopped going to church altogether. To this day, I very much enjoy not going to church. My free Sunday mornings still feel like a gift. Like hitching up my petticoats to wade in a cool river.

I have developed other ways of nurturing my spirituality. Ways that fit my frequency. They are gentle and grateful. They scorn guilt. They focus on love.

Exhibit B (2)

Neither of my daughters have been baptized.

This was difficult for my mother.

Exhibit C (2)

"If you think God is a boy, he's a boy," says Indy. "If you think God is a girl, he's a girl. That's it." She shrugs. What's the big deal? "I think God wears lipstick," she adds. She tells me the most fantastic things. She wants to be Catholic but "daddy never lets her". (Not true). God lives in the stars but also in the flowers. God has a face like a tree but does not have blonde hair, just the picture has blonde hair.

"I think God is a boy," says Ayla.

Her world view has always skewed patriarchal.

It is possible I've given birth to a conservative.

Exhbit D (2)

Indy seems particularly spiritually inclined. She has a lot of questions and talks about her dual-gendered version of God often.

But both girls agree that church (their grandmother takes them on occasion) is boring.

Exhibit A (3)

I spend a lot of time wondering what things are passed to us through blood. Some things are easy: from my ancestors I've inherited fair skin, small eyes, a creative drive, a dramatic flair. But what about other things? What about the way I view the world, my ease in it, in my own skin, with others? My parents raised two daughters in one spiritual tradition. One left, the other stayed. It was painful for some members of my family. I know this.

Studies on identical twins suggest that our propensity to believe in a higher power has a genetic component. So do our political leanings.

Exhibit B (3)

I didn't leave the Lutheran church because it was a bad church. I left it because it wasn't right for me. My spirit craved a different tradition. It asked to be separated from the routine, the creeds and recitations and lessons I'd learned by rote, that I practiced without meaning or celebration or any earnest yearning for the Divine.

I think these very things that left me feeling dry and alienated from my spirit are the same things that bring others comfort and peace.

I believe there are an infinite number of ways to celebrate the infinite Divine and I believe in a Divine that smiles on all of them.

So then: which was in my blood--the Lutheran, or the leaving?

I believe it's both.


  1. Somehow, this post socked me in the gut. I don't know why. I was brought up with no religious ties and continue to be confused when trying to figure out when Easter Sunday is (can we just pick the first Sunday in April and call it good?) or when Lent starts.

    My paternal grandmother is ordained in an Episcopalian church. My husband's father is the pastor of their church. My maternal grandmother was Catholic and my sister is Mormon. I have no idea what's going on.

    I have recently become interested in learning more about Unitarian Universalism, mostly for a sense of belonging. Being new in town, even though I'll talk to a fence post, is tough. I'm thinking of connecting with people and figuring out whether we can tolerate each other and become friends.

    My father was chagrined to learn 10 years ago that his daughter was closer to "stinky Boulder hippie" than "conservative former military brat." I'm neither extreme, of course, but when I ordered a vegetarian omelet once, he (playfully) accused me of being a tree hugger. So, you might have given birth to a conservative. It'll make for fun family holiday conversations. ;-)

  2. It's funny - I was raised Lutheran but without understanding what it meant to be Lutheran, even when I went to a Lutheran (wonderful) high school. When I went to college, I leaned more towards the liberal denominations, only because I didn't really understand how or why I should be a Lutheran. Enter Ryan, my patient husband, who also has a Masters in theology. He knows more about all religions than most people do in a lifetime spent in one. Through him I have seen the perfect example of a leading and graceful heart, of living the faith, of understanding why it is important to understand what you believe. I can't tell you how many people I meet that go to non-doms that have NO IDEA what their church or denominations believe. It sounds like you have done a lot of searching and know why you believe what you do. Now, that I'm older and more patient in my understanding, I love being Lutheran. I love what we stand for (grace) and what we don't (whatever is culturally popular this week AND salvation through good works), and I love where our faith came from. The more I learn, the more I like. I do have a hard time when people say "Oh, I follow a bit of this religion and a bit of that..." This leads me to assume that those people know nothing about those religions at all. If you take a bit of Buddhism and a bit of Catholicism and a bit of Islam, you do not a religion make. All of them claim to be ultimate truth (and have conflicting messages about just about everything), so if you don't really believe the message of any of them, then that means they are all bogus and why even bother? You aren't part Buddhist because you like a Buddha statue. I don't understand. I'm glad that you have taken the time to really reflect on your past according to religion. It's so much further than most people get.

    I do miss Sunday mornings off, truth be told, but it's worth it :)

  3. You could substitute "Catholic" for "Lutheran" in this post, and I might have written it. Well, not written it because it's far more imaginative and creative than I might have written, but same thoughts --


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