Thursday, May 27, 2004

This afternoon, Christie and I are meeting with a minister to talk about wedding stuff. If you're divorced and want to get married in the Episcopal Church, the local bishop has to sign off on it, which means having a sit down with the minister to talk about your divorce and what you've learned from it. So how do I feel about that? The irony is unescapable, given that divorce (or one divorce in particular) was the catalyst for the founding of the Episcopal Church. The good reverend has a sense of humor, which will help, and a more philosophical bent than some clergy I've known, so that bodes well. But I'm most comfortable with churches when I'm a tourist, camera in hand. I'm there for the art and the music, not the religion.

How is that possible? I was a devout Lutheran when I was a kid (it's easy to be devout when all you've ever seen of the world is what they choose to show you), and sat on the Board of the local Unity church for a few years after college (because they asked). Looking back, the times I was attending church coincide with the times when I was in the worst shape, spiritually speaking. Of course, those times also coincide with my first marriage and a lousy job on the one hand, and my childhood on the other. There's alternate causality, therefore no reason for ecclesiaphobia.

Why can't I treat churches the way I treat Thai food? I've had Thai food probably a dozen times in my life, and never really had a meal I enjoyed. But whenever somone suggests Thai food, I think, "Hey, why not? Maybe this time..."

The odds are that I won't be going to church anytime soon. Hell, I have trouble getting out of bed on Sunday mornings to do things I want to do. And I won't be motivated by guilt; I think it's one of the basest motives we humans have contrived. But when I'm face to face with clergy, up wells the guilt. Even if they don't ask, I can hear them asking, "Have you been to church lately?" Well, it's easy for them isn't it? I mean, they work at church. They're there all the time. Church is just down the hallway! And besides, they're not giving up a weekend. They just shift it a few days down. Sunday's like Friday to them, so where's the sacrifice?

I know this is not healthy. I know it's not sane. But it's what happens. Every time. So, you might ask, why go through a traditional church at all? There's Unity, Unitarian, interfaith centers, covens, mosques, The Universal Church of Life, RentaPriest.com, and a host of other options. I could write a hundred pages on why that route has no appeal and never get closer to the truth that "Been there, done that, no thanks" so that's where I'll leave it. Maybe in another post, on another day.

So. Day to day, I follow an eclectic spiritual path, and am agnostic at best when it comes to the Christian idea of God. But that's still the dominant metaphor in my personal landscape, and when it comes to the big rites of passage, nothing else feels quite real. So, church it is.

And the Episcopalian attitude about divorce (that we're all human, but divorce is still a failing, and we should do all we can to avoid it) is emblematic of what makes it appealing: judgement wrapped up with compassion. And what that translates to in the world of actions is that Christie and I have to sit down for an hour and talk with a stranger about our relationship and about the biggest chunk of pain either of us has ever faced down.

I'm looking forward to that about as much as I'd look forward to a root canal.

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