Friday, March 29, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Good Friday

I was raised Catholic.  My father was the stereotypical East Coast Irish Catholic, and approached religion and faith like a weekly dental hygiene appointment. None of us were happy to be at church, but just like you don’t want your teeth falling out of your skull, you don’t want to be standing outside the gates of heaven just because you didn’t block out 90 minutes on Sunday.  Fill out a check for the collection plate and endure the experience.   The antiquated language and rituals, the smell of incense, non-engaging sermons, and endless doses of guilt and shame were heaped on me just as they had been heaped on him as a child.  It was a family tradition.  To not indoctrinate me into the church would have been a sin that would have resulted in even more shame and guilt. 
Luckily my parents didn’t lose their minds and send me to Catholic schools.  Nothing messes up a kid like Catholic school.  Every girl I ever met that came from a strict Catholic upbringing came out two ways. 1) Repressed beyond belief and unable to accept joy in any form.  To have stumbled into brief happiness only means that you must have sinned in some way, and need to repent at once for something.  2)  Completely out of control and on a quest to accept as many male body parts into their orifices as possible while high on alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and experimental hallucinogenic drugs procured from hippies named “Bear”.  Either way, they had a lot of problems to work out.

I was made to attend CCD classes after mass on Sundays.  These were taught in classrooms in a building attached to the church that had the charm of any DMV you have ever entered.  We walked into the classes like prisoners on a chain gang.  The teachers were either the priests or overzealous members of the congregation without any teaching experience whatsoever.  To say they could not hold a child’s attention is an understatement.  When you get down to it, there are some pretty great action stories in the Bible.  How they couldn’t figure out how to sell us on the ideas with these parables is confusing.  Instead we were pounded with rote memorization and the occasional uncomfortable Q&A session. 

The priests always spoke way above our heads.  I was afraid of these musty smelling men in the strange robes.  We had no common ground that I could see.  It was always the same.  The elderly priest would walk in the front of the room, staring up the ceiling and pontificate.  “In the third book of the Corinthians, Matthew often mentioned his quest to become closer to God in a way which was more pure spiritually pure and less reliant on worldly ritual.  What do you think he meant by that?"  He would then look at his seating chart.  "Greg?” 
I was seven. 

The only word I picked up in that whole thing was “God”, who I knew to be a large serious guy with a flowing beard.   Corinthian?  As in “rich Corinthian leather” in that Chrysler ad?  Who was Matthew again?  I really had two options.  I could stammer a bit until he let me off the hook, or I could provide the one answer that seemed to always apply.  “Umm.. Jesus?”  The priest would then answer thoughtfully yet annoyed, “Yes. Yes, getting closer to Jesus, but in what way?  Rebecca?”  Then Rebecca was in the spotlight and I could mercifully return to drawing monsters or WWII planes in my notebook.  

I usually preferred the overzealous parishioners as teachers.  For three years we had Mrs. Gibbons, a kind hearted woman that was perhaps the most boring human being on the planet.  She somehow managed some control over us as a group with her occasional outbursts of violence, yet really imparted almost no knowledge of religion.  My strongest memory of her was when she tried to teach us about the very confusing idea of original sin.  Unfortunately for her, it was around the same time that we had learned about the International Date Line in science class.  The class went crazy when I introduced the idea of the International Date Line into the discussion of baptism.  “Mrs. Gibbons, let’s say that a baby is baptized on Sunday, and then the family gets on a plane where they fly across the international dateline into Saturday.  Then the plane crashes.  So wouldn’t the baby go to hell since he went back a day to when he wasn't baptised?”  Debate picked up steam quickly.  The conversation devolved into wild finger pointing and screaming as young minds grappled with this unsolvable riddle.  Father Shantz was finally called in to cull the near riot.  I still don’t know what the answer is to that one as we were told to bend our heads and chant Hail Marys until we lost our will to argue the point.

The following year we got Mr. Gibbons, who had been browbeaten by his wife into duty.  At least he was a football fan, so I was sometimes attentive at his awkward football analogies applied to Catholic dogma.  “Mr. Gibbons?  If Jesus is the quarterback, wouldn’t Peter be more like the halfback and Paul the split end?  That would make John a flanker…”  Mr. Gibbons would grapple with the best way to put Jesus and his disciples on the field.  “Yes, I think John would be a flanker.  He was more of a possession player, and not a big play guy like Paul.”  The goal was always to see how far off the topic we could go before the girls up front would demand to get back on track.  (These girls are probably now women that are not a lot of fun who are driving their offspring to CCD classes right now.)

While I received what can only be called a mediocre religious education as a kid, I did at least gain a respect for the magical carpenter from the Middle East that got a raw deal from the Romans.  No matter your religion, the basic ideas of kindness and compassion for others are really good ones.  I can still chant back prayers and know how to stand, sit, and kneel in the right places in Catholic mass.  I like to walk around the grand cathedrals of Europe.  I have stood staring up at the ceiling at the Sistine chapel at the Vatican.  While I may not be a season ticket holder with the Catholic Church, I suppose it is my home team. 

While many on Good Friday will engage in pious activities, I will try to reconnect with the church in my own way and solve the one great mystery.  What happens to that plane crash baby at the International Date Line?       


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