I am an only child who grew up in a family where brown beer bottles huddled at the front door waiting to be picked up by the tavern delivery guy.
Growing up with a once Catholic Dad who worked as a linotype operator at the Chicago Tribune and a Lutheran Mom, I sometimes went to a Lutheran church a few blocks away. The neighborhood, just west of Cubs ball park in Chicago, had solid brick or stone apartment buildings with patches of grass and flowers and vegetables.
Church became a sometime refuge from my daily chaotic life. As I walked down the concrete sidewalk I wondered what other families were like. I believe churches should be places where there is an opportunity to discover solace in hopeful services and you leave a little happier than when you arrive. In my childhood church there wasn’t any division or anger. No punitive God striking you dead.
Once, as a timid teenager, things were, for a change, out of control and abusive at home. After the service, I asked the Pastor if he could talk with me. He ran his hand over his eyes. He was too busy and too tired, he said.
No time for me? I would have no time for church. I went home and started to read philosophy. Of course I loved the existentialists and the nihilists. Over time, I became more ecumenical. What is our commonality I started to ask, where is it we agree? I believe in a woman’s right to choose and a loving God. I believe it is hard enough to find love in this world and if gay men and women want to commit to each other, why not.
Last week I was up in northern Wisconsin and I was invited to attend a small white- steeple church nestled among tall pine trees. It is a conservative evangelical community church with a full parking lot and a harvest supper following the service. I had been there years before, telling a surprised country Pastor that I was glad he didn’t include the word “obey” in a marriage ceremony. He was defensive, I was amazed, and we just moved on.
Now here I sat in this Wisconsin slice of a sanctuary as I have sat in synagogues and cathedrals and churches in Europe and Canada and the U.S. I thought that maybe there might be an outside chance of comfort and reassurance in the service to come.
Instead, the minister prayed to have his congregation vote against gay marriage, prayed to ban abortion, said there was so much moral decay in the world that you could do nothing against it because the End Times were coming. God was vengeful.
In the congregation sat poor people many without jobs or education. I believe they needed hope and joy and for a moment freedom from the chaos of their daily lives. I believe religious institutions should be free from the secular world. This I believe.
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