I grew up in the church.
During my Intermediate Fiction class, I found myself floundering - the fact that I had been writing for years seemed to prepare me very little for the reality of peer review and hard grades. I've always been a writer, so much so that when I finally and reluctantly declared my writing seminars major at JHU my mother was both thrilled and (most likely) a little aggrieved - she had been telling me for far too long that I was, in my mind and heart, a writer, and I had been very busy ignoring her. Intermediate Fiction was the first step, after the general intro course, into being a writing sems major, and I approached it with not a little fear and not a little bravado. I've got this, and, oh my God, no way am I good enough.
My first piece, written in one of my fugue states of passion and near automatic dreaming, was about Easter Sunday. A section of it remains on my Facebook page, actually - I was so proud of that story, proud not only of the praise and critique it received but of the truths it unearthed - my deep discomfort and neutrality about the church.
My writing asserted that the Easter Sunday mass was the after-party, the big shiny bow on the real Easter, which had happened at the singing of the Gloria the night before. Not only that, but the piece described in intricate and shaming detail the way that a martini might taste after the service. It maintained a true, religious, liturgical purity, while contrasting that with vodka and olives.
A delicate balance, perhaps, but a dynamic inextricably linked in my mind. Somehow, even then, still a churchgoer, I found that God and his worship demanded a very necessary post- service cocktail.
That short story was highly praised, and I felt terribly good. And I started, somewhere, to question.
There are many reasons why today was the first day that I didn't go to church on Easter Sunday. I do still maintain that the real rising of Christ happens at midnight at the vigil, and certainly nothing compares to the almost pagan plunging of the paschal candle in the baptismal font, or the sheer exhaustion of the three hour suffering of the Good Friday before, or the feel of tight heels and caffeine induced jitters. But this year, I thought - what is God to me? What is God to my fiancé? And is my God found more easily in a service, that big shine of brass and hyacinth and liturgy - or in the quiet worship of my favorite hymns on iTunes and the indifferent cheer of birdsong on my porch?
There are so many reasons why people leave the church, and so many reasons why people cling to it. Reading online material like the belief articles on CNN gives me a wide array of mentalities to explore; this week I've read about Jews reclaiming Jesus, Obama's Easter luncheon, and young women performing exorcisms. Religion is incredibly diverse, and holds joys and disgusts for all of us. We all have our beliefs and non-beliefs, and are all to some extent incredulous of the practices of others. Religion is, in our culture, a way in which we divide ourselves.
I freely admit that I'm a comment junkie - I sometimes click on articles just to see what people will say in the comments. Most often, I'm pretty disheartened. If Christianity is our way to salvation, it certainly is also a way to hate. If atheism is our way to rational thought, it is also a way to scoff and deride. I don't see the best of people on the Internet. But I do see something which is hard to ignore, something held in keyboards and bible quotes and vermouth. Something numbing.
We do all of this stuff in the name of Christ, or any other mythic figure - we dress up, we sow propriety into gold threads, we make lies, we burn things, we enact forbidden paganism, we listen to sermons, we starve ourselves, we eat coconut cake. We limit; we reward. All of this we do in the name of something invented - the anthropomorphic god. I'm not here to argue that God exists, of course, but I do think of the trappings of religion and find that all of this terrible, counterproductive bother might take away from the real message.
When I think of my God and his life, I think not of his divinity, but of his son's humanity.
I tie up all of the threads, all of the comments, all of the years of church going and martini swilling, and I think, what a lot of mess for someone who was one of us. I'm not going to go into a sermon about the life of Christ - I would need to be a lot better informed, as would we all - but the details that stick with me lead me to a basic and almost unspeakable point, that being -
Who we know as Jesus? He was human.
Who we know as prophets? They were human.
Who we hope will come? Can be nothing other than a real person, with real fears, and with real hope.
Jesus's sacrifice was important, not just so we could quote scripture online, or just so we could air out the special vestments, and not just so we could pop open the absolut and reward ourselves in our sanctity. His sacrifice was so important because he truly was one of us. He feared. He entreated.
He had friends. He loved deeply. He wanted to make his mom happy.
I didn't go to church today, because I wanted to remember that my faith is rooted not in the hullabaloo of divine worship, but in the appreciation of the life of a man who wanted to ask his dad - please, spare me. He didn't want to be on the cross any more than you or I would, but the great beauty of his human life is that he made a sacrifice.
A sacrifice is meaningless without fear.
A sacrifice is nothing to a God, but everything to a man, and everything to all of us, out here, who shouldn't feel the need for numbness but instead should feel this incredible strength in finding faith in humanity.
Maybe good fences make good neighbors - but maybe joy and hope make good brothers.
Maybe we shouldn't see our gods as the limitations on our humanity, but the celebrations, the comforts, the sons and daughters, the husbands and wives, the parents, the children.
Maybe I don't want to kiss his feet on the cross. Maybe I just want to sit on the porch and find kindness in the fact that Jesus would be there with me, having a cup of coffee, and telling me about his parents.
I think my faith is a lot more complicated - and a lot more simple - than high heels and martinis. And I hope, oh, how I hope, that we can all be citizens of faith and humanity.
I'm an Anglican, and I didn't go to church. Jesus was a Jew, and a man, and a friend. And maybe, maybe, we can meet somewhere, in that land of dreaming and introspection, and talk about what it means to be human.