Jesus at the DIA. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)
When I was in the third grade my mother was certain I would someday grow up to be a priest. This seemed rather odd to me given the fact I was already cussing like a sailor and I really liked looking at boobs. Still, she seemed undeterred in her vision of my future, so she sent me (and my siblings) packing to Catechism every Saturday.
I suppose it could have been worse. She could have sent us to Catholic school instead. But my father had gone to Catholic school and he didn’t turn out so hot, so I think my mother took the safe route by only giving us small doses of the guilt and humiliation doled out by Catholics as part of their indoctrination into their religion, hoping we might somehow actually like it.
Of course, every proactive move my mother made to strengthen our faith in God was met by an equally retroactive move by my father who routinely used the names of God and Jesus Christ on a daily basis, but never in prayer.
“I don’t understand why we have to take these Goddamned kids to Catechism every Saturday.” He would moan.
“Tom, watch your mouth.” She would snap.
“Jeee-zus Keee-rist! Do you really think it matters? He’d reply, as we kids shook our heads in agreement with our Father, who art in the livingroom.
My dad already knew we were probably beyond reproach, but my mother still held out hope, so they struck up a deal - we’d go to Catechism until our confirmation (never could tell what we were confirmed as - idiots? morons? sacrilegious miscreants?) and then the rest was up to us.
It was then and there that I thought I ought to at least try and understand Catholicism if I were going to have to endure several more years of being looked down upon by the kids at St. Peter’s who treated those who didn’t attend their school as if we were lepers (very un-WWJD, if you ask me).
It was tough to digest some of the material being taught by the less-than-friendly teaching staff who treated us like we were prisoners being shipped in every Saturday so we could be set straight before being released back into mainstream population.
I swear my teachers never smiled – not once. They were all converts to the Catholic religion, which even the Catholics will tell you is the worst kind of Catholic (totally fanatical). I was scolded all the time for not knowing the proper “Catholic speak” which is to say I was always kneeling at the wrong time, saying the wrong prayer, standing when I was supposed to sit. I even farted once while walking into the church. This brought a chuckle from my classmates and the Priest (who actually seemed like a pretty cool guy - young, long hair) but not my teacher.
I was made to feel shame for my flatulence and I was assigned to say 15 “Our Fathers” and 20 “Hail Marys” for my sin. That was kind of a problem since I didn’t exactly have either prayer memorized at the time, so I decided to pray for God’s forgiveness instead.
Jesus at the Outsider Art Show in Harbert, MI. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)
“Please God, or Jesus, or whoever is up there, could you maybe find it in your heart to forgive me for farting in church today? I swear I didn’t do it on purpose. Honestly, I tried to hold it in, but it just slipped out. I suppose I should have farted when I was outside before I got into the church because it was really windy and it wouldn’t have echoed so much, but sometimes you just don’t think about these things until it’s too late. Anyhow, I’m supposed to say a bunch of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” but here's the problem ... you see I don’t really know either prayer all that well, so I’m kind of hoping you might cut me some slack on that one too? I promise I’ll try harder to be good in the future. Thanks God. Amen.”
It wasn’t the last time I prayed to God, but I quickly realized most of my prayers were asking for forgiveness for something I’d done in Catechism. My first (and last) communion was a debacle. I hated the way the communion wafers tasted (although I did find they made awesome Frisbees for my G.I. Joe at home) and when they told me it was really the “body of Christ” I was ingesting, I pictured myself as a cannibal eating what was left of poor Jesus.
I also got into trouble when I wet my hair down with Holy water from the Baptismal font (hey, it was picture day and my hair was sticking up) and when I went to Holy confession for the first time, I found I really had nothing more to confess other than the fact I often cussed and I liked looking at boobs.
My punishment? (Besides being laughed at by the Priest) You guessed it - 15 “Our Fathers” and 20 “Hail Marys”
I’ve grown up to be an even worse Catholic than I was when I was a kid. I still swear as much as ever, I rarely go to church, and I even got a vasectomy after my third kid was born. I don’t think I have enough life span left to say the number of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” I'll need to gain absolution with the Catholics, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a spiritual person.
Faith is something that has always astounded me, probably because I don’t have much of it. But I admire those who do have it, especially those who seem to have an abundance of blind faith. They seem at peace with themselves – with their world.
That, is not me.
I question everything, including faith and religion, and I wonder how anybody could not. My mind won’t let go of things easily. I’m always looking for proof of a higher power, and even though I haven't really seen it yet, I still pray every night. I still feel a closeness to something, but I wonder why I have to label it? Whether that label is Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or Islam. What difference does it make? Why does one have to choose? Why does one have to be a firm believer in any of them? And what makes one better or worse than the other?
Better yet, why should it matter to anyone what I, or anyone else believes in? Am I really that important? Do I really have to be born again? Why can’t I just be who I am and let the chips fall where they may?
I struggle with the hypocrisy of religion all the time, especially the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which apparently only applies to folks of the same religion since more people are killed because of a difference in religious beliefs than any other cause.
But just because I don’t have a lot of faith doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. Even when I was a kid and I hated Catechism, I still liked daydreaming in church when I was looking at the larger than life Jesus on the cross behind the altar. I imagined hanging out with him, or talking to him. I used to close my eyes real tight and hope to hear something from him, but all I ever heard was my teacher yelling at me to keep my butt off the pew when I was on the kneeler.
Today I keep looking. I keep listening. I know the older people get, the more religion plays a part in their lives. Certainly, proximity to death and the unknown of what happens after death strengthens that belief, but my mind can’t even let that one go. I still wonder if there is a heaven, and if there is, isn’t it getting pretty damn crowded about now? And do I really want to go on forever anyhow? Maybe coming to an abrupt end isn’t so bad.
I guess none of us really knows the answers to any of these questions. Some folks see signs all the time – even if it’s in the form of a rust-stain Jesus on a water tower or a burnt-spot Virgin Mary on a potato chip. But for me it’s not that way.
Sometimes I wonder why God would let so many bad things happen to good people - not that I hold it against him. When my best friend died from cancer at the age of 40, I didn’t curse him, and when my mother struggled to breathe on her bedroom floor last March, I didn’t ask him to keep her alive.
I don’t put expectations on God. I don’t feel like it’s God’s job to answer my prayers. I suspect, if he does exist, he’s got bigger fish to fry (but only on Fridays of course) than to take care of my petty wants and needs.
I guess if God truly made me, then he loves me no matter what, much in the same way I love my kids. And even though I can be a complete asshole sometimes, for the most part I think I’m a pretty good guy - despite the fact I still swear too much and I like to look at boobs!