Friday, November 19, 2010

Faithful Friday -- When It's All Said And Done

Many moons have passed since I last posted a Faithful Friday blog. Up to this point I've written only about the things that drove me away from organized religion. I could blather on about my negative perceptions of a myriad of churches and denominations ... the hypocrisy, the drive to suck cash from parishioners wallets, the self righteous sermons, but I see no need to beat a dead poodle.

So today I'm going to tell y'all what changed my mind. What transformed me from a pseudo atheist/agnostic into a willing volunteer to attend 18 months worth of RCIA classes to become Catholic.

Like my disillusionment from religion, my conversion/acceptance has many layers. None so prevalent as the birth of my two boys, especially the oldest. Long time readers of this blog already know the story of his birth and the time we spent at Children's hospital down in Dallas. If not you can read the story here. The tale of Tarek's birth is by far the most personal story I have ever posted on this blog.

I have stolen an excerpt from that post and pasted it here ...

The surgery itself was a slow torturous affair. I don't remember breathing much less talking. We sat in a tiny room and stared at each other -- waiting, wondering, and praying. At his time in my life I was very anti-organized religion and bordering on being a non-believer, but spinning the common saying away from foxholes let me say, there are no atheist parents in a children's hospital.

That was the first time in my life that I can say I both needed and hoped for help from a higher being. But proving my own capacity for hypocrisy, I forgot the many promises I made to God there in that hospital once my son was home and out of danger.

Fast forward 4 years. I now had two sons and Tarek, the oldest was nearing school age. But he'd always stayed home with his mom and we feared he would struggle to adapt unless we began integrating him with other children in a classroom type environment. We didn't want or need daycare. Just a place for him to go and learn a few hours each day. After asking around we decided to enroll him in a Montessori program at St Mary's School here in Amarillo.

That decision has proved to be one of the best we ever made. Our fears were confirmed when Tarek struggled the first few weeks. But his teacher was perfect for him and he soon began to thrive and learn. Jennifer began volunteering at the school and soon we were both active, participating members of a tight but friendly community of parents. Neither of us were Catholic but Jennifer had been raised Methodist and was much more inclined toward religion than I.

She enrolled in the classes and began the journey that I am now on.

Me? I stood by decade plus assertion that organized religion was nothing more than crutch for the week and feeble. I didn't need it, or want it.

But I began to make more and more friends at St Mary's. And most if not all of my other friends were Catholic as well. I began to at least appreciate a religion that held fundraisers where you could both drink and gamble right there on church property. Before I knew it I was up at the church several hours  a week, Attending one function or another. Volunteering to help at the school. Coaching kids. Working multiple shifts at the book fair.

One day I found myself helping a group of nuns stuff envelopes for their annual calendar. We were all talking and working and one of them asked me a question to which I answered I'm not really Catholic. She stopped and looked at me kind of funny. "You're not?" she asked.

I shook my head. The priest who heads up both the church and school was also present and as the nun started to say something he laid one hand on the nun's shoulder and one on mine. With a smile he simply said, "Don't worry about Travis. He's a good man. We'll get him before it's all said and done."

Then we all went back to work. As we circled the table filling envelopes I realized in nearly three years of time spending countless hours at the church and school this was as close to a sales pitch for God or Catholicism as I'd ever gotten. I'd never had someone in my face asking if I'd been saved. If I truly knew God. If I was living my life right.

Throughout my life I'd probably been inside 3 dozen protestant churches and been given "the sales pitch" 3 times that many times. Hell, I'd been given pitched on my front porch, in the breakroom at work, and at 3 AM in the middle of Bourbon Street. But I realized not one of those salesman had been trying to sell Catholicism to me. Not even in all those hours at St Mary's. They, the parishioners, the staff, and the clergy had simply shown me their relationship with both God and each other.

Show versus Tell. Every writer worth their salt knows that is the way to get your point across.


Val Conrad said...

Travis, I agree that the sales pitch is a horrible thing. In my mind, God and spirituality is not a building or a congregation - it's the world around us and comes down to one simple daily rule: Treat others as you'd wish to be treated.

I've walked away from "religion" and the sales pitches for ways my soul can be saved. Having graduated from a Christian university in 2001, I still wondered at the mentality of many - that if you don't follow THEIR beliefs, you're just plain wrong and damned for it.

Sometimes I think maybe we will all die and move on to the eternity that awaits us, only to be told that when it comes to "religion," we were all wrong.

Pearl said...

I'm happy for you, Travis; and I'm glad that you've found a spiritual home.

All the best,


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Your post reminds me of the quotation attributed to St. Francis of Assisi -- "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Triplezmom said...

I really love these stories of yours, Travis.

WordVixen said...

Yup, believe me, I totally get it from the other end. There's a kind of guilt and pressure that if you don't make the pitch, that not only are you failing, but that you might be endangering the other person's soul.

I personally never felt comfortable with it, and for a long time I felt like a failure and a hypocrite for not making a pitch, until one day I realized that I don't even have a right to "witness" the way we talk about it today unless I actually have a relationship with someone. And if you have a relationship with them? You don't have to pitch, because they'll know your point of view.

Believe me, I don't think that Christians (or poodles) should just sit down and shut up, but I really do think that the whole "witnessing" thing is taken way out of context. It's like taking a vitamin- popping a vitamin C tablet may do some good in some circumstances, but it will never do you as much good as eating raw sauerkraut (or an orange for you cabbage-phobes).

Like Debra, I do love that Assisi quote.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Travis, I think religion--or, more specifically, spirituality--comes down to an open mind and self-awareness. I'm glad for you, for all of this.

Wishing you the best, in all aspects of life and passion.

Junosmom said...

Thank you for sharing this part of you, Travis particularly as a Catholic in the Bible belt. Sometimes, I am asked to participate in "charities" where the price of receiving the "charity" is the "sales pitch". This always turns me off. I am willing to give because it is the right thing to do, not in return for assent to particular beliefs.

Unknown said...

In seriousness, this is lovely; it's meaningful and stated perfectly.

In a slightly less serious tone: 18 months? Damn, we only had to do 9. But we had a perfectly intense priest, and he really made every session a joy.

Jenn Jilks said...

I love your story, Travis. Good for you.
I exempted myself from religion, but hang in with my spirituality.
I often use aspect this in my Hospice work.
The world is a big place. There is lots to learn.

ssas said...

That's much like my experience, as well. I'm now Episcopalian and expect I'll remain in that faith for the rest of my life.

I've never had anything but utter love from the church. No sidewise glances. No snickers. Just love and acceptance. And I do think I'm a hard one to love.

And I love that we have high mass every Sunday. I love honoring that tradition of a 1000 years.

Charles Gramlich said...

I, too, have begun to move back toward religion in the last five years. Much since Hurricane Katrina, although that had only a bit to do with. I still don't attend organized religious ceremonies but I sure do pray these day.

jjdebenedictis said...

Great post and great point regarding "show, don't tell".

the walking man said...

We have between the two of us very different structures of belief but in this we agree, if it becomes real to you and allows you into a more spiritual place than you had been then you are well on your way walking a good path.