Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Hopefully this will not be an offensive post. It is not my intention to demean or belittle anybody’s faith, religion or belief system. In fact, it is actually my intention to “sing the praises”, so to speak, of faith.
Let’s begin at the beginning. I am not a religious man, but I am a man of great faith. I do believe in God, but I don’t belong to a church. I’ve been told that this isn’t possible; either I belong to a church or faith or I’m atheist. I can assure you that this is not the case. My high school chemistry teacher was very vocal about his Christian beliefs and had even discussed evolution in class (something you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, see today). He was, of course, a creationist and spoke of the heresy of evolution. I overheard one of my classmates ask if there isn’t a middle ground, saying that he believes that evolution is real but God set everything in motion, to which he responded that, no, you must believe in one or the other. I pulled this student aside after class and told him that he can believe what makes sense to him, and our teacher was not qualified to tell him what he can or cannot believe.
Religion, specifically church, played a central role in the early days of our nation. It was as much about community as it was faith. Services were, as I understand it, nightly, and everybody attended. It was where people would discuss their neighbors, share news, make decisions; it was very much about comradery. When a family was struggling, the rest of the community would pitch in to help them through whatever it was they were going through.
Eventually, as communities grew, so did the number of churches and denominations. What’s more, as work and obligations grew, attendance at many churches changed from a nearly daily practice to once a week, or, for families like mine, only major holidays. I was raised Methodist, and according to Google, there are over twenty churches near me (within seven miles) that are just Methodist. For the most part, with the exception of perhaps some very small communities, the days of a church serving an entire town are gone. Still, though, the feeling of community lives on with many of these churches.
My friend lives in a small town, several hours and two states away from me. Her town is one of these small communities, and the local church is a big part of her town. It is where she meets many of her neighbors, and communes with them. Recently I was watching a movie, the inspiration for this post, regarding a priest with a crisis of faith. The movie centered around the confessional, and a young troubled woman who comes to the priest. Personally, I have trouble with several of the teachings of the Catholic church; this is just a matter of opinion, but it occurred to me how marvelous it must be to be able to turn to somebody in times of trouble.
The priest depicted in the movie was as much therapist as spiritual leader. I can’t help but think that it must be quite a comfort to have somebody with whom you can unburden yourself, unload your sins if you prefer, and to seek help when it is needed. My disagreement with the church is that some of their advice is unrealistic for modern times (in my personal opinion), but you at least know the advice will be consistent.
Consistency in and of itself is comforting. My wife, when I was married, took me to services in the Catholic church she attended. The service itself struck me as rather exceptionally formulaic. If you’ve never attended such a service, it runs like a clock; the order of events always struck me as very routine, with the only difference between one service and the next being the choice of songs and the theme of the sermon. What Sarah, my then-wife, explained to me was how this routine was very comforting to her. She had separated herself from the church for quite an extended period of time and had gone through some tough times. When she finally returned, this routine, the same as from her previous church, was like a warm blanket that she could wrap around herself.
I pretty much walked away from the Methodist Church when it decided to defrock three of its ministers for overseeing same-gender marriages. To me, I have a hard time believing in a religion that endorses exclusiveness. Okay, you can disagree. I recognize that this is just my personal opinion, which I am entitled to, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect religions, and yes, I mean all religions despite the focus on Christianity here.