Friday, April 2, 2010

Relax and Watch the Show

If you struggled through my previous post (I apologize for not being able to give you back that portion of your life) you probably noticed, as I did, that my contemplation of church attendance was limited to childhood, which is probably insufficient. It has been 30 years since then, and while my churchgoing frequency as an adult classifies me somewhere between (as described by Williams and Ree) a "C and E Christian" (Christmas and Easter) and a "sprinkle Christian" (when sprinkled with water, rice, or dirt), my consideration of philosophical and religious matters has increased considerably. As it should; any such subject considered settled by childhood’s end probably wasn’t decided by the child.

I would describe my relationship with churchgoing as an adult as largely purpose-driven; I rarely go unless I have a reason. Most frequently the reason is domestic tranquility; someone in my family wants to go, so I tag along. My daughter also had to attend as part of her confirmation classes (I figured I’d get her the background and let her decide what to do with it). I’ve been married in a church twice, and there has been the usual assortment of baptisms, funerals, and other people’s weddings. A church building is a nice facility for such ceremonies, even if you don’t care much about the theology that built it.

How I behave depends on the context. If it’s a service with which I’m familiar I tend to treat it as performance art with audience participation and not pay that much attention, although I do keep an ear open during the sermon for a good anecdote or the occasional thoughtful nugget to ponder. Ceremonies I see less frequently (most recently a Catholic wedding) I treat as a learning experience. I didn’t actually attend the most novel and entertaining one I’ve seen. When my brother got married to a Korean Buddhist they had two ceremonies; a Buddhist one in Korea and a Lutheran one here. We saw a tape of the Buddhist ceremony, which of course was in Korean. My brother confessed that he didn’t know what was going on any more than we did; he just bowed when he was told, which is actually a pretty good rehearsal for marriage.

My wife’s statement that we should start going to church is itself a bit intriguing. So often I hear that phrase uttered in a tone similar to someone discussing getting a prostate exam or cleaning gutters. The feeling seems to be irritation and guilt at not fulfilling a disagreeable obligation rather than pleasure, which I guess isn’t too surprising; I suppose if they considered it enjoyable they wouldn’t have stopped. Still, I can’t help but wonder why they want to start again. I imagine it’s that ingrained belief that church attendance is necessary for salvation, even if you get nothing from it. Fortunately I usually manage to derive some benefit, even if it isn't what the church intends.