Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Religious Culture

Like a great swath of Americans, I headed home to rendezvous with some family. For us, we headed north to meet up with my dad, his wife, my sister and her family, and my four step brother/sisters and their families. All totalled, we were 27 people staying at my dads. This is a yearly event, and honestly, without it, I would probably only get to see my step-siblings (who all live in South Dakota) every few years. Soon my dad and his wife will also be moving back there, so I appreciate the short drive while I have it! We have had chaotic reunions, but this one went really well. All fifteen grandkids did great. All kids (my generation) had a fun time bonding and reconnecting with each other. It was exhausting, but fun.

My dad and his wife, E., have only been married a few years. It could have been strange inheriting this large family, but it really isn't. I like her family very much and have enjoyed getting to know them. I feel lucky that they are part of our lives. One thing that you notice quickly, is that they are really religious. Not in a creepy, evangelical way, but in a reserved deeply meaningful way. They are Catholic. So much so, that my father had an annulment from my mom (whom he was married to for 25 years), so they could be married in the church. When we visit, there is never any question about attending services. We will be going.

Honestly, I like it. I like that my kids are being exposed to part of my past and are interested in learning more about it. We talked about the church and what all the different parts of the church symbolized. We looked at the stations of the cross and the statue of Mary. I explained what it means to say the Rosary and what the little bowls of Holy Water are for. I have to admit it, I was a little sad to realize that my kids are missing out on this shared experience. There is a cultural legacy in being Catholic (as with many other religions) that my kids are not going to have. I don't know why, but it really hit me this past weekend. Whenever we visit, my kids will not be "in the know".

Being members of a religion affords you to partake in certain right or traditions. My kids will never be able to take communion. I can, but they will always have to pass. They won't grow up knowing all the awesome nuns I encountered. I am not sure they really even understand what it means to be a nun. They won't have first communion or be confirmed and understand the religious milestones it is to their extended family. They won't really understand our family's religious history. Of course, you can say "well, they do know about all the world religions and can discover their own path when they are older." Sure... but have I denied them a grounding in something that connects them with our larger family? I worry that they will end up being adrift with so many options that they will never really feel home anywhere. I see how centering it is for E.'s family and I want something like that for my family, too. I guess I am processing a lot right now.


Bridgett said...

It's a good part of why I stayed. Of course, I was going to leave for the Friends, not UU--I don't know much about UU but the Friends have their own traditions that drew me in. But I always would have been Catholic in my heart. You know? I know Catholicism has a long negative tradition and really some things that make me very angry. It's hard to stay in a church that is sometimes completely infuriating. But I've made up my mind and taken my vow of stability and here I am. This is my church and my parish and all the rich layers that intertwine with the parts I'd rather do without....I have a lot to say about this. Perhaps I'll have to do it on my own blog!!

plaidshoes said...

I would love to read more of your thoughts, Bridgett. There are a lot of things that frustrate and anger me about Catholicism, but there are also quite a few positives that are hard to ignore -especially in how it relates to my family.

Rebecca Hecking said...

I struggle with this too. We have certainly gained a lot from becoming UU, but we have lost something too. The problem is, I struggled for years to figure out how to keep the beautiful traditions without compromising with the dogma(back when my kids were little). I couldn't do it.

As an adult, I can see the tradition through adult eyes, but I soaked in a lot as a child that was damaging. Kids don't have the ability to sort all that out. It's hard enough for adults to do it.

So, here we are...for better or worse...I believe on balance it's for the better. (especially for my daughter- traditional religion is extremely patriarchal).

Lizard Eater said...

I can understand. When I was little, I wanted some of that "tradition! tradition!" that I saw in movies or friends' houses.

My children are third gen UUs. And as I watch my dad tell the "ghost" story to his grandkids about how Michael Servetus was martyred, or when my Mom sings, "Where is Our Holy Church?" or when my kids pick out the flowers they will take for the flower communion, I realize that tradition found me.

It's not the same as Catholicism, and it doesn't encompass all my cousins and such. But my siblings still identify as UU, and who knows that it will be like, if my children produce 4th generation UUs? They already have a Mom who could outdo any Jewish mother with pointing out every historical figure who was also U or U.

My kids travel around with me as I guest-preach at other UU churches. By the time it's time to go, they are part of the "family." They feel at home in a UU church.

Bridgett said...

Reading Lizard, I think what is hard is conversion. Being raised and soaked in a religious tradition, no matter which one, changes you. And when/if you leave that, that is a loss, even if you have to leave to save your sanity and faith.

I talk about parish life on my Utah Vestibule blog, you can reach it via South City.

UUnderstand said...

Although I was raised in a relatively liberal, mainstream Protestant church, I had some Catholic friends and relatives and used to envy them (plus one Jewish friend): they had architecturally beautiful churches, "ancient" formal rituals, First Communions, and, most importantly, believed they were "God's chosen people." However, I disliked learning about sin and hell in my parents' church, and knew both were emphasized even more in the Catholic church.

As someone who rejected my family of origin's religious and political beliefs before adolescence, I have thought a great deal about the issue of continuing family traditions for the sake of "belonging." I do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, and for years missed especially Christmas until I realized that what I REALLY missed were not the holiday meals, decorations, and gifts, but the sense of family togetherness we had during the Christmas season. A real family will accept you for who you are; this, not "traditions," is what matters most.