My 5-year-old son, Boogie, loves Jesus. He once told my mother that his three favorite “humans” are Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and Jesus. The MJ love he gets from me and Wii. The Bieber stuff I guess is residue from my Jordan Knight fandom of 1990. The Jesus love though, he gets from my father.
My father is a slightly less a devoted Catholic than the Pope (except pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and pro-feminist). My dad is just really, really into church. I don't fully understand why, because he's so progressive and everything he seems to believe in and vote for goes against what the Church and the Vatican are into, but my daddy loves Jesus and so he sidesteps all of that to be there for his homeboy.
He's in church so much that whenever my father disappears for a little bit, even just to the garage, if you ask Boogie where he is, he'll say, “Grandpa is probably at church.” He's at church so much, that sometimes he goes to OTHER churches just to help out. No. Seriously. He really does that.
Boogie and my dad asleep on the couch together
Boogie and his grandpa are the best of friends. So when Boogie was around 4 years old and started realizing that good solid hanging out time with grandpa was being interrupted by this church thing, he started getting interested in checking church out, too. When my son asked me if he could go to church with grandpa, I never said no; I just sort of avoided the question all together or bribed him with waffles and bacon.
It's not that I have anything against church. Actually, it is because I have something against church. I just don't like it. Religion, I mean. I've seen how it's changed the climate of this country and how reasonably compassionate human beings become hateful because some preacher or priest told them that Jesus doesn't like something or another.
I was lucky to be raised by a father who was progressive. Church for him was about community, fellowship and being in the House of the Lord. He took the other stuff in stride, but was comfortable enough not believing it himself to keep going without seeing a conflict. I am not that evolved.
I stopped going to church 15 years ago and never looked back. I was fine with Boogie going because he's his own person. What's the harm? I thought. But then I thought about it some more.
What if my son starts to believe some of the things that I'm totally against? What if he doesn't get a balance of other spiritual practices and beliefs? I'd taught him how to do a Buddhist chant when he was younger and he understands that “Now my rainbow key hole” is what mommy says when she needs to calm down. But Boogie has no real understanding of God or spirituality.
On one hand, how am I supposed to teach him any of that if I don't let him explore some things on his own? And on the other, what if my lack of involvement makes him rebel and become one of those religious right Republicans? That I won't stand for. We don't tolerate that lifestyle in my house.
When I was a kid, I went to a Southern Baptist church in Stillwater because my parents worked on Sundays. This particular church sent a bus around to pick up all the poor kids and hold them hostage take them to Sunday School for an entire day. I became a bit of a religious fanatic. I read the Bible cover to cover when I was in middle school and was constantly getting thrown out of Sunday school for asking too many questions. I mean, really, if you don't know what day God created dinosaurs, then just say so!
As I got older, my disillusionment with church and religion grew. I had a difficult time believing in Jesus Christ the way everyone else did. I knew that Jesus lived and died but I thought him less the son of God and more a man who was in touch with his God-self. Someone who was more spiritual than religious.
After reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X, I became interested in Islam and fell in love with the beauty of the Koran. Islam's dedication to prayer and ritual was more my style than Catholicism. I traveled through that and into Buddhism and other world religions. Religion wasn't for me, but the aspect of spirituality I created and adopted for myself worked fine.
I wanted my son to be able to take a similar journey. He was free to go to church with my dad. I'd just sleep until he got back. That seemed like a good compromise until I realized that if I wasn't there to hear what was being taught, how could I be sure what he was learning was in line with the beliefs I hoped to instill in him? After a long battle with myself and my need to stay in pajamas all day on Sunday, I decided I needed to go to church a few times. Boogie was already going to Catholic School. That's a lot of church and church-type stuff for my intellectual sponge of a little boy. I needed to be a bit more hands on.
Me and Boogie on our way to church
What I discovered there actually gave me pause. I'd forgotten how quiet and peaceful the sanctuary was. I'd missed the ritual of going somewhere and kneeling and standing and praying and meditating in a structured way. It was calming. It was peaceful. It was beautiful.
I understood what my dad found there and what my son was starting to see. That was when I decided to go to church at least once a month.
When the priest is saying his prayer, I'm saying my own. When we kneel to hear the word of God, I'm meditating and reflecting on the God I witness every day in the people and places I go. I'm in my own head and having my own conversation with God. Church is a quiet place to do it.
I want my son to have a place to go when he needs a bit of solitude and peace, something to quiet the stern and angry voices that can erupt from adolescence. As he gets older, I'll continue to introduce him to other religions and spiritual practices. I will teach him ways to meditate and seek peace on his own. I will emphasis the loving parts of God and deemphasize the less tolerant abusive ones.
But for now, if my 5-year-old is so hell bent on going to church and loving Jesus, the very least I can do as a mother is support him.