Confessions of a Nonbeliever

Certain churches nearly seduce me into attendance.

By “churches”, I do not mean religions.   I mean the edifices themselves, mostly the old ones with their stone lions, untamed ivy meandering along  collapsing fences, and stained glass windows.  Sometimes the sight of an ecclesiastic flag curling itself around a metal pole lures me into slowing my car.  A sign spread across the front wall announcing a Sunday supper entices me to hit my brake and reach for the park button.

I left the Roman Catholic church more than four decades ago for reasons that I won’t outline.  I’ve been nearly tempted to return three times.   In the mid-1980s, I attended an “inquirer’s class” at Visitation Parish (I think) with Lori Burns-Bucklew.  This class focused on what they called “lapsed Catholics”.

I didn’t lapse, I protested.   I decamped. The priest shook his head, smiled, and handed me a booklet.  I went to three or four sessions before we got to the sticky subject of Those Who Violate The Commandments.  I never had a chance to mention that me and Murphy Brown are the oldest unwed mothers in America.  When the priest said he’d give communion to divorced and remarried parishioners “as long as no one but him knew they were divorced”, I guffawed.

So, I queried.  It’s okay to violate the rule as long as you don’t get caught.

He shrugged.  I left.

I tried again when I was pregnant with Patrick.  After I lost his twin but found out that the second little bugger still clung to the placenta, I decided maybe God needed me to come clean.  I went to the Catholic parish in Fayetteville and asked to have my child baptized.  I patted my round stomach and assumed a smile which I thought might be interpreted as either ghoulish or angelic.

The priest would have done the deed if I had been able to produce three things:  A wedding ring, a marriage certificate, and a husband (or his death certificate, I suppose).

I asked, Would you rather I had an abortion? before trouncing out of that church.  (I arranged for his baptism at the Newman Center at the U of A, but when my father died, plans changed.  We had a baptism at the Priory in St. Louis.  Thank you, Frank.)

When I bought my house two blocks from St. Peters, I tried again.  I went to see the priest to make sure that unmarried mothers and their progeny would be welcome.  He assured me that the church took a liberal view.  I had my doubts but tried anyway.  One Sunday, while Patrick played with a toy car on the kneeler beside me, I listened in dismay as the very same priest intoned his anti-divorce sermon.  A real family consists of a father, a mother, and the children born of their holy union.

Patrick’s head jolted upwards.  But Mommy, he protested.  We don’t have a father!  I stood, grabbed his hand, and bolted.

Today I nearly pulled into the driveway of Central United Methodist Church by the law school.  I wanted to sit in silence, on an oak bench, with some semblance of peace.  I knew just what I would do in the quiet of the empty nave.

Since 1997, I have carried around a little puzzle that I scooped from a  pile of flotsam and jetsam which had belonged to my brother Stephen.  I’ve never succeeded in solving it.  I’m not sure he didn’t somehow render it inoperable.  But if I had gone into that church today, I would have slipped it from my pocketbook, sat on a smooth, hard bench, and worked it until I got it.

I visited that church with my friends Paula and Sheldon, who belong there.  They had refugees in the congregation.  They used the internet to stage an interactive lecture in the middle of the sermon.  Children come to the front to sit at the feet of the celebrant and hear a special story, which, on the Sunday when I visited, had a Somali interpreter.  I think that church might have been the perfect place for the intense, unrelenting, dedication which I need to solve my brother Stephen’s puzzle.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  I’m still recovering from the delirious arduousness of my trip and the asthma attacks which plagued me out in my beloved NorCAL, but I’m not complaining.  Life continues.

Tomorrow:  As promised, Schroeder:  TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A NONCOMPLAINER.


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