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Village of Needham, England

11:10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s a Church of England church and has really cool tombstones in the church yard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the official church name and it never opened for service.

I have a tiny little pea brain and can’t remember much of what I’ve written or read for that matter, which makes writing about the Bible without text or consistent church services fairly difficult. However, I do remember some things. I remember that Jesus and maybe God, are supposed to be with me at all times. I think that’s crap not because I make dumb decisions and find myself wallowing in sorrow wondering what the hell happened but because during this 2011 quest to experience as many churches as possible, I’ve had the damndest time actually being admitted to service.

I try this nameless church, which is surrounded by “Night of the Living Dead”-like gravestones but it never opens for the 11:15 a.m. service. I try everything short of knocking. No answer. Instead, I walk the grounds searching for ghosts, reading church bulletins and watching the cop in the adjacent Needham Coronation Village Hall parking lot talk to a female speeder who is wearing exercise attire, a rare sighting in England, and a blonde bystander who clearly wants to test his authority on a more personal level.

The churches here look the same. Cold. Ominous. Hard. The church bulletin is worn, the pre-Photoshop era graphics faded, text bleached. Among other things it says:

“1 in 5 older people skips meals to save money for heating.”

And: “Surely I am with you. Always to the very end of the age.”

I wonder if either are true, know the second isn’t. Babies get raped, children die and I can’t get into service. God is either flat out cruel or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

I Want My American Red, White and Blue

I don’t know about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, can’t understand someone or am bamboozled into eating disgusting cuisine such as pig ear. No. My inner child throws tantrums during the most civilized, insignificant points in my trips, proving that like God who would let me in a church if he was with me every minute, maturity and cultural sensitivity are sporadically with me.

Sometimes I just loose the plot which is a snobby British way of saying I freak out and act like a child. Take the f(*#&^% savory biscuit incident. I calmly handled throwing used toilet paper in open trash bins in Colombia, a practice that doesn’t sit well with a germaphobe, but finding graham crackers in England prompted a hissy fit.

I’m too tired and hungry to go to the grocery store after my failed church experience but I go anyway because I have to eat. I turn into a five-year-old when I’m hungry so this is a bad decision. Before I get in the store I start cursing the English, silently of course. What kind of a country makes people check out grocery carts? It’s only a stupid pence or pound or some other frustrating, misshaped currency but it’s the principle – the wasted act of actually getting change and renting the trolley – that sets me off. I also hate all of the change currency bursting the seams of my wallet; the stupid “hiya” greeting (are you welcoming me or about to karate chop my face?); looking the wrong way when I cross a road; and walking to the bar to order a drink. I also can’t stand English castles. They’re nothing to look at and neither is Buckingham Palace, which is a glorified government building.

This sweet employee tries to help me, asks if the graham cracker is a savory biscuit or a sweet one, brings another employee into the conversation. I try to be calm. They’re nice, trying to help but they’re slow and cannot comprehend this long, sweet, brown cracker that breaks into two halves perfect for smooshing melted chocolate and a heated mallow. I want to tell him to shove his savory biscuit up his British ass but that’s insensitive so I do the mature thing and take my anger out on my shopping mate, who spends the next 20 minutes hiding out in an aisle far, far away from me.

Always to the Very End of the Age

Somewhere in me lies a culturally sensitive person but where she is, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll reappear in a few weeks, after I refresh myself in the states and head back out on the road where other things will amuse me until they become familiar. Maybe I’ll find her the next time God stays with his believers and, as the bulletin suggests, lets me into a church.

I can’t believe that God is with believers at all times and I’m starting to believe I may lose interest in traveling, seeking new experiences, using toilets outside of America and adapting to not having everything exactly as I want the it second I want it.

If we’re not with ourselves all the time, how can we let anyone else, least of all a controversial, possibly fictious figure be with us 24/7?

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When kids stop believing the “you came from a stork” bit, parents are forced into the dreaded sex talk. I remember mine. It involved a picture book with a skinny male cartoon grinning on top of a lying on top of a fat female cartoon. I can’t remember if she was smiling. Both were naked. Traumatizing.

Dad was conspicuously absent for this conversation, but both of my parents discussed kids and religion, how they would handle it, etc. I knew dad attended Catholic school  — he has the scares to prove it — but before I started this project, I had no idea mom had faith in God. She doesn’t anymore.

To better understand my disconnect to religion, I interviewed both about their experiences with organized religion as well as their hands off approach to helping us find it.

Here’s what my mom had to say. (She said I misquoted her in a past blog. Bad journalist I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say about this one.)

Me: Did your parents raise you with religion?

Mom: For part of my life but it wasn’t the whole household. My mom was the one who started going to church when I was probably eight-to-10. I believe it was a Lutheran church. I kind of feel like this was an out-of-the-blue decision but I’m not sure. I went with her but I can’t remember if my siblings went.

My dad wasn’t ever interested in any religion. I feel like he was raised Italian Catholic and probably went to Catholic Church as a kid but I’m not for sure. I feel like he was neutral about church.

I don’t remember religion being a part of my life before that but I went to a Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and I also went to Catechism class.

Q: You went to Bible camp with that Lutheran church and got saved. Can you talk about that?

A: I was saved at camp, which means you accept Jesus Christ. It was the most exhilarating emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life to this day.

The camp counselor, who was a teenage girl, asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. We were by ourselves and whatever words were said. I agreed to do it and it was like a rush of beauty that ran from my head to my toes.

I always had a very strong faith back from when I went to Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and had a very strong belief in the whole Christian thing. I should have died then! I would have been guaranteed a place in heaven!

Q: What were your first thoughts of Jesus? Did you ever fear religion?

A: I don’t remember but I remember that at times I felt like I had a holy presence at the foot of my bed but they looked like the pictures that are on Catholic funeral cards (laughs) so I don’t know if it was spiritual or an overactive imagination.

I wasn’t fearful of Jesus, but I was fearful of going to hell.

After we stopped going to church, I held onto my beliefs. I said nightly prayers and for extra brownie points I would always pray to God to bless everyone I cared for and everyone in the world and I’d put myself last because I thought that was good manners.

Q: Did you feel faith had a positive impact on you?

A: Yes. I liked being a good girl and I’m sure it kept me out of trouble. One of my dad’s favorite expressions, as we all know, was Goddamn and I literally cringed whenever he took the Lord’s name in vain. All I know is that it (faith) personally made me feel good.

Q: What happened?

A: I had a strong belief until I went into high school and then our family started falling apart, started splitting, which in turn made other bad things happen in the family. It was dark and chaotic and I think I just quit saying my prayers and thought, what’s the point?

Q: So that’s it? No more religion?

A: I don’t know. I feel like I’m not an atheist or an agnostic. I’m a confusiest. I’m confused because I do believe it (faith) works for a lot of people and sometimes I do believe there’s got to be this greater something but there’s so many unanswered questions in the Bible that I just can’t really go by that.

Q: Did you and dad talk about religion before you had kids?

A: Yes. You know dad is a wounded former Catholic schoolboy so you know he had a pretty tainted view of religion but we both agreed that religion was a choice our kids should be able to make when they were mature enough to fully understand it.

I think when you start taking kids from birth and going to any kind of church, they’re just raised to believe something because their parents believe it. We wanted our kids to understand the different choices.

Q: I don’t remember you taking us to church so how did I have the opportunity to see the church side of things?

A: I think you were all asked at a certain age if you wanted to go. I think you and Taryn (sister) experienced some churchiness with friends.

I didn’t feel like going to church because I was unsure what my beliefs were and I thought, ‘How can I guide my children one way or the other?” I felt that would be extremely hypocritical on my part.

Q: What impact did this decision have on your kids/family?

A: I really feel horrible about the times I saw my kids have embarrassment over their lack of knowledge over really basic things like who is Jesus (laughs) and why do we celebrate Christmas.

Q: Are you serious or messing around?

A:  I’m serious. I do regret not exposing you guys to more but if I still had that opportunity now and was raising you kids, I still don’t know how I would do that. You don’t just dump your kids into church and say have fun. It would still be a slippery slope for me. I regret exposing you to more of it but I don’t know how I’d do that without believing myself. Besides, I always wanted a trio of heathens to join me.

Q: So how do you deal with things when life is challenging? Specifically as it relates to your kids?

A: Heavy drinking (laughs).

Q: What if one of us kids died tomorrow? What would happen to us?

A: Boy I really wrestle with this one. I want to believe there’s a forever after so we can all be there together someday. I just don’t know.

Q: What if I become a nun? Will you still love me?

A: That will never happen. They won’t have you.

Q: That never crossed your mind?

A: Yeah like it crossed my mind that I’d be an astronaut.

I am an elitist and generally assume I’m smarter than the rest of the populace. Much to my chagrin, I’m actually an idiot in a tweed jacket. As such, I try to keep this writing rule at the forefront of my mind — Respect your reader.

Why? Because readers are smart. I went through this period of existential writing. I thought it was genius. It was crap. Maybe I’ll sift through some of those stories and post them under the subculture category.

I respect all of you, but you’re killing me. Here I am thinking I can spout off about anything, which is my modus operandi at bars, cafés, anywhere really but you’re holding me accountable for my grandiose statements.

I asked why you believe in God. Many of you said you just have faith, which is cool and inarguable. On a basil level, discussing the existence of faith is like trying to convince someone who loves mayo that Miracle Whip is better. It’s impossible, an immovable difference in opinion. You’re in or out. With us or against us.

With Us or Against Us

(This is extreme, but I can’t resist Bushisms)

Some of you gave more in-depth reasons for having faith. I read through and thought about them all. My responses are below.

Reason: You’ve had a personal experience with God.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a personal experience with God, but it really is a miracle that I’m still alive. This is not hyperbolical Ivy either. I look innocent, All American, but I could write a dictionary-sized novel detailing situations/lifestyles that should have killed me. So I can’t say yes, I’ve had an experience with God, but something got me through age 25 and that’s something.

Reason: It humbles your human tendency toward selfishness.

I’m very selfish. I try not to be, but this effort has nothing to do with the Bible or God. I like to make people feel good. Unfortunately, I have to work really, really hard to keep this at the forefront of my mind. I’m not very good at this.

Reason: It helps you love those who are difficult to love.

I don’t understand this. If I don’t like someone I don’t spend time with them so how could I ever love someone I find difficult to love? Is this a big picture question? Like trying to find a place in your heart for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Zetas cartel or this whacko who stomped his girlfriend’s puppy to death?

Sorry, can’t do it. I won’t waste my time hating them, but I won’t waste my time trying to love them either. In the words of my Italian grandfather, “Ah, they’re nothing to me.”

Reason: Faith affects the impact you have on others.

OK. Again, I don’t use the Bible for this but I have three life goals I hope will positively affect others. They are:

a. Broaden my worldview…

b. Use writing as a means to pull people’s head out of the sand (something like that)

c. Improve the lives of those I love?

Dear God. I’ve forgotten them! They’re above the desk in my office but I’m out-of-town. I also believe I’ve temporarily blocked them out for reasons known but not shared.

We have different reasons for choosing to believe/not believe but I think we can all agree on a few things. We’re all flawed and we need motivation to become better people.

So we’re on the same page. We just work within different parameters.

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