NRBQ – Me and the Boys
With my daughter off at college, it’s just me and the boys (my husband and my son) at home these days. Today the three of us went up to see her perform in a chorus concert. The students did a very good job but one of the soloists, a woman from somewhere else, was perhaps not on her A game.
The concert took place in a church and it occurred to me that I don’t think my son had been in a church since he was an infant and I had no choice but to bring him with me for my grandmother’s funeral. He was kind of floored by all the paintings and architectural details. To me, the thing that pricked my senses was the incense. “Smells like church!” I said. He asked, “What do you mean, it smells like church?” He didn’t realize that wasn’t just this one place that smelled that way.
Before the concert got underway he was asking me lots of questions: What’s this book? A hymnal. What’s a hymnal? A book full of hymns, then they’ll put numbers up on that board over there so you know what page to turn to so you can sing along. What’s this thing? A kneeler, leave it alone. Who are the guys in those paintings? The apostles. What about those ones? Those are the Stations of the Cross.
Then he cast his eyes about looking for an outlet to charge his phone. Hahaha! Obviously there’s no place to plug in something (I hadn’t brought a charging cable anyway) and I told him he’d have to just pay attention. That’s what we had to do, every Sunday. I told him the story about the time I was so bored that I sat there fiddling with my fingernails the whole time and my mother kept giving me the evil eye. When church was over she said, “If your fingernails are so fascinating, you can play with them for an hour at home!” and she made me sit on a stool in the kitchen and stare at my fingernails for an hour while she was starting something for dinner. How long did church last? Over an hour, on these hard wood benches, but your whole Sunday was shot until about 2pm because you weren’t allowed to do anything before church and the grown-ups would always want to talk with their friends after.
At one point in the concert he started to cough so he snuck out to look for a water fountain. He came back and gave me the thumbs up so I thought he had found one but after the concert ended, my husband asked him where the water fountain was. He replied that he hadn’t found one, he just blew his nose and cleared his throat, because he figured those pedestals with water in them weren’t for drinking. 🤦😬 Holy water! Dodged a bullet there!
After the concert ended and we waited for my daughter to come out, he made a tour around checking out the Stations of the Cross. He informed me that Jesus had dropped it three times! I said, well it was heavy and he had to carry it to the place where they were going to crucify him. At that point I decided that the three of us should watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian together. My husband was going to take my son to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the movie theater so my son could get extra credit in his mythology class, but it was showing on one night only and they missed it. This seems like a worthwhile substitute.
Oh my Dog Ellen, this is hilarious and it resonates so hard for me that I had to stop twice reading it to catch my breath!
Two years ago I took the kids and one of their friends to a local statuary/botanical garden nearby for an outing. We wandered into an exhibit pavilion where there were display cases of sculpted medals and medallions. As we slowly made the rounds we stopped before a cabinet with scenes from the Bible on medallions which were quite arresting. Surprisingly, my daughter asked what the scenes depicted were- Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, Moses, etc.. My kids had no idea what any of the images were, no reference, nothing. I felt so embarrassed because of the presence of the friend, who would surely tell her parents that my family were heathens. No more playdates, no more cookouts. Persona non grata. As if the Goddess herself was suppressing a smirk, my daughter’s friend, 13 years old herself, turned to me and said, “I don’t know any of this stuff either! What movie do these come from?”
Needless to say, I summarized (as tersely as one could do considering the breadth and depth of the subject) the more obvious episodes and explained how important the Bible and Christianity were to our history and culture in America. Its funny how much I took for granted that my kids would just “know” this stuff. I grew up in the Methodist church, going nearly every Sunday to Sunday School and service (the old-fashioned kind, without drums and power-points of the song lyrics behind the altar,) from birth to high school. I attended a Methodist college on top of that. But my wife and I left organized religion behind, indeed all the trappings of Christian faith, years ago, well before our kids were born. Granted, we never shield or shielded them from anything. At the grandparents’ homes, they say the blessing before meals and occasionally accompany friends to church youth programs and have even been to church a few times with family or friends. I suppose I figured they would pick these stories up but I was obviously wrong.
The last thing we want is for our kids to rebel at 15 or 16 by embracing an evangelical church to show my wife and I that we will burn forever in the fiery lake of damnation. So we have tried to thread that needle by neither affirming nor criticizing Christianity. Needless to say, the teachings of Jesus are pretty spot-on for the most part. And of course the mandatory viewing of The Life of Brian, an essential document as far as I’m concerned, is coming soon.
I’m aware, fully aware, that my views on all of this are shameful and shocking to many. I acknowledge the importance of the church to the development of Western Civilization. Every student of history and culture should know these things as a matter of course. Even in college where I had my first 2 or 3 crises of faith, I indulged repeatedly in religion courses, both Christian and other world religions. Even now, I find religious studies fascinating and have an abundance of books about Christianity (and 4 versions of the Bible) on the shelves – not that my kids ever pulled one down to peruse. I realize clearly now that there is a vast difference between having the knowledge accessible to you and actually knowing it! After all, we have smartphones with all that information in our right hand, but settle for artfully filtered pictures of lunch. Deus ex machina, right?!
Anyway, your post was hilarious and made me truly laugh out loud. Egads Ellen, for the sake of dirty looks in my direction, I’m glad I wasn’t sitting in church when I read it!
Hats off to you.
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What movie are they from! Priceless!
I have often debated the best way to ensure that my kids grow up with the same take on organized religion that we have but, as a non-believer, I find it hard to be neutral, and even harder to subject myself to actually sitting through a church service.
At college (my school was Catholic) we were required to take three religion classes and, already on the outs with the church, I took the only three classes that I found in the department that weren’t some version of Christianity and You. They were Major World Religions, Presence and Absence of God, and Archaeology of the Bible. If they were supposed to reinforce notions of Catholicism being the one true way, they had the total opposite effect, along with the holier than thou attitudes of the student body, and convinced me it was all a sham.
Time will tell if I’ve managed to pass along my blasphemous ways. At least up here it feels like there’s not much pressure to be a church goer, and it’s hard to imagine these old Yankee churches being much of a draw for a young person.
I’m glad you enjoyed this post! The friends I’ve told the story to in real life have also laughed out loud, especially if they too were raised Catholic. I even told my mother, knowing her response would be an offer to take my son along for Christmas Eve mass, but the part about the holy water was too good to keep to myself. 😉
How do you begin to convey a culture or ritual that is engrained in you but left behind? My kids have more exposure but are still floored when the words of some long prayer or church song they’ve never heard come tumbling automatically out of my mouth. And yes, the incense. As my ex-Catholic friend said when she decided to leave the Unitarian church and join an Episcopal one, “it’s about the smells and the bells”.
Smells and bells! 😄
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