an intersection

kaleidoscope art print by the painted lily

i used to adore the easter holiday – sunrise church service, plenty of later church services, joyous singing, dressing up… but i haven’t attended church since college when i went – shall we say – religiously. in college, i had an understanding & wise chaplain, a family of friends who all held different beliefs but accepted each other, and very few commitments to get in the way. no matter how my faith evolved & changed over those 4 years, i had those things to fall back on & into a pew.

my degree is in religion. it has served me well in that i have been exposed to a wide variety of world views without judgement, i have been forced to constantly evaluate my own beliefs, and i have been stretched to think beyond the box. besides, “it” is what i love!

my education in religion has also left me quite confused.

faith & family – an intersection

after college, working weekends with an unpredictable schedule meant that i didn’t have the opportunity to try new churches. i didn’t have the chance to find a new church family, somewhere that i fit in or that would support my set of beliefs. and then i married a catholic.

since mike & i weren’t attending church, and faith appeared to be a more academic exercise, this never posed a problem. of course, like most things, having a child screws everything up! that’s a joke, by the way. suddenly there are matters of baptisms and holidays to attend to. questions of teaching morals without a religious structure. wanting her to understand “faith” without “dogma.”

and realizing just how far dogma – rite & ritual, tradition & custom – penetrates our very core.

kaleidoscope art print by the painted lily

saying i want “religion without religion” – the subject of my honors thesis and core philosophy of my favorite theologian – becomes much more difficult when faced with the practical needs of raising a child. possibly more difficult when faced with the issue of crossing the divide between two vastly different sides of the same religion.

so this weekend, easter weekend, a holiday that for me is purely religious – sorry, easter bunny – i watched mike take lola to mass and i cried. i made the last minute decision not to go to the local united methodist church for an easter service. i’m just not sure what the point would be if it was “just me,” if there was no family. i suppose dogma & ritual has a place for me when it’s surrounded by family but, on my own, it is not something i crave. since mike’s family is all practicing catholics, he doesn’t seem to experience this inner struggle.

religion for us is not a fight (there are plenty of others) so much as it is just an understanding that we believe different things and that neither of us with be budging any time soon. and therefore, it’s not something that will be experienced by us as a family. without family, there may be no place for dogma & ritual in my life – and somehow i feel a profound loss at that realization. as a person of deep faith, strong held beliefs, a nagging liberal arts education, and no desire to sit in church by myself every week, i am left at an intersection between faith & family, feeling that i’ve made all the compromises i can make on either side.


i hope you weren’t waiting here at the end for a profound thought or nugget of inspiration because i have none. this post is more about me putting thoughts on paper (or computer screen) and letting the little digital words help me sort things through.

i am curious to know, though, if you have struggled with the same intersection – where family meets faith and where faith meets tradition – if you’ve decided which way to turn, or if you have a completely different way of handling this struggle in your own life.

{image credit: kaleidoscope prints by thepaintedlily}

21 thoughts on “an intersection

  1. Tara – this post touched me like no other. I was born and raised a Catholic and have gone through, and continue to go through, many of the same struggles you are facing right now. I also have two children who were taught in Catholic schools (I was the art teacher there) and who have received almost all their sacraments. I have always believed that a struggle with your faith is the only thing that that will really test it and either break or make it grow stronger – heck, even Mother Theresa sometimes questioned the essence of God. Therefore, I’ve always given my children the right to question, to struggle with, and to share their thoughts about their beliefs and the dogma of the church. In fact, this is a topic that used to get my running friends and me through many of our long distance runs – and was never, nor will it ever be – a “finished” conversation. Your struggle will hopefully take you to a place where you are at peace with yourself, with your child’s questions, and with your own true beliefs.
    If you’re ever up for a long walk – contact me :)

    1. hi cathie! thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. i really appreciate that you are comfortable enough with your faith that dialogue is important and *fun* for you!

  2. My former husband and I came from very different religious backgrounds. He found my denomination a relief after the overbearing nature of the denomination of his family. So it really was a non issue for us although his family made it known just what they thought of where we attended church.

    I would like to address one point that you wrote in particular. You wrote, “…i’m just not sure what the point would be if it was β€œjust me,” if there was no family.” This view seems to be missing the point. It would not be just you at the Easter church service. Your family would be with you. There are many scripture references to the Christian family, the Christian community. I often attend church alone due to my children being away at college. I also have gone alone when my son preferred to attend his best friend’s church and preferred his denomination to our family’s. Either way, religion should include not divide. Try to remember that you are welcome at church whether you bring enough with you to fill a pew or it is just you squeezing in on the end.

    1. hi karen! you’re right. i meant that statement in the context that rite & ritual is just not that important to me but that its importance is heightened by the presence of family. but you’re exactly right that taking time to find a church family, while difficult, provide a community that fills that hole if necessary.

      thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!

  3. I have struggled with the concept of religion vs spirituality most of my adult like until recently. When my husband and I decided to get married 3 years ago I knew I wanted a minister, not a j.o.p. We were invited by a friend to attend her Anglican church and her priest. My husband and I were welcomed with open arms and haven’t left since….this is a rare thing….I have attended many different churches over my life and I have never found a church like this one where the focus is on love, miracles, healing and the holy spirit….not in a flashy way, but in a quiet, peaceful way. There is little discussion of divisive, political issues but rather a focus on acceptance and unity. On Maundy Thursday there was a part in the service where the congregation kept repeating this verse “Peace is my final gift to you, my own peace I leave with you, peace that the world cannot give, I give to you”. I have been using this as my “mantra” the past couple of days remembering that what the world cannot give, I can get from above….and for me it doesn’t get any better than this. Good luck on your journey!

  4. ms. karen, you bring up an excellent point about attending church “alone.” thanks for that reminder.

    i didn’t grow up in a religious family, though my mom was a very, very liberal muslim (and by that i mean she does participate in ramadan, though she does not pray 5x a day). a few years before my husband and i got married we became christians, so i’ve never really experienced the faith-family intersection you speak of. however, i do find that some traditions or rituals are comforting to me, although if these comforting rituals does not work for our family as a whole i’m willing to try something new. our old pastor in Seattle used to say something that stuck w/ me (this quote is not verbatim),”you either embrace your traditions or embrace your children.” meaning that as a church family (and in your own family), if you are stuck on particular long-standing rituals and traditions without considering your children (and the culture around you) then you may end up pushing them away. you can teach the same truths that have endured through the ages, but you should be willing to change how it’s delivered according to how your children are. i don’t even know if that came out right :).

    anyway, i hope that you are able to reconcile this struggle…

    1. hi prasti! your pastor is very very wise – but you probably already new that! i adore that concept. i think this might actually get easier for me as i have the opportunity to dialogue with my daughter (she’s only 21 months now) so that i can take her needs into account and not be constantly guessing what is best for her.

      thanks so much for your thoughtful reply!

  5. What an honest post. Religion was a dividing point in my first marriage (he was strict Catholic). That wasn’t what caused us to split but it was a point of constant conflict. I took a round-a-bout way to where I am now. Raised strict Baptist, rebelled and decided to study all religions and do some serious soul searching. I finally settled on the Methodist Church a few years after college. I am a little more “Zen” than most but I find it is a great balance of my values. My “turning point” came when I had my daughter. I wanted her to have structure and understand faith. My current marriage and relationship with my husband is rooted firmly in our faith (night and day compared to disaster marriage number one). I never would have considered myself to be one of those church goin’ folks; however, we joke that we should just forward our mail there since we spend so much time. I wouldn’t change a thing. Karen is right about the community. I spent years being a very “faithful and spiritual” person but part of me was missing until we finally found our church home. Even if my husband and kids are not there, I know I can walk into that building and see kind faces and friends. Being apart of the community of faith raises your vibration and opens new avenues. Try to drop your academic views for a moment and tap into what your soul needs. Simple things, like singing in the choir have helped remind me of “who i am”… and being able to share that gift helps me know that I am apart of that community and something much, much bigger. I hope you find that balance and peace. It is hard with kids. I decided that the best thing for my son, daughter and husband, is to give them the best of me. My church family helps me do just that. Keep that heart open πŸ˜‰

  6. I’m struggled with attending church in my adult life too. My faith and core beliefs have not changed, but finding a church where I feel at home has become a little bit stressful of an idea. Knowing that wherever you go, the people are no doubt human, there are all kinds of possibilities for bad interpersonal situations (as I’ve experienced in the past at some places of worship). One thing I consistently found out about boyfriends all through life was their religious affiliation, as I knew that having a child with someone would mean juggling what we both believed; when those beliefs are diametrically opposed, what a struggle that could be! Luckily, I married a man who has the same spiritual beliefs as I do, though he wasn’t brought up in church. There are enough other things to debate about regarding how you’ll teach and train up your children, aren’t there? :) Very thoughtful, honest post, Tara! I enjoyed it!

    1. hi cyndle! yes you’re right – there are plenty of things to argue – i mean, debate – about raising children. when we were dating, our beliefs seemed very similar – but i think having a child can also make you return to more of the beliefs of your childhood… and that’s where we’ve had the divide.

      thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

  7. I have no huge words of wisdom for you but offers of prayer! Growing up with my dad being a part time minister I had religion forced down my throat. As a result when I left home I left behind the rituals (but not the spiritual aspect). Now as an adult, as a mother (single mother at that) it is soo important to me to have those rituals as a family unit to create traditions. It is equally important to me to find a husband who has the same beliefs as me so that we don’t run into what you are struggling with. I pray you find a middle ground &/or a good friend to attend church with!

    Thank you for sharing your heart!

  8. Tara, I appreciate your honesty and courage! I do think it takes courage to bring up the R (religion) word in a public venue. I was thinking about Easter and church earlier today, thinking about how family and religion (not faith, but religion, which here I’m thinking of as the “trappings” of faith) are so entwined in Easter. About the annual special new Easter outfit for the annual Sunday church service, Easter egg hunt, Easter dinner, etc. About packed out churches when those churches might be half-filled the rest of the year. Easter is the most important day of the year to me, but I rarely go to church services (unless I go to a sunrise service), just because – for me – Easter has become about religion and not about faith. Particularly, religion + biological family, and I don’t have any family locally. So I think I can understand part of where you’re coming from. But … like others have so excellently pointed out above, I know I belong to a much greater family and will always be welcome (hopefully) in any congregation because of that. I imagine – but don’t know – that attending services in a Catholic church, if not raised Catholic, would be very disconcerting.

    I have struggled with all of this throughout my adult life and finally realized that I had to stop thinking so hard (I’m very analytical by nature) and just choose to believe, which for me meant letting go of religion and embracing faith. That said, I love religious history, philosophy, psychology, etc. And I still tussle with religion v. faith on a regular basis; luckily, faith wins out each time.

    Great discussion! Thank you again!

    1. hi brenda! thank you so much for sharing your perspective. i completely agree that, while christmas has become a Commercial holiday, easter has become a Religious holiday – but i’d never really thought of it like that.

  9. Indeed I do. I attend a fundamentalist Christian church with my family, even though I am not at all fundamentalist. This is my husband’s will, and it’s one of the few issues that we’ve not been able to resolve through dialogue. I think that I still go because we have established a history now with this church family, and I can’t deny that we’re all being spiritually fed there. It sometimes causes friction and heartache- when you feel like a square peg in a round hole, and when you’re concerned about what beliefs are forming in your child’s mind- but I’ve accepted that this is where we’re supposed to be for now, and when we’re supposed to go somewhere else, we’ll know. All I can say is to pray on the matter, and I truly believe that the answer will become apparent to you.

  10. Oh, Tara…I read this and wished we could sit and have coffee and share our stories face to face.

    Lets just say I’m sensitive to the ways having children makes you have to choose how to present things you’re not quite sure of yourself and the pressure, guilt, worry, etc. of getting it right (or wrong) and having to reconcile two different stances on the issue of faith/spirituality/religion. I think about it almost every day.

    I’m hoping that our shared position in life can bring you a little comfort as it did to me.

    1. hi rachel! sharing a cup of coffee would be superb πŸ˜‰ i really appreciate that you go through the same things too. sometimes i see such happy families on the blogs that i read and can only think how much i wish my family was “like them.” but it’s important to realize that you are more like me than i will probably ever know. thanks for sharing!

  11. I’m in the exact same spot right now. My Lutheran church recently changed its constitution so that they would not support the ELCA and never have to have a gay pastor. This went against everything I believed in and I left the church that I had gone to for most of my life. I feel as though the moral foundation I built my life on has crumbled. My father is Catholic and his communion rites were taken away from him when he married my mother, a Lutheran. So, I cannot go to the Catholic church since I am denied communion via my father’s “mistake” and I don’t want to belong to a church that doesn’t believe in mixed religious marriages. So, with a move to San Jose coming up in the next few months, I don’t know what I will do. I guess I’m church shopping again. I hope you can figure out a favorable solution to your dilemma.

  12. Hi, Tara.

    I was raised Presbyterian, became a fervent evangelical Baptist in college, but after four years as an Evangelical, all that fervor went into the study and practice of Eastern philosophy and mysticism.

    I’m now married and hoping to have kids in the next year or two. My wife’s father is a conservative Presbyterian pastor who sacrificed everything to serve the church here in the U.S. My own parents are also evangelicals and are both graduates of theological seminary.

    And don’t even get me started on the rest of my relatives. Needless to say, there is no shortage of religion and religious conflict (or diversity? lol) in my life.

    My wife is my closest friend and companion right now, and she is similar to her father in many ways, so navigating religious issues has been huge for us. I can never change my view that all religions share a fundamental truth, so my marriage has been a constant test of how well I can both practice and rationalize my beliefs and values. This is a really big subject, but here is just a sample of how I’ve been able to stay faithful to my wife yet “swing” in spirit:

    1. The Bible story of Balaam and the donkey is a good reminder. God doesn’t necessarily need a prophet or ordained minister to speak for Him. If God wants a medium to talk to me or anyone else, any jackass will do. I feel the same way about religious institutions – they can be used or not used. If my wife insists that I go to church with her, and it doesn’t kill me to do so, then I go with her, and I do it with love. I don’t pray that the preacher or others will agree with my beliefs. I’ve accepted my wife’s invitation, so it’s my responsibility to listen as best as I can.

    2. If I believe in God or Spirit as the truth, and the religious institution as the facade, then I realize that I have to work on actually practicing this belief. Part of this is reminding myself that it’s illogical to be in conflict with an institution which has no inherent meaning. If I want to be spiritual, then I have to try my best to deal with spiritual essence, and not the superficial. “Render unto Caesar”, as the saying goes.

    3. I had some brutal religious conflicts with my wife at the beginning of our relationship. The need for peace was obvious. The funny thing is, she is now a lot more tolerant of me when I talk about my views on religion, science, and all that. To make a long story short, she is sincerely giving me that same openness of heart that I’ve been striving to give to her on matters of religion. For me, it’s a clear case of “with the measure you give, the measure you get”.

    I don’t know, but maybe it would help in your case if you specifically identified the one or two fundamental things you really want from people in terms of resolving religious issues. Then, whatever it is that you’ve discovered you truly want, try your best to give that to the people involved, and try less to demand it for yourself.

    Hope this helps.

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