“Leave Room for Jesus!”

That’s my favorite saying when I see underage boys and girls hugging or kissing, or if I’m chaperoning a dance.

Man… I just realized, I’ve chaperoned a dance.

I say it cause it’s funny.  Not even remotely do I believe that boys and girls should actually be leaving room for Jesus… or do I?

Well to start off, if I did believe that, it definitely wouldn’t be in the physical sense of two young budding lovers, hugging up on each other–although the older I get, the more unnecessary I think the act of youth intimacy is.  But what about leaving room for Jesus in your mind, your heart, or your soul?  Should there be room for Jesus there? Should I introduce my son to the idea of religion?

Controversy!

Well let me give you my background story.  I’ve mentioned before that I frequented the south to visit my dad’s side of the family.  Well in the south you go to church at least 4 times a week… maybe even 2 to 3 of those times actually being on Sunday.  Yes… the stereotypes are true and that’s why people joke about it.

There’s the obvious Sunday mass… but sometimes you go to the 5 p.m. mass, after you’ve already attended the 7 or 8 a.m. service.  Bible study on Sunday mornings.  Choir practice on Thursdays.  You have to go for adult choir practice too because your aunt or parent is in the choir… or maybe your cousin plays piano and organ… (and make sure you sit down and keep quiet or you’ll go out side and get something to cry about).  Then there’s children’s bible study on Weds, and maybe a pot luck or bake sale on saturdays… and if you’re one of these churches… you visit OTHER churches for their mass…

Yeah… growing up Christian is a full time job.

However when I lived with my mom… that wasn’t the case.  She’d let me go to church if I wanted to, but never forced me to.  She joined the Agape at one point, which is a non-denominational metaphysical church devoted to one love, and at some point delved into hinduism and all this other stuff that she never stuck with.  We had tons of friends with a complete array of ethnic background, and so we learned a little from a lot of people.  And that is the greatest thing about living in Los Angeles.

I’d been baptized, I’d changed churches on my own will,  I even went to a church summer camp for a few weeks while I stayed with my mother’s Seven-Day-Adventist parents who unbeknownst to me till that summer, attend church on Saturdays… ruining Saturday morning cartoons.

I had a lot, and I mean a lot of experience with religion and the people attached to it.

Even though I got to experience different cultures and religions through friends and family, I’d never really veered away from Christianity as my home base. I think my first real eye opener that made me question religion was when I dated my high-school girlfriend.  At that point, I’d stopped regularly attending church,  because my mom didn’t required me to go to church, and also because I had a full time job as a full time student-athlete, and there wasn’t a church close to me that I felt at home with.

My girlfriend, however, was super Catholic… that’s how she was raised… that was her culture. So once we started dating, knowing that I didn’t go to church, she asked if I’d go to church with her.  And I did.  For almost a year I’d attend St. Augustine, and I enjoyed it.  I met new life long friends, I enjoyed the youth leaders, went on church retreats, fasted, and I even received the those hidden messages at the times I felt I needed it the most.  Going to church again kept me in check emotionally and morally…

But there were differences– small differences that I never participated in.  Differences like Catholics take communion every Sunday.  That’s when you eat the bread that represents the body of Christ, and drink the “wine” that represents the blood of Christ, in order to wash away our sins. Well at St. Mark (my Christian church) we only took communion on the 4th Sunday.  Differences like Confession.  Well in the Christian community, we believe we have a direct connection to ask for forgiveness… other differences like the structure of the mass, baptisms, Lent, and praying to Saints are a few that come to the top of my head.

Fast forward some years later, and you’ll find me serving in the Marine Corps.  If you think Los Angeles is a melting pot, join the military.  It was here, in the Corps, that I had matured spiritually, and understood that with all the religions revolving around all these good people… there is simply no way that there could be one right religion.

I continued to go to church while stationed in Okinawa, and it was here that my honest respect for organized religion shattered.

As long as I’d been going to church, we’d given tithe.  Tithe to the building fund.  Tithe to the church fund. Tithe to the Lord… tithe tithe tithe!  Now I’ll admit… there’s plenty of times that collection plate’s come around and I’ll pass it right on around… but there are times I pulled out my only dollars and threw them in as well.  But that plate… it gave me option.  As much as you knew the church was greedy and keeping our money… we still had the option to tithe.

However, I frequently attended my Gunnery Sergeant’s church with him and his family… kinda out of obligation for him stepping in and taking a bullet for me… figuratively not literally.  I’d never experienced anything like it.  Here I was, 21 years old, walking into church like it was the first time I’d seen one.  People were speaking in tongues.  I couldn’t even focus on church because every time someone screamed HALLELUJAH it was followed by a “Shamlamasonofalamana.”  It tripped me out.  On top of that, the seating arrangement was tight.  The row of chairs in front of you were so close to your knees, that in order for you to let anyone through you were forced to stand up.  Why wouldI mention that?

Because there was no tithing plate.

Yes, every time tithing came around, we were forced to stand up and walk up the front of the church and pay our 10%.  Well at that point I felt obligated too.  EVERYONE’S WATCHING!  And if you don’t, then you hear a mini sermon on how important it is to give, so you can reap what you sow.  Meanwhile the pastor is preaching that Christians need to be more wealthy… Christians need to prosper… then leaves church in his new S-class Mercedes to go get all his few thousand dollars worth of bling on his wrist and fingers polished.  I watched literally dozens of families come up to the alter and give to this man’s family on Pastor appreciation day anywhere upwards to $2000.  Not only just give a card–but announce the amount they were giving… all in the name of God.

I’ve never heard of pastor appreciation day.

I left that church after I felt my obligation to my Gunnery Sergeant was done with, however I sought out another church for me to try to make my “holy home.”  Over and over again, I’d go, and the same things were going on.  People speaking in tongues and, people subliminally forced to give money.  Sermon’s became about money, church got a little too flashy, and I think the messages got lost in translation.

I stopped going to church.

I can literally go on and on with stories that are similar that would make you sick to your stomach, and don’t even get me started on these “Mega-Churches”– can I get an Amen…?

However, despite my disgust for organized religion now, I believe I learned a lot from going to church as a child.  I believe there were lessons that I learned there at sunday school, that prepared me for the every day social world, and even family life.  I believe church had a lot to do with the development of my moral compass, and my willingness to easily forgive.  I believe that because I went to homeless shelters and handed out food to the needy, I believe that gave me an eternal internal compassion for those truly in need of assistance.

Religions are too different to agree upon, but the people behind them are all the same.  We believe in something greater than ourselves, and most of us are kind-hearted, and try to do the right thing at all times.

This last statement is similar to how I addressed why I think Baby Jake should go to church.

Despite my increasing distaste for what organized religion has evolved into, I do believe that I’ve pulled a lot of good from going to church in my youth.  I believe it taught me my moral standings, however Paps (my wife) is a good person too, and church was not a lifestyle for her.  I believe that it is necessary to know the stories of the bible as something to refer to, similar to fairytales or Aesop’s Fables as encouragement or even as a discouraging lesson to remember.  However Paps said she didn’t go to church and her mother read her the bible stories so she knows them too.  My wife makes pretty valid points to counter my points on the non-necessity to have to go to church to become a good person, but I think ultimately I want to teach my son that you should only walk in faith.

Believe in whatever God you want to believe in.  Hell, believe there is no God, but do believe in something.  Faith has carried me through so many broken roads, that I refuse to deny God.  But that’s my personal belief.  I talk about it a little in 11:11, how I came to be in this position I’m in today.  I want my son to have the option to know that even if our prayers aren’t answered exactly how we want to them to be… that talking with God, or your conscious, or your inner-self, or even just your walls… talking it out and asking the universe for help in the most darkest of times, is sometimes just enough to show us the light… sometimes that’s just enough to help the crying start (you know… that good cry… that healing cry), or sometimes praying helps spark up and that idea.  Sometimes praying for the strength to forgive or even achieve builds an immediate confidence boost, and maybe it just gives you the time to collect your thoughts.

Or maybe God hears us.  Maybe God answers our prayers.

It’s impossible to say what is right and what is wrong.  But I think denying, or even not introducing my son to the option of wanting to practice religion would be the worst thing I could do for him. All I have to do is introduce it, and like his father… he can make his own mind up about it in the long-run.

I’ll sign off with this poem that I’ve carried with me for so many years.  Looking upon it, it screams at me that everything will be alright… and that’s all I want my son to ever know…

Everything will be alright.

One night I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me I looked back at the footprints in the sand. There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life. This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.

“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”

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Posted in Fear, Getting Ready, Those Odd moments...with 7 comments.

Comments

  • Ross Longdon says:

    Thanks for a really interesting read.
    I have struggled with the Christian faith too, after losing my Mum, (a devout Christian) to cancer after people at our Church told us that “God has told me your Mum will be healed”. I am sure that I have experienced God in my life, and cannot deny his existence. So I am distrustful of the religion, although not necessarily of the deity.
    We do take our kids to Church however, as the other children are really nice and I believe that the children are presented with a very good moral framework. Admittedly it could be fairly argued that I am shirking my responsibility as a parent and making someone else do my job for me.
    Although I do go along to Church (nowhere near frequently enough for my wife’s tastes), I find it pretty difficult to actually engage. I have made good friends there but at this stage I certainly couldn’t describe them as “fellow disciples” but that is of my doing, not theirs.
    In short I believe, rightly or wrongly that it is definitely possible to have a Christian faith, without being part of a Church.
    There are loads of different Churches out there. I too have enountered one in particular whose sole aim seems to be feathering the pastor’s nests with little regard for how it affects those who tithe, but I don’t think that these are representative of all of them.
    Thank you again for a really interesting (and challenging) read.
    Ross

    • Ross,

      THANK YOU for reading!

      It really is a topic to think about, especially with the times going the way they are in the world. I feel like so many people want to get away from religion and bash it because they just want to stand against something, and it’s easy to stand against religion. It’s also hard to believe in religion if you believe in science, but, who’s to say they can’t coincide? I mean, even the Vatican is interested in space exploration.

      My wife’s biggest issue is that she doesn’t want to feel left out, like “is mommy going to hell if she doesn’t go to church” and I don’t want to put her through that if I don’t have to.

      I’m really at a stand-still on how I’m going to approach it, but I have a few years, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.

      Thanks for reading!

      Rob

  • Crystal says:

    I enjoyed reading this post Rob. I can tell you that I have learned being Christian is a full time job, but it IS NOT a full time job at the church. Being Christian should be something that gives you pride because you are living for God and doing Godly things. For example, doing things for others, your family and yourself, not being envious, not having jealousy. It is a belief. I grew up in the church you described similar to your fathers and I was turned off to church in my early twenties because of the commitment. I despise the Catholic style of living. I believe they are very hypocritical. Jim was raised Catholic and he can contest to this 100%. I have learned that when attending a church, you should never feel guilty about donating. No one but you knows your financial state, and that is okay. In fact, the church we belong to tells visitors not to give because of that same reason you described.
    Faith is something I think everyone has. Learning about God and Jesus is something we wish to learn about or not. I am happy that my girls are learning about Christ to be honest. Not because God, blah, blah, blah, but because I want them to have values that many children today do not have. I want them to learn that loving everyone is loving everyone…not Jack over there because he has golden locks and Jill doesn’t. I want them to understand religion to be able to make that decision about Christ when they are older. I don’t think you are off the beaten path, and sometimes God speaks to us in ways we don’t think can happen. I do know that God does have your back because if he didn’t, you would have less hair now ;). I was once told, “always choose to trust.” Ever since I have heard that advice, I have put it first. I may not always like what is in store, or how God plays my cards, but I do know the end result is always a good one. And because of that, my outlook on life has changed quite a bit. He will talk to you and lead you down the path he wants, when the time comes. Always choose to trust.

    • Crystal,

      First and fore-most, thank you for reading and taking the time to reply. Somehow your comment was in the Spam so that’s why I’m just now seeing it. Anywho… re-read your comment and substitute “good person” eveywhere that you say “Christian.” Although I still address myself as a Christian when asked, I ultimately when stripped of all the labels, am just a believer and a walker in faith.

      Unfortunately, you and I never got to know each other on a personal level, but I think we would’ve had many deep talks and plenty of fun together. But had we had one of those talks I would’ve told you about the time I OD’d on Crystal Meth, woke-up, prayed to God to help me get my life together and get off of drugs, and that same day he answered my prayers by sending my friends mom into his room to find his stash. You were on the island with me when he literally walked me away from a Seven year prison sentence, and I can’t deny that he helped me get to where I am today every step of the way.

      I am the truest of believers, and I will never turn my back on that.

      Organized religion though??? They’re are tons of people who do it for the right reasons, but there are many more doing it for the wrong. And because I feel I have an extremely strong relationship with God, I feel that if I just honestly open my heart and listen, and let him live through me… that’s what it’s all about Crystal.

      BUT… with that being said, I feel I got to that point by being raised in the church… so it’s a catch-22 for sure.

      I don’t feel I’m off the beaten path either… but I do have a decision to make soon for my son.

      Thanks for reading again!

      Rob

  • Jack says:

    What to do with religion is something I struggle with in my home. It’s something that I thought I’d handle well. But with three kids 5 and under, I find that making time to teach my children such things to be seriously lacking.

    I am an atheist, my wife is an organized-religion-hating agnostic. I can’t see church in our future. But at this point my kids don’t even know what god is, and they only know the name Jesus from when I am irritated at something.

    My son is going to kindergarten this fall so I have resolved to make sure he knows something about religion. So my current struggle is, what to tell him. My current plan is to keep it simple and factual and to leave out any bias if can. “Some people think there is an all powerful being that controls the entire universe. They do something called “praying” which is a way of asking the being for help.” Etc…

    But I will say this. The one thing I really regret about being non-religious is the lack of community. There are some churches that do a ton for their followers, with everyone helping each other out. I’d like to find something like that for our family without all the religiosity.

    • First and Foremost Jack… thank you for reading!

      My friend actually suggested a few weeks ago that I write about religion. I read this over and over again and feel that I didn’t put enough in it, or that it seems I hate religion only for the greed factor. But realistically I could’ve written a 20 page college report on my experiences, and why I choose to separate religion from faith.

      You bring up a good point that she and I discussed. A friend of mine mentioned that her child goes to school and that she hears about God from the other students. Just as one would hear about Santa, or the Easter bunny… so it’s inevitable, which I think is good. Not good because everyone needs to be a holy roller, but good in the sense that at least she’ll have the option to want to go to church with peers as long as her parents are willing to allow it.

      There’s a saying in the Marine Corps, “everyone’s a believer in the foxhole…” meaning that even if we don’t don’t believe we believe… when in face of life or death everyone prays in the end.

      Again, thanks for reading, and good luck. I think that by you even acknowledging the issue, means you care enough to make something work out just fine!

      Rob

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