Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

I'm kind of afraid to post this blog because I know no matter what I say, I'm going to get some flak, but as this is kind of the most private and most personal method of communication I have with the internet, I figure I should take the opportunity and say something.

I've just recently watched the documentary called "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers," and it really touched me. It kind of put into words the thoughts and emotions I've been dealing with regarding my own religion in recent years.

I guess this would be the time to tell you "my story" as far as religion goes. I think I had a pretty normal upbringing in Northern Virginia; I spent the first twelve years of my life within 45 minutes of Washington, D.C., which is why no one can tell where my accent is from, because it's kind of from everywhere America. I was baptized and raised Catholic. When we moved from Virginia to Tennessee, it was my religion that got me to meet most of my friends--to be honest, that was how you really met most people in that area.

Religion was a very open topic, as long as you were Christian, and often as long as you were Protestant. I don't mean this in any sort of bitter or dramatic way, but I was certainly challenged for my faith. As a member of a minority religion in the area (I know; it's Tennessee, believe me. Catholicism is a minority) I lost friends who adamantly felt that I was wrong and needed to change my sinful ways.

I wept openly when John Paul II died; he was an amazing man and I thought he was bringing the church into the 21st century in many (not all) of the right ways. I was also singled out in my health class--by the teacher, mind you-- to explain why he was left pretty much as-is for a very long time (the short version is that if he didn't decay it would be a miracle they would tick off in canonizing him).

But it wasn't all bad in Tennessee; in fact, there was a lot of good. I had a lot of deep spiritual epiphanies, most of which I am generally only willing to share with close friends I trust not to judge me, so please forgive me for leaving it at that. However, sometimes I think it's better that way; I don't want anyone to think that my story is "the way" to be Christian. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In my junior year of high school, we moved to Florida, which had a very different religious culture. I remember being physically uncomfortable with some of the changes in the celebration of the mass--our church in Tennessee was rather conservative, and this church was quite liberal--but I came to love and cherish the differences. It's always a challenge to adjust to change, but I would argue that one benefits in the end from accepting it. I love my church in Florida and love returning to it when I am home. In any case, it was there that I was confirmed and took Saint George the Dragon-Slayer as my patron, not so much because of his being a dragon-slayer, but because of his patronage. He's the patron of the Boy Scouts and of the military, and I felt his story very compelling--it was full of calls to action, rather than idleness.

When I came to Indiana University, however, I pretty much stopped going to church altogether, and I couldn't quite find the impetus. Sure, it was partially laziness. Sunday was the only day I ever got to sleep in. The college ministry was very far away from where I lived on-campus. It was partially due to the fact that the church closer to me had choices in music that were very easy for me to snub. But there was something deeper than that. Something that really just didn't sit right with me in my religion, and in religion in general.

And I think Lord, Save Us From Your Followers hit the nail right on the head. I've started to feel this sense that people who are religious have to judge each other and feel this compulsion to be right rather than to be Christian. Part of that was my experience, of course--being told that I was a heathen for being excited to see the bishop, being told that I wouldn't go to heaven unless I was saved in this religion or baptized in that religion. Part of it was my upbringing--my parents have always made it clear to me that what they care about is that I take care of myself and that I take care of others, and that as long as I do this I will be right in God's book. Part of it is the media--it seems like every news company has to put a spin on it now in order to be legitimate. That's just not okay with me.

So I haven't been to church in years, but all this time, I think I've been doing God's work. I always make it a point to stop and help others, to show basic courtesy, to stick out my neck for my friends. I wish I had done more of course (gotta love the Catholic guilt) but I can't say that I've done nothing.

But this movie... it really hit it home for me. I've honestly been wanting to go back to church for a while and kind of just dreading who I would see there, hoping it wouldn't be boring, letting my imagination run wild and convince me not to go. But seeing the host--I can't remember his name--being religious, but being apologetic for everyone; turning the other cheek, as it were. I just was so moved by it because that's the kind of person I think I've been wanting to be. That's the kind of person I've been trying to be. Someone who can be religious, but someone who truly follows what Jesus and the Bible say. From a moral standpoint, that is. Someone who doesn't judge, someone who loves all unconditionally, someone who would give you their watch when you ask them what time it is. Someone who listens to everything and processes it. It calls to mind my favorite prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


  1. I appreciate your willingness to talk about religion, Steve. I've always lived as a part of the religious minority (I'm a Mormon from Wisconsin) so I know what it's like to be singled out for whatever reason, good or bad. No matter what Christian denomination or religion overall, or maybe lack of religion, that someone follows and believes in, I think it's important to recognize the differences between them but at the same time find the common ground.

    I took an American Christianity class this last semester and wow, if all the denominations would take a little time to examine the things they have in common with others, it would make getting along a whole lot easier, and probably astonish them in the process.

  2. I apologize in advance if this comment is long and doesn't make sense. I tend to ramble and I don't plan to edit things out.

    First, a bit of my background. I'm a Protestant non-denominational Christian, homeschooler from Indiana. My brother goes to a Catholic school, University of Saint Francis actually, so I'm familiar with it.

    I don't exactly look the part of a homeschooled Christian. I'm supposed to be ultra conservative with long skirts and long hair, right? Well, I'm so not. I wear thick eyeliner and have short, choppy hair that changes colours constantly. (Srsly, my hair changes in some way once a week.) I've gotten so many harsh looks and whispered words. I expect it and am generally okay with it. I didn't want to blend in. But when it comes from people who call themselves Christians, it hurts a helluva lot more. These are people who claim to follow Jesus, a man who taught to love everyone, glaring at me and judging me. It makes me angry and want to not be a Christian. I don't want to be a part of that, I don't want to be a hypocrite. Then something in me changed, and I decided to shrug it all off and smile. I try extra hard to smile and be kind to everyone. I don't want people to feel like how I felt. It's not good.
    I have many friends who believe differently than I do, and I try to make everyone feel comfortable.
    I'm not a "good" Christian. I rarely talk religion, I don't read my Bible, I hardly pray, I sin all the time, but I try to be nice and love everyone and help anyone.

    I'm not sure why this is coming out, or why here. But when sleepless I do odd things.


    And it really doesn't have anything to do with your post. :/ Hmmm. I guess what I wanted to convey is that I understand the way you feel, I'm down with that homedawg.

  3. What a well written post. You have accurately and honestly addressed a universal problem for many young people in all kinds of faith situations. As a fellow Catholic, I am truly glad you are wanting to go back to the Church. I'm not sure if you have yet, but you are in my prayers.
    My mom is the director of religious education for our parish and she's been really good at talking to kids who, like you mentioned, feel alienated by other members of the church who judge harshly or do other things to push them away. You may have heard this before, but something she mentions quite often to them is that just as with the doctor's office, it is not the well who need or go to Church. Our Church is full of sinners and we all have the capacity to hurt each other and push them away. However, our strength is in our community and our coming back to forgiveness, especially of those who have hurt us in some way.
    I wish you the best of luck and the most happiness with whatever ends of being your next step. I have much more I'd like to share with you, but this is probably enough for now(:
    God Bless