Easter was a bit of an awkward day for me. I spent the night before watching The Ten Commandments and counting the number of scriptural inaccuracies (my computer exploded), dance scenes with beautiful women (my calculator exploded), and scenes which were a boom-chika-ba-ba and three articles of clothing away from being porn scenes (I broke the fingers I was counting on). I was nervous about my return to Salem Lutheran, the church of my youth. It was three or four years since the last time I set foot in the place at all. Since I last visited as a full member, it had been around eight years, two religions, two cities, and two forms of facial hair. I’m well past the point of no return these days, and trying to sit through a traditional church service at all now puts me at a level of discomfort which is rivaled only by the feeling I get when I’m in a high place.
My family’s friends, people who had unquestionably accepted me as one of their own back when I was confirmed, welcomed me back with open arms. It could have been enough to make me forget I was ever gone in the first place, but during the service I was struck with the familiar absurdity that helped drive me away from organized religion in the first place: The fact that, despite Christianity being an all-inclusive faith, I was not allowed one of its most revered sacraments – communion – without some arbitrary members only coat. As I was long removed from the church, earning the right to communion would involve months of confirmation class lectures again. Fortunately, I have no intention of reinstating my Salem membership, so the whole thing doesn’t matter.
It still came as a bit of a shock after my experience at Wicker Park Grace, which always practices the inclusiveness it preaches. I was always welcome to the communion table there despite having never gone through an official confirmation process, or in fact even being a follower of the religion preached there.
Salem holds an Easter breakfast, which was my purpose for showing up. After talking to most of the regulars who knew me, it was apparent my folks hadn’t spent a whole lot of time telling their Salem friends about my return. Everyone was surprised to see me, and more so to find out I would be staying indefinitely. Just like my first public appearance on St. Patrick’s Day, about half the statements that came out of my mouth were about how the economy in Chicago had tanked. Some asked the whereabouts of my sister, who will be moving to Ithaca from Brooklyn in a couple of weeks. No one had any idea that I wasn’t there just for the holiday.
I was lucky to see my old friend Melissa, who had apparently abandoned Salem herself a few years ago and only popped in every now and then. She said she was very frustrated with the lack of changes that occurred at Salem until the recent arrival of the new minister. After the service – half of which I spent helping clean up after the breakfast, something I was instinctively inclined to do per my old duties at Wicker Park Grace – I roamed the church grounds a little bit, and I ran into Melissa and my mother having a conversation about churches. Melissa was explaining that even though she was away from Salem for awhile, she couldn’t shake the fact that the people there knew her, and it was where she was raised and the place she considered her home.
In the respect of the people there who know me, Salem is definitely my own home too, and I certainly intend to take up the other members on their invitations to stop by every now and then. But the difference between Melissa and me is that she was always a lot more confident in her faith than I ever was in any faith. Of course she would consider Salem her own spiritual home. It’s silly, with all she’s been through, to wonder if she has ever questioned her faith. I know for a fact that she has. But her ideas on religion and spirituality apparently were enough in line with Salem’s for her heart to have never truly left the South Buffalo church.
My interpretation of Lutheran Christianity may be very different from the one Melissa picked up from Salem. I always received conflicting messages – was I saved through good works or through baptism? I also picked up the idea that questioning was a bad thing, and my confirmation class (in which the minister probably set his all time record for parent-minister conferences in regards to my attitude toward it) was always more focused on knowing what the teachings were rather than why they were. I had a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward religion when these factors were all added up, even though I considered myself a good Christian. In the young adult and adult Bible classes, I was contentious and I exchanged barbs with the other people in it more than once. We had a pompous holier-than-thou discussion leader who always followed some of the wackier ideas propagated through the Christian media – in particular, he was one of those idiots who believed Harry Potter led to Devil worship. I really can’t consider Salem a spiritual refuge.
It was what led me to try to find a new place that accepts non-Christians when I returned to Buffalo. I really don’t consider it a home or a refuge anymore, just a nice pace to visit and talk to people sometimes. In the meantime, my contently troubled soul is still housed at Wicker Park Grace back in Chicago, which is one hell of a drive every Sunday. But it’s way over there that I can ask about things that disturb me, where I was around friends who are also spiritually orphaned. In nearly every sense, it’s still the place I consider my home.