From the time I was old enough to make a list of how I wanted to spend my days, I hated going to church. My mom and dad rarely asked to see that list - in fact, never when it came to deciding how our family spent Sunday mornings. So until I turned 18, they were spent inside the endless rows of pews of a Catholic church for morning mass. On top of that, I spent Monday nights in catechism classes (Sunday school) with other kids my age. We spent most of that time comparing lists. One of the kids had catching pneumonia ranked higher than going to church on his. I didn't know much about pneumonia until he told me people died from it. I decided against adding catching pneumonia to my list and ahead of going to church at that, but it wouldn't have taken much for me to change my mind.
In the small community I grew up in, most kids were drug to one church or another on Sunday mornings. Once I figured that out, I quit wondering if Sundays in our house were a form of child abuse. Still, it's probably good no one ever asked my opinion on that. That confession alone would have buried me in Hail Marys and Our Fathers for many years to come. And believe me, I didn't have time for any additional ones.
I'm not criticizing the Catholic Church. I'd have felt the same way in any of God's various houses at that stage of my life. Let's be real, at an age when you're trying to memorize multiplication tables, just how prepared are you to absorb the idea that an invisible and all-powerful God, who had always been and will forever be, created a world of people struggling to solve problems as simple as 2 times 3 and 3 times 4? No, to me, at that age, the church that was supposed to be the source of answers to life only piled on to the growing number of questions I had about it.
I remember when I was old enough to understand what people were claiming about this God of mine - that he created me and all the people kneeling and standing and sitting around me. He created the trees and the stars, the oceans and the hurricanes that roar on top of them. It was around that same time, coincidentally, it was revealed to me that some of the most powerful and awe inspiring characters I had come to know and love in my life were nothing more than aspiring actors. It turned out that Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and various other superheroes I previously thought to be from worlds unknown, were actually my mom and dad and a collection of neighbors hanging out in rented suits at the local mall and other kid-friendly hangouts. This was damaging information to anyone asking me to buy this God story.
Theirs wasn't a lost cause, though. Once I knew the truth about Santa, my misguided understandings made perfect sense. I understood how my mom and dad pulled off that Santa gig all those years. I understood the love and wonderful intentions behind their little white lie. And once I understood their love for playing Santa, it wasn't hard to get why they'd enjoy moonlighting as the Easter Bunny. But try as I might, I couldn't get my mom or dad or any of my neighbors to own up to being the creators of the world. Furthermore, from the collection of people in my life who fumbled everyday tasks like cooking dinner and changing oil in their cars - not to mention multiplication tables - I struggled to find anyone I thought capable of filling an ocean or tacking a star to the sky.
That's when this child truly began to wonder. Where on earth or beyond did I come from?
I would spent the first 18 years of my life going to church wondering that same question over and over. Where did I come from. I assumed everyone around me had already figured that out and showed up at church each week to flaunt their discovery at me. Today I don't believe that - as much. I've come to understand that faith is actually built and maintained with questions. Some brief, some lasting. Some small, some as big as where did I come from.
Today my faith is strong, my questions generally brief and small. In the two parts of this chapter that will follow this one I'll be sharing how that could possibly be coming from the starting point of comparing church attendance to death by pneumonia.
For today, I will tell you this. I took one meaningful thing away from those 18 years of church attendance. I was forced Sunday after Sunday to consider that God was the answer to the question that insisted on barging into my adolescence. Where did I come from? After reading the two parts of this chapter, you'll hopefully get a sense that, today, I'm beyond grateful for the opportunity to consider that answer.
Until then, I'll tell you that as I ventured through my teen years toward adulthood, I struggled mightily with that answer and eventually narrowed it to two possibilities:
- One, that the world around me and the universe above and below me, filled with both breath-taking beauty and heart-wrenching destruction, people with purpose in their lives who were challenging me to find purpose in mine and people hollow and sad without purpose at all, a moon simply chilling 250,000 miles above my head and a man who decides he wants to chill on its surface - and does, calm seas that grow 50 ft in a raging storm only to go back to sleep the next day like nothing ever happened, perfect strangers insisting to die to protect me and kill other perfect strangers to do the same. And here's the biggie, that a world that seems to demand and thrive on creativity and order - was the result of an unforeseen accident that occurred out of nothing and nowhere - for no reason at all. That was one possibility.
- The other, that it was all created by this God I was hearing about in those pews, who appeared out of nothing and nowhere, and created the world to share with me and take delight in me.
When your two answers are boiled down to two possibilities that start with out of nothing and nowhere, those are two awful choices. But it was clear, at the core, they were the only two. We live in a world today that watches and sees where everything begins and ends. Mostly because we have people present at both ends of that spectrum to witness and report it. But no one was there at the very beginning and no one is alive to tell us about the very end. No witnesses. In today's world, that's an awful case to try.
So at a young age I decided that, without the luxury of witnesses, a world filled with so much purpose, and the mysterious arrival of gratification and disappointment as I stumbled in and out of my own moments of purpose, was inconsistent with an accident. Further, if the world was an accident, then the purposes people were trying to impose on me at that age were tied to no original purpose established at a very beginning or reconciled at a very end, and were therefore quite pointless other than conforming me to some confluence of random ideals driven by personal comfort - which made no sense to me against the backdrop of the world around me.
In a world thriving or falling apart on leadership, all the way down from the heads of states to the heads of the local little league baseball teams, it made no sense to me that we didn't have one ultimate leader behind the whole thing.
That's when I bought and paid the priest for this idea of God.
So what does any of this have to do with being a dad? How is it connected to a Dadverb? Not at all, at this point, frankly. At that point in my life believing where I came from did zero to affect who I was or what I did. But, in a few, very long years ahead, that would all change. I would come to know some things about this God that would shape the father I am today. I hope you'll come back next time when I share the story about my timely encounter with a carpenter - not Jesus the carpenter I should add - that would re-direct my life forever, and contribute to the kind of father I long to be today.