Losing my Religion
My Polyglot of Churchification
“That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spotlight, Losing my religion” REM
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
It was the 1950’s and 60’s. Religion was at the nascent beginnings of it’s ultimate waning but this had yet to be realized and assimilated into the cultural norms that guide us through societies’ pratts and pitfalls. We still “clung to our guns and religion” in an even more aggressive way than Obama would espouse decades later. It was who our parents had been and whom we were being reared up to become.
My parents came from disparate but respectable religious backgrounds, mom, a midwestern Lutheran, dad, an east coast Protestant. When they met in the 1930’s in Washington, D.C., they negotiated an acceptable middle ground faith in which to raise their expected family. They chose Episcopalian, Catholic-Lite, as it was often referred to.
As newly minted Episcopalians, they chose to be married in Bethlehem chapel, one cold, stoney floor beneath the main sacristy of Washington National Cathedral. Bethlehem Chapel was and is a dark, dank, claustrophobic, tomb of a place that in many ways was the harbinger and bitter omen of the marriage they were to ultimately have. In truth, judging from my mothers once and future love of all things Cathedral, I think it was more about the architecture than the religious rote, but that would become evident later on.
They settled in the Maryland countryside, north of D.C., and righteously attended the local Episcopal parish, St. John’s, and I was duly in attendance at Sunday school classes and Sunday services in the old country church. So far, nothing out of the ordinary for a squirming young kid, trapped into Sunday suits and stuffy classes. I was an altar boy (loved the pomp), acolyte, and all around obedient pup.
More than that, I was “destined”, at least in my mother’s mind, for greatness, or at least societal acceptance as among the privileged. As such, I was confirmed by the Archbishop on the main stage at Washington National Cathedral at the requisite age and was expected to follow in my esteemed cousin’s legacy footsteps, to sing in the National Cathedral Choir, to attend St. Alban’s School for Boys….fast tracked to religious fervor and social respectability.
Several things conspired to derail these lofty aspirations.
My mother threw her allegiances in with the small town, slightly creepy, and downright power hungry priest of our church who provided the space required to advance her dream of creating for me the perfect childhood educational system in the form of a church-affiliated elementary school with her at the helm as the headmistress.
After adding a grade every year to keep me properly sequestered, she had a very nasty, very public, dispute with the priest and the vestry board and was removed as headmistress. Tragically, dramatically, and fundamentally changing our family’s religious course ever after.
My parents quit the church, never to set foot in another religious institution again, save for every cathedral in every city in Europe but then, as previously posited, it was the architecture that was the draw………not the internal (sic) salvation.
It is here that my religiosity takes a giant leap into the unknown.
I was sent off to Sidwell Friends School in D.C, a Quaker school. Go figure. Although not as strange as at first blush. All of us chilluns in the ‘hood’, be we Catholic or Baptist, were being raised in a truly one of a kind, historic Quaker community. Founded back in the 1700’s, it still thrives today, albeit on a smaller scale than most other religions and, truth be told, if more people were Quakers, the world would be a better place. (Not withstanding the ultimate outlier Quaker, Richard Nixon).
They also do great school.
If it were not the mid Sixties,
If I were not in the midst of hormonal teenage rage
If I only knew then…….
I shoulda stuck with the Quakers. It was an automatic draft deferment, they made me learn Latin, French, and real World history. I could have had it all.
But they started advocating for the legalization of marijuana. I really, really, could have had it all.
The mother figure then decided these Radical Faeries called Quakers didn’t deserve me so I was transferred to a predominantly Jewish public high school. Interesting. I learned all about Seders, Kosher food, alternative holidays………..oh, and marijuana.
And cutting class
And lying to my parents….a lot…..
All necessary evils in order to form a more perfect person but not the best for the true religion of the soul.
At home, miles away from where I went to school, my hanging gang were predominantly Catholics, at least as Catholic as their parents could make them once we had drivers licenses. Mass was a convenient excuse to get a car, skip off to the nearest abandoned barn to get high, and return home filled with a slightly altered form of soulful zealotry. We did the “high” holy days, again, midnight Xmass mass was a great excuse for a Partee! And the CYO teen dances were almost the only game in town for minimally supervised outings.
After high school, my inner self was thoroughly infused with drugs and consciousness raising lingo that really tended towards Buddhist. Self actualization, all things connected to nature, Karma….the Ultimate Golden Rule if you will; these were what settled into my core as principled beliefs. What was being modeled by the “adults”, politicians, and people of power, was corrupt, insidious, and evil. Still is.
So, in the final analysis, coming of age during the Age of Aquarius definitely left its imprint. Skipping through religions like a flat stone across a summer-calm pond got me just the right amount introspection to become a moral adult and just enough suspicion of authority to make me a healthy skeptic.
So rock on REM.
That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion…..and gaining my soul.