By Money Grubbing Lawyer
Money Grubbing Lawyer is a young Canadian lawyer who blogs about money and all the silly things he likes to spend it on. He also posts on a range of topics not normally considered “personal finance”, including food, technology, and as in this guest post, spirituality. Check out his site and be sure to subscribe to his feed.
I was raised a good Irish Catholic boy and still have the crushing guilt to prove it. I went to a Catholic school, took communion, went to confession and was confirmed in Grade 8. If the IRA had organized a youth wing in rural Newfoundland I would have been there, ready to fling a Molotov cocktail at the local Orange Order.
For a brief period in Grade 1, my stated ambition in life was even to become a priest, although this quickly disappeared when I realized that a priest couldn’t afford the white Lamborghini Countach that adorned the poster on my wall (and the wall of every young boy in the 1980’s). Every weekend, my mother would religiously (in the most accurate sense of the word) take my sister and I to mass, and I would regularly watch my grandmother burn candles, pray the rosary, and break out the holy water when I was sick. As an interesting aside, I recently found out that my grandmother has taken to buying candles in bulk at a local dollar store and having them blessed by the parish priest, as it’s significantly cheaper than buying the individual pre-blessed candles sold by the Church. That’s a frugal tip if there ever was one!
Then, in about Grade 9, I did a religious 180– I abandoned and denounced the Catholic Church, much to the dismay of my family. I think my family would have been more understanding if I had left in order to pursue leather jackets, death metal, cigarettes and loose women behind the school like so many of my peers. But instead, I had left for much more sinister reasons- to attend another church. And not just any other church, either- a respectable Anglican or Presbyterian congregation might have been okay, but I had absconded with the hand-raising, singing, shouting, no-drinking, no-dancing Pentecostal church.
My move to Pentecostalism was founded in the exuberance and rebellion of youth, in that boundless search for anything new and exciting. I was enthralled by the youthfulness of the church and the vibrancy of the services. The pipe organ of my Catholic home was replaced with electric guitars and drums, centuries old hymns replaced with contemporary worship songs, the predictable and formulaic masses supplanted by seemingly spontaneous and free-flowing services (it would take a couple of years before I realized that the Pentecostal services were actually just as regimented and scripted as those Catholic masses of my childhood, the Pentecostals just didn’t have the courtesy to provide the gathered faithful with a handy printed program). This church offered everything a spiritually searching teen could want- acceptance, energy, and most importantly, parental disapproval and oh-so-innocent teen girls. Praise the Lord, I was saved.
My involvement with the Pentecostal church lasted a few years, but my relationship became increasingly strained as I grew spiritually and intellectually and began to question the things I had previously taken on blind faith. I found the church that had taught me the importance of Scripture and a personal Jesus to be increasingly intolerant of my attempts to explore the details of this relationship and to question the precepts of the faith. What I had initially seen as devotion soon became apparent as dogma, and I became disillusioned with the social conservatism and intolerance that permeated the church. My attempts to genuinely explore Scripture and question beliefs were shot down, and so I did exactly what I had done several years before- I walked away.
Fast forward ten years. Since leaving the church, I have been on what I would call a self-guided spiritual quest, sort of like a distance-ed course in religion. I’ve explored Scripture and commentary and well acquainted myself with the modern canon of Christianity and the volumes of criticisms. Nothing has been off limits, and my schizophrenic bookshelf is a testament to this- C.S. Lewis mixed with the Dalai Lama mixed with Richard Dawkins, all dog-eared and covered in my personal scribbles. During this ten year sabbatical, I have only set foot in churches on perhaps a dozen occasions, mostly for weddings and funerals. But for some strange reason, I now find myself searching for spiritual home once again.
Many people despise the phrase “church shopping”, yet that is exactly what I find myself doing. My wife and I have visited a couple of churches so far, trying to find one that will “fit”. I have even developed a bit of a spiritual shopping list of the things that are important to me:
- The essential Jesus – The most basic and fundamental messages preached by Jesus were love your God and love your neighbor. Anything else is gravy.
- Open and inviting – I’m a pretty friendly and easy going guy, and I’d like a church that is laid back and genuinely welcoming. More Ned Flanders, less Rev. Lovejoy.
- Non-fundamentalist – I don’t believe that the Bible is the literal, infallible, historically and scientifically irreproachable word of God. Not even close.
- Theologically and socially liberal – If you think a woman’s place is in the home, gays are the scourge of the earth, and bingo is the devil’s game, we’re probably not going to get along. I think stem cells are neat and might name one of my children Darwin. And if you tell me not to drink beer, all bets are off.
- Tolerant of other belief systems – You don’t have to agree, but at least be respectful. You can’t win the “my God is better than your god(s) / lack of gods” argument; don’t even try.
- Non-repetitive and non-repetitive – You don’t need to sing that song 5 times, and you certainly don’t need to repeat the message of your sermon half a dozen times. I’m not an idiot, I got it the first time.
- Open to debate and discussion –I’m open to discussing and debating all the things I’ve got listed above, and I’ll even entertain the possibility that I’m wrong. Are you?
- Eggs, milk, and Shake n’ Bake – Oops, that’s from my real shopping list. 🙂
I don’t realistically expect to find a spiritual community that I fully agree with and that fully agrees with me. Unless I decide to start my own cult (still a viable option), I recognize that I may need to compromise and accept some theological differences. That’s probably a good thing, too- “yes men” and groupthink rarely produce good results. Yet I still feel a little strange picking through denominations like I’m going through the bargain bin at K-Mart, searching for just the right color and style. Surely, a church isn’t something you should “shop” for… is it?
Our approach to finding a church so far has been to talk to friends, to get recommendations, and to stop by and see for ourselves. It’s a bit of a clumsy way to go about things, but I’ve yet to find a nice Excel spreadsheet or online questionnaire of some sort that will magically tell me which church best suits us. I asked my engineer wife to develop a fancy algorithm to make things easier, but she just rolled her eyes and muttered something about wanting a church that permitted divorce. I’d be interested to hear just how Clever Dude readers settled on their church (if they have one), and any tips to make my search a little easier.
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