Evanston news delivered free to your inbox!
“I go to church. That feels like a weird thing to admit.” This was a woman’s thought bubble in a cartoon in The New Yorker not long ago. Wow, I thought. I can relate.
I, too, go to church – although not every Sunday – and I also feel like it’s a weird thing to admit. Although my good friends know, it’s not something I’m quick to tell acquaintances, work friends or others. I’m afraid of what they will think. I’m afraid of being judged.
In 2022, going to church is akin to wearing pantyhose, eating American cheese or using a flip phone. It’s outmoded. People just don’t do it anymore. This is true for all religions, not just mainline Protestantism, which includes my church. According to a Gallup poll, in 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. In 1999, that figure was 70%.
I get it! If you pull back the curtain on organized religion, there isn’t much to recommend it. I understand why my children and their cohorts aren’t interested. They like to point out that churches are often epicenters for every “-phobia,” “-philia,” and “-ism” out there.
And, in our current culture wars, which feel so binary and limiting to me, churchgoing seems to be an attribute of the other group. I’m afraid that if I say I go to church, someone will think I don’t believe in science and I recommend abstinence as a good form of birth control.
So why do I still go to church? I have a lot of reasons. I like the specified time to sit and reflect. I like pondering my own life and being nudged to think about others’ lives, not just here, but around the world. I like the messages at my church, which include protecting the environment, caring for others and fighting for the powerless. I like the sense of community and the built-in infrastructure to serve.
On a visceral level, I like the sense of place that my church – any church – provides. There is something otherworldly about the peacefulness of a church and the invitation to a sacred space. Even in other cities, I’ve pushed on the doors of hulking old churches and wandered into cavernous sanctuaries to sit in their well-worn pews and bask in their musty, historic scents. Inside of a church, I feel like I’m bearing witness to those who have gone before me. I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself.
So why the reticence about church? Why, as my husband says, with a smile, do I feel a need to explain myself? After all, no one is thinking about me or judging me. Except for me.
I’ve concluded that I’m the one who is quick to categorize and stereotype. If someone I don’t know very well talks about church, I don’t think of someone like me. I reflexively think of Ned Flanders or the Church Lady.
If anyone is guilty of being binary and limiting here, it’s me. How easily I forget that people aren’t one-dimensional caricatures. They’re complex and full of disparate parts and contradictions, just like I am.
I believe in facts and reason and keeping a cool head. And, I adhere to the old journalism adage “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” But I also like sitting in church. I like making room for the unexplainable and searching for meaning. In other words, I don’t fit neatly into one category.
And, don’t tell anyone, but I also like American cheese.