When we told our friends that we were switching our kids into a Catholic school and trying to attend church on a more regular basis, I have to admit we received some puzzled looks.
We may as well have announced that we were switching back to a dial-up Internet connection, because going to church has become rather outdated in today’s society. Seriously, how many young families do you know who attend church every week?
As soon as the topic of religion comes up within our circle of friends, things tend to get really awkward — as if we’re all exchanging our salary information. Going to church and talking about God makes people feel really uncomfortable these days and I completely understand why. On a popularity list, fundamental Christians rank somewhere between telemarketers and pushy door-to-door driveway sealers.
So this week — without getting all fire and brimstone on you — I want to explain why we’re trying to get a little element of faith back in our lives.
For a little background here, my wife and I were both raised in Christian homes. Sonia grew up in a Mennonite family (insert horse-and-buggy joke here) and I was raised Catholic (insert creepy priest joke here). We got married in a Catholic church and had a Mennonite pastor participate in some of the service, so we tried to strike a balance where we could.
To be honest, our different religious upbringings were never really a source of contention. In fact, our biggest philosophical argument to date remains whether or not Tracy Chapman was a man or a woman. (For the record, that debate started when one of us said, “I really like his music.”)
But after we got married, we just slowly stopped going to church. Sonia didn’t feel comfortable going exclusively to a Catholic church and I don’t blame her for that. The overwhelming incense, spontaneous chanting and hard wooden benches are enough to make any Catholic neophyte feel uncomfortable.
As for me, I didn’t like attending the Mennonite church because I was essentially the only visible minority in the place. Every time I walked into the church, I felt like people were staring at me because I was the new guy they sponsored to bring over to Canada.
So for those reasons, our church attendance continued to dwindle. We always figured that once we had kids, we would make sure we started going to church on a regular basis.
But guess what?
We had two little girls and going to church became even more difficult. We always had an easy excuse: The baby was up all night; I was travelling for work; there was too much snow. And besides, we still hadn’t figured out what church we could attend.
Before you knew it, we had two little girls who didn’t have a very good foundation for church and God. We tried to introduce them to Christian cartoons like Veggie Tales — but there was something unsettling about a talking tomato and green pepper instilling values into our kids.
And then everything changed for me about six months ago, when I stumbled onto a piece of paper in our living room.
I picked up the paper and realized it was a list of things that our seven-year-old daughter had written down. The title was “My Secrets” and number three on the list said: “I don’t believe in God.”
Those five words completely rocked my world. It showed that we had been completely negligent with our church life. When I was seven years old, I never doubted the existence of God — even though he never delivered an Optimus Prime Transformer despite my repeated requests.
I sat down with Elissa and she flatly told me that she just didn’t believe in God. Her exact words were, “I think he’s made up. Just like a unicorn.”
I tried to tell her that God really does exist, but I was careful not to be forceful about it. I believe that if you cram religion down anyone’s throat — including your own child — it can have harmful and negative effects down the road.
So after talking with Sonia we decided it was time to be more proactive about faith in our lives. We decided to switch the girls over to the Catholic school up the street, so they could have an element of faith on a daily basis in school. As part of the trade-off from our kids going to Catholic school, I’ve decided that it would be okay for us to attend the Mennonite church going forward. And if someone thinks I’m a new immigrant to the country, well by golly, I’m going to put on a thick accent and have a little fun with it.
The important thing we want to instill in our kids is that we believe God exists and if you treat people the right way, there is a heaven. I want our kids to have strong morals and a sense of what is right and wrong. I believe that going to church can help create a terrific framework for that in our everyday lives.
For example, when I go to the self check-out at the grocery store, I’m always tempted: I have a bag of shiitake mushrooms, but what if I just punched in that I have regular mushrooms? I would save $5 and nobody would be the wiser, because seriously — who checks inside the little brown paper bag to see what kind of mushrooms you have? In the end, however, I always punch in the price of shiitake mushrooms because I believe in being truthful and honest in every situation in life — no matter how insignificant it might seem.
And I believe that going to church as a child instilled those values in me.
But I want to stress that having a strong moral compass shouldn’t be confused with being narrow-minded. You probably assume that because I go to church that I have strong opinions on things like same-sex marriage or whether women should be allowed to be priests. That’s where you’re wrong; I think in today’s society, you can go to church and still be open-minded about issues. I want to teach our kids to be tolerant of others — no matter what or who they believe in.
I also want our kids to know that you can have values and morals without going to church. But based on our upbringings, it’s probably a lot easier to try and raise our kids the same way we were raised.
And contrary to what a lot of people think, a lot of us Christians aren’t trying to convert you over to our side. To be brutally honest, the only Sunday conversions I care about are the two-point ones that affect my fantasy football team.
So I hope you don’t judge us for deciding to take our kids to church and put them in Catholic school. We’re just trying to raise them in a way that makes the most sense to us. We were both raised in Christian homes and it’s time we tried to get back to our roots.
And I promise we won’t judge you back — no matter what you believe.
Does religion play a big role in your family?