I got into town late on the 23rd, and everything since then has been a blur of cooking, eating, drinking, wrapping and un-wrapping... y'know, family togetherness. But on the 24th, my family went to a Christmas Eve service at the local Episcopal church. I had just shown and explained my book to my mom and her girlfriend, and they seemed to be really impressed with the fact that I cranked out a word count in a month and then followed up to get my proof copy, but only now - now that I've written a book, it seems - do they understand that all my talk of God being imaginary means that I actually don't believe in God. Like, I've been an atheist longer than I've been an adult (if you count 21 as adulthood, that is), and so my mom seemed to hem and haw and hesitate about asking me to come to service, even though I haven't done so for years.
There was one exception, two years ago: my youngest brother and sister were in the pageant, so I put up with being bored for an hour to support them. Oh, I also went to a church when my choir director died - he was a great guy, and celebrating his life/honoring his death was worth acting against my "church is stupid" principle.
Well, I told my mom that I'd sleep on it, and so I did. I woke up thinking that I really didn't want to go, but it meant so much to other people, and it's really not all that much trouble for me. Oh, they also have a gay pastor at this church, which sweetened the deal for me: like Pat Condell, I don't want there to be gay clergy only in the sense that I don't want there to be any clergy, but I have no problem with someone wearing a certain set of clothes just because of how they choose to stick it in the naughty place. And maybe if churches become inclusive and permissive enough (which, historically, has defined what church is not all about), then my problems with churches will just go away and religion might become a positive thing in the world after all. Or maybe my head's in the clouds, I don't know.
Well, Christmas Eve slipped by, mostly. I had to help the kids accomplish their lists for the day: E had to finish a present for Mom, C had to clean her guinea pig's cage because it hadn't been done for weeks, that sort of thing. And my task was to make the Jell-O for Christmas dinner, since it was layered and required brief periods of attention between long spans of inactivity. Just my style! Anyway, I'm in the middle of making Jell-O (four of seven layers in), still wrapping presents, my brother A & my father haven't shown up yet, and mom tells me it's time to go to church. They're heading out the door right now! We gotta go!
Well, OK. I'm thinking to myself, "I could go to church and be bored but have a little bit more family togetherness - which we're getting anyway - or I could stay home and do useful things that actually accomplish something. Hmm..." So I said that I needed to get to a stopping point, but if Dad & A were going and the whole family would be there except me, then I would go. I called my dad and left a message as the rest of the crew headed out the door. Well, Mom calls me from the road to say that they have actually seen my father's vehicle on the way, then my father calls me to say that he's bringing A to church and wants to know if I'll be there.
Ugh. Fine. OK. "Yeah, I just got to a stopping point. I'll throw on my boots and coat and I'll be right along." I briefly consider a shot of rum - just to keep me warm, you understand - but then I think better of it. I'm only five minutes late, and according to the program, they're still singing the prelude hymn. I sit down amid hugs and whispered greetings and smiles, all of which I return, and then hear the priest say, "Blessed be the one, holy, and living God."
The congregation responds, "Glory to God for ever and ever."
The priest continues, "Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen." (You see, I kept a program. It's all annotated an' shit.)
The first reading was from Isaiah 9, which seems to be all about the Lord's people coming together to live in peace while all those ungodly folk live their awesome lives in civilization. Read it. It's civilization versus the country bumpkin believer, and God comes along to lay low the people who actually try to improve their lives and feel good about themselves for it.
It wasn't all backwardness and foolishness, though. There was some humor, too! At one point, the pastor said, "Therefore, according to his command, O Father," which I totally heard as, "...according to his commando father." It gave me the giggles and I had to explain by passing notes. And at the end, when we were about to sing Joy to the World, the pastor realized that we skipped over Silent Night and said, "Wait! We forgot Silent Night! It's just not Christmas unless we sing Silent Night, after all." That gave more people the giggles, so I had no problem laughing along.
So, OK, an hour of boredom, but at least everyone's nice. There was no Hellfire or brimstone, no shrieking condemnations of difference, just a bunch of innocent god-walloping nonsense with a central message of love. I can't quite get behind that on account of the nonsense, but it could be a whole lot worse. And it made for a great conversation starter, too! At dinner, my mom started telling me how the congregation has shrunk with the gay pastor, and she told me about how she ran into one of the no-longer-attending families while she was out shopping and asked why she hadn't seen them at church. She responded that there had been some changes, at which point I said, "Huh. Cute. A bigot in civilized clothing." I got to talk about Conservapedia and their stupid project to remove liberal bias from the Bible, too. Then we actually talked about the Bible, and how it's a mixed bag and you can get whatever you want out of it depending on how you go into it. Good conversation!
There was something of a reprise last night at my grandparents' place (they have a 26-acre valley for a backyard, so this is where the sledding happens). I got to talk about my book again, and my mom brought up that I came to church, and then she brought up the Conservative Bible Project again and I got to talk all about it. So it was good, in the end, because the family unbeliever got to rally with the rest of the crew against what we all recognize to be idiocy. And at the end of the day, I really don't care what people believe, so long as they leave their unprovable crap at the door when it comes to telling others how to live their lives. There's a difference between "You should take your full course of antibiotics to cure an infection" and "You should refrain from sticking it in the naughty place in thus-and-such a way because it makes baby Jesus cry." They know the difference. They just... believe some things that I find silly.
Whatever. I probably believe some things that they find silly.
Oh, I had entirely forgotten about the Jell-O, but of course church didn't get blamed. I just went out to buy more and picked up where I had left off. It came out great!