Commentary: The far east New Mexican town in which I spent my high school years had an unsubstantiated rumor that there were 90 churches for a town of 30,000 people. It certainly felt like it, with churches on nearly every corner and tucked away into neighborhoods. I was ready to explore each, like an anthropologist who had only read about these tribes in books.
No, we’re not just killing industries; now millennials are canceling things like religion. Pew Research Center found four in ten millennials say they are religiously unaffiliated. It’s been a point of discussion for years, with a dash of “oh, but when they have families, it’s back to church they go” and yet, no. That’s not happening. And it’s one stereotype I actually fall into. That, and I won’t pass up some nice avocado toast.
Supposedly my dad was a Methodist. However, when I came along, he had been clear about not having me baptized because how could a baby have sin or consent to knowing what they were signing up for with the drops of water on their forehead? To my German grandparents, I understand there it was shocking because, wasn’t it just something you check off the To Do list? Buy a crib. Get the birth certificate. Have a Christening which would include nice session of afternoon cake and coffee, which later would also come with some extra godparent perks throughout your life.
Nope, not for me. My dad decreed the vague mandate that his daughter would “find her own way.” My mom, a cultural Lutheran who enjoys cake, didn’t force the issue. One of the more embarrassing situations for her was us walking into a relative’s home back in Detroit when I was about 3 and asking, “Who is that man?” That, friends, was a portrait of Jesus.
Before our stint in New Mexico, before we spent time back in Germany, my family spent a few years in Utah while I was in elementary school. Even then, the kids would ask if I was Mormon and I learned to say, no, I’m part of the military. That admission, along with our ages and their lack of training to properly proselytize, would silence the conversation. I realized, however, that they were asking mostly what tribe I was in and did I belong to the same general club. It didn’t stop friendships forming at that age, but I got a sense that it might have if I had stayed longer.
As a kid coming from Europe, the American seemingly casual and yet in-your-face approach to religion was startling to me. How wasn’t this a private affair in a family, like how it had been modeled to me?
It’s not that I’m an atheist, but I’m a relaxed agnostic who believes there must be more and likes the idea of ancestral interlopers. Three days after my daughter was born — when they told us that she'd need to go to a bigger hospital due to a collapsed lung — the first thing I did was pray. I prayed for strength to whomever might be listening. For me, it’s a forgotten and nameless-to me ancestor who is wading through the masses, tapping divinity on the shoulder on my behalf. Or, if it’s bureaucratic up there, finding the right saint to take the right paperwork to the right person.
At the end of his life, my dad — who had lost his mind when I casually picked up a book on paganism at Barnes and Noble when I was 16 — admitted that he felt more at church when he was waist-deep in water fly fishing. I nodded along then and nod along now because we don’t just find divinity in church, do we? And, I wish my dad and I would have had the harder talks earlier.
It makes me debate how to raise my kids. My husband and I have had those moments of locking eyes when a question or issue skirts the topic of religion. In fact, I feel more uncomfortable with the idea of explaining religion, and its mandates, than I do sex. Bring on the birds and bees, while I’m over here wincing when my daughter sees my dad’s picture on the wall and dryly says, “He’s dead.”
Yet, there’s some understanding there. After I recently received some jewelry from my Oma who passed a few years ago, I had it spread across my comforter in my bedroom. Sitting there, I sighed as I touched the pieces. It’s weird to see a ring that you’ve only seen nearly welded onto someone’s hand now on your finger.
My daughter, watching me, asked about the rings and necklaces, and I told her how I missed my grandmother, and that my Oma would have really enjoyed knowing her. My daughter said slowly, “But, now you have these things to remember her by and isn’t that nice?”
Cassie McClure is a writer, thinker, and staunch supporter of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at email@example.com.