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October 13, 2012

Going to church about much more than religious talk

The Daily Star

---- — After a good five years of fully intending to go to church but never quite making it out of the house on a Sunday morning, we’ve been attending since the beginning of the year.

Religion is a touchy subject, I know. When my husband and I lived in the South, you could start an epic conversation by mentioning the wrong flavor of church. 

Worse still was not going to church at all. Not a week went by without someone selling their God door-to-door. We didn’t buy.

My husband’s religious background is nonexistent, mostly. My relationship with religion has always been complicated. My father’s family is Catholic; my mother’s largely Southern Baptist. After years of long and careful thought, I became a card-carrying atheist.

(Note: There are no cards. We’re just not that organized.)

I have nothing against religion, mind you. Faith-based organizations have done and do wonderful things. They can offer hope where there is none. They can also do the exact opposite, especially when the “My God is better than your God” arguments start. 

And while I’d like to think we could end half of the violent conflicts going on in the world just by outlawing religion, I know that we’d simply find some other divisive thing to kill each other over. 

Human beings are complicated, solo or in large groups. Which is exactly why we started hauling ourselves to the service at the Unitarian Universalists Society of Oneonta every Sunday morning. 

Yes, we joined the UU. We also listen to NPR. We do not, however, drive Suburus. Not that there is anything wrong with that life choice.

When the Diva was a toddler, lo these many years ago, she started asking questions like, “what do colored eggs and chocolate rabbits have to do with crucifixion?” The best answer I could come up with was: it’s complicated. I’ll explain when you’re older.

That’s how I answer most questions, by the way. My hope is that she’ll get distracted and forget to ask by the time she’s old enough to parse the answer. It’s a stupid hope, because she forgets nothing.

When she was older, I tried to explain about the fecundity of spring and the idea of nailing a man on a cross because his ideas made some other people really angry. I’ve explained about resurrection, as well as how methods of determining death back then were unreliable at best. I’ve also been sure to tell her the joke about St. Peter, the meaning of Easter, and the groundhog, which is way too long to cram into this column.  

With some holidays, I tend to wander off on tangents about commerce and the worship of money, like when the Yuletide rolls around. I top off the lesson with making them watch Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, because it is about generosity and love, as well as jug bands.

I tend to pick and choose among the other observations based on sheer whim. For example, because I like latkes, they’ve become part of our December holiday celebrations. I make them during Hanukkah, usually serving them with applesauce, sour cream and bacon.

I know.

By now it should be abundantly clear that teaching my kids about religion, which is a topic they ought to know a great deal about given how it drives a staggering amount of what happens in the world, should not be left solely in my hands. Ergo: church.

They are not the sole reasons for hauling ourselves out the door on Sundays, however. The other reason is that I’m selfish.

Having kids, for me at least, has been a constant reminder of how fragile we all are. Bringing a life and then another one into this imperfect world makes you realize how quickly it can change. 

Existence can be a struggle. Bad news lurks. Parents die; kids, too.

If my family weren’t scattered all over the country, perhaps they could be the buffer against life’s constant changes. But that has its own drawbacks.

While we’ve long had great and wonderful friends in town, many of them the sort that you could call in a panic at 3 a.m., we can’t co-ordinate our schedules enough to see each other with any frequency. It’s hard to build a community when you can’t get yourselves in the same room at the same time.

But every Sunday I see the same faces. I even know some of the names attached to them. We are united not by our shared God but by, maybe, a shared faith in large groups of people who want to be of service every now and again. Your church may be heavier on the deity talk — but I’d argue that the end goal is the same.

By the end of the service, if nothing else, I know who could use a casserole or two. And I know where to go if I should need one, too.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at