Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Fall From Grace: Part 3 - A lot about livin' and a little 'bout love

Sokath, his eyes opened. - Star Trek TNG: Darmok

So as I entered my high school years, I struggled with a lot of things as I'm sure most do. Between various social outcast issues, parental problems involving my controlling Father, and trying to figure out what I planned to do with my life, my plate was rather full. Spirituality had never held a high place in my life up to now, and with all that I was attempting to keep in balance, it ironically fell even further to the wayside.

However, as luck and Catholic tradition would have it, Confirmation, or the ceremony whereby a young Catholic or convert professes and confirms their choice of faith is celebrated in the teen years. In my parish this also mandated attending a retreat weekend put on by members of the youth groups. This lead to a set of experiences that would change my life forever.

Firstly, due to space restrictions, I was diverted into the retreat group for young adults versus the high school age group. This turned out to be an unexpected blessing. I had always had a tendency to get along better with older people, and this time was no exception. The retreat, involving lots of soul searching and guided meditation, went surprisingly well. I emerged with a renewed if not altogether new perspective on my spirituality, and felt good about things for a while.

However, my confirmation continued as scheduled. Rather than take some time to re-evaluate things and become one with my experiences and move forward in a more positive way, I opted to keep my parents off my back and just continue with the ceremony. I of course realize now that I should have at least discussed it, but discussions didn't often go well in my family, and I really hadn't come to a point where my beliefs and my values would be something I would feel compelled to defend.

After my confirmation, I was invited by our deacon to join the youth group. Given that my experiences with them were with the young adult group versus the high school group, I petitioned to join the former, and it was agreed that even though I was a few years too young, that my experiences and the relationships I had built while on retreat were worth something, and I was permitted to join.

This opened me to a closer peer group that was attempting to live their faith. Some were more successful than others, but it was nice being part of a community with a common goal.

During this time I was also helping my Father serve Mass in the capacity as an usher. My responsibilities were to help seat people and also to help pass the baskets for the various collections. There were at least 4 of us that sometimes included my Father if he was not up serving for the priest. I was contributing, but again, it was less for me and more for him.

Later, our young adult group put on our own retreats for the next sets of Confirmation candidates and I got to enjoy and appreciate the comradery that happens when you work as a team to bring to fruition a big event.

As all this continued, I still noticed that this group was no different than the Catholic community at large. There was a great deal of the same hypocrisies that existed in the parish as a whole.

I remember one particular incident where we met at a member's home. He presented himself as being rather devout and he had a certain charismatic way about how he carried himself and was generally well liked and respected. He was well versed and studied. But what struck me as amusing was while walking through his home, unbeknownst to him, I discovered his Playboy magazine subscription which he kept in plain view in his magazine rack in the den. I didn't confront him with it. I was still rather shy back then. But I do remember others shaking their heads knowingly and without much shock or surprise when discovering the same stash.

I think the lesson I was supposed to learn that day was that even the best of people have weaknesses and that it should not taint or tarnish the good works they are doing. Instead, the message I took away was that I couldn't trust anybody, and that expecting people to be a better breed of human was a myth. Further, because nobody else felt the need to address it with him (to my knowledge), I was that much more upset that he would be permitted to continue his supposed charade unchallenged. He lost a bit of my respect that day, and I am sure he probably didn't even know why.

That experience coupled with a bad crush experience with one of my teammates where I ended up feeling as though the rug got pulled out from under me, I opted to discontinue attending the youth group after having been a member for several years.

Not long after that, I announced timidly to my parents that I was no longer going to be attending church on Sundays either. I cited that I was not really much of a believer and that I was tired of being a hypocrite. They didn't understand, but at that point I had already been coming out of my shell and standing up for myself in other ways, and this was just one more. I didn't really concern myself with what they thought about it. I would well imagine they thought of themselves as failures, though they never expressed it, nor did they ever really address the issue directly with me ever again.

And so began my venture into disinterested agnosticism.