Monday, 18 May 2015

Freedom of Religion

Cielo, a Los Angeles dreamer, enjoys recognizing images in the occasional cumulus cloud that meanders through the California sky, documenting interesting events and quotes and observations, and learning about different cultures, customs and lifestyles.

“For all my visual students out there,” the teacher started, “You’re going to have to use your vivid imagination.”

“You’ll be good at that, Isaac,” a student mumbled to his classmate, “Since you believe in God.”
This is what an atheist friend of mine recounted to me, expecting me to laugh. He seemed both stunned and embarrassed when I snapped that it was not funny and I was offended.

I come from a Christian family; thus, as the tradition goes, I was raised Christian. From my birth until recent years, my mom would wake my siblings and I every Sunday morning, shove us in the car, and drive us to church. Once we reached the pre-teen/teen age, church lost its luster. For us, church was boring. It was not the place to spend our hard earned Sunday morning that we longed to devote to sleep. We were reluctant to go each week but went, mainly, because it was expected of us and it was, essentially, mandatory. When my older brother was around fifteen, he often opted out of going to church. I never saw this as an option but was eager to follow in his footsteps.

Now I am in high school where many of my friends are atheist or agnostic. Though I never bring my Bible to school or attempt to convert my fellow “heathen” peers, many of my atheist friends cannot say the same. I nervously shift in my seat when they openly criticize my religion to my face, pondering whether I should ignore their comments or defend my beliefs. (I typically go with the ladder.) By being surrounded by these kinds of comments, I too began to question my own beliefs. With me finding little to no interest in church and questioning my own religion, I became a less active Christian than I once was. I would dread the days my mom mentioned heading to church. I would often complain about having far too much homework to do or I would “accidentally” oversleep.

In the midst of this, my mom never forced me to go to church. I’ve heard many people say that if they dared to miss church, their parents would not allow them to do anything for the rest of the day. I know that if my mom had implemented this coercive mindset with me, I never would have developed as a Christian. I would go by force every weekend and daydream of the outside world while the pastor was speaking. Nothing would soak in and I would eventually rebel and head down the opposite path my mom and church wanted me to go.

Recently, my mom was invited to a church by one of her coworkers. Though hesitant, I decided to go with her. It had been a while since I had been to church and something led me to go. That Sunday morning, I had a complete breakthrough. Something in that church, something in the choirs songs, something in the pastors message resonated deep into my heart and caused me to realize and appreciate the pertinence of religion to my life. Since that day, I enjoy going to church—for myself. Rather than going for my mom, I really needed to go for me for the concepts of Christianity to really sink in.

I do not intend to advertise any certain religion or lack thereof. I just genuinely appreciate that my mother never forced me to go to church. She understood that I was going through a questioning phase where I had to decide if the religion that I was raised to follow was suitable for me. In my case, I chose to stick with Christianity. That may not be for everyone, but if parents force their children to follow their beliefs, those beliefs will not stick.