Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whoops on Religion

So for months we've been puzzling over how to deal with the matter of religion as we integrate 15-year old T. into our lives. We know he's been going to church intermittently throughout his years in foster care, and that he identifies himself as a church-goer. He calls his one dress outfit "church clothes." Last weekend at the fair, he chose a symbol of hands folded in prayer for a temporary tattoo, and we started to think we better hop on this religion thing. But he can't tell us what denomination he is (he doesn't know)- we guessed he's been attending Baptist or Methodist churches. And we're lapsed Catholics. So it took some thinking.

The Catholic churches in Los Angeles tend to be heavily Latino and Filipino, and we wanted to make sure that T. felt comfortable in a congregation that included a lot of other African American faces. So after some back-and-forth, we settled on a Catholic Church with an African pastor and a predominantly African-American but also racially diverse congregation, in an historic African American neighborhood called Leimert Park. It seemed like a great cultural conglomeration of things that might be familiar to T. and things that are familiar to us.

So this morning we got all dressed up in our church clothes and set off for mass. The sermon was great - a rollicking reminder that it doesn't matter how devout you are if you don't serve those in your community and show care and compassion to the people you interact with daily - especially those from whom you have nothing to gain. I love that message and it's the thing I miss most about the practice of Catholicism. The fact that the sermon was delivered in an elegant African accent, by a pastor who used a wireless microphone and walked amid the congregation, engaging each person individually just made it better.

At communion time, I tapped T. on the shoulder. "Do you go to communion?" I whispered. "Yeah," he nodded, without hesitation. Okay, so we all headed up the aisle together. No matter that I probably haven't been to communion in 15 years. We were making a good show of it. We joined all the other families, took our communion wafer, and returned to our pew. I even knelt down to pray, as I was taught to do after communion. I was feeling pretty good, like "Hey, we can do this!" It felt like a nice family thing to do on Sundays.

Just then, T. tapped Tim on the shoulder. "What do I do with this?" he whispered and held out his hand, with the communion wafer sitting there in all its starchy glory. "Eat it!" Tim gasped. We were brought up to believe that the wafer must be bodily defended at all costs and a consecrated wafer on the floor is a spiritual five-alarm fire. Although our faith has wavered, the training lingers on a sort of molecular level. T. dutifully popped it in his mouth, and Tim nearly exploded with suppressed giggles.

After we left, T. told us he'd never been to communion before. We asked him to describe his church service. He told us they didn't pray that much, just read something from the Bible, sat around in a circle and got oil on their foreheads. We're guessing Southern Baptist. After some intensive internet research, I found a blog that says "Less than 20% of Southern Baptist churches have communion more frequently than four to five times a year. Christmas. Easter. There's no excuse to small to discourage Baptists from having communion." I wish I'd figured that out before we went to church today! It was so funny, we had to make up an excuse to do a chore out in the garage just so we could laugh at ourselves out of T.'s earshot.

Adopting a 15 year old is an endless source of hilarity. You can't really take anything for granted, and nearly everything is up for negotiation. What works best for us is democracy - we vote constantly, on things like where to go for dinner, how to spend vacation time, and what movies to watch. T. caught on to family democracy very quickly and he really enjoys it. Resolving things by voting has taught him to voice opinions, which is a critical step for a kid who tended to be excessively compliant as older foster kids sometimes are, having adapted to numerous homes and authority figures over the course of their itinerant lives. But on the matter of religion, we thought perhaps he was too young to help pick a church and that it might be best if we just aimed for what seemed like a cultural middle ground. And that's how we ended up toting the communion wafer back to our seats today. Whoops!


marythemom said...

So will you be going to a Southern Baptist church next?

We weren't told what religion our children were, but that they were OK with going to church. The kids didn't seem to know either, although after a year Bear claimed to be Catholic, but it could have been so he didn't have to go to church with the family. Now they both happily go to our Methodist church. What look like inexpensive rosaries surfaced about a year ago, but the kids don't seem terribly interested in them. Guess we'll continue with what we're doing.

Mary in TX

Lulu McCabe said...

You make me feel better! Yes, we figure we'll give Southern Baptist a shot. There's a good one near our house, with an active youth group. But really who knows? Sometimes it seems like we have to do things by process of elimination.

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