During my senior year of high school I got my first car. It was actually my Christmas present. My mom bought it for a couple hundred bucks off of her best friend. It was an '85 Toyota Carolla and you couldn't fill the gas tank more than half way because there was a leak. No lie--that car was awesome. I loved him...and named him Wilber. Wilber gave me more freedom than I had ever had before. No longer dependant on rides from my parents and/or friends I was free to explore and attend different churches on my own. Churches to attend weren't hard to find. Most of the kids that I went to school with were pretty conservative, religiously and politically. There was a different protestant denomination on every corner. It seems religion is the only thriving business there nowadays.
I started 'church hopping' going to a different church most weekends, asking friends if I could go to services with them. I realized that the fundamentalist non-denominational church my friend attended wasn't for me when I looked over the seat in front of me at a children's book that said that the 'dinosaurs died out because they couldn't fit on Noah's ark." That did it for me. My parents were pretty free with allowing us to explore, but becoming too conservative is a cardinal sin in my family. My mom didn't let me go back to that church after I told her about the book. We like evolution in my household. When I started reading the 'Left Behind' series I learned the term 'take with a grain of salt.'
I never realized how many church denominations start with M...Let's see...
There was also the Lutheran Church and a bunch of others. It's been awhile. I used to be able to rattle this list of 15 different churches off.
I really enjoyed going to the Mennonite church with family friends of ours. I would sell my mom's jam at the farmers market to raise money for my mission trip to Nicaragua and she would teach me about her faith and her family. They don't use instrumentation in their church, but everyone sings joyfully. My friend was teaching a first grade Sunday school class and I got to learn about Nebakanezer. I realized around then that I didn't know very much about the Old Testament and started reading the Bible more on my own.
I've been to two different Mormon churches and rather enjoyed myself. This probably doesn't come as a surprise but I will ravenously study languages and religions in my free time. My friend had borrowed the Encyclopedia of the Church of the Latter Day Saints and we read for hours. It was so similar, and so different. I found the use of old English quaint and adorable. I didn't really form an opinion then, and in no way was pressured to convert or join the church. Everyone was polite and it was a good experience overall.
I loved Praise and Worship music. I have always loved music, and felt like it spoke to my soul. I started around this time to phase out 'modern' music and listen to classical, oldies and Christian rock. I was sick of all the negative messaging that I was exposed to, and friends turned me on to some music that, while still maintaining the musicality, didn't have the negative lyrics.
My friends attended the local Methodist church, so in the end I spent more time there and involved with their youth group programs than any else. When the youth group started discussing going to Nicaragua on a mission trip, I knew I had to be there. My aunt and uncle have worked in Nicaragua most of my life as linguists and I wanted to see what I had heard about first time. I wanted an adventure before starting college in the fall. A lot of my senior year was spent trying to gather the money for this trip, and getting all of the necessary shots. There were way too many shots required for this trip. Never let them do an immuno globulin Hep something shot on you. It is incredibly painful, and in the ass. I couldn't sit, seriously. We ended up having to drive hours to find places that actually HAD the vaccinations on hand as well.
My trip to Nicaragua was amazing. I was a girl that had never seen the face of poverty any closer than a television screen. Seeing it up close makes you reassess how you spend your money, and live your life. I think that my experiences there helped solidify my desire for social justice, and continue to study US foreign policy in Central America. See, it all ties in--I swear. It was in Nicaragua that I saw the roll that religion played in peoples lives; giving hope to the hopeless. If you have nothing, and are promised everything if you live a good and virtuous life, then you take it. If you have nothing, no hope and you are given hope, a goal and a community then you do everything you can to keep that hope strong. I saw the hope.
There was a teenager named Cesar that I met. His 'job' was to take care of his young cousin while her mother was selling goods in the market. She was a toddler and likes to nap in my arms every afternoon. Cesar had a rough life, everyone did in the shanty town that we were working in. He sniffed glue, like many of his peers, because it made the hunger pangs go away and being high felt good. Parents, starved themselves, with starving children would let them sniff glue to stop their crying out of hunger. They quickly became addicted, rotting their brains as starvation rotted their bodies. Cesar came to the work site, where we were adding an addition to a church, every day bringing his cousin. On the last day we were here, the daughter of the missionary in charge of us sat down and talked and prayed with him. In the end, he accepted Christ as his savior, and at that point we were all crying. Cesar did change his life. He joined the church and became an active member. Religion, finding God in his life changed it. I get that, I get that blind faith in his life. But I really do think that it was him finding hope in a hopeless world. Him finding love where there was no love.
It was this societal order that Marx was commenting on when he said 'Religion is the opiate of the masses.' If people are content believing that if they suffer now for something better, they are less likely to revolt and fight the system. I didn't go because I wanted eternal life, but because I think that it is our duty as humans to help one another. Call it karma, or guilt over crappy political movements on behalf of my country, but I do truly want to help make this world a better place and when I was a teenager, I was a hell of lot more idealistic than I am now.
I'm going to leave you with the bible verse that summed up my trip to Nicaragua. When it was originally read to us, I cried because I really thought that this is exactly what we were trying to do.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Next...on to college