The Apostate Returns II – The Heathening
They say you should never go back, apparently. I don’t know who “they” are, or what the context is for this statement (I have a hazy impression that it ought to refer to revisiting past triumphs in the hope of recreating them), but people say it so often it’s become a cliché. It’s been running through my head recently, because I paid a visit to the old church this week.
I’d been thinking about going along for a while, for various reasons – pester power featuring quite strongly. The boys wanted me to come along, and seeing that there was a special service for Father’s Day (a vile Hallmark holiday that has no place in any calendar, let alone a liturgical one), I suppressed my multiple misgivings so that they could at least have Daddy around on that one day that had been decreed special by marketing and the church’s unexpected conformity to the dictates of popular culture.
As I approached, it began to feel strange, as if I was trespassing somewhere I didn’t belong. Once through the doors, though, it started to feel as familiar as ever, almost as if I was back among family. Some greetings were effusive, some were awkward (on both sides – a conscious lack of familiarity was often lurking, unspoken, following my long absence), but it was a long way from the ordeal I’d feared.
Unsurprisingly, everyone was much the same. The nice people were still nice, the earnest people were still earnest, the interesting people were still interesting. But nothing truly stays the same. A lovely old man quickly glossed over his struggles with his wife going into a home since I last saw them, and I realised with shame that I’d barely thought about either of them in all those months.
Soon the service started, and I began to feel quite relaxed. Some sentiments I liked, some I didn’t, but I was back in an environment which has been a significant part of my life, for good or ill. The familiarity washed over me, having a similar effect to Proust’s madeleines as I recalled services past, even while remaining stubbornly silent when I didn’t feel willing or able to join in. This would always be a sort of home, even though I moved out long ago.
Then came the time for prayers, and the usual bland, dispassionate appeals to God to sort out all the really bad things in the world. Stop people killing each other in countries X, Y and Z. Stop people being greedy and find a way to pay for everyone to live comfortably. Stop people trying to marry other people with the same dangly bits.
BOOM! My bubble was well and truly burst.
Of course, I hadn’t really expected anything different. While this is one of the more welcoming churches I’ve been in, there are still a number of people who think like this. But although my quiet enjoyment had been in the reminiscence more than the event itself, this sharp reminder jarred me back to reality as suddenly as if I’d been savouring an apple only to find a worm – or worse, half a worm.
I left in a thoughtful mood. I understood the mindset – I’ve been there myself – but it left me wondering. Were my reminiscences a sign that I may ultimately be able to find some sort of uneasy peace with the church, or would that necessarily involve tolerating unpleasant views? And what of those who believe without the unpleasantly regressive social opinions?
The day wore on, and the questions faded from my mind. Unvoiced, unanswered, unclear.