Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Christian School Chronicles

Let me preface the following stories by saying that there are many Christians who display the opposite behavior of the people in these anecdotes. In fact I still go to my church that I attended for years simply because I love how open and inviting the people are there (and also to see my Grandparents who also go to the church). Most of my friends and family are actually Christian and I love them to death but there are a select few who are no longer in my life for the reasons that follow.

Perhaps the best place to start off is my trek into kindergarten. I have always had a late birthday (November 10th) so when everyone else was starting to go to school I was only 4 (rather than the age of 5 which kids usually went into kindergarten). The thing is I have always been advanced for my age so my mom, instead of holding me back to Pre-K like many other parents did, wanted to enroll me into kindergarten. What you have to realize is that living outside of DC some of the school’s aren’t the best so my mom decided it was right to send me to private school.

My mom is agnostic but she was baptized as a Lutheran like the rest of her family. She rarely attends church, believes that her religion and relationship with God is personal, and is open to any other religious ideas. At that time though, she heard about this great Christian private school in the area. Right away she saw how great the academics were so she was hell bent on getting me into this school.

Well low and behold they told us that I was too young and they would put me into Pre-K but not kindergarten. Needless to say my mom was pissed so she enrolled me in another private school (this time strictly a Lutheran run school). This school had horrible academics. We were learning things that the Pre-K students were learning at the other school.

My mom (the stubborn and amazingly strong woman that she was) then went back to the original school and demanded that they test me for kindergarten. They did and on my 5th birthday I tested at the 1st grade level. So you better believe they let me in since their test scores would go up.

Throughout my elementary school years I wasn’t hit with much adversity, but the Christian values were hammered into my skull. We studied the bible, catechisms, devotionals, and other biblical texts along with the other basic studies and I really enjoyed the stories. I also enjoyed the weekly “chapels” that we would have where we would come together and sing and listening to people talk about their experiences with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Up until this point I was happy in this little bubble that my school had stuck me in. It wasn’t until 4th grade that I started to question things. I vividly remember the conversation that started the fall of my faith in Christianity and more importantly so called “Christians.” We were all sitting in class, our desks in a U shape in the classroom; my teacher was in the middle.

She started a discussion on different Christian sects. I was fascinated to learn about all the different protestant sects and how Martin Luther started the whole movement. I was even proud and raised my hand saying that I learned all about Martin Luther and his 95 thesis in Sunday school at my church. My teacher said how great that was so she started everyone else going around the room telling what sect they belonged to and if any had been in multiple. Thus the snowball started. My one friend started out saying she was raised Catholic but now was Baptist. Another friend stated that he used to be Catholic but his parents decided to switch to being Presbyterian. Three more friends in the class had similar stories. When it got to my turn I stated that my dad’s family was Catholic and I was baptized Lutheran but attended both services throughout my life. It got strange looks from both my teacher and my classmates but they moved on and finished all the students’ stories.

My teacher then applauded the students who had moved on from Catholicism and stated that she had had a similar experience. It was at this point that I raised my hand and politely asked “Why is it so bad to be Catholic? It’s just another part of Christianity right?” My teacher went on to talk about all the horrible things that the Catholic Church had done over the years and how it was best to get as far away from Catholicism as possible including Lutheran, Episcopal, and Methodist churches. This left my 9 year old mind confused and wanted a better explanation, one that I wasn’t going to get from this teacher.

That moment has always stuck in my head and honestly I have never gotten closure from this teacher on why she felt this way. I remember going home to my mom almost in tears not understanding why certain sects of Christianity were better than others. For years though I let it slide, then fast forward to 7th Grade Bible class.

Once again I can remember this moment like it was yesterday. This time we were in a circle shape with our desks with our Teacher in the middle. We were in a deep discussion about predestination and what it really meant. My teacher, who I usually adored, then went on to explain that some Christian sects didn’t believe in predestination. What was one of those sects? Well Lutheranism of course. So once again I raised my hand and told my teacher that I was in fact a Lutheran. He asked if I believed in predestination and I said no.

Then one of my fellow classmates raised their hands and asked if that meant that I was going to hell. In a text book example of circular logic my teacher informed the students that it was God’s choice of whether I was going to hell or heaven because it was already predestined. Shocked from the question of my classmate I kept quiet and didn’t press the subject. In my mind I thought of all I had been taught about not being judged and what not.

From that point forward I was determined to read as much of the bible as possible and began studying it extensively to find out everything I could. In the process of this I found I also was fascinated with other religions and began studying them as well. I became especially enthralled by Paganism, especially the Irish and Norwegian pantheons since my ancestors with from Ireland and Norway. I of course started sharing what I had learned any chance I could get in my classes including writing papers.

In those next few years that I was at that Christian school I pissed off many a teacher and administrator with my incessant questions and subsequent obsession with all other religions. I was labeled the “rebel” who was way too interested in the occult and other “sinful ways of thinking.” I then began to question all the past situations that I had written off as nothing but now were coming to light with my new eyes that I had found. We weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter or any other stories that had witchcraft in it, couldn’t watch movies that had any references to the occult, and at one point weren’t even allowed to listen to the band Bewitched (No I am not making this up, incredulous I know). From that point on I used any opportunity to argue against these mandates. I was chastised for watching horror films citing that “we don’t serve a God of fear,” told I was going to hell because I believed it ghosts, and was sent to the principal numerous times for showing similarities in Christianity and Paganism.

The third story that I remember so vividly came in 8th grade. I walked outside during recess in and to my surprise saw a bunch of elementary school students having a May Day celebration. They had made a May pole and were dancing around it holding their colored streamers and many of the girls had flowered crowns on their heads. At the sight of this I actually grew excited and thought that finally my sheltered school had embraced another culture and religion’s ritual. Oh was I ever wrong.

At the time I was right by one of the middle school teachers so, me being me, decided to say something about it. I proceeded to tell her that it was nice to see that the younger students were learning about other religions and their celebrations. At this comment the teacher stopped, looked right at me, and asked me what I meant by that. I told her that I thought it was great they were learning about Beltane. She thought I was confused and started to go into that it was called May Day and that it was to celebrate the Virgin Mary. I then corrected her and started to tell her what I had learned from my Irish heritage. Went into how this celebration was around long before Christianity was even around (first strike) and how it was actually associated with many pagan holidays that took place around the time of the year (second strike).

Obviously this didn’t go over well at all and she insisted that I was mistaken and wanted to know where I had heard that. I very nonchalantly explained that I had many books at home that explained different pagan rituals especially Celtic ones. From there I was told I shouldn’t be reading about that and instead should be reading the bible or my devotional books. She went on a long rant about how I should study more about Christianity and understanding it. She then went on to talk about how there were plenty of books that explained what May Day was really about.

Still I didn’t let go that this wasn’t originally a Christian Holiday but she kept ignoring it and soon recess was over. From then on if I ever brought up that or any other holidays or rituals that were derived from Pagan holidays I was told to stop talking about it. Of course I would try to bring it up as many times as I could, even going so far as to write a papers about how most Christian Holidays were moved around to appease the Pagans (one which I was sent to the principal’s office for).

Now I wish I could say that my talking about this constantly made my teachers and classmates think differently about May Day and the other holidays but sadly it did not. They just ignored it, pretended that I was just spouting off crazy talk. That May Day incident was the breaking point when I realized that there were many Christians that were so judgmental and stuck in their ways and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be part of their “group anymore.

Needless to say after 9th grade I left that sheltered school and starting going to a public school. Not only was I able to write about other religions all I wanted but I got to take classes on Comparative Religions and Mythology. But even at the public school I was met with adversity. Take my Creative Writing class for example. Many of my stories that I wrote for that class had occult undertones.

During one of our “sharing sessions” (ironically our desks in a circle) I read a story and was told by a fellow classmate that it was really well written but she didn’t like all the “morbid stuff” as she put it. To my surprise, before I could say anything, the guy sitting next to be chimed in that he loved the way I worked the occult into my story and the tone of it. This shut that girl up and I actually blushed since of course this was a guy I had a crush on.

After that class another one of my classmates came up to me in a computer lab and asked me if I was Wiccan. She said she noticed the Celtic cross I always wore around my neck and the themes of my stories. I told her that at this point I didn’t know what I was but I commended her on noticing both things. This experience showed me that everyone wasn’t completely horrible and that there were plenty of people out here in the “real world” that were open to new religions.

Of course though there were still the close minded people even out of the Christian school bubble like that girl in my creative writing class. Yet another vivid story came senior year in my Mythology class. My teacher (who was beyond amazing) introduced the material of the class on the first day and went over all the mythological texts that we would be studying. Then came the part that made my eyes twinkle and my smile to grow so wide it almost fell off my face; among those mythological texts we were studying was the Bible.

She had barely uttered the word when at least five people’s hands shot up. They all had the same thing to say: “The Bible isn’t myth.” My teacher very gracefully explained that we were here to study the explanations of creation, how the world works, etc. set down by the stories of different cultures. Still these students argued that that’s what real, thus not a myth. She then told them if they didn’t agree with her teaching of the Bible as a myth for the class then they were welcome to leave. Three people left the class and never came back. My faith in humanity had been restored and I realized that not everyone was out to get me. Finally I found a place that I belonged.


Jennifer said...

Where did you grow up? I live in SC, and I promise you your stories would be 1000X worse if you had grown up here. Teachers in Christian schools (Southern Baptists) will flat out tell their students that "all Catholics are going to hell". I am so grateful that my parents didn't practice any religion while I was growing up. I felt free to make my own decisions once I became an adult. Not many people around here have ever learned to think for themselves. :(

Sam Curtin said...

Jennifer, I grew up in the Washington, DC area which in itself is pretty liberal.

Sam Curtin said...
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