People of late seem to find me interesting, how I can be an avowed non-believer and yet be a willing participant in the life of the church.
My mother doesn’t get it. “You’ll be announcing any day now that you are officially Episcopalian,” she accuses. (Mom is probably at best vaguely deist at this point, having grown up Episcopalian, converting to Roman Catholic when she married, and drifting away from any church ever since. She definitely is not an organized religion person.) I point out that I’ve always liked classical polyphony even in my most angry-atheist phase; and what student of art or music could fail to notice that religion inspired many of the most significant pieces in history? And the level of performance of both music and liturgy at a Cathedral is certainly appealing to a theatrical buff like me. She “gets” that intellectual component, much more than my sense of community being fulfilled.
Friends don’t get it. “I just don’t understand why YOU go to church,” said a new neighbor, who is trying to wrap her head around it. “When they start talking Jesus this and Jesus that….” I explain that with a degree in literature, I’m perfectly comfortable dealing with metaphor and similar devices. Mythos, you might say. And the rhythm of the liturgy has an odd comfort to it, because those words were ingrained in me as a child growing up Roman Catholic.
Would I be going to church without my wife? No, I wouldn’t. But the woman I married has a deep and abiding faith; it’s a very important part of who she is, and a major job as a spouse is to support my wife. People ask how we can be so compatible when our beliefs are 180° opposite. It's because we respect the difference while always loving one another. Let’s remember that she’s an Episcopalian now because I laid siege to her for years, and once she officially swam across the Thames, what could I do but travel with her?
But let’s also not forget that I do get something out of it, and I don't just mean the music. I get that community of thoughtful, engaged people who are smart, and funny, and warm. And this is a community that we met together and joined together; not my friends, or her friends, but truly our friends. That also makes it special.