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Pondering The Big Questions

It was almost 4 o’clock on a summer afternoon in 1971. I was 11 years old and my buddies were over at my house playing kickball in the back yard. I heard the cranking noise that the window off the kitchen made when it was being opened. Mom usually hollered from that window to tell us it was time for dinner or to get in before the rain started or to stop kicking the ball against the house.

What do you lean on in good times and bad?

But it was Saturday. It was afternoon and I knew what that meant.

“Time to get ready for church unless you want to come with me tomorrow,” she sang out the window.

My shoulders slumped, as did the shoulders of two or three of my Catholic friends. They jumped on their bikes and headed home for a quick shower. They, like I, pulled on some “school clothes” and then we all congregated at my house on bikes in the driveway.

The bike brigade pedaled down the street and around the corner about a mile to the church. We went as slowly as possible, locked our bikes together out front, and slipped into the back of the church.

It was hot. We were sweaty and bored, and up front the priest was droning on and on. We kneeled, we sat, we stood, we kneeled again -- all the gymnastics of church tradition.

When it was over, we burst through the doors, totally re-energized by that obligation being over again for another week. We unbuttoned our shirts and untucked them so they flew like capes behind us as we raced our bikes back home.

Once in the door, Mom said, “How was church?”

I shrugged.

“What was the homily about?”

My eyes looked sideways like I was thinking, but I hadn’t any idea.

“Ronald!” she snapped. “You were there, right?”

I froze mid-step and looked her square in the eye. “Mom -- I hate going, but I go because you make me.”

She was undaunted. “You are supposed to be learning!”

I shrugged and went out the door again; there was plenty of daylight left and we wanted to get the game back on. That church stuff was just the great interrupter of fun.

The following Monday I dressed for school and came down to breakfast. Mom was cool, so whatever heat had been between us over the weekend had obviously faded; at least she didn’t seem mad.

At the stove with her back to me, she said, “Now don’t forget tonight is religion class at the church school.”

I sighed, not wanting to start a row again. “OK, Mom, but … I don’t get anything out of that, either.”

She was ready for me. “Whether you get it now or not, while you live in this house you will keep going and eventually maybe something will sink in.”

And I did. I was there every weekend and in class every Monday night until I finished high school.

In college, however, I expressed my adult liberties and rarely saw the inside of a church except for weddings, funerals, and holidays. It wasn’t as much of a relief as I thought it would be, though. In fact, I sort of missed that time every Sunday to sit and reflect – to gather my thoughts and say a word or two of thanks for all of my blessings.

I reflect now on the memories I had of religion class, or CCD, as they called it. We sat cramped in those Catholic elementary school seat/desk combos and listened to someone’s mom try to explain why a bunch of Christians needed to follow the story and actions of a Jewish guy.

I just never got it. What was really going on here? All these masses, all these prayers, all these evenings of instruction, and I really didn’t know anything about the religion that was supposed to be the foundation of my life.

I just followed a sort of “Golden Rule” philosophy and treated my neighbor as I would want to be treated. But I was hungry for answers that were not forthcoming.

I remember climbing into the back of my dad’s Galaxy 500 after CCD class with my sister. He was there waiting to pick us up. The car was filled with cigarette smoke, and sports talk radio was yammering away.

“Dad, why do Christians honor a man who was Jewish?”

He turned the radio down. “You’ll have to ask your mother when you get home.”

I recall that her answer was not a whole lot more informed than his.

Sadly, as years have passed, most of my peers told a similar story. They had pretty much a storybook relationship with the church. They were clear about Christmas and Easter, but the rest was kind of lost.

The funny thing was, everybody had some level of reverence or fear about their faith, but it was always uninformed and typically mired in the views of their grandparents. There were -- and I am finding, still are -- a lot of unanswered questions.

Well, folks, I am certainly not about to heap old-time religion on you, because that is a very personal decision. But I sure do recommend reopening your mind to that which you are not clear about.

Here’s why: If your kids wind up having the same questions and all you have is the same answers your folks had, this lousy interpretation will just continue to spiral out of focus.

And I have to admit I don’t feel this is a time in our nation’s history when any of us should be without the belief in something greater than ourselves. I mean, it really appears some days that we “mortals” are messing things up left and right.

Our “entitlements” seem to be crashing head first into our former priorities and something our forefathers used to call “our God-given rights.” I think maybe everyone should get a better grip on where we all really stand with the powers that really matter.

Get informed. Do some research and find a way to fill that void in your life that can only come through the unselfish acts of caring for your neighbor and being kind to others.

I happen to be a Christian and have found answers in that faith by employing a detailed walk through the Old Testament and much of the New. I went to a variety of church services, men’s discussion groups, church-related charity events, and things such as this.

When it was all said and done, my faith came to rest in a combination of what I was raised with and what I came to learn about it. The strict Catholic faith had too much pomp and ceremony for me. The Pentecostal born-again Christians were sometimes a little too over the top for me.

I found a nice middle of the road between the two and am very happy there. I have answers for things now that formerly just sat idle in my mind.

You may find a totally different path, but whatever it is, it should be something that you can lean on in good times and bad.

Think about how much research you did when you got your first air conditioner or big-screen TV. Shouldn’t you at least put in that much time with forever after? If the last time you looked into it all you remember is fighting your mom to NOT go to church, I think you’re selling yourself short.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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