Light Up a Saint for a Euro

Cathedral  in BarcelonaBarcelona made quite the impression on me – it had the beauty and charm of Paris, yet was smaller and had a refreshing seaside feel. The people were beautiful. They bustled about with seemingly no worries. I’m not sure how I expected them to act in the wake of what happened in Madrid. You’d think nothing happened at all.

It felt nice here, like meeting a new friend. I guess my personal sense of victory played into this, but I didn’t pound my chest about it because it didn’t seem like an end zone. No, this accomplishment felt much deeper – more welcoming – it filled me with an incredible sense of well being – so pronounced; it seemed like a physical presence.

That presence remained as the eight of us strolled the Las Ramblas – a pedestrian boulevard running down the heart of Barcelona toward the pier. The cut-stone pavement of the crowded street offered cafes, kiosks, and barking vendors. The kids loved interacting street performers – statues coming to life (for a Euro), puppet shows, and bird acts. We enjoyed this fair-like atmosphere under the warm sun and absorbed our reward.

We wandered the narrow streets of the gothic quarter, taking in the unique architecture of the oldest part of the city. We followed the sun rays and found a beautiful courtyard. Palm trees towered above the stone walls forming a natural shelter for all the ferns and fountains – a perfect place to sit down and rest tired feet. Marit, a devout Catholic was happy to learn we’d stumbled upon the Barcelona Cathedral, which featured a shrine to Santa Eulalia – a teenaged girl who was tortured to death for her Christian beliefs. Everybody headed inside to see her shrine. I chose to remain in the serenity of the cloister with the geese.

Jill eventually returned, “It costs money to see the girl’s shrine.” She sat down on my bench. “You pay a Euro and it lights up.”

“Need a Euro?” I started reaching into my pocket.

“No Dad.” She tapped my forearm. “That’s okay.”

We sat in comfortable silence, soaking in the serenity of the courtyard. I was approaching a trance-like state when she popped the question: “Dad, how come we don’t go to church?”

This moment was inevitable. I’d always hoped it would have happened when the kids were older and more intellectually prepared for a deep, theological discussion. Jill caught me off guard and I didn’t have a “short” answer prepared for her. I pointed out how we’d gone to church each Easter and Christmas, but that didn’t fly with her.

I was between a rock and a hard place with God and religion. I’d grown in a Christian school and went to church regularly. Some of the most important influences in my life came from that, yet I chose not to pass on the legacy.

As a kid, Sundays were a big hassle. I could never keep my shirt tucked in, or my tie clipped on. The sermons seemed to drag on forever. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t understand why Jack’s beanstalk wasn’t real, yet a serpent created from a wooden staff was real. One day at Sunday school I told my teacher I didn’t believe that a man could fly through the air in a flame engulfed chariot. The kid sitting next to me said I was stupid and I almost got in a fight. I got sent to the hall and that really pissed me off.

My parents took me and my two little sisters to a traditional Baptist church where everybody wore suits and could recite John 3:16 along with a million other bible verses. I missed a lot of good TV because we spent Sunday nights at church as well. Eventually my parents left the Baptist church to follow the posh evangelical movement popular in the 1970s. People with oversized glasses and bell-bottoms yelled out loud, raising their hands and hugging one another. It was frightening for a fifth grader. At one church, we did the bunny hop around the sanctuary. At another the pastor convinced my parents I should be speaking in tongues, so one night the three of us stayed after service and spent over an hour on our knees waiting for something to blurt out of my mouth. Finally, I uttered some gibberish I’d heard on our babysitter’s Iron Butterfly album. The pastor bought it, and I got home in time to watch Ed Sullivan.

By my teens, the first generation of big-box churches starting hitting the scene. Gone were the steeples and stained glass and there wasn’t a cross in sight. It was weird to meet in a high school gym, but I didn’t care because I got to wear Levis and nobody gave me shit about my long unruly hair. In spite of my love for rock and roll, the progressive music got on my nerves. Ted Nugent had done enough damage to my eardrums, so I didn’t like those screaming guitar solos first thing in the morning. Pastor Todd, the main man was a rock star himself. He had such charisma and was one heck of a speaker and boy, he knew it. His sermons went on and on. After letting him indulge himself, you’d think he’d thank us, but he didn’t. He was too busy to stand by the door at the end of service to shake hands like other pastors did. Evidently, his hands were in the till. Word was the rock star had to step down for squandering church money.

Donna always sympathized with me. She and her family were active members at the same Lutheran church for most of her life, which she enjoyed until she found herself battling with the youth pastor. She got a peek into the dark underbelly of the ego-driven politics at the church and disenchantment set in.

In spite of our shared cynical views, it occurred to Donna and me one Sunday morning as Nickelodeon blared from the living room that our kids should be in church. For their “sake” we started looking, hoping to find the “right one” – that perfect church. We sampled several and concluded nothing had changed.

That was that.

So as a result, our kids have grown up without church. They can’t recite the Lord’s Prayer and can’t answer the Bible questions on Jeopardy.

Now, my daughter was expecting an explanation.

“Dad” she scooted closer to me on the bench. “Stop zoning. Are you going to tell me why or not?”

NEXT: An Unexpected Gift at 4,000 Feet



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