14 years of catholic schooling, and I just went to church for the first time

I’ve been taken to church a million times. By my parents. By my teachers in grade school, and some more in high school. I’ve been invited to church for weddings and baptisms as a means to get to the reception. But until this past Sunday, I had never gone to church. I, under the power of my own decision, using my own transportation, my own free will, my own time … I went to church.

I won’t climb onto a soapbox and spill all my thoughts about Catholicism or organized religion in general. Sufficed to say, I grew away from it. The repetitious, authoritative, and largely hypocritical aspects eventually won the battle in me against the concepts of faith, love and charity. I didn’t give up on those concepts, I just didn’t care to hear them in a place where Jesus stares at me from his cross. I was cool taking the good without the bad.

At the aforementioned weddings and baptisms, I started to reject offerings of the body and blood of Christ. I passed on offers to go to Christmas Mass. “If I were God, and somebody whom I invited to show up every week didn’t take me up on the offer, and then just waltzed in on my busiest day to eat my food and drink my wine, I’m gonna be pissed.”

That’s from Paul to the Any-Body-Who-Asked.

My wife and I didn’t get married in a church (thank God we were on the same page). We weren’t rebels. We just didn’t feel comfortable pretending. “Oh, yeah, we’re totally coming back here every Sunday. Definitely. It’s in my phone so I don’t forget.”

We talked about wanting to find a church, though. We had conversations about our faith and how we’d want it to impact our kids when we have them. That talk led to finding a new church. One that isn’t even in a church. One that has an app and is on Twitter. One that teaches rather than preaches. One that might just fit us.

We walked up the four flights of stairs at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Rochester with a crowd of others. Young parents with their young kids. A trio of 20-something girls. A couple in their 60s and everything in between. As we reached the fourth floor, you could smell the coffee pots. It felt like parent-teacher conferences at first with so many kids bopping around. Bright signs above three or four rooms laid out where the kids should go by their age, and they scurried to find their classroom for the next 90 minutes.

Caitlynn and I, a pumpkin latte and vanilla coffee in our hands, respectively, sauntered in slowly to take it in and hope that no one noticed the posers that just showed up for the first time. We feared judgement. Was that a hangover from past church experiences? I don’t know, but it faded. It faded partly because it wasn’t a traditional church, it was a theater. A band was on stage ready to play, a projection screen behind them was lit with a timer counting down to the start of the sermon. It was so … young. The pastor was a 30-something-ish bald guy with thick black frames and jeans. His white collar wasn’t covering his throat, it was just the undershirt to his plaid button-down. He made mention at one point that his church–Grace Road–had built a strong following of 20-somethings. Impressive, because that age group is the least religious in the country.

What I saw over the next 90 minutes was, for lack of a better word, inspiring. An image that I knew would last was that of a married couple about five rows up. They were in their early 20s. She was pregnant. And they held hands as they swayed to one of the songs, his left hand raised in the air like he was trying to catch God’s foul ball. Next to them was a woman showing more tattoos than un-inked skin. The band played songs most had never heard before, but people sang anyway with the words projected above the stage like a giant karaoke bar. If you didn’t sing, you didn’t feel bad. If you sang, you didn’t care how you sounded. I watched as people were truly engaged with what was happening in front of them and thought: “This is how the thirsty drink.”

I quickly put that line in my phone to remember it for this blog.

This is how the thirsty drink. How the hungry eat. How lovers kiss. When nothing else in the room matters but you and that glass of water, that plate of food, or that girl in your arms.

When it was over, I dropped my wife off and went to work. I thought about it until I got busy and likely didn’t spend more than five seconds on it until after 9 p.m. when my day was over. It didn’t change my day. I’m not reborn, just refreshed. And a little relieved. Relieved to feel OK about doing it differently. It’s not a hipster thing or a millennial thing or a cool thing. It’s a good thing, even though I’m not sure what it is yet. But we’re gonna go again. Totally. It’s in my phone. Plus, if we oversleep, we’ll listen to it later on the app.

Works for me.


Ever wonder what God would sound like if he prayed to us?

I interviewed a monk recently for a story that will be published in the July/August edition of Post Magazine. The story is about how this particular collection of monks has developed a pretty popular brand of bread, Monks’ Bread, and orchestrates a lucrative, high-tech bakery within the walls of its otherwise solemn monastery.

Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to leave without asking my own questions about religion, faith and practice that would find no home in my 700-word article. I don’t often seek out religious figures. I don’t go to church after 13 years of Catholic schooling. My wife and I didn’t get married in a church or by a priest. It’s something we’re still figuring out, so I had take this chance. We spoke for about 40 minutes, which is an immense amount of time out of a monk’s schedule. And among the things he said that stuck with me was this:

“There’s a line in a poem [‘The Dry Salvages’ by T.S. Eliot] that says, ‘We had the experience, but missed the meaning.’ This is very true, especially in our very frenetic, 21st-century world that all of us have had experiences of grace, but frequently we miss the moment and it doesn’t have a chance to sink in because we’re already on to the next thing. So, we keep looking for new experiences but the experiences we’ve had haven’t had a chance to sink in and be appreciated. If they had, a lot of our questions may have been answered. In monastic life with a slower pace, these kinds of simple, repetitive manual tasks are opportunities to absorb one’s experiences, to digest your experience. All of us, most of us, right now are going around with these half-digested experiences. We need down time to catch up and let things sink in.”

Father Isaac is as thoughtful a man as you’d expect from a monk, but he didn’t say this–or anything for that matter–in any ‘holy-er than thou’ tone. I may not know what I believe in, but I believe what he said. We have experiences every day that happen so fast we fail to feel them. A conversation, a glance, a song, a breeze–so regular are these that we refuse to notice why each is unique. That it can teach us something. That it did teach us something.

Weeks later, I was at work shooting the shit with my friend, Christine. She and I banter quite a bit from one side of the bar to the other (I tend bar every so often). I couldn’t tell you how we got there, but I brought up the concept of flipping the script on a prayer.

“Imagine how happy God would be if you just started a prayer with: ‘Hey, God, how was your day?'”

She paused and I can tell she likely never considered it (how many people have, right?). I continued the banter as I usually do with what felt like humor but now feels like perspective.

“So there I was controlling the weather …,” I say, impersonating God with my hands hovering over an imaginary Earth. We both start laughing because, ya know, how ridiculous is that? A real ‘What if God was one of us?’ type of thought. It was funny. The moment passed and we went about our work, changing the subjects to drink orders, how slow it is, and how much we can’t wait for summer.

That was weeks ago. And I think I finally felt it: the prevailing wonder of what God would sound like if He prayed.

“I need Your help. I can’t do this alone any more. I feel like there is so much pressure on me to make things right, and I don’t know if I have the strength to do it all without You. I mean, I work so hard every day to be all things to all people, and it’s like they don’t even care. It’s like I’m invisible sometimes. Like I don’t exist. I feel like I have all of these great ideas on how to help people, but no one wants to listen.

Are You even listening?

Please, give me a sign. Just show me that you understand how much I care. You can change things so easily if You want to and I don’t understand why You wait for me. What can I do that You can’t?

Help me. I can’t do this without You. Please.


This makes sense to me. Not an omnipotent, omnipresent God, but a helpless God that needs Us as much as We need Him. He’s busy controlling the weather. And gravity. And throwing more coal on the sun. He is limited by Us and Our dependence on Him to carry Us.

But We are the rock that God himself cannot lift.

Not every moment we digest is religious or spiritual, but the content of this one just happened to be that for me. Others will be about being a husband, or a friend, or a writer. Father Isaac’s words won’t always hit me when I need them because he’s not here to speak them again and again. I have to apply them to moments as they pass to make sure I take what I need to take from them. That was his point, and at least this time I was listening.