I was raised atheist and believing in God. My mother believed in God, but not Jesus. She wasn’t a practicing anything, but her family was Catholic. My father had been raised as a heavy Christian. Nuns with rulers, people going to Hell, that kind of thing. I never gave religion or spirituality a thought, other than the time my grandmother visited. We never practiced religion or spirituality. Maybe we practiced pragmatism? We were taught to work hard. The same mentality of go to school, go to college, get a good job, get married, have kids.
My father’s mother (my other grandmother, not the one who lived out of town) was heavy religious. She would pray every night. Her apartment was filled with all these religious artifacts. She was crazy! At least that was my thought. Didn’t do grace before meals though, so that was kind of odd. Did I mention she also believed in a cult leader?
With all this, I was still indifferent about religion. My father said there was no God, and I thought the same until one day my mother said, “Okay, you don’t believe in God, but if you were down to your dying breath, what then?” I realized she was right. If I was dying, I would ask God to save me. From then on, I realized I had always believed in God, or a God. My sister said I was a deist. I’m not really big on labels. All I knew was, I wasn’t bat crazy like that grandmother, but I thought there was something out there.
Think of the Flanders family from The Simpsons and that’s them. We all played together in their sandbox, and by the time I was twelve, we still all played together, though they were 3 years younger than me. So one day their mother invites us to go to this Christian thing. My father was against it and my mother was for it. My father wasn’t the type to stop us from doing anything. He encouraged us to try things. He had grown up in the '60s, so his mantra was “If you want to try it, go ahead.” So marijuana was in! (Never smoked that stuff, ever).
We went to this thing and my sister and I got separated because I was too old to do the arts and crafty things, so I had to go to this other room with the older kids. Picture a room with a hard floor, a rectangular table with chairs around it and at the head of the table a big lady. Her first statement set the tone for me: “What was your favourite part about the children’s group?” I had never attended that, so I had to make up something. I thought games maybe? Instead I said singing. She smiled and said “That’s good, we’ll be doing a lot of singing here!” Great. Can’t wait. Get me out of here. Another guy said games, and there was laughter in the group, and the lady said sorry we won’t be doing those. So everyone pulled out their bibles and we got to go through some bible scripture, I forget which one. I didn’t have a bible, but I got to share with a nice guy who sat beside me. After that was done, the lady said next week we’d all get to bring in some music and she will tell us what God thinks of it. I wish I had listened to the music I do now back then. Because then I could’ve brought in some Alice Cooper or Metallica.
When we get home, my parents asked how it was, and I said I didn’t like it, and my sister thought it was okay, but she wasn’t into it. She got to play games and do crafts, though! My mother was happy that we at least tried to learn about God, and my father was happy that we proved his atheist religion right.
Even though I had that experience, I still believed in God, and that was frustrating, because I knew I wasn’t like those crazy people in that group. I didn’t think people should go to Hell. This got worse as time went on. Another person I met, when I was in my early twenties, was an ex-coworker. I happened to be in a mall writing in my diary and she sat down with me. I was having something to eat before going to a poetry reading. We talked and she had some kind of problem so she was talking to me, and then brought up something about her being a virgin, and then had to explain she was Christian. That’s when I pulled out the book I was reading from my backpack: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It is strange how God brings people together. She was happy because she didn’t have anyone to go to Youth Group with her, so I went with her instead of the poetry reading. She mentioned I might not like the music because it’s rock music, but they have a good sermon. It was nice, lots of teens, she was probably 18 or 19. I fit in, sort of. I was always the older person, but it was fine. She was right. My induction into the world of Christian Rock was frightening, but it was about trying something new. After the musical worship part, we got separated, boys with boys, girls with girls, but at least it was more decent than that other experience. Then the next few weeks I had to work and then one day I had that day off, so I went to this place, but there were adults there, and instead of the youth pastor, there was this old Reverend and he handed me this worksheet. Some bible study thing. So I sat in the pew while we all did bible study and some lady raised her hand and wanted to know about some geography thing, and these people were so serious, like University students, that I wanted to get the heck out of there. Never went back. I forgot to mention that that girl I met was against abortion and could not understand why I was for it, because “abortion is against God’s Law.”
Years before this, our family was in a car and it skidded and I prayed to God and we landed in a snow patch all safe. Another incident was late at night, my sister got a call from my mother saying our father, who was divorced from my mother, was swearing and not in the right state of mind, so not to let him in. So I went to bed and then I heard this pounding on the door. I thought, God, please don’t let him in tonight because I don’t have the strength to do anything. I really prayed hard. My dad left. The next morning he came and punched my mother in the head, and the next day would be Thanksgiving. Even though that happened, God answered my prayer and I was sold.
But I would always get these crazy crackpots that would invite me to church, and I would go and then somehow I had to change who I was because I would go to Hell if I didn’t. I read through the bible and got to the part in Sodom and Gomorrah, that famous passage about man shall not lie with man. It really bothered me because I believed in Gay rights, but here God was saying you can’t be gay. So I respected God, he was cool for saving me, but I kept my distance, too.
Then I found First UCC SL. By accident really. My friend Leelee and I worked together in a club in Second Life. She was hosting at another club, so I went there too because she’s a great host. She said right after she’s going to church, so that got me curious. I mean, I already attended a church in SL, but they weren’t big on abortion or gay people. Didn’t really understand what UCC was, but another church in SL couldn’t hurt. The experience I had in that church that day was amazing. Not just the sermon. They believe in an extravagant welcoming and they’re not kidding. In this church were gay people, transgender, and I don’t know what else, but I didn’t even care, and neither did they. Even better, I did some research on these guys and found an interview with Pastor Jer and he talks about that passage that bothered me for years. When he got to that part, I was practically talking at the screen saying, “Yeah, explain that!” and he did. Yes, that passage says what it says, but there are other passages that say things about women, and we don’t follow those. I was sold then. I finally accepted God fully. It was like, "I knew it, I knew you were kind and loving and thought the LGBTQ community was great."
The bible studies at UCC are great as well. There’s none of that "you’re going to hell" feeling. Rev. Jerome wears shorts, sandals, and a shirt and when he goes over a passage, he talks about archaic words and the time of the passage. He never says how this applies to our life though. Because that’s our job. That’s what I love.
I usually work on Sunday mornings in real life but this one day I had it off recently, so I went to a RL church ... or I should say, offline church maybe, because the UCC in SL is now considered a real life church. This offline church welcomed me and I sat in a chair, listened to really loud music which made me cringe a bit, and then a sermon which was nice, but which I couldn’t really relate to. Had a hug from a nice kid, and a lady asked me how my family was, thinking I had a wife and kids, so I said they were fine. But in my heart, I knew. I knew if I were to say, “Hey, this was great, but now I’m going to go home and relax, dress up in some women’s clothing, though I haven’t got the makeup thing down yet,” they would freak out. They wouldn’t kick me out, but they would keep their distance. And of course pray for me.
UCC is different. They wouldn’t really care. Not because they were uncaring, but it’s something they see every day. I’d probably get cheers, or even makeup tips. I feel I can be myself in this place, without judgement. Even better, their Sunday service is in the evening so I can always attend, and if I can’t there’s always a Psalter I can attend or a morning meditation.
My name is Daisy, and I am happy to be a member of the UCC!