My entire life people have encouraged me to attend church. They’ve used any number of methods, including concern, commandments, fear, love, guilt and even force to get me there.
My personal favorite was reward. Go to church and I could have ice cream. Sit through Sunday school and I could go play afterward.
In the early days, it was force. I HAD to go to church or get punished. Oh, it never came down to choosing between Sunday school and having my hams tuned up by the old man. Even he could see the irony in that.
Most of the time it was either church or being grounded. Stay in Sunday school or no TV for a week. Because I received most of my formative education from cartoons, that simply would not do. I went to church.
I was crammed into my church clothes, forced to wear that #$%@* clip-on bow tie and then sullenly hauled out to the station wagon. Going to church was like being transported by the Department of Corrections.
Later it was guilt. Wasn’t I afraid of going to hell if I didn’t go to church? Not really. It always sounded more interesting than heaven, especially if heaven was anything at all like church.
Note to religious instructors of all faiths: If you had simply convinced me that hell was an eternity in church listening to you, I would have been a star Sunday school student. You couldn’t have dragged me out of the place.
Then — every once in a while — I started going to church with the idea of improving myself. I had this crazy notion that if I made a conscious effort to behave, I just might not die of a drug overdose or an alcohol-related moment of idiocy. Or at least it would reduce the odds.
I went on a mission. Stayed for the entire 24 months, too. Church then was automatic. I didn’t mind so much because staying home meant having to listen to my companions whine about (our) my lack of commitment. At least at church there were other people to talk to.
Then I got married and went to church out of love. Leaving in the middle of priesthood meeting to go get waffles made my wife sad. It didn’t matter that I might disappoint other people, but it was a personal goal of mine to make her happy.
I’ve since been to other churches out of curiosity or family obligation. Most were interesting at first. But then the novelty wore off — usually by the second time — and they were every bit as boring as my own church.
Ultimately I decided to keep going because I wanted to be there. It’s where my friends are. Plus I’m older now and can pick a pointless theological fight if I get bored. Being there out of choice is immensely liberating.
But last Saturday something happened that I never thought I would see. I was planning to go to the priesthood session of LDS General Conference when the church told me not to bother.
LDS Church spokesman (possibly imaginary): “We will not allow journalists access to Temple Square during conference. You can just stay home. Especially ... ahem, Brother Kirby.”
Official permission to stay home from church? Really? Was a lifetime of being a disruptive influence finally starting to pay off?
I didn’t have to go. Instead, I went out to the desert and shot off cannons with Sonny for General Conference. Apparently it was what Heavenly Father wanted of me to do. Best church ever.
Robert Kirby can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.