By Vernon Felton
To say that we were Catholic just doesn't begin to describe it. Hell, I owe my very existence to the Holy Roman Catholic church. My parents met at a Catholic singles night in 1960, quickly married and despite being flat broke, began cranking out little Feltons with the kind of urgency that would shame a rabbit suffering from sexual addiction. Some dude in Rome with a funny hat decreed that condoms were strictly for sailors and Frenchmen and voila, I was born. Thank you, Paul VI.
I spent the next 18 years staring at a very bummed out Jesus-on-the-cross and wishing I wasn't warming a pew because let me tell you, we were church-going fools. Rain or shine, at home or on the road, sick or healthy, we never missed mass. Never. Every single week of my youth was spent in church, in confession, at catechism and on particularly cruel Saturday mornings, cleaning the yard behind the rectory (the priest's personal crash pad).
Here's the thing—even though much of that time in church was fundamentally good—I had to wonder, what would a life without church be like? I found out when I went to college. Suddenly, I could sleep in on Sunday. Or surf. Or ride my bike. Or, praise God Almighty, do all of the above in one freakingly awesome orgy of everything I loved. I stopped going to church immediately.
The Prodigal Son
But then I had kids. If you don't have any spawn of your own, feel free to roll your eyes at this point in the narrative, but children really do change everything in your life. Where you live, what you eat, how you talk in your own home… everything. While I'd thoroughly enjoyed my two decades of not nodding off in a pew, once I had kids, I began to reassess my decisions. I wasn't in church because I disagreed with the fundamentals of Christianity, I stopped going because it was inconvenient, which is as half-assed a reason as any. So, just as I had gotten into the habit of buying kale and lying to the kids about how much I loved eating the stuff, I now also began dragging my kids to church on the weekends.
It's a good church. The ethics are in line with mine. The people are welcoming. It's heavy on the introspection and light on the hate and smiting. It works for me. But, oddly, I think I feel further from God when I'm sitting in a pew. Here's the thing: our church offers exactly one service per week, and it basically devours my Sundays—the day I'd previously reserved for riding.
He made weekends for a reason
I realize exactly how trivial that sounds. It sounds, in fact, like I'm simply kvetching about not being able to exercise, but it's bigger than that. Cycling grounds me. I pedal away from my house with my heart full of turmoil and anger. I come home a happier, gentler and flat out better man.
My neighbor's dog took yet another dump in my front yard? I wave to him and put it in the trash; hey, if it wasn't his dog, it'd be mine, right?
My four-year old just painted the Sistine Chapel on living room wall? Her version of Michelangelo's best also happens to look like a deformed version of Big Bird from Sesame Street sporting a giant erection? No problem. I'd been thinking about painting the house a different color anyway.
Spending my day in the woods, purging my demons and leaving it all out there on the trail is the one thing that allows me to come back to the world and deal with its crazyass, without blowing a gasket and leaving a swath of burning buildings in my wake. Riding gives me perspective. It gives me peace. It makes me better. If church does that for you, power to you. By all means, keep going and keep the faith. But church doesn't do that for me. I honestly wish it did … because here I am, listening to the minister talk about connecting with a higher power and all I can think is, “Man, this is a waste of a perfectly good Sunday. Lord, I wish I was riding.”
I like to think He understands.