The process of growing up – a process that seems to end only with physical expiration – is nothing if not a lengthy sorting task. Info goes in, filtered, considered, condensed or expanded, then kept or tossed. We are not static; in some way we change how and what we think every conscious day. There isn’t a point where anyone can say, “EeeYUP, that’s it, got it all, thanks,” and relax in certainty. Even if you SAY it and BELIEVE it, it still isn’t true. Your brain will keep working and sorting, despite any walls, fears, or laziness you may throw on it. It is a hungry machine. Information, feelings, values…all. One of the things you must sort out is a belief system, and then how much you believe your beliefs.

I was briefly raised in the Lutheran church. I say “briefly” because I bailed for good at age five. Tender age, I know, to embrace atheism, but that is how it went. I had two good reasons for refusing to attend church anymore. The one I told my appalled parents was that I didn’t believe in God because he wasn’t real. People kept talking about him like he was, but since I never saw any proof of his awesome power or commanding presence, I figured this dude was no more valid than the ghosts or monsters in my storybooks. At least the Tooth Fairy brought me some quarters. The reason I didn’t mention, figuring correctly that it would not hold much weight, was that I hated getting up early on Sundays and would much prefer to sleep in and eat the donuts my dad would bring from the bakery.

Why didn’t my folks’ make me go to church anyway? I can only guess, but it was probably some combination of not wanting to forever battle a surly, pouty, and resolute small mule, their quiet streaks of similar independence, and the fresh donuts. In later years – much, much later – both my conservative  parents would say that they thought organized religion was mostly crap, had some doubts about the whole higher-power thing, but weren’t totally giving up on some kind of…something. Spiro-tual Agnew-stics.

But for a few elementary-school summers, I threw my whole God Schmod attitude to the fresh-grass-and-farm-fertilizer-smelling wind, and eagerly signed up for Daily Vacation Bible School. As much as I desperately waited for summer break to arrive, the reality was that those three months were often incredibly boring. You could only ride your bike, watch TV soaps and game shows, listen to the radio, watch the clouds go by, try to catch fireflies in a jar, read, make up war games with the neighborhood kids so much…damn, that all sounds pretty sweet now. But nonetheless, the solitary organized option for summer fun was Bible School, which my mother thought might sneakily change my mind while stopping me from complaining to her in the kitchen how there was “nothing to dooooooooooooo.”

That first early morning getting ready for Bible School, the sun already brightly shining and making light patterns on the floor of said kitchen, I was in Mule Mode, pissed. My mom sending me to Bible School was just as much a horror as her making me cut my hair short against my Breck Girl wishes. We drove the few blocks over to the church, a disaster of modern architecture in anyone’s opinion, and she dropped me off. I am sure that I glowered so heavily it appeared as if my eyebrows had consumed my eyes.

Ready to be assaulted by religious rhetoric Romper Room, I waited, but the other Ked never dropped. Daily Vacation Bible School was…fun! Run by some high school/college kids, we played games, made crafts, did cool science experiments, ran races and obstacle courses. Jesus, too, seemed to be on vacation. The only time one was reminded that we were doing the Christian thing was at closing time before the moms would come bring us back home again for lunch. We would gather on the side lawn in a big circle and sing pop Christian songs like “Kumbaya” or “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” sometimes “Amazing Grace.”

It was then that I first felt in my tiny gut, the uncomfortable rumble of being a hypocrite. I didn’t want to sing those songs, or say those words. It made me feel wrong inside, in my heart and head. It felt like I was lying, as small and meaningless as the action may seem now. It felt huge to me.

But, of course, I sang along. I sang along and clapped and smiled with the rest of the kids and the counselors. Bible School was fun, and I wanted to enjoy all the action. I worried if I said anything or refused to sing and clap and smile that I would be banished from this little Garden, bring shame upon my family, an extra bad thing being that my dad was mayor of the town at the time. Mouthing the words to hymns I hardly knew, I looked at the faces around me. How did they believe in this? Why? Why didn’t I? Why is it so wrong to feel like I did? Why were my beliefs unacceptable?

The cost was only to me, those summer mornings as the moms sat in their long station wagons, waiting for circle to finish up, impossible for anyone else to see.