does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Family Business

The evangelical ministry was the Mercado-Santiago family "business." My mother and father were both ordained ministers. Two of my mother’s sisters entered the ministry. Another married a minister. My uncle's wife embraced the ministry, one of several in-laws to do so. Some of my cousins are currently ministers. Nothing pleased my parents more than that their church produced more than thirty ordained ministers who went on to lead their own congregations.

Given that, expectations were high that I would also be a minister or at least marry one. To my parents’ disappointment, I neither became a minister nor married one. In fact, I left their religion altogether. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I reveal that I “attended” their denomination's seminary in my early teens. My overprotective mother, averse to leaving me alone with potentially sinful influences, took me along while she attended seminary. As a consequence, I sat in on every single class of Biblical history and hermeneutics, often silently arguing with the professor.

Some might say I am still arguing. Believer or nonbeliever? On a given day, I might fall into either camp. What I am not, repeat not, is a proselytizer. There is no surer way to get my hackles up than to come up against someone who believes I must be Saved. Aware of just how unfathomable the nature of reality might be, I respect anybody’s nonviolent attempt to explain the meaning of existence, be it in spiritual or non-spiritual terms. Just don’t try to convert me.

There was a second family business, the words business, and that one I did join. I already posted How the Rediscovery of My Father’s Words Led to My Writing Fiction. In the course of his long ministry, my father wrote well over a thousand sermons. As relaxation, he also wrote poetry, some of which is still recited in various churches. After he died, we found a worksheet, complete with editing marks, on which he had been composing a poem about the challenges in the life of a minister. That tattered piece of paper, which I have framed, constitutes the sum total of my material inheritance. Then again, that peek into my father’s interior struggles added to the valuable emotional and wisdom inheritance I also received from him. Here’s the first verse. On my other blog, I have posted the full text.

Cuando a tus puertas llegue el desaliento
When discouragement shows up at your door

y la tristeza minar quiera tu vida
and sadness wants to undermine your life

recuerda del Señor, su buen ejemplo
remember the Lord’s good example

cuando la embarcación estaba pereciendo
when the vessel was about to capsize

serenó a la mar embravecida.
He calmed the tumultuous seas.

Rev. Miguel A. Mercado

Oh, I almost forgot. My father’s mother at one time was supposedly a Spiritualist medium. So, having been surrounded by religious leaders and also being a preacher’s kid, are you surprised that I write about people coming to terms with religion and spirituality?


Sun Singer said...

I, too, have for years argued about the faith of my fathers in part because whatever my business was became the family's business, and they were ever anxious for me to find "a good church home."

In spite of the arguments, they did much to inspire me: quite often, I write of spiritual things.

You have, I see, been able to stand firm against a much greater "onslaught" of ministers close to home. But that's a lovely poem and I felt privileged to read it. We all find our own paths, often with the help of those who want us to follow their paths.


Jm Diaz said...

Yes, odd indeed that we both wrote about our fathers today. I'm gonna chuck it up to "great minds think alike". ;)

i enjoyed your dad's poem. its very nice (read it in spanish).

Thank you for sharing...

ps\\ really? A medium? That's interesting...

Michele Emrath said...

You have a poetic style to your prose. I truly enjoyed reading this pot. Thank you for sharing about your family. I found you through Jim Diaz's Ulterior Motive blog, and have come to stay!


Michele Emrath said...

Umm, I meant 'post.' My apologies.


Judith Mercado said...

Malcolm: I know only too well the advice to find “a good church home.” And, yes, there is much of value to gain from my family religious tutors.

Jm: I’m glad you could read the poem in Spanish. It’s so much better written than the English translation. And, yes, really, a medium … though I have no confirmation of it other than statements made by relatives.

Michele: so glad you have come to stay. About your comment regarding the poetic style of my prose, thanks. In my nonblog writing, I often read my stuff aloud and when it misses a beat I know I have to revise. Maybe I have assimilated a poetic cadence by osmosis from my father.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Bless their hearts, they mean well. But unless the message touches your own heart and moves you to action, there is no conversion. Converting is something that only a person can do for themselves. No one can *convert* another.

I don't like things crammed down my throat, but I do honor the ministers in my own family. They've done their best to set a good example. If nothing else, their example showed the importance of not neglecting the spiritual side of our lives.

I chose my own path. Sounds like you have too.

I do read your blog, although I may not comment every time. I've loved the snippets of your stories you share.

Ann Victor said...

Wonderful glimpse of what has made you who you are as a writer. You have a unique experience which clearly enriches your writing.

Wish I could have read your Dad's poem!

Judith Mercado said...

Sia: It has been one of my important life lessons to recognize that I honor myself when I honor with respect and understanding those in my family with whose views I disagree. They are, after all, part of the mix that created the person that I am. Thank you for reminding me.

Ann: You remind me of the same thing I said to Sia about the influence of others. I wish you could have read papi’s poem too.

A Cuban In London said...

It's interesting always reading about other people's lives and how religion was/wasn't an essential part of their upbringing. I enjoyed this tale of yours because I had a similar dilemma. My granny was raised a Catholic yet she worshipped the African gods, too. My auntie was a communist and so was her daughter but they both dabbled in the odd babalawo session here and there. My dad is an atheist, or agnostic (he's alway switching sides) but he is also a freemason. My mum is an atheist, too, or at least she brought me up as one, but now signs her e-mails to me with 'God bless you'. Like you, I am a product of that environment. I am an atheist but do read about religion as a cultural phenomenon and respect it accordingly. I don't bow to it, though and I am quite critical of it. Plus, I use religion as a humourous device.

I loved the content and honesty of this post. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Nevine said...

This was an honest and real glimpse into a life so the opposite of what I experienced growing up. My parents were not religious, nor did they require me to be religious. They filled me in on the concept of God, filled me in on the three monotheistic religions of the world, filled me in on some of the other religions, and when I was about 14, they told me I might want to read "the books". I'm not sure if that was the right way to go, but today I find myself a person who does believe in God, though I find religion to be a bit of a spoiler of the concept. I don't think that the intentions of religion were ever to constrain, but it is unfortunate that some religious leaders have led believers down that path.

I enjoyed reading your story immensely, Judith. It read like a bit of a struggle, what with the expectations for you to become a minister and your choosing not to go that route. I find the fact that you framed your father's poem very endearing. That is an act of love that transcends religion, and speaks of true love, from the soul. Thank you so much for sharing this, Judith. it was enjoyable, thought-provoking, and very sentimental at the same time.


Judith Mercado said...

Cuban: I loved your summary of your family’s religious inclinations, so different from mine and yet they seem to indicate that this religious impulse surfaces even against one’s intention. Why is that? Is it culture? Is there a genetic component? An intrinsic human need? History is replete with examples of how powerful a force, for good and bad, religion has been. Whether used as an excuse or the cause, religious issues have created great upheavals over millennia. My hope is that with greater cross-border communication, enlightened forces and not destructive ones emerge triumphant. Today’s landscape, though, is littered with examples of why that is not happening. I can still hope.

Nevine: I loved reading about your family influences as well. I think as I was growing up I might have dreamed about having a family like yours. Yet, now I appreciate my own family’s positive contribution to the person that I am. I find it interesting that with an upbringing like yours, you now say you believe in God, which leads me to pose the same questions I asked in my comment for Cuban.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I think it is an excellent topic to write about. However, I never thought about ministry as a "business"!

I enjoy your writing. It flows easily and involves readers.