Monday, June 13, 2016

Orlando and Orthodoxy

A couple years ago I was in my bedroom studying, while the girls partook in the semi-daily giggle fest and slap fight known as "bath time" in the next room.
"Lily, watch this. Ohhhhhhhm..."
"Maya! You shouldn't do that! Meditating is praying to the earth. And we pray to God."

I was up so fast the curtains swayed in my breeze.
"Who told you that?!" I demanded, when I came upon the youngest sitting with her legs folded, and hands facing the ceiling, forefingers and thumbs pinched. The oldest trying to wrestle her out of her pretzel position.
"Nobody!"
"Come on! Where did you hear that?!"
"I....I don't know!", my oldest said, concern mounting over my tone. I calmed down, then patiently explained to her what meditating is: an introspective practice with ties to various faiths. But that meditation could also be a very secular way to chill the heck out. She understood. And to celebrate, I taught her to meditate to ease herself to sleep. Such a worrier, that one.

When they were just born, an atheistic relative of my ex-husband's questioned the fairness of raising children in a particular faith tradition. "Indoctrinating them", he claimed. Not giving them the opportunity to try on and decide as an adult, as if faith were best formed from sampling all on the smorgasbord of options. I have to admit, he had a point. But there is another point: something is better than nothing. It was our belief system; and sincere in our hearts it was true, how could we not share it? Considering we felt it had a direct impact on the direction of our lives and the eternal delight of our disembodied souls it seemed more than a little important. Yet.

Yet I had to concede I wasn't sold on the idea of raising fundamentalist children. I had only been on "the inside" for a couple of years by then, and I couldn't help but to notice in my lucid moments, that orthodox faith was it's own subculture, as much as it was a religious practice. The facts were we listened to Christian music almost exclusively, and hung out with Christian friends, and only watched movies that were deemed "clean", and we prayed constantly, and there were Bibles everywhere in the house and scripture was always on my lips. Not to mention the Sunday mornings, and the Wednesday nights. The women's bible study, the small group, the Christian counselors. It seemed to be a tiny bit...insulating, to put it mildly. Further, if they were to attend Christian school 7 hours a day, how much more so would they be shielded from people who didn't look, or behave, or believe, or live like them? How would I raise them to not be narrow minded and exclusionary? How could I tell them about the world, and communicate that different was not bad? How could I raise them in a fundamentalist faith, then ask them to make room in their hearts for the outsiders?

I got my first opportunity in the summer of 2011.

"Mama, can a boy marry a boy and a girl marry a girl? Or does it have to be a girl marrying a boy only?", came the five year old voice from the back seat.
I smiled to myself. It was happening, and served to me on a platter by the first baby and her big adult questions.
I told her it was funny she'd asked, because that week our state had made it legal for two girls to marry. And we have a cousin who is about to marry her future wife, and it will be real! And legal! And your aunties are married already. And we love them, right?
"Yep!"
"Well, some Christians think being gay is a sin. But we know that God loves everyone and that's just how they were made. Love is love."
"Okay!", she said. Satisfied with my logic.

Because, for better or worse, there is no larger "god" in a child's world, than a parent's influence. And I knew from that moment, my daughters would be okay. They could spend five days a week in a school that danced around creationism and evolution, that made intimations about certain "lifestyles" and our sin nature. A place where the colorfulness of society as a whole, and all it's creativity, was not well represented. And go to Church. And memorize scripture. And what they would get out of all of that is exactly what they needed, and none of the extras. Hope for the future, comfort in sorrow, and a sense of purpose and direction. Hatred, narrow mindedness, and fear were checked at our front door.

I was piecing this together in my head today, while reflecting on the terrorist act in Orlando. There is so much to tackle about our violence culture, our gun culture, the way society socializes young men, the easy accessibility to weapons, nationalism and religious fundamentalism that one hardly knows where to begin. I explained what happened to my children and they questioned the motive, naturally. I theorized that it seemed to be because he personally did not like gay people and perhaps his religion played a role. They scoffed that his religion must be pretty awful. "Well," says I, "his beliefs are not much different than what a lot of Christians believe."

They can't wrap their heads around that concept, because to them, their brand of Christianity is it's essence. The one where all are welcomed, accepted, and appreciated and none are condemned. The one where science and faith can dovetail if we are creative and flexible in our understanding of scripture. The one where the highest call on our lives is love and service. The one where they see Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Animists as their spiritual cousins. The one where we are all sinners, yet at the same time none of us are - we're just people. The one where they concede that if everyone believes something different, and each insists upon their rightness, then many of them must in fact be - wrong. And their acceptance that they could be within this group. And then I saw this montage of scenes in my head:

The outrage over Trump suggesting Muslims should be banned: "What about M?!", my distraught oldest cried over a Muslim friend, who babysits on occasion. Whom they love.

"C is a boy now," the youngest casually mentioned after she came home from playing with a little girl they'd been hanging with for years, who's parents enabled her to identify herself henceforth, as him.

"Am I understanding this picture, right? Did we come from apes?" the oldest bravely asked after seeing a cladogram at the zoo. Patiently listening to evolutionary theory, she didn't seem to care how science conflicted with a story she'd been told her whole life about human origins.

And all these memories made me concede that his cousin was both right and wrong. On the one hand, I've known plenty who were raised with no exposure to religion at all, even educationally, and it has made them less likely to investigate faith as an adult. How many of these miss out on walking a spiritual path that could have deepened the experience of being human? It's impossible to say. That said, being raised atheist or agnostic is not the danger to society that raising children in a fundamentalist faith seems to be. Can I compare an adult who believes and teaches their children that homosexuality is caused by demon possession, with another who walks into a homosexual nightclub and blows fifty people away? Is it fair? Sort of. It grows from a similar seed, doesn't it? While it may be that it was nationalism that loaded his gun, it is no coincidence that it was pointed at a room full of "sinners".

Spirituality is great. I talk about how great it is, in general terms, all the time. But fundamentalism can be, and often is - dangerous. The insular culture, out of necessity, creates a mentality of the righteous "us" and the unrighteous "them". Those not in the fold, not like you, are dangerous. Many come to see them as a threat to their beliefs, their safety, their very way of life. I attended churches that advocated we not be pulled by the lure of unbelieving friends that could lead us down the path to destruction. I find it interesting that while I was adhering to this, I instinctively knew it would be a bad thing to impart to our children. And so gradually I turned off the Christian rock, and let them stay home from church at their choosing, and decide for themselves when they felt grateful or afraid and wanted to pray.

Religion, lets face it, has been the catalyst and excuse to wage the most despicable wars, horrific acts of terrorism and barbaric crimes against humanity. From Christians shooting up abortion clinics to modern Jihad via terrorism. From the Crusades to the biblical grounds for segregation and slavery. From the least to the greatest, religious orthodoxy has been responsible for more destruction than any one other human-driven cause. It has to be said - I can't name an atheist who shot up a movie theater or women's health clinic, in the name of science.

No, religion doesn't produce crazy people. Crazy knows no religion. Neither does hate. But beliefs that inherently exclude other people and their behavior, that label outsiders as unacceptable, when taught to a child, can and do produce intolerant adults. That come to hate those who are not like themselves. That can then funnel their inner fears and rage and psychic pain into eradicating people who are easiest to blame, though they've done nothing but live to the fullest expression of their humanity. Adults who can be so afraid of that otherness that they persecute, and maim. And kill.


Though I know very little for certain, one thing I am absolutely sure of, is that God does not want, need, nor honor these human sacrifices. But weeps over our ignorance, and violence - our foolish, childish, destructive ways as we battle one another for dominance.

I want to challenge any religious parent within the sound of my voice to consider the effect you are having on your children's ideas about other people by insulating them from those with different beliefs, and by telling them that people without heteronormative, biblically based lifestyles are sick, or evil, or doing something bad. Kids don't separate "doing bad" from "being bad" too well. And isn't it best to err on the side of love? It is not ignoring the directive of scripture to teach them to love their neighbors. All their neighbors. It actually sums the whole thing up quite nicely, according to Jesus. How about we leave the separation of sheep and goats until they are much much older? Or preferably, never.

May the souls viciously ripped from their human houses in Orlando yesterday, be received into the eternal light and love of God. And may the light of love always and forever overshadow the deep darkness of hate. Let all the people say:
Amen.



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

You Can't Mess This Up

That's what I tell the kids. No, not my kids. But my proverbial kids. A group of precious and brilliant young college students I have collected in my travels the last two years. They call me "Aunt Shel", and I call them "babies". We are learning from each other. From me they learn to be a grown up who isn't boring and fusty. From them, I learn to stay present and have fun. We ask each other questions. Some go unanswered and for some we go deep deep. Together, just like it is with you and all the people that you get together, we get through it.

Being human is confusing and painful. It's supposed to be fun but sometimes it just isn't. Even when you look around and it so obviously is, there is some disconnect inside you. Something that doesn't fit. I have so many reasons to be content but I am not. So many choices to make but am paralyzed by making them. Why can't I just move forward and be like everyone else? Probably because you are scared, I tell them. And you have every right to be. This shit is scary.

They ask me questions I can't answer with confidence. What should I do? Who should I marry? Will I have a happy life? But they are hung up on details all the time. A test, or a boy or a part time job. Which school? Which blouse? It makes me remember my restless casting about at their age. For something to ground me. To give me assurance that I was on the right road. And that everything, eventually, despite the impossible odds - would be okay. So I tell them one of the only things I am certain of down in my toes. As certain as my eyes are grey and my kids are nuts and that this is the 21st century: You can't mess this up.



Lemme 'splain something to you. Anything that was bound to find you, will. Anything you were meant to do in life, you'll do. I think we can get so hung up on whether we are walking on the RIGHT road that we forget, all the dang roads lead to the same place. If you are meant to connect with someone, it doesn't matter if they live in a cave in Alaska or a hut in Thailand. You will suddenly get a hankering to see some caribou or eat some pad thai, and find them. If your brain possesses the raw material to cure a rare form of cancer and that is your destiny, you can start out at MCC or Carnegie Mellon or as a goddamn fry cook. All roads will lead to your discovery. But can't we change our fate? Maybe. Maybe on the small things. But I believe with my whole heart that we each have a mission in life to accomplish certain tasks, and to help others on their journeys. And this was all decided well in advance. In that vain I don't really believe in "the one who got away" or "the blown opportunity." I want them to understand. And you. And me. Your life is not some cosmic dice roll, nor is someone pulling the strings. The universe, in the spiritual sense and physical sense is chaos, but this chaos and seeming randomness is also quite orderly. All you do, effects everyone else. And the big stuff? It fits together like a puzzle. Since it's all decided already, your choices just determine how painful or blissful the journey is to those fates.

As they fret over which class to take, or what to be when they grow up, or who to date - I wish I could just cup their sweet faces in my hands and tell them it doesn't really matter. It feels so big, but it is actually quite small. Instead I smile serenely, and simply admonish them: you can't mess this up. To know this, is confidence. Now let's put it into practice.

Godspeed.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Brave.

It was this time two years ago. I was on my way to take a college placement exam, and I had never done such a thing before. Actually I hadn't taken a test in 16 years. I'd spent the previous two weeks teaching myself all the basic algebra I never learned the first time around so I wouldn't have to start in a remedial class. My hope was to go to our community college as a science major, and then transfer into the medical tech field. But I did poorly in science in high school. And even worse in math. On top of that, the nice people in the Admissions Department had told me two things:
1) Do something easier.
2) They never take transfer students over there, so if you do well, it doesn't matter anyway because they won't admit you.

I cried as I drove to campus. I had only been there once when a friend held my hand to show me around. It was big, and I was afraid of being lost. And standing out. Afraid I would bomb the test. Afraid what they said in Admissions and the Career Center was true. Afraid that the words my detractors said were true: that I would quit. That I was really just avoiding being an adult and getting a job. And worst of all, what I said to myself: I might not be smart enough to do this. Being a mom and an adult student AND a science major was tough enough, but trying to do it while my life imploded, was insane. But that's not why I was crying. I was crying because as I drove I put on the radio and the Sara Bareilles song, "Brave" came on. When the song ended I switched channels and it was playing on that station too. I began praying as I approached campus, and when the song ended as I was parking, I switched the station once more.

"Brave".

Again.

And I sat there and sobbed. Not because I was scared, but because I heard the message. I knew right then, that despite what everyone told me, including what I told myself, I was going to make it. Every semester, every test, every damn step of the way I have had to give myself a pep talk: that I was able to finish this, and it would not all be in vain.

Next month I graduate. Remember that school they told me I couldn't get into? I got in. Remember how hard it was supposed to be? I did it. With honors. The day before graduation I will be awarded, along with just 1-2% of the graduating class, an academic distinction for a final GPA of over 3.95. It turns out I am not a creative. Or not JUST a creative. I love science. And I excel at math. And no one laughed at me. And when I got lost, I found my way. I made great friends with faculty and younger students both. And I did it all while watching many of the things I had known and hope for for 14 years, leave one by one.

What stands out for me now is how certain I was in the fall of 2013 when I set my heart on medical sonography, that I could do it. That I was MEANT to do it. Because I believe in trusting your gut. I believe in telling people to shut up. I believe in positive mantras. I believe in selective hearing. I believe in hard work. And I believe in taking risks. So many women in my situation: uneducated stay home mothers, fade away, working minimum wage type jobs, fighting to raise their kids right and make it on their own; living constantly on the edges of a raging storm. But I refused to be one of them. And really, after all, it only took two things to walk a different road. Hard work. And hope.


I know it's corny, and you are probably tired of my pollyana spiel after years of my yacking about it. But you are not some victim here. There's a lot of people, it seems, floating downstream - submitting to the will of the wind and current, not realizing they've been sitting on a pair of oars. This nation is an unkind place to women, and minorities, single parents, and the lower socioeconomic classes. Yet it is still a place for dreams. It is still a place where hard work does pay off, if you refuse to submit to what "they" decide your life should be. One of my goals in life is to participate in leveling the playing field for people who weren't as financially fortunate as I have been, who are shut out of their dreams before they even get started. For the rest of us however, I accept no excuse for mediocrity. What a waste of a precious and unique life. There is only one person just like you, and if you aren't where you need to be, where you dream to be: move, dammit.

As I go forward with my schooling and on into my career, I'll take all these lessons I learned with me. About trusting in a force larger than myself. Trusting that when I need a hand, and reach out, one will be waiting there to take it. And trusting myself.
You do the same.

Godspeed.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Bad Wolf

Three minutes into the video my ten year old, who has been watching silently, blurts out, "I don't want to watch this anymore!", slips from the stool and runs upstairs in a trail of confused and pained tears.

I tried to get her to come back downstairs because I needed to talk to her about what she saw. A video of Donald Trump claiming to a reporter that he does not condone or incite violence, overlaid with incidences of him bragging about the good old days when a demonstrator would be taken out on a stretcher, him encouraging his audience to 'knock the crap out of ' people as they were removed from the building, and images of his supporters, shoving, punching, kicking, spitting upon and verbally assaulting people who took advantage of their rights to peacefully assemble. You've seen them all, ad nauseum. But I don't want to debate whether he incites violence, or whether none of this would happen if protestors just stayed away. This isn't really about that. It's about me. And my kid. My kid who wants everyone to be happy and healthy and at peace. Who is dumb enough to believe that presidents should act presidential - should be kind, decent and say positive things. It's about my kid, but it's also about all of your kids and what you are attempting to teach them to be. And the gross double standard of supporting this person, and then admonishing your child to be kind and loving and tolerant and respectful to their teachers and classmates and the annoying neighbor kid. This is about what my child did next. Instead of turning around and coming back down to talk, because she was too disturbed by what she saw and was worried I'd be upset she didn't want to see it., she texted me from her room:


So you know, I had told her ahead of time what she was going to watch, and she had asked to see it. Am I a bad parent for showing her a video of a presidential hopeful speaking and images of what goes on at his rallies? If the words of a future president, in a public address, and the actions of the people who support him are not fit for children's ears or eyes, then pardon my language, but what the FUCK are we doing?

I went upstairs to find her lying in bed, looking sorrowful and sheepish. She was worried I'd think she was weak for not wanting to see.
"I'm not mad you couldn't finish watching. I'm sorry that upset you. But, do you know why I was showing you that?"
She shook her head.
"Because in the 1930s there were good Germans. Germans who heard and saw what was happening. First what their leader said, and then what he did. They stood by and watched their neighbors get taken away. And they were silent. I know it is hard for people like us to watch that. To think about this person being in charge, and all the mean things he says and believes. But we can't look away. We can't be silent and pretend it isn't there."
"But what can I do? I'm just a kid."
"You can keep being you. You can keep standing up for people at school or on the bus when they are picked on. You can tell your friends if you hear them saying they like Donald Trump or that their parents are Republicans, the truth about him."
"But I can't vote. Neither can they!"
"No. But they can go home and ask their parents who they support in the election. They can go home and ask mom and dad at the dinner table if they think someone who says such dangerous things and lies so much is really the best guy to lead us."

She was furrowing her brow.
"But I don't understand why people support him. How could anyone think he should be president?"

How could I explain to her that his rhetoric appeals to our basest animal instincts? Fear and aggravation, fame and greed. The lust for power and dominance and insulation from harm. How could I explain to her that there are a whole lot of people out there who think this is fun, like a reality TV show. Who like that he is anti establishment..."different". Even if different is monstrous?  And that otherwise good people are being swept away by a tide of nationalism and fear? What words to use that a ten year old would grasp?

"Remember the story about the wolves? Inside of us there are two wolves. One wolf is love, mercy, patience, compassion, peace, light. The other wolf is anger, violence, darkness, greed, and fear. And they are battling every day inside you. Which wolf wins?"
"The good one...?"
"No. Whichever one you feed."

I admonished her to keep being herself, and feeding the good wolf. And I would challenge anyone within the sound of my voice to do the same. This has been cute and all...fun times, laughing at the spectacle. We got our hit of entertainment: the lions in the Colosseum, and we the people - the jeering bloodthirsty fans. But this is not a reality show. This is the fate of our republic, and the world is watching us. Maybe you don't give two shits that people in Lisbon and Paris and London and Melbourne think we are foolish, doomed to repeat history and destroy ourselves. But what about the little set of eyes that peer up at you each night as you read them to sleep? What about what they see in you? Are they too innocent and just don;t understand how the world works? Or is it you who are that jaded and pessimistic?  I get that you are fed up. That we are no longer a democratic republic, but an oligarchy. That none of our politicians work for us, but for their own greed and acclaim. But that doesn't mean we have to cut our own noses off to spite our face. Show you a better option because you hate Hillary and can't stand the other guys either? Bernie Sanders. Don't like him because you don't agree with his policies? Start writing some letters and making some calls to your representatives. March in the goddamn streets like they did in Egypt in 2011, and overthrew their corrupt government. But don't do this. You can do better. If you can't do it because you care about the rest of the world, or the rest of America, do it for the little humans that you made, who will inherent your legacy. I beg of you who support him: pray for wisdom. And once that is out of the way: fight the bad wolf. The one on the platform leading us to destruction.

And the one inside yourself.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This is Morning

This is the last photo I have of our dog Moses. Fifteen minutes after it was taken, he stopped breathing in my arms.


I documented his last days and shared them with friends on Facebook. Not for pity or sympathy, and not for those who loved him and couldn't be here to bear witness. But because he is important to our family. And because it's real. Death is real. And I believe that when we don't talk about it, we lose some of the depth to our humanity.

Working in hospice highlights what I've studied in college about death: here in the west, dying is taboo. I've seen family after family blow the opportunity to say the things that never got said, only from the fear of admitting to themselves what is happening, or upsetting their loved one who knows damn well they are dying. Family often treat patients if they were just on vacation, and will come home soon. In our culture, death seems to be a disease that can be overcome, if only we could find a cure. It's okay that death makes us uncomfortable. But why does comfort always have to be the most important thing? Death is reality. For you and me and everyone we love. We are all going to die. One hundred and fifty years ago, before our society began outsourcing the mortally ill and deceased onto hospitals and undertakers, a child my daughters ages would have attended numerous funerals, many right in their own front parlors, some of them for children. And as girls, participated in the bodily preparations of the deceased. They would be acutely aware of the tenuous hold we all have to earth, comfortable with loss, and have appropriate means of coping with grief. When our culture shifted the care of the dying and deceased out of the hands of families and into the hands of hospitals and death professionals, we lost something significant.

Recognition that our time is finite, in an intimate and personal way, cannot help but have a profound effect on our relationships and how we choose to live. What we hope for, and believe in. When my dog was given at most, a few weeks to live, it came out of nowhere and hit our family like a train. We'd loved this boy for near 12 years and had him since he was six weeks old. He was our first child: gentle, silly, happy, and friendly - there was no one who met him that didn't recognize how lucky we were to have such a great friend. I knew this would be painful for my daughters, as their fist major loss in life, but I also knew that if they lived a normal life span it would be the first of many. Their grandparents, their father and I, other relatives....maybe their spouses. Maybe their own child. How we handled this lays a foundation going forward. We will face this honestly and openly, with compassion. We would celebrate him while we had him. Little did we know it would only be for 2 1/2 days.

As we brought him home from his dad's to be with us, we threw the normal rules out the window. We fed him rich tasty meals, allowed him to sit on the couch or in our laps, and let him lead on the leash: whatever he wanted. He was the star. We took photos and snuggled and laughed at the funny faces he made. As you can see from his last picture, he was a clown right to the very end. When his body very unexpectedly was failing after a mere 2 days, I amended the estimate and let the girls know it was going to be soon. Six hours later, it went from "soon" to "right now", and they had to make split second decisions whether to attend his euthanization or stay back and grieve with their dad. Each made a choice that felt right for them, and I admire both of their bravery. My oldest courageously sat in the back seat with him, petting him and quietly weeping. She came into the room and saw his leg shaved and catheter placed. She hugged him and spoke to him and said how much she was going to miss him. His last few breaths were his characteristic puggy "pig snorts". When the light left his eyes, I cast mine toward the ceiling, knowing his spirit was rushing away from me and this decaying world.

"The dream is ended. This is morning."
C.S. Lewis

Death is no fun for the living. But I believe that crossing through physical death brings us a spiritual life that has no pain, and never ends. I am confident my boy lives on somewhere, the sight restored in both eyes, body completely healed. He runs in endless fields on legs that never tire. As he slipped away, I whispered the only thing that makes sense for me.
 
 
"Mama loves you. You've been such a good boy. I'll see you soon. Run as fast as you can into the light.

Godspeed."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

No Admission Fee

In another episode of my continued blathering about faith, I present to you the most revolting lie ever foisted upon the human masses, which came to me via an innocent Facebook "like" from a sweet Christian acquaintance. What could she have said or shared that made me physically recoil, and make tears spring to my eyes? It is seemingly innocuous to millions of Christians, as I suppose it is, the very crux of the faith. Here it is:
This is, I am sorry to say, an outright deception that wonderful- earnest- genuine- humble people, and an equal number of self righteous asshats, believe. Let's get something straight first: Christians come in many flavors. The world loves to hate evangelicals and their tendency to preach their faith and isolate themselves, vote together and avoid (shudder) secular society. But they're not all like that. I know, because I was one of them for ten years. Many of them...hell, I'd say probably most of them are really cool and normal. They swear and get mad in traffic and watch The Walking Dead and throw back some wine on occasion. Though, yes, some of them are just like the people that the media loves to mock. But they're okay too. Ya got to cut them a break. After all, we all want to belong to something. Many of those who weren't raised in it, found an anchor to cling to in a world that feels like one giant endless hurricane. And it helped them. I respect people's fervor and joy to belong and right to profess an ideal they think will help humanity. I do it all the time myself. Actually, I am doing it right now.. 

But this. This is where I draw the line. And my question is, can I even kind of call myself a Christian anymore if I don't believe in this? I have to face it - what the above purports is the basis of the Christian faith: you, my dear, were born a total piece of shit (morally speaking, let's not bring your flabby unappealing body into it). And unless God had sent a piece of Himself, in the form of His only spiritual offspring, the deity-man Jesus Christ to pay the admission fee into His presence, you would be 1) absolutely abhorrent to Him 2) stand literally zero chance of ever seeing Him. Stop me if I am wrong, but if you didn't suck so bad, Jesus wouldn't have had to die. Right? His death would have been inconsequential. And in that case he is little more than a really swell dude who came here to show us our own power to love, to heal one another, to seek the counsel of God, and do generally awesome stuff. And since I believe that you are not born a broken worthless nothing that should be so lucky God would allow you to be in His presence. I guess I can't really call myself a Christian.

I've been thinking that for a while. I guess I am just using this as a means to tell you. And to tell me. They'll say,"oh no! God wants to know you! He loves you and longs for you. It's just that....you are a tiny bit yucky and dirty. And well, if you let Jesus into your heart, He is willing to overlook that soiled part of you." But that is really just lipstick on a pig, ain't it? Let's call it like what they say it is: you suck. You aren't good enough. Nothing you could do is good enough to earn your way close to Him. It's not because they said so, mind you. But because the Bible says so.

What does this basic ideology do to us? How can it not work to control your feelings and actions?  It's a  really good way to keep people in line. I know because it was done to me in many ways for more than a decade. And I'm not making this up - I stand on the commonly cataloged and studied psychological profiles of abused,  marginalized, and harassed people. The easiest method to control other's thoughts and behaviors is to diminish them. Tell them they are weak and pitiful and disgusting. Tell them no one wants them as they are. Scare them into believing that without the thing you offer they'd be alone, outcast, shut out into the dark forever. Abusers do it to their victims. Churches do it to their congregants. What a swell way to get people to do what you want them to do. Mind you, I don't think that churches do this intentionally or maliciously. But if you study church history and the evolution of the Christian message, you can't help but notice that since Christ's death, the list of rules and expectations got really fuckin long. You can't really help but break them all the time. Good thing we have a savior and a church to protect us. Otherwise...hell in a hand basket, baby. It's like everyone is walking around with Stockholm syndrome, afraid to piss someone off. I am not sure if it is God or their small group leaders. But it's scary I tell ya...and it feels like there is no way out. If you turn your back on it, you are literally waltzing straight into eternal suffering. If that doesn't keep you committed, what else will?

How can I continue to call myself something that I know others would say I am not? Thirteen years ago this month, I embarked on a journey to ease the emptiness in my heart that I'd felt since about 12 years old. There was a hole that I had tried to fill with anything I could find.Though I grew up Catholic, I'd been unaffiliated and antagonistic towards Christians for ten years. But there was this nagging... this desire for meaning and purpose that wouldn't let me be. I felt as if some invisible hand had me around the throat and backed against a wall. Like Jacob, wrestling with God. "Look at me! Acknowledge me!" it demanded every day. I couldn't distract myself enough and there was nowhere to run to. Christianity was presented to me, and I threw open my arms to it. It was the avenue to the divine mind I had been seeking. My new faith was so simple and pure, like a child's. It took years for me to turn into a frightened judgmental bigot, like some are wont to do. And then eventually, things started happening. Churches we attended were actively harming people to make themselves bigger and better. Little children, employees, women, and the underprivileged people they were supposed to serve. Church leaders gave me advice over and over, they claimed was from the mouth of God, that kept me in a very bad situation. It made me question what and who I was following. Eventually it made me question everything. What sounds right? What feels right? What did I know as a little child that they didn't teach me in Sunday school? Even at five years old I felt sure God loved me. I spoke to Him all the time. I spoke to Jesus and angels and ghosts and was comfortable with death. At 8 years old I looked at my first deceased relative in a casket and knew I'd see him again. That it was just as though he was in another room, and I was not sad for him, but happy. No one had to teach me these things. I denied all these instincts when I became a Christian and began listening to others' voices and teachings. Parts of it never resonated with me. But most especially, the above.

I am sad. I am sad that there are Christians trying to sell a relationship to God on the platform that you are faulty and He really doesn't want you like this. Or that He wants you in spite of what HE MADE YOU TO BE. This makes no sense. It spits in God's face. It puts Him on our playing field and ascribes our fearful human characteristics to Him: petty and small and prone to exclusion. But He is not that. He is not like us. He is infinite love and light. This angry and vengeful God in the bible, I don't recognize. I don't want him. I don't believe in him. God is love, period. Not asterisk.
Period.

I can't ask that Christians stop offering this message that they feel is going to rescue humanity from eternal damnation. So I won't. But I also can't pretend I am a Christian anymore, because I don't think they would want me in the club. The area we disagree on is the most basic requirement.

I don't believe I need a savior.

Yet, I fully expect to see Jesus Christ when I die. I believe He is real, and the most special man who has ever lived. I believe He came to point out the way to transcendence, nirvana... heaven.  And the guidelines for being an excellent human while we are here. But I don't think he stands in a gap. There is no gap between me and God. And no gap between you and He either. There is no list of things you must do, say, or believe. He is right here and accepts you no matter what, likes you no matter what, loves you no matter what. And when you die, there is nothing to fear. You will be taken by your ancestors to a place that knows only love, light and peace. No payment needed.

Amen.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Pebble and a Boulder

Into the woods I went on my birthday weekend. I'm thirty-six now, a highly unremarkable age. A number closer to forty than to thirty. Thirty six is old enough for chronic health problems and extra recovery time from exercise and over indulgence. It's old enough to think twice before wearing a certain outfit or height of shoe. I should probably stop saying "dude" so much, eat more things that grew from the ground than came in a cardboard box, get to bed more consistently, go to the doctor pre-emptively instead of merely playing defense with my health. Maybe I should make another attempt at finding a church? Maybe I should consider my retirement more closely (because if I don't start now, I probably won't get one)? I'm almost too old for a cute nickname, should someone want to anoint me with one. Maybe I should get a cat.

In the woods I do the things that I always do when my legs move and I am alone in the trees. I think things that there is never time or space to think otherwise. This was a really good think that I thunk up, too. In the last two years I went from somewhat reclusive and standoffish, to all in when it comes to meeting new people. As you can see, the topic of my blog posts have touched repeatedly upon connection with others. I suddenly saw all my connections branching out meaningfully around me. With each new person, an awareness that there are no accidents and a seemingly bottomless desire to seek more of these non-accidents. What will I be to you, and you to me? How will you help me on my path? Will you? How exciting, this wondering. It is impossible to come away, from even a brief and chance encounter, just as you were before. But who knows, until it is over, in what ways it transforms you.

I walked along thinking, what am I to people? Am I a pebble? Or a boulder? And what are they to me? Obsessed as I am with personal progress, believing that to be the crux of our earthly life, each person I meet becomes an opportunity to learn. Because I am difficult to teach, I have learned the most from the difficult people. If it weren't for certain others who challenged me, who became giant boulders to throw me off my path, I couldn't be this person. They changed the direction I was traveling, and how I took each step afterward. Yes, sometimes the ones you meet cause you to trip lightly and barely look up from the way you are going. Sometimes they change everything. It's thrilling, this moving together, to wonder where you'll steer me.

I learned as a Christian to be grateful for the pruning shears of the Maker, because He cuts the dead wood away. Yet progress is a theme in all religions. Consider Buddhists and their enlightenment, Hindus and their progressive kharmic reincarnations, Christians who believe we are to grow into the image of Christ until we are fully perfected in death. Similarly Muslims and Jews put a high priority on spiritual development believing more than a reward awaits in a next life. That to become, to be transformed in spirit, is the end game of our existence. And all sacred texts, in one form or another, believe that this is largely achieved through suffering.

I am very glad that's not the only means. Yet the biggest changes I've made were as a result of difficulties. I know there are many more ahead. And worse than I've yet known. I welcome those. I welcome all who will bring me pain. And to those that come so close and bring nothing but joy, you offer an opportunity to practice the skills I have learned. Love and patience, respect and encouragement. This now, is a quiet time in my life. Despite some minor health troubles that come from the wear and tear of being a mortal thing subjected to gravity and ultimately decay, I couldn't be happier. I feel the Universe has given me the gift of rest now. I labored long and hard, here then is the respite I earned. Success in school, happy children, safe and comfortable dwellings, and love everywhere I turn. For now. The very most important thing I learned of late, the thing at the top of the long list, is to be grateful to awaken each day. To eagerly identify ways I can be a pebble or a boulder, to change another's trajectory, while I search for those who will change mine. Each day, each encounter, each breath is an opportunity to get better.

I cant wait to see what happens at thirty six. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

Godspeed.