Archive for September, 2009

Today on my lunch break, I looked out the window and watched the rain flirting with the sidewalks, the leaves frenetic with the wind, swooping against the brick and steel of the downtown buildings. It was all so beautiful- the capricious joyfulness of nature against the diligently planned office buildings, skyscrapers, sidewalks, trolley lines. I imagined an ancient, eternal seduction happening- a stern and dedicated God, so focused on rules and laws and progress and geometry, being daintily, scandously seduced by the colors and flippancy of the impertinent leaves, the shock and scandal of wind against the skin. I thought about human beings as the love child of the tempetous relationship between two warring, loving Gods- one of the Law, the other of Joy- and I thought about this happening on a scale of eons.


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Annie Dillard, in her “An Annie Dillard Reader” (which, note to self, must send copy to my sister in law), has an essay on the book of Luke, in which she meditates on the notion that the disciples as revealed in the book of Luke are unvarnished, slow witted, rough men with tempers and appetites and foibles and weaknesses that make them seem so unappealing to her- and yet the power of the book of Luke lies in that God loves *these men*, and Jesus loves them enough to die for them. A powerful notion.

I get so incredibly frustrated with religious folk- but in particular, I must admit, Christians- who seem to act as if believing in God gives them license to leave their brains outside of the door that leads into the room of intelligent discussion. (Behold, exhibit a: )

I get frustrated with them, in part because it’s just embarrassing to share the general umbrella term “Person of Faith” with people who- well- who seem to just not be capable, or willing, to think rationally about things. But I also get frustrated because I feel things like the above noted Cameron fiasco make it that much easier for intelligent people to dismiss God. Which makes me sort of sad- for them and for God, I guess. Not because of any notion of salvation, or anything like that- but because, from my rather limited vantage point, it’s better to be open to ideas and experiences than it is to be closed to them, and because *I* have really really been overwhelmingly fortunate in the experiences I have had in my relationship with God, and I don’t want others to be seperated from that because of bad PR, you know?

And then there is the part of me- let’s call it the reverse pre-mil part of me- that kind of feels like God is hanging out in the sky or the shadows or something until we are ready for him (her/it)- and that the longer we take to get our collective acts together (be kind to each other, not be idiots), the longer God holds out on us. I am aware of the extreme magical thinking here, and the presumptions, and I’m embarrassed to even admit to myself I have these ideas in my head, but there, at the just only barely conscious to myself when I am dead tired part of my brain, there are those ideas.

But then I think about the book of Luke as interpreted by Annie Dilllard, and the utterly scandalous notion that God loves us all, as is, and delights in us, as is, and we only need to do whatever it is we are striving to do. This doesn’t excuse or justify anything, it just means that God is maybe, ultimately, outside of the realm where the foolishness of Kirk Cameron’s banana (and of my current pointless irritation with the man) are meaningful, or as meaningful as something else, something that both his and my foibles somehow are a part of.

Anyway, that might be a bit sublime for me to stay in for longer than the sort of three second opening up of my heart to humility that it gave me. In this physical, ragtag world where ideas have consequences, I think there is a moral obligation to wage a sneaky war against popular ideas that are foolish and idiotic, and my current weapon of choice is laughter, so I will continue to laugh at the methodology employed in this video. But I’ll also go to bed and try to remember that God, whoever or whatever God is, smiles in his or her heart when she sees Kirk Cameron, and that that smile is a thing I need to remember and honor.

(Another post: ok, Kirk Cameron is one thing. It’s not like I’ll ever interact with the man. But how do I lovingly have discussions with friends and family members who see no logical disconnect in the ideas espoused above? )

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A thing that is hard

Is being respectful to people you disagree with who are disrespectful to you. This is one of those religious teachings that is so hard, which probably makes it so necessary.

It does make you wonder (well, it makes me wonder) why the feeling of being *right* is so important. It makes me wonder a lot about the ego, and about my ego, and about me.

But I’d just rather actually be acknowledged as right, to be honest, than have those kinds of thoughts.

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Today is one of the first days of the rainy season. Where I live, this marks the beginning of months and months of grey- the sky from morning to will be varying shades of heavy, wooley grey, and pavement perpetual wet and deepened to a velvet hue. By spring, I’ll be sick of it, but today I’m grateful. Rain feels healing to me, after the heat and frenetic pace of summer, rain is a gentle lull, a balm. My cat and I cuddle with each other, and in a bit I’ll start the crock pot with something warm and slow cooking, and spend this Labor day catching up on various tasks, domestic and (hopefully, God willing) creative.

When I was a little girl, and lived in another place, this time of year would bring dark, ponderous thunderstorms. The rain would lash our windows, already warped and bubbled from being a century old, and wind would whip the trees into a frenzy. The thunder would roll over us, and I’d imagine the fury and the gravity of a sea above our heads.

My mom would light all the candles in the house, and then put on something from her youth- Neil Young, Joni Mitchell- something lonely sounding but at the same time folksy, familiar. We’d drift congregate in the candle lit kitchen to make a meal, then pile on the couch in the living room, to talk quietly under bundles of blankets, the darkness in the room made warm and loving by the flickering candles.

Here we don’t get thunderstorms. It doesn’t even get very dark during the day. Merely oppresively grey. But maybe tonight I’ll break out the candles, anyway. And sit with my loved ones, telling quiet stories, blankets and pets covering our laps. Maybe I’ll play Mr. Young, and listen to his nonsensical, beautiful myths, and maybe there will be something that moves in my heart, vibrating to that memory, a connection moving forward and back, forward and back.

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I don’t know what it is that makes other people believe in God. I can’t even tell you why I do. Some thoughts about it.

When I was sixteen or so, I was very religious. I grew up in a family that was Christian, but not particularly enthusiastically so, at least by that time. Earlier, when I was younger, our Christianity stuck a bit more thoroughly- we prayed before every meal, and my mother had bought, from an honest to god travelling book salesman, the complete children’s illustrated Bibles, which had 21 volumes and some really impressively colored illustrations of the ancient Hebrews and the end times. I loved those books and read them often, laying on my stomach in our library as lilac branches hit the 80 year old windows of our farmhouse. We attended church and did not take the lord’s name in vain, we contemplated Jesus’ birth at Christmas and his resurrection at Easter. We came from a family of priests and nuns and rebellious sons who turned protestant, and my mom and dad, who’d gone through their own rebellious stages in the form of hippie free spirits, were hippie free spirits of the Jesus Freak variety.

All of this, though, was largely without a lot of thought or contemplation. We were Christian in much the same way that we were farmers who drove our cars into town for kerosene for our heaters, and in the same way that mom attended PTA meetings and my siblings and I did our homework each night. There were certain things that simply existed as real, and you accepted those without much question: the soft wooded hills, the advent of snow in November, men in straight legged jeans and the actuality of God as revealed in the Bible were not things you argue about or ponder, but things you accept as real and then navigate yourself around or against. Or even in opposition to- we knew “atheists” who renounced their faith in God because they were mad at him- but even then, the center held. The reality of God wasn’t what was being challenged, just his fairness and competence.

I think of those sixteen years as a period where I swam in a stew of religious thought and perception, imagining this stew was the ocean, not realizing it had boundaries, both geographical and cultural. The first time I met a person who didn’t believe that God existed, I was dumbfounded. It was like meeting a person who told you, in words, that he didn’t believe in the existence of words. My brain just didn’t have the ability to compute what he was talking about.

I have read, over and over again, that the imprints of our earliest experiences, and how we observe others interpreting those events and have been taught to interpret them, have profound and irrevocable effects on a person, and I suspect that part of my faith is simply a result of having been steeped, as it were, in the liquid of it for so long, and from so many directions.

But I don’t think that is all. My brother and my best friend are from that same cultural stew. My mom and my dad, too, maybe even more so. None of these people believe in God. Faith for them was a kind of outer skin- it protected them for awhile, or it suited their sense of self, but then became superflous or silly, and it gradually sloughed off. When I speak to them about it, I ask them if it hurt, losing their faith- if they were scared or sad or desolate- but they just sort of shrug and say it wasn’t a big deal, because they were just being honest with themselves.

I don’t blame them. They have good reasons. My father finds it impossible to believe in that there can be an omniscient and loving God in a world so full of misery and suffering. My brother finds it impossible to accept the premises of the Bible over his own observation and logic. My mom finds the behavior of so many Christians- petty and judgmental- to be so far from their stated faith that she finds the faith itself laughable. And my best friend simply thinks its madness to put faith in the unproveable.

I don’t blame them, and I also don’t think they are wrong. At least, if I saw the world the way they saw it, I would not believe in God either, and I don’t think they are wrong to see the world that way. The most I’d say about it is that it seems to me to be a thing between them and God, and if God isn’t in any great hurray to make converts (which, frankly, he doesn’t seem to be at all) of intelligent, thoughtful people, I’m not going to do it for him.

I also don’t disagree with their arguments. Like my loved ones, I’ve done my own share of sloughing off. The finality of the Bible as the starting and ending of what God wishes to convey to us, for example, is a notion that I abondoned- not in a gentle forgetful way, but in a full blown heaving it over the side of the grand canyon way. The certainty of God’s personality- that, too, I feel certain that I lack the qualifications to discuss. As I’ve mentioned, as important as Christianity is to me, I’m not a Christian. In fact, at sixteen, the height of my religious pitch, I made a very serious and (to me, at the time, devastating) decision that my conscience would not allow me to be a Christian any longer- given the perimeters of what I knew a Christian to be at that time, I could not and would not worship a God who would doom people to hell for (for example) loving someone of the same gender, but would accept people into heaven who mocked and tormented folks who were different and miserable and outcast. In fact, I would not worship a God who sent anyone to hell.

(This was how I found out, by the way, that my family had sort of silently abondoned the game in their own hearts, and were just paying along with being Christian for my own sake. When I told my mom that I was no longer a Christian, I was terrified. What if she thought I was going to hell? What if this devestated her? To my surprise, she just blinked and said “Oh, yeah. Well, you know, I haven’t been one since you were about nine or ten years old.” Further, incredulous conversation (after a lot of tears and laughter) revealed that she had given up her Christianity around the time I was 12, but that, just in case it was all true, she hadn’t wanted to sway me. Further conversation revealed that my brother had recently announced his atheism, and that my dad had never believed in the first place).

But somehow, through that all, the centrality of God, his beingness- that remains for me. It hasn’t remained with certainty, or without tremendous misgivings, qualms, dark nights of the soul, etc. God is a lot more mysterious to me than he was when I was 16, and a lot less accessible at times.

But this core remains: at the heart of it, I love God, and love the world God created, and I love God and the creation more than anything else I know. And at the heart of it, I feel loved and cared for. It is a strange kind of love, to be sure. God seems pretty blind to my flaws and to my virtues, and mostly seems to laugh at me- but I feel that who I am at the very core of my being is known to God, and seen as good. I suppose that my religious practice is trying to get to know other people, even for a moment, as God knows them- who they are at the core, at the stillness of themselves. Separate from what I want or need or fear from them.

I write this, and I am writing about things that I know and experience, and I think about my atheist friends who would say “core? stillness of themselves? love that doesn’t respond or rush into save you or even communicate with you? what the fuck does that mean?”. And here is where I get confounded. Some words- some ideas- they speak of things that either you know or you can’t know, but is that ok? Specifically, is it ok that I have this sense of being loved if others do not? What is up with that? I don’t want a God that doesn’t love everyone with the same passion and intensity as I want him to love me. But I don’t think I’m delusional, either.

The other reason I believe in God- everything is so transient. God is the only alternative that allows for what is impermanent, what will give way utterly, to have meaning, to be saved and seen and honored and remembered.

(And of course all of it- my need to be loved, my need to love something greater than myself, my need for their to be some narrative which, even if inaccessible to me, binds it all together without leaving anything out, and which is a beautiful story- all of those needs do not for one instant equate the necessity of God’s existence. But it certainly does mean that I would be a fool to not allow myself such faith and hope as the universe allows. So, ergo, with lots of pain and wrestling and frustrating, I have faith in God.)

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It’s true, I am a total heathen when it comes to spoofs of historical figures and the facebooks they’d have.

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For the record of full disclosure, I am a kind of spiritual cheerleader for Christianity.

I’m  not a Christian.  I don’t think.  I mean, while I believe in Salvation, both in that it is a real thing and that it is needed, I don’t believe that the only path to Salvation lies through acceptance of Jesus as our Personal Savior.    Other things I don’t believe in which I am pretty sure make me not a Christian:  the Bible as literally the word of God.   Jesus as God incarnated.   Hell.   Christianity as superior to other religions.

I know that Christianity is a vast and complicated religion- that it is about as unified as the notion of the color “Red”, which has it’s own deep internal clashes, but it seems to me that for words to have meaning, there needs to be some limits, and accepting Jesus’s self testement “I am the Way, the Truth and The Light, No Man Goeth Before the Father Except Through Me” seems a pretty basic litmus test for Christianity.  Which I fail.

But, at the same time, I don’t think I’m altogether *not* a Christian.  I do believe in God.  I do believe in the inate brokenness of this world, and of the need to rely on something higher than oneself to be healed.  I do believe in a Divine Plan, of sorts.  I believe that the stories in the Bible contain tremendous truths and wisdom, and I turn to them to comfort myself when I am feeling despair or weary.   I believe in the Christian notion of sacrificial love, and I believe that our souls are eternal, and travel far and do much after this life.

I’m not altogether sure right now if my state of abeyance regarding my own inability to either come or go regarding Christianity is of my chosing, or is of Gods.  Do we chose the things that resonate within us as true?  I want to be open to being a Christian- though at the same time, I am not at all open to being the kind of Christian that-well, that makes people cringe when the term Christian is brought up.   And I am aware that many of my friends, who pretty dubiously accept my theism, would feel really betrayed if I took it further down the judeo-Christian path.

But for all that I am unsure whether I am a player or on the sidelines, in the Christianity vs. the Dustbin of Historical Ideas that ultimately Failed, I am on the side of Christianity.  I think it is a religion that has such tremendous potential to bring such light and healing to the world.

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