Category Archives: religion
When I lived in the North Carolina Mountains, I had a clothesline that followed me to three houses. Part of the reason for it was because it was cheaper than using a dryer, It also was because it allowed me a few minutes of kid free solitude. We were living under the poverty line then, depending on my ex husband’s family for the roof over our heads, and what little money he brought home doing manual labor and grading work. As his work was sporadic, and he had a horrible habit of drinking up a portion of our weekly budget every month, money was tight. The clothesline allowed me to save what pennies I could.
Life was pretty hard and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. I was frequently estranged from my parents, thanks to the ex, and my domestic situation was mortifying enough that talking about it to anyone was impossible. However I did have God. I spent to many hours at that damned clothesline pouring out my heart to heaven, pleading with God, over and over that my ex wouldn’t get drunk that day, wouldn’t do something to cause me harm, would find steady work, would just drop dead of a stroke. I did this on a regular basis until we moved to South Carolina, leaving the clothesline behind. I did this even though I never saw a single result, got a single response, positive or negative to all the time I poured my heart out while doing my family’s laundry.
A few years later, I finally ditched the man who had spent two decades making my life miserable. Soon after, I stopped attending church, having felt abandoned by the very faith and people that I had assumed were supposed to support me. Some where along the way, I had simply stopped praying. I don’t remember exactly when that happened, it just happened. I had reached the conclusion that I was being utterly ignored by the deity I’d been told I could rely on.
I finally had to accept that God, if such a thing existed, simply wasn’t interested or able to do anything to help me…or hurt me. If there was such a thing as deity, It and I were not on the same page, or planet or even universe. What was the hardest to wrap my head about was being OK with that utter doubt when it came to deity.
Once I came to that conclusion, Of accepting that deity may or may not exist, I found it to be a relief. I no longer had to worry about trying to get its attention, or make it happy with my actions or even me. Now if I could only get past the ramifications of bad religion and a bad marriage has wreaked upon my mind and body. That will happen…in time.
I miss my clothesline. I don’t miss the supplications that were ignored all the imagined gods and only heard by birds, my cats and the odd squirrel in a nearby tree. The the simple act of hanging up or taking down a load of laundry could be a wonderful exercise in mindfulness that I found needful. I have since discovered that being wrist deep in dirt, mulch, weeds and flowers works just as well if not better. Birds, my cat and the odd squirrel in the ancient oak in the back yard keep me company still. They just get to listen to my silence, as I concentrate on my task and put worry and life’s problems on hold.
Have you ever had questions that just bugged you, after reading something, and wanted to ask someone about it? Have you ever known asking those questions was just asking for trouble?- If so, than welcome to The Heresy Zone.
I’ve been mulling this over for a long time. I no longer identify as a Christian, or even a theist, but I find religion and its threads in the social fabric. I am still involved in my church and enjoy singing in a choir. I am on a board for an interfaith group that meets a unique niche in my local community. I have some dear friends who’s religious beliefs, some Christian, some not, have been quite helpful to me, as they have demonstrated wisdom, compassion and understanding in ways I couldn’t help but notice and try to emulate I also have had questions all my life, most of which I’ve had to wait until my 50’s to pull off the shelf and re-examine, or just read something and find myself going, “hmmm.” My questions on faith are of the type that would likely get me kicked out of Sunday schools, or Bible studies, mainly because I tend to look under the script and notice things people miss…like:
What did King Saul do with all those foreskin David paid him as a bride price for Michal?…and why foreskins?
How did the children of Israel and all their flock not quickly succumb to Dysentery once reaching their first oasis?
Those of course are the sillier questions. It’s the more serious ones that I’ve wondered over that, once addressed, actually guided me away from religious belief rather than closer. I just couldn’t be satisfied with scripted answers or those that seemed to avoid the question all together. The answer, “God works in mysterious ways.” has long seemed to me to be a cop-out. As questions led me to research history, sociology and the tenets of other faiths, I discovered that I am not the only one who’s wondered, questioned, and been left dissatisfied. That has led me to really want to know how others perceive deity, faith and how we live, especially those of us who have exited theirs.
Unlike many of my atheist friends, I’m not anti-religion seeing how faith can be an apt tool for people to deal with life, and for people to work together to help each other or those in need. Like many of my atheist and theist friends, I also see how faith has too often been used as a tool of terrible pain, destruction and horror. It is in that realm where so many of my questions lie.
I’ve always felt like a religious outsider, even when I was deeply embedded as a member of the religious community. I felt like I didn’t belong, and wondered, for so long why it was so hard to truly fit in. My writings on faith here at It’s a Misfit have helped chronicle my shift in beliefs, as well as my experiences in the Christian faith. Now I’m deciding to push on, and open a new chapter. You will notice a new category of topics from the list, called Isle of Disbelief. It is there where I will share my questions, silly, philosophical or even angry. I’ve come to believe that questioning things, being skeptical, even dubious is healthy, at least for me. Maybe you’ll join me. If not, I’ve discovered something else. Being a religious outsider isn’t all that bad, after all.
It was over. The last person to offer comfort was finally departing down the gravel driveway to head home. Mama had long ago pleaded exhaustion and was lying down in the second bedroom, and I was dismayed with size of the mess. Grumpily, I started picking up the Styrofoam cups that had found their way to every flat surface in Gram’s living room. I carried the first load to the sink and dumped out the half-drunk contents before throwing the empty cups into the trash. Then I went back for more.
As I straightened up the room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the day. It had been a long one with phone calls beginning at 6 a.m., followed shortly after by the first visitor to Gram’s house. Mama had decided her mother’s house would work as the place for people to gather. It offered more space and better parking than Mama’s condo. The fellowship hall at the Holly Ridge UMC, Gram and Mama’s church was undergoing renovations so it was unavailable. Somehow my grandmother’s little 1200 square foot home on Bluebell Lane had ended up with enough room for everyone. But I suspected it was thanks to her large yard that made it possible.
Despite what they say, the dead can’t wait, at least for a better time to deal with the task of burying them. We discovered, while sitting at the funeral home to finalize preparations for the funeral that Gram’s pastor was out of the country.
“He’s on his honeymoon, Isn’t it just the sweetest thing? They eloped” said Mr. White, the funeral home rep.
“Honeymoon?” Mama asked, “Isn’t Pastor Miller about my mother’s age?”
“He’s 79. He and his bride are in Aruba and won’t be back till next week.” The rep, who’s comb-over dated back to the Nixon era, crossed his hands on the folder that contained the paperwork for the funeral. “Now you can certainly choose to wait till he returns, and if so we can discuss the holding fee..”
“Isn’t there another option?” I asked.
“Well, we do have a list of pastors who rotate on an on call basis for those times then a dearly departed’s regular minister is unable to provide the necessary service.”
I looked over at Mama. She looked utterly worn out. I doubt she had slept 8 hours since leaving the hospital three days ago. She closed her eyes a moment, then said, “Alright. You have our denominational preferences, and I know she would have preferred someone a lot like Pastor Miller.”
Mr. White looked at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Ah, Pastor Eckhart is on call this week. He will perform a wonderful service for your mother,” He opened the folder and pushed some papers over to Mama. “Now if you will sign here, we’ll get everything taken care of just as you asked.”
Mama and I met Pastor Eckhart about fifteen minutes before the funeral. He was at least as old as Pastor Miller and I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hair that had once graced his scalp was instead growing thickly out of his ears. The elderly pastor had been quite soft-spoken as he introduced himself with fifteen minutes to spare before the start of the service. I stood awkwardly by the casket as people I barely knew continued to pay their respects. Friends of my grandmother, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, and some I didn’t remember hugged me tightly and commented on how much I’d grown while Mama and the pastor stood off to one side speaking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d long since mastered the growing up part, and didn’t even need permission to stay out late any more. I thought it best to keep my sarcasm tightly reigned, even thought I had inherited that trait from the woman currently in the casket beside me.
“I had to strain to just hear the man speak.” Mama whispered to me as we finally sat down in the front row. The opening measures of It Is Well With My Soul, began to play. “I hope those who have them put fresh batteries in their hearing aids.”
So it was a bit of a shock to the friends and family, most of whom were Methodist and expecting Pastor Miller’s usual gentle words words of comfort to sit through Pastor Eckhart’s funeral service. Instead of a gentle homily, the people packed into the funeral home chapel found themselves subjected to the exuberant style of the fire brand preacher from the First Apostolic Holiness Lighthouse Church.
“At least no one is sleeping through this service.” I had thought as I could feel half the room jump behind me every time Pastor Eckhart banged his bible down onto the pulpit. Sometimes someone would let out a surprised squeak as well. Mama was mortified. She had wanted a quiet service with little fuss. Between the cavalcade of relatives who’d been calling non-stop since getting word Gram’s passing, some of whom had asked at this morning’s viewing for Mama or I to arrange for a place to “lay their heads”, a mix up with which coffin was actually hers and a very enthusiastic preacher, quiet was hardly what Gram’s send off to heaven could be described as. I watched as Mama sat there, hands clasped so tightly together they were white, as she fought back the tears that had been threatening all day.
“Just think Mama,” I whispered to her, leaning so I could be close to her ear. “This will be over soon. Besides, just imagine Gram’s conniption fit over this spectacle. I bet it is taking a whole host of angels having to hold her back so she don’t come right down here and haunt the lot of us. Why, what she’s probably planning for Mr. White is likely giving St. Peter fits.” The pastor stopped in mid-sentence and scowled right at us, as Mama fought to get her laughter under control. He then got over his outrage and continued on about the wages of sin, as my mother took my arm and linked it to hers. She only let go long enough to get in and out of the car for the graveside portion of the service.
I remember my very first Christmas. We had a very small table top tree that possessed a few more needles than the one Charlie Brown had. There was a string of lights and a few ornaments, including a hand made cross tree topper that was fashioned from two sticks gathered from the front yard. The tree and the trimmings were borrowed, the year 1994, and the guilt I was feeling over that dinky bit of fake pine was nearly palatable.
Its a difficult thing to decide to do something you’ve been told your whole life was wrong, that participating in such a ritual was a sure sign of apostasy and that to do was was to willingly turn your back on God. It’s rather terrifying, wondering if they, the religious leaders you are now ignoring, were right all along, and everyone else, who is doing just what you are doing, is wrong. But then fear was a huge part of my religious construct.
Most of what I believed and practiced up until that year was because I was terrified of the consequences if I didn’t. I questioned the faith I’d been brought up in all the time. I just never voiced them. Fear kept them on a little shelf that resided only in my mind.
What did I know about Christmas? Oh the usual.
1.Jesus was not born on December 25. That day was a Roman pagan holiday and must be avoided at all costs.
2. Ancient Pagans had Christmas trees. Its right there in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:2-4)
3. Wise men, Mistletoe, Christmas trees, presents, Santa Claus, tinsel, carols, etc, are an affront to God and those who participate in those Satanic things will be thrown into the Lake of Fire
4. No true Christian kept such evil holidays, along with any other holiday that may remotely be attached to the traditional Christian calendar.
That naughty little list, along with the other teachings of my old religion held me back, kept me afraid, of God, of religion, of how others perceived me. But despite my spiritual and emotional terror, I have this one fatal flaw, stubborn curiosity. By the time my sad little tree was settled nicely in my living room, I’d spent a year in an ongoing comparative religion experience, splitting time between my old church, and a small Southern Baptist one that I’d been roped into playing piano for. That time helped me walk away from the faith that kept me in terror, and started me on a path that was brand new.
While my new religious path was initially terrifying, my fatal flaw went into overdrive. I began to understand the hows and whys that millions of Christians celebrate Christmas. I began to respect that there is a rich tradition and history to this holiday, and I began to realize that even the non-religious or people of other faiths can find some value in parts of this winter holiday. I also discovered that there are other major holidays that occur during the same period, practiced by people of different faiths, yet that get very little attention, outside those that participate. A comparative religions course I took a few years ago showed me that even though all faiths have their unique aspects, it is in what they have in common, that intrigued me.
Its been 20 years since that first Christmas and I enjoy this time of year, but religion has less and less to do with my personal celebration. I have never been able to go whole hog over it. I’ve tried, but the effort ended up feeling forced. I enjoy some of the holiday music that plays, leaning heavily towards the classics, Handel, Mendelssohn, ancient folk tunes and spirituals. I enjoy the decorations, but keep them fairly low key at my house. I love buying presents, trying to find the right thing for each recipient, but I’ve never been one to spend lavishly, mostly because our budget is small.
Yet my religious past, just doesn’t have me going whole hog over the religious aspects of it. I’ve tried, but just can’t make that leap. I find the story beautiful and endearing, and there is much depth and richness in the lessons of the birth of Christ. But my fatal flaw has me asking questions, that surround the religious tenets that surround this time of year.
But, I don’t have to be afraid anymore about how I celebrate a holiday. I don’t have to fear stepping out of the boxes of religious dogma. I no longer have to be in terror of questioning all things God. I can continue down the path, I embarked upon 20 years ago, at peace with where I am at as a skeptical mystic, who doesn’t quite fit within the boundaries of traditional Christianity. I wish at times, I still had that pitiful little tree. It represents a shift for me, a journey that began, even though has taken me a very long time, to discover that fear makes for a very poor aspect of faith, and is a terrible way to live one’s life.