Category Archives: What I’m thinking about

Things that are on my mind.

Isle of Disbelief


islandHave 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?

Or

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.

 

Until Then, I will Sit


stadium-seatsI did it. I sat through the presentation of colors, the invocation and the national anthem at a local high school game. I sat, because I love the country I live in. As much as I love it, I am bothered by so much of what I see. I am also bothered by what I see as a near compulsory demand for an adherence to ritual while failing to truly understand, that for many Americans, such rituals ring hollow. It is for them, after much contemplation that I sat.

I sat for the people of Flint, for whom profit mattered more than safe drinking water, for the residents Standing Rock for similar reasons. I sat for those serving long term sentences for minor drug charges while those who commit violent crimes go free. The injustice, often along color lines is an ongoing injustice. Even worse, profit comes into play, when we as a people care more about the bottom line more than our neighbors, I find silent and complacent is something I cannot be. So for those who suffer at the hands of corporate interests,  I sat.

I sat for the victims of war…the men and women sent to fight for ideology and control of resources than ignored and abandoned when they got home, damaged, broken, hurting. For all the rhetoric about support for our troops, I find there is less substance than we are led to believe. We spend so much for the tools of war, yet the most important ones, the people we send into harms way, our nation invests so little. We’ve been in some kind of conflict for so long, that a time of true peace, is an unknown.

We send our sons and daughters, expecting them to set everything aside, celebrating what we believe is their patriotic duty to be cogs in the mechanics of war, and we rarely question why.. I am reminded of  Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps. The poem talks about the festive celebratory air that often occurs when we prepare for war. There is a line that says: 

The tearful parting—the mother kisses her son—the son kisses his mother;  
(Loth is the mother to part—yet not a word does she speak to detain him;)

Whitman proved to be quite prophetic in the lines of his poem as we prepared to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. How many mothers and sons never got to tell each other hello again since?  It is for this poignant reasons, that I hate the dark arts of war. We celebrate war through our patriotic rituals, yet rarely stop to count the cost. It is because I feel that the price is too high, that I sat.

I sat for every homeless child, every person working three jobs to make enough to feed their families, for everyone who is a victim of violence, for every person who has been subjected to the hatred of bigotry and racism, and every person who must decide which to pay, rent or medical bills. I sat for every person who came here for a chance for their future and for that of their children, fearful that they will be denied it for lack of a piece of paper. I sat for those denied that chance to even try to come here because they are from the “wrong country” or of the the “right religious persuasion. 

I, a white, middle aged grandmother, made a simple patriotic choice and went against the crowd.  I am of the mind that we can truly be a country that understands what freedom means, that it is a responsibility, an honor, a purpose, and that we are only free when all of us can be equally so. Until then I will sit.

Be A Pebble


In this world ofripple instant information, being an empath can be a challenge. People like myself sometimes physically feel, or close to it, the emotional impact of what happens to others.

Acts of violence and atrocity that I read about can make me want to weep. It makes one like me feel frustrated helplessness. Every time I hear how people fear, hate, every time I hear, or read about people who have such little disregard for humanity of others I want to somehow wade in and fix it, But I can’t.

If I could, I’d take every refugee, every victim, every sick, lost and abandoned soul home with me. But I can’t.

If I could, I’d turn every fist, every gun, every bomb into bread, butterflies and flower gardens.

If I could, I’d take every hate filled, greed and power hungry cleric, pundit and politician and make them hold hands until they learned to be nice to each other and to us. But I can’t.

So what can I do? I’m just one ordinary woman, a single person in a vast ocean of humanity. I can’t stop terrorism, or convince politicians and pundits to listen to the people and really work to make our world better. I can’t tell people and businesses to stop turning our planet into something that even planet destroying aliens would pass by as a project not worth bothering with. I cant reach out across an ocean and dry the tears of a person who’s life has been torn apart by war, or help bury their children, or even ensure they have safe place to lay their head tonight. I can’t even fix the many heartbreaking problems that are all over my own community.

What frustrates me even further is those who see our helplessness, and our tiny attempts to let others know we care, and scoff at our attempts as inept and ineffective. While technically they are correct, they are also quite incorrect. While changing a profile photo to the flag of a nation who’s just suffered a tragedy or a symbol to commemorate support for a disease, or other symbolic imagery, is small, it has a way of letting others know that we do care and are at least trying to understand.  Our scoffers are just as frustrated as we are, but they prefer mocking our tiny attempts, demanding instead that we do the impossible, fix the big ones.

I want to be a pebble. My tiny drop in the ocean of humanity rippling out, meeting other the ripples of other pebbles, who meet other’s ripples. I want us to all be pebbles.  I want our tiny ripples to be the mundane, but still monumental actions of making someone smile or laugh, or helping a beleaguered mom with two kids and her elderly father, load groceries into the car at Walmart, or by buying a coworker lunch even though they brought their own,  by giving blood, giving clothes I don’t wear away, buying a package of socks and giving it to the local soup kitchen.

Yes they are tiny acts, those little waves of caring, but when one act prompts another, and then another, and then even another, the potential…oh, the potential is limitless.

It truly bothers me when people complain about something like changing a profile photo as a sign of solidarity with those who are suffering. It saddens me when they want to deny those who are in need. By saying no, by being willing to turn people away, or blame them for their plight, and then turning around and trying to ridicule us for caring.

They don’t want to be pebbles, thinking such a thing beneath them. They are denying the impact of the pebble, seeing it as insignificant ripples while standing on the shore. They fail to see how far one ripple can carry, or that it always returns to us, acting as a gentle kiss of reminder of why we threw ourselves in.

For those of you who don’t want to do the insignificant.  I understand. It may be just that, insignificant. But I also know one ripple, or one attempt to reach out to help another can carry further than any of us could ever imagine. So I’ll continue to toss myself in that ocean, while hoping someone’s ripples, maybe even mine, will soon reach your toes.

Stained Glass


Hanging on a wall in my bedroom is a square of glass. Its a stained glass scene of a sun peeking through the mountain tops as it rises for the day. My grandfather made that stained glass scene, using pieces of colored glass that was left over from the squares that are part of the windowed feature wall at my grandparents’ summer home. The jewel colored glass themselves are from France, ordered by my mother who had once worked at the glass factory they were made. Both my grandfather and my mother have passed, him when my son was small, my mother when I was.

My grandmother, who just celebrated her 101st birthday, advised me to take a few pieces from the home she’d spent summers in my entire life. When she suggested that I do so, I thanked her, then left the room. I had to compose myself.

It was then that I realized what that house has meant to me, and that my visits to that beautiful mountaintop location would soon be coming to an end. All that would be left were memories, photographs and a few momentoes. No longer would I enjoy the long tree shaded driveway, or the view off the back deck. No longer would I sit at the piano, where my grandmother corrected my fingering. No longer would I drink water from the tap in her kitchen, water that tasted different than any water elsewhere.

I will have to cherish the memories of climbing the spiral staircase on summer mornings as my grandmother sang “good morning to you” in a loud cheerful voice. Then the kids in residence would sit at the counter and eat bowls of corn flakes, with fresh cut peaches. We’d listen to the little coffee pot percolating nearby as we’d plan out our grand adventures for the day.

My grandparents often took us to a small farm they owned for a while, and watch my grandfather call the cows to the barn. This would be after we’d arranged the rocks at the creek for the hundredth time was we hiked the familiar trail to the Toe River. The ride back in a Jeep, would always have us sharing space with a basket of fresh corn and green beans for that night’s supper.

We were taken to a local arts school where we were able to watch potters, weavers and glass blowers plying their craft. Many of the artistic pieces that have graced the mountain top home have been acquired from the talented local artist that live in that part of Western North Carolina. Trips to local parks, hiking trails, waterfalls, and of course the small lake built for the community to enjoy were always a part of our summers growing up. Even after I was grown, with children of my own, that tradition of visits to the scenes, sights and arts of the area were on the agenda, for a new generation of grandchildren.

Every evening we’d gather back, and share dinner, always started by a short verse of grace by my grandmother. Then we’d eat, laugh and share stories, while remembering to keep our elbows off the table, a hard and fast rule at Mamaw’s table. After dinner were games of cards, or charades, or skits we made up on the spot. Sometimes a craft project was brought out and we’d spend time together finishing it. My grandmother was a master seamstress and a world class knitter. She still knits almost daily, even though her eyesight is failing. Her inability to teach a clumsy fingered left handed girl how to crochet or knit has been one of her few failures in life.

The house represents a few sad memories as well. Downstairs in the cool basement bedroom with two chenille covered twin beds, is where my dad told my brothers and I that our mother had passed away after a brief illness. I remember crying, while one brother sat next to me, and the baby brother sat in my dad’s arms. I have never been able to walk into that room without remembering that moment, so long ago. The living room is where my family learned of my decision to leave my abusive husband. It was a hard thing to do, as I told them of my decision and why through the tears that wouldn’t stop falling. The outpouring of love by everyone in the room, helped me grant courage to face the following year.

The front yard, is where my grandmother, stared daggers into my soon to be current husband, as she told him to be good to me. He fell instantly in adoration of her at that moment. The same yard is were we always gather to hug everyone good bye.

Two years ago, Mamaw had a pacemaker installed. Her heart has started its long slow dissent to its last beat. After the pacemaker was installed, Gary and I took a weekend to spend with her. I took along a camera and began recording memories of the house, each photograph intended to preserve what I knew would be gone from my life when she was. On our last visit, she told me to take a few things back home with me. She knew, as I did, that each visit could be my last. She has intended to let us have the pieces that mean much to us to be with us as reminders of such a beautiful place. The stained glass art piece made so beautifully by my retired surgeon grandfather is such a piece, along with a cast metal cat they picked up in Egypt during one of their excursions abroad, a pottery cup from a local artist, and a sapphire blue bowl, that may also be an art deco style ashtray. It once sat on a window ledge that looked out to the mountain view.

In the not too distant future, the mountaintop chalet will go to new owners. The thought of never again getting to drive up the tree shaded drive anticipating the house coming into view saddens me, but not as much as knowing that its anticipated occupant will not be there as well. I am grateful for that house, and the love that poured out of every window and onto every single person that stepped foot on the property. A small stained glass scene, hanging in our bedroom, will remind me of that love for the rest of my life, and remind me to do all I can to ensure that Gary and I’s home exudes love as well.

Identity Crises


Am I supposed to be surprised?

Am I supposed to be surprised?

This morning I had to call the airlines to make a correction on my ticket confirmation. My first name was misspelled. The matter took about five minutes to correct and I could print new confirmations with the correct spelling of my name. I needed to do this to ensure that there were no delays for my very early morning flight in regards to the difference between my ticket information and my ID. It was likely a precaution, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

I wish this was an isolated occurrence.

You’d think that a simple two syllable proper name that sounds phonetically like it is spelled, Sylvie, (Sill-vee) wouldn’t be such a problem for people that encounter that word. You’d be wrong. When I was a child, every single teacher I ever had, would take one look at my name on the roll, and ask how to pronounce it. It got so I knew what to expect and as soon as the teacher would pause to my expected spot in the roll, I’d just go ahead and call it out.

Then there are the mangled spellings. One of my old banks had all my personal information exactly correct on bank related documents, except in one location, my bank statements. Every single one from that bank, spelled my name wrong. They flipped the l and the y, turning my name into Slyvie, pronounced, Sli-vee. I sent multiple requests for correction, that were never resolved. For the record, my brothers ensured I would know exactly how Slyvie was to be pronounced, along with their other  mangled versions of my name, Sliver, Silverware and Sylvester. Aren’t brothers fun?

Of course the more common incorrect spelling and pronunciation of my name is Sylvia, which is close, but still wrong. It it the version that appeared on my flight confirmations. I’ve learned to answer to that, as it’s just become  too much trouble any more to keep correcting every third person I encounter. What I find amusing is that friends attempt to do the pronunciation correction for me, as I’ve just given up on it. People are usually mildly horrified at this etiquette breach and try to remember to say my name correctly from that point on. It has a fair success rate.

You’d think my identity crises would end with just simple letter misplacements or pronunciations of my name. Again you’d be wrong. My name is apparently so incomprehensible to the average person, that they substitute the nearest facsimile they can think of instead. Some of those substitutions have included:

Sheila, Stella, Shirley, Sharon, Sybille, Wanda and Jennifer. I have no idea how the person got Wanda from Sylvie. It remains a complete mystery. Jennifer, however isn’t. I do purchasing at my job, and a staff member needed for me to pay for something offsite. He had the vendor call my office for payment. The vendor already knew who I was, but asked for Jennifer anyway. I told him that there was no Jennifer in my office. It was about then  that I heard my co-worker over the phone.

“Is that Brad (name changed to protect the guilty)?” I asked the vendor. A brief exchange could be heard over the phone.

“Yes.” The vendor said, “It’s Brad.”

“Ok, I’ll pay for the item then.” I then completed the transaction.

When Brad returned to my office, receipt in hand, I asked him what my name was, which he answered correctly. I then asked him why he called me Jennifer at the store. his excuse was he’d forgotten what it was, and in a panic, Jennifer popped in his head. He still calls me that on occasion.

This same vendor, called me Sylvania several months ago. He had just put light bulbs on a shelf and when I called, the brand name transferred to my identity. Another co-worker overheard my exclamation of “Sylvania!?!” It didn’t take him long to realize what had happened. Thanks to that one monetary crises of identity, I earned another nickname. Arent co-workers fun?

 

Xmas Wars


Its Christmas eve, eve, or as my daughter Ashley calls it, Christmas Adam. Gary and I received a restaurant gift card and wasted no time treating ourselves to a nice dinner out. We have a couple of days off for the holidays, and if I had my way, I’d burrow myself into covers on the couch and not venture out till Monday. But, I know that won’t happen. We will, make the rounds of local family delivering gifts, hugs and well wished, and I hope little else.

I have managed to avoid much of the holiday insanity, a goal I try to accomplish annually. As with every year, church music took its normal chunk of time and energy. I enjoy it immensely, but I’m glad to give my vocal chords a rest and to put retire my hand bell gloves for the season. Yet, I can’t help notice insanity all around, not at Walmart, or the mall, but on social media.

Today I saw two opposite extremes on the “War on Christmas!!!!!!” The first was a propaganda style meme bemoaning the fictional war on Christmas. It mentioned an unnamed town in North Carolina, that may have lost a court battle, to display an overtly religious display on government grounds, a display that had been there, where ever that is, for 40 years.

After I rolled my eyes, I did the math. Prior and up to 1975, there was no religious display on the grounds of a government building, and guess what? No one cared. A few churches would have nativity or similar displays, and a home or two may have something in their yard. Showy displays of holiday decorations was just not a big deal back then.

I don’t get the whole war on Christmas thing. Local churches advertise their Christmas presentations on local tv, you can’t walk through Walmart without seeing someone in a Jesus Is the Reason Sweatshirt, and local fast food chains have satellite radio stations tuned to a Christian station that airs someone singing Silver Bells in worship music style….yes its as bad as you think. I’ve yet to see anyone prevent the holiday from happening, or from anyone from enjoying to their full religious minded heart. I’ve only seen some people asking for a bit of respect and understanding for the non-Christmas partakers.

Which brings me to the opposite end of the war on Christmas spectrum. As I mentioned in my last entry, I didn’t grow up keeping Christmas, so seeing the following article this afternoon brought up the memories of hearing these reasons to avoid the season at all cost. I get point #1 on that list. The commercialism of Christmas is ridiculous, but there are billions of Christmas celebrants who don’t go batshit insane over commercialism. Its mostly a USA phenomenon. So that point really doesn’t fly.

The second point tries to hammer home the fact that Christmas wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. Well neither was Thanksgiving, Mother’s day, or Memorial day, all three US holidays. Then they try to make the date of Jesus’ birth an issue. It’s common knowledge that no one knows the date, that’s not the point of honoring the event of his birth. One of their proofs, as if we can call the absolute ridiculousness of it proof, was that shepherds would not have had flocks in the field in December. There’s this assumption that Judean winters are hellish and too cold for any livestock with heavy wool coats to survive. I just looked up the weather for Tel Aviv. As I am typing this, its 3am there. The temperature is a frigid 54 degrees. Its actually colder in SC.

There’s more of course. On the surface the list seems to make sense, but as with the sheep example, they really don’t hold water. Yet these folks are determined to fight the war on Christmas; just on the opposite end of the battlefield of those who made the government building meme.

I, like most of the billions of people  will be celebrating Christmas over the next few weeks, as our Orthodox partakers wait until January. I suspect that many will probably think all this warring over a holiday is a waste of time. Some of us are religious, some not so much, and some think “Meh, religion. Pass the eggnog.” Its still a delightful holiday, with so many wonderful traditions, and excuses to get together with family and friends, show a little extra loving of our neighbors, and gear up for our New Year’s diet.

So, if you, want to go full on baby Jesus, and place manger scenes all over your front yard, sing O Holy Night until your dog’s ears bleed, and be waiting impatiently for the pastor to open the doors of your church, be my guest, and may your holiday be merry and bright. Let me also assure you that you’ll get to do it all again next year, and the next and yet, also the next.

For those of you who are quite certain that Christmas is the epitome of evil, that those who celebrate the holiday with all its pagan debauchery and frivolous frolicing, and that God is going to make sure that we are punished for our wicked ways,  I wish you a happy and joyous Thursday. Let me also assure you that you have nothing to fear from a celebration season, nor are your neighbors, your family members doing so a danger from God whatsoever.

For all of us, whichever you fit on the Christmas spectrum, as well as those of you celebrating the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, and any celebration I missed, I wish you Happy Holidays and/or a restful rest of the week

My very First Christmas


charlie-brown-christmas-tree_watermarkI 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.