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.
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.
There is a trend happening in evangelical circles that I find somewhat disturbing. Its the trend of fathers dating their daughters. Yes you read that correctly, and apparently its highly recommended as a means to for fathers to spend time with their girl children. A common event is the Daddy/daughter dance, where the fathers wear suits and the girls dress up and go to a planned evening, complete with photographers, punch and a DJ. Its more like a prom. In fact in some cases it is a prom. Some of these “proms” are not designed for fun, tiaras, and all the punch you can drink while dancing to Selena Gomez.
If you have clicked on the links and are skeeved out, you are not alone. Those dances with the “purity” theme send a very negative message to girls about sexuality. I find them highly disturbing and coercive. They use fear wrapped in tulle and ceremony to get girls to consider their virginity the whole of their value. Yet they are quite popular in conservative evangelical circles.
Thankfully, some father/daughter dances do not have the sexual purity undertones, but instead are simply billed as fun events for dads and daughters.
I understand that such events are an attempt to get fathers to spend time with their daughters. I understand that its also an attempt for dads to try to instill positive views about the male gender, or to try to teach religious ideals about sexuality. I understand that little girls often love dressing up like their favorite princess and dancing to Disney tunes, and think Daddy hung the moon, but I wonder if such events takes away from the natural, spontaneity that can exist between parent and child.
I have to ask, do daughters really have to wear frilly dresses just to have some one on one time with their dads? do dads have to go to planned, events where they likely feel completely out of place just to spend time with their daughters?
I don’t think so.
I remember dancing with my dad, at family themed church dances, where he patiently tried to teach me the box step. I happened to like to dance, even if I lacked elegance, but dancing with my dad is not what rates high on my Time With Dad highlight reel.
Instead I remember him taking my brothers and me to the lake, where we learned how to put our own worms on hooks, and catch bluegill. I remember the bag swing he built in our back yard. The bag swing was nothing more than gunny sacks, rolled up together with a rope tied to the middle. The other end of the rope was tied to the branch of an oak tree branch, a good 15 feet up. I still remember the thrill of my dad pulling me back as far as he could make that swing go, then throwing me forward. I’d screech in delight as I’d hurtle to make the arc complete, than back down again.
I remember years of playing cards or checkers with him, and never once beating him. I came close once or twice. The consistent defeat didn’t daunt me, as we enjoyed the game, as well as all the jokes, silly bantering, attempts to catch one of my brothers cheating.
I remember the entire house being dark, and hiding, while my dad tromped around, loudly yodeling the melody of the marching soldiers from the Wizard of Oz, while wearing a KFC bucket on his head. I was always found before my brother. My brother was very hard to find. It was such spooky fun, ending with giggles and a tickle.
I remember Dad being the only person on the planet who could help me almost understand algebra. It is thanks to him that I passed any math class. I remember when I was sixteen being taken to a movie, the first grown up one we’d been to together. It was Alien. He loved it, thinking it the best monster movie made in thirty years. I was scared shitless.
I wasn’t treated like a fairy princess, the idealistic little girl fantasy. The idea of going out on a date with my dad, would have likely horrified us both. For him to take me to an event where I was supposed to ceremoniously hand over my virginity so he could give it later to a spouse of his approval was unthinkable. I was treated like a daughter, a human being with autonomy, who had a step sister and a host of brothers, each of us special in our individual ways, being groomed to step out into the world on our own.
My own children’s father proved to be a poor role model, so I did what I could to share the lessons my father taught me. Lessons taught that being a great parent, was simply spending time with your kids, enjoying their company, showing a sense of humor, quick to apologize for messing up, teaching practical skills, like cooking, mowing the lawn or doing laundry, to be available to listen, to help with homework or to play Scrabble with, and to do those everyday things that they may never appreciate or remember, but they often do.
I really don’t understand the idea of “dating” daddy. I don’t understand having to plan events, schedule time to spend with one’s child. I certainly do not understand having to suggest to fathers things to do with their daughters. Even busy dads, as any parent often is, take five minutes to listen to her to play Fur Elise on the piano, or help with a Geometry problem, or teach her the trick to throwing a curve ball. They can show her how to check the oil in the car, have her hand him the tools while fixing the sink, and play pranks on Mom. Doing those small things consistently, and willingly will mean more than any fancy dress up dance with a DJ playing Justin Bieber and Pharrell.