Dec 022010
 


Our new blog friend, Izzi, recently said that all the cruelty and judging done in God’s name had led her to become a humanist, and she asked me to write about how I remained faithful knowing how ugly the faith world can be.

Her questions reminded me of a much gentler version of this email I received last year:


G,

I’ve been reading your blog for several months. I like you. You’re smart, really smart. But you believe in Jesus and heaven and the bible. I guess I’ve always assumed that being smart and faithful were mutually exclusive. Do you believe in the Easter Bunny, too, G? It’s fine if you do, just please explain. Brain exploding.


No, No, No. I was not offended by this email. I think maybe we all get offended a bit too easily. It’s like we’re excited to get offended, we are just waiting to get offended. It’s a little dramatic of us.

You know, I think if we people of faith want to be taken seriously, we might need to gain a collective thicker skin and better sense of humor.


Let’s practice.


Hank from King of the Hill:


Those Christian rockers. They’re not making Jesus cooler. They’re just making rock and roll suckier.


For the record, I listen to Christian rock all the time. But that’s some good stuff there, Hank.


Izzi wrote this in her comment:


So, after a few years of being rejected by the faith I had chosen, I started to give up on it all. I live overseas, and I’m surrounded everyday by violence done in God’s name. There is very little kindness in religion that I have been able to see and trust me, I’ve been looking . I miss the community and I miss that peace that came from believing in a greater purpose, but I’ve finally decided to accept living as a humanist – that there is a right and a wrong, and it’s up to us to see that our world gets better, not because there is a God, but just because it’s the right thing to do. I would like to know, because I admire the strength of your faith and I celebrate your life choices, what keeps your faith strong? What do you say to all those who have actively rejected faith? And please, if there is a God, what is going to happen to all those little babies in Saskatchewan and Timbuktoo who have never heard of religion?



Dearest Izzi,

When I got your questions, I almost responded by sending you this post. But after rereading your comment twelve times, I realized that you were requesting the whole TRUTH.

Now, that post is my Truth. But I have discovered over the years that when it comes to what I believe and say, there are several different layers of the Truth. And it usually takes a lot of thinking and time and humility to get from the truth all the way down to the TRUTH. It usually works like this, Izzi:


truth: GOD, Craig, I can’t stand her. She is so damn competitive. I’m done with her, I swear. DONE.


Truth: Um, maybe I’m too competitive to be comfortable around her. She won’t let me win.


TRUTH: Kay. I’ve forgotten, again, that I’m okay. I’m doing that thing I do. Instead of looking at this woman like the work of art she is, with her own colors and depth and style, I’m using her as a mirror on the wall. When I look at her, I’m not really looking at her at all. I’m looking back at myself, and using her to examine all my fears and flaws. I’m using her. How rude. She’s a masterpiece, not a mirror. Masterpiece, not a mirror. Masterpiece, not a mirror.


Kind of like that, Izzi. So while that faith post was True, I think I can get even Truer with you about my faith. About why I’ve bet it all on this God thing. We’ll start on Monday. I’d like to talk to you about all the violence and judging done for God, Izzi. It’s time.

Love you, Izzi, you Masterpiece, you.



Love, G

Dec 032010
 


So.

I’m at Target yesterday with Tish and Amma. We’ve made it through the shopping part and we’re in the check- out line. I can see the Promised Land, which is: We’re Done Shopping, Let’s Go Back Home.

I watch Amma notice a pack of gummi worms. Her eyes widen. I brace for chaos. She grabs the worms, shows them to me with tears already in her eyes and says, “I need dese worms!” I say, “Uh-huh. That’s the curse of Target. It makes me think I need all this junk, too. The Target curse is why you’re not going to college, baby. No gummi worms. Put them down.”

Now. You know I try my hardest to describe my ridiculous little life to you. But there is no way to convey to you the drama that crashed down on poor unsuspecting Target immediately following the word “No.”

Amma threw herself down on the filthy Target floor and screamed like a person who maybe just found out that her entire family had died. Amma’s particular tantrum style is that she chooses one phrase to repeat seven million times at seven million decibels until everyone around her seriously considers homicide or suicide. Yesterday she chose, “I SO HUNGWY! I SO FIRSTY! (SKULL SPLITTING SCREAM.) I SO HUNGWY ! I SO FIRSTY! (SKULL SPLITTING SCREAM.”)

This was a long, crowded line. And every time the line scootched up I had to grab Amma’s hood and drag her forward a few feet while she kicked and screamed, like I do with my luggage in the security lines at the airport. And then Tish started crying because it was all so ridiculous. And so I gritted my teeth and made my scariest face at Tish and growled STOP at her like some kind of movie monster, and this sort of thing does not tend to calm a child down. So she cried harder. People started moving away from us and shoppers were actually stopping by our aisle to stare. I was sweating like I was in a sauna, and wishing the “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” song that was on replay would just end. With the kids jinglebelling and everyone telling you, be of good cheer!Riiiight. My experience exactly.

Up until this point, I kept my head down, but it seemed time to offer my best beleaguered, apologetic, what are you gonna do? looks to the other shoppers, in hopes of receiving some sympathetic looks in return.

But here’s the thing. When I finally looked up, I realized with mounting discomfort that there weren’t gonna be any sympathetic looks. Everyone was staring at me. Every. One. One elderly couple looked so disturbed that the grandmother had her hand over her mouth and was holding tight to her husband’s arm. At first it appeared to be an effort to shield herself from my rabid animals. And I thought, I hear ya lady, they scare me, too. But then I realized that she wasn’t looking disapprovingly at them, she was looking disapprovingly at me.I locked eyes with her and without subtlety, she looked down at my clothes, then to my cart, and then away.

So I did the same thing. Down at myself, then to the cart. Oooooooohhhh, I thought. Shoot.

My stupid Lyme is back, and I’ve been sick for a little while now. Yesterday was a bad Lymie day, and so was Wednesday, so I may have forgotten to shower or brush my hair. For 48 hours. And also, when I looked down I noticed that I still had on my pajama top. Which apparently I had tucked in to my ripped jeans. Like seventh grade. I looked bad. Not like a little bad, like offensively, aggressively bad.And also, here is what was in my cart: 6 large bottles of wine and curtain rods. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if my smallest child would have stopped screaming: “I SO HUNGWY, I SO FIRSTY!”

And since I was so tired and in such a state of self pity – I couldn’t even bring myself to feign sympathy towards my starving, parched child on the floor. Because I wasn’t sympathetic, not even a little bit. I definitely remembered feeding her the previous day. Faker.

But based on all of these things, I decided to forgive the frowny, judgmental lady. I had really left her no other choice.

I resigned myself to suffer through. I stopped trying to help the girls at all. Just left Amma there on the floor screaming and Tish beside her crying and prayed the line would move faster. I am sure there were a lot of people praying that the line would move faster.


All of a sudden, a uniformed police officer started walking toward us. At first I was alarmed and defensive. But he stopped in front of me and smiled warmly and winked at me.

He looked down at the girls and said, “May I?”

I was not sure what he was asking exactly, but I allowed myself to hope that maybe he had a paddy wagon and was planning to take them away. And so I nodded at him.

The police officer patted Amma on the head gently. She looked up at him and stopped mid-scream. She stood up. Tish fell silent and grabbed Amma’s hand. All of a sudden they became a pair of grubby little soldiers. At attention, eyes shining, terrified.

The police officer said, “Hello girls. Have you two ever heard of “disturbing the peace?”

They shook their little heads no.

He smiled and continued, “Well, that means that your mama and all of these people are trying to shop in peace, and you are disturbing them, and you’re not allowed to. Can you try to be more peaceful?”

They nodded their little heads yes.


The officer stood back up and smiled at me. I tried really hard to smile back to show my gratitude.

I noticed that the girls grabbed each other in a bear hug and held on for dear life. It appeared they had lived to die another day.


He said, “Being a parent. It’s a tough gig sometimes.”

For some reason, I became desperate to be perceived by him as something other than a struggling mom, so I blurted out, “I’m also a writer.”

He looked genuinely interested and said, “Really? What do you write”

“Lots of things. Mostly a blog.”

“What’s it about?”

“Parenting, I guess.”

His eyes twinkled and he grinned and said teasingly, “Oh. Does anybody read it?”

And I said, “A few. Mostly for laughs, though. Not for . . . well, advice. Obviously.”

I miraculously found the energy and ability and space and breath to giggle.

And my officer smiled and said the following:


“You know, my wife and I raised six kids, and I think that’s actually the only parenting advice worth a damn. Just try to keep laughing. Try to keep laughing. It’s good advice.You’re doing good, mom.”


Then he tipped his hat to me and my girls, and walked away.


In the end, only kindness matters. Thank you, Officer Superhero. Merry Christmas.


The girls were silent until half way home from Target when Tish announced loudly, “I can’t believe we almost went to jail.We better not tell daddy.”

And I said, “No way. We have to tell him. What if we don’t and then he sees the report on the news tonight?”


More silence.


Joy to the World.

Dec 052010
 

Dearest Izzi,

I always feel very nervous when I write about God. Seems so arrogant for a little human like me to publicly explore the mysteries of God. But soon after I started this blog, I woke up one morning and decided that the only thing that’s more arrogant than trying to get closer to understanding God is not trying. So I try here, Izzi. It’s scary though, because I don’t know anything. Nobody knows anything, really. We should probably start there.

I read somewhere that the less likely someone is to consider that she might be wrong, the more likely she is to actually BE wrong. That sounds true to me.

Some people of faith take a different approach, certainly. I know who you’re talking about, Izzi. These people tend to raise their voices and noses and talk more than listen, and they certainly seem quite certain and adamant about what God disapproves of and prefers. Their main religious concerns seem to revolve around what others are doing. I think these are the people, Izzi, about whom you are concerned. You said that all the violence, exclusiveness, bossiness and zeal of people of faith made you drop out. Made you stop believing in a God altogether. I understand. I get uncomfortable, too. Sometimes it feels like these Lovies think of themselves as crusaders and the Kingdom of God as if it’s territory to conquer or something.

But it’s not. It’s not. The kingdom of God is inside. It’s not out there. The only kingdom of God each person needs to conquer is inside her own heart. That’s where battles are fought and lost and won. Here is the map of my faith journey:


*I am totally on this God train. My enemies are anyone who thinks differently about Him than I do. I will help them change.

*My enemies aren’t people at all. My enemies are fear, apathy, and ignorance. I must help others change these horrible things plaguing them and therefore our universe.

*Oh. My only enemies are MY OWN fear, apathy, and ignorance. Ooooh. I will change. Everyday, every hour, I will change.


I think that the results of genuine faith are gentleness and courage. Both are good. But if I had to choose one, I’d choose gentleness over courage any day. People can be quite brave and hurt others along their path, in which case our world might be better off without their bravery. I always try to choose gentleness first. “And these three remain, hope, faith, and love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Anyway, when a person’s faith transforms her into a more gentle and courageous being, people around her become gentler and braver, too. One at a time. On their own, with God. That’s how the Kingdom of God is spread. It’s simple, I’ve seen in happen. It’s like heaven.

Back to the point. Yes, Izzi, many people see all the nonsense done and said in the name of God and based on this, decide that God must not exist. I have lots of thoughtful, beautiful emails from these people which I save and cherish. They call themselves humanists, and they are my peeps, these people. They like me and I like them. We respect each other and we don’t secretly believe anything awful about each other. And the thing is that the more I listen to them, the more I understand that these people, these humanists, believe in LOVE. They are just so sensitive to others’ pain that they’d rather drop out than be associated with any group that causes it. And so they say Truth and Peace and I say God and Jesus but we agree not to call the whole thing off based on semantics.

And so I tell my humanist friends that it is just fine that they don’t believe in God and we can still be great friends and get much done together here on Earth. And then I add that when I die, Jesus and I will wait for them at the gates of heaven with mega-sized hugs and smiles and sparkly TOLD YOU SO! signs.

And I can almost see them rolling their eyes and hear them banging their heads on their desks through cyber space, Izzi. But they’re smiling, too.

And since they’re still smiling, I feel safe explaining that to me, responding to the religious obnoxiousness by giving up on the idea of God would be like watching Chase and Tish pummel and tease each other about who daddy loves more and in response, deciding once and for all that Craig doesn’t exist. Just because my children behave like raging fools doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t come from a loving daddy.

To be clear, I think that there are plenty of reasons to doubt God’s existence. Poverty, genocide and natural disasters come to mind. I guess I just don’t think people spewing nonsense and violence in God’s name is a logical reason to give up on God. Because we all know that these Lovies are not defending God. They are defending their egos and fears. I suspect that the religious wars and arguments and rhetoric actually have less to do with God and more to do with human pride and our deep desire to “belong,” to be members of a club, to be right, to WIN, to be powerful and popular. These people want something that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, with Truth or Peace. We know that every religious war in history, whether it’s fought with guns or words, is really about wanting something else. Land, Money, Power, Attention, TO BELONG. It’s just done in the name of God to justify it. There’s true. And then there’s TRUE. We must watch closely and decide what people really want. We must figure out what people are really talking about.

Because sometimes I find myself listening to someone talk about “God” and it becomes clear to me that he is really talking about his own fear. And sometimes I’m listening to someone talk about art, or fishing, or children, and I realize with great joy that he is actually talking about God. I think sometimes we just don’t listen to each other hard enough. We hear, but we don’t try to understand. Sometimes the words a person chooses are the least important part of what he’s saying.

Still, Izzi. There is certainly a whole lot that is said and done in the name of God that makes me angry and sad. But I’ve decided that if I spend all my time and energy down here railing against what I hate, I’ll leave myself no time and energy to create what I love. No time to create and offer the world an alternative. No time to invite heaven, as I understand it, to Earth.

I could spend my life glaring at these people. Or I can look past them. To other people.

Because sometimes I wonder if we use the fighting, judge-y people as an excuse to give up. We are afraid to be associated with them, so we allow them to become an excuse to drop out, to stay on the couch, to quit working for Good, for Truth, for Love, for Peace…but all the while we know there are others. We know the real heroes of the light are not on TV. They’re not yelling. They’re not in meetings deciding who’s in and out. They’re out there. They’re in Haiti helping with the cholera outbreak. They’re in New Orleans rebuilding. They’re in classrooms reaching kids that the world calls unreachable. They’re in Rwanda hunting down child rapists. They’re in long lines at the post office trying desperately not to be jerks. They’re in inner city prisons helping incarcerated mamas raise their babies. They’re on a neighbor’s doorstep holding a casserole. They’re out there, and we know it. It’s just that they don’t have the time or desire to stop their work and offer a sound bite. They deal in a different type of currency. They don’t give a rat’s ass about publicity or money or power. They don’t care about our kingdom, they care about Lovingkindness, about God’s kingdom. Where joy comes from service. Where peace is chosen over pride. Where there is no time to concern oneself with imaginary boundaries because people are bleeding, damnit.

And so I really do believe that for now, it’s our responsibility to pat the judge-y yelling people on the heads, wish them good luck with that, and carry on with our work. Who cares? We people fighting for love, we people of the light….we are like EMTs to a hurting world and we don’t have time (or even the right) to stop our ambulance and gawk at the traveling sideshow. We are too busy. We have important things to do, people to love, and life to celebrate.

And you know what? I write to people of all faiths because I have a hunch that God would prefer that we put our differences aside and serve the world together, rather than render ourselves useless waiting to agree. Waiting to figure it all out. We ain’t gonna figure it all out, Izzi. And so instead of becoming paralyzed by our differences, we must find common ground and work together to make our world more beautiful.

My minister once sent me this quote…The problem with the faith pool these days is that all the noise is coming from the shallow end. I waded into the deep end, and that has made all the difference.

I love this metaphor, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since you wrote.

You know. . . the shallow end of faith is easier to spend time in. It’s not a real commitment. You can just hop in, stand around in tight circles and people watch. You can examine your nails and catch up on all the gossip. You can talk and talk and talk and come to a great many conclusions and decisions and still maintain your hairstyle and even avoid mussing your makeup. This is important because you never know when someone will pull out a camera. You can spend an entire comfortable life there, really, and just stand around and be heard. You never even have to learn to swim in the shallow end. Good times.

I think the reason we don’t hear from the people in the deep end as often is because they’re actually swimming. In the deep end, you have to keep moving. It’s hard to look cool. It’s tiring and scary even, since it’s just you and your head and your heart in the silence of the depths. There’s not a lot of chatting or safety in numbers in the deep end – you have to spend most of your time there alone. And it’s impossible to get any solid footing. You just have to trust that the water will hold you and you have no other choice but to flail about and gasp for air and get soaking wet, head to toe.

I guess what I’m trying to say, Izzi, is that I don’t know anything. I just have a few hunches upon which I’ve decided to bet my life. I’ve got a hunch that there’s a God. And that He and She loves and forgives us. And that even though I will never understand Her, really, that there is a way to align my life and my brain and my heart in such a way that it synchs with Hers. And the heart I try to synch my heart with is the Heart of Jesus. And that makes me feel like I’m floating with the current instead of against it. And this synching, this floating, seems to make me a more gentle and courageous being each and every day. Which is why I’m convinced that I’m on to something with this Jesus thing.

That’s all I got.


Oh – and one more thing, Izzi. If we die, and we find out that there is a heaven, and we arrive at the gates and discover that they’re not letting Timbuktu babies in, then I think you and I will have no other choice but to refuse entry and hold babies and sing until they open the gates wide enough for everybody. It’ll be good. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up.

Peace,

G


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