Atheists, Bourbon, Christianity, and Deadlines

Atheists, Bourbon, Christianity, and Deadlines

After a very crazy two weeks, I finally had a weekend that was relatively quiet.  Well quiet except for the two papers I had to write. One had to be an evaluation of a colloquium with Dr. Tina Beattie centered around the book Catholic Women Speak and the Synod on the Family being held in Rome and tying together the topic of the colloquium with the early civilization class I’m taking, which is a bit of stretch. The other is an exegesis on priestly garments in the book of Exodus. Both of these topics are precisely the kind of thing I love to sink my teeth into so I wasn’t too worried about getting them done.

bourbonDid I mention I had a quiet weekend coming up?  So of course that meant I had time to meet up with friends and have a bourbon Friday night. Of course, one bourbon turned into two. And of course, I decided to be a bit adventurous and instead of sticking with my usual neat bourbon, I had a delicious twist on an Old Fashioned that involved a fair amount of sugar. Come Saturday morning that made for a wicked hangover headache.  Okay. No big deal. Nothing a big breakfast and some time in the sunshine can’t fix. Except I made the mistake of going on Twitter. I retweeted a post from about faith and trust. Just an FYI, tweeting anything with #faith paints a laser target on your account for bored atheists. And as my longtime readers know, I never can just walk away from a good Twitter discussion.  Instead of nursing my hangover by closing my eyes and soaking up sunshine in my car at the beach, I was on Twitter defining faith.

Naturally by the time I got home on Saturday afternoon, it was nearly two o’clock and since I had two papers to write, I had stopped at the store to pick all the makings of a lasagna. Cooking and writing are inexplicably tied together in my brain. I worked out the outlines to the first paper in my head as I prepped and layered what turned out to be a fantastic lasagna. All the while I kept up with the discussion of truth, falsity, faith and judgments.

image1Why? Because I clearly need a life or a hobby or a Twitter intervention or perhaps all of the above. I also need a couple of Advil because I tend to bite my lip when I think and after a while it makes my jaw hurt which only added to my bourbon headache. But all that nonsense aside, I work stuff out as I write. Crazy as it sounds to get dragged into a discussion of faith with someone who doesn’t believe in God, knowing neither of us has any real hope of dissuading the other, it’s really not a complete waste of time. It is a lot more work to stop and consider how to answer that question in light of the questioner’s nonacceptance of religion as a whole.

It’s so easy to pretend that ours is the only belief in the world when we only spend time with people who think and believe the same things we do. We get lazy. So when someone throws down the question, “You say you don’t make a judgment of truth for other religions compared to yours. But certainly you had reasons not to choose. How did you decide the truthfulness of [other religions] was less than that of Christianity?” the easiest thing in the world would be to put the phone down and add some more cheese to the lasagna and forget to answer the question.

The time spent answering hard questions on why I believe what I do is always time well-spent. It may or may not make a difference to the one asking the questions, but it always expands my own understanding to formulate the answers.  What did I answer? To paraphrase: there is some piece of a greater truth to be found in every religion I have studied. Ultimate truth is beyond any human codification system. I found my truth in Christianity as it most closely matched my experiences of God.  And that is where it becomes faith rather than logic.

Meanwhile, I still have a headache and I still have two papers to write.

Life Reclaimed

reclaimed_brick_3

The first time I sat down with my therapist, about a week before I filed for a divorce, he asked me what I wanted. I wanted to build a new life for myself and my boys, away from the abuse, the constant anxiety, and the fear that we had lived with for so long. What that looked like, I didn’t know yet. So many people seemed to think that once the ink dried on the divorce agreement, life would magically start over fresh and new, full of promise and hope. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I could meet someone new and do anything I wanted now, I could pay my way through school clear through to a doctorate.

That whole ‘clean slate’ thing? Hate to tell you this but it’s a myth. There is no clean slate; just a huge pile of junk from my imploded life. Some of it was useful and some wasn’t. Some of it needed to be repaired while some was too damaged to be salvaged. An awful lot of it was obliterated and pulverized into a thick dust that covered everything else. It has taken a number of years for that dust to settle and to be able to pick out what is salvageable.

Going back to college and working on rebuilding the outside aspects of my life may appear to be such a huge step. Actually, that has been the easiest thing I’ve ever done but I couldn’t do it until I knew what it was to feel safe in my own skin. It’s the inside stuff that has been brutally hard and only a few people have any real understanding of exactly how hard. That work is still ongoing and probably will be for quite some time. It took time to reestablish my own interior space and to learn who to let in, who to keep out, and most importantly that it is necessary to cut ties with toxic people and places.

My dating church adventures have been part of that cutting of ties. Learning to accept that it’s okay to sort through this pile of stuff that was handed to me as part of the religion I was raised with has been pretty much the same process as going through the divorce. It is a process that been further complicated by the fact that I am still bound by my promises to raise my boys as Catholic. My old parish was no longer a healthy place to be and bringing them to the Lutheran church is not an option as my questions are not their questions.

These last few weeks, as we’ve settled into a new Catholic parish, I’ve found a great deal of peace. I can continue to raise my boys in the faith away from the drama and toxicity I’d tolerated for too long. I met with the pastor there this past week and explained the back story of our exodus from the old parish. I was assured that this will be a safe place that will wrap around me and the boys. When I mentioned my issues with the Catholic Church and my Lutheran leanings, I was met with a shrug. “Eh, my best friend is a Lutheran. I figure God knows what He’s doing. Jesus told us in John 10:16 ‘I have other sheep not in this fold…they will all become one flock.’  So it’s all good and know that my door is always open for you.”

After I left his office, I did a little reading on the parish itself. (Confession: I’m a shameless history geek and the history of churches is especially interesting to me.) The church I have settled into was built with bricks reclaimed from the demolition of a slum. Those very bricks around me have their own history of a life imploded and rebuilt into something greater and more beautiful. What better place could there be for starting to build something new?

Trust

IMG_8501

Yesterday, I had my day planned out. Spend some time at the beach, bake a batch of cookies while I worked on my homework, frame out a blog post, and cook a nice meatloaf dinner. Long about noon, I came home from the beach and took a quick scroll through Twitter. I retweeted a link by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan calling for Pope Francis to recognize women’s ordination. Nothing new there for me. I openly support Catholic women who call for the ordination of women. Anybody who knows me knows that. Within a minute of tweeting that link, a Catholic priest pounced on me. That led to a debate. Five hours of debate in tweets of 140 characters or less. It was not the way I planned to spend my Saturday.

And yet, it was time incredibly well spent. I was told I am a heretic, selfish, stupidly misguided, emotional, full of rage and guilt, ignorant of scripture, lack doctrinal formation, lack objectivity, have an unformed conscience and am in desperate need of a stricter confessor. All of these failings have taken me out of the arms of the Catholic Church and out of the arms of Jesus. So my dear readers, read on at your own mortal peril.

I know my views on women’s ordination are considered heretical by the Catholic Church. I’ve wrestled with that view for years. I don’t take the church’s views lightly, nor do I suggest anyone else should. And ultimately, after study and prayer and discussion, I made the decision to follow my conscience and to trust in the truth of my experience of God’s love. The Catholic Church has always held the primacy of conscience and taught that individuals must follow their conscience even if they are wrong. (Vatican II, On Religious Liberty 1965)

So then who gets to decide what is truth? So who gets to decide what Jesus truly intended? This is why we need a church community: to challenge us and hold us accountable. It is why I have shied away from the spiritual-but-not-religious views that many people take up after becoming disillusioned with religion. Religious tradition serves a purpose and that is to lead us closer to God. My Catholic pastor has been known to say openly that if religious tradition is not leading you closer to God, it isn’t working for you. Find one that will. But don’t try to con God. Be honest with Him. It’s the only way the relationship can grow. I know many faithful Catholic women who have struggled with the church’s teaching on women’s ordination. Some find that they accept the doctrine as truth. Are they wrong?  No. They have followed their conscience, as must we all.

The Catholic Church brought me closer to God and there have been days when I wish it hadn’t. It would be easier to show up Sunday after Sunday, halfheartedly shuffle forward to receive Communion, mumble through an obligatory confession a few times a year and go back to my everyday life with God safely tucked away in the tabernacle where He can’t wreak havoc on my life. But it did bring me closer. I found love, compassion, forgiveness and was challenged to show others the same. Along the way, I found the landmines and roadblocks that keep people from coming back to the church. I found people who, like me, equated the Catholic Church with God. If the Catholic Church rejected them for whatever reason, then in their mind God had likewise rejected them. And that is a dangerous lie. Jesus came for the lost, the broken, the sinners, not just the elect few. No one who cried out to Him went unheard or unanswered.

Yesterday was one of those days when I wished I could keep silent and found that I could not. I had things to do! And yet, I could not let the Twitter tirade go unchallenged. I poured out my convictions 140 characters at a time. The church is greater than the Roman Catholic Church. It is the community of all believers and belongs to all those who seek Jesus with an honest heart. To deny women ordination is to deny that women are also made in the image of God and other denominations have accepted that truth. That my disobedience to Rome is not disobedience to God. That becoming Protestant was not slapping God in the face but running into His arms. If in the end, after having followed my conscience to a religious tradition which brings me closer to God, if then I am wrong, He will not slam a door in my face. He knows my heart, my wounds, my scars and my desires. And most importantly, nothing can ever take me out of His arms. I am His and I trust Him.

Yes, I said it. I trust Him. I trust Him above all else. Especially above the threats of judgment and hell and condemnation. I did not arrive at this place lightly or easily. But I am where I am and my Shepherd knows my path. At the end of a long, heated debate, Fr. Paul told me he wouldn’t want to be me on the Last Day. Because if he is wrong, no biggie. But I am wrong, yikes. But from the way I see it, if I am wrong, I trust in God’s love and His mercy. I make no claims to have the right answers. But if Fr. Paul is wrong, how many people will he have browbeat into staying in a dishonest relationship with their God, encouraging them to maintain a false fidelity to church over an honest struggle for truth out of fear of hellfire and damnation? And which then is the greater sin? I trust that in the all-encompassing light of God’s love, it will cease to matter.

Beware of Tricksy Hobbitses

Image

Gollum or Smeagol

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  Not because there’s nothing going on in my life but just the opposite.  I’ve been feeling at odds with so much around me and inside myself lately that I’ve found it difficult to write at all.  That’s not a good place for me to be, especially as I’m working on my second book and working with a character who tends to be a bit prickly. Fortunately I found an outlet, thanks to Anne McAuley, a freelance writer and dear friend.  On a bit of lark, we started a blog about life from the dog’s point of view.  I know it sounds silly but that simple little change in perspective and taking a break from staring into the chaos of life seems to have knocked something loose in me, unblocked something.  I don’t get how that happened but quite frankly, I’m just happy it did.

Most of my writing the past six months has been short posts on Facebook, mostly silly stuff that happens with the kids or my take on articles that I’ve read. It’s funny how often I’ve found myself in the middle of religious and political debates.  It’s scary how often those two become one and the same.

As my long time readers know, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis nearly two years ago.  I have insurance through the state Medicaid program.  Because I have a chronic illness, insurance carriers consider me a ‘lifetime decline’, which is exactly what it sounds like – I couldn’t get private insurance even if I had the means to pay for it. Between my own situation and the many similar cases that I’ve dealt with while working for an insurance agent, I’ve been watching the health care reform laws closely.  I’ll spare you my political and religious take on the whole scenario.

The scary thing I’m seeing is the vehemence in people when the topic comes up.  The same goes for immigration or taxes or the war on terror or any of the other hot button issues.  Some days on Facebook, it reads like every issue is a hot button issue. Labels are thrown about and fingers are pointed. Everybody has the answer and nobody does.

Remember Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings? I am reminded of Smeagol.  Poor, hapless Smeagol was a good, kind creature, one of the peaceful River Folk.  Until the day when he, quite by chance, came across the Ring while fishing with a companion.  Suddenly he was consumed with a need to possess the Ring.  A need so great that he would kill.  Soon he was no longer Smeagol but became Gollum.  An outcast, wretched, hateful, spiteful Gollum would do anything to keep his precious Ring safe.  When it was in his possession, he would stop at nothing to keep it.  When it was out of his hands, he would stop at nothing to get it back.

Which one are you?  Smeagol or Gollum?  I hate to tell you this, but you’re probably both.  We all want to be good and peaceful, but there’s always that one thing that we simply must possess.  Security in one form or another is the perennial favorite.  But what happens when we clutch our Rings so tightly that it takes away from another?  Remember Smeagol was so isolated by his need to possess the Ring that he eventually forgot his own name. Frodo reminded him of who he was, who he had been before the Ring came into his possession.

So in the interest of bringing some kind of harmony into this chaos, I remind you of who you are.  You are a child of God.  You are known, loved and cared for far beyond anything that the world can offer you.  Your so-called security, whether you have it already or are hunting desperately for it, is merely an illusion. It can be gone in an instant.  I hope you find yourself talking to yourself in the mirror tonight, arguing with your needy darker side. After all, what’s ours is ours. We’ve found it and fought for it. No one can or should be able to take it away. To hell with anyone else.  But maybe we should share it.  It’s the good thing to do.  Yes!  No! Stop it!

May your kind and peaceful Smeagol side win out over that frightened, clutching, desparate Gollum side.  And if you find yourself debating whether I am just one of those ‘filthy, tricksy hobbitses’, then I’ve done my job.  I got you to think.  Hell, I got myself to think.

By the way, Smeagol lost the battle with Gollum.  In the end his need was simply to great.  First it drove him mad, then it destroyed him.  But it also destroyed that to which he clung to so tightly.  And yet somehow in the end, good triumphed anyway. So take hope, all is not lost no matter how dark the hour.