Church on Sunday

“Going to Church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.” – G.K Chesterton. 

I was raised Catholic, as the seasoned reader may already know, and spent about fifteen years in Catholic school, going to church every Sunday with my family and every other Friday with my classmates.  Around age 25, I completely dropped the “act” I’d been running since I was fifteen and first saw the quote above.  I’m not saying that one quote changed my outlook on things…it just gave voice to an opinion I could not find words for. 

I remember being young and telling my Aunt Ka, a Sister of Mercy, that I wanted to get married at the Botanical Gardens because it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  She told me that I couldn’t, that I was Catholic and therefore had to have a wedding inside a church…I could have the reception outdoors, though, she claimed.

This concept was a hard no for my ten-year-old brain that wanted what it wanted when it wanted it.  I had been taught, almost daily, that God was in every living thing, including trees and grass and sunshine.  So why on earth did I need to CELEBRATE in front of statues of dead people, under a roof made by man?  It was nonsense then; it’s nonsense now.

I had a friend get married a while back and a priest came and did the vows, outdoors.  But it wasn’t an “official” wedding, according to the church.  The priest was just blessing them.  I thought maybe someday I could do something similar to appease my Catholic family…I was not yet telling my mother I was done with the whole shebang.

By the time I did get married, she was well aware of my opinions on the Church, and we butted heads a little.  She wanted some Christianity in the ceremony, and I had to keep reminding her that my husband was not a Christian, and all that would be weird for him.  Not to mention, I wasn’t feeling it either.  In the end, I got married in a little gazebo, outdoors.  The readings were all literary, the music was secular, and the officiant was my uncle who got a license online.  My mother won in the sense that I allowed her to say a prayer before the meal.  I was cool with her doing that because she mentioned Ka, who had passed by that time.  But that was it: one prayer.  That’s all the God I invited.,

But he was there, you see.He was in the trees and sun and grass and breeze.  Nature, that is where I believe God lives.

On Saturday…in the beforetime…I caught a giant fish in the Buffalo Creek.  It was a smallmouth, but there was nothing small about it.  I don’t have a picture.  Mark snapped one, but I accidentally deleted it.  Just believe me when I tell you it was a monster.  I fought the thing, hard…I’ve never really fought my fish before; usually I am far stronger. This guy gave me a run for my money.  When I finally flopped him onto shore, I felt immense pride.  Mark helped me unhook him, and I thanked him for the challenge and sent him back on his way in the stream.  Then I went home, and the world changed.

So, on Sunday, after the events, I was getting a hankering for prayer.  I’ve been arguing with my ancestor’s spirits as of late, over this mess with my mother. One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, said that “Praying is talking to the Universe. Meditation is listening to it.”  So, I figured, why not try a little listening?  I’ve ben talking so damn much.

I went back to where I caught the big fish.  All I caught that day was a pumpkinseed, but it was still worth it to sit there and look and listen.  I saw God all around me, from the fish in the water to the no-see-ums buzzing about to the big tree with all the fishing line and old bobbers caught up in it.  I watched the water of the creek lap upon the rocks and focused on the word “Peace.”  I needed peace.

On the way home, I remembered it was Sunday and thought of church.  I had the same feeling then that I had when I was a child leaving Mass.  Yes, when I was small, I was relieved that the sitting still and being quiet portion of the day was over, but I also always felt that feeling you get when you visit am old friend.  Also, I always kind of felt it hearkened the start of a new, fresh week.  A clean slate.

That’s when I realized: I go to church ALL THE TIME.

Fishing is church for me.  That might sound ridiculous, but where else would I rather be on a Sunday morning? And every time I go, every time, I think of God.  I didn’t even realize it until I examined my thought pattern closely this past week.  I tend to remind myself of God in nature whenever I fish.

Now, no, I no longer believe in a stereotypical Christian God in the sky…I think God is more of a universal fabric, with an understanding that we have not yet evolved to know.  Yet…I find God in the sky, because I find him in the earth, too.

Where do you find God?

Anyway…that’s just the thoughts running around in my head right now.  That’s all for today.  Happy Thursday!

Oppression Comes in All Sizes

A while back, I saw a call for submissions from a local theater company called Green Buffalo Productions.  They were working in association with Madwoman in the Attic, a mental health advocacy organization that I follow and for which I have down some writing.  The project at the time was called The Big O, but has since been renamed to What it Means to be Human.  What it comes down to is oppression, in all its various forms.

Now, I know I am privileged.  I’m white, I live in America, and I was raised in a middle-class environment that sent me to private school, plus a year of college.  I’ve got privilege upon privilege.  So, when I sat down to think about how I have faced oppression, originally, I had nothing.  I talked my way out of every slight against me with the knowledge that it could be worse.  However, the more I thought about it, we all face some form of oppression in our lives, even if it’s just a small thing.  I looked for small things, things I disregarded as oppression because of the bigger, badder sorts of it out there.

The first piece I wrote was for myself.  It’s a monologue about Pam Stenzel.  If you know who she is, you probably just groaned or laughed, or some combination of the two.  If you don’t know who she is, you’re fortunate.  (Sahar, who had no knowledge of her, read the piece to give me notes, and the only one she provided was “fuck Pam Stenzel.”)

Pam Stenzel is an abstinence-only speaker who travels to Christian high schools and tells you about how you’re going to die from HPV.

In grade school, we watched her video.  In high school, she actually came to speak to us.  But that’s beside the point.  The point is that sex was verboten in my high school for religious purposes, and she was the symbol of that.  I thought of her and I realized…wait!  Is that…sexual oppression wrapped in religious oppression?  And so, I started to type.  I sent the piece off and received word back that they would be doing the show sometime in the spring, and if I wanted to send anything else I could.  I think this was in December.

Then, COVID. 

So, everything got pushed back a little, and when I saw their second call for submissions last week, I thought, hey, why not.  The only other project I was working on really was my chapbook, and I just approved the final proof yesterday, so nothing to do on that front for a few days.  But what other opression could I write about?

In October, Hubs sister came to town and took him to a Post Malone concert for his birthday.  Without going into too much detail, it was a traumatic experience for him-he was stopped by police and security, and they ran his ID.  Now, here’s something I don’t often tell people, for no other reason than I rarely think about it: my husband has a felony from when he was seventeen.  He was homeless and desperate and broke into a house and got caught.  He spent three years in prison, and we met right when he moved to Buffalo, and lived in a halfway house downtown.

Mark never hides this fact.  I don’t think about it much, as I said, but it does affect our lives, twenty years after the fact.  He can’t get the job he wants, so he can’t make enough money to get it expunged.  Which means he will never get the job he wants, or a million other things.  And, sometimes, (more often than he would care to admit, really) cops give him a hard time. 

I don’t know why.  He usually isn’t doing anything.  He’s been stopped by a cop for walking near where a car was stolen the night before.  Once an officer stopped him for walking and eating a sandwich at the same time…I swear to God.  And then the concert, where they called him a drunk and slammed him on the hood of the police car and threatened to arrest him.  And each time they run his number and see that felony and he becomes suspect number one, even if there’s not a crime to be found.

So…I wrote a little play about that.  About how a hardworking, law-abiding citizen can still be discriminated against long after he supposedly paid his debt to society.  And I sent that off.  So now I may have two pieces in this production.

So…that’s it, right?

No.  Nonono.  There’s a little part of me that wants to ask, you know…a little part that wants to know if they have a stage manager.  A little part that wants to know when auditions are.  A little part that wonders who is directing…

 Oh, but that’s another blog for another day, isn’t it?

God Does Not Hate

Two posts in two days?  What?!

Got a little riled last night learning about a friend who has gone off the deep end, religiously.  Now, I have some super religious friends, and they are pretty cool.  Sure, they post a lot of Jesus or Allah quotes on Facebook, but mostly they are a “live and let live” sort of crew of varying beliefs that have never once tried to convert me.

See, I am fascinated by religion.  I was raised Catholic, with a mother who was a former nun and an aunt who was one for most of her life.  I went to Catholic school from Pre-K to Senior year.  I taught religious education.  I know a thing or two about Catholicism.  I also went to various Christian youth groups, so I know a little about Baptists, Lutherans, and Born-Agains, too.  Atop all this life experience, I also have a love of learning about other world religions, and find myself mesmerized by cults and the like.  I’ve read a great many books, even more articles, and when presented with something unfamiliar regarding religion, I always do my research.

Which is why I don’t understand the blind believer.

Now, I consider myself to be Christian.  I believe in Jesus, and God, but I don’t subscribe to any religion because I’ve yet to find one that isn’t at least 50% bullshit.  Trust me, I have been looking.  But there are two kinds of Christians, you see.  There’s the kind that I was raised to be, as someone who had a loving relationship with God, who spreads the good news when appropriate, but never judges or forces or hates, because do unto others and all that jazz.  Then there’s the kind of Christian that seems to think God is capable of hate, and thus they should be, too.  They blindly believe that God will forgive all their sins and that they must strive to be more God-like, but refuse to forgive the sins of their neighbors themselves.  These people are hypocrites.  These are the people who will quote you the bible but have never picked up a chemistry book. These are people who will believe God forgave them for their out of wedlock child, but if that child grows up to be gay, all bets are off.  No forgiveness there.  If that child needs an abortion someday, nothing about that’s gonna keep you out of hell.  Hypocrites.

The worst, I mean the WORST, is the recently reformed.  The ones who never had a relationship with God and thus dive in head first, unaware that you don’t have to follow the bible to the letter to be a good Christian.  Unaware what it means when we say Jesus died for our sins.  Unaware that these were laws for a society that existed over 2000 years ago, and we have brand new laws now, because maybe things have changed a little over the years.  These are the people I fear the most, because they are most likely to cut themselves off from the people they love who are not in the church.

And just a reminder, being forced to cut people out of your life is not religion business, it’s cult business.  Don’t think that because you aren’t following a guru and living on a commune you aren’t in a cult.  Most cults are Christian.  Westboro Baptist Church: Christian cult.  Moonies: Christian cult.  Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints: Christian cult.  Sure, maybe you don’t have child brides and mass weddings and funerals to picket BUT if you’re religion does not allow you to love and respect all people equally then it is not a religion, it is a cult.  But I digress…

I’ve had several friends “find God” and I am happy for the when they do because they all seem to find something they had been looking for.  I am not looking for this intangible thing, so I don’t quite understand it, but I take a “what makes you happy makes me happy” approach to it.  Unless they go crazy Christian.  I just cannot.  I cannot have you talk to me like I don’t know shit about the bible, because I could school you.  I cannot tolerate hatred or bigotry in the name of God because obviously you are reading the WRONG book.  I will not be seen as a lesser person because I do not subscribe to your particular belief system.  I won’t do it.  I don’t talk about my relationship with God to you unprompted, so do not think you are invited to discuss yours with me.  (Conversion is also cult business.  Real religion is happy to have a new member but won’t make you force it on unwilling subjects.)  I know it may sound harsh, but I have spent the past fifteen years deprogramming myself from Catholicism, and I’m not about to jump aboard your train.

In closing, I am totally tolerant of all religions, but if you are ignorant of your own beliefs, or your “church” seems much more like a cult than a religion, I’m going to object to it.  I will love you from afar if I have to, but I will not support exclusion, bigotry, sexism, or the sheer stupidity of having forgotten that God does not hate.  If you believe in these things, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel my subscription to your life.  I’ll renew when your values change.

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Good Friday

I do not consider myself a religious person, but rather a spiritual one. I started life being baptized Catholic, and by the church’s standards that means I am always Catholic. I went to Catholic school my entire life. My aunt was a Sister of Mercy and my mother herself was a former nun. Simply put, there was no escaping the Catholic church for me, and of course I believed everything I was taught at a young age. Some bits started to trouble me as I got older. It began at ten, when my church finally allowed girl altar servers and I realized that women could not be priests. It progressed at seventeen, as I was told during a homily that my friend Sahar would not be in heaven, as she was Muslim. Or my friend Mike, for that matter, who was gay. It ended at my sister’s First Communion when I was in my early 20s, and prior to the ceremony, as families were gathering in the church and greeting each other, the priest came out and actually yelled at us, citing that God could only be heard in silence. This was supposed to be a joyful celebration, and Mass had not even started. I consider this to be the straw that broke the Catholic camel’s back.

Now, I’ve always been open to other religions. So far as branches of Christianity go, I attended several youth groups as a child, and none of them were Catholic. I went to a Lutheran one, a Born-Again one, and a Baptist one, the latter being my favorite and the one I stuck with longest. I knew the Baptists weren’t for me in the same way I knew the Catholics probably weren’t, but their focus on Jesus was something I was not finding at my school, where they were already indoctrinating us with church dogma. I found a deeper connection to God through them and am eternally grateful. Also, this taught me that there were options.

When we learned about world religions, which was quite progressive for a Catholic school. I was enthralled. I found Buddhism and Hinduism to be the most interesting, with Islam a close second. I also looked at them through the same lens I had examined Catholicism, finding the bits I liked and felt were true to my core, and dismissing the parts I found to be out of date or restricting to the global community. I developed an interest in cults that I carry with me today. Seriously, one of my dream jobs is to be one of those people that pull others from cults and deprogram them. I find peoples blind faith to be fascinating. I studied other religions on my own time, learning about different world religions and specifically the assorted Christian sects. I have never found a “church” for me, and I don’t expect to, and so I make my own religion, my own set of morals and beliefs, and I have felt closer to God in this time than I ever did when I was younger.

I write all this because it is Good Friday. This is probably the one day a year I hold with some reverence. Christmas does not remind me of Jesus anymore, but rather the friends and family that we love and want to spend our time with. Easter makes me think of the rebirth of our planet, as spring pokes its head out from the ground. But Good Friday makes me think of all those years of Catholicism.

When I was young we had a tradition. My mother and I would go over to her friend Patty’s church for Stations of the Cross. Afterwards we would go to Patty’s for lunch, and then we had to play quietly from noon until three. Her sons would listen to the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack; her daughter and I usually hid in her room, biding our time. Afterwards we would usually dye Easter eggs, and then head home. It was a day I looked forward to, despite the church-going and the having to be quiet while Jesus died. I still think of Patty and her family every Good Friday, and I probably always will.

One year M asked me what the deal was with it, and I whipped out a Bible and gave a short lesson. They’re unbaptized and attend church on occasion, but don’t go to religion class or anything, so I was happy to oblige his questions. The four of them sat rapt as I explained how Jesus was persecuted and crucified, in the kid-friendly way I used when I taught religious education classes. They thought it was a good story I thought that was the best I could hope for.

In some ways Good Friday is like New Years Eve for me. It’s two days before Easter, and I see Easter as the real beginning of the year, when everything starts anew, but Good Friday is it a solemn and spiritual day for me. Not how it used to be, but it holds a remembrance of the life I used to live, and I choose to remember the best parts in that moment. Whatever your spiritual leanings as an adult, it is the experiences of your childhood that shape you, and this is the day I remember that.

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