Two Things

Apr. 22nd, 2010 10:58 pm
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
There are two things I would like to do this spring.

1. Visit Aunt Mo's grave. It has been two years, and I need to spend some time there in quiet contemplation.

2. Visit the church of my youth.

This is more a MUST do. )
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
This morning I found myself thinking back to when I took a discipleship class at a church I used to attend. I remembered how hungry I was to learn the material. What made me so hungry? And why did I become disillusioned enough to walk away and not look back?

I never wanted to be ordinary. I wanted to be magical.

I was tired of feeling like a victim of life and circumstances and men who did not think I was worthy of their love. I wanted to be untouchable, to be able to make things happen just by virtue of my belief in and relationship with the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The stories Christians told me throughout my youth and young adulthood had me convinced I should be able to do those things, and I became very disillusioned when that did not happen. I felt more and more like I was wasting my life and vitality on beliefs that were not producing. So, when I left Syracuse in 2003 I also left evangelical/pentecostal Christianity.

Nowadays I think I am magical, as in "a special person who brings a unique flavor to the world." But I don't think I can wave a hand or say a prayer and thus invoke a miracle, change the course of nature, or affect someone else's circumstances for better or worse. I am learning to celebrate ordinariness, rather than looking for miracles. However, I am amused that in celebrating ordinariness, I have crossed paths with people who are convinced that I am something of a miracle.

More amazing than that is the fact that I believe them.

On a loosely related note, I have lately been nurturing my innate sense of reverence. Reverence for what, I do not know. I only know what I feel. I get still and simply look inward. It is a calming feeling, not judgmental or scary in any way. I don't feel pressured to scream or shout or respond in any of the emotional ways I grew up seeing in the pentecostal church. I just feel like being still. I like it.
wlotus: (Deep Thoughts)
I had a conversation yesterday that reminded me I no longer believe the foundational tenets of Christianity. I don't believe there is a cognizant, independent being called "God"; to me, god is nothing more than another word for the life force that is found in all living things. I don't believe Jesus was any more or less divine than you or me; he was a person of incredibly strong convictions who treated people from all sexes and walks of life with radical equality in a time and culture where that was almost unheard of. I believe Bible accounts of things like the creation and the parting of the Red Sea are, most likely, myths like the ones the Greeks and Romans told about their gods to explain what they did not understand. (I still don't have a firm opinion on the stories about Jesus' death and resurrection.)

Yet I do not have any desire to withdraw my membership from The Riverside Church, a decidedly Christian church, in spite of not having attended a worship service since mid-summer, and in spite of not being involved in any ministries or classes there. I have no desire to find and join a Unitarian Universalist Church (UUC) congregation; because they are not decidedly Christian, it wouldn't feel like being a member of a "real" church to me. And I insist on defining myself as "Christian", though I am quite clear that my deep respect for how Jesus lived his life and my agreement with the things he taught is what makes a Christian, not belief in his divinity or the sometimes questionable teachings of his early followers.

I feel as though I am grasping at straws, and I do not understand why I am grasping.
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
I am troubled by the fact that now that I am back in touch with someone from my fundamentalist Christian past, someone I care deeply for, any explanations I might make to her about why I have left that life entirely behind seem superficial. My decision feels right, but as people in that movement are fond of saying, it isn't about our feelings; it is about what "god/God" wants. How martyr-ific a mindset that is, not to mention it being a recipe for a return to the depression I fought so hard to overcome, were I to go back.

When I look deeper, I realize this has nothing to do with believing fundamentalism or even Christianity is the One Right WayTM to live. This has everything to do with seeking others' approval...which is what had me repressed and miserable in the fundamentalist lifestyle in the first place. Everything about the lifestyle was about making lists of right vs. wrong and checking it twice an hour. What I felt was right was irrelevant; what everyone else thought was right, as dictated by the pastor, was the standard I was expected to live up to. Anyone who did not comply could find herself the subject of Bible studies, sermons, and silencing. (Silencing is when a person is forced to give up their positions/activities in the spiritual community as a form of punishment. It takes away from that person the very activities which make the community meaningful to her/him and forces them to the very bottom of the social hierarchy. They become a leper, in a sense. Once they comply with the community's expectations, no matter the cost to their own sense of self-respect, they are "restored to full fellowship".) The threat of being publicly ostracized was a real one, and for someone who could not see how she would survive such a humiliating experience, it was more than enough to keep me in line.

I will not go back to that...which means I need to get over the fact that some people from my past may look at my life now and, rather than be glad I am finally at peace through and through, shake their heads in scorn and make a life like mine the subject of Bible studies and sermons.
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
I am going to change how I read the Bible. I was trained from a small child to read and consider it God's perfect, infallible, literal word to humankind. For the past few years I have not known what to think, except that it was mostly written and compiled by males for males, who deliberately excluded women in many ways. But this morning I realized I could read it for what it is: certain writers' understanding of the divine, a record of certain people's experiences, and one which was interpreted from the original languages by people (usually male) far removed from the cultures and times in which the original writers lived. I would read any other collection of religious or philosophical writing that way (Upanishads, Koran, Lotus Sutra, etc.). Why not the Bible? Only because of indoctrination, that's why.

I am not a Christian because of the Bible....
wlotus: (Jesus Called)
I went to church to be inspired and ended up annoyed. If the church continues to be held hostage by a small but vocal minority who will go to the media and the courts to overturn the democratic process of the church, I will do what they should have done: leave. I don't have the patience for this foolishness. It's bad enough to see the democratic process hijacked in this country, but to experience it in church is beyond the pale.

I want spiritual community, but at what cost?
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
I want, when I say "Christian," for people to think of the teachings of Jesus… how he healed the sick and welcomed those who society spit at… how he forgave the unforgivable and ate with those that most people of his day would not even look at. I’m tired of "Christian," meaning pamphlets with hellfire and gay-bashing. I’m tired of it meaning Bush-supporter and anti-evolutionist. I want it to mean “follower of Jesus” again....

To be a follower of Jesus should mean that we were profoundly moved by his Life and ministry, not simply that we’re glad that he died so that we could go to heaven.

Read the rest. I most definitely could NOT have said it better, myself. If "Christian" means what this writer says it should mean, I am, most definitely a Christian.


Jun. 15th, 2009 10:42 pm
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
I think I need to not worry so much about spiritual experiences, spiritual answers, spiritual absolutes, and spiritual paths. A lot of what I was told was absolute is not. A lot of what I have been told is certain has holes in it. But one thing is certain and has been proven by time and experience: I have a life, and that life will pass me by, if I spend it worrying about spirituality so much. Much of my childhood and young adulthood were lost that way. I want better for myself than that in my post-40 life.

Sometimes the most spiritual thing one can do is simply, mindfully live one's everyday life.
wlotus: (Default)
Some months ago, [ profile] iswari was kind enough to re-lend Pilgrimage to the Mother to me. Yesterday I finally began to re-read it. By coincidence, it was on the same day that I attended church for the first time in months and also offered my name to three different ministries, so I can finally get involved in my church on a somewhat regular basis. When I first read the book, I think I was more firmly steeped in Christian tradition than I am, now; I'm not so sure, as it has been a few years since I read it. (She and [ profile] blostopher had not yet had their son!) At this point I am reading as someone who hangs onto Christianity out of a sense of familiarity and a desire to believe more solidly than I do, even while I am painfully aware of the emptiness of what I used to try to make myself believe and the fact that I never really believed any of it past a surface acceptance of it, as much as I wanted to.

That makes reading this book quite the exercise in detachment. I have always had a tendency to read spiritual books with a sense of wanting to see myself in the person I am reading about, of wanting to find a sign for my own path in their path. But this time I instinctively remind myself, "That is her path, Wanda, not yours." What I am getting out of her story so far is the importance of validating and following my own path, spiritual or otherwise, rather than trying to fit myself into someone else's.

All of my doubts aside, there is still a strong yearning for spiritual connection in me. I want the spiritual realm to be real to me, finally. And like Alakananda Devi, I desire to find my own guru. But I don't want to give up my life in the United States to go on pilgrimage alone in India or anywhere else, in search of a teacher I may not find in yet another religious construct that may turn out to be a severe disappointment in the harsh light of reality.

Right now I have too many doubts to believe strongly in any brand of spirituality. I believe in community, which is why I am attempting to become active in my church, in spite of my doubts. I believe in helping others. I believe in striving to be my best self: that is, free from the anxiety, perfectionism, judgementalism, and bitterness which fundamentalist Christianity had a hand in planting in me. But I am hard pressed to believe in supernatural things like visions and the like, because I have never experienced those things. I have heard of others claiming to have experienced them; Alakananda Devi does in her book. I have wanted to have those experiences. I have claimed certain events in my life were those experiences. But if they were, the passage of time and the unrelenting impact of reality has eroded my surety, until I now doubt it was what I thought it was.

I was raised to believe there are answers, and those who seek them shall find them. All of this uncertainty troubles me.
wlotus: (Tending the Flame)
As the bus passed a local Assemblies of God church, I had a sudden flash of insight regarding my faith journey:

What gave me comfort before still gives me comfort. What I hoped would give me comfort if I kept repeating it is what I finally felt free to drop when I left evangelical Christianity.

For example, I never felt thoroughly convinced of the claims that Jesus' death was redemptive and believing in him as God is the only way to eternal salvation. I would say I believed it and I would dutifully teach it to others, but I never felt it down to my core. I wasn't being a hypocrite; I thought I was supposed to believe it, and I hoped that I would eventually believe it, too, if I kept repeating it. But belief never came. Dropping the attempts to make myself believe it has been a relief.

It is also a relief to realize I did not walk away from what I know is true. I simply walked away from what I never believed in the first place. (30+ years of trying to believe something before walking away is more than giving it a fair chance.) Knowing that, I am convinced that I have the right to still take comfort and be inspired by what has always comforted and inspired me.

Deep down in my core, I believe Jesus was an awesome role model, a man of principle, and someone whose life I ought to use as a guide for how I should live mine. I am awestruck by the fact that he was willing to die for what he believed. I am inspired by the way he treated sincere people with sincere respect, whether they were women or "untouchables". I take great pleasure in the way he did not kowtow to hypocritical religious leaders or follow rules that made no sense to him. I have always felt that way about Jesus, and that has not changed just because I am no longer an evangelical/pentecostal Christian.

The musical structure of both gospel music and formal hymns comforts and moves me, even if some of the lyrics do not resonate with me. That has not changed.

John 1:1 stirs something at the bottom of my soul every time I read it. That has not changed, either.

Sitting/kneeling in quiet contemplation soothes my soul, especially when I do it in places revered as "holy" by people of that faith. Because of the baggage of my past, I cannot do it as readily in pentecostal, evangelical, or non-denominational Christian church buildings; I feel suffocated by the weight of expectations I can never meet and saddened by the loss of so many years trying. But cathedrals, chapels, temples, and shrines are fine. I no longer feel ashamed of that fact.

The bus continued its journey, and I breathed a sigh of relief from being suddenly free of a burden I had not even known I was carrying.
wlotus: (Fallen Angel)
Last night I watched "The Ten Commandments", an old favorite I used to love to watch every year with my mother when I was growing up. It is the first time I watched the movie since I renounced fundamentalist Christianity. To my surprise, the movie (specifically the narration which was directly from the Old Testament) triggered all of my old fears and shame and sense of not being good enough, a side effect of spending so much of my life worshipping and trying to please a punitive, all-male God. Also to my surprise, I had one of my (now rare) recurring dreams of being unable to accomplish a necessary goal. Every time I took one step towards the goal, I remembered five more steps I had forgotten, and time was quickly running out. I woke up after nine hours of sleep feeling mentally exhausted.

This is the first time I made the connection between my religious background and those draining, frustrating dreams.
wlotus: (Jesus Called)
I enjoy gospel music's chord structure, cadence, energy, and emotion. However, the misogynistic and homophobic views many Christians have turn me off so badly, I sometimes feel conflicted about listening to gospel music, let alone singing it. I wonder how Bishop Yvette Flunder is able to do it and if it ever causes a sense of conflict in her.

Oh, MY God

Jan. 8th, 2009 03:28 pm
wlotus: (Deep Thoughts)
Three weeks ago I wrote in my paper journal about my current feelings towards God. In short, why should I be angry at God when people are the ones who misled me? Or (to take responsibility for my own naivete and to acknowledge the fact that many of them were well-meaning) why should I be angry at God when I was the one who decided early in life to suppress my instinctive understanding of God to blindly believe what the people around me believed? (In all fairness to myself, that suppression was a necessary survival skill, due to the environment I grew up in. Now, however, it fits me no better than my very first pair of shoes would.)

The things I believe about God now are in line with what I used to believe about God when I was a very young child just becoming aware/curious of the divine.

God never misled me. God was simply being Zirself* all along. But people told me God was something else, something that turned out to be oppressive to me in many ways. That was not God's fault.

I feel I can befriend God, now. The thought of doing so no longer sets my teeth on edge.

*I don't usually use gender-neutral pronouns, but doing so when I write about God feels far more natural to me than alternating between the feminine and masculine or not using any pronouns at all.
wlotus: (Deep Thoughts)
To the woman [God] said, “...Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
~Genesis 3:16b, NKJV

In the later years of my identification as an evangelical Christian, I understood this account of God's word to Eve after Adam and she sinned to be a warning: God was warning Eve that because they were no longer sinless, men would oppress women, rather than women and men living and ruling the earth (not each other) as complete equals as Eve and Adam had done up to that point (Genesis 1:27-30). But it was only this afternoon that I realized God made no mention to Adam of a backlash against men because of the way they had oppressed women. It couldn't be because God (as the writer of this account knew God) did not know; according to the Bible, God knows everything. So was that part of God's word left out by the writers (or later editors), who were products of their misogynistic culture? Or, perhaps, did God not say anything to Adam about the inevitable backlash, because he knew Adam's sinful state would not allow him to hear and understand the danger of giving in to that sinful desire to rule over women?


All Of Us

Sep. 22nd, 2008 10:14 am
wlotus: (Aum)
Everyone has something in her or his life that hurts, scares, angers, or otherwise challenges her or him. You are no more challenged (or less blessed) than the next person. We are all in this cycle of challenge/blessing together.
wlotus: (Rainbow Cross)

Please don't ask me when was the last time I attended church, because I couldn't tell you. But when T told me she has wanted to get back into going to church and expressed a strong interest in all The Riverside Church had to offer, I was inspired to get my cold-addled behind (and other assorted body parts) up in time to attend Homecoming Sunday services. I usually attend alone, so it was very nice to attend with a friend. She was so impressed, she says she'll be back next week, which means I will be, too, all things remaining equal.

I had another reason for attending church: the Senior Minister Search Committed had presented Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton as the candidate to be our new senior minister. Today he gave his candidate sermon, and at the business meeting afterwards we debated and then put his candidacy to a vote. He was approved by an overwhelming margin of us. I had never been part of something like that, and it was interesting to participate in the process.

I have a new senior minister, and I have a friend who is willing to attend church with me. Let's see where this phase of my spiritual journey takes me.

Riverside Church nave

wlotus: (Standing Out)

For some months I've reluctantly considered myself agnostic. I cannot say for sure I know God exists, but I *can* say for sure that most of what I was told about who God is, what God does, and what God will do for me did not work out that way. I wanted to be a Christian, because that spiritual tradition is what speaks most deeply to me. But with my doubts, I didn't feel right calling myself one, so I settled for "agnostic"...though if pressed, I would say, "agnostic, with Christian leanings."

(I can already see that if I am to get these musings out, I will have to accept them being less than polished. At least they'll be honest.)

Yesterday I went to church. I paid special attention, because in addition to it being pentecost Sunday, it was new members and confirmation Sunday. I have been wondering if I can still say I am a Christian and, therefore, a member of Riverside Church, with all of my doubts about God's existence, etc. I listened carefully to what they asked the new members (paraphrased):

1. Do you profess Jesus as Lord?
2. Do you promise to be a disciple of Christ?
3. Do you promise to participate in the life of this Christian community?

I can honestly answer, "Yes," to all of those questions. That is a relief, because I didn't want to float around without any spiritual community, and I like what Riverside Church stands for. I may have questions about God and even about Jesus' divinity, but I believe in the things he taught and am a disciple of his. (I believe *Jesus believed* he was the Son of God, and that's as far as I can go with that, right now.) So I left feeling more confident that I can declare myself a Christian, a disciple of Christ, and remain a member of Riverside, rather than continuing to call myself agnostic.

(Granted, my discipleship looks very different now than it did years ago. Back then it was about making my life look the way other people said a Christian's life is supposed to look, and forcing myself to think the way other people said a Christian is supposed to think. These days my discipleship is about honesty, through and through, not forcing myself to fit in a box. I do what makes sense to me, and I am honest about the fact that I am doing it because it is what makes the most sense to me, even if it looks opposite what I had been told a Christian does. I figure if there is a sentient God keeping score, God is more likely to appreciate my honesty than my attempts to make myself into someone I am not. And if/when I change, it happens because changing makes the most sense.)

wlotus: (Rainbow Cross)
I'm reminded of when God sent Simon Peter to preach the Gospel to Gentiles. At the time, the early church was entirely composed of Jews who accepted Christ as the Messiah. There were no non-Jewish Christians, and Jewish scripture, their moral authority, forbade them to associate with Gentiles. But God spoke directly to Peter--gave him a vision and commanded him not to call "unclean" anything God has cleansed--and told him to go with the people who were looking for him, because God had sent them. So Peter went with them to the gentile Cornelius' home and preached the gospel to Cornelius' household, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost (Act 10:9-48). He was even invited to stay with them for a few days. And when Peter saw the Gentiles were accepted by God, he said the Jewish Christians had to accept them, too. He said, "Who was I to think that I could oppose God? (Act 11:11-18)".

Now, replace "Jewish" with "heterosexual" and "Gentile" with "homosexual". If God had an acceptance of the Gentiles deeper than the Jews originally understood from the scriptures they had at the time, who is to say the same is not true of LGBT people vs. what heterosexuals have traditionally thought the Bible meant?

Listen. God is still speaking.


wlotus: (Default)

October 2010



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