Monday, August 29, 2011

Election 2012 on the Horizon: A Plea for Peaceful Politics

It's that time again.  We spent August maligning the "incompetent" politicians in Congress and their inability to reach a budget agreement.  Now we can go back to picking apart presidential candidates after every public appearance or criticizing the President after every perceived misstep.

Have you ever said you're sick of politics, politicians, and all the bickering and posturing that goes on between the parties?  Have you then gone on to verbally malign a political party or politician?  Ever see the dichotomy there?

I'm guilty of such hypocrisy, much to my shame.  It is possible to have reasoned debates and disagreements without maligning the character or intent of your opposition, but it is very difficult.  It's much easier to say someone is uneducated and backwards (or conversely, say someone is part of the ivory tower intellectual elite) than to say you just look at an issue differently.  It's easier to say someone is unpatriotic, or anti-American,  or heartless, than to give specific reasoning as to why you disagree with their stance.  We learn it very young on the playground-- name-calling gets results.  As adults, we learn that nothing rallies people to our cause quite like getting them royally pissed off at the other side.  So we malign our opponent's character.  We ascribe to them evil intentions.  We consider ourselves the reasoned, tempered ones, while considering our opponents evil scum bags out to destroy our country.

I've been active in both major political parties at one time or another.  This habit goes both ways, because I've done it from both sides.  And it is completely and utterly pointless.  Democracy lends itself to the power of the majority and while the minority is out of luck. But any hope of compromise requires us to see our "opponents" not as our enemies, but as fellow citizens who just happen to look at the problems differently and see different solutions.  It's probably naive to think the tone of our discourse could change on the national level, but at least this change in thinking can temper our political conversations with friends, family, and coworkers.  It can dictate what "news" sources we feed into our minds-- do they inform, or do they agitate?

One final word-  I remember after the 2010 elections reading reports that called the results a "bloodbath" and talked about the "carnage" of the congressional upset.  First world problems, baby, first world problems.  Talk a look at Zimbabwe or any of the many countries where elections aren't free and the price of voting for the wrong candidate can mean death.  We have a peaceful transition of government after every election--no fighting, no blood, no civil war.  So let's not act like we're going into battle in the ballot box.

Dangerous Thoughts or Pertinent Points?

I continue on my journey of undergoing seismic shifts in thinking, beliefs, questioning, and doubts.  It seems the more questions I seek to answer, the more questions I end up asking, with no answers in sight. While it leaves me somewhat disconcerted, I'm trying to make peace with the idea that some questions are just not going to have answers; or at least, no answers that I can cling to with 100% assurance.

I was discussing some of my doubts with a family member a few weeks ago, and while he acknowledged he too had doubts, he insisted that my approach to my faith conundrums was "dangerous."  Dangerous, because I pointed my finger at the church and held it responsible as the source of much of the pain and confusion I've undergone in the last decade.  In essence, he was saying it was okay to question God, but don't go blaming the church for my issues.

I admit, I was taken aback.  Sometimes in church we hear, "Hey, it's OK to express doubt. Ask God these questions. Wrestle with them.  It's normal to doubt and wonder."  Yet when you do those very things, people start to get nervous that you are "falling away from the faith" or bordering on the profane.  How is it "dangerous" to point out where the church has erred?  How is it harmful to reexamine past teachings and beliefs in light of new knowledge?  Do the doubters among us get pushed to the fringes of our faith communities because we think the whole thing will unravel by a question or two?

Asking questions about God, faith, the church--and more specifically, fundamentalist faith--is like a Pandora's box, in that once you start, you can't ever put those questions away.  When you realize you've believed wrong things, you can't go back to blindly believing them. "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."  In that sense, I suppose my thinking is dangerous.  I can't go back to the warm, fuzzy comfort of an unquestioned faith and assurance in God.  But blind, unreasonable faith--that seems to be a greater danger in the long run.

And so, I keep asking.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apologizing for Hypocrisy

I used to think I had all the answers to just about everything in life, and I was quick to tell others those answers.  Difficult circumstances? Turn to God for comfort!  Marriage troubles? Obey the Bible's guidance for husbands and wives--love and respect and submit and all that!  Homosexuality? No, marriage is only for one man and one woman!  Abortion?  Murder in all circumstances!  Politics? Republican!  Science? Genesis!  And so forth and so on.

The problem with having a seismic shift in your religious beliefs is that you start to feel like an ass for how you've behaved in years past. Even though most of my attempts to win converts to my way of thinking were well-intentioned, I'm embarrassed and ashamed of many things I've said and written to other people.  Granted, I was operating under a genuine belief that if I loved people, I needed to do everything to see them get "saved." This entailed trying to win them to the faith through sound arguments and living in such a way that they would see that itty-bitty inkling of hope within me. Then the Holy Spirit would tip them over the edge of unbelief and into the arms of a loving God.  Or so I hoped.

The trouble is that I was not happy or completely satisfied with the very answers I was giving to everyone else.  I never presented the gospel as: "Believe in Jesus and then your life will be just peachy!" I know I was upfront with the "Life will still be very difficult" caveat. Still, I was naive and rather out-of-touch with how my message was being perceived by a lot of people. If they raised arguments, I could crush them. If they still wavered in doubt, I could convince them.  If they stubbornly insisted on holding to their sinful lives, I could condemn them.

Oh, silly, silly, sinful me. Can I take all of that back?  Can I apologize for my hypocrisy?  I know better now.  I really do.  I know I don't know much about anything. I don't have this figured out. I know now that no matter how one's life may appear to other people, other people never know the whole story. I didn't know their stories or their experiences. I presumed a great deal.  And for that, I'm sorry.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God"

A few months ago I bought Julia Sweeney's one-woman monologue/show called "Letting Go of God." I finally got around to watching it last night. She perfectly captures much of the confusion and frustration I currently feel with my search to understand God, faith, and the world. I haven't quite come to the conclusion she ultimately comes to, but I so appreciate her humor and honesty in describing her journey.

You can see most of her monologue via clips on YouTube, but I highly recommend purchasing the DVD.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Out of Misery and Into Joy

It occurred to me over homemade mac and cheese, a generous piece of store-bought chocolate cake, and a glass of wine. It was sometime last October or November, sitting in my new rental house all alone, watching PBS. The kids were with their Dad for the weekend, and while I missed them and was still getting used to the idea of them being gone, I didn't feel lonely. For the first time, I had the delicious thought that I was free to do whatever I wished. No one to judge me. No one to guilt me, boss me around, or look over my shoulder. Thirty years of life, and I finally felt like an adult. I could watch what I wanted, and no one would care. I could eat and drink what I wanted, and no one would think ill of me. I could talk to whomever I wanted without raising suspicions. I could go to the store at midnight, and who would even know?

It may seem a silly thing, but it was rather revolutionary for me. I'm not used to such a wide range of choices nor used to exercising the full range of my volition.

I've lost so much in the last year. Marriage, house, friends, neighborhood, idyllic dreams of things that probably never would have been anyway. But through it I've discovered the amazing love of friends who continue to minister to me while I sort through the random pieces of my life. Friends who give my kids and me a place to live. Friends who come and clean, pack, paint, move. Friends who give food and money. Friends who call me up just to check on me. Friends who anonymously leave gifts on our doorstep. And new friends at my new school as we train for our new careers, who offer me encouragement and inspiration as we struggle through together.

I hesitate to say that I'm a better person now. We have failed to keep a vow, and there is no way to glamorize or martyrize that. It is a failure, a sin, a breech of trust, a broken contract. But it is what it is. And life goes on, somehow.

With my newfound sense of freedom comes a lifting of the weight that has held me down for so long--the unspoken expectations I was so sure God had of me. Surely I must put myself through the spiritual wringer time and again to gain His approval. Die to self, die to self, die to self. Resistance if futile, and misery marks progress. Be miserable, for I am miserable.

The great thing about blowing the big stuff like marriage is that everyone in church loses their expectations of you. You move into the category of divorcee, whose only options remaining are to screw it up even further or play the single parent martyr. There is freedom in not having to try to impress people anymore.

Such a funny thing, then, to find that when I stop trying so damn hard to be holy--when I give up on the idea of guilting myself into spiritual fitness--I move out of misery and into joy. And while I've roughened up around the edges (when did I start swearing?), I feel more authentically Christian, more whole, more at ease with myself. For the first time in a long time (dare I say ever?), I found myself saying a phrase that felt foreign on my lips- "I am happy."

And wonder of wonders, God hasn't struck me down yet. Who knew.