Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

Frank Schaeffer, author of such anti-Evangelical memoirs as Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and Sex, Mom and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway, has a new book coming out on May 15 that released today: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

 Like so many postmodern Christian authors' recent books, publishers didn't know how to categorize this new book--it's too religious for a secular publisher and too heretical for the religious ones--and shunned his latest effort. Also like so many other authors whose work won't fit conventional categories, he has turned to self-publishing for his new title.  And self-marketing.  For this book Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, Schaeffer is dependent on the word-of-mouth promotion of social media. When he put the plea out on Twitter for advance readers who would review and promote his book, I jumped at the chance.  I've read all of Schaeffer's post-Evangelical nonfiction and reveled in the sense that I'd found someone who really understood my love-hate relationship with my hyper-religious childhood.  Here was someone whose memories were as bittersweet and painful-poignant as mine.  His bitterness and nostalgia commingled in awkward harmony that echoed my own longings.

In Why I Am an Atheist, Schaeffer brings his paradoxical and sometimes schizophrenic love-hate for religion to a new reconciliation he has not reached before in his writing.  Previous books acknowledged the contradictions in his spiritual life and his acceptance of the incompatible elements. Patience with God: Faith for Those Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) expresses this acceptance most clearly in showing how fundamentalist dogma breeds angry ranting whether it's religious or atheist.  Yet even that book didn't seem to have the inner peace that comes from moving beyond acceptance of contradictions to a transcendence of contradiction itself, a reconciliation of Self that comes from the realization that contradictions are different faces worn by the same Truth.

This book spends much less time dropping names or alluding to the royal houses of American Christianity than his previous memoirs do, a fact which pleased me as Schaeffer's previous frequent references to celebrity Christians seemed only to underscore his bitter longing for wanting to belong again while never wanting to be again the man who had belonged.  I had to laugh--cynically and with a kind of almost-been-there, didn't-quite-do-that smirk--at his wry acknowledgment that leaving the establishment of Christian celebrities hasn't been any too good for his back pocket:
My dogmatic declarations of faith once provided status, ego-stroking power over others and a much better income than I’ve ever earned since fleeing the Evangelical machine. Certainty made things simple, gave me an answer to every question and paid the bills.
People will pay good money to those who promote the party line in fresh packaging. When you can cut the certainty drug with ever new and exciting fillers and enhancers, you will always have a ready market who will pay good money for their next fix.  Why I Am an Atheist is for people who have left behind the party line, have embraced uncertainty, and are beginning to experience a new certainty:  that Truth exists beyond dogma, past religion or no religion, in an inner space where neither religion nor atheism exist but both are true.




(I received a copy of this book for my review in hopes that I would say wonderful things about it but with no obligation on my part to be nearly so generous.)


Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: Girl at the End of the World



I preordered Elizabeth Esther's  Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. I got it the night before it was released, when my Kindle thought it was already midnight in wherever Amazon Standard Time is.  I finished it by 1am. 



If you grew up in fundamentalist Christianity, in the inner circle of church leadership, in any kind of cult, or even in garden-variety abuse and addiction, you paid a price with your very soul. And you will find solace in this book, knowing that you weren't alone. I laughed and I cried and I tried to keep the noise down so my husband could sleep. But I finished with a full heart, for Elizabeth Esther wrote the drama of my childhood. Sure the setting was different and the costumes were changed, but still the essence of the story was my story too. It is the story of far too many children.

 I will be thinking of this book for days, I know, as it pulls up long-hidden memories and deeply buried feelings from my own childhood. It is a healing space.

Thank you, Elizabeth Esther, for creating a safe space for me to look more deeply at the wounds in my soul.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Did Jesus Die to Appease God?



(image from http://www.anchor1611.org, item #4)

Jesus didn't die to appease God. Jesus died because he wouldn't appease men. 

God sacrificed his ineffable infinity to become a finite human with human limits in order to demonstrate The Way of Compassion and a bottom-up society. He was killed "for our sins" in that the society and culture we humans have created, ego-driven and top-down, couldn't tolerate the radical and transformative message. Oppression sells. When the oppressed rise up, the oppressors kill them. That is our collective human sin. And that is what killed Jesus.

Penal substitution is one of the biggest lies Christians tell themselves. When Christ “paid it all, all to him I owe” (as the hymn goes), he wasn't paying a debt incurred by the individual sins of believers (or the world, if you're a universalist). His sacrifice was not death on the cross as some kind of late era human offering. His sacrifice was in accepting the human limits on his infinite divinity in order to teach us compassion and equality. The human culture, created out of the blindly ego-driven human desires for authority, hierarchy, and power-over, killed him to save itself.

Despite the sincere efforts of groups like Anchor Baptist Church, who published the photo above, to establish that Jesus paid a debt to appease a deity whose holiness demanded perfection according to an impossible standard set by himself, the Bible actually never speaks of any debt owed to God (or even Satan, as one version of this doctrine states) nor that Jesus paid it. Nor does the Bible explain how failure to live up to the Ten Commandment standard, which standard even God himself couldn’t maintain in the Old Testament, incurs a debt, demands punitive justice, or is actually in any way responsible for the death of Jesus.

Sin is “having eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, or, having come to a state of consciousness in which duality is possible, believing that separation from God is not only possible but the inherent way of existence.  Sin is living in denial of the fundamental unity of All That Is.  Sin creates the human conditions of power-over and oppression, of hoarding resources and poverty, of In-groups and Othering.  The consequence of such belief and behavior is death and degradation of most of the human race. And a nearly irreconcilable poverty of spirit for those few at the top of the heap.  There is reason to believe that the poverty of spirit is so acute that the One Percenters indeed lack any capacity for empathy or compassion at all.  Sociopathy rules.

Jesus’ death was not to justify some cosmic accounting ledger for a tyrannically holy, fully Other, tortuously punitive deity.  That story isn’t in the Bible.  It’s a story modern Christians have made up for themselves to keep the masses shame-laden and burdened with exalting the few who manipulate the stories.  Much like the few who didn’t approve of the story Jesus was telling of a radical, inclusive, egalitarian compassion. 

Jesus told of unity and oneness and the inseparability of holy and human.  He taught that the weak and the poor are as worthy and powerful as the rich and the strong.  The One Percenters of his day had created a society in which such talk wasn’t only heretical but treason.  The social climbers and power-hungry and would-be rich-and-famous colluded with the society of sin and degradation to put that story to death.

We crucify Jesus again and all like him whenever we allow oppression, hierarchy, poverty, or exclusion to occur.  When we believe in the separation of sacred and secular, when we ascribe to the few more worth than the many, when we deny the holiness of all humanity.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Gentle Lent

Elizabeth Esther opened a Gentle Lent link-up on Ash Wednesday.  I was definitely going to link up a blog post.  I always write a blog post for Ash Wednesday.  Lent is my thing.  And then…I didn’t. 

In preparation for Lent, I took a moment of spontaneous solitude on Monday to smudge the house.  It is a ritual that breaks up the heaviness that clogs a space when emotional upheaval has taken place, when unresolved conflict lingers on, when grief and anger become bitterness and rage swept under the carpet.  I knew the house, my life, my marriage, needed some clearing but I didn’t consider how much that twenty-minute burning of dried weeds would exhaust me.  Sure, I have chronic fatigue as a major symptom of my hysterical illness but, holy frijole! was I sick and exhausted afterward. 

Then, of course, because I hate to follow rules and always celebrate moments of breaking them, I threw all dietary caution to the wind on Fat Tuesday, knowing that I was going to begin an even more restrictive food plan on Wednesday.  Wow, did that food mess me up!  Just a little Starbucks scone and latte with milk, some enchiladas for lunch, and popcorn in the evening—regular food, not even a wild and crazy bender. 

So, by Ash Wednesday itself, I lay in bed feeling like I was sackcloth and ashes, no need to put them on.  No post got written, no blog got linked; I didn’t even get out of my pajamas or comb my hair.  By Thursday, I was back on my feet enough to get to Restorative Yoga and to lead the Chant class I have taken on this year but that was it, back to bed I went. Emotionally flogging myself all the while for not having met my own expectations.

Today, I popped over to Elizabeth’s blog to see what other people had written for Gentle Lent.  The first thing I noticed, though it was in tiny print at the bottom of the page, was that the link-up was still open.  A window of Grace! I could still participate even though I was three days late.  Woohoo!

Then I began to read some of the entries.  So many of them spoke of setting intentions and failing to live up to them, as if Lent were religious version of just-hate-yourself-now unsuccessful New Year’s Resolutions.  So many bloggers wrote of their relief that Gentle Lent accepted failure, set up low expectations, simply wanted us to Be instead of Do. 

The proverbial light bulb went off over my head.  Isn’t that what I preach All. The. Time?

Be.
Don’t Do.
Accept what Is and Love Always. 
Let Grace Happen. 

I had to laugh at my own hubris.  I hadn’t failed at Lent on the very first day.  I’d only begun to enter into the liturgical adventure of self-discovery.  Lent itself gave me the gift of falling down on the very first day of trying to Do Lent from my ego self.  Lent gave me the gift of grace, the opportunity to realize my ego had tripped me up once again, the chance to repent, to turn away, from that self-flagellating ego and Be once again.


Falling down isn’t failure.  It is an opportunity to get up, turn away, and walk around the obstacle that caused the stumble.  Transformation occurs the second we turn our face in a new direction. Grace always gives you a second chance.  That’s what grace is. 


   

    An InLinkz Link-up
   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Beginnings



Every spiritual tradition that I have studied has in its creation stories a piece that goes something like this:


Before the beginning
There was timeless space
Infinite unity
Of All That Would Be.  

Out of the singularity
That was Eternal Becoming
Came a Word.

With the Word
Light separated from Darkness
And Time began.

The Word became incarnate
Dividing consciousness
Into material and immaterial.

At the beginning of time
The Word was one with All That Would Be.
The Word was All That Would Be.

Out of the Word was everything created.
All that was created
Came from the Word.

The Word is eternal and infinite
Always becoming
Always creating.

Echoes of the eternal Word
Rise up from the very ground of your being
Fall from your lips with every breath.

In communion with
What Is Always Becoming
Let us chant. 

Aum. 


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Rant on Christmas Day 2013

I was so happy to finally be able to go to Midnight Mass again.  I've been too sick to go for the last three or four years and I was excited to feel up to a late night in a crowd.  I began attending Mass about ten years ago when I missed a religious component to Christmas in our very secular household—I particularly missed singing all the Christmas carols.  I chose Mass over a Protestant service because there's lots of singing, praying, liturgy (that I can bring my own meaning to), and not so much preaching.  And generally Catholics really know how to enjoy the Baby Jesus and the Holy Family, Protestants tend to skip over Jesus' actual life—he was born so he could die, that's the only important thing!

Last night my 15yo and I went to a different church than we've gone to in the past, to meet up with a friend of hers.  The service was very much about the pageantry and spectacle:  the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, swords aloft, to guard the procession of the Bible and the priests to the altar; incensing everything; bowing, kissing, crossing, in front of statues, Bibles, Eucharist paraphernalia; the entire liturgy was sung, we bounced from seated to standing to kneeling to standing.  It was high drama religious theater.

Then the pastor comes down in front of the altar to preach and starts out with a slide of an Orthodox icon that he used to introduce his point in object lesson form.  Initially I was impressed because this guy was clearly reaching outside his own tradition in what he considered a broad-minded and ecumenical inclusion.  But then he veered off into his main point—the baby Jesus depicted in grave clothes and in a coffin, the Reason for the Season is Death and Ultimate Sacrifice (as if being born a human baby isn't a bigger sacrifice for a deity).  That God "loved" us so much that …blah, blah, blah, John 3:16…that God loves us enough to transform us (loves us enough to change us from our obviously currently unacceptable selves) if only we will let him.  Still the onus on us to DO something to "be reconciled" with God.

But truly, all that depressing theology aside, the bits of the homily that upset me the most, that I raved about all the way home (at one in the morning, to the annoyance of my totally "all religion is a joke" daughter) was the casual, almost throwaway references to the Culture War:  the priest opened his homily with "Merry Christmas! (We responded "Merry Christmas, Father") You can say that here.  Unlike Out There, like in the stores and stuff, where you might not be able to say it, here we rejoice that we can loudly proclaim the reason for our celebration…."  (Really?  There are places, stores or anywhere, where people are not allowed to say Merry Christmas to each other?  Where does this priest hang out?), and then later his patronizing tirade about an atheist conspiracy to evangelize our youth into atheism, by spending "lots and lots and lots" of money on "billboards around town, I'm sure you've seen them" that try to claim God isn't a rational proposition "when we all know, everyone knows deep in your heart that God exists."

Why?  Why make up shit like that? There are enough reasons that actually do exist, that are real problems faced by Christians even in a society that privileges Christianity, why make up stuff?  Although I admitted, that he probably actually believed it was true.  He seemed like a True Believer™ so he most likely didn't even think he was propagandizing. 

Which was probably the saddest thing I saw last night.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trauma Therapy--Heavy Metal Style



A friend sent me a link to this song, thinking its story might find resonance with my story. He had no idea how right he was. Despite his trigger warning, I didn't expect how deeply into the buried recesses of my mind this song would reach.  I listened to it probably five times straight through before I could make myself quit hitting repeat.  Or, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn't press the button.  I didn't have the luxury of truly falling apart then. Ruthlessly shoving the response back into barely conscious places, I kept on with my week until I did have a few hours of uninterrupted time to allow the ripples of trauma to bubble up from their underground hiding places.

The migraines and gastric disruption that I had so recently learned how to (mostly) control came back and lingered despite my extra handfuls of pills.  Fatigue overtook me again no matter how early I went to bed.  Strange dreams echoed (barely) into my waking.  I needed to feel this song.  Hear this song.  Sing these lyrics. Scream these lyrics.

This song is mine, it owns me.  It cries the words I've never said, could never say.  It is the song of far too many, so many children grown to adult or even old age without the words to capture the ache in their souls. The smoldering coals of rage that lie waiting under the ashes of long burnt flame in so many hearts, branded on our bodies in chronic disease, mental disorder, addiction and social dysfunction.

This morning I put this video on constant replay for nearly two hours, until the shaking and nausea ended.  Even so, I was able to only barely more than whisper the words, though now they echo like a descant in the back of my mind. It still owns me.

I will sing this song, write this song, my story, until I own it.  Until I own it and can set it free.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Family Dinner


straight-backed chairs at ramrod hardness
the silver gleaming in pursuit
china lies waiting to serve
blood red blossoms standing graceful watch
sacrificial lamb burnt in the oven
the greens companionably frigid

Dinner is served.

(© 1987)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sleep

I lay in my bed and the darkness closes in.
The world around me silent
Only the chatter in my mind clamoring for attention.

Why didn't you
You should have
Did you think of
What about

I bolt upright.
No more! Make it stop!
I turn on the light.

The voices recede to quiet muttering
Until my eyelids droop
And I slide into sleep.

Screams and
Shouting
And moans and
Crying

When will it end?  Will it
Ever end?
Please,

Morpheus, sweet Morpheus,
Silence the pain
And let me sleep.

And let me sleep.

(© 1987)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Truth and Reconciliation: a Beginning

(reprinted with permission) 

 Dear Sandy, 

As I was eating my brunch just now, I couldn’t get your blog post out of my mind. I really didn’t try too hard, realizing that stuffing uncomfortable thoughts, images, memories is one of the things I tend to do.  I decided to reread it, now that I am straight on whose words these are—not some author whose book I’d read and with whom I felt a certain pain, but my daughter … whose pain over this I was not aware of for I don’t ever remember hearing of these events … unless these were among those thought, images, and memories that I stuffed because they were too uncomfortable for me to live with. 

When I first read the post before brunch, I was struck by your description: "Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to ‘talk about love’. And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine.” I had felt revolt that these half-drunk slobs would do such things to Rachel.  But as I reread it, knowing this is you talking, I am more than revolted.  I was ready to punch them in their red, inebriated noses!  “That’s my young daughter your treating like less than a human being.  You are just that—less than a human being—to act that way!” 

Then, the thought entered my mind, “And how many times have I thought of such things, without acting on them?” That is all part of the patriarchal culture I was reared in, and which I am having one hell of a time pulling myself out of for it is so engrained in my as an integral part of psyche! 

The patriarchal home in which you were raised was more subtle than those half-drunks, but no less damaging. My therapist and I have talked about the fact that I was abused growing up by my mother—emotional incest—and that has the same lasting effects that sexual abuse does. Surely the attitudes, actions, words, innuendos, double entendres, and the like, that were evident as you were growing up, were equally as damaging to you. 

And when I think that I was as responsible for this part of your abuse as were those intoxicated guys, I more than cringe! I get equally angry. My only excuse: I didn’t know better. I was simply repeating what I had experienced in my home growing up with a father who had wanted to divorce my mother after having more than one affair … even as he actively took part in leading worship of our fundamentalist congregation. 

Obviously all this is well engrained, not something involving just your, mine, and my parents’ generations. It goes back to the beginning of the church, back to its Jewish roots. Women are property … playthings. Oh, I never heard it put so bluntly within the church. 

No wonder you did not talk to anyone about this? The men in leadership would have been more blind than I, and the women had been beaten into submission to men since they themselves were children. That’s the way it was (and still is in many places). Surely this price was not to much to pay so that one of those slobs on the streets of Dusseldorf could find the “joys” that you had found in being a Christian! Did the mission leadership have any idea what was going on out there on the streets? And if they did, were they at all aware of the horrible effect it was having on the young women and teenage girls they were sending into the brothel, as it were, to surrender their bodies and souls for Christ? 

If you had said anything (it is probably just as well you didn’t!), you’d not have been “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover. There would have been no sense of the fact that you needed “a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” If you had mentioned it to me—and if you did, I (like the leadership) unconsciously considered it too insignificant to deal with or even remember—I would have had no idea that you needed to be “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” It would have all been off our radar screens; we would have seen you as less than dedicated. (God, did I really just write that about myself?) 

Oh, Sandy! What I’m experiencing as I read and write just now is so eye-opening.  And so horrifying. 

Ah, and when you realized you were being abused, you felt that you were cheating God by not being willing to sacrifice yourself—including sexually—on that so-called Christian altar. How often I’ve felt the same way, though not because I was sexually abused, just because I was not a good witness, I was not willing to die for Jesus.  And oh the shame that has grown within me. 

I have not resolved anything here, but I did not intend to.  I only want you to know that my eyes were opened if just a bit, that I’m willing to see some of your pain, that there is a new awareness of things relative to you, to the church, to patriarchal Christianity, to the homes you and I grew up in. 

All I can say is that I can pray for you as you enter your personal retreat next week, and I can pray with much more awareness than I could have an hour ago.  May the compassionate God meet you during your times of thought, meditation, relaxation, unburdening, and the like; may find healing. 

Sandy, my daughter, forgive me for all I have done, years ago and much more recently, out of utter ignorance and blindness. I love you.  I cry with you. 

Dad