A debate arose in my thyroid support group yesterday on the topic of religion and more than one person felt attacked because of their beliefs. Obviously religion, race, and sexuality are things that can cause a huge reaction in some people. That group is a very diverse group of people, as are most people I encounter on a regular basis. I can say with certainty that no two of us are ever going to believe the same exact things. What is great about the people in my life is that very diversity. I can go to any one of my family, friends, co-workers, or my support group and feel comfortable asking questions or venting and receive a wide variety of responses and aspects of opinion. Based on the debate from yesterday in my group and the way people are acting on social media in general, it shocked me to see adults behaving in such uncivilized manner. From bashing each other on public forums, to defacing historic monuments, I am appalled by the behavior of society around us. We all are human. We all have varying feelings and thoughts. No one persons opinion is greater than any others.
When you post a question or a statement, be prepared for differing opinions. Not everyone is religious. Not everyone is atheist. Not everyone has an opinion either way. If you do not believe in God, and someone says “I’ll pray for you”, understand that they mean well, and to them it is a positive blessing. If someone says they do not believe in a God, or they believe in a God/dess different than your own, do not try to convert them. Its common decency. While you may feel it is your duty to bring people into your religion, arguing and belittling them on social media will not accomplish that. It will only push them further away.
If someone says something that you disagree with, there is no reason for bullying. Adolescence was hard enough. As a teen I, like so many others, struggled with my sexuality. I knew I had feelings for women, and being raised a Christian, I was told that those feelings were wrong and that I was sinning for feeling them. I put myself through heartache and hell trying to deny them. I, nor any other human do not need to be condemned for our feelings. We teach children that it’s ok to have feelings, but only as long as they are socially acceptable feelings. Or feelings that the church likes. As adults, we can respectfully discuss things. Healthy constructive debate is good for you.
Regardless of your religious or spiritual ideology, unsafe practices should not be promoted. I have seen people advocate for letting God heal the body. While I understand that many faiths believe in divine intervention and healing, these “miracles” are not common. They may be the cause of a higher being, or they may the cause of healthy diet, exercise, medicines, and lifestyle changes, or they may be due to some other coincidence that no one discovered and are just dubbed a miracle. Regardless, medicine is given to us for a reason. Maybe you need to justify it with saying that God made the scientists smart enough to create the medicine. Either way, our bodies are not functioning in the way they are supposed to. Our doctors, however inept and frustrating they sometimes may be, are there to help us find ways to give our bodies what they cannot get from our diet.
When I say that I understand certain religions, it is because I have taken interest in many. I was raised in a Christian home. From the second grade until just after high school I attended the same small Pentecostal Assemblies of God church. The church fit perfectly with its quaint steeple and stained glass windows, nestled in the heart of my small hometown. I remember vividly sitting on the school bus listening to stories my best friend would tell about how awesome church was and how excited she got about going every week. She always invited me. Eventually I asked my parents if we could go too. I am sure that her parents had invited mine several times before that is just what people do in small towns. You invite people out to church, and then you go to lunch and talk about it after. You interact, you grow close. Its fellowship.
I grew accustomed to Sunday school, memorizing verses, singing with the band, hearing folks speak in tongues, lying on of hands during prayer, and communions. We prayed before meals and before bed. It was nothing but normal to attend two services a week or spend in excess of 10 hours a week at church. This went on for most of my adolescence. Bible study, morning worship, prayers, and service on Sundays, then a big potluck dinner in the basement fellowship hall before youth group every Wednesday night.
I understand what people are talking about they speak of an everlasting faith and a personal relationship with God. Pentecostal Christianity puts a huge emphasis on personal experiences with God. I have seen and felt first-hand the wonder that people are filed with and the peace they find in prayers. I have felt the excitement and eagerness to go to church. I have enjoyed numerous in depth and lengthy conversations about theories and ideas from the bible. I loved my church. I brought all of my closest friends to church with me every Wednesday night. I put my heart into growing the youth group and organizing events. It made me feel complete. It gave me hope and purpose in an otherwise very turbulent mind. I battled depression heavily in my teen years and church was one of the few places that I could find solace. It truly was sanctuary.
During high school I began to take interest in Pagan religions. I spent many nights in the woods around a bale fire. I studied the Wiccan Rede, and found it interesting, and exciting, but daunting and scary at the same time. It felt powerful and beyond me. Like I knew there was something more beyond what I was seeing, I could feel the powers around me, but it was too much for me to handle. I looked in to Universal Unitarianism as well, but that just seemed like a jumble of too many things to me. I couldn’t sort it out. Buddhism captured my interest for quite a while. I seemed to agree with a lot of the theories, but, something just didn’t fit and seemed to turn me off.
After high school, when due to theological differences, I was asked not to attend that quaint little church any longer; I had a bitter taste in my mouth. I felt betrayed by my church and by the people I called family there. But I thought that God was telling me that I was destined for more. I felt that, despite the pain that I was experiencing by being cut off and ostracized from my community, that God had better plans for me. So I found a different church. A bigger church. I started going to a mobile church that had a much larger attendance rate. The music was kicking, the sermons were presented with vigor, and it was an altogether different pace than the sunny little sanctuary of the picturesque village church I grew up in.
I attended this church for a few years. In that time I moved up in the ranks. I started with the little bitty babies in the children’s ministry. They didn’t talk. They just cooed and pooped and drooled and played and slept, and then I could go to the second service. I moved up to the toddlers and then eventually I stepped into leadership with the children’s group. Over the years the church collected enough money to finally construct a building of their own. I helped paint and decorate all of the new classrooms for the children. Then a change in upper management came. And suddenly, I was no longer being scheduled. When I asked, once again, theological differences had caused me to be removed from people and a place I felt safe and at home.
This patterned continued in every church I went to. As long as I followed everything the pastor of the hour said, and blindly accepted the flavor of the teaching, I was golden. I could come and go as I pleased. I could teach classes, sing in the choirs, play with the children, act in the dramas, cook in the kitchens, and do whatever my heart led me to do in church. But, that is where my problems came in.
No matter how much of my heart I put into a church, I always felt that there were serious flaws in some of things they taught. Or, once they found out that I had accepted my sexuality and was not going to hide it, I got the boot. My problem is organized religion. You cannot have an organization as large as “Christianity” and everyone all believe the same thing. Even the bible itself isn’t the same. There are between 200,000 and 300,000 differences in the various versions of the New Testament alone. Each and every time it has been tweaked and translated, it has lost something, or gained a word, or changed in some way. I find that very difficult to believe in. How can you build and empire, an n entire religion, on something so unstable and ever changing? But that doesn’t give me the right to bash anyone else who wants to believe in it. Now, I have been provoked and I have made mistakes when goaded. I have gotten caught up in the heat of the moment and said some rude or nasty things online. But that makes me thankful for posts like this. Every now and then we all need a reminder to reel it in.
Even if you disagree with me, that’s ok. You can say that the bible has inerrancy, and I can tell you that it doesn’t. And we can discuss that in a healthy manner. What I discourage, and the whole point of this, is when someone automatically jumps on the “you are going to hell, you sinner” bandwagon and begins to go on quoting scriptures on how and why I am wrong. You have missed the point.
All in all, I leave you with this. I have been quiet lately and have not posted much, but not because my mind has been still. Much is flowing inside me right now. There are many thoughts that need to be said. But I had hit a darkened place. My goal with this blog was to find myself. Part of that is defining and getting to the roots of my faith, digging deeper into my heart, and opening wounds that weren’t healing right. I need to clean out some mental infections and re-stitch some things.
In an effort to do that, I took a weekend away with my partner this past weekend. We celebrated an amazing two years together. Our journey has been through many ups and downs. It was wonderful to reconnect with her and spend the time together. It was refreshing and warming. I need things like that in my life. I think we all do. We all need little reminders to smile, to think, to feel, to breathe, or to consider another point of view. It keeps us tranquil.
For now, I will sit quietly with my hot tea. I will pet my cat and I will listen to the sounds of the birds chirping. This is my solace. This tranquility, this peace is where I come to meet the spirit. Maybe you need to go to a building and be around other people, sing songs, pray out loud and listen to someone tell you a lesson on life. Maybe you need to be alone like me. Whatever you need to do, I encourage you to do it.