|No, God, don't eat those poor animals!|
Why? I don't know. I guess because this blog has become such a big part of me, and such a good way for me to communicate and connect with others, and I just want to be true and real here and hold nothing back.
To begin with, my mother, who is Italian, was raised Catholic. She went to Catholic schools, where the nuns forced her to write right-handed and hit her with rulers and degraded children on a regular basis.I don't think she grew up believing anything the Catholic church taught her, because she definitely didn't incorporate any of it into her life as she got older. She met my dad, a Presbyterian. (It is worth noting that, although my dad grew up going to a Presbyterian church, he didn't really incorporate any of their beliefs into his life either. But his parents did not approve of him dating a Catholic girl. Not even a Catholic girl who didn't want to be Catholic.) When they decided to get married, the Catholic church my mother's family had attended all her life would not allow them to get married there, because it was, to them, morally wrong for a Catholic to marry a Presbyterian. At some point, that church or a different Catholic church in the area did agree to let them get married, if they took a vow to raise all of their children as Catholics. Instead, they got married in my dad's family's Presbyterian church. And they did not raise my brother and I as Catholic, or Presbyterian, or anything else. They didn't raise us not to believe in God. They just decided not to mention religion. Ever. When I was a kid, I knew that the children down the street went to a Catholic school, which my mom said was because they were Catholic. My brother and I went to public school. When people asked me what religion I was, I would tell them, "I'm public!"
Do you know what happens when you're a little kid and your parents don't take you to church? All your friends invite you to their churches. And when you're a little kid, you think this is fun, because it is fun to go anywhere new with your friends. It is fun to go to Sunday school and sing songs and do crafts and put a penny in the jar on the table. You don't realize that this is serious business here. You've been invited to church not because your friend wants to spend more time with you, but because her parents are trying to save your soul!
I remember when my first grade friend (the first one to invite me to church with her) told me about the Devil. "There is a Devil underneath our feet. He lives in a bunch of fire. If you're bad, when you die you go there and burn forever," she told me matter-of-factly. I clearly remember thinking that this was ridiculous. The little kid version of "WTF?" most likely came out of my mouth.
I became really curious about God. I pestered my parents with questions. "What is God?" I'd ask.
"God is life," they'd say.
I needed a more concrete answer. "Where is God?" I wanted to see him. I think they told me he was invisible.
Somehow, this book called The Child's Book of Bible Stories sneaked into our house of it's own accord. It might have come from a garage sale or salvaged from one of my grandparents' houses... it was published in 1944 and my parents kept it on the big bookshelf in the living room instead of with the children's books that belonged to my brother and I. I found it on my own. You could not hide a book from a hyperlexic child! I read it but didn't understand it. The first story was the Creation story, and it showed a picture of a giant hand reaching down, with all sorts of animals leaping away from the hand. My brother and I would stare at this picture. Although I had read the accompanying story to my brother, we both thought God's hand was reaching down from Heaven and catching animals to eat. The other stories made me feel uneasy, as well. A mother sets her baby adrift in a river? Brothers who trick each other and try to kill each other? Grown brothers who sell their baby brother into slavery? The pictures were pretty and I loved the glitter on them. But the stories creeped me out.
I was seventeen years old and homeless. It was a dark and stormy summer night in Colorado. A friend and I had hitchhiked from the town of Brighton, CO, to Denver. I was trying to get to the suburb of Denver where I had been staying. The friend I had hitchhiked with had ditched me to go hang out with some random guy she had just met, leaving me to wait for the bus. I was riding the bus and it had started to thunder and lightening out. Although the perils of hitchhiking had not frightened me much, I was childishly scared of thunder and lightening. I was afraid of being outside in this weather. Once I got off the bus in the town where I was going to, I'd have to walk a few blocks to get to where another friend was staying, and if she was home I'd have a dry and safe place to stay the night. But I was pretty sure, as soon as I got off the bus, I would immediately get struck by lightening. I was talking to this woman who was riding the bus with her two toddlers. I don't remember how I started talking to her, but I had told her that I was homeless and that I was afraid of the lightening. She started talking to me about God. She gave me this little prayer card and asked me to pray with her and accept Jesus into my heart. And because I was afraid of the lightening, I did it. The lady was just trying to offer some sort of comfort, probably similar to what she'd tell her own little children if they were scared of the storm... "Jesus will protect you!" It worked for me... it kept me calm and brave as I got off the bus, and ran down the street to my friend's apartment. My friend was home and let me in, which to me was proof positive that the little prayer card, like a magic amulet, was real.
In future years, I considered myself a Christian. I was homeless for most of that time. You might notice that people who are down on their luck become Christians at some point. They accept Jesus into their hearts and hope that will get them through their hunger, their loneliness, their struggles with addiction and mental illness, and whatever other demons peruse them.
At the age of 19 I landed in Wheaton, Illinois, home of Wheaton College, one of the biggest Christian colleges in the USA. It was started by an abolitionist pastor in 1860. Billy Graham graduated from there. Up until 2003, students and staff were prohibited from, among other things, any type of dancing. Almost everyone in the town is devoutly Christian. College students wander around public areas, randomly stopping strangers and evangelizing to them. I soon found myself with a lot of Christian people reaching out to me and trying to help me, mostly by inviting me to their church services. They were proud to bring their very own homeless teenager for show-and-tell. "Let me introduce you to some of my friends! Jenny, Sue... this is Angel! She's homeless!" "Oh, hi, can we pray for you?" "Uh... sure." Awkward!
It really is not Jesus or God I have a problem with at all. It is people.
You see, religion involves a lot of hearsay. We are expected to believe certain things, and therefore behave in certain ways, because of something that some people thousands of years ago claimed happened, in writing that has been translated, edited, and otherwise shuffled around for thousands of years. There have been too many human beings involved in organized religion. Human beings putting their own spin on things, twisting things around to serve their own purposes, figuring out ways to get others to do what they want them to do. A lot of evil has been done in this world, by people who considered themselves to be religious. Humans have ostracized, tortured, and killed other humans, in the name of one religion or another. Christianity is no exception.
I am not saying I am an atheist. I just don't feel compelled to believe what someone else tells me to believe.
So. What do I, personally believe? Well, let's pretend, for a moment, that the Bible was never written, and nobody ever told you about God or Jesus. When I think about the whole world... the way every living thing depends upon one another, the way the plants and the animals eat each other (Hi Modest Mouse fans!), the beauty of nature in the spots where mankind has touched them the least, the way we feel when we hear music or read literature, the way outerspace goes on foreverandeverandeverandever in a way that could blow your mind if you think about it for too long.. I do believe something. I think that Something is too big and amazing for any human to ever understand. I think we are put here for a reason, and that we are really not meant to find out what that reason is, while we are still here I think we are meant to just live, and be ourselves, and figure out what good we can bring to the world.
I hope there is some sort of God and some sort of Heaven. I really do. Because sometimes the only thing that comforts me is the idea that someday I will be with my family members and my pets again, in a place where I'll never have to be sad or afraid or lonely and where everything, all the mysteries of the earth, will suddenly be clear. But until that time comes, I believe we should not try to do good things because we are worried about whether we will go to Heaven or Hell. We should do good things because of what is in our hearts.