12/30/2007

Waiting for Ganesh*

"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast stones," teachings of Joshua ben Joseph, aka the Christ, as reported in John 8.7

"Do not look at the faults of others, or what others have done or not done; observe what you yourself have done and have not done,"teachings of Suddhartha Guatama, aka the Buddha, as reported in the Dhammapada 4.7

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If you are born and raised in the South, you can't live for very long without someone pressuring you to discuss whether or not you are saved, the nature of your personal savior, to tell all about the moment you were saved, whether or not your savior is the same one as someone else's savior, which savior is the "correct " one, and what is wrong with you if you don't happen to believe EXACTLY as the person does to whom you are speaking at that moment, etc.

If you live long enough in the South, this will happen to you at least a half dozen or times over the course of your lifetime.

My younger son, the smart-aleky one, upon returning from his second summer at an evangelical summer camp ( grandma sends my kids, she thinks it is good for them) said to me, "they kept pressuring me to accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior. But I said to them, 'don't you remember, I already did that LAST summer? ' ! "

Please don't think I am anti-religion, agnostic, a heathen, a devil-worshipper, an idolater, a scoffer, etc. I actually spend a fair amount of time reading, studying, meditating, seeking, discussing, and contemplating various spiritual questions. I could add to that list "praying on it " but such is not in my vocabulary.

For I was raised Presbyterian, in the old style of Calvinism, where we memorized the Old Testament, studied the New - verse by verse - and we didn't blow a lot of gas over SAYING things, but instead, focused on DOING things. My mother, a southern Baptist turned Methodist, forced me to watch Billy Graham every time he was on tv, and sent me to the same evangelical summer camp she later paid for my children to attend. Somehow, none of that ever rubbed off on me. Most of my childhood friends were Jewish, and early on, I became a kid who questioned what I had been taught . My Jewish friends were godly people, kind and moral. I loved and respected them. Would God really burn them for all eternity in hellfire , just b/c they held to the covenant He had made with them and Abraham ? Does the fact that , later, He sent Jesus (because mankind had erred) , mean that at some point, He changed His mind ? But if He is truly omnipotent, all-knowing, wise, for all eternity and omnipresent, wouldn't He have foreseen the need for Jesus before He actually had to send Him, and thus just sent Jesus to start with, not wasting his time with Abraham and Moses -struck a more permanent deal with the Children of Israel ?

You can see my problems here with standard religion as I was brought up.

In college, I dabbled in various cosmologies, here and there. Came under the influence of a scholarly Benedictine monk, a rather secular archaeology professor, a kindly Episcopalian priest(-ess), and several boyfriends who wanted to "discuss" their faith as a means of getting into my pants. Had a truly profound religious experience of my own in Jerusalem, at the Wailing Wall, when my prayer ," what should I do about my evil, lying, drunken, fornicating boyfriend back home, who wants just one more chance, but has already broken my heart a dozen times over ?"
A little voice in my head, maybe an answer to my prayer, or maybe just the incipient beginnings of schizophrenia, told me, "dump him". When I came home, I did just that , and it was a decision I have never regretted.

I must confess, and this is as good a point as any, that my ancient history major taught me
way too much about Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, ancient Greek and Roman faiths, compromises made in the early history of the Christian church over doctrine, to ever look at Christianity the same way again.

At some point down the road, I started attending the Episcopal church with various boyfriends. I liked the liturgy , something my Presbyterian upbringing had completely lacked. It was sort of Old World , catholic (small "c") without the whole "pope" issue, (the history major, again, getting in the way on that one), and the music really appealed to me .You cannot underestimate how important this is to me : I have grown up loving Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Handel, English church choirs and organ music, and simply CANNOT ABIDE folk-singing, guitar strumming, earnest white gospel singers softly saying "hallelujah, praise the lord ". I just don't feel its in the best of musical taste. When I was shopping for a priest to marry me the first time, I came back into contact with the female priest I had known earlier; she was thoughtful and intelligent and upbeat, and so that became the church I joined as an adult.

I later had the interesting opportunity to teach literature at a parochial school, one that professed to be of the same faith as myself. I thought it would be no problem to attend daily mass there. I did find that it was a school that was extremely tolerant of other faiths in some ways, for example, it offered the Jewish kids a chance to take world mythology instead of Bible study, and I could teach anything I wanted with no flak at all, as long as it was literature. When the visiting rector was good, it was very very good. The choir master was extremely talented and the music just filled me with joy. But when the visiting rector was bad, it was horrible. My last year there, the rector we had at that time preached on and on about how evil and doomed we all were, sinners all of us, every day, and it just got on my nerves so that I had to start skipping daily chapel. I was going through a rough period in my life, full of personal problems, but still had to ask myself, " what evil am I doing, really ? " I taught kids, took in stray pets, I volunteered my time, my money, my talents to those less fortunate than myself. I did not lie, steal, cheat or kill. I was kind to all I met. The answer, in fact, was , "none".

One day, I ran into one of my rather charmingly naughty students, and young man with a reputation for being quite a rogue. I was looking to hide out in a quiet corner on campus, seeking a place no one could find me avoiding chapel. He was hiding out, too, smoking a cigarette. As I turned the corner, there he was. We were both rather surprised to see the other one there, for a moment. We sort of looked each other over, with some tension . Then he scooted over, waved at a spot for me to sit down next to him, and said, "get behind thee, Satan," as he blew out streams of cigarette smoke from his nostrils.

At a later school where I taught, my best teacher friend there had been raised Jewish but was an active member of a Buddhist temple just down the street. Several of the Buddhist monks came over on a frequent basis to volunteer at the school, and I began to talk to them about their beliefs and how they practiced their beliefs in real life. This experience opened me up to the idea that one could be more than one religion at a time. My friend self-identified as both Jewish and Buddhist. The one did not preclude the other ; since I was having trouble making one faith "fit", I decided that I could be something similar, could meld faiths from around the world into my own personal religion. Wasn't this the original premise of protestantism ? That each human being was given a brain, could study the holy books and divine the nature of god for him or herself, and did not need a priest or any other person to tell him/her what to think ?

Over the course of my adult years, I have continued my spiritual quest. I have raised my children in the church I attend, figuring that whatever they chose to believe as adults, at least they will have knowledge of one faith, which they can choose to accept or reject, wherever their own spiritual quests take them . The liturgy continues to soothe me, I enjoy the music, even if I do not believe absolutely every little word of what the rector says.

And so I have continued on that path to this day. Living in a college town means I have neighbors and colleagues from all over the world , and all faiths. Some are Muslim, some are Hindu, some are Mormon, some are Jewish. Quite a few belong to the many mega-Bible churches here in town, for we seem to be "ground zero" of evangelical fervor. ( All those college kids, all those young souls, eager and waiting to be converted, I suppose.) I attend my own quaint little Anglican style church, and I also hang out on a regular basis with several Buddhists I know. Some are native (from Tibet , China, India, Japan) some are aging hippies and college professors. Seekers all, just like me. Over the years, I've lost several friends who, for some reason, feel threatened that I just can't believe as they do, no matter how hard I try. One gf gave me the brush-off when I explored becoming Roman Catholic when I married spousal unit, but just couldn't make myself BELIEVE all aspects of it. I think, to convert to something, anything, you must be able to truly believe it, all of it. It's one thing to be born into a faith, to be able to say, " Oh, I was just raised a follower of Zeus; I don't actually believe in all that Mount Olympus fol-de-rol, with Cupid and Hera and all." But to go to the effort to convert to something, it seems hypocritical to lie and say you believe it all, every last bit of it,when you don't. I am sorry that I could not make myself do it, you would think I would get points for attempting. But alas. Another gf has accused my dear husband of being a "cafeteria Catholic", for being born into that faith, he does feel he he can pick and choose what he believes. You just can't please all people.

I have actually had a co-worker who felt that, because I didn't go to her particular church, I was Satan incarnate. She used to leave little Bible verse bookmarks in my desk drawers, preferenced everything she said or did with ,"praise the lord ! ", and "I'll pray on that for YOU ". She would say to my other co-workers things like, "I'll do it for you, b/c you are a godly person, " then begin glaring at me pointedly. All this while I was teaching Sunday school and going to church, reading books and continuing my lifelong quest to understand the nature of the divine - just my version, not hers.

If you come to my house, you will see a small sign by the doorbell, which reads ,"No salesmen, no missionaries". Some people , when they read this , are curious, or offended, or find it hilarious, or it makes them nervous. As if I were a crank. What they don't realize, is, that because I live on a main street, we get more than the average number of proselytizers come to our door. Saturdays, esp , the local evangelical churches literally unload vans full of eager young men and women, right in front of my house, and on their way up and down the street and back to the van, they ALL pass by my door ( seriously, 16-20 doorbell ringers an hour, some days) , all wanting to hand me pamphlets and tell me " the good news". It's really hard to take a shower, or work in the garden, make dinner, or clean out the attic, when you have to answer the door a dozen times , to tell them, "thanks, but no thanks."

I just always wonder, do they have any luck with this ? Does it work for them ? Are there really people out there, who have never heard a single word on the topic they want to talk about ? Someone who answers the door, and says, "Golly, why , no, I've lived in American for 47 years and I've never heard of this person about whom you speak. Tell me more."

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I originally titled this piece, "Get behind Thee, Satan", but my Dear Editor said it didn't make any sense. I said, you know, like either I'm leading the line of evil people ( b/c where I currently live, others regard me as non-religious), or else I'm trying to be good and do what is right, but just can't (so, devil, leave me alone). "Still doesn't make sense," he said. So, I just changed it.

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