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Seeing God in other people

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Thumbnail image for goth god.jpgOn Joan of Arcadia, God appears to Joan in the guise of regular people. The people aren't delusions--everyone else can see them as well. It's unclear (to me, at least) whether they are people who exist when God is not speaking through them, or whether they exist only when God needs them as mouthpieces. Either way, though, every conversation Joan has with God is one with another person. My personal favorite God is Goth God (left), followed by Joan's original and probably most common God, Cute Guy God (right).Thumbnail image for cuteguygod.jpg Some of the God are irritating (Old Lady God and Little Kid God both bug me), some you forget as soon as you see them (the episodes are full of one-off Gods as delivery people, cafeteria workers, substitute teachers, etc.). Often, Joan mistakes people who are not God for God, based on what they say to her.

Maybe I'm dense, but I like a metaphor that hits me upside the head. I'm not sure I believe in God (nor am I sure I don't), but it's difficult not to believe in other people, given that they are overtaking the planet like cockroaches. On the show, God mostly gives Joan assignments, most of which are difficult for her to complete. God gives vague advice, rarely answers questions, and is generally kind of a pain in the ass. The non-God people she's surrounded by--her family and her friends--are usually more helpful to her than God, at least in seeing the results of her wacky actions. Yet she gives them none of the acquiescence she gives her many Gods.

Maybe that's the point. Maybe instead of looking for a higher power in a Church or even inside ourselves, we should look around us. I'm going to try to do a better job of listening and watching and paying attention to what other people are telling me. You never know, there might be God in there.

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I had something kind of like this happen to me after I had my firstborn.

This sounds a little simplistic, but I got this huge instant realization that everyone in this world had, at one time, been a baby, a helpless squalling thing that needed to be lavished with love, and one of the main reasons people were the way they were was because they got that love or they didn't, and much of what they did was determined by whether they had gotten that love or not.

When I'm trying to remember to be compassionate, I remind myself of the baby inside of everyone -- that and the fact that everyone is dying are the two main posts of helping me feel compassion when it might otherwise be hard.

I do want to add that when I think of the helpless, unloved person inside a criminal, I can feel compassion for that part of him, but there's still anger and vengeance and demand for justice for what he did. I don't want to sound like a bleeding heart here.

This is quite possibly the most woo-woo thing I've ever put on the Internet.

I guess the other thing is I'm looking less for God in other people and more for humanity and what I might have in common with that person (sometimes all it is is humanity, really, but that's all it needs to be).

Krupskaya- i like the sentiment

i think to often we ignore what we as humans can do because of what certain cruel humans do...

I feel like god or spirits have historically been manifestations of our own wishes, fears etc.

If we lived in nature god was of nature, when we lived in a time when harshness was abound, you have the old testament and a vengeful god talking of sacrifice...

When feudalism, the king and his nobel court appeared... you had god, the trinity and his court of angels

Now that you have a more rational and individualistic society, you have more personal and individual conceptions of god... or spiritualities that have more to do with being good than worship.

not to turn this into my own soap box but i think we need to start believing in humanities ability to solve its problem, and participate in solutions... and not wait for a savior or heaven to come along.

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When the Man comes around

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There's a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around

-Johnny Cash

I know many of my readers don't believe in Hell. And neither do I, to be fair. But, for the sake of a thought experiment, pretend you do for a minute. Who gets in?

Say there is a God, a Johnny Cash-style all-knowing all-judging God. How are our lives measured, when we die, to decide who goes to Heaven and who burns? What are the criteria?

The reason this comes up is Robert McNamara. Upon hearing that he'd died, I said something to the effect of "if there is a Hell, he can see LBJ there." I was corrected, numerous times, by people who insisted that McNamara repented for his mistakes and would be forgiven.

Would he? How does one repent for a body count that size? Is being sorry enough, or do you have to save as many lives as you cost to even your balance sheet?

Repentance, as an idea, is interesting to me. It's the subject of some pretty great art and music and literature. It's something we've been obsessed with for centuries. Why? Is it really even possible to repent? And if it is, does that really just mean ask forgiveness/buy masses/do penitence, or is there more?

To add another pop culture reference to this already muddled train of thought, Joss Whedon's work is often about repentance, particularly in the character of Angel. For those who aren't in the Joss-know, Angel is a centuries old sadist vampire who is cursed with a soul so he is keenly aware of all the harm he's caused. In Joss' universe, he spends the majority of his time repenting (well, and brooding). His life is about repentance. This doesn't go too deep in Buffy, but once Joss made Angel's spin-off show, repentance was the overarching theme, not just for Angel, but for other characters as well. And the bottom line always seemed to be that it's never enough. That you have a responsibility to try to repent, but that you never really even your score, not even if you save the world. Pretty bleak, maybe, but ultimately true?

While I don't believe in Hell, or in a judgmental God who is up there keeping score, I do believe in trying to atone. Not to save a spot in Heaven, but to keep some sort of vague Karmic balance. It's not about paying off in the end, but more about getting back what you put out. And maybe that's what I really meant about Robert McNamara. He was personally responsible, more or less, for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Judging by the evidence he left, that weighed on him, and he did spend the rest of his life, after leaving Johnson's White House, trying to do good in the world. Is that atonement? Is there really anything he could have done to balance that kind of Karmic debt? Given that regular old dudes don't usually get the opportunity for Angel-sized world saving, I don't really think there is. He may be sorry, but, on a national level, if not a celestial one, he's not forgiven.

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Believe in me, help me believe in anything

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"Jesus said, "I tell the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."
John 5:24-25

I went to my coworker's funeral today. As part of the service, the pastor (rector? priest? not sure) read an essay my coworker had written on the verse above. Basically, the essay expressed his great joy and slight amazement in being saved, and in believing that because he knew God and believed in His son, Jesus, he did not have to fear death, but would live eternally. This isn't exactly a new concept to me--I may be ignorant of religion, but I'm not that ignorant. I get that believe=live eternally is a basic premise of many Christian denominations. But I'd never heard it put quite so clearly before. It was basically described as an unbelievably good deal.

Which, of course, it is. All you have to do is believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins and you get an eternal reward? Pretty sweet.

Except when you can't.

I tried to believe in God. I've been trying to find Him, to find a faith, for many years now. And I'm not closer than I was when I started--if anything, I'm farther away. I've visited churches of many denominations (most of the major Christian branches as well as Quakers), and I felt nothing. I have never felt God inside me. I think, sometimes, that I do, but upon examination, my feelings always come back to me, not to an outside higher power.

Do I get points for trying? If they're right, and their God does exist, and all you have to do to live eternally is believe, do I get points for wanting to believe? I don't think so. I think I'm damned with the rest of the unbelievers.

After the service today, another co-worker, who described himself as a "fellow Atheist" (which I don't think is quite true of me, but whatever), asked what I'd thought of it. I said that I've been to enough funerals at this point where the major gist was "believe as the deceased did or you'll never see him in heaven" not be bothered by it anymore. It wasn't true, though. In truth, the idea that my lack of belief points not to a lack of anything believable, but to a failure in me, terrifies me. It's not just that I'm afraid I'm going to Hell (or just dying without an afterlife), but I'm afraid that I'm wrong and I'm missing something basic and important in this life because of it.

A while back, I was in line at a store and when I asked the clerk how she was doing she replied, "I've been saved and He is with me! I am always doin' fine." Normally, a statement like that would give me an internal snort, but that day I took pause. She seemed honestly to say that her faith made her happy all the time. Of course nobody is happy all the time, but isn't there some evidence that believers are generally happier?

More and more, I don't judge religious people. I envy them. And listening to the store of my coworker's spiritual journey today, in his own words, did, in a strange way, give me comfort. Even if I don't believe, and I am scared, his belief apparently helped him not to be scared. Even if ultimately the heaven to which he believed he was headed doesn't exist, there is definite value in living your life and facing your death believing there is something like that coming up next. I'm glad he had that. I'm glad his family, who shared his faith, have that. I just wish I did too.

*Post title with apologies to The Counting Crows

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I'm not comfortable with the term atheist either, but would put myself into the agnostic category. (Or antagonistic if you ask DH :P )

I've tried too, and I just can't do it. I can understand your relief and comfort from knowing that's what he thought though.

Speedy healing to you, my friend.

Yeah, in many ways religion is just a mass delusional system that you're part of a global winning team (my SO loves to say that). You have to 'have faith' because if it made sense, you would believe it on its own merits. Putting responsibility for your future and happiness over to someone else (God) sure is easier. I'm terrified of death and believing in life after death sure would be easier. But that's not enough for me to put aside my reason. There's enough good and bad in the world to keep me focused on living the best possible life I can. I just can't believe in God. Especially because God comes through the filter of other people and their worldly desires.

Damn, I was so busy waxing philosophical that I forgot to say the most important thing - I'm so sorry to hear about your co-worker. It is totally unfair.

Having been on both sides of the fence (currently on the atheist side), I do understand how religion brings comfort. In times of stress, it's nice to know that someone's looking out for you, someone knows how it's going to turn out and maybe will intercede for you. When I de-converted from Christianity, the hardest thing for me to stop doing was praying to whoever it was who knew these things.

But I don't fear death. I don't view my lack of existence before I was born as anything terrible or scary, and I'm convinced that I'll just return to that state when I die. I've seen animals and people on the verge of death (not due to acute trauma), and none of them looked afraid of what was happening to them. In fact, the people I've seen who had time to process their impending death (due to prolonged illness) always looked peaceful or, at least, accepting of what was happening to them. It seemed like a natural process, not unlike birth or anything else. That's when I stopped fearing death.

Now, I just hope I am fortunate enough to also have a prolonged death, so that I might find the understanding of death and dying that I've seen in other people.

I'm also not fond of the term atheist. Most atheists I know are just as fanatical about their atheism as religious people are about their religion.

This does remind me of something my mom told me when I was little. I think I was asking what agnostic meant and in the course of that discussion, she said that people who didn't believe in god have to make sure they have a strong set of morals to guide them through life.

I've always remembered that and I try to follow that advice. Setting down my own ideas of what it means to live a good life, be a good person. It's a work in progress though, I am far from living a good life and being a good person.

Wow, Grace, you've gotten some excellent feedback already and I really agree with most of it. I don't have much to add to this but I wanted to let you know I was still thinking about you. *Hugs*

Oh, I got something; do what feels natural to you. Don't base your idea of religion or spirituality or afterlife on anyone else's idea. It never feels right when it's not original. I am a spiritual person but my spirituality is unique to me and feels natural. I've tried to force myself but it never works. As for afterlife, it will always remain one of life's mysteries. No matter how much faith someone has, no on can really know what happens. Part of me believes in reincarnation but most of me believes when we die, we return to the earth and that's it. I think that's why it's so important to enjoy each day for what it is, good and bad. I really liked what Sandy said about a prolonged death. I'm not sure I would want that myself but she's so right about the peace that comes. I'm not scared of Death, I'm scared I won't get to do all the things I want to do before it comes. Big, deep stuff, girl. Much love coming to you, sister.

Hi Grace,

I'm so sorry to hear about your co-worker. Thank you for being so open and honest here. I don't know that I have the answers or the right words, but here's someplace to start...
Maybe think about nature and how everything fits together so perfectly - and where there is design, there is a designer. Where there is creation, there is a creator. Consider thankfulness for the order He's made (despite the chaos that man creates!)
I'm thinking of you Grace, and I'll pledge to pray for you. Please let me know if there is anything else you specifically would want prayer for.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to do my best to answer them. If I don't know, then I'll look for the answer for you.
Have A Great Day,
Diane

Grace, sorry to hear you're struggling with all this big stuff, but I'm not sorry that you're giving it serious thought. I think it's healthy and important.

I grew up in a Presbyterian (I don't think I can even spell it anymore, ha) household and went to Church every Sunday until I was about 16. I went to youth groups, bible school, Confirmation classes, the whole nine yards.

Then it just stopped working for me.

It started very small. Tiny things that just didn't make sense to me, even if they were coming out of the mouths of religious leaders who were completely devoted to the study of their religion. These small things created weak links in the chain of my previously unquestioned beleif system.

I started questioning.

I started really THINKING about what I was reading, what I was hearing, and what others were telling me.

I stopped going to church, and really set aside the whole "religion" thing for a while. I considered myself a spiritual person, and rather aligned my spirituality in a similar way to what Rachel describes for herself. It worked for me for a while.

But it just doesn't work for me anymore. I am 100% an atheist. And although I understand some people's discomfort with the term, as it can be associated with very outspoken and sometimes unpleasant people, it is how I define my beleif system (or lack thereof).

I am a scientist, and my atheism is very firmly rooted in my knowledge of science. Please note that I do not say "belief" in science, but "knowledge". Science is founded on fact, evidence, replication, discourse, critique, and never-ending review. That is not to say that science is never wrong; science is wrong all the time...that's why there are millions of scientists doing millions of projects all over the world and why we'll never run out of things to study. Because if one scientist says, "aha! I've made a great discovery!", all the other scientists say, "that's crap. Prove it. Better yet, I'm going to prove you wrong!". And a million more experiments are performed until there are mountains of data, and eventually all the scientists either say, "well, heck. that first scientist was right" or "ha-ha, you were wrong, and here's what's REALLY happening". Either way, the facts are sorted out and then everyone can move on to the next question.

(ok, I'm about to touch on some nitty-gritty science stuff and I understand if some of the concepts are new or difficult...I had to live and breathe it at the university level before I really got a good handle on it...but it's important for me to explain at least one of the key reasons for my atheism. If anyone wants more discussion about this stuff feel free to bug me on my blog).

Through this rigorous process, science has proven several things to be facts. A few of these include: that evolution and natural selection have been and continue to be the driving forces behind the development of new species (including humans). We also know that these changes are based on completely random mutations that just happen to end up being beneficial to that organism in the particular environment in which the organism lives.

It's all random. Completely up to chance. Nature (i.e., the living and non-living elements that make up an organism's environment) is calling all the shots. There is no god directing the show.

Personally, I find this spectacularly amazingly, mind-blowingly fascinating, and this is one of the main reasons that I'm a scientist. The way DNA and the external selective pressures in the environment interact to bring about the incredible diversity that has spanned the planet's 4-billion-odd-years of existence...well, it's freaking cool. And it allows us to understand the appearances and behaviours of the organisms with which we share this planet. Things make complete sense when these facts are applied. There are litterally millions of studies that prove them to be true.

On the other hand, I have yet to be shown one single FACT that proves the existance of God. No one can show me these facts, because God doesn't exist. Saying "look at nature" is just about the weakest possible argument for me, because I understand the biological mechanisms behind it.

The fact of the matter is, if someone, ANYone, was able to provide evidence that proved the existance of god, scientists would be shouting it from the rooftops, doing cartwheels and standing on their heads, because, really, it would squash a whole lot of what is currently understood to be true about the universe and, well, it would give them a gazillion new research projects to focus on.

Seriously, scientists are not fearful of the existence of god, they would welcome it as a new and challenging peice of the puzzle that they strive every single day to solve.

Ok. So. Long story short, I'm perfectly comfortable with knowing that there is no supreme being out there somewhere who has a plan for me and the rest of the universe. It means that only I am responsible for myself and my actions and my choices. I am a totally autonomous entity. Random good things good happen to me ("oh look, I found 20 bucks!" and random bad things could happen to me ("oh crap I got plowed down by a bus"), but those are just things that happen, not things that someone is MAKING happen. We're not just a punch of pawns in a chess game. When I die, I'll die. That's it. I've seen things die. They just stop. I don't know why that has to be scary.

I guess some of this may come across kind of strongly worded, but I'm not intending any disrespect to those with differing opinions. You are certainly entitled to them and I'll defend your right to have them. I'm just not going to agree with you, that's all.

Grace, eventually you'll find your peace with something that fits well with your own value system, whether based on fact or faith, and whatever you come up with will be ok.

I have some weird beliefs. My main idea is that while God (some great wisdom, not necessarily a personage) created the world, this is OUR world to do with as we please, and God doesn't interfere in it. We do what we do down here, period, and we can make this heaven or hell, our choice.

But I do believe in a Holy Spirit, who, being a Spirit, is always with us, but the only thing the Holy Spirit can change is our minds. HS is here to comfort us and guide us, and will do so if we ask.

These beliefs work for me, and come mostly from A Course in Miracles, which turned out to be a good fit for the way my mind works. But if you aren't up for 600+ pages of densely packed religious language, it can also be summed up by the serenity prayer used in recovery groups: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I believe that is one of the greatest spiritual teachings of all time, and if you could truly do that, you would have no more worries.

I'm not sure where you are in this right now. This is not a recent post, but it is the most recent post that is appropriate for this comment.

I've been pretty sick for the last couple of days, so I've had a lot of downtime. My intent in reading your blog was to just catch up with the 100 days of housekeeping thing and that's it - because your introduction to that made it pretty clear that we're kind of on opposite ends of the spectrum in life. But, I felt compelled to surf around your blog and found myself reading all of your posts on faith.

You can read my testimony on my blog if you're interested. I'm pretty wide open about my faith there.

From what little you say here, I think you should step back from "religion" for a bit. The problem with religion is that it is created by humans, and humans are flawed and sinful. While you're seeking and dissecting and trying to work it all out, you're seeing contradictions and hypocrisy and conformity and things that just don't make sense.

I would recommend just reading the Bible. I know that sounds odd. But if you get a good study Bible (I personally prefer the New King James, but the New International Version reads well) and read it, and read the study notes, then God will reveal Himself to you.

I'm in the process of reading it from Genesis to Revelation, am just now getting into 1 Samuel, and find myself growing closer to God with every sentence I read. I find myself encouraged, strengthened, impassioned. I find myself seeking answers that my religion can't give me because they might contradict some human interpretation or fallacy or flaw within my religion. My husband is discovering the same thing while he is going on a similar journey to mine.

I'll tell you up front that the first 5 books are hard to read. I had to force myself through them, but I'm so glad that I didn't just skip them. So much wouldn't make sense if I hadn't read them.

And I'm reading slowly - reading study notes, looking up history, finding commentaries and sermons about what I just read. And I'm forming my own conclusions that way.

Another good book for you would be Lee Stroble's (maybe Strobel?) "A Case for Christ." Stroble was an Atheist. Pretty hard core Atheist. His wife (and maybe they had 3 kids by then) became a Christian and he was a little peeved about it. He was an investigative reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, and decided that he would investigate Jesus Christ and expose Him as a fraud to show his wife that she was following a fraud. This book chronicles his investigation, what he learned, the history, science, anthropological evidence about Christ -- and ended up proving to himself that Jesus Christ existed, was crucified, and raised from the dead. It's a brilliant read, is non-judgmental, non-evangelical. It is just the investigative case and the conclusions found.

He also wrote A Case for Faith, but this one was his first one, so I'd recommend it first.

Hallee

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My first Lent

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I was thinking, as I was getting ready this morning, about Lent. I'm not Catholic, never have been, doubt they'd have me. I've tried, at various times, to get into being either Lutheran or Episcopalian, but I've never been able to get past Jesus, so it's never lasted long. And yet, for years I have, in my own way, observed Lent. Mostly, I like that there is a time of year to focus on loosening your grip on the things and habits that slip into your life that are not necessarily what you want for yourself. Partially, I'm sure, I'm just masochistic enough to like the idea of self-denial, but there is something else, as well, more connected to strengthening yourself by giving something up, that appeals to me.

I was, I think, about 13 when I first observed Lent. I had recently started going to church, mainly because there was a "teen" group on Sunday nights and one of the members was a boy in whom I was interested (lovely curly hair and chocolate brown eyes). It wasn't, however, a church that observed Lent. In fact, the kind of rural fundamentalist church about which I am talking probably considers observation of the Catholic calendar sacrilegious. However, I had read something about Lent and decided that, in my new quest for spirituality, it would be a good idea for me to observe it. Since fasting was out (I was really skinny at the time and my mom would have had a conniption fit if I'd tried to stop eating), I decided I'd give something up. But it had to be something precious--I was serious about this (at 13, I was serious about everything).

I grew up poor and did not have a lot of nice things. However, that year my dad had given me a leather bomber jacket for Christmas. It was, I remember clearly, from Costco and cost $99. I'd seen it there and drooled over it without even considering it could be mine for months before it showed up under the tree. I loved that coat. It's soft buttery leather. It's silky polyester inner lining with imprints of old maps on it. The smell. How great it looked. I wore it non-stop from Christmas Day onwards.

So, of course, for Lent it had to go. Relegated to my closet, where I looked at it longingly but never wore it.

Except on Sundays, to church. For some reason, my understanding of Lent was that you give something up except for Sundays. So every Sunday I lovingly took it out and wore it to church, then returned it for the week, until Easter Sunday, when, in an act of symbolism that felt huge to me at the time, I left it home and wore something else to the church pageant.

Of course this all seems very silly now--both the church going (that church was really a pretty terrible place) and the value that coat held for me. But it's kind of impressive, too--my 13 year-old self had self-control for which my adult self strives every day.

I'm not giving anything up for Lent this year. Mostly this is because I've already given up the things I needed to remove from my life, more or less. I have been working since New Years on controlling my shopping and spending and paying down credit cards, and although there is a long way to go, I am doing well with it. Plus, I'm just too old at this point to find self-denial romantic anymore. Yeah, I could give up coffee for Lent, suffer the headaches, and probably feel better about being caffeine-free by the end of the season. But it wouldn't have the same magic giving up that jacket had at 13. That's the problem with me and religion these days--I still don't believe it, and it's not romantic anymore to go through the motions and pretend that I do.

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Instead of giving something up for lent, you can instead add something positive to your life. Some people might choose something for their financial or physical lives, but AfricanKelli is spearheading her third annual "Calculated Acts of Kindness" project. This sounds like a great way to add something positive to my life during lent.

Giving up stuff every day except Sunday is a traditional thing for kids. Also birthdays get an exception. Catholics like to make rules, so there are lots of exceptions. I think parents/teachers make these exceptions in order to make it more realistic for kids.

I also was really good/strict about Lent, though my whole family thought it was stupid and made a lot of exceptions. I guess I don't have a lot of high minded ideals as I did as a kid and have sort of accepted my faults, which is, I assume why I am now bad at this.

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Can I get an amen?

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LilySea is TEARING IT UP today over at Peter's Cross Station with a post about her sexuality and her faith and how no, it's really no trouble to reconcile them. You should read it. In fact, I should read it again. Which I'm going to go do.

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Yeah, she's outstanding.

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Easter

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Frog wrote something on her blog yesterday that really, really resonated with me. "Easter is about hope and renewal. It’s about believing in what you cannot see or touch but know in your heart to be true." You should go read it. I know I'll be reading it over and over for the next few days. As I've said before, I've never been very good at religiosity, and if it's about anything, Easter is about spring for me. I like that Frog can see both.

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Thanks, Grace. :)

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Not Shopping, Day 2

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Day 2 of not shopping is going fine. I'm at work. I spent lunchtime at Ash Wednesday services at the campus Episcopalian church, and I think the service really helped to center me and get me thinking in the right direction about why it is so important for me to stop this reckless shopping. The bit from Matthew that is included in the Ash Wednesday service, warning against accumulating goods that can be moth-eaten or rust, but instead accumulating treasure in your heart, spoke to me today. It has before, I know, but given that I am starting this particular journey, it was especially loud today.

So it's the beginning of Lent. I am committed to not shopping until Easter. I am around $8,000 in debt and it is time for things to change.

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Another blogger who has some tips about getting out of debt is crazy aunt purl - she even has a budget spreadsheet in her sidebar. And especially see the Feb. 9th entry for motivation.

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Shilling a new blog

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It's unusual that I point my (vast, I'm sure) readership towards two new blogs in one week, but that's exactly what I'm doing. Over at Biblelicious, a friend of mine is reading the Bible and blogging about it. She's a liberal, lesbian, Democrat, Baptist-raised, Catholic-educated intellectual tech geek babe, with a lot of fairly interesting ideas about religion, and I'm really enjoying reading her periodic updates on the Bible reading and interpretation. She's still in Genesis, too, so you have time to catch up.

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Hey there! I found you on fussy's list of people who are doing the NaBloPoMo.

It's nice to see another openly identified feminist.

Hey, I didn't know you were reading!

Thanks for the shill.

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God in the details

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One of the phrases my non faith-inclined mind has long pondered is "God is everywhere." Change-ups of this phrase, such as "God is everything" or any of the various admonishments about carrying God around in your heart have similarly confused me. If I can't even find God in a church, who can find Him everywhere? Everywhere? Even in the bathroom?

Yesterday, I witnessed something that brought these truisms to light a bit more.

I was at Target, browsing the clearance racks, trying to find some camisoles before they clear out for the winter. Two women and a pre-teen girl were browsing the rack next to mine. "Keep looking," one of the women told the girl. "He wouldn't have shown us that skirt if he hadn't meant for there to be a shirt to go with it."

Who was he, I wondered, looking around for their male companion. Could he come and find me some of those cute cropped pants in black and in a 16?

Then, eavesdropping further on their conversation, I realized it.

They weren't talking about him, they were talking about Him. They didn't have a male shopping companion--at least not one I could see. They were carrying their shopping coach around in their hearts.

And sure enough, one rack over, He found them a shirt to go with that skirt.

As I drove home (without having found what I was looking for, unsurprisingly), I pondered their faith-based shopping initiative. I make no claims to know what God wants. I don't even know who God is, or if God is, much less His internal desires. However, it seems to me that if I were a supreme being, I'd get a little bit irritated at being called upon to assist in trolling the clearance racks at Target. Or assist in winning a football game. Or assist in any of the millions of other details of people's lives that I was constantly being bugged about. When you are responsible for an entire world, seems like you'd have to focus on the big stuff.

This may well be just one more example of why I'm never going to understand faith. Weirder even than praising in a church, in my mind, is connecting a supreme being to everything I do and everywhere I am. I can't imagine it being anything more than an annoyance for both parties, creator and created. Then again, the folks I was listening in on went home with a bag full of clearance goodies and I didn't, so who knows?

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Back to church

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I have returned to St. George's Episcopalian church these past two Sundays, and I like it more each time. Maybe like isn't the right word, exactly...I feel more each time, more in tune with myself, and in tune with something outside myself as well. I think I am growing more comfortable with the idea of God. I've really enjoyed the sermons, and I appreciate the type of Christian the priest seems to be instructing his congregation to be. For example, this past Sunday's sermon focused around the idea of the story of Abraham's aborted sacrifice of Issac as being not about demanding violence, but about stopping it. I can get behind that.

The problem is Jesus. While I can conceptualize God in a non-human form, in a very general way, I have the hardest time getting myself to even entertain the thought of everything from virgin birth through resurrection. It just seems...unlikely. And I've been told that it's OK to think of those stories as homilies, or as metaphorical, but I don't know if that's really true, given that Jesus the Savior is a pretty essential element to Christianity. So that's where I'm hung up right now.

And then again, it may be that the fact that I'm still insisting on considering all of this logically at all, rather than taking in on faith (there's that word again...) speaks to how little distance I've actually travelled. I dunno. Regardless, St. George's feels more and more comfortable to me, and I really do believe I am getting something out of the time I'm spending there, even if I'm not yet wholly sure what it is.

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You are dust and to dust you shall return*

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I made my first itty bitty step today. I went to the Ash Wednesday evening service at a local liberal Episcopalian church. And it was good. I went through the whole service, saying the words and getting the ash on my forehead and even taking communion. I felt sort of weird about communion, but the rector specifically said that the church celebrates open communion and anyone whose heart is open to Jesus Christ is welcome to join. If he would have said anyone who believes is welcome, I'd have stayed in my seat, but my heart is open, so up I went.

I can't say honestly that I felt anything spiritual, but I did feel comfortable, and peaceful, and the sermon and readings gave me things to ponder, particularly the bit from Matthew, regarding not putting on a show of faith for others to see, but having private, personal faith. I also felt particularly drawn towards Matthew 6-13:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

That was something good for me to hear and think about, I think. I plan to return to this church on Sunday, and every Sunday for the next weeks, culminating in Easter Sunday. In between Sundays, I plan to ponder both the messages I heard at church and the feelings that they brought to light. And I plan to keep trying to pray. Right now, I think that's all I can do, and I think it's enough.

*Genesis 3-19

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Arlo's church

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I have a big, fat, depths-of-my-soul post to make, but I'm not quite there with it yet, so in the meantime, I wanted to relate a story I heard last night:

S. and I went to the Sierra Club's Songs to Save the Seashore benefit concert last night. The show was great--Eliza Gilkyson, Carolyn Wonderland, and Ruthie Foster all played and are worth seeing. Dale Watson was there, and I am now in love (real country music! YES!). The story I want to tell, though, came from the set played by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. Sarah Lee is, as the name indicates, Arlo's daughter, and this story is about him.

***************************

About 15 years ago, Arlo (and I think some other folks) bought the church made famous in Alice's Restuarant Massacre. Not long after they bought it, Arlo was hanging out there, sweeping up the floor. A local preacher came by and knocked on the door. Since the door was glass, Arlo couldn't pretend he wasn't there, so he answered the door.

"Arlo, what are you doing here?" asked the preacher.

"Well, I'm sweeping up the floor," Arlo replied.

"No," said the preacher, "I meant what kind of church is this going to be now?"

Arlo thought a bit about that. He hadn't really considered it. He had a lot of plans for the church, was going to do a lot of great things there, but he hadn't thought much about what kind of church it was going to be.

"Well," he replied, "I guess it's a bring your own God church."

************************

Indeed.

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In honor of the holiday

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"Jesus Was a Capricorn"
by Kris Kristofferson

Jesus was a Capricorn, he ate organic foods.
He believed in love and peace and never wore no shoes.
Long hair, beard and sandals and a funky bunch of friends.
Reckon they'd just nail him up if He come down again.

'Cos everybody's got to have somebody to look down on.
Who they can feel better than at anytime they please.
Someone doin' somethin' dirty, decent folks can frown on.
If you can't find nobody else, then help yourself to me.

Get back, John!

Egg Head's cousin Red Neck's cussin' hippies for their hair.
Others laugh at straights who laugh at freaks who laugh at squares.
Some folks hate the whites who hate the blacks who hate the clan.
Most of us hate anything that we don't understand.

'Cos everybody's got to have somebody to look down on.
Who they can feel better than at anytime they please.
Someone doin' somethin' dirty, decent folks can frown on.
If you can't find nobody else, then help yourself to me.

Help yourself, brother.
Help yourself, Gentlemen.
Help yourself Reverend.

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Blog worth reading

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I have to recommend Shannon's Palm Sunday entry over at The-Blog-Formerly-Known-As-Waiting-For-Nat (Peter's Cross Station now, I think). It is brilliant, much better than I could have written about being in church this past Sunday, but very close to how I felt.

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What if no one's watching?

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In her comment on this post, Emma Goldman asked me a very good question. Two of them, actually. Her questions were:

Why do you want there to be a deity? What will happen if you don't find one?

The second question is not of much interest to me, because I don't think anything will happen if I don't find God. I'll be pretty much in the same place I am now--no proof of existance, no faith, but no proof of inexistance either. Unless for some reason my seach sours me so much it gets me all the way to Atheism, but honestly I just don't see that happening. The first question, though, is really at the heart of what is going on here.

There are quite a number of reasons I want there to be a deity, some kind of greater power. One of them is because I don't want to feel like I'm in this alone--I want there to be someone bigger than me watching out for me. Another one is that I can't stand the idea of never again seeing the people I love who have died, and in order to believe that I am going to see them again, I sort of need to believe in a God, some conception of Heaven, something. One of the biggest ones is that I want a community to be part of, and the kinds of communities people I know seem to find in their churches seem so great. I want to be part of that, and I think becoming part of it would be a lot easier if I actually shared beliefs with said community.

There are a more shallow set of reasons as well. I like church, especially ritualistic church. It makes me feel centered, safe. I like the rountine of it, the symbolism, the quiet, sacred space. I want to have a legitimate share in that space and not feel like an imposter in it. I want to a person who knows the words to the hymns and the proper responses, who knows when to say "and also with you" and "Amen."

The biggest reason, though, is simple curiousity. I want to know if there is a God or not, and I don't think factual evidence that I find believable is going to surface, or that it would be enough even if it did. I want to have some strong feeling about it, one way or the other. Agnosticism is fine when you don't care, but as I get older I do care, I want to have a theory of what is going to happen when I die that I actually believe and don't just find interesting. I want to be able to commit to a position of some sort, driven by something inside myself. I want to feel faith. I feel like I am missing out on some basic human experience by not having it in my life, and I am missing it.

I don't know if that's a sufficient answer, but it is what I have, for now. Thanks for asking.

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That's a really interesting, thoughtful answer--I'll respond with a little more than that once I've had a chance to ponder.

I guess I agree with Emma. And just cuz you want to believe in something doesn't mean you necessarily should believe in it, you know? I could/have believe/d that the person I was in a relationship was right for me, when in fact they were not. We trick ourselves into believing irrational things all the time, mainly so that we'll feel safe and okay. But I don't think that means we should!

It also just makes me think that if a person has to try so hard to believe in something maybe it isn't for them, you know?

You might like this. It's a list of scientists answering what they take on faith to be true even though they can't prove it. There's always the Belief-O-Matic!

My strong desire to believe in something--based on about the same things that you mention--is what eventually made me realize that I really, in fact, didn't believe in anything. Any attempt at belief on my part felt too much like wishful thinking that didn't really express what I believed at heart to be true.

Just my 2 cents, not trying to convert you to atheism or anything, at all. Wishing you more luck than I had, is all.

and, for those of you who care, here's my longer exposition.

Great thread. My thoughts are here

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Notes from the search for God

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In today's episode of my search for God, I found myself in sitting at a Quaker meeting. For over a hour, I sat in a room with thirty or forty other people, quietly, concentrating. Two men got up and spoke, each for no more than a couple of minutes, and I listened closely to what each of them had to say, then pondered what they said, looking for a message in it, looking for shades of something that I needed to hear. Before anyone spoke, I concentrated hard, first on the list of people I had brought with me that I wanted to pray for, and then on myself, praying for faith.

Once again, faith didn't come. If God was present in that room, God did not make its presence known, at least not to me. I sat there, trying from the inside out to open my heart and make room for faith, but faith did not come. As I attempted to meditate on faith, I concentrated on the word--faith. I saw it in my mind like the screen saver on a computer screen, bright, swirling letters. And just as soon as I saw it, it turned from "faith" to "fake." As in, I am a fake for sitting here with my eyes closed, trying to pretend I am one of these people. These people feel God in this space. They feel community. I feel my ass against the chair, my feet on the floor. These people are somewhere inside themselves, pondering on the things that are important in their lives, talking to their gods. I am sneaking glances at the clock, looking around the room, counting the panes in the windows. God wants nothing to do with me.

So here I am. Again. Disappointed. Wondering if this search is worthwhile. Wondering if searching is even what I should be doing. After all, if God wanted to me to know it exists, why wouldn't it just TELL ME rather than sending me on this wild goose chase? What am I supposed to be learning here?

I've looked for God on my own in more ways and on more occasions than I can count. I've done rituals, I've prayed in song, in speech, in writing. I've looking for God in nature, in the faces of my friends and family, at the graves of those I have lost. And I haven't been able to find God alone. Thinking maybe that I just needed help, or structure, I've looked for God in a Lutheran church, a Universalist Unitarian church, and now at a Quaker meeting. And I've seen no inclination of God in any of those places either. What now? Should I try Episcopalian? Should I stop picking churches based on their social values and service work and just force myself to sit through services at the Baptist church down the street? What if God has been hiding there all along, only a few blocks away?

Lord, I Have Made You a Place in My Heart

Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart
among the rags and the bones and the dirt.
There's piles of lies,
the love gone from her eyes,
and old moving boxes full of hurt.
Pull up a chair by the trouble and care.
I got whiskey, you're welcome to some.
Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart,
but I don't reckon you're gonna come.

I've tried to fix up the place,
I know it's a disgrace,
you get used to it after a while -
with the flood and the drought and old pals hanging out
with their IOU's and their smiles.
Bare naked women keep coming in
and they dance like you wouldn't believe.
Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart,
so take a good look - and then leave.

Oh Lord, why does the Fall get colder each year?
Lord, why can't I learn to love?
Lord, if you made me, it's easy to see
that you all make mistakes up above.
But if I open the door, you will know I'm poor
and my secrets are all that I own.
Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart
and I hope that you leave it alone.

-Greg Brown

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I think the Quakers would claim that the deity/spirit is within you, even though it may manifest itself in meeting. But I don't know. Maybe you could ask them stuff or something. I doubt very much that you could feel much community in any setting the first time you visited it, especially if its practices were unfamiliar to you.

But here's the thing. I'm an atheist--I was raised that way, and I've never had any good reason to change those beliefs. What I think you have to ask yourself is what a deity provides that you can't get any other way. It's true that I don't understand "faith" in anything like the way that deists do--it just doesn't make any sense to me, whether it's requiring me to believe things for which I have no evidence, or whether it's attributing cause to things that (to me) don't have a cause, per se. Why do you want there to be a deity? What will happen if you don't find one?

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Mary Magdalene

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I am trying to write every day for Lent. Can't think of anything to say at the moment, though, so here's what I am listening to/thinking about:

"The Ballad of Mary Magdalene"
by Richard Shindell

My name is Mary Magdalene
I come from Palestine
Please excuse these rags I'm in
I've fallen on hard times
But long ago I had my work
When I was in my prime
But I gave it up
And all for love
It was his career or mine

Jesus loved me
This I know
Why on earth did I ever let him go
He was always faithful
He was always kind
But he walked off with this heart of mine

A love like this comes but once
This I do believe
And I'll not see his like again
As I live and breathe
And I'm sorry if I might offend
But I will never see
How the tenderness I shared with him
Became a heresy

Jesus loved me, this I know
Why on earth did I ever let him go
He was always faithful
He was always kind
But he walked off with this heart of mine

And I remember nights we spent
Whispering our creed
Our rituals, our sacrament
The stars our canopy
And there beneath an olive tree
We'd offer up our plea
God's creation, innocent
His arms surrounding me

Jesus loved me, this I know
Why on earth did he ever have to go
He was always faithful
He was always kind
But he walked off with this heart of mine

He was always faithful
He was always kind
But he walked off with this heart of mine

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Such a beautiful song, finally showing she was intimate with Jesus, which i know for a fact she was

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Line judge wanted

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Caveat to the non sports-minded: In a volleyball game, there are two referrees and two line judges. The sole purpose of the line judges is to stand at opposite corners of the court and judge whether balls fall in or out of bounds.

The sermon today was about sports, competition, etc. The second element of it was about abdicatin of responsibility. Where people used to say "no harm, no foul," meaning that even if there was technically a foul, if it didn't harm the flow of play, it was not worth stopping for, they could now say "no foul, no harm." No foul, no harm. That would mean that unless a foul was called, i.e. unless you got CAUGHT breaking the rules, no harm was done. You see this in football, where linemen are taught to hold without getting called on it, for example.

The minister was making a point about how the competitive nature of sports leads us to shrug off personal responsibility for following the rules. We do not call fouls on ourselves. If you step out of bounds making a touchdown and nobody notices, you sure as hell don't argue with them. If a mistake is made, then, it is the responsibility of the official, for not seeing it, rather than the player for doing it.

The point was that putting what is right and what is wrong in someone else's hands allows us to break rules without culpability. Which got me to thinking, what I need in my life isn't a referree, it's a line judge. I don't want someone else to make the calls--I am rather fond of being in charge--but I want someone else to stand at the corners and tell me when something is in bounds and when it is out of bounds. Then when someone argues with a call I've made, I can simply point to the line judge. She did it.
The expert opinion given to me was that was out, so I called it out. It's like the president blaming a bad war on the CIA.

But I don't get a line judge. I have to figure out for myself if the balls I am lobbing back and forth are landing within bounds or not. And I just can't see the whole court, so there's a lot of guesswork involved. Sometimes, I make the wrong call. Often, even. And ultimately, it's nobody's responsibility but mine.

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First it was a question, then it was a mission

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"How to be American, how to be a Christian"

Over and over and over this goes through my head. So it seems it is time to make another stab at church. Chance's Sunday-morning lessons are over, so I can have the car again, and I have no excuses not to embark once again on this ultra-scary journey.

So...here are the places I think I'll try:
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin
All Saint's Episcopal Church
Friends Meeting of Austin

If anyone has advice, other suggestions of places I should check out, etc., I'm all ears.

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Ritual

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There are a number of people around school today with ash smudged foreheads. As always, I'm struck by my jealousy of them. Maybe I don't believe in God (and maybe I do...I wish I'd figure that out), but I think I believe in religion. Or maybe not even religion, but ritual. I believe in ritual. I want to take part in these rituals, to feel their importance viscerally. Perhaps more than any other reason, I wish I could develop faith so that I could legitimately do that.

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No, I didn't make that up--rather, it was on a license plate holder in front of me on my commute to work this morning.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm in a sucky mood today. My sinuses are killing me, I still feel like potted ass, I didn't sleep well, I don't want to be here, and I'm just cranky. That being said, this particular license plate holder made me want to drag the women driving the Lexus it was connected to out of her car and beat her.

What the fuck is up with the scary religious threats? I don't see treating God like the bogeyman doing anyone any good with spreading the word. If anything, it only further alienates those of us who are not necessarily for or against the idea of God. I'm still thinking about it--I imagine I'll be still thinking about it ad infinitum, but that's another issue--but seeing stuff like that makes me not want to believe. I am not going to achieve faith by means of fucking threats.

Maybe I am completely overreacting. But I don't think so. The same car had a big Jesus fish eating a little Jesus fish on it. WTF?

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