Friday, January 22, 2016

Jesus is Not My Homeboy

If you've been around these parts a while you probably know I am not a religious woman. I come by it honestly, I assure you. My mother grew up in an evangelical Christian family (her grandparents founded the local Church of Christ), and eventually ran away to California and eschewed anything that even remotely smacked of religion. She attempted to be neutral on the subject for our benefit, but you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to pick up on her aversion to all things Jesus. Yet, as I've mentioned before, she was never able to completely shake that foundation of faith. This dormant dogma cropped up at unexpected times.

I inherited this complicated relationship with religion in general and Christianity in particular. I get the hives when people start talking about ChristOurLordAndSavior, but I will listen to the most Jesus-y, Keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas music you ever did hear. I went to "Jesus Camp" in high school, and even attended weekly bible study for a while. I have read books on both sides of the fence - The Case for Christ, The God Delusion, etc. I actually own multiple Bibles, and keep one on my bedside table for regular perusal. At times in the past, I have been outright hostile toward religion, but now it's more of a "live and let live" attitude. I am respectfully skeptical, but hey, whatever you need to do to get through the day, you know?

I've come to realize that it's not religion or God that I have a problem with, it's when people use God as a sword and a shield to defend and assert (what I believe to be) asinine political positions. A friend's mom just posted this great article titled "5 Stupid Things The Church Needs to Stop Doing to Make Progress." You can read it yourself, but I'll paraphrase my favorite part: If you're assigning a political ideology to your God, you're doing it wrong. The author writes "God is not a Republican or a Democrat, or in my country, a Conservative, Liberal or New Democrat. Nor is God an independent. God is God. When your church becomes a mouthpiece for a political party, you cease to be the church." He (the author, not God) also says "Stop being so weird online." Ha! I think this is a sound piece of advice that every single person on the Internet should heed, not just religious folks!

I also resent when people try to force-feed their particular brand of God to others. Same as parenting advice: If I want it, I'll ask for it. I basically feel about religion like I do about cigarettes: I don't get it, but hey, whatever, you do you. Just don't try to sell it to me or my children, or corner me in a small room with no ventilation.

The issue of my kids and religious indoctrination is where things get tricky. I'm a big girl. I have taken the time to research and draw informed conclusions on subjects about which I feel strongly. I also have a carefully calibrated bullshit-meter. But my kids' brains are thirsty little sponges. And they still believe in Santa Claus, so their powers of deductive reasoning leave room for improvement. It is both elating and terrifying to think that people other than my husband and I can and will fill those sponges - with mind-boggling knowledge, crack-pot Kool-Aid, and/or useless trivia and movie quotes.

After the whole red-shirting dilemma, we decided to send Jack to a private kindergarten this year. It's a "Country Day" school that is reportedly without religious affiliation. However, when I was filling out the paperwork, I had to sign this "release" that said that I acknowledged that the children would recite a daily "secular prayer." Now, as a person with a basic understanding of the English language, I was a bit thrown by this phrase, "secular prayer." Secular: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. Prayer: a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. Sounds a bit oxymoronic, dontcha think? I asked for some clarification and the woman looked at me like, "Oh joy, you're one of those." (Side note: WTF is up lately with people telling me, "Yeah yeah, don't worry about reading it, just sign the contract." Yeahhhhh, no. I'm a lawyer. That's not how we do.)

Anyway, the following week we had Kindergarten Orientation and the teacher handed out this packet that contained these so-called secular prayers, and let me just say, there were an awful lot of "Lords" and "Gods" in there for something supposedly secular. At the end, the teacher asked if anyone had any more questions, so I started circling the blatantly religious language and wrote on my paper, "How is this 'secular???'" and showed it to DM. Hoooo-eeee, boy! If looks could kill. He definitely thought I was being a nightmare. I got the message loud and clear: "Shut your trap, devil woman!"

On the way home from the orientation, we discussed the legal implications of the "secular prayer." My fancy constitutional lawyer husband reminded me that it's a private school and they could teach our kids about Christ on the Cross if they felt like it.

Well! Funny you should mention that, Daddy Mack. Because not three months later, Jack comes home from school and starts talking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus H. Christ. At this point even DM, whose parents are Muslim (which, in their view, makes him Muslim), but who probably has a more stereotypically Christian belief system than I do vis-a-vis a supreme being and the afterlife and whatnot, was like "Whoa whoa whoa, hold the phone. What was that again???"

Let's break this down a little bit. First, just to be clear, I'm not trying to shield my children from any and all mention of Christian theology. I mean, we live in America. It says "In God We Trust" on our money. For better or worse, it's in the ether. I myself refer to the nebulous concepts of Heaven and God, even if I don't refer to him/her as such, mainly because I don't know know how else to explain death to small children. But the crucifixion? Really? Isn't that kind of intense subject matter for a five-year-old?

For those of you who do believe in The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, and don't see anything wrong with this kind of "enrichment," let me try to explain to you how this felt to us heathens. Imagine your child came home from school reciting passages from the Quran, or informed you that when you die, you will come back as a happy cow. That. That is how it felt. We were both like, W. T. F. Then DM said, "Well, Jesus was an actual dude so, I guess we can think of it as a history lesson?" (And as my mother-in-law likes to say, Muslims believe in Jesus, too ;))

The thing is, were we to continue on the private school route, I would totally send my kids to a Catholic school, or a Christian school, or a Jewish school, and not think twice about it. Because at that point I would know what I was getting into, and I feel like I could inoculate them against religious and spiritual tunnel vision. It's the false advertising aspect of it that bothers me.

However, this same woman has, somehow (maybe with God's help because I can find no other logical explanation), taught my son to clean his crumbs from the table, fold his blankets, and turn his socks right-side-out before he puts them in the laundry hamper, so, at the end of the day, religious brainwashing seems a small price to pay. Plus, I guess I should be thankful our poor little pagans are getting a spiritual education somewhere. Lord(-with-a-capital-L) knows we've been neglecting them on that front.

One of my cousins shared a post a while back: It starts, "If my child marries yours... I just want you to know I'm praying for you..." As I often do with things I find lovely or thought-provoking or infuriating, I saved the link with a note "Write something about this." That was almost a year and a half ago. Better late than never I guess :)

Anyway. It's a sweet post. I love couching mutual goodwill and understanding in terms of our children marrying each other one day. Something about that inevitable intertwining of the lives of strangers really drives it home for me. But as noted above, I am not a praying woman. This got me thinking, especially in light of all the divisiveness and ignorance and fear-mongering and bigotry surrounding race and religion these days... What would it look like to zoom out on this idea a bit? What if your child married a Muslim? A Jew? A Buddhist? An Atheist? Would you still pray for me? What if my child married an evangelical Christian, a staunch Republican, a Santerian? Would I still send you good vibes and golden bombs of light and love? I guess this kind of goes back to my recent post, "don't be a dick," which, along with "stop being so weird online" are pretty good general guideposts for life. Was it Martin Luther King, Jr. who originally said those? Anyway, I'm certain he said this: "We may all have come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

In that vein, I give to you my "Agnostic Prayer" -

I may not understand your culture, your values, your beliefs, your religion, your politics, your family dynamics, or your parenting style. But understand this:
I believe full stomachs and full hearts can trump any differences we may have.
I believe we are more alike than not.
I believe you are a good parent.
I believe you love your child.
I believe you are doing the best you can with what you have.
I believe you can call your kid an asshole with love.
I trust you. I hope you trust yourself.
I respect you. I hope you respect yourself.
I'll cut you a break. I hope you'll do yourself the same favor.
I'll keep my knee-jerk judgments in check. I hope you'll do me the same favor.
I'll laugh with you, cry with you, or just be with you when I don't know what else to say.
I'll say the wrong things, and you can too, because we're family and that's what families do.
I'll resist the urge to "fix" you if and when you are brave enough to show me the cracks in the facade, or hell, smash that shit into a million little pieces.
I promise I will not, though I will be tempted to, sweep up the shards of your beautiful busted self and try to glue them back together. I will leave them scattered on the floor as a testament to your grit and your guts and your humanity. You outgrew your shell. You will find another. Or you will stay naked and raw and real and true. Whatever works best for you.
You can say no.
You don't have to apologize, justify, or explain.
You don't have to pretend you know what you're doing. The secret's out: We're all making it up as we go along.
Actually if you do pretend you know what you're doing, we may have a problem ;)
That being said, you know more than you think you do.
This gig is tough as hell. But so are you.

I'll leave you with this (it wouldn't be truly Cheesy without a quote!)

There've been times when I wander
And times when I don't
Concepts I'll ponder
And concepts I won't ever see
God isn't one of these
Former or latter
Which did you think I meant
It doesn't matter to me

Bug - Phish

And some extra credit reading:

The Biblical Argument for Bernie (Okay, I know this goes against the "God Is Not a Democrat (or a Socialist)." But still. I liked it. Not least because my boyfriend Mark Ruffalo posted it on The Twitter. Food for thought.