Recently, I was up in Harrisburg, and I saw this, so I had to take a picture.
Imagine that! All people are welcome to pray.
While I get and support how all people who are taking part in the sacraments .should have to understand them as something more than "this looks fun" before they engage in them, I believe that church should make us feel good and welcome. This could be wanting to learn the sacraments (or any traditions of any denomination). It could be the act of some Godly and / or spiritual force inspiring us to tell our stories to others (Parkinson's, religious faith, or anything else) so they can be better. It can simply be sharing our talents and emotions with others. In the end, all that matters is we try to adhere to it's teachings and make an effort to make the world better than what we were born into.
We've all been given a fair bit of dystopian politics lately, says he who is watching The Handmaid's Tale right now. Let's just say that it's a step up from Hunger Games' violence, and a step down from 1984's sheer brutality. In writings like these, we're led to believe sex is evil (1984) or it's converted into the Brave New World take. We're led to believe that politics is either run amok PC or conservatism gone fascist. No matter how it ends up, it wants to consume us. Equally, all religion becomes a fascist cult filled with wild fanatics. And yes, we've seen these ideologies played out, thought out, and expressed out. As a result, a person who sees modern times and history has to be able to figure out what politics / theology / human interaction should be on his or her own. Nevertheless, the point of good art / literature is to make the viewer feel and relate to the plight of the characters. It lets us feel the protagonist's struggles while residing inside the reasoning of the antagonist. It provides a call to action and a step toward living for something that means something.
In later life and coming back to God and theology / spirituality, I like to see the Christianity she taught me in terms of love and togetherness. The copies of those pictures are completely priceless because of it.
When it comes to not being able to connect with religion, I remember when I was stationed in Turkey. I was young, lost, and pretty much alone other than a couple people I befriended. One, I stayed friends with. The other got lost along the way. Such is life. Nevertheless, there on the Turkish / Syrian / Iraqi border, I couldn't make sense of being stuck indefinitely in a post-Gulf War zone, and I couldn't make sense of post-war.
One particular event that stands out to me was when we passed the Syrian border, a guy got on board our bus with an AK-47. Obviously, facing a man with an assault rifle is odd, much odder than hole in the floor bathrooms, which we saw along the 8-hour bus ride across the country. Anyway, while I was waiting to be shot at, he came around and shook everyone's hands before he left.
Of all the things I did there, I did go up in a helicopter to drop bread off at refugee camps. The purpose of much of the mission was assisting the Kurds who went north after the war. Many of them were starving in refugee camps. Seeing people in front of fences waiting for bread was heavy. We went up with the British. I had wanted to see Iraq, and I did. When I walked back as a 19-year old airman, I was with a major and a sergeant of some level. We stepped over a wire as a short cut to where we were going, and... you guessed it.
We were picked up by military police who made us find someone on base who knew us. My supervisor was nonplussed to deal with my dumb ass, and yeah... that was an experience.
Anyway, while in Turkey, I found some officers talking about God and being born again. It turned out that all I had to do was say, "I'm born again," and then I would be. I asked to be sure, and it was. Obviously, I never felt in simpatico with the Good Lord for a few words in a military tent, but yeah. By the time I got back to civilization, God and I became divided, slowly but surely.
For a short time, I went to a church with my roommate. One time, the preacher went off on his usual diatribe of better and more holy than thou with a lecture on how to dress appropriately. The message was that you didn't have to listen to what he recommended. You would just burn in Hell if you went any other direction that he stated people should..
That was it for me for church for a long time.
My roommate lasted a few more weeks, but the preacher gave him bad dreams, so he too stopped. The church decided to save his soul and send people to coax him back. He was too nice to say anything, so I aided his cause one night by playing My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult's "Kooler than Jesus." The guy left and never came back. Normally, my roommate would have said something about it, but it was a means to an end, so the two of us were sympatico.
Long story short, religion shouldn't be too easy, but then again, it shouldn't reenact the Salem Witch Trials with self righteous hate in the name of "God." I just can't get behind that kind of stuff or the pick and choose Leviticus game (something done for homosexuality, but ignored when it comes to mistreating foreigners).
Nobody is perfect. For those people who think we should be, they just don't get it. We all make mistakes and sin or mess up. Some of us mess up more than others (John Brown), and then we do one thing powerfully, and WHAM! That becomes our legacy. I'm not sure what the vigilante attacks to abolish slavery in the name of God should stand as... radical ideology or St. Augustine's Theory of Just War. Looking at the chances of success and eliminating unnecessary casualties... That said, it did ramp up the decision to do what's right and end slavery.
From the right or the left, as long as we're willing to be open to conversation and discussion, all is good. Historically at that time, nobody was doing that, so Brown threw away the playbook. This led to the decisions and transition of Lincoln from keep America together to Lincoln's 2nd Inaugural Address.
Sure, he's an extreme example, but how many of us / people we know have turned life around to do something better for people? To me, that's where it's at. It can't just be about accept me / worship me and life is good.
From that perspective, I can see that faith is something that should allow us to analyze our past, help with our present, and prevent problems in the future.
I'm not an expert on faith, but I've been contemplating it a lot lately, as I've said, since I was writing an essay about my own set of beliefs for part of a contest (let's just say, it turned out well, though I would have liked about 25,000 more words). I kept feeling pulled into religious chapter / verse expressions, which moved me, but they weren't feeling like me, so I had to write, revise, save for other things, or scrap..
In my search, I did comb through the Book of Job and some interesting chapter / verse. There, I found:
Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." THIS made me think of how my nana raised my sister, my cousins, and me in the word of God. People can go different directions, and they may not take on everything, but we tend to take on the most important things.
As I said, those things have made me realize that I'm a Christmas Catholic. I love the happiness of good coming into the world and celebrating traditions with family (I'm sure most theologies have a day like that). While I understand the Good Friday sacrifice, I'm bothered by the gore porn it turns into for some people (like the woman I encountered who explained how the nails destroyed bones to a six-year old; why not just show her a snuff film?). While I get the need for realism, there comes a point where the spectacle outshines the message (Poetics said not to do that, Mel, so stop swinging the hammer).
That said, I completely understand Easter Christians of any denomination. The tomb is empty, and we are forgiven, while the promise is fulfilled (as I said). For kids, this is portrayed with the symbolism of new life (eggs, bunnies, and flowers), which is everywhere. I also understand the existential Christ wrestling with the Devil's temptations and the Easter Saturday "What now?" people. It makes perfect sense to feel our faith is being tested or that we could have done something different that day.
I get people who feel compelled to fulfill a purpose from God. That's me, and I think that's a lot of you, too. That promise can be anything, big or small. Nevertheless, it's probably not about someone being the Son / Daughter of God (I tend to worry about that purpose and the one that demands mass suicide to ride on a comet). However, I do believe we are called to learn for a purpose.
As I wrote in that essay that (in large part) deals with divine intervention:
On September 28, 2016, I woke up and told my wife that if I did indeed have Parkinson’s, I would educate and advocate for the cause. That day was always meant to be. It was God’s plan. That’s why he had me learn how to teach, to love, to be a part of a larger family, to be a writer, to speak confidently, to be enthusiastic about learning, and to inhale the wondrous beauty of life, in England and in America. Accepting those responsibilities and accepting that opportunity cemented my beliefs.
Some beliefs are quoted to us chapter verse. Other times, our truths are personal “mysteries” only we experience. I can’t make someone believe what happened at that Churchtown cemetery, while driving out of Fallon, wishing on a star at Letchworth, or waking up to choose Parkinson’s advocacy.
However, something happened in all of those moments, and my beliefs define it as my outlook changed forever because of what I experienced.
If my faith was accepting a book or finding a seat in a pew, it would be really simple to say that I joined a team and I accept it all as is. That’s not this story.
This story is about how these last two years of my life have tested my faith, family, meaning, future, and hope. I write this smiling. Somehow, having Parkinson’s defined and tested me. Parkinson’s begged me to curse God, but I didn’t. It tortured me with symptoms on top of symptoms. It showed me how I could lose everything. Still, I went on smiling. I can’t believe that a God who let me wish on a star and come up with a win would be the same God who would leave me to the wolves. There has to be a reason.
My belief comes back to helping others make sense of their struggles in the same way I make sense of mine. It is compelling our friends and family to aid in this journey. We can either see life as pain and suffering or we can see it as opportunity, love, strength, and a chance to succeed and be there for the "celebration."
If we give our most precious gifts to the world, our beliefs will transfer to another soul. If we utilize the special gifts that other people give us, we will find our way through any rough patch. If we see the act of giving and receiving gifts as more than just exchanging objects, then Christmas is every day.
That's why I like Christmas. Things happen. A man arrives and does a lot of stuff. Sure, he's the son of God, but in the end, he can either accept that or have any earthly thing he wishes. In the meantime, he uses his brain and body to make things happen. I'm all for human responsibility in our own upkeep. Yes, there's humanism and there's Christian humanism, but I'd like to think we can all agree that we should be doing something more than just praying (though prayer doesn't hurt).
For that, I don't get people waiting or trying to accelerate the Rapture. I don't get theology / philosophy / theology that focuses on conformity or else. To be "down," we need to live a life that is in line with that choice if we want it to apply to us. I believe we can do that with or without any holy book. In fact, I believe many books are divinely inspired without the seal of brick and mortar religion approval.
I'm happy with what you choose to believe that doesn't lecture me or hurt others. It may not be me, but so be it.
As I said, at the end of the day, I just can't picture an omnipotent being sitting around and demanding our love and attention 24/7 under threat of eternal torture. What's more, I'm not sure I'd want to end up in a place that is a reward for that.
Think about it like this; the death row murderer who accepts God with 2 minutes to go hasn't earned near as much (if any) preferential treatment as someone who lived a kind and giving life. That's just me, and at the end of the day, I base my beliefs on what I've learned of theology, philosophy, psychology, history, human nature, and life - not what I learned from "some exclusive all correct single book." The religion I'm baptized into may be "stand, kneel, sit, pray, sing softly / lip-synch," but it takes more than that to live out what I see as a good life.
The same is true for just praying. Praying is important, and I do it, but is it more right to just pray X number of times a day as opposed to doing things?
Nevertheless, that brick and mortar religion my nana gave me is in my DNA, and I was baptized into it. It is now as much a part of me as my lungs and heart. Besides, as a nun once told me, you're either a Catholic or a wayward Catholic after baptism.
In the end, yep, organized religion can be scary, but buildings that open their doors to keep people safe and able to find spiritual / emotional / physical refuge are a good thing and a start to a better world. We need more open tables for people to celebrate our Christmases and holidays with.
For all of you people doing good things in life, keep on keepin' on!