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That's Me in the Corner: A Pajiba Sunday Sermon

By Cindy Davis | Think Pieces | June 9, 2013 | Comments ()


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I was raised a Lutheran. And by raised, I mean: dropped off at my grandparents' home on Saturday mornings, and left there through Sunday afternoon, which meant going to church with my grandparents Sunday mornings. Now this wasn't a bad thing, by any means. Spending the weekends with warm, loving people and away from a raging alcoholic mother was the best thing for me, and though I didn't come to understand religious matters for many years, I enjoyed attending Sunday services with them. To this day, I can close my eyes and be transported; a kid standing next to my grandmother, holding her impossibly soft hand and listening to her sing the hymns. My grandfather was always decked out in a suit, including his Sunday hat. I especially loved when it was "our" turn to be in charge of refreshments, which meant my grandmother and I left a few minutes early to turn on the coffee machine and serve cookies she'd made the day before. Our pastor was great at translating biblical lessons into modern day, relatable parables, so I really did pay attention to the services as I got older. My parents, like many of their contemporaries, rarely attended church themselves--only on the big holidays.

As part of my being farmed out for religious activities I also attended Sunday school, where I was taught to memorize the books of the bible (I can still recite the listing of the Old Testament books and some of the new; so handy!), and participated in story discussions. My curiosity about spirituality grew, but I do believe my biggest youthful heavenly concern was whether my dog would be joining me in the afterlife. I consulted my pastor, who confirmed that if I wanted Pepe there, God would surely let him in. Sunday school transformed into Youth Group, which mostly consisted of hanging out with the older high school kids, smoking pot and conducting impromptu jam sessions (Paranoia Blues); "camping" trips didn't seem to have anything to do with church, and once involved the high school principal's son trying to coerce me into having sex with him. But still, I wondered about God and heaven and why my prayers that my mother wouldn't be home when I got there were never fulfilled.

Leading up through basic training and after ended up in Germany, I went through different periods of searching for spirituality. I always wanted to be a believer, but never felt like one, so I looked high and low for something that would help me comprehend what so many other people seemed to. I waited for that lightbulb to magically make the connection and blink on, but It was more like a secret club whose initiation I just couldn't pass. One of my fellow soldiers was a chaplain (though not serving as such at the time), and we had many long night-into-morning discussions. I tried several kinds of services of varied faiths, and even attended a couple of German churches where the language was translated through headphones, but the message was still incomprehensible to me. A good friend of mine who'd been going through a divorce and having a hard time met a girl, and she introduced him to her church. Suddenly he was gone to services whenever he had free time, and after several invitations, I agreed to come to the (multiple hour) services. I don't remember exactly how it went, but there was something like an hour of praising (singing hymns), an hour of sermon, and then an hour of group prayer. As I stood in the pews, listening and watching, I looked at peoples' faces and saw that they clearly knew and felt something I did not. Even the children had the look of understanding--it was if everyone was in on a joke but me. In the last hour, the pastor called for people who felt like they needed extra prayer, healing or help to come forward. I watched my friend--along with a few other people--walk up front, then he came to be surrounded by many other people, and suddenly they were all yelling and talking in words I couldn't understand. Nor could I see my friend any longer, and I don't mind saying that I found it almost frightening. Someone informed me the elders of the church were speaking in tongues, but that didn't comfort me; I felt worried for my friend. I stayed away from churches for a while after that experience. I have since been with relatives to Catholic churches on certain occasions and the message I walked away with: Lots of ritual, rules and circumstance. I have an uncle who became a pastor (after a screwdriver fell into his eye while performing auto repair), and after several discussions, one night he asked me to take a walk with him. Outside, he explained that I just needed to "accept Jesus as my personal saviour," and that if I would only kneel by a tree and say those magic words, all would be well. But it felt disingenuous, and I refused. From that night on, he all but shunned me.

As time has gone by, after many years of reading, discussing, researching and feeding my spiritual curiosity, I have come to believe...I don't believe. It just doesn't make sense in my brain. I'm not so bold as to deny the possibility of a god or gods existing, but my personal conclusion is that there is no god and this life is the only one we have. It's not an easy choice to make; walking away from something so many people embrace. When I was pregnant with my first child, for a while I was particularly haunted by the idea that she wouldn't be baptized. My husband and I had long talks over the loss of that particular feeling of community that comes with attending church or temple; we contemplated finding non-denominational services to fill the void, but it just wasn't right for us. Ultimately, we decided to give our children some knowledge of world religions and began spending Sunday mornings reading about them together. They are still young, but already we've had some interesting conversations. My oldest daughter says she doesn't believe, because the idea of god isn't at all logical, and my middle girl believes god is a genie-like being; she talks to and prays to him fairly often--we encourage her to follow her own beliefs. (My youngest doesn't seem to have an opinion as yet.)

All of this to say...to each his own? Pretty much. It is both interesting and terrifying to me that so many who herald themselves as spiritual leaders choose to wield their "power" against their fellow people, instead of investigating their own faith and holding those tenets close. As we have separated ourselves by country, color and creed, so has each group decided God is on its own side, especially in matters of contests, sports and war. The desire to "spread the word" has been taken out of hand, and headlines have become increasingly troublesome. Last week included multiple stories about a 22 year old El Salvadorian woman, Beatriz, denied an abortion despite the fact that carrying the baby to term was life-threatening. Though she was suffering from lupus and renal failure and the fetus she was carrying had no brain, the Supreme Court turned down Beatriz's petition to be granted the procedure (A physician later performed a c-section; the fetus lived for five hours, and debate over whether the procedure was legal continues). Though the ban on abortion in El Salvador (among Latin American countries heavily influenced by religion) previously provided for certain exceptions, including when the mother's life was in danger, the law was changed in 1998 and there are now no exceptions. Abortion is also banned in Chile, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Malta, and if certain religious organizations had their way, so it would be in the United States. While life inside the womb is regarded so preciously, once the child is born, depending upon its circumstances (female, homosexual, transgenders) that same baby could become the target of any number of religious rights reduction programs. And some of the same people who set forth the religious rules and standards to limit what basic human rights others should have choose to prey upon the weak (priests molesting children), and band together to hide their crimes as they continue to persecute others for perceived wrongs. This hypocrisy and misuse of position and power is nothing short of preposterous, and reminds me we are but a stone's throw away from the sort of things that happen in Margaret Atwood's most frightening futuristic fiction.

In my spiritual travels, experiences and readings, God's compassion for others, and humanity loving and caring for each other was always at the core, yet religious beliefs are consistently wielded the opposite way--as a powerful weapon by which to punish, control, or exclude those who do not conform, by people who seem to believe they have the right to decide how others should live their lives. It is difficult to see the representation of a loving deity in varied human interpretations of the rules that affect what some of us can and cannot do with our bodies; limit who we are allowed to love and with whom we can spend our lives or raise our children. My fellow human beings are just that, not gods.

Though I have laid out these thoughts today, I would never want to push my disbelief on anyone else, and it is incomprehensible to me that others continue trying to force their religious ideals onto the rest of the world. And whether or not there is a god or gods, heaven or any sort of afterlife, wouldn't it be grand if we all lived our lives to the fullest now--with the people we choose to love, the children we choose to have or not have, and the beliefs we each keep in our own hearts and minds?


Cindy Davis, (Twitter)



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  • disqus_mQPW6cixfl

    "it is incomprehensible to me that others continue trying to force their religious ideals onto the rest of the world"

    ---

    "And he said unto them, 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" -- Mark 16:15

    Cindy,

    It's not so incomprehensible that some people would take this Biblical command seriously, is it?

    As a backslider myself, I find the rest of your post interesting, and I empathize with your quest and your questioning. After 50-plus years of belief and church services etc. etc., I've largely come to the same conclusion you have.

    What bothers me some is that when people draw the conclusion we have they sometimes seem to want to throw away EVERYTHING religion has to offer. But you don't necessarily have to believe Jesus was the actual son of a god to believe in his philosophy, so I try to follow the principles without buying into the hocus-pocus. It's entirely possible to hold two opposing views like that.

    ,

  • BlackRabbit

    Devil's (so to speak) advocate time:An argument could be made that then you're cherry-picking. Why take away the "hocus-pocus"-without it, he's just some guy. And why not just decide that, say, killing people is wrong, regardless of whether or not the Bible says so? Again, I'm not trying to be confrontational. I hope I don't come across as such.

  • disqus_mQPW6cixfl

    You don't come across that way at all.

    I guess what I'm saying is, as a philosophy to follow, as a way to live your life, his is a pretty good one. I don't know what made him special enough for this particular philosophy to have endured for 2,000 years and influence billions of people. Good p.r. agents, it would appear. I've been in churches that use the mere fact of 2,000 years of Christianity as proof that his life was divinely inspired, if not divine, but that's a logical fallacy. (Yes, yes, there's little that's logical about any religion.)

    A misconception I figure I'll go ahead and try to clear up here is this notion that seems to have emerged that Jesus was some kind of milquetoast who was all peace and light and would't hurt a fly. He had to have been a solid physical specimen. He was, depending on the interpretation, a carpenter or a stonemason, either of which would require some strength. He threw the moneychangers out of the temple in a rage, and he endured one of the most heinous methods of execution ever conceived by man. Whatever else he might have been, just because he was full of forgiveness doesn't mean he was some mild-mannered weakling. He challenged the authorities of the day and spoke truth to power. He forgave, but he also insisted that people change their ways and stop doing the things they were doing and the way they were doing them.

    There's a lot of strength there to admire.

    ,

  • BlackRabbit

    A few things that always rubbed me the wrong way about the Biblical Jesus, even given what little we know about him: no condemnation of slavery, and he apparently never laughed. And the fig tree, what's up with that?

  • BlackRabbit

    A lot of the bad stuff when it comes down to religion is people wanting to belong. If you're in a group that promises that "we know the real answer to everything", most people enjoy that sense of superiority and fellowship. From there it's an easy jump to considering those who DON'T have that answer or don't want it to be lesser, and of course it would be wrong to not try to convert them. Religious power is much like any other, with the added bonus of sentimentality ("oh, if your mother could see you now/traditional values") and more people means more power. And traditional Christianity (and most other religions) is and has been built over the years to become anti-woman; just read Paul. Am I saying there aren't good people who are religious? Of course not. But the very nature of religion makes twisting it very easy, and very difficult for folks to tend their own yard.

    I apologize if what I said above insulted anyone. That wasn't my intention. I'm an atheist, and very comfortable with it, and have been since I learned what that was (as a kid I did go to church and Sunday school, but never really enjoyed it). And while I'm well aware that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" as far as religion and the news in the world, I've had enough personal experiences to be hesitant of religion in general. I just feel like it wrong-foots people right off the bat.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Lack of faith is nothing to be ashamed of.

    I KNOW that I truly believe that when it comes to religion, to each their own. An individual's right to practice as the want is one of the most basic and necessary of freedoms. I want so badly to respect those choices when they don't coincide with mine, but the older I get the harder it gets. As a proud atheist I have been denied that same respect too many times to ignore.

    That leads to the anger, which I can't seem to shake.

  • scotankhamen

    Amen ;-)

  • I wrote this long response and then decided it could be summed up much more succinctly. 1) I believe, but if you don't, I'm okay with that. 2) I think it's more important that we're genuinely kind and caring towards each other than that we call God by the same name. 3) of course dogs go to heaven. If you don't believe they have souls, you're way more hard-hearted than I.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    What an excellent article, I really loved this part:

    "I consulted my pastor, who confirmed that if I wanted Pepe there, God would surely let him in."

    I've been told by many "good" Christians that animals have no souls, therefore no place in heaven. Pardon my bad language, but fuck that shit. That's no heaven I want any part of. And how in the hell do they know if an animal has a soul, did god whisper it in their ear?

    I was raised Catholic and even at a young age, it all sounded ridiculous to me. I dropped out of religion right after my first communion and never looked back. My mom suffered from neck problems and instead of going to the doctor for it, she'd "offer up the pain to god." Insanity. I'm just glad she didn't force me to continue going to church.

  • Good stuff, Cindy. Faith is hard. No doubt about it.

    I was raised in church and ultimately became the fourth generation in my family to serve as a minister. For much of my young adult life I was a fervent believer and held fast to the conservative/fundamentalist foundations of my childhood. Nevertheless, many of the more militant practices and dogmas sat uneasily in my mind.

    Ironically, it was in seminary pursuing a professional ministerial degree that I began challenging my own beliefs for the first time. As a result, much of the faith of my childhood has crumbled away. Fundamentalism, as I experienced it, is a carefully constructed house of cards, and the most vocal defenders of it do so rabidly because the construction is so frail that it cannot withstand the briefest puff of opposition.

    When all the dust of my collapsed belief system settled, I began the task of rebuilding a world view and faith that I could hold with confidence. That is a process that has been ongoing for nearly ten years. I'm still very much in the beginning phases of a new faith.

    It is a process that has required brutal honesty and deep humility as I sift through ideas until I find the rare few that I consider solidly True. And even then, I hold these Truths with humility, knowing my own limited understanding means that I must always be willing to re-evaluate and abandon even my most precious tenet should new information come available.

    My personal experiences leave me little room to doubt the existence of God. However, I take all the theologies, dogmas, and virulent rants about the divine Being with a very large grain of salt. I can't hear the use of "God, Jesus, Faith, Christianity, etc." in pop culture or religion without also hearing the words of Inigo Montoya in the back of my mind. ("You keep using that word...")

    Each day is a journey, and opportunity abounds with every breath.

  • Quatermain

    I remember when I was in my early 20's I was wandering around the
    country, doing odd jobs just to see different places and I got off the
    Greyhound in a fairly small town in Alabama. I had been sitting next to
    this older guy and we'd been talking a little, the way people do. I was
    sitting outside the bus station smoking and mulling my options and he
    and his wife pulled up in their car. He said 'Son, you got anywhere to
    spend the night?' and after I allowed my options were pretty much
    limited to low-end motels, he offered to take me home with them.

    I went with them and they fed me a good old fashioned Southern dinner and let me sleep in their guest room. The next morning at breakfast he says 'Son, we go to church on Sunday mornings here. Now you're welcome to come with us, or you're welcome to stay here and we'll see you when we get back." I couldn't quite believe he was going to let a stranger stay in his house by himself and said as much. He looks at me and says 'Everything you see in this house was given to us by God. I'm pretty sure He can either protect it or replace it as he sees fit.'

    I did end up going to church with them and it was through people in the church that I found a job and a place to stay within the week. I ended up staying there for about eight months before moving on to VA to help a friend of a friend work his bar. I kept in touch with some of the people there and although my original benefactor has since passed on, I still get Christmas and birthday cards from his wife. I occasionally think of moving back down there, especially when those MN winters close in.

  • Slim

    I know how often it gets twisted up and perverted, that can't be overstated. But this is how it is suppose to be. Showing love without conditions.

  • I love this story.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Me too. I'd love to know people like that.

  • googergieger

    I don't know if god exists or not. Think as it is one of those things introduced to you so young and constantly for the rest of your life, it is hard to just say you don't believe in it, one hundred percent. Or even you do believe in it one hundred percent. Personally, I just try to be a good person. I'd like to believe regardless of religion or laws, or whatever that says you need to be a good person, I'd still be a good person. I don't know, kind of take a pragmatic approach when it comes to zen. Works pretty alright for me.

  • Protoguy

    God is for people who don't have decent parents.

  • idiosynchronic

    Great piece. This part, " . . yet religious beliefs are consistently wielded the opposite way—as a powerful weapon by which to punish, control, or exclude those who do not conform, by people who seem to believe they have the right to decide how others should live their lives.", summarizes why I no longer associate myself with Methodism, even though I was raised in it and I remain married to one of its clergy. (happily, I might add)

  • ZombieNurse

    I'm a Christian, and I can still agree with a lot of what you said. Religion is (or should be ) a fiercely personal thing, not something shoved off on you or pressured onto you by someone else. Sure, you can be raised in a church, but there is always going to come a time when you, as an individual, have to decide what you believe and what makes sense to you. I came to that point as a teenager, and due to my own experiences, I knew that Christianity was what I wanted. It doesn't mean that I haven't struggled with my faith, though.

    As a child, I was always taught that I was to share my faith, to show love, and to reflect God's love to others, but as I grew up, i saw those same people who taught me these things take their religion to an ugly place and use it as a weapon. I knew, deep in my soul, that it was wrong. However, I've never once felt that I should do the same thing with my own faith. I don't believe God has ever asked me to judge, or be hateful, or to beat anyone around the head with my beliefs: He just wants me to love everyone as well as I can, and reflect the love He's given me.

    I think that's why I get upset when people paint all Christians, or even all religious people, with the same broad brush. Religion is not bad, believing in God is not bad or dumb, but you can take those things and make them terrible.

    It's taken me a while, but I think I've finally come to a place in my life where I can genuinely respect the beliefs, or lack of them, of everyone I know.

  • Sleepy1492

    Thanks for speaking for a lot of people ZombieNurse. I usually do not comment just lurk but I went through some of the same as you and Cindy. The injustices, hurts and crimes committed for Jesus or whoever are still wrong but I will do my best to let you live and believe how you see fit.

  • Guy Gondron

    My ex roommate met a woman at his church, who was separated from her husband, mostly because he abused her. My buddy's still married but legally separated as well. He's been living in his church's trailer for the past month as his previous rented home got sold out from under him. He had been active in the church, worked the audio boards every service, was friends with the pastor, who had given him permission to stay in the trailer as long as he needed, rent free.
    The pastor and everyone else at the church had known what was going on when my friend and his new girlfriend started seeing each other. Everyone seemed ok with the idea and then they weren't. Seems being still married, they're committing sin. Now, it's ok to have a community and help each other and be all friendly touchy feely until someone doesn't behave.
    My friend was told they both needed to stand before the whole congregation and ask for forgiveness and redemption and they needed to stop seeing each other.
    When he said no the pastor told him he had until Monday to get out of the trailer. Not welcome at the church anymore.

    I was so happy for the guy because he had found that "community". I'd always felt he just needed someone to talk to, with his energy and hyperbrain always going, and he'd always had a craving for some sort of spirituality, something I do not understand at all. I thought this would be a good thing for him, but I suspected it wouldn't be for long. It echoes a lot of my experiences and that of people I know.

    I was raised Catholic. Went to Church every Sunday. Sunday school. I don't remember a hell of a lot, least of all Sunday school. I got sent to a different room to "think about my questions" or something vaguely infuriating like that. I didn't have the comfort of a priest assuring me that my doggie would be joining me in heaven, I got the bad news that animals don't go to heaven and neither do all my Jewish friends.

    There is nothing to convince me that we are nothing more than really smart fleas on this rock and one good shrug and we're all dead. And dead means dead, despite all the wishful feels to the contrary. Dead is dead, so do some shit now, while you're not dead. Hopefully good shit, you know, not stupid, mean shit.

  • emmelemm

    And that's why I despise organized religion.

  • idiosynchronic

    This is why churches have no business owning residential housing or property (at the very least). I have no doubt my wife's parishioners would be *horrified* at the things my wife and I have done in *their* parsonages.

  • I'm glad your pastor said Pepe would join you in the afterlife. To have said otherwise would be cruel.

  • Quatermain

    Dogs go to Dog Heaven, which ironically also doubles as Cat Hell.

  • Sirilicious

    I don't think it is a good idea to lie just so you won't be cruel. If God doesn't want animals in the afterlife, there should be a good and explainable reason for it. And if he does, will your rabbiit be there? Fish? Sea Monkeys? Will it be their soul or just a visual representation of them because you loved them so much?

    If atheists explain to their children that dead is dead, is that cruel?

    I'm honestly still trying to find my atheist way in a mostly christian environment without being annoying about it. :o)

  • You can tell your children whatever you think is right, obviously. If you believe there is no afterlife, and dead is dead, that's fine.
    Since she was talking to a pastor about heaven, that's why I think it would have been cruel to say that animals aren't allowed, since they were discussing that concept. Frankly, a heaven with just people would be my idea of hell.

  • I refuse to believe that animals would not be welcome in my afterlife, whatever it may be. I am not at all religious, but I like the idea of reincarnation. I hope if I reach the end of that cycle, my dearly departed animals would be there waiting for me.

  • apro74

    Thank you for this piece, Cindy. I was raised in the Hindu faith, which really isn't a religion so much as "a way of life." While I like a lot of the beliefs like non-violence, respect and be kind, etc., I came to realize that organized religion is not for me. I think most religions invite the believer to start thinking that they are part of an exclusive group that has all of the answers and every other religion is false or inferior. It doesn't make any sense, especially since most religions have the same basic concepts.

    I strongly feel that believing or not believing in god is personal matter and should be respected as such. No person can explain how one should worship, because we all carry our own biases and ways of thinking that influence how we interact with the world. I read once, "To define God is to deny God." I always try to remember that when people ask me what I believe and how I practice my faith. I don't tell people how they should worship, and I prefer that they don't tell me either. The world would be a lot better if people would stop trying to force their beliefs and practices on others.

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