Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Sharing of Fellowship

As many of you already know, I am an atheist.  I also go to church.  While I may not believe in a deity (and what I believe is not strictly that, but that is for another day), I DO believe in the teachings of Jesus, for the most part (I disagree with his stance on divorce).  My church understands how I feel, but they welcome me with open arms and do not try to change me:  we get along great. I think we both recognize that we are essentially on the same side. (Mark 9:40)

Communion trips me up a bit, though.  I realize there are two ways to look at it.  One is that you are taking in the body and blood of Jesus and the other is that you are communing with Jesus through the breaking of bread.  Both don't fit for me, but I definitely like the second one better. Maybe because for me, it is about the message, not the man.

I suppose I could look at it as breaking bread with my fellow man, or as a symbol of Jesus' message, but it just doesn't fit for me.  I would just be trying to make this act fit into a box it doesn't really fit in, at least for me.  It would feel forced, at least at this point in my journey.

Wikipedia describes the origin of the word communion:

"The term communion is derived from Latin communio (sharing in common). The corresponding term in Greek is κοινωνία, which is often translated as 'fellowship'."

If I look at communion this way, as a sharing in common, or as a fellowship, I can understand it a bit better.  A group of people symbolically showing their shared fellowship. And one of the things I really like about our church, is that this shared fellowship is open to anyone:  open doors, open hearts, open minds.  It is an open fellowship.

But, taking communion still doesn't feel like me.  I feel as though I would be saying something that I am not saying.  I feel as though it would false, and that is not fair to me or to the other people for whom it does mean something.  I respect their beliefs as much as I respect my own.

My beliefs did not come to me easily.  I was going to a church I absolutely loved, as they poured their hearts and resources into their community, no strings attached.  They have made it a mission to help those who need help.  They don't spend a lot of money on how things look; they spend it on how things ARE.  

They have invited the homeless to spend the night, taking part of a program with other churches in the area to keep the homeless from freezing to death at night in the winter.  They have a weekly meal, open to anyone who needs/wants food. and they don't require anything of them (no sermon, no "saving").  They give clothes to the women's prison for the women just getting out, who might need some clothes to begin their new life.  

They believe in clean water and air.  They believe that everyone has worth.  They believe that our LGBT brother and sisters are valuable members of our society and are welcomed with open arms.  They believe that we have a responsibility to the world:  love it, and its inhabitants, with all our minds, hearts, and souls.  Who can argue with all that?

(Strangely, a lot of people can, but that is for another day, as well.)

So, to come to realize that I did not believe in God, at least in the traditional sense, was a hard thing to come to.  I knew this church was where I belonged, where I WANTED to belong.  It took a long time for me to say it out loud to anyone, but they surprised me with their acceptance and love.  It's not that I thought they would turn me out, but I did not dare to believe that they would just...accept and love.  (That might have more to do my my own insecurities and issues, but it is how I felt at the time.)

I have been invited to take communion, no matter my beliefs.  My beautiful pastor has made it clear that I am always welcome, without having to change anything about myself.  The invitation makes me feel both wonderful and a little guilty.  Wonderful, because it only reaffirms that THIS is the place I want to be, but guilty, because I know that, for me, I can't.  At least not today.

Today is World Communion Sunday.  So, I decided that, as part of my shared fellowship, I would make the bread.  As I write this, I have two loaves of challah bread rising in the oven.  Right now, this is how I will take my communion: through a sharing of my loaves.  

I hope they can taste the love in them.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"In the Essentials, Unity"

A girl at work once asked me what my church believed.  I told her my church believed in kindness, inclusivity, helping those who have less, social justice, and mercy.  I told her that, because when I think of my church, these are the things that pop into my head.  I think of the people who always hug me and ask me how I am doing. I think of people who have almost nothing, but yet still go out of their way to give something to others.  I think of the people who advocate for the human rights of others:  equality, drinking water, shelter, and food.  And, I think of the people there who have hearts so big, that sometimes it amazes me that they don't burst with them. 

When I think of my church, really, I think of two main themes:  kindness, justice, and walking humbly and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

So, I thought I was answering her question.  But, her response was, "Don't they believe in God?"

That made me think.  Not about whether they actually believe in God (they do, for the record), but that she could not infer that from my answer.  Every single thing I named were things that Jesus called people to do, yet she could not see the God in them.  She still had to ask.

I have a hard time with all of this.  I personally do not believe in a sentient being that bears the name God.  I don't believe in the God in the Bible.  And, I cannot believe that God wrote the Bible.  But, I can believe that it was written by (or, at least, influenced by) people writing about their own God experience.  But, I cannot believe that even that the documentation of that experience remains untainted by humans and their inevitable failings, mostly greed (of money or power, most likely).  In fact, I believe much of the book is to be read through that filter.  

But, one of my favorite expressions is "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."  Just because I do not believe in all of it, does not mean that I can't believe any of it.  There is a freedom in that.  If I believe I can take what I want leave the rest, and ignore the parts that offend me, I can embrace the beauty and leave behind the difficult to explain (the whole "ineffable" argument just doesn't do it for me).  Sometimes, there is truth, even where there are not facts.

But, here's where I start having trouble reconciling things...I believe in what Jesus said.  I believe that we should do everything we can to help even the score in life.  I don't believe in hoarding money, and I believe success comes with an obligation to help others.  I don't believe that those who need help necessarily did anything wrong, and I believe that sometimes shit just happens (okay, Jesus may have not said that last part, but I bet he thought it).  I believe that kindness can be spread, that it is contagious, and that we all have an obligation to do our part to spread it.  But, I don't believe in God, and I don't believe that Jesus was God.

What does that make me?  Are you a Christian only because you believe?  And what do you have to believe?  Can you believe in the message without having to believe in the messenger?  Are you considered a follower if you follow his instructions, but not him personally?  And, who decides this?  Couldn't God just be the love we pour out everyday?  

I sit on a fence everyday.  Not a fence of my own beliefs, but a fence between two worlds.  I am an atheist who loves my church, my church that loves God.  My church that believes in kindness, inclusivity, helping those who have less, social justice, and mercy.  My church doesn't see this fence, this fence that separates us, and for that I love them.  And, to be honest, when I am with them, I don't see the fence either.

Why does the rest of the world?  If kindness, inclusivity, helping those who have less, social justice, and mercy are not enough to unite us...then what is?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What I Want My President to Understand

Mitt Romney's pick of Paul Ryan for the VP slot this last week has me shaking my head with disbelief.  It has me honestly wondering if the Republicans (or Romney himself) are purposely throwing this election to President Obama.  Because, I look at Mitt Romney, and all I can think is, "That man doesn't have a clue what it takes to do this."  And now, I look at Paul Ryan, and I think, "heartless douchebag."

I simply cannot understand this country's obsession with wealth.  I understand wanting to be comfortable, and I understand wanting to not have to ever worry about money, but the amount of wealth that is concentrated in the hands of just a few has gone way past crazy.  I saw a meme that pointed out that we have interventions for people who hoard things like cats and knickknacks, but those only affect the person living in the house and maybe the immediate neighbors and close family.  A person who hoards hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions, and does not put them back out into society, is doing more harm than the cat lady ever could...and we hold them up as something to aspire to.

The person we elect as President should understand that.  

Other things the President should understand:

Access to healthcare should be a right.  And the very first reason I can think of for that is not even altruistic:  sick people make other people sick.  Sick people cost companies money.  And sick people cost more when they can't afford to treat their illness when it is still minor.

That is not even accounting for what it does to a person to live in constant fear that they will get sick and not be able to go to the doctor.  Or, when they have to watch a spouse die because they cannot afford the medicine.  Or, a child.  The President should understand this.

The President should understand that access to education is a necessary part of a democratic society.  Education is supposed to be the great equalizer, bringing people of all socio-economic backgrounds to a more level playing field.  Except, it doesn't really.  If you live in a wealthy neighborhood, chances are, you have a nicer school and more opportunities at that school, than the kid who lives in public housing.  And college?  It is becoming a privilege of the wealthy, or of those willing to put themselves into debt to get there. Which begs the question:  how are we ever going to have more teachers if they can't afford the schooling or the debt?

The President should understand that companies who send jobs overseas should be penalized, not rewarded.  The penalty should offset whatever they save in paying what would be a slave wage here, over there (wherever "there" is). I have heard the argument that the people who work in these low paying jobs make more than they ever otherwise would.  Does that make it right?  Why not just pay them what they are worth?  How about just keeping those jobs here?  Then you might have people who could actually afford those things you are selling.

I don't have an argument with helping our neighbors across the ocean.  I have a problem with exploiting them and getting away with it because they are so desperate that they won't complain.  They are so desperate that they are HAPPY to have these jobs. And, the "job creator" makes millions.  They don't employ those people to help them; they do it because they know they can make more money off them.  Our President should be standing up for us AND for the workers across the sea.  We are both getting screwed.

Our President should also understand that we are not a bunch of single people living alongside each other, but a country of communities, people living together, depending on each other whether we know it or not (whether we want to believe it or not).  No matter what you want to believe, none of us does this alone.  We are intertwined and that won't change.  

I hear some of the very wealthiest Americans shouting how they did this all themselves, and how no one helped them. And, then I heard people lose their minds when President Obama dared to suggest that, even if they didn't want to admit it or maybe didn't see it, they had help.  

They had teachers who taught them.  Police officers who protected them.  Libraries that informed them.  And, the roads they drove on. I could go on and on.  The farmers that fed them, the water they drank (even what happened to the food and water AFTER they ate and drank it), and even the quality of the air that they breathed.

Sure, private industry COULD do this, but the very point of combining forces is to make it available to everyone.  Education, healthcare, safety, books, food, we want these to become the exclusive rights of the rich?  Do we really want a society where the privileged live up on a hill, with all the unnecessary items to live, while the rest of us scramble at the bottom, trying to catch their leftovers?

Which brings me to the most important thing that our President should understand:

Trickle down doesn't work.  The rules need to make sure that we do not coddle the uber-wealthy.  They became rich BECAUSE of this country, not in spite of it, and they need to pass it on to the next guy.  I keep hearing about how great the 50's were...yeah, they had high taxes on the wealthy.  The government used it to invest in this country, and it WORKED.

I read an analogy about "equality of outcome" and "equality of opportunity" once.  It compared equality of outcome to cutting up a pie, and everyone got an equal piece, no matter what.  Equality of income was described as putting the pie out and everyone had an equal opportunity to try and grab a piece.  I really don't like this analogy.  It implies that we need to try and grab something before someone else does, as though there really isn't enough for all of us and if you don't mow someone down to get your piece, you are SOL.  I don't believe that.

I believe in equality of opportunity, but I believe that we should all have the same ingredients, like in a recipe or a garden.  We should all have access to those ingredients, but WE decide how hard we work at making them come together.  This shouldn't be a contest; it should be a union.  What if we all rooted for each other? Would it take away from our success if our neighbor did well?  Would it take away from his, if we did?  I get the argument of "well, there's always that guy who does nothing and we just support him."  Well, we have raised our kids for thirty years now to believe in the "Mine!" theory, is it any wonder that they are practicing it?  What if we started teaching our kids that they all need to stand up for each other, to support each other, root each other on?  What if we taught them, that we only win if we ALL win?

That's what I want my President to understand.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Chick-fil-a Kiss In (or "How the World Came to a Fiery End Because of the Gays")

I am having a very difficult time being serene today. I read the article written in the Fresno Bee about the Kiss In at Chick-fil-a that is scheduled for Friday. But, it is not really the article that has gotten me so out of sorts; it is the comments section.

First off: I love free speech. I love that we are free to say (almost) anything that we want, and the government will not throw us in jail. I love that my opinion is free to be whatever I want it to be. I love that others are free to give their opinions, also without fear of arrest.

This is NOT about people not being able to express themselves freely. This is about the fact that, when given this amazing right, they use it to bash and threaten others. They use it to lie and spread hatred and to imply violence (sometimes, outright say it). They use this blood-soaked right in order to fight against the rights of others.

So, it is not the fact that they USE it; it is the fact that they have made a mockery of it. And, then they hide behind it using (wait for it...) freedom of religion. Yes, they claim that they are a "God-fearing" person that just can't STAND what the homosexuals have tried to do to this country. How the gays just 'can't leave it alone" and that Chick-fil-a is filled with good people that the gays just want to harm.

Okay, I can totally get behind the idea that the people behind the counter may be good and decent people. My guess is, they are also at the bottom of the financial food chain, too, so they have nothing but my sympathy on that front. But, does that mean that the rest of us need to lay down and accept the inequality that the anti-gay agenda is trying to cement into society? Does the fact that good people may be a little uncomfortable as their managers scramble around trying to deal with the fact that the gays are in their store and (gasp) kissing, mean that we throw in the towel?

Good people were uncomfortable with integration, too, at first. When you are taught something, like bigotry, from a very early age, you accept it as your norm. And, people get upset when their norm gets questioned, or god forbid, proven wrong. Then they become like the angry cornered animal: they bite.

And, THAT is what is upsetting me so much. At an intellectual level, I understand why they are doing it (fear) and how they got there (ignorance). But, like the cornered animal, they are still to be taken seriously. Like this post:

There were many like this, but then we moved into true brother-married-sister territory:

I did think that this response to the above comment was epic:

Those were but a couple samples of the words of those wonderful "God-fearing" people. (Never understood that term...if God is love, why do they fear him so much?) Yes, it was comment after comment of how the gays want to take away their right to free speech and a huge amount said that gays should just shut the fuck up.

Yes, they told the gays to shut the fuck up after accusing them of trying to abridge their own right to free speech. I shit you not.

Here's the thing, it is not that I want them to shut up. I just want them to start using the brain in their head and THINK for a moment.

1. Chick-fil-a gave money to anti-gay organizations that actively are working to take away gay people's civil rights. This is not about having an opinion; this is about actively working to take away people's rights. There is a HUGE difference.

2. They are hiding behind a man who never said a single anti-gay word. They are using a religion that was based on being kind to others as their reason for being dicks to others. (Seriously, how do their heads not explode under this kind of dissonance?)

3. And the crux of the issue: IT DOES NOT AFFECT THEIR FUCKING LIVES IF GAY PEOPLE HAVE THE SAME CIVIL RIGHTS AS THEY DO. You have no idea how much it pains me to have to explain such a simple concept to a gradeschooler, let along an adult who should have been able to see this with their fucking eyes closed. See, taking gays people's rights away? That DOES affect them and they have EVERY GODDAMN RIGHT to be pissed and to fight back. But, gay people actually having those rights? Face it, if Fucks It Up News and that idiot on the Corner(stone) didn't TELL you to be pissed, you might actually have time in your head for the things that really SHOULD piss you off (like speculators fucking with the price of oil or that elections can be freely bought now, or the fact that our produce is now something not found in nature, or that food companies have fought (and won) the right NOT to tell you if anything in their product is a GMO).

Because, god forbid you actually get upset over something that actually WOULD affect your life.

Because, unless YOU are the one being kissed, I can tell you with great assurance, it does NOT affect you.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Protecting the President's King

Let me say right off that I understand the skepticism and the caution. President Obama, after all, waited nearly four years to say anything this unequivocal. He sat and watched while state after state chose to pull right after right away, sometimes preemptively. Sometimes he spoke up, but generally, it was weak tea.

But, this time it was different. He said:

"At a certain point, I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Now, there are two schools of thought. One is that he has "evolved," like he had stated, and that this is something that he has come to during his presidency. The other is that this is a political calculation, done to try and garner votes (whether he believes it or not is immaterial).

I am going to come out right now and say neither matters. This is still a good thing. This is a sitting president publicly throwing in his lot with lgbt people. After North Carolina, no one can deny that we need that endorsement right now. At the very least, it is a tiny bit of salve on the wound.

Should he have come out with this before the election in North Carolina? Well, do you honestly believe it would have made a difference? It was not a small margin that it lost by. I really don't believe that anyone who cared about gay rights would have stayed home just because the president hadn't given his endorsement. Honestly, I think it is a more likely scenario is that it would have riled more bigots up to get out and vote against it because Obama supported it.

But, coming on the heels of this loss...we are angered. We are hurting. We are motivated again. We are cognizant once again of what happens when we are complacent, when we don't speak loudly enough. Once again, we see the results of those who already speak loudly, with a cable news microphone, throwing lighter fluid on the flames.

And then the President comes in and sacrifices his queen for us. He knows that this will anger some people to the point that they will never vote for him again, even if they voted for him the last time. But, honestly, there were a lot of people who were going to throw this election away, because they wouldn't vote for him if he didn't come out for gay marriage. Maybe not enough to make a difference, but enough to make his election to a second term not a sure thing. And, that is too close for comfort.

Because, what would our other option be? Mitt Romney? That's not just biting off your nose to spite your face, that's lopping off the whole head. Ron Paul? Yeah, he's for gay marriage, but against rights for women and blacks. And Gingrich? He supports a federal (!) amendment to ban gay marriage.

We cannot do anything that would put any of these men and their ilk in the White House. We cannot stay home. We cannot be complacent. We cannot lose. People are waiting, with their lives on hold, for people to understand that rights are not given. That's why are called rights. But, rights have been denied and we need to change that.

President Obama is not perfect, but we don't get perfect in politics. However, when I have to chose between not perfect and perfectly awful, I will vote for not perfect everytime.

The President is no longer riding the fence. He is with us, for better or for worse. We need to have his back. We need to support him and win this election in a landslide. We also need to vote out the bigots in Congress who have been thwarting every move he has tried to make. Change cannot happen when only one person is doing it. We need to get people in there that will work with him and people who believe in fairness and equality.

He sacrificed his queen for us. Now, let's protect his King and get her back.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Painful Blip in Time

I don't know what to say that I haven't said before. I don't know how to convince people if it didn't work before. I don't know how to hold back this tide of fear and hate that seems to be gaining tread in this country, in this world.

But, being quiet doesn't feel like an option.

Bigots won today in North Carolina. They won last week at the Methodist General Conference.

The definition of a bigot is a "person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, irrationality, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs."

How is deciding that others should not have the very same rights that you enjoy just by existing not being irrational and intolerant?

I am not "name-calling." I am "naming." There is a difference. This is not a word meant to hurt, but a word meant to make them open their eyes. If there is a tiny shred of humanity left in just might make them listen and think about what they do.

The whole thing just makes my heart hurt and I get a feeling that we are feeling what the civil rights worker in the 60's felt. But, then, realizing that what they felt was probably even stronger and that they really were in the face of greater odds (we at least have that legislation and time to piggyback on), I feel like we can do this. This is only a blip in time and one day it'll be in a history book. And, when our grandkids read about it, we can say "We fought for equal rights. We lost friends. We lost battles. Sometimes, we lost hope. But, we picked ourselves up and we kept fighting. We did it, because it was the only right thing to do."

Hopefully, by then, this will all be over and out grandkids will be amazed that this was ever an issue.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I am not ashamed to be a Methodist...but, they should be.

Methodists vote to keep derogatory anti-gay language.

Dear Methodist General Conference,

Congratulations. You’ve just re-affirmed acceptance of homophobia in the name of a man who told you to go and love everyone…without exception.

In this day and age, one would think that we have moved past this pettiness and into a space where we can allow for love to thrive, unhindered. One would expect a world that can see what is obvious: love is love is love. One would hope that we have learned from our lessons of the past: singling out a group for derision never ends well…for anyone, but most especially for that group.

You see, you can take the Bible, point to a few carefully picked verses, and claim that this is what God wants, but I would be very careful about doing that. As soon as you start using the Bible, or Jesus, as a tool of segregation, you have totally missed the point of your religion. Moreover, you seem to have completely missed the New Testament.

Jesus didn’t put caveats, disclaimers, conditions, or rules on his order to love your neighbor. He never said that anyone had any reason that they shouldn’t be able to hang with him. In fact, he chose to hang with those who most of us wouldn’t want to share a pew with on Sundays. And, he just loved them. He never told anyone they were “incompatible “with his teachings.

The main point behind almost all of Jesus’s lessons were to be kind to each other. I fail to see how telling a person that they are “incompatible” with lessons about kindness, simply because of who they fell in love with, is following Jesus’s teachings. It is simply mean. It serves no purpose other than to make a small-minded person feel big.

Homosexuality is not, nor has it ever been, incompatible with Christian teachings. However, homophobia, and the promulgation of it, IS.

I love my gay families and when you are talking to them, you are talking to ME.