This is definitely a sensitive subject, but what better day than a Sunday to discuss.
For many years I have self proclaimed my religious status as many things. As a child my mother did not practice religion but she was raised in a very strict and intense Seventh Day Adventist home as did my father. My parents were not married for any part of my life that I can recall, but in the summertimes until my Grandma died my brothers and I spent time with my Dad’s parents in Florida and we attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church with them. I was not really old enough to know much about the religion except that we did not eat meat, the only jewelry that was worn was the chain that my grandma wore around her neck that contained a gold clock (because it was functional, not adorning), and that every Friday night at sundown we had to turn off the TV until sundown on Saturday night. I knew that before every meal and before every car trip my grandpa said a prayer that always started with “Dear Heavenly Father” and ended with “In your precious name, Amen”. I also knew that my Go-Go (my mother’s mom) had all but disowned her because my mother was a lesbian and was going to rot in hell. We didn’t see much of Go-Go. Ever.
My dad and stepmother got married in a Methodist Church that I am sure that my stepmom probably went to her entire life. The times that we would visit with them we would go to church with them but I can’t say that I ever felt comfortable.
When I was in middle school I was invited to go to church with my friend, Maria. It was a baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama where we lived and I will say that this was the first time I ever found a church family that felt like a home. I’m not sure that I enjoyed it as much for the actual religious factors as much as I enjoyed the camaraderie of the youth group friends that I had made. I met my first pseudo boyfriend at this church, I went on my first “vacation” away from home with my closest friends, and I sang in the church choir every Sunday and it is probably where I picked up my ability to harmonize from a member of that choir who had the most beautiful voice. I also made the decision to be baptized in this church and when the leader came to my home to talk about my decision I have to say that I felt incredibly uncomfortable and judged because of my home life. My mother did come into the church for my baptism and she shed some tears and then left. After that I somehow didn’t really feel all that comfortable there.
Going into high school, one of my dearest friends Terri (the sister of the one who originally invited me to church) invited me to join her at a different church. She had begun going there and really loved how contemporary the church and the services were. It was a non-denominational church that was not in a church building and for our youth group services we met out of someone’s home. We didn’t sing out of a hymnal but we sang praise songs from the heart and there were generally people playing the acoustic guitar and the drums and whatnot to replace the organ and piano in all the churches I had ever attended. It was at this church where I met my first REAL boyfriend and I would get giddy when he would hold my hand in church. The pastor was a cool, younger family man who spoke about the bible but in a way that it better related to things that people faced in their everyday life. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed going there. Again, I don’t know that I felt a strong and powerful sense of “the holy ghost” as much as I loved being able to spend time with others who had a passion for life and loved one another without judgment. I never told anyone there about my mother and we rarely even talked about things that made my stomach turn to a level that I felt like I wanted out. When my mother died, however, I began to question everything that I had ever been taught about religion.
“Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.” – Buddha
I was 17 when she died. Her mother, likely from remorse that she had for being such a horrible person to my mother for so many years, came to the hospital to her death bed. I remember her being by her side trying to “pray the gay away”. This repulsed me. She prayed for her salvation. She prayed that God would heal her. She still died. I have to say that aside from being really angry with her for even showing her face at her daughter’s death bed when she wouldn’t show her face in her life to truly support her throughout the years, I also became very angry at “God” and I really began to ask some serious questions. If this loving God really did exist then why did He take my mother away from me? If he was mad at her for being “gay” then why did he make her that way in the first place? She wasn’t making a choice to be sinful, she was brave enough to be her true self. So why did that make her “bad” and why did she need to ask for forgiveness for being who she was – an amazing, brave, and loving woman?
I grew to abhor anything related to religion. I hated when people would tell me they were praying for me because all I could think about was that people prayed for my mom and she still died. I hated all of the judgment, all of the hypocrisy, and all the fake BS that surrounded organized religions. I was nothing shy of angry at any all things related to the “God” that was allegedly out there. For awhile I would have said that I was atheist and then I took a gut check and felt I was really more agnostic and that’s how I referred to myself for many years.
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” – Dalai Lama
I had a good heart. I loved until people gave me a reason not to. I accepted the beauty of the earth no matter where it came from. I accepted that people believed many different ways and I was ok with that. I didn’t want religion pushed on me. I wanted to be able to live my life knowing that I was a wonderful person. I believed in karma. I believed that if you put good out in the world then good should come back to you. I believed that there was something out there that was bigger than myself. I just didn’t really know what that was. I am speaking in the past tense here, but I suppose that for the most part I still believe most of these things.
Once a friend of mine loaned me the book The Celestine Prophecy and it was like I had this huge revelation. The book is about a journey of a spiritual awakening. It essentially speaks to a shift in the consciousness of the world where we once explained everything through the powers of the divine, then went to explain the world through science, and when neither of those satisfied the answers of the unknown people progressed to focusing on their own self and energies. When I read the book it spoke to me in an enormous way. I still read it about once a year and every time I do it speaks to me in a different way and I see things in myself and about the world that I seem to need at that particular time.
Intro to Zen Buddhism
After I read that book and after I explored within my soul a little more I felt that what I believed was more to the likening of Zen Buddhism. I never explored this practice with others and it certainly never became my official “religion”, but it is certainly where my heart and soul most closely relate. I do enjoy meditation, which I believe is mostly what people do when they “pray” anyway. I reflect on how I can be a better me, how I can better serve others, and on finding peace within. I think that at the end of the day this is not terribly different than what many organized religions preach.
Recently I posted on a website that links all of the neighborhoods locally asking for advice on a local church. I began thinking about the youth groups that I congregated with when I was a teenager and how many great friendships I had from those groups. I thought about Caty, my daughter, and felt that perhaps it wasn’t fair to her that I have never introduced her to organized religion and therefore she sometimes says negative things regarding “church”. She is changing school next year and will be starting her Junior year of high school at a completely different school in a different area knowing nobody. I respect the fears that she has and understand how hard that is. I posted on the local website asking for the following…
“Hi! My family moved to the area 6 months ago and we are looking for a local church family. We prefer a non-denominational and a community with full acceptance practices. I have a high school daughter who will be attending Forsyth Central so a thriving youth program for her to meet future classmates is a plus. Thanks in advance!”
I didn’t really think that my posting was odd and it took a lot for me to take this step to find a church to take her to. I began to get responses to my post. Some were very kind responses where people invited me to their church. However, most of the responses were focused on my phrase “full acceptance practices”. Many were quick to tell me that if I am looking for a place that “accepts the gays” that I’m gonna have to go in to Atlanta to go to the church with the sinners. The comments didn’t get much better from there. I know that these people are not a full representation of Christianity as a whole but to feel condemned and judged before even walking into a church felt pretty horrible. I remembered the horrible feelings of a grandmother who condemned my mother or the people who said backhanded things to me in my 20s when I was raising a child “out of wedlock”. I felt the pit in my stomach that started my feelings of resentment towards an organized religion or the Christian church to begin with. I have not gone further in my search and perhaps I will get that push to feel like I should again, but as for now I will accept my meditation practices and my belief in putting good out in the world. No need to pray for me – just do something kind today.