The 11th of September

September 11, 2001

Image by wallyg via Flickr

I remember where I was on this day 9 years ago. I was working at a brand new job that year. I was down in the print room of my workplace and the business manager came downstairs and asked me if I’d heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever thought what the World Trade Center was, but I knew they were tall buildings. I thought immediately that perhaps a small plane had gone off course and was going to land but had accidentally hit the building. Then I went upstairs to turn on the television that someone had dragged out of storage and set up in the kitchen.

When I saw the images on television I knew it was going to be bad. And then I saw the images of the planes flying into the two towers and I knew it was deliberate. Images of people flinging themselves out of the highest floors, clouds of smoke and debris taking over lower Manhattan, people were running and screaming, some covered in ash and god knows what chemicals… I remember asking my boss, who had joined me in the kitchen to watch, “How many people had to have been in there at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning?” He just shook his head. All day we kept the radio on, listening for news, and monitoring the internet. The news kept getting worse. There was a crash at the Pentagon. A plane went down in Pennsylvania. One learned to expect anything next. I watched President Bush on television being told on camera about it and I remember that he couldn’t have handled it better. He was calm and in charge.

Over the days and weeks following the event the anger began to set in. I was one who cheered when President Bush announced a retaliation against the cowards of Al Qaeda in their hideouts; Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Pakistan and Iran). I’d never been to New York but I suffered vicariously with its citizens that day, as did millions of other people. I tried to imagine what the spouses, mothers, children, and friends of those who had died were thinking and feeling, not only at that moment, but later when they had to relive the last moments of their loved ones’ lives over and over in their mind. Memory is a cruel master. I became angrier when Osama bin Laden gloated on video about crippling our nation by this act and angrier still each time a video came out of Al Qaeda beheading some poor victim of their fanaticism and filming their agony for all to see. I thought they were barbarians then and I think so now.

My anger really hasn’t diminished all that much since that day.  Before September 11, 2001, I gave no thought to Al Qaeda, the Muslim religion, imams, or anything about that part of the world. Now I can say that after that date, I know more about them than I wish to and I still harbor no good feelings about them. I know no Muslims. I’ve read the Koran and remain unimpressed. While there are some good sentiments in there, like the Christian bible, women are deemed as possessions and men are encouraged to “discipline” them as needed. Infidels (unbelievers in the Muslim God) are to be tolerated if they wish to convert, but eliminated if they do not. Peace is assured to those who accept this God as their God. Like those who take the Christian scriptures literally, the lives of those who don’t agree with their God’s diktats mean little. I understand this is a matter of interpretation and I have no problem with Muslims, who like their Christian brothers and sisters, do not take their scriptures literally, fanatically, or unquestioningly. Critical thinking about supposed “inspired” scriptures is a must for reasoned dialogue. My anger has indeed made me rethink how I view the world and the world’s religions. It’s brought home to me how much more civilized some nation’s people are than others, how much more freedom we have here in America than anywhere else, and how much more freedom of religion.

The big difference I think is the way we use our religion to further our own political agendas. Surely, religionists have to ask themselves, “what is my religion for?” Is it to cleanse the world of everyone but your own kind? That’s fanaticism. Is it to assure yourselves that those who rule religion will rule earth? That’s fanaticism.  You don’t have the right to make that decision for everyone else, especially if they disagree with you. Our response? We can ignore religion or not. Radicalism demands that we do not ignore it. Some choose to ignore it from a position of a-religion and ridicule, imagining wrongly, that this will suddenly hit home to such fanatics that they were wrong all along. The a-religionists imagine that eliminating religion will eliminate the hatred in people’s hearts. I don’t believe this for a minute. Religion is merely a tool of the human sins of pride, greed, and selfishness. Until we can all coexist peacefully, religion or not, we will have these kinds of acts.

Some choose to view religion from within a more progressive, open, and evolutionary stance which means that it’s open to new insight from the Divine in a spirit of cooperation and love. In this case, religion is transformative. Allowing your own heart to be changed is the key, not trying to force others to change theirs. Transformation begins at home, so to speak.  I’m still trying to process my feelings stemming from that day. I can honestly say that I’m not Christian enough or rational enough to put my anger aside and see it clearly. I was not injured in that attack. My loved ones were not killed. If they had been, it would have taken a herculean effort on my part to learn to forgive. But I’m still learning and hoping I can change my heart enough to do so. But, it’s just too fresh of a national wound. Until I can, I will continue to think America’s the greatest country in the world with the greatest people in the world. Unimaginable acts of compassion have resulted from this event and it gives me hope. Call being in this country what you will, accident, fortune, whatever. For that I’m thankful.

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It’s Not Hard to Get My Goat This Morning

Television and radio host Glenn Beck deliverin...

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A couple of things bother me today.

Yesterday, had a lovely lunch with my daughter, my best friend, and my sister. Alcohol and other things were involved and as usual it ends with my sister yelling at the top of her voice at me because she disagrees with me politically. My friend sits there bemused and the exchanges sends my daughter outside to smoke. Meanwhile everyone in the neighborhood can hear the exchange which is embarrassing. Should I have stopped it? Yes. Did I? No, because old habits die hard.  You see, my sister is a Christian fundie racist who listens to Glenn Beck and believes all the apocalyptic things the quasi-Christian/Republican right says on the radio/fox news/etc. I used to be just like her. I believed all the doom and gloom stories that I was fed, was a racist, and wanted everyone to just leave me alone so I could do with my money as I saw fit.

Then I met someone on the other side of the world with a loving, compassion about them who challenged me. I also deconverted from a Christianity like my sister’s that blames people for the circumstances they are in without ever thinking “there but for the grace of God…” I no longer mix my politics and my religion. My personal ethic is based on “been there, done that” to the extent that my sister’s never will. I believe politics has to hit home somehow before the reality of what you are espousing sinks in. She says she’s not a bigot, yet rails on about blacks who come to the ER to get their drug fixes. I challenge her on it, but she says she’s right because she sees it. I said that doesn’t mean the whole world is that way and we had a few white people in our small town blowing themselves up in meth labs. We went round and round. Still, when I left that particular brand of Christianity and began listening to something more hopeful, more helpful, and less rugged “screw everybody else” individualism, I became a better person.

This ideological transformation didn’t happen overnight and I still harbor some of the same awful beliefs from that time, but I fight it and anyone who challenges me on it from a racist, fundie standpoint. They can keep their bigoted religious viewpoint if they want, but trying to get them to see without those tinted eyeglasses on seems a lost cause to me.  What set this off? My suggestion to my sister that we’d all be better off if we had a system of health care that helped everyone not just the extortionist insurance industry. My sister is a nurse, and boy did that hit a nerve. Why? I don’t know. But she’s been “Beck-ified.”  I wish I could say that her ideas aren’t typical, but sadly they are typical in the type of churches we hale from.  These types of christians have not been converted to Jesus, but to a type of christo-facist nationalism that equates personal wealth and individualism with salvation, none of which Jesus personally preached.

She later apologized for yelling but “not for her viewpoints.” Of course not. That would mean changing one’s views, which requires a great deal of introspection and humility and an ability to admit when we are wrong. Pretty much in short supply in America these days.

And the other thing that bothered me today?  …. er…I forgot.

A Semester At Liberty University

Cover of "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner...

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Would you take a semester off from an Ivy League college to attend Jerry Falwell‘s bastion of conservative education and politics? Kevin Roose did and he wrote about it in detail in his book Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. I wish I could go into detail right now about all the things he gets right about being submerged in the Christian subculture, but I can only say right now is that is it very fair and not at all that different from belonging to an evangelical church. He describes people who are blindingly obtuse and those that are open and loving. As with anyone who subscribes to religious or political ideologies as the whole truth, there are good people and not so good people encamped therein.

Roose’s assessment never hits a false note and his complete openness to the experiment is a credit to his Quaker parents and Episcopalian grandparents. Although they “feared for his life” down there in the bowels of Jerry Falwell’s hell (to hear them tell it), Roose intelligently and compassionately tried his best to experience everything as a new student and newcomer to Christianity. And while he may not have been converted, he came away with a new respect for folks that, while demonized in the press, are not so different as those students he attended Brown with. All of them struggled. There were bigots as well, just as in his circle of friends who wished Falwell dead for his statements about 9/11.  No, liberals can also be as un-compassionate as their evangelical counterparts. Sometimes rabidly so. Neither side holds the final majority on compassion.

I’m glad I read this book. The people he describes can be found in any evangelical church in America. I recognized some of my friends in those students. It also gave me hope that those much younger than me are taking openness more seriously than my generation is; that he’s willing to open up a dialogue with those that others have assumed are strange and probably sprouting horns of some kind.  My generation has sadly become entrenched and committed to warfare. This book is a very easy and pleasant read and one I’d recommend to Christians and atheists alike who keep an open mind. I admire Roose’s effort to get more constructive dialogue going rather than just rehash all the demonizing and tired old arguments that get us nowhere. We need to start with people not dogma.

Documentary History of Catholic Clergy Abuse

Thanks to Bishop Accountability for creating a time line of recent clergy abuse “at a glance” (post 1940, not including all the history of killing through the Crusades, persecution of innocents during auto da fe, and horrific abuse of all who dared to disagree with his pope-nesses down through the centuries).  For a video documenting before that:

Of course clergy abuse isn’t limited to Catholic priests. Most religions have their pedophiles, murderers, and nutcases, the majority of them male, which is a good reason to steer clear of men gathering in large groups and those males who hold positions of authority.

The Politics of Shame

Luke 18:9-14  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  (10)  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  (11)  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  (12)  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’  (13)  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  (14)  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

You know, the bible has a lot of practical lessons in it. All I had to do in my reading this morning was insert other words for “Pharisee” and “tax collector.” How about “two people went up into the temple to prayer, one was a man and the other a woman…” Or insert “Democrat” and “Republican” or “Evolutionist” or “Creationist.” Or how about “Two people went up into the temple to pray, one was Barack Obama and the other Sarah Palin….” You get the idea.  And yes, we can easily reverse all of the above insertions and still it would make sense. When I did all that, I knew I had to say something out loud.

During Advent, I always start questioning my spiritual beliefs, not because I am afraid of hell, as I used to be as a fundamentalist Christian, but because I’ve grown so much in the last couple of years that I have to check in with my own spirit to realize what it is I really do believe.  And I realize that we live in a culture of shame. Some of us are ashamed of our beliefs in the wake of backlash and some of us, who should be ashamed, aren’t. But I can’t be concerned about them. I can only change myself.Butterfly

Yesterday, I got my picture taken for our staff directory. In times past I absolutely hated to get my picture taken. It’s a rare person that loves it, but I have never loved it. So, when I got to view the results instantly on a digital camera, for the first time in my adult life, I was not ashamed of my picture. I was amazed at myself. Why? Because I’m fat. By everyone’s standards today, I am considered fat, even obese. Although some views of fat and obese are obviously skewed mightily by the diet industry funded BMI community. So, yesterday, when I saw my picture, I thought, “Yep, that’s me and it looks just like me.” For the first time, I felt at home in my skin. What was my miraculous turnaround attributed to? Love of course. The love of friends and the love of a man who loves me just as I am. This love has convinced me that if I don’t love myself, others will anyway, but I will just make it that much harder by my bitching and moaning about weight, when I don’t mind my weight at all. It seems to be others who mind it for me.  (to catch up on the politics of fat, read Kate Harding and her links)

Another thing that struck me this week, during this season of Advent, was how much shame is being generated by religion, some completely from biased individuals, but some unnecessarily from religion itself. Even I have wanted to distance myself from the Christian community because of the stupid acts of a few. Fortunately for me, I work in a church where pastors and members display acts of love and charity and caring beyond anything I’ve ever experienced outside the Christian community.  My counselor finds it significant that even though I have a love/hate relationship with God, I continue to work in a church and am fine with that. This is interesting. I think I do because it allows me to be part of the church, but with as much aloofness as I like. These people don’t spend their time arguing minutiae of doctrine or this and that “law.” They spend their time buying gifts for a community wide distribution day at Christmastime. They give to St. John’s Breadline which feeds the hungry. They donate their time to Meals on Wheels. They give blood to the Red Cross. They help the unfortunate in Darfur. They go on Mission Trips to repair housing for the poor.  It’s enough to make me ashamed that I can’t be bold enough to claim that I believe because of shame in the internet community.

This does not mean I endorse fundamentalism of any stripe. This does not mean the bible holds complete truth, as written by men. It doesn’t mean I have hard and fast rules about other people’s sex lives or that I automatically subscribe to everything other Christians believe. It only means that I believe in a Spirit that I can only call Divine. This means I believe this Spirit is best embodied in Jesus Christ.I don’t know what that means “doctrinally” and I don’t care.  I believe that it takes more that buildings, rituals, and texts to make a Christian who is filled with this Spirit. And I also believe that I can’t deny it in public any longer. Call me ignorant. Call me deluded. Tell me I’m fat and therefore stupider than most of the population. Tell me or call me anything you like. It doesn’t change the sweetness of the Spirit when I cooperate with it in my life. I will not be ashamed any longer.

Blessings.

I’ll Take the Red Pill Please

I found this post at Scotteriology via Exploring Our Matrix. What an excellent analogy. The Matrix was a revolutionary movie for me. Like Fight Club it was one of the few movies that dared challenge how deeply humans are enmeshed in what we perceive as reality or what we have created for ourselves as a protective layer against the harshness of the world. Some of us are living lives pretty much on the surface of  reality, but biblical fundamentalists are buried beneath another layer called inerrancy. As a fundamentalist I felt pushed further and further back from the surface of reality as layer after layer of dogmatic belief was draped over me like blankets. The deeper one went in biblical theology according to inerrantists, the poorer the chances of ever waking up from it.

I’m not sure now what the “red pill” was for me back then. I think it was first discovering that so many different sects of Christianity interpreted the same set of scriptures in entirely different ways that set me on my way to questioning the “reality” fundamentalism claimed to construct for me. At least it got me out of a fundamentalist church. The final swallowing of the red pill was in a mythology class at university. There I discovered etiological myths. I learned that myths are so deeply ingrained in cultural consciousness that some cultures began to actually believe their own stories; those poetic stories told ’round a fire at the tribe’s center, stories about heroes and exploits of group salvation when the tribe began. These stories about gods and goddesses and supernatural phenomena, centered around the supposed origins of the world, were written down eventually and the very act of writing made them seem magically permanent somehow.

This germ of a thought opened every door for me. If I could claw my way out of the morass of inconsistent and self generating dogma that inerrancy provided, unplug myself from the “machine” of fundamentalism that was feeding me only what it wanted to make me serve it, then I could at least begin to see things clearly and make decisions closer to the surface of reality. All I had to do was handle the fear than engendered by facing the world as it was, not as fundamentalism told me it should be. Swallowing the red pill was the best thing that ever happened to me up to that point.