Tag Archives: christianity

Eighty-two

I haven’t been here in a few months. I was mostly focused on a creative writing course at UCLA that was, in my view, a complete failure. I wrote a few new pieces, reworked some older ones and left the class completely unmotivated.

I drifted around for a few weeks bored out of my mind. A close friend moved away, a non-profit I founded collapsed, and I found myself struggling to connect with other friends. All first world problems of course.

Then something strange happened. I started attending Mass again. Yes, Catholic Mass. It’s strange, because I’d left the church in disgust twenty years ago and had become mostly agnostic and Taoist in my world views. But something was missing. Community maybe, or maybe I was just bored.

But I was always fascinated by the iconography and symbolism in the church. The saints, the prayers, Mary, confessionals. Mafia. The old buildings held a particular allure. I could never go back to believing a dead Jew rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, but I did enjoy the communal aspects of faith. The history, old buildings with creaky wooden floors. Children’s choirs.

I rediscovered prayer as a meditative experience. I enjoyed being on the kneeler and saying the names of the people I loved and cared about. It made me feel somehow more deeply connected to them. I call it vibing.

Not so sure about going to confession, though. You’re supposed to go at least once a year, but after reading a listing of the sins in the Roman Missal, I think it might take a year to confess everything. Plus, I’m not sure I’m sorry for much of it. Maybe I should do it just to see if the priest faints.

Fifty

EVERYMAN

I’m not a good Christian. I tried to be, mostly at the urging of my parents and grandmother, but it never stuck. Years of Christian schools, marrying a Catholic, becoming a Catholic and finally an Episcopalian all failed to save me from the clutches of Satan. History, science, logic and a tendency to enjoy sin won out.

I tried hard as a young child, dutifully following the guidance laid out by my dear grandmother, Ms. Moody in Bible School and later by my mother. Mom was a real mess before her Christian conversion. She’d been institutionalized, endured shock treatments and rounds of psychotropic drugs. Nothing really worked for her but Jesus. After her conversion, she became kind and more attentive and stopped throwing lamps across the room. When I asked what happened, she explained that Jesus saved her and made her a new person. She went on to tell me that if I said the “sinners prayer” Jesus would save me too. The change was so miraculous, I decided to give it a try. She quizzed me after the deed was done.

“Do you feel different?”

“No, not really.”

“Well, you will as you grow in Christ. Praise the Lord!”

Christ has died.   

 I never really felt any different, and by high school, I was in full rebellion against religion. The only thing that ever pulled me back into church was a cute girl with a good Biblical name. Sarah was a neighborhood girl with a lazy eye and big Coke bottle corrective glasses. Her beauty was crystal clear to me, and when those glasses finally came off, she looked like Julia Roberts.

 Her father, Buddy, was suspicious of me and for good reason. I was a fifteen year old boy raging with testosterone that didn’t attend church, and her family was raging with evangelical Christianity. I hatched a plan. I asked to go with them to a Billy Graham Crusade, whereupon I would rededicate my life to Christ. The event was held in a football stadium, filled with all sorts of people toting Bibles. In the South, having a well-worn Bible is a sign you are a real Christian. Lots of notes in the white space are like Boy Scout badges. The more the better. My Bible was brand new and had no notes. This is the functional equivalent of showing up at a Marxist rally wearing a Citibank t-shirt. Ultimately, the scheme failed, and I was once again exorcised from their household like a demon.

Christ is risen.

Catholicism seemed much more palatable. My college girlfriend, Allison, came from a big Catholic family. Allison drank, went to clubs and liked sex, so she didn’t strike me as a cult member. Mass was pretty low key. No asked you to come forward and dedicate your life to Christ or make a large financial commitment. It was tolerable, but eventually the raping and misogyny became intolerable, so we moved on to the next phase of our spiritual development, spending Sunday mornings with The New York Times and Allison’s yummy butter soaked waffles.

Christ will come again.

My last stop, the final flavor in the ice cream case, is with the Episcopalians. Allison stayed away, still content in her agnosticism sprinkled with paganism. I tend to be the same, but enjoy community and felt something was missing. And of course, it was a woman that brought me back, this time a female priest that doubts her faith and like me, doesn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. As the theologian Marcus Borg writes, the message survived a state execution, but the body did not.

This priest may be the most perfect woman in the world. Naturally blond and angelic, she feeds hundreds of homeless people every Wednesday, adopted an African-American orphan and wants to save the whales and the world. She’s a bright light. And isn’t it so appropriate that I end my journey with a woman? After all, the whole trip has been about women, and if I learned one thing throughout my journey, it’s that women will save the world, not men.

Amen.

Eight

Hung out with the Christians today. Specifically to say goodbye to my friend, Andy Andrews who’s leaving St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis for a church in Mississippi. Not sure why anyone would want to go to Mississippi, except for perhaps a preacher, because lawd knows there’s lots of real sin in that state.

My personal opinion is that General Grant should have put a torch to the plantations and the capital, driven the slave owners into the Mississippi River, and the state should have ceased to exist after the Civil War. But that’s a topic for a future post.

Andy is a good human being. He’s actively worked for the poor and the oppressed in Memphis and always put others before himself. Despite being a new friend, he was there for me during a rough patch, when many long term friends were not. I always enjoyed his Wednesday morning service where we fed over 100 needy and homeless people in downtown Memphis. It was a humbling, learning experience for me. Now he’s my last pastor ever, as I’ve returned to my natural pagan habitat.

In this regard, I sometimes feel like the character Athelstan in the television drama, Vikings. Torn between two worlds, Athelstan sees virtue in both camps. He appreciates the elevated, liberated role of women in the pagan camp and seems to enjoy its more open-minded approach to sexuality. He struggles with Viking brutality, but is cognizant and equally disapproving of brutality in Christendom which is ineffectively masked under the guise of doing “God’s work.”

The Vikings aren’t masking anything. They just want your shit. And your women.

I will give the Episcopalians credit for placing women and minorities in positions of leadership and for welcoming the LGBT community. Many of my friends in the church don’t believe the Christian story. They tend to see Jesus and the crucifixion as metaphors while connecting with the tenants of forgiveness, compassion, self sacrifice, love and peace. I’m down with that.

Adios, padre. May the wind always be at your back.

Two


God is the connective tissue. It’s the energy we see in all things. A bee on a sunflower. The power of the ocean pounding the rocks. A cheetah sinking its teeth into an antelope’s neck. The overwhelming love a mother feels the first time she holds her child. It’s giving a destitute man your only dollar. It’s sliding your cock into a woman and sucking the air out of her mouth as she moans with pleasure. A desert ecosystem. It’s what connects it all.

If you want to give “god” a name, then do it. It doesn’t matter. Call god Jesus, Thor, Allah, Yahweh, whatever. Just don’t tell me your version is the only valid interpretation.