The Search for MY God

March 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Carol Rood, Same Sex Parent

I love National Public Radio. Our local station is WHRV, and I listen to it most of the time. I especially love Morning Edition and BBC Newshour. In fact I also love the Cathy Lewis show, and Fresh Air. Okay, I love it all. There have been many times I have sat in my car in the driveway, or in the parking lot at work, and been late just so I can listen to a program. All the while thinking, “just a few more minutes”. I like listening to public radio because I feel smarter when I do. I feel like I learn something new, or hear a different perspective than I had in my own head. I don’t always agree with everything I hear on the radio, but I always listen.

This morning was one of those mornings where I stayed in my car to hear the last few minutes of a broadcast. It was very interesting, and I heard someone speaking about something I had thought many times but had not put voice to. I heard a story about Eric Weiner and a book he wrote called “Man Seeks God”.

He talked about how he went to the emergency room at a hospital with abdominal pains and a nurse whispered in his ear, “have you found your God yet?” Being a person who works in the medical field I do find it a bit odd that she would say such a thing to a patient, but it was a good thing because it caused Eric to embark upon a quest. A quest to find his God.

In his book he talks about his journey through Islam, and Buddhism, and Christianity, and Judaism. He talks about the things he found and what it meant to him. I will probably buy his book and read it, but the whole topic hit really close to home for me. I mean, I am 47 already.

Have I found my God? I spent some time thinking about it.  I  talked to my clients about it, and my co-workers and my partner Bluebell. I asked myself what my religion is and I thought about my own spiritual journey.

I was raised Jewish, but we were a family who did not attend Temple. I did not have a Bat Mitzvah and cannot speak or read Hebrew. I do know the prayers and my parents always did the “big” holidays. We had a Passover Seder every year, and ate apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah. We fasted on Yom Kippur and had a dreidel box with presents in it at Hanukkah. It was next to the Christmas tree, but at least my parents taught me about my Jewish heritage.

When I grew up I had a roommate who was Mormon, and I married a man who was a Christian. I liked many of the things I learned in church, but could never quite wrap my head around the “only Christians get to Heaven” part. My parents were good people, but they did not believe in Jesus as their savior. Why did that make them unworthy? Why were only Christians the right ones? I never understood how they could be the only group that is “right”. To me it felt a bit elitist.

After I got divorced and fell in love with my partner I was looking for a church home for us and happened upon the Unitarian Universalist faith. That was a welcoming faith, and I love almost everything about it, but even there, I have some reservations about some aspects of it. I like some Buddhist beliefs, but can’t find my way to all of those either. I have studied some Wiccan beliefs and find those very interesting and comfortable also. When I came home today I asked my family what they believe their religion to be. My mother is an atheist, my lovely Bluebell says she was “raised Catholic”, but now says she “doesn’t know” what she “is”. The oldest son The Hunter also says he “doesn’t know”, the middle son Joe Cool says he is an atheist, and the youngest son The Genius says he is a “Jewnitarian”, (A Jewish Unitarian Universalist). So even my family is a hodge podge of religious beliefs.

So I guess there is no cookie cutter religion for me. I don’t think God is a man, yet I don’t think God is a woman either. I don’t think of gender when I think of God, I usually think of the universe, or an ethereal being of some kind without a body shape, just spirit. As Eric puts it I seem to have found an “IKEA God.” “Some assembly required,” he says. “[The] idea is that you can cobble together your sort of own personal religion, a sort of mixed tape of God.”

I liked that. It made sense to me, and somehow seemed to put the religious puzzle pieces in my brain into a cohesive unit. So I have decided that it is okay to be eclectic when dealing with religion. That you can take the pieces you like and that make sense to you and add it to the other things that make sense to you and stir it all together to make a wonderful spiritual soup that is palatable and I can live with on a daily basis!

Share

Choosing My Religion

By: Selina Boquet

I recently deactivated my Facebook account from my days as a leader in a Spanish speaking church. I had forgotten all about it! I was so eager to get away that this was one of the loose strings left untied. It was strange seeing my old profile again. All of the church people were there with their fake lives and Cheshire grins.  It’s funny how I had spent so much time with these people and now as I look back, I don’t miss it at all. Not one bit.

I looked through the few pictures that were there. There were photos of me with different church leaders looking poised and enthusiastically conservative in a salmon colored button up shirt. Boy was I fat! What is it with religion that makes you eat? I think it’s all of the gathering.  In those days we had meeting after meeting, and especially in the Latin Ministry, there was always really good food. While enchiladas and tostadas might be good for the soul, they certainly are not good for the waistline.

As I looked at the pictures, I saw only a vague resemblance of myself in the girl I had once been; a faint echo of who I am now. In retrospect, I can see the confusion hidden behind my smile. I loved their passion, dedication, and their faith, yet something bothered me deep down inside.

Religion has always been a central part of my life. When I was five, I remember going “door knocking” with my father. We would knock on doors and hand out tracks. These tracks had little cartoons and scriptures that would catch your eye and make you want to become a Christian. I had two favorites. One was the one with the devil on the cover and the flames of hell burning all over him! I remember thinking, “That looks scary! Why would anyone WANT to read that?” The other one is a tricky and very real looking one hundred dollar bill. I could just imagine the poor fool, so excited to reach down and grab his newly found one hundred dollar bill only to see that it’s an invitation to invite Jesus into your heart.

In Portland, Oregon, where I grew up, they made praying Jesus into your heart easier than ever! Just down the street from my house, right across from Cruisers, the local burger joint, there was a Pray Jesus Into Your Heart Drive-Thru! Now that is what I call convenient! The large black and white sign read, “Free Prayer!” Which is a very good price for prayer these days with inflation and everything; at some churches it’ll cost you your first born son!

We always teased my little brother because nearly every Sunday at the end of church when they did the alter call, he would walk down to the front, along with the few brave visitors, and pray Jesus into his heart. I remember clear as day when I asked that little seven-year-old why he kept going to get saved every single Sunday.

He replied, “Because it doesn’t feel like it’s sticking!”

I was very disappointed when I started to read the Bible in college and realized that praying Jesus into your heart was more of a cultural phenomenon than a scriptural truth. As I studied the Bible and religion further, I uncovered more and more shocking revelations.

In my World Religions class, we studied  Religions of the World by Lewis M. Hopfe and Mark R. Woodward.  Right away, my professor at the Christian college warned us that the things we would learn in the class might test our faith. As I studied, I learned that several of the founding teachings of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were merely adopted ideas from neighboring religions. The concept of hell, heaven, Satan, demons, and angels was not even introduced to the Bible until the Jewish culture adapted the concept from another roaming group of atheistic people, called the Zoarastrians, five hundred years after the first book of the bible had been written (which is not Genesis, by the way).

I had always pictured the Bible being handed down on a golden tablet, directly from God, straight to Moses, written perfectly. It blew my mind. If heaven and hell were ideas that the Jewish people copied from a group of roaming nomads who didn’t even believe in God, then how could that be such a cornerstone of Christianity? I didn’t answer these questions, or dwell on my doubts too much at that time. They remained an ever present nagging mosquito that I would swat away every chance I had. There was no way that my family could be wrong.

You cannot change a person’s faith by filling her head with mere facts. It’s the heart that decides what it wants to believe. I often wonder what my beliefs would be if I had been born in a different culture. I could just as easily have been raised a devout Bhuddist, Wikkin, or even Zoroastrian. As human beings, we are innately loyal to the culture in which we are born. Who knows, either you or I could have been one of the young Muslims preparing for Jihad.

When I came out of the closet, I tried different gay churches. Although I enjoyed seeing a place of worship where everyone was included in a loving and welcoming environment, I didn’t feel like I needed to be there.  I had spent my whole life believing that without someone telling me what to do, I would be a horrible person. There’s a freedom in knowing that you’re doing the right thing, not because someone is telling you what to do, but because it is the right thing to do. The concept of someone being a good person and leading a good life independent of religion is a strange thought to many.

It wasn’t until I was 29 years old that I realized that it’s ok not to know all of the secrets to our existence. There is beauty in the mystery. I appreciate the best of all religions and understand that religion can bring peace and meaning to the lives of many. As for me, I’ve done my time in church and am happy that I do not have all the answers.

Share

Hate Free Zone…

December 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Amy Wise, Family, Interracial Families

By: Amy Wise


Those of you that know me, know I’m a VERY positive person. Lately, however I’ve been a little disheartened by all the negative stories directed at specific groups or religions. From the minister and church in Kentucky that refused membership to interracial couples, to Lowe’s Home Improvement pulling their ads from All American Muslim, to parents throwing their gay children out on the streets, to the hateful comments regarding the interracial article our family was featured in, in USA Today. There’s so many more but I think you get the picture. Each one has a running theme…ignorance and hate based on the unknown.

The minister and church denying interracial couples membership? I’m speechless. Did we just go back in time? A church teaching hate? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Or are they just morons? Sorry, I normally don’t say that about people but in this instance I couldn’t resist. I wish the minister and members could spend one week with us so they could see that we are just a family full of love…nothing more, nothing less.

Lowe’s Home Improvement removing ads from All American Muslim because a small Christian group complained? Since when does one religion have a say over the other? C’mon Lowe’s…have you ever seen the show? The entire point is to open minds and erase assumptions. You just threw that out the window in an instant! Are we living in the dark ages or America? Shame on you, Lowe’s.

Parents throwing gay children away like trash? How is this possible? How does a parent stop loving their child because they can’t accept their partner? The heart can’t help who it falls in love with. Love’s funny like that. Trust me, I know.

The hateful comments on USA Today because we are an interracial family? Really? I had to stop reading because the horrible words made my stomach turn. How can someone hate us if they don’t even know us?

Why are we hating instead of loving? Why are we erasing instead of embracing? This is supposed to be the season of peace and love no matter what the religion. How can one hate what they don’t even know? That is called ignorance.

Does it matter if I’m Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist? Does it matter if I’m black, white, brown, or green? Does it matter if I’m gay, straight, or go both ways? No, it doesn’t. What matters is…if I have a heart, if I’m kind, if I’m giving, and if I’m loving.

The irony in all of this is, religion is supposed to teach love. What is happening here? Why is it okay to love some and hate others? It’s not. I can guarantee that whether someone worships in a church, temple, mosque, or home, there is NO religion that says it’s okay to hate. Only people do. No matter the race, religion, or sexual orientation….open hearts and open minds don’t discriminate.

I’m Christian, I’m straight, and I refuse to hate!

Share

Where Is My God?

December 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Carol Rood, Family, Same Sex Parent

By: Carol Rood

I love National Public Radio. Our local station is WHRV, and I listen to it most of the time. I especially love Morning Edition and BBC Newshour. In fact I also love the Cathy Lewis show, and Fresh Air. Okay, I love it all. There have been many times I have sat in my car in the driveway, or in the parking lot at work, and been late just so I can listen to a program. All the while thinking, “just a few more minutes”. I like listening to public radio because I feel smarter when I do. I feel like I learn something new, or hear a different perspective than I had in my own head. I don’t always agree with everything I hear on the radio, but I always listen.

This morning was one of those mornings where I stayed in my car to hear the last few minutes of a broadcast. It was very interesting, and I heard someone speaking about something I had thought many times but had not put voice to. I heard a story about Eric Weiner and a book he wrote called “Man Seeks God”. He talked about how he went to the emergency room at a hospital with abdominal pains and a nurse whispered in his ear, “have you found your God yet?” Being a person who works in the medical field I do find it a bit odd that she would say such a thing to a patient, but it was a good thing because it caused Eric to embark upon a quest. A quest to find his God.

In his book he talks about his journey through Islam, and Buddhism, and Christianity, and Judaism. He talks about the things he found and what it meant to him. I will probably buy his book and read it, but the whole topic hit really close to home for me. I mean, I am 46. Have I found my God? I spent the day thinking about it, and talked to my clients about it, and my co-workers and my partner Bluebell. I asked myself what my religion is and I thought about my own spiritual journey.

I was raised Jewish, but we were a family who did not attend Temple. I did not have a Bat Mitzvah and cannot speak or read Hebrew. I do know the prayers and my parents always did the “big” holidays. We had a Passover Seder every year, and ate apples dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah. We fasted on Yom Kippur and had a dreidel box with presents in it at Hanukah. It was next to the Christmas tree, but at least my parents taught me about my Jewish heritage.

When I grew up I had a roommate who was Mormon, and married a man who was a Christian. I liked many of the things I learned in church, but could never quite wrap my head around the “only Christians get to Heaven” part. My parents were good people, but they did not believe in Jesus as their savior. Why did that make them unworthy? Why were only Christians the right ones? I never understood how they could be the only group that is “right”. To me it felt a bit elitist.

After I got divorced and fell in love with my partner I was looking for a church home for us and happened upon the Unitarian Universalist faith. That was a welcoming faith, and I love almost everything about it, but even there, I have some reservations about some aspects of it. I like some Buddhist beliefs, but can’t find my way to all of those either. I have studied some Wiccan beliefs and find those very interesting and comfortable also. When I came home today I asked my family what they believe their religion to be. My mother is an atheist, my lovely Bluebell says she was “raised Catholic”, but now says she “doesn’t know” what she “is”. The oldest son B also says he “doesn’t know”, the middle son Z says he is an atheist, and the youngest son J says he is a “Jewnitarian”, (A Jewish Unitarian Universalist). So even my family is a hodge podge of religious beliefs.

So I guess there is no cookie cutter religion for me. I don’t think God is a man, yet I don’t think God is a woman either. I don’t think of gender when I think of God, I usually think of the universe, or an ethereal being of some kind without a body shape, just spirit. As Eric puts it I seem to have found an “IKEA God.” “Some assembly required,” he says. “[The] idea is that you can cobble together your sort of own personal religion, a sort of mixed tape of God.” I liked that. It made sense to me, and somehow seemed to put the religious puzzle pieces in my brain into a cohesive unit. So I have decided that it is okay to be eclectic when dealing with religion. That you can take the pieces you like and that make sense to you and add it to the other things that make sense to you and stir it all together to make a wonderful spiritual soup that is palatable and I can live with on a daily basis!

Share

Interview With Lesbian Rabbi Denise Eger

April 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Family

By: Brandy Black

Rabbi Denise Egers

With our theme being Religion in the month of April, I made a call to Rabbi Denise Eger whom I saw at the Human Rights Campaign Gala this year.  We were able to talk a bit about how her influence as a lesbian Rabbi has helped the Jewish community and LGBT folks.

Rabbi: I’ve been a rabbi for the gay and lesbian community for almost 25 years in Los Angeles.  During that time I’ve had to bury our people from HIV AIDS, but have also been blessed to welcome numerous children into our community.  I’ve had an opportunity to advocate on civil rights, and the work I do every day is an expression of my spirituality and my faith as a Jewish person and I’m blessed enough to have been born into a time when woman were able to be ordained.

 

B: When you became a Rabbi were you out?

Rabbi: Well I don’t think that’s the way to phrase it. I never hid my sexual orientation, but in those years you couldn’t be sexually open and be ordained as a Rabbi anywhere. I never hid who I was, but I was ordained and came to serve in the gay and lesbian community immediately and then worked from the inside to change my denomination stance on that.  This was an awfully long time ago; I feel it’s not really relevant, to be honest. I helped start an underground student rabbinic gay and lesbian group…but that was thirty years ago.

B: How could that not be relevant? Thats your story; its pretty incredible I think.

Rabbi: I’ve served the gay and lesbian community longer than any rabbi and continuously in North America and around the world.  I’ve been active in changing my denominations and other parts of Judaism to be more welcoming and inclusive of gay and lesbian bisexual and transgender people. Today gays and lesbians in reformed Judaism are not only ordained as rabbis and cantors but my denomination is completely committed to advocacy on behalf of gay and lesbian bisexual and transgender people.  It is working on educating our youth and teens to not bully and encouraging our kids to be part of gay-straight alliances.  I have worked hard to be instrumental in helping to transform the culture of Judaism on gay and lesbian issues.

B: Obviously your following is primarily LGBT. What percentage of your following is heterosexual?

Rabbi: Our congregation is West Hollywood’s reform synagogue and more than 30% of our congregation is not gay.  We represent the city and we have a lot of families headed by straight people who are progressive and want their kids and their families to share a part of their lives with gay people.  That’s an important message, and always has been for our congregation, Kol Ami.

B: Do you have any opposition from the community?

None.  I’m President of all the rabbis in Southern California.  I’m the first woman and the first openly gay person to ascend to that to become the President of the Southern California rabbis, in part because I’ve been able to change the culture.  People have gotten to know me as a rabbi and as a human being and I was able to break down a lot of their myths.  I’ve been able to help people come out; I’ve done a lot of work with people with HIV and AIDS throughout the years.  At our temple we still run the only Jewish HIV support group in the country.  The sad story that no one wants to tell is that there are still people becoming HIV positive and they need support.

 

B: How have the issues for the LGBT community changed over the years –or have they?

Rabbi: Human beings haven’t changed.  Maybe the times have.  There are still relationship issues. When do I come out? To whom do I come out?  How do I decide to have kids? Where can I find a healthcare provider that is going to be supportive to me as a lesbian? I do a lot of referrals.  The times may have changed; we see more gay people on TV… but I think people are still people and I don’t know that the issues have changed so much.

 

B: What percentage of your congregation has kids?

Rabbi: I would say probably 40% has children.  My kid is almost out of high school now…it’s a very exciting time.  One of the things I’ve seen is the impact of the recession; it takes so many extra financial resources in our community –it’s limited, it’s become a class [issue]…but nobody in the LGBT community wants to talk about it in many ways.  There are many foster kids out there and foster-to-adopt is such an important thing one can do.  But I think it’s challenging, especially in the face of the economic issues over the last number of years, for many gay couples to think about spending the financial resources.

B: Any advice for families?

Rabbi: Find a safe community for you and your family.  There are so many welcoming communities of every faith and every stripe and every spirituality.  Don’t short-change the spiritual life of your family because you might think there isn’t an accepting community.  A spiritual life in one’s family where you are teaching ethics and values and handing down traditions creates a beautiful framework for the expression of love…and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

So my advice is to find a spiritual community to be a part of, especially in a big metropolitan area where life can be pulled in so many directions.  It will increase the blessings in one’s family.

I invite your readers in the LA area to come hang out with us at Kol Ami.  We have a religious school for our kids and programs for families and we are a pretty welcoming place.

 

Congregation Kol Ami is located in West Hollywood and from what I hear is a pretty special place.  Thanks Rabbi Eger for taking the time to speak with us.

 

 

Share

I Grew Up Meditating

April 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Brandy Black, Family

By: Brandy Black

Lesbian expressing views on religion

When I was 6 months old and living in San Francisco, my parents found their spiritual teacher slapped on a telephone pole on the side of the road. Prem Rawat (Guru Maharaji) had come from India to “speak the truth.” He was 14 years old when he first came to the states to share his knowledge. Supported by a few ‘hippie’ followers, Rawat gained celebrity-style exposure within the new age movement. Two years later my parents found him via grassroots marketing. They had been searching for answers to their many questions about life and death and everything in between. My father had been doing extensive yoga; my mother –praying on the beach with me in her arms — both hoping to find their purpose on this earth. Once they crowded together with many others to hear Maharaji speak for the first time, they found what they were looking for. He was a mere child, whose father had recently passed, and was quickly deemed by his followers The Perfect Master of his time. His words were clear and made sense to my parents. They began meditating daily and following the words of Mr. Rawat. I grew up traveling around from state to state with other devotees of Maharaji listening to his words in large halls and grassy fields. Many afternoons were spent dozing off to sleep in my mother’s lap while he spoke words of peace. My parents will say they weren’t hippies but in my recollection they were very much that. But in the truest sense, they didn’t need drugs (although I’m sure there was a bit of that); they were in search of a truth that would set them free and a feeling that would envelop their hearts.

I grew up with love around me –conversations of love, vegetarian food made with love, potlucks with loving pot brownies. I was living in a house full of grown-ups who meditated morning and night and were constantly “blissed out”.

At seven years old, I begged to learn how to meditate. It was not customary (and still isn’t) for Maharaji to teach meditation to children under the age of 16, but my requests were frequent and consistent. Finally at eight years old, I sat down with my special blanket and pillow and learned the four techniques of mediation. I too could now say I was blissed out.

I continued to meditate for quite a few years, morning and night. Sometimes it meant nothing to sit quietly for an hour; it was easy, it was home. Other times it was all I could do to get through it. I learned very early on that life was so much more about the experience on the inside than on the outside. I got it. I understood that life wasn’t about my strawberry shortcake dress or the jeans that the most popular girl in school was wearing but rather about the beauty of what’s beneath it all, the happiness that we hold in our hearts, the feeling of contentment.

As I got older I started to pay attention to fashion and friends and popularity and the importance people place on “things” and I stopped meditating. It became difficult to keep it all up during the teen years and I just wanted to be “normal”. I went to Church with friends only to find out that they weren’t going for the experience but for the accolades of attending and of course the powdered donuts after. I took religion in college hoping to understand what I might have been missing during my childhood and realized that we were all in search of the same feeling, the same understanding and the same outcome.

Through different leaders with different rules and rituals, human beings are all looking for similar answers. I had no judgment for those who were Christian or Jewish or Mormon or Buddhist because I was comforted by the understanding that we are all in need of the same thing.
Now here I am in my late thirties with a child, and I often think about how I want to teach our daughter about religion and spirituality. I love the balance of embracing the luxuries of the frivolous worldly things that we are raised to believe are so important with the understanding that they are all temporary and ultimately insignificant. I often fight for things to go my way, to control based on my wants, but I also have a fundamental understanding that when I let go and ride the rough rapids they will take me to the place I need to be. I guess I can only hope that my daughter can feel the two very different experiences that life has to offer—the worldly, greedy, needy, delicious, scandalous, enticing, exciting side and the satisfied, empty, whole, content, peaceful beat of her heart and pace of her breath that take her through each day, each step and each moment of her life with absolute perfection and precision. I can only hope the same for myself in my years to come.

Share

A Giant in the Sky

April 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Barbara Matousek, Family, Single Parents

By: Barbara Matousek

Modern family views on religion

“Maybe there is a big giant watching us,” he says as he pops the last of his cupcake into his mouth.

“You think so?” I say, piling the dishes into the sink and wiping the counter in front of him with a damp rag.

“And he’s moving the wind and the clouds so that sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t.”

“Maybe that’s God,” I say.

“What’s God?”

Since before Sam was born I’ve been prepared for discussions about why our family doesn’t have a daddy.  I’ve made books explaining his conception and our story and what a gift he is.  But I’ve never even mentioned God to him?  God hasn’t ever come up when we snuggle at bedtime and talk about things we’re grateful for or the people we love?  Nobody has ever mentioned God to him?  How did this happen?

When my best friend was trying to figure out how to teach her young boys about God, whether to bring them to church, I admired the balance she struck between her beliefs and her husband’s beliefs, the way she wanted to educate her children about what others believed without forcing them to believe anything in particular.  A decade later when my sister grappled with the decision to send her son to a Lutheran pre-school, I understood her reluctance.  She and I had stood up during her children’s baptisms and vowed to raise her children in the Catholic church but at the time we both had our doubts and questions about religion and God.

Standing in the kitchen with a wet rag in my hand, all of my earlier pronouncements to my friends that “I want to teach my children about spirituality, not religion” come back to me.  How do I teach my child about God if I don’t know what I believe about God?

In Buddhist teachings there is a description of a huge net reaching in all directions called the Jeweled Net of Indra.  This net teaches about the interconnectedness of us all.  We are all part of something bigger than just ourselves, part of a whole that includes plants and animals and friends and neighbors, people across the world and people right next door.  What we do to the least of our brothers we do to ourselves.  I know I believe this, but how does my idea of God or a creator fit in with this?

I was raised in a Catholic home and from the distance of my adulthood I look back gratefully for the tradition and the community and the center the church gave our family.  My earliest and most pleasant childhood memory is of my head in my mother’s lap as she stroked the hair back behind my ears as the priest’s voice droned from the pulpit.  I look back and see how no matter what was going on in our lives, we made time for God on Sunday.  We got out of bed and got dressed and rode in the car together, whether it was raining or sleeting, whether we were healthy or sick, whether we were getting along or fighting.  Every week we traveled the short distance to St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, and we sat in the pews together.  My Sunday memories include silver-dollar-sized pancakes at The Village Inn, peeling apples for pie, and watching football in the family room.  Together.

I’m still forming my ideas about the spiritual traditions our family will follow, but when I think about what I want my children to know about God and religion and spirituality, THIS is what I KNOW I want them to learn:  that we are a family, the three of us as well as the greater human race.  That there is no “us” and “them”.  That each human being has as much value as the next.  That those who have a different skin color or speak a different language or form families with two moms or ride in a wheelchair or follow the teachings of Mohammed or believe that Christ was the son of God or don’t believe in God at all are all human beings.  I want them to learn that families can come from anywhere, that what we do and say can influence others and we don’t always see the effects we have on others, and we’re all in this together.

I stand in the kitchen and look at the frosting smeared into Sam’s hair and the blue sprinkles caked to the corners of his mouth, and I do not even know how to begin to talk to him about God, how to even put a human word to something I consider to be so grand and awesome that even the act of naming it diminishes the greatness of God.  But I know that it is time for our family to begin forming our spiritual traditions, our Sunday memories.  Better late than never.

“God is love,” I say.  “God is all of us.  Together.  Love.”

It’s not perfect and it never will be.  And as my son grows he will develop his own ideas about God and religion and community and tradition and humanity and love.  So while it may not be perfect, it’s a start.  We are finally talking about God.

Share

Out-of-the-Box Christian

April 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Amy Wise, Family, Interracial Families

By: Amy Wise

Religion is a recurring theme in my life.  Just the other day I was in Starbucks, anxiously awaiting my caramel frappaccino, when a very attractive black man in a suit came up to me and said, “Do you practice?”  I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, and at first I thought he was asking if I was a practicing attorney because this particular Starbucks is on the bottom floor of a law firm.  He clearly saw the puzzled look on my face and pointed to my bracelet, and said, “Is that just an accessory or do you practice?”  Ohhhh!  I finally got it. My bracelet had Buddhas on it and he wanted to know if I was a practicing Buddhist.  I thought about it for a second and wondered if I should give this complete stranger my true beliefs on religion, or the quick and easy answer, which would have been, “I’m a Christian.”  The easy answer, however, just does not cover the full story of how I feel about religion.  I’m a Christian, but there is so much more to it than that.  I decided to be open and give him the “more”.  I said, “No I’m not a Buddhist, but I’m a very out-of-the-box Christian, open to all religions.  I practice bits and pieces of many religions, including Buddhism, because in the end don’t we all want the same thing from whatever religion it is that we practice?”  He looked at me, smiled, took my hand in both of his hands, and said, “Thank you, that’s exactly how I feel and I’m so very happy to meet you!”  In that moment, two strangers understood that if we all open our minds and hearts to each other, the world would be a much more peaceful place.  It was a pretty cool moment.

A few days after that, my sister and I were talking and she told me that she loved the fact that my friends were from so many different backgrounds, ages, and religions.  She was so right!  My friends are a “we are the world gumbo”.  I have friends that are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Atheist, Goddess, Universe, and I’m sure I’m missing something, but you get the idea.  I love them all.  I respect them all.  I’m thankful that they are all in my life.  Period.

As a child I was raised as a Lutheran, and I even taught Sunday school, but as I got older I held on to some beliefs and let go of others, while opening my mind to so many more.  Being in an interracial marriage automatically frees your mind.  How could it not?  We are living a life that is not the norm, but it’s a life filled with love, so why would a religion that is not “my norm” be any different?

Religion to me is now all about faith, peace, love, kindness, caring and giving.  I pray to Jesus.  I meditate to Buddha.  I talk to God.  I look to the Universe.  It’s all good as far as I’m concerned!  So when someone asks me what my religion is, I have to ask, “Do you really want to know?”  If the answer is yes, well then, I’m an out-of-the-box Christian…and so much more!

Share

What Was Jesus Famous For?

April 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Shannon Ralph

By: Shannon Ralph

 

I need to figure out what I am going to teach my children about God.  And quickly. Recently, I had the television on PBS and some program came on about uncovering the mysteries of the life of Jesus. My eight-year-old son, Lucas, is crazy about science documentaries. If he ever catches a glimpse of Nova or Nature, I can’t get him away from the television. It doesn’t even matter what topic they are covering. Any area of science will suffice. When the program about Jesus came on, he thought it was just another science program. Just another program about archeology or anthropology. I let him watch a little bit of it because he begged me, but I could see the wheels turning in his head. It was eight o’clock in the evening —bedtime —and it was a school night. I didn’t feel like being sucked into a deep philosophical conversation with Lucas, so I shut the television off and quickly shuffled everyone off to bed. Unfortunately, I could not avoid the uncomfortable conversation. As I was putting Lucas to bed, he began with the questions. Who was Jesus?  Is he a myth or was he real? How is he God’s son? How did he die? What was Jesus famous for?

What was Jesus famous for? If ever there was an impetus to get my heathen children some religion, that question right there sums it up. What was Jesus famous for? My son is eight years old and needs to ask what Jesus was famous for. By the time I was his age, I could recite scripture. I could tell you the entire story of the birth and death of Christ. I could sing you a few verses of Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. I had been baptized. I had confessed my innocuous childhood sins to a priest for the first time. I had received my First Holy Communion. I had dressed up in a pint-sized wedding dress—complete with veil and ruffled socks —and committed my life to Jesus. (Yes, that is me in the picture above.) Why is it, then, that my firstborn son must ask me what Jesus was famous for?

I am not sure why I have not talked about religion with my son. I have a complicated relationship with organized religion —made even more so by being a lesbian. I was raised Catholic. I am the proud survivor of twelve years’ of Catholic schools. I know the answers to all of Lucas’s questions inside and out. At least, I know the answers I was taught as a child. However, I am not certain how I want to approach the topic of God and religion with my children. I believe in God. I believe that God is a loving God. However, I have trouble getting past all of the ugliness that is perpetrated in this world in the name of God. I am no longer a practicing Catholic. However, I have a very real soft spot in my heart for the Catholic Church. There are many things I loved —and will always love—about the Church. The community. The pageantry. The symbolism. The ritual. To this day, when I have trouble sleeping or I am worried or my mind will not settle itself, I recite Catholic prayers in my head. The Our Father. Hail Mary. Glory Be. Prayer to Our Guardian Angel. The Act of Contrition. I don’t know how much of my “praying” is an actual spiritual act and how much is merely rote recitation. Regardless, the simple act of reciting these prayers from my childhood calms my brain and settles my soul. They have become my mantra on my craziest of days.

Regardless of my affection for the Catholic Church I grew up in, I can’t get past some other aspects of the Church. I can’t get past the history of corruption and abuse in the Catholic Church. I can’t believe in a system that treats women as second-class citizens —a system so entrenched in feudal patriarchy that it completely ignores the phenomenal leadership abilities and talents its female members could bring to the Church. And even more relevant to me personally, I can’t get past the Catholic Church’s treatment of gay people. I can’t bring myself to be a part of a church whose leader, the pope himself, has publicly equated gay people having and raising children with child abuse. And that was Pope John Paul II, “The People’s Pope”. It is such a backward ideal, and a blatant slap in the face to all gay and lesbian parents.

So that leaves me with a burning question. What do I teach my children about God? About religion? And how do I teach them? I want my children to believe in a loving God. I want them to know that a person can be spiritual without necessarily being religious. I want to instill in them a moral code based on love and respect and service. However, when the topic of God arises, I feel extremely ill-prepared. Lucas is asking questions. He is beginning to talk about God and wonder about God and inquire about God. I don’t want him to learn about God from people who do not share my beliefs. I do not want him to think of God as a punishing, manipulative being who is out to “get” him if he misbehaves. I want him to think of God as a creator. As nature. Love. Compassion. Righteousness. This is what God is to me.

I make a concerted effort to answer all of my children’s questions as they arise.  But what do I say to him? How do I approach the topic? I have tried answering all of his questions with the answers I memorized from my own childhood. However, these answers feel trite.  I have yet to figure out how I am to teach my children about God and religion when my own relationship with both is fraught with struggle. How do I teach my son that God loves humankind —God loves him —passionately and completely, when one only needs to flip on the television to see the destruction being perpetrated in the name of God? Perhaps I am over thinking it. I’ve certainly been guilty of that on numerous occasions in this whole parenting adventure. I am a lesbian —over thinking and over “processing” issues is part of my genetic make-up.  But I do want to be thoughtful about this. I want to be deliberate. Like all parents, I don’t want to completely screw my children up for life. At least not where religion is concerned. They will have enough to talk about with their future therapists. I just want my children to believe in something greater than themselves. Something greater than this world. And to experience the calmness of heart that this belief can bring with it. I just don’t know that I am the person to teach all of this to my children. Unfortunately, however, I am the only person for this job.

Perhaps a Hail Mary is in order…

Share

Jesus Lives on My Ankle

April 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Lex Jacobson

By: Lex Jacobson

Lesbian writes about religion

 

I have a Jesus fish tattoo on my ankle. A big one. And I’m not Christian, at least not anymore. I think.

When I was getting a Brazillian wax a few weeks ago, my esthetician saw the tat, and while she was parting my ass cheeks, decided it would be a fine time to ask me about my faith. Specifically, as she was pouring the hot wax into me, she asked, “Have you found Jesus?” I felt like telling her that, if she were looking, He probably isn’t in my ass crack. Just sayin’…

The tat has become a point of conversation over the years, specifically because I’m actually ashamed of it. I got it when I was about 17 or 18, after a particularly bad psychotic episode where I had the full cast of “Men In Black” follow me around everywhere I went (no joke). And my faith in Jesus was the one thing that saved me from Will Smith shooting me in the back.

I am not pleading insanity; I was relatively sane when I got it, and back then, it really did mean something. I think tattoos are a fine reminder of life stages. This is a stage that was particularly complex for me though.

When I was 13, my parents sent me to a summer camp. Both of my brothers had attended it for a few years and loved the windsurfing and sailing. My parents expected that I would enjoy the same activities. The water sports were fun, but what I enjoyed most was the three-times-a-day mass, the prayer, the sermons, and the companionship of being with other children-of-God. My family was far from religious, although my dad and I often went to an Anglican church. But this – this big Baptist wonderland – was something that I sunk my whole self into.

I came back from camp that summer, having accepted Jesus into my heart. For the following few months, I tried to convert everyone I knew – including my parents – and began to live my life like a good Christian girl. The church I was involved with, unlike many good, Baptist churches, taught me that I would lose everyone I loved to the Devil if I didn’t make it my mission to save them. No pressure or anything.

The first year or so, I was able to keep it up until there was something fun that the Christian in me couldn’t partake in, and then I “let myself fall”. I wanted to drink, I wanted to fool around with boys, I wanted to have fun – all things I didn’t think I could do as a Christian. But underneath it all, being involved in the church helped me gain a solidity that, if I didn’t have, I don’t think I would have gotten through what I had to face as a late teen/young adult. Christ really did have His benefits.

At the age of 16, I decided to do my Ministry and Discipleship training. I wanted to make a difference for other lost kids. I threw myself into the church and can honestly say that I witnessed some miracles and really did experience the presence of God. When I got sick with depression and psychosis a little after that, my intense relationship with God played a big factor in my illness. I was constantly feeling guilty for letting Him down, yet when I was suicidal, He was the only thing that saved me.

Religion played such a huge part in my young life that it is hard to deject some of the good things about it: the community, the strong sense of belief that everything will be okay, the connection to a spiritual force. But there are things I really did have to walk away from, like the pressures of a child having to save an atheist family, the constant guilt I felt when I did anything “wrong”… and most importantly, the rejection of homosexuality inside church walls. One Sunday, one of the youth leaders at my church was asked to step down because he got his teenage girlfriend pregnant. We spent the next three hours praying for his forgiveness. I never went back.

Years later, I consider myself spiritual, not religious. But I don’t even know what that means. I have not had my tattoo removed or tatted over, out of lack of money more than anything else. In many ways, I miss the church. I miss the masses praying for me when I was sick. I miss feeling completely and genuinely loved. But I do not miss the shame. I don’t know to whom I pray, but I still pray. I dropped the “Jesus” and “Father” in my prayers a long time ago, and now speak to a general audience and hope that someone in listening.

My partner, Devon, was never religious. She has only been inside churches for funerals. She listens to my stories of the Baptist church and is quick to dismiss it as a cult. All she sees in a church is an institution that rejects gay people. She is resentful of a God that took away both of her parents at such an early age and who would judge her for being the woman she is. I have tried to show her that not all churches are homosexual haters, but it is hard to come up with positive stories when there is so much hate and bigotry. My ex-church certainly isn’t a great example.

When we have a child, I want for that child to appreciate a higher power. I want for that child to know that there is a God that loves him or her in-and-out, regardless of the choices he or she makes. But we will probably disagree on how to raise our child and I still have to figure out what I believe in, if anything. As for what to say when my child is old enough to ask me about my tattoo – that, I don’t have an answer for. Yet. By then, perhaps it will be inked over.

Share

Next Page »