Friday, November 30, 2012

Son of Atheist Christmas

A long time ago, I fretted about how I would teach my child about religion, or how I would give him a strong foundation in religion upon which he could build or against which he could rebel. Eventually, I accepted that I couldn't really think it into a neat package or plan for how those conversations would develop as he got older.

Now, though, some of those conversations have begun to happen. Yesterday, when taking out the trash, I noticed a small orange tabby cat wobbling around in a panic in our back yard. She tried to escape me, but couldn't move very well. She clearly couldn't make it over the fence. I tried to reassure her, and then went inside to summon the big guns: my wife. She has a history of taking care of cats, including strays. We theorized that this poor kitty had a broken leg, or a dislocated hip, that accounted for her terribly wobbly walk, caught her, put her in a cat carrier, and took her to the vet. It was a family affair, with all 3 of us going, including Thumper. He was very sweet, speaking soothingly and reassuring her, "It's OK, kitty," as we drove.

It turned out that the poor kitty had no chip, had no tags, and had FIV. Her wobbly walk was neurological, not physical, resulting from the ravages of the disease. With our own kitties to consider, we could not take her in. With no way to identify an owner, we couldn't send her home. And of course we couldn't just send her back out into the neighborhood to die slowly and painfully on her own. So we talked about it. Thumper decided that she needed a name, so he dubbed her "Emerson." Then we euthanized her.

Thumper had many questions, some of which went back to the death of our last two kitties, Puck and Tasha. I'm not quite as bad these days as I was in 2010, when I apparently felt like I was undercover here in the religious suburbs, but still, these conversations make me a little uncomfortable. I want him to be able to talk about it, though, so I did my best to answer honestly.

He wanted to know about Heaven, and whether Emerson would be alive again there. He wanted to know what it looked like. I fell back on the "some people believe" version of the story, but didn't commit to anything related to "I believe..." He seemed satisfied and didn't push the conversation much beyond that point.

Today, though, he asked me if anyone could count to infinity. I said, no, no one could count to infinity because it's endless. No matter what number you could count to, no matter how big that number was, infinity would be more. He said, "But God could count to infinity, right? Because He's special." So I asked him, "Buddy, it seems like you have a lot of questions about God, and Heaven, and Jesus. I don't really know the answers, but if you want to go to church or to Sunday school and learn more about this stuff, I'd be happy to go with you." He said, "No thanks." His Mama piped in with finding books about different religions and learning more about the variety of things that people believe about God. He was still uninterested. So I tried to make it more personal, mentioning a friend of his whose family is very religious, and I told him that we could check out their church with them. Maybe he could go to Sunday school with his friend.

No, he was still not interested.

So maybe I was right that without Belief, I can't help him find Belief. But I feel good that we've left the conversation open and have shown a willingness to talk about it and to help him find other resources for learning if he wants to. I suspect that no matter what we do, it'll be wrong in one way or another, but we're trying, and I hope that means a lot in the end.

Atheist Christmas

An old friend of my wife has fretted publicly on Facebook last year and this about the largely secular nature of Christmas for many people who still use the names and traditions that are rooted more in the religious history of Catholics and Protestants. She seems to think that if the winter holiday is going to divorce itself from the religious one, it should at least have a different name from the one that is supposed to celebrate the birth of the Christ, the Redeemer of Mankind.

I'm surprised by the vehemence of her (I think) agnostic grumblings about the contamination of a religious holiday by non-religious, and admittedly commercial attitudes. For me, though, there is no cognitive dissonance in the secularization of a religious tradition. Christmas can be different for everyone, even if we all call it the same name.

For you, it may be a deeply felt religious experience during which you contemplate the grace of God in sending a piece of His divine Self to earth in order to live in a flawed human body, to give his Son the opportunity to choose to live and suffer and die, to subject Him to fear and pain and selfishness and doubt, thus letting His ultimate rejection of those in favor of self-sacrifice and the fathomless depth of His love redeem humanity from its sinful nature.

Wow, that was kind of a convoluted sentence.

For me, it may be about spending time with well-loved family and friends and contemplating the idea that we are all connected, we humans. It is a time to to remember that we can let go of petty disagreements, selfish considerations, and all of the other things that separate us and push us to be cruel and narrow in our focus.

But we can all still call it Christmas, can't we? We can all still listen to songs that are sometimes about Santa and the hopeful, anticipatory joy of children and sometimes about the reverence for the divine love rained down upon us by a loving and forgiving Creator. We can think about what gifts or kindnesses we can give to those that matter to us most as well as the gifts or kindnesses we can give to those that we have never met.

Anyway. Happy Winter Solstice. Or Merry Christmas. Or, you know, any of a long list of names and celebrations that we as humans have stuck here in the middle of winter, which is admittedly not such a harsh and unforgiving time here in Central Texas. I wish you and yours and all of us love and joy. Let me know if you need anything. 'ppreciate 'cha!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Body and the Blood

So I decided to do Finslippy's "The Practice of Writing." The eleventh prompt is about forgetting perfection, because it’s impossible. Forget safe and publishable and go for wild. Have fun. The prompt was our choice of the Higgs boson, the Marshall Plan, or transubstantiation. I had to look up the Higgs boson.

I wasn’t never one for going to church. Not ever. I went a couple of times when I was a kid, you know, just to see what all the fuss was about, and we ate sweet Hawaiian bread and drank tiny little cups of grape juice carried around in a fancy brass and velvet thing, but they didn’t believe it. There wasn’t no passion in it. Not in the songs, neither. They was just dancing a slow dance with each other, but Jesus wasn’t there in that room. I know. I’d have felt Him. I know that now.

But I found the thing. I found it now. It was a lot of long years in my life, long years full of falseness and pain, but I found it now. It took studying. I had to work to find it, to find Him, but now I did and things is different. That’s Jesus I’m talking about. I got Jesus in me now, and things won’t never be the same again. Not for me. I got Jesus in me.

Did you know He fed 5000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish? Did you know that? It’s a documented fact. That’s the bread of Jesus. That’s what He’s capable of. He can feed the whole world. He can heal the whole world. And I got him in me.

I couldn’t get it at first, with the bread and the wine and all. I couldn’t get it. But I met a man one night when I was low, and I mean low. You don’t know how bad things got. That’s when I met him. I think Jesus put him there for me. Special, just for me.

We talked a lot. We talked. I told him how low I was, and I mean low. He talked about church, and I said, ‘No, I done all that already.’ And he said, ‘No, but you ain’t done this church!’ He said, ‘They do it right in this church. They got things in this church those other ones don’t have!’ And I said, ‘What kind of things?’ and he said, ‘Come see!’ and I did.

Now I know he didn’t mean things like things you can touch, though they had those too. They had fancy robes. They had smoke burning in these big bells on chains. They had a giant building with ceilings so high you could practically see the angels swirling around up there.

But those weren’t the things he was talking about. He was talking about other things. Procedures. That’s what they had special, secret ways of doing things passed straight down directly from those first men who saw Jesus and sat down with him and saw him feed those 5000 with 5 loaves of bread. Those other churches, they got it wrong. They didn’t know the special procedures. They thought it was a story like, like they didn’t even believe it was true. Parables, they called them, stories. Not history. Not gospel truth! That Hawaiian bread and grape juice wasn’t the Body and the Blood! Because they didn’t believe it! They didn’t know how to make it real!

But now I been to the right place. It took me a long time before they’d give it to me. I had to work real hard for a long time. I wasn’t low no more. Because I knew the real truth. And I wanted it in me. And now I got Him. He’s inside me. Him, that could walk on the top of the water. Him, that could feed the world and heal the world. I got Him inside me now. Don’t you see? Don’t you see there’s nothing I can’t do now? There’s nothing!

Getting Away

So I decided to do Finslippy's "The Practice of Writing." The tenth prompt is about just writing. I’ve not been good about keeping up a daily practice, but I’m trying. She suggests we just start anywhere and not worry about structure, or what the ultimate story or themes will be. Just write and work on putting it together later. For this prompt, she gave us a sentence from The Trick of It by Michael Frayn, and told us to "transcribe the sentence, then continue the story. Just write what you imagine comes next. Don't over-think this."

I was carrying a wire basket with the papers and a loaf of bread and a box of eggs and a large pack of toilet rolls, and I opened my mouth to say something to her, I can’t remember what – I think something slightly impatient about her slowness – and somehow the words changed in my mouth.

"Let’s go to Ottawa," I said, surprising even myself.

She snorted and raised an eyebrow. "Ottawa? What’s in Ottawa?"

"I don’t know. It just sounds exotic. I’ve never been there. We should leave the country more often. I hear it changes your perspective."

"Does your perspective need changing?" She was still behind me. Now she stopped altogether.

"I don’t know," I said. My fingertips were turning numb. I tried to shift the basket to my other hand, but it was awkward. "Maybe." Why couldn’t she carry the toilet paper?

She started walking again, still maddeningly slow. "I just think 'Ottawa' was a strange thing to say. I don’t even know where that is. North? South? East? West? My grasp of Canadian geography is pretty fuzzy." She was quiet for a moment, then: "Is that one of the ones where weed is legal?"

"I don’t know. No. I think that’s Montreal. Look it doesn’t have to be Ottawa, it just popped into my mind. It could be anywhere. What about Vegas?"

"That’s not leaving the country," she said, and skipped lightly ahead three steps to catch up. She took the basket from my hand and stretched up to kiss my neck. "Ottawa’s fine," she said. "Ottawa’s perfect."
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