Sunday, December 9, 2007
It is not often that I feel pity for white men, much less ones who are rich, Republican and practice a religion with racist doctrines.
And yet, I felt my heart strings plucked a bit when Mitt Romney took the stage this week to defend his Mormon faith at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas -- is it just me or do you giggle when the words "Bush" and "library" are mentioned in a sentence other than "George Bush doesn't know what a library is?"
Mitt's been under fire for being a Mormon. Check the polls and they'll tell you that Americans are more likely to sign their daughters up for "Flavor of Love 4" than vote for a mormon.
Amazingly, the hesitation has nothing to do with the inherent racism in the Mormon faith (lovingly detailed on this site: http://www.i4m.com/think/comments/mormon-racism.htm).
Got a short attention span and don't have time to read dude's site? Here's all you need to know. Take this quote from Mr. Mormon himself, Brigham Young -- the dude with the school: " . . . some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.
The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings.
This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed."
Nutshell: Black folks are "cursed" with dark skin and flat noses because Cain killed his brother. Now, I know there may be some self-respecting Christians out there who will find this concept ridiculous, but may I remind you that your bible teaches that childbirth is only painful because Eve ate that apple. Just a bit of perspective.
Did I say pity, earlier? As I write this, any pity I had for Mitt is quickly evaporating but before it completely disappears I want to point out the utter ridiculousness of Christian vs. Christian politics. My first ill-found feelings of pity came from the fact that I feel Mitt really felt he was part of the Christian gang. I mean, he says he believes in Jesus Christ, I presume he only believes in one God who created the universe in seven days, three wiseman, Noah, Lot's wife -- the whole shebang, right?
Trouble is, HIS particular faction of Christianity got started in the last 200 years so it hasn't had time to become as established as say Lutherans or Calvinists or any of the hundred spin-offs. So, people think of Mormonism as a cult -- and rightfully so considering it got started by a guy who says Jesus was chilling in North America (and you thought walking on water was just to get chicks). Crazy, right? Nevertheless, the idea of Jesus hanging out with Native Americans is no sillier than Jesus turning water to wine, but it's just too soon, and not to mention, too close. It's easier on the brain to believe these magical things happened a long, long time ago and in a land far, far away. Not fucking Idaho.
So, even though Mitt's got the basic DNA of being a Christian, he's not actually in the club yet. And it's not like he's the first guy to catch hell for being spiritually "left handed." Despite the fact that every U.S. president has been a Christian (they don't swear on a dictionary now do they?), even JFK caught hell for being a Catholic. Half the world is Catholic and he still got shit for it. Not sure how JFK fit cheating on his wife with a major movie star into his theology, but at least we confirmed his faith before the fucker took oath, right?
As an outsider, I guess I just don't see how the differences in practice mean all that much. I mean, forget our phobia toward non-Christian candidates. Are you telling me, if a guy goes to church on Saturday vs. Sunday he has to call a press conference? Call me silly, but I would think you'd want a guy who believes Jesus is the only way to heaven, right? Isn't that the big deal? Sure, it's still unbelievably shallow but I'm trying to understand.
The sad part is, Mitt spoke some truth during his speech. Namely this line: "Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree." Great line, I just hope Mitt stands behind it when in 2012 Habeeb Muhammad throws his hat (or turban) in the presidential ring.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Today was our company's pot luck lunch. Our break room was filled with turkey, macaroni and cheese and the guilt of knowing there would be no more work done for the rest of the day.
And seeing as I work for a Black company, no meal is complete without saying grace. That's right. For all you White folks reading this, Black companies say grace during group meals -- as politically incorrect as it is, Black companies assume you:
A. Are a practicing Christian
B. Share prayer with other folks
It's just a fact. It's not all the time, but if there's a company picnic, potluck meal or holiday dinner you should expect that heads will be bowed and Jesus' name will be invoked.
Now I'm sure if you asked everyone there, they wouldn't see anything wrong with asking their fellow co-workers to pray to Jesus -- because I'm sure they assume their co-workers would be doing it anyway. I mean we're all Black right? We all like greens, we all play Donny Hathaway during the holidays, we all think OJ's innocent, right? (at least for killing his wife. These new robbery charges look bad for Juice).
Oddly enough, we JUST had workplace harrassment training which of course focused primarily on grabbing ass and booty calendars. Not that I would even think of complaining, but when everyone in the room asks that you bow your head and pray, you can imagine a hostile environment were you to raise your hand and say "Pardon me, I'm not yet convinced there is a God or that Jesus was related to him in anyway, so I'm go ahead and chow down on these mashed potatoes."
Who knows, maybe folks would be understanding that a heathen works amongst them. Or maybe not. I'm not ready to test their understanding. Not ready for the questions, not while my paycheck is at stake.
So I made like a polite savage and grasped the hands of my co-workers (I heard later that one of my male co-workers actually moved during grace so he could avoid holding another man's hands -- no, he's not 10 years old, either) but I don't bow my head and I don't "Amen." Not that anyone knows (though I think some suspect), but I don't want to PRETEND to be something I'm not, even if everyone assumes that I really am that something. At the same time, I want to be a team player. For the same reason you laugh at an old person's joke, I just don't want to be rude.
I don't know if you can imagine, but those moments when my eyes are open and my neck extended, I feel like a deer standing in an empty field during hunting season. Except all the hunters are looking the other way, not aware of what looms feet away. If one breaks the format, if one of the faithful peeks -- I'm caught.
But, as I've said before, it's that moment I'm sadistically waiting for. Sweet exposure -- when my pretenses are laid bare and everyone discovers they've been working, laughing and living with a heathen, a non-believer. But I'm not here to mock -- ok, maybe a bit of mocking (see my entry about Jehovah's Witness). But I don't want to disrespect or belittle. Faith is important, for some. Not all. But some, and some of those people are my best friends, my family, the loves of my life.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
So . . . I get it. If you're not a Christian than it's just one well-lodged fishbone or three-car accident before you're burning for all of eternity. Right.
But as many times as I've seen this type of bumper sticker, it only recently occured to me to ask who this bumper sticker is for.
What if I'm a Jehovah's witness and don't believe in hell? Now what?
What if I believe in Allah or Buddah with the same solid fervor as the driver believes in Jesus?
What if I don't follow any religion?
More to the point, why would someone who supposedly follows a man referred to as a lamb, resort to such a pithy scare tactic to get you on their team? Why do some Christians feel the need to frighten you with promises of eternal damnation to recruit?
From what I can tell, many Christians have an inherent feeling of persecution (considering what happened to their leader, I kind of get it). THEY are afraid. So much of what they are taught -- or at least how they interpret it -- is fear-based.
God smites. He wipes out the earth on a whim. He sets down stead fast rules and then lets his own kid get snuffed. So if you think you're gonna get away with jerking off to a Victoria's Secret magazine, you are seriously, seriously mistaken.
And let's not fuck around -- fear IS a good motivator. It kept me in condoms (mostly) before I got married. It stops me from going over 80 miles an hour. It pays Brinks security $30 a month. But fear shouldn't be the ONLY motivator for choosing a religion or forging a relationship with god.
I would think you'd want to get to know god because he/she/it could bring you peace, everlasting love or endless brownies. Not just a doctor's note so you don't have to engage in an eternal game of hot foot. That's like trying to befriend the neighborhood bully so that he DOESN'T beat the shit out of you.
But I realize peace doesn't sell (though I think the brownies thing would). Sure there's the "No Justice, No Peace, Know Jesus, Know Peace" sticker, but it still implies that peace cannot be had without Jesus, without a specific belief system. Which all comes back to the fact that when it comes to religion -- it is do or die. There is no middle-ground, no room for error. Which would be great if we were talking about some objective truth. But we're talking about the teachings of a 2,000 year-old book written by people who didn't eat pork because they thought God would kill them for it. Shit, my parents can't even conclusively agree on exactly who attended their wedding -- a 30-year old event that they BOTH attended!
All of this uncertainty is frightening. And I truly believe that if I were a Christian, I would be afraid -- constantly. "Did that blow job in 1996 seal my fate?" "Did God see my dream where I slapped the shit out of my neighbor for letting his dog shit on my lawn?" Seriously, I'd consider suicide to get it over with if it wouldn't send me to hell.
So I guess I do understand the fear many Christians feel and how it shows itself in their bumper stickers. However, I don't think they consider how the things they say and paste on their Honda Civics sound to the ears of a non-believer.
Just in case one of you is reading, it sounds like close-minded, spiritual bullying. The promise of hell is not a good recruiting tool -- unless you're trying to build up the other team.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Oh yeah, and the JW's that visit my house -- they've read my blog, too. They thought it was funny; which is . . . funny, I guess. I don't know what kind of reaction I wanted from them but "liking it" wasn't the one I thought of first. However, my wife has thus informed me that while they were very interested to read the blog about my trip to their Kingdom Hall, after they read it, they stopped asking about the blog altogether. I'm not sure how to take that.
Anyway, I hope Tomsheepandgoats will be my unofficial guide into the JW faith. You know how White folks ask their Black friends all the race questions that have been bugging them ("do you really think O.J. is innocent?")? Now I have someone to pepper with minutia ("Do you guys claim the Jacksons or are they the Black sheep [beige sheep] of the JW family?).
All that to say, people are reading my blog which feels like a big success considering that I have not done one iota of marketing or hyping. So read on and enjoy the sweet, sweet blasphemy.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Death is everywhere lately.
In the time since my last post, I attended the funeral of a former colleague and good work-friend. My boss lost a relative and my other co-worker lost two of his family members.
"It comes in threes," is the wisdom I hear around work; an non-sensical expression when you consider how many people die around the world each day. Hell, forget the world. Do you know how many people die each day in Montgomery County, MD every day? I don't. But I'm sure it's a lot more than three. Do you think people in Darfur have this saying? I can just imagine a woman comforting her child saying "It comes in 300's." I don't know, it just seems terribly narcissitic and troublesome to think of God's plan for knocking people off is based on your wireless network's Friends and Family plan.
Anyway, I say all this because my impending death has been a matter of discourse lately and not just because a good friend has passed. No, my death was literally handed to me by my lovely daughter, Harlem. At six, the child is working on becoming the first Black goth girl in history. Not that she's gloomy or wears dark eye shadow, but she's got a real curiosity about death. Not really fear, like say, her fear of trying any healthy foods. Just a constant interest in morbid affairs.
Everything, in her eyes, leads to death.
"What happens if I eat too much junk food?" She quizzed me the other day while I was taking a shit.
"You may get fat and very unhealthy."
"And then what?" She needles.
"Well, you could get very sick."
"And then what?" The child is relentless.
"Well you would have to go the hospital and . . . ."
"And then I would die, right?"
Ok, so the answer is yes. And honestly, I try not to avoid discussing death or any of the hard questions in life, but seriously, it's a bit of a downer when your child peppers you with morbid facts like a pint-sized, afro-puffed grim reaper. I suppose it's healthy that she's not afraid of death yet, nevertheless, it doesn't make for great conversation after a meal at Chic-Fil-A.
Oh, right so Harlem brings me a hand-drawn picture the other day and places it in my hands -- expecting her normal approval for her artistic skill. Of course, I give it to her but not before noticing the image of a man laying in the ground (with a headstone reading R.I.P.) and X's over his eyes.
"Honey," I tread lightly, "can you tell me about this picture?"
Sensing nothing troubling about doodling corpses while watching Spongebob, she happily jumps in my lap and runs down the scene.
"The dead man in the picture is you daddy. And see this little girl . . . . " she points to a girl in a dress, her mouth a huge "O" of shock . . . "That's me when I heard that you died. And then, that's me again crying . . . " The second picture of her is classic cartoon boo-hooing as tears fly off her face like fleas jumping ship.
"Uh, huh." I answered stunned. "And who's this man flying?"
"Oh that's you when you turn into an angel. See the circle." She was referring to the perfect halo around "my" head.
I kissed her head and sent her on her way, stifling the impulse to ask her if she saw how I died or if she drew any pictures of us winning the lottery.
My eyes were drawn back to the angel. To my knowledge, we've never discussed angels. In fact, the BIG question -- "what happens after you die?" -- is sort a mystery for me, and thus, trying to be an upfront and honest parent (except for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy) I admit my ambiguity about life after death.
"I don't know honey," I've answered several times. "Some people think you go to heaven. Some people think you come back as a new baby and some people think nothing happens." She has yet to ask me what I think, but I assume when asks I'll have an answer (and for those wondering why I didn't include hell in these after life scenarios, it's because I don't believe in such a place and I also think you're a lousy parent if you tell your six year old that they even have the slightest chance of such a fate).
Truth is, I don't know what happens after death and I don't think that any one else does either. We've got theories -- actually, theories can be tested. We've got ideas, hopes, dreams and wishes but no proof beyond the texts we put faith in. But let's be honest with ourselves when we say we "know" that heaven and hell exist when these are concepts handed to us as children. If your parents had brought you up in a faith that dictated that life after death consisted of picking tomatoes on Mars, you'd probably be just as convinced of that scenario than playing harps in God's eternal symphony. I don't say all of this as if I have the answer, cause I don't. I lean toward a big nothing -- a cease of all thought. But I've experienced some ghostly happenings and so I don't rule that out. I'd like to believe my loved ones are experiencing eternal bliss in the clouds (though I guess once we went into space, heaven had to relocate someplace a bit higher otherwise we would have see Uncle Jesse on our way to the moon) but when I consider the source, a book that contends that the devil is real and that a man fit two of every animal on a boat, I come away at the very least skeptical and, most often, dismissive.
But the fact that my daughter already has a working concept that includes angels (which I won't begrudge her) tells me two things:
1. She WANTS to know what happens after the big goodnight
2. It is next to impossible to grow up in the U.S. and not be a borderline Christian. It's like hamburgers and going to the movies -- it's part of the culture. Christianity is in our laws, our speech (Who doesn't say "Jesus Christ!"), our customs ("God bless you."). So her new belief in angels is not exactly shocking and yet, it is.
Overall, I think it's evidence that children will find their own answers if you don't supply them with something satisfactory. Now, my mother-in-law would see this child's instinctual belief in angels ("belief" might be a strong word as she's never discussed angels before or after) as proof of the concept -- something about innocents seeing truths better than adults. Like I said, I can't prove or disprove angels, but Harlem's drawn pictures of flying pigs (seriously) too, but I don't peek up at the sky waiting for pig shit to fall on me.
NEXT UP: Thumper Stickers
Sunday, September 23, 2007
So, I'm sitting in Kingdom Hall last Saturday wondering if I was going to go off during service or wait till after the service to curse out the annoying White woman sitting four seats down from me.
Wait. Let me back up. Perhaps I should start this entry a bit differently. Let me first answer the question -- "what the hell am I doing at Kingdom Hall?"
Answer: Much to my mother-in-law's chagrin (and surprisingly my mother's as well), my wife has been talking with a group of Jehovah's Witnesses for over a year. She still doesn't buy their ban on holidays and refusal of blood transfusions, but genuinely digs that they explain their faith in plain-english. Oh yeah, and the JW's don't believe in hell which is a HUGE plus for my wife as she doesn't want to believe in it either, but still really does. Similar to the way, I don't WANT to think Michael Jackson touched those boys but . . . . Anyway, coupled with the fact that our neighbor has joined their ranks, my wife felt compelled to go. And thus, my first trip to Kingdom Hall.
Got it? So back to the annoying White woman.
Seated four seats down from me is this White woman and her husband. I note that there are White because the congregation of JWs at this particular Hall was surprisingly Black. In my mind, JW's are White. But I realize that's because I confuse them with Mormons -- who are mostly White (and should be -- SHAME on you Gladys Knight). It's like Japanese and Chinese food -- if they both come in white, folding boxes with eggrolls, my mind doesn't really make any distinctions.
Judging by the Hall, the JW's are not a very festive folk. It looked no different than a hotel conference room. The walls were a bare, light blue with only a two-line scripture painted on it. The pastor (not sure JW's use that title), was a White guy who, if they made a movie about him, would be played by William H. Macy. You know, kind of dorky with a combover and a "Welcome to Home Depot" voice. He was up there in an everyday blue suit standing behind a small podium. Neither pomp nor circumstance.
I mention all this to say that with no offensive paintings White Jesuses (Jesi?) on the wall or sychophantic "yes-men" catching the ghost every five seconds, the only thing to pay attention to was the pastor-dude-guy on stage -- which, as an adult, was hard enough. So I was impressed that my six-year old daughter and her three friends -- oh, did I mention we went with our neighbor and four children? -- were sitting quietly and sharing my notebook to scribble on.
Apparently, the White woman was NOT impressed and consistently shushed the girls. Being a guest, I didn't speak up right away -- and was actually a bit relieved to get some parenting help -- but judging by her reaction she was appalled by the kids' occassional giggles. As I understand it, the JW's expect children to follow the day's lesson along in their bibles -- a vain attempt at best. I'm no expert on Black churches, but for all their children's bibles they don't really EXPECT them to read it. Which brings me to two points:
1. I don't even want to read my child the bible yet, let alone let some strange White woman go "Reading Rainbow" on my daughter. For all the good in the book, there's still lots of dangerous stuff in there, too (I'm looking at you Leviticus).
2. Who the FUCK does Kathy think she is? These children are in MY house each weekend. I'M the one who takes them places, sees them at the bus stop every morning.
However, Kathy DID know their names and the children HAD been to this Hall several times so I didn't want to cause a scene. Instead, I had my daughter sit closer to me as a visual cue to keep Kathy's judgmental mitts off my child's undeveloped theology.
With Kathy out of the picture, I was eager to get to the Q and A portion of the service my wife had been particularly excited about. I too was anxious to see folks actively discuss their faith and, hope of hopes, ask some questions.
Yeah, well . . . the "Q&A" portion should be renamed the "Ooh, ooh, pick me first" session. They have two guys who tag-team read from "The Watchtower" -- you know that JW magazine they hand out and you throw away. One guy reads the article while the other reads the questions at the bottom of the pages and fields answers. Seriously, it was as intellectually stimulating as a third grade book report on soil.
The sad part was, nobody else realized how boring it was. You'd think that after years of high school, they'd know that the quickest way to stop the teacher from talking was NOT to raise your hand all the damn time. But no. These guys are a bunch of first-row students who just had to have their turn to spit back -- verbatim, no less -- what they had just read. As a former first-row student, I know the glee of having the teacher smile on you and affirm your suspicion that your brighter than most of your peers, but come on - 18 goddamn questions! What should have been five minutes turned into an hour of people vomiting back the answers everyone wanted.
There was not a hint of questioning, no sense of individual intepretation or doubt. Just all-consuming agreement -- the exact thing I dislike about organized religion and the main reason I don't want my children mainlined with the stuff.
After the service, I met back up with my wife and two-year old daughter, previously quarantined in a soundproof glass room because they were too noisy -- no shit. We glad-handed everyone while my wife politely lied (sorta) about coming back. But I noticed an intense interest on their part about how I felt about the service. I felt immediate regret for bringing my notebook -- "No ma'am, I'm not studying to be a better Christian. I'm notes for a snarky heathenistic blog where I'm liable to make fun of Kathy and a lot of your belief system."
"So what did you think of the service?" They asked.
How the hell do I answer that? Not honestly, I know that much. Instead I gave the most noncommital answer I could; "It was interesting." Which, like a jilted lover still looking for hope, they interpreted as "I still love you" as opposed to "I can't stand being around you."
During the ride home, my wife confirmed what I just KNEW had to be true. She finally confessed that the JW's were really keen on getting ME to Kingdom Hall. It's like my wife was the hot girl they were dating for a year only to realize she had an even hotter roomate -- me. Weird, gender-bending analogy aside, that's not to say they're not concerned with my wife's soul, but COME ON whose the bigger catch here -- the lapsed-Baptist or her heathen husband, a virtual virgin waiting to be taken (or so they see it -- I guess). I imagine they talk about converting me the way college boys talk about deflowering the new crop of freshmen girls.
What they don't know and are probably less ready to accept is that I'm a tease. I'm that girl with the big ass who wears short skirts, dances dirty and NEVER calls you back. I'll sit, talk and discuss. I'll even show up to service, but what they don't get is that I'm not looking to date. I'm happily married to my own non-existent theology and not looking to step out.
But what hit me most is that my wife IS looking to date. She wants a church home ("I wouldn't go every week, or even every month" she tells me), a place to go that makes sense to her. And I've told her, no matter what, I would go to support (and to keep an eye on what they teach my kids) as long as she didn't lose her sense of individuality and reason. But, in this area of our marriage, I have nothing to offer her -- literally. I would lie if I said it didn't worry me a bit, that I can't meet a need my wife has. But I trust her when she says she loves my point of view and knows I want the best for her -- even if its not the best for me.
However, if she changes our outgoing phone message to end with "have a blessed day" we're getting divorced.
NEXT UP: "Daddy, the dead man in the picture is you."
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Sorry it took me so long to get back to the story but here I am. So, I've set up WHY religion makes me both gut-twistingly anxious and new-movie trailer excited, so now you just sit back and relax as I spin a comedy of errors known as Labor Day Service at my mother-in-law's new church. It's sacrilicious!
There's a scene in the 1970s version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (the end really, so stop reading if you're still a "body" virgin) where we follow our hero Donald Sutherland as he seemingly sneaks through the mindless masses of the now alien-invaded American population around him. He's walking through a park or something, looking as vacant-eyed and robotic as the next alien when a still-human friend of his sneaks up to him and says "hey, it's me." At that moment, Donald's eyes go wide, he points an accusatory finger and out of his stretched mouth comes a ghastly howl -- an exterrestrial "intruder alert" siren letting all the other body snatchers that this woman is not one of them. Every moment at church feels like the second before that awful howl -- like I'm about to be exposed as a fake, as someone who doesn't belong. And I kind of like it that way.
The first howl-worthy moment came in the parking lot where four surly older men were directing those eager for church into their appropriate spaces. In what I think is just fucking poetic, I go and park in the exact opposite way as everyone else. Apparently, when coming to God's house you park facing out -- "thou shall not showest God the backside of your SUV." After a stern look from a man who looked remarkably like Louis Gosset Jr in a bright orange saftey vest, I followed the flock and parked accordingly.
After entering church (and NOT bursting into flames, thank you very much) we bumped into my wife's older cousin who did a double-take (complete with Looney Tunes sound effects) when he saw us. "Wow, it's so nice to see the whole family here. What brings you to church today?" He asked. "Obligation," I said (ok, I thought it). But the truth behind the question, at least as I see it, is "how did you convince HIM to come?"
Once seated and began the never-ending dance of "last things" which include two or three trips to the car for must-haves like bottles, coloring books and such. On my last trip back to the pew (coloring books in hand), the very nice man whose job it is to open the doors, joked "You going back anytime soon?"
Now, I didn't quite hear what he said (my mind reconstructed the phrase two seconds too late) but it was uttered in the same tone as strangers on the elevator complain about Mondays or the weather for which I have an array of absent-minded replies like "I feel you" or "I know what that's like." For some reason, I reached into my mental grab bag and pulled out "I wish" as in "I wish I was going back out that door." Technically a Freudian slip, I was still mortified that the kernel of truth had slipped out so early in the game, I had not even taken my seat and already the jig was up. Fortunately, for me I don't think he heard me because the church police (the Christables maybe?) didn't escort me out.
Service began with a really nice song and then the Pastor began by discussing how a recent spate of deaths had humbled him and, in a gesture of humility, he said he would preach on his knees. Now this SOUNDS good when you picture it in a book or hear about such a thing, but to watch it in person was . . . . well, it was at the very least chuckle-funny. And after about 45 seconds of him stumping around on his knees I let out a discernable giggle which I quickly metamorphasized into a cough to cover up -- it worked.
Also worth laughing about were the church brown-nosers. Apparently a fixture at most Black services, the brown-nosers are the folks who are either paid or want to be paid to respond to every.single.word.the.pastor.utters. In this case it was a very tall, manicured-man and his equally well-groomed wife who sat center pew providing a steady stream of "uh-huh" or "tell it" all the while holding rapt looks on their faces as if they were witnessing an actual miracle. They stood and clapped whenever the pastor got on a roll and loudly said "that's right" to ensure the pastor (and everyone else) that they both understood and agreeed with his statements. Needless to say, this exhibit had me just fueled my heathenistic rage.
Why, you ask. Because the brown-noser lays bare one of my biggest complaints about organized religion -- the performance. Though I have no religion, I still want it to be pure to the people who do. I want it to be a very meaningful experience free of social vices but as I have seen, it is quite the opposite. What I mostly see at church is a group exercise -- a well-rehearsed, but highly improvised show without nuance and questionable honesty.
I mean, it's a given that the pastor is a performer -- he literally gets a stage and is announced like boxer ("in this corner, wearing the pinstriped Eduardian suit and several oversized rings, is your pastor . . . ) before coming out to walk, talk, sweat and dance. The audience, much like the Apollo crowd during children's amateur night, has its role as well -- to clap and approve. I use the Apollo crowd analogy for a reason. Only the very mean would boo a child, so while in ALL other cases the Apollo audience is told to speak their mind, they are instructed only to praise the children.
I'm not advocating that we start winging tomatoes at little Quanisha during her screeching rendition of "His Eye is on the Sparrow." But I AM saying that church is not set up to have any meaningful discourse on the fate of your eternal soul. It IS a place to join a performance on how you think you should feel about the fate of your eternal soul. That's not to say that the brown-nosers are complete fakes or that everyone sitting and listening is in complete agreement with lead actor, but from where I'm sitting it's hard to tell.
One last note: I took communion for the first time -- a perverse thrill I might add having seen it in movies so many times. Though I must admit I thought only Catholics did such a thing, so imagine my surprise when they started handing out the crackers and grape juice. They were a little bland, but after 90 minutes of coveting my childrens juice boxes, that splash of Welch's hit the spot.
The best part was that my mother-in-law got to see her grandchildren in church and got to show off her daughter and her dutiful husband to her friends. The entire visit was, after all a show, but in this case, one worth dressing up for.
Ok, I know that sounds all maudlin, but I'm serious so fuck off if you can't stomach geniune, sappy sentiment.
NEXT TIME: "Knock-knock." "Who's there?" "The Jehovah's witnesses."
Monday, September 3, 2007
About a week before the Labor Day weekend, my wife informed me that we would be attending her mother's church. She said this in the same tone that one might say "I want you to know that I've been screwing the mailman" or any other life-shattering phrase that is usually prefaced by asking someone to sit down.
Going to church is not a life-shattering event for me nor is it entirely pleasant either -- it's like a trip to the dentist for a deep cleaning. Yes, it will be uncomfortable (and there will be a co-pay) but hopefully its all over in an hour or so and you go back to what you were doing (in my case, NOT going to church). But my wife is not stupid, she knows that going to church signals deap-seated and dueling feelings of inadequacy and just-above-a-whisper sense of superiority. As best as I can recall, this all stems from a religion course I took in college (cue the wavy memory lines).
I don't remember having any alternative motives for taking the class other than pure, academic curiosity. I found the idea a book handed down by God an exciting one, even if only from an intellectual view point. However, the teacher (who, in my memory, is played by Cedric the Entertainer with a pronouced lisp) did not exercise the same sense of educational detachment as I did. He was a Baptist minister who wore his collar to class -- a fashion choice that signaled to me that the chapters on Christianity may count a little more toward my final grade than the one on Islam.
On the first day, Rev. Entertainer was taking attendance and was not only asking for everyone's names but their religious affiliations as well (something my parents always told me to mark as Christian as not to call undue attention to myself -- naturally, I didn't listen). As the question wound its way around the room (and 99% of my classmates claiming themselves Christians), I battled with the phrasing of my answer. "Athiest" was too strong a word and not entirely accurate while "Agnostic" had an unpleasent cultish-ring to it. Still, I wanted to have a tidy answer like everyone else without launching into a discussion about my philosoph-loving parents.
Truthfully, I was both proud and ambivalent about my religious stature. At that point, my non-believer status had almost zero impact on my daily life. I still celebrated Christmas and Easter (a lame holiday made even more lame when you don't buy the whole savior bit) but didn't have to wake up early on Sundays. All the fun, none of the existential guilt.
Finally, my turn came I finally spoke the rehearsed words in my head, "I don't practice any religion." I might as well have said "I eat live babies and shit R. Kelly CDs" as Rev. Entertatiner did a cartoonish-double take and stuttered "Well what duth that mean?" (he lisps, remember). So I clarified, "I was raised without any religious affiliation."
I would find the good reverend's reaction repeated on the faces of many others as I grew older. Aside from basic confusion, the underlying tone of his response was of revulsion and pity -- neither of which I appreciated and fortified myself against by announcing my belief system with confidence. It's not a secret or a point of shame. But it's hard to convince a teacher, a classroom or anyone really, that NOT believing is neither the result or poor parenting or conscious rebellion. No one believes that you can just go without and therefore assumes that my lack is orchestrated.
What no one is prepared for is that fact that life is still sweet, still mysterious and good without believing in heaven or hell. The simple truth I have discovered is that, unless you are raised to believe as a child -- when your brain is hardwiring language, sight and beliefs -- it is next to impossible and almost unneccessary to practice any religion. The stories are too wild, the rules too strict for any real conformity. Instead, I believe most people glean the truths they see from it and continue to pay bills, go to Disneyland and buy flat-screen TVs.
But these are not welcomed thoughts, especially not in a Black church where the word of the day is "Jesus" and everyone feels they are two steps from hell despite their good deeds. Nevertheless, I can't help but think them and almost say them out loud everytime I step foot in a church. But more on that in part two.
Friday, August 24, 2007
This all started because of Mel Gibson.
No doubt you remember the release of "The Passion of the Christ" -- Gibson's blood-soaked valentine to his personal savior. Like everyone else, I was intrigued (if not slightly enraged) to see about Jesus' last excruiating hours on earth spoken in a dead language and using White actors. Unlike most folks, I was a film critic at the time so it was actually part of my job to see "Passion." Despite the spectacular cinematography (note to Mel: cut the slow-mo by half and you are golden), the film left me underwhelmed. Not to mention, Mel could go through the trouble of making a film in fucking Aramaic but not hire someone from at least the same continent as the J-man? Talk about holy shit. But I digress.
My real issue with the film is that in telling the story of perhaps the most well-known man on earth (next to David Beckham -- which is sad, by the way), Mel made no attempt to make the audience invest in Jesus as a man or character. Instead he was literally a whipping boy, an avatar for religious fervor, guilt or whatever. Quick insight into my movie review method: I tried to come into each film as if I was an alien with no pre-judgments. In that respect, Mel failed to make me care about this Jewish carpetner who literally got the shaft.
My initial review was met by my editor with its usual amount of redline edits and an unusual amount of hair pulling. "Black people will kill us if we publish," she said. I'm no idiot, I know how touchy religion is -- you can't live in a society that considers the phrase "Happy Holidays" an attack on religious freedom without knowing that even a lukewarm review might be met with a few letters to the editor. But fuck it, the beauty of writing reviews (or blogs) is you get to legitimize all your navel gazing, right?But, as it was impressed upon me, EVERYONE knows the story of Jesus and that our sympathy is assumed. Hmm, really? If Mel had directed the "Passion of the Allah" would American audiences be expected to bone up the Koran before plunking down $20 at the multiplex or would we lambast Mel "I Love Jews" Gibson for not giving enough background? Since that's a rhetorical question, the answer is B. But that's not acceptable when writing for Black folks, who we assume are all card-carrying Baptists (or should be).
That's where I and this blog come in. I'm not a Baptist or a Christian for that matter. I'm not religious at all. And not in that I-grew-up-in-the-church-but-am-currently-disenchanted-enough-to-restate-myself-as-"spiritual" kind of way, either. No, I was raised without any real concept of God, the devil or hell. Jesus, as it were, was something for other folks like garden gnomes or velvet paintings. My parents, in all their early-70's free thinking decided (no shit -- this is a quote from my father) "we would raise you like the French philosophs." Basically, instead of indoctrinating me at birth with a religion I would have no real chance of analyzing objectively, they raised me with no religion and left the choice to me. I imagine they had lofty dreams of weekend trips to mosques, synagouges, temples and whatever buildings buddhists praise in as I soaked up the good and bad like a sponge. But, you know, life gets in the way and you never really get around to it. Besides, I was a pretty good kid so they figured, what they hell.
Anyway, figuring I should find out what is it about Jesus everyone already knows, I ended up reading the bible ("reading" is defined as half of the old testament and all of the new testament -- with a highlighter no less), something that I found incredibly enlightening and, to a large degree, self-affirming. But more on that later.
As for now, sit back and enjoy as I bring you regular dispatches from the Third Kingdom (that's the lower-income heaven that Black Mormons go to -- at least until 1970-something when they got all "equal rights"). You'll meet lovable characters like my Deacon-in-the-making mother-in-law, my God-fearing boss, my religiously-ambigous wife, my death-obsessed daughter and my overwhelming fear/desire of exposing my heathenistic ways to all that would be offended.
Remember you can't spell blasphemy without "me."