Well, it didn’t last long, but I did get out to the universe some things that really bothered me. I find I just do not have the patience or the time–or the inclination–to keep up a blog, so it is now officially closed. Thanks to those who followed this very short journey.
I wonder what ever happened to good, old-fashioned manners and civility. With the advent of global communication and “social networks”, it seems both those qualities have gone the way of the dinosaur. Perhaps because those who are normally nasty to others, anyway, can now “hide” behind a computer identity, real or false. Safety in distance. Easier to “tweet”, comment, or post a first response. Letters take time to both write and mail. Emotions cool. Eye contact is uncomfortable, so just don’t make it a person to person thing until one gets the hang of nastiness. Or, as these people so like to put it, “honesty”.
Perhaps we have applauded for too long the insipid, catty, and trite put-downs brought to us by the media, both news and entertainment, and the ability to broadcast to the masses the nastiness people spew at others who do not think as they do. Maybe insipidity, cattiness, and triteness are now “smart” and “edgy”. Real 21st century. The “put-down” as art form. Perhaps it has just become the norm with “instant” messaging and open comments, and carries over into physical reality.
Whatever is going on, snide commentators have huge followings. People get a lot of entertainment out of the “witty “and nasty repartee between characters. Disrespect and nastiness prevails whether in the workplace, the town-hall meeting, the family, the educational institution, the church, or the social gathering. Even in Congress. And , among those of all ages. Practice of the art form of the put-down and name calling is especially available on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or any of the social networks and comment sections that connect people without them having to make eye contact with another human. Instant retaliation to something with which they disagree. Instant gratification in the lowest form of communication. Perhaps the inclination has always been there—indeed, history shows that it has—but, it is more difficult to look another person in the face and call him/her a hodgepodge of names from a to z. Or write a letter. Not an e-mail, but a letter. So , when global communication came about, perhaps it became just OK to be nasty. Practice, after all, does make perfect. Sharpens the barbs. Becomes a habit. Dehumanizes the target. Whether that person is a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. So, it became easier to do it in person. Perhaps those who deliver such diatribes really ARE, as they put it, just being “honest”. With everyone but themselves, that is. Honest? Maybe. Hurtful and inflammatory? Certainly.
Of course, nasty people have always existed. In politics. In entertainment. In life. In “friendships”. In families. But, should I applaud their “coming out” and saying what comes to mind, regardless of whether it is hurtful to another, while they hide behind a telephone line or a computer screen? Or thank them to their face because the habit of “honesty” has developed and grown into the ability to be nasty person-to-person in a physical reality? Should I applaud their sense of “honesty”?
Perhaps I’m old-fashioned. Perhaps I’m out of touch. But, to me, kindness overrides. A “white lie” is one that saves feelings. “Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far” carries more weight with me than some misplaced idea of “honesty”. Even as a non-Christian, Proverbs 15:1 makes perfect sense. Behind every computer screen is a human being. Behind every cynical face is a human being. Behind every thought, right or wrong (and that is certainly relative), there is a human being. I just don’t think hurting someone’s feelings in the quest for honesty is the right thing to do. I believe politeness and civility go further to help a confrontational situation than a nasty put-down or snide remark. But, perhaps I just don’t get it.
I made a decision early this week to close out my Facebook site—actually, the decision was made during my therapy, which just so happened to be on 1/11/11. I don’t mind social networking, but it is really, really distracting and addictive. There were several reasons for this decision: first, I find myself finally in a position where I can think about going back to work (the drug combination the doctors have me on is working wonders) and secondly, I really need to distance myself from other people for awhile. When, and if, I return, I will—more than likely—“friend” most of the same people over again, because I’ve enjoyed getting to know them or renewing old friendships. But, for right now, I need to be solitary. And very, very quiet. And reflective. Most of the people on my friend list, I will keep in contact with through e-mail. I’ll miss a lot of news, but for me, going “cold turkey” is the best way to deactivate a habit.
I don’t know why this feeling comes over me, this need to be alone, but I know I need to follow where it leads. That it happens in cycles probably seems odd to some, but I’m also sure some will understand. In any case, I am certainly not surrounded by people. My son spends the vast majority of his time reading, writing, and studying. Plus, he is the quiet sort. My husband is at the lab from 8:30 A.M. through oftentimes 7:30 P.M. and sometimes beyond. When he is not there, he is studying for his final classes and comprehensive examinations due to be taken at the end of summer—as well as doing the normal repair, maintenance, etc. work that is a part of having vehicles, homes, and so forth. I do not socialize up here in the tundra (I’ve never been, nor will I ever be, the “let’s do lunch” sort) nor do I spend much time on the phone. But, still, there it is—people. Who are, by the very nature of being people, distracting., especially to an empath like myself. And whose problems and bits and pieces of everyday life find their way into my consciousness, prompting me to respond, worry, or stew. I’ll still talk to my closest friends, and my family, as well as follow the blogs of those who have them, but that is not the distraction having a certain number of friends online at my fingertips entails.
I am going to spend this time in further reflection, in meditation, in research, in writing. My guess is that it has a lot to do with the close of year seven for me, which will come in the spring. A seven year, as I have mentioned, is a year of introspection. For some, the New Year brings the beginning of a personal year. For me, it seems to always be my birth month. Whichever way one looks at it, the seventh year in the nine year cycle is a year to reflect on the past and plan for the future. This year, which in its countdown months, is presenting itself as a time in which I am clear-headed for the first time in a long time (also due to the medications) and can actively write and research to my heart’s (and mind’s) content. For those who dismiss numerology as hogwash, so be it. But, my life does have a series of patterns, based upon the nine year time cycle. And, I’m not going to argue with my intuition to go with that flow.
In a year or so, hopefully less time than we think, our lives will again be turned upside down, and we will be making a decision as to whether we stay or leave the area. This excursion up here in the frozen tundra of upstate New York has been a rough one, for both my husband and for myself. And, out of all of the six years up here, this year has by far been the most troubling—almost as bad as my two year. For the first ten months, debilitating and persistent pain, as well as other troubling symptoms, kept me pretty much housebound, taking medical tests, or going to many, many specialists. My thoughts were mostly in dealing with pain, from which I know I learned some very valuable lessons, among them the acceptance of myself as I am. As far as my husband goes, skilled and dedicated scientists are usually in demand, although it took him almost a year—his three year–to be in the position he currently holds when the one for which we came up here was like fitting a round peg in a square hole. But, for me, the recession that started in the 1970’s and has pretty much continued in this area, effectively killed most new opportunities in the field of education. I do not know the “right people”, nor have I been physically able to make the contacts I needed, or scour around for the sources I could use. The university cut-backs have meant the positions are already filled when they are advertised by those already within the system, and the classes I was assured would be picked up were lost in the bureaucracy of a pretty much bankrupt state. The same goes for the public and private schools. And, getting NYS certification really was just not worth my time, as the cost was prohibitive without at least a remote prospect of a teaching position. All this was as the universe dictated. Each and every time I tried, my illness would return full force. Or, the position would not be funded. Or, it would not materialize in a number of ways. Or, I just didn’t get it. Now, as we face a major decision, I want to be prepared, emotionally, physically, and academically, for what lies ahead, whether it be in volunteerism or teaching. In short, I am compelled right now to FOCUS. I’ll let my instinct lead to the specificity of that focus. But focus I must. Because I feel a change coming, and the time will be right.
My blog posts will, more than likely, represent that focus. I have a lot of unanswered questions, and several avenues from which to choose. Like Frost, I will probably choose the road less traveled—just as I have always done. That rarely traveled road has put me in some tough positions, and has certainly seen its share of obstacles, but following my heart has always meant I would not be bored. And I will listen closely to what the universe is saying. I will be quiet so I can hear it.
So, Friday my Facebook site will be discontinued, at least for a time. And the work begins as I listen to the universe and lay the groundwork for my personal future.
In the wake of the Giffords tragedy, I’ve been trying to put my thoughts in order. The young man who was the shooter is still, in many ways, a mystery. He is non-cooperative with the police, no one knows really what his true motives were, and most agree that he was seriously mentally disturbed. That he had no known connection with Sarah Palin and her “cross-fire” website, no known connection with the rabid right wing, has not stopped speculation. Political motivation, not surprisingly, was the first place the authorities looked when creating a profile. So, even though there are no obvious connections, that was the can of worms that was opened. And, now that it is opened, there is no stopping it. It has been too long in the coming.
The left wing is pushing. For too long, the left has been the target of the virulent ranting of Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, et al. The right wing is pushing back. There is, after all, absolutely no connection between the shooters and the Tea Party radicals that has been found. Both sides, as well as those in the middle of both sides, are frantically attempting to defend themselves or blame others through all forms of media. Reports of violence on both ends are being dug up and dragged into the discussions over and over again. Who is right? Who is wrong? Why, when at most the shooter is simply a seriously troubled young man who snapped, is the focus on the idea that violent rhetoric is the public danger at this time?
It won’t be long until someone on one side or the other will cry, “CONSPIRACY!”. What drew us together as a nation in the wakes of tragedies such as 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, this event, and other national tragedies, will be poked at and prodded until it becomes a galvanizing symbol for one politician or the other. The battle cry will ring, and off we will go again. Palin will once again have people in her “cross-hairs”. The rumors will fly that Homeland Security suspects right-wing involvement. The right wing will rant. The left wing will rave. The nuts of either side will get nuttier. And things will stay, well, pretty much the same, except now there will be yet another poster for the insanity. Another example through which to inflame the public. The media will cater to the lowest common denominator– an angry, exhausted, and suspicious public– to further their personal goals, issues, and popularity. And the amount in their bank accounts. Or the votes. And, as happens most of the time, a gullible public will fall in line. On both sides.
I can see both sides. I do feel that a good point is that the violent rhetoric must stop and civility must be restored, as the nastiness has just gone too far. Friends are divided. Families are divided. Anger is, once again, threatening to cloud the issue, as long-held animosities are brought into the fray. Yet, I do agree that there was no obvious involvement of the young shooter with the right wing fringe. There is even speculation about the involvement of the young man with the occult. Will that lead to persecution of innocent Wiccans and Pagans? Much as the controversial mosque plans close to Ground 0 led to the persecution against Muslims? Was Laughner anti-Semitic, which has also been suggested? Will the truth, when it comes out, just lead to more division, as one side or the other gains the upper hand on issues that have little or nothing to do with the actual crime?
The issue of violent rhetoric has little or nothing to do with the actual shooting. But, the issue is now on the table, largely because of the state we are in as a nation, and there can really be no going back, as both sides now have to save face. So, what do we do? Where do we go from here? Will we allow yet another polarizing event to further our antagonism towards one another? Or will we take the issue that has arisen out of this senseless tragedy and realize it was articulated for a reason—the reason being that the anger and violent attitudes people have towards one another because of differences in opinion is so close to the surface that the first thoughts in peoples’ minds in the face of a national tragedy is that of a conspiracy on the part of one side or the other. That people, the backbone of this country, are being USED by unscrupulous talking heads and politicians to further polarize the nation through vicious rhetoric.
Giffords has been threatened before because of her stand on various issues. So have members of her family. Politicians on both sides have faced the possibility, and the actuality, of threats of bodily harm to themselves or to their loved ones. That this issue is uppermost on the consciousness of the nation has been proven, once again, by the way the chips fly when a tragedy occurs. That the useability of this tragedy is uppermost on the minds of those who are either on the defense or the offense, and have something to gain, is tragic, in and of itself. That the whole mess of violent rhetoric has just gone too far is the most tragic aspect of all, because it reflects the attitudes of an entire nation. Violent rhetoric does inspire violence in people who are on the knife-edge of despair, or mental illness, or discouragement, or anger, and it is no surprise that this rhetoric was the first thing people looked at when the details of the shooting hit the airwaves. I’ve had it directed at me, personally. It is frightening. It needs to be calmed, to become rational discourse between those who disagree, not inflammatory efforts to inspire fear in an already frightened public. Yet, the pointing of fingers before the facts are out must be stopped, as well. We are either going to draw together as a country or we will fall apart.
So, while I do feel that the issue of violent rhetoric should be addressed in the wake of this tragedy, both sides, from the politicians down to the very backbones of this country, the people, should take this as a wake-up call and stop acting like children. The right wing isn’t evil. The left wing isn’t evil. Democracy isn’t perfect. Communism isn’t of the devil. People do as people will do. Difference is not deficit. We are not all zombies on the same path. Nor do we have to be. Yet. The point is, will we learn from the tragedies we face as a nation? Will we take the issues as they arise, relevant or not, but there, close enough to the surface so that they boil over and spew out in fresh waves each and every time a tragedy occurs, and address them in a civil and coherent manner? Or will we let the talking heads, the rabble rousers, the violent rhetoric by politicians on either side or in the middle, continue to lead us down a path from which there is no return?
Blogging has never come easy for me. I’ve started and stopped a half-dozen times. This is largely because, I am sure, of recurring bouts with depression, and during these bouts, it is hard enough to even get out of bed, let alone write. So, what am I depressed about? I have an adoring, brilliant, and much younger husband whom I love more every day. I have three children who, while they struggle, are fairly healthy, not into drugs or crime, and who all finished college. I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and a warm house in which to live. So, I shouldn’t have these horrible bouts with depression, which can last as long as three or four months. Depression which I could put down to a lot of things. About being stuck up here in the middle of the northern version of the backwoods of Appalachia. About having listened to the wrong people and getting two and almost three pretty much useless degrees, About having a chronic illness for which there is no cure. About being 55 and pretty much too old for anyone to even consider me for an academic position, especially since we moved to this backwater area of New York State. About being 55 and being told I am “over-qualified” for any position outside of academia. About dashed dreams. About just not being good enough. For anyone or anything. But, especially, not being good enough for myself. How everything I’ve attempted to do to raise myself up, has instead, many times, seen me dashed to smithereens upon the sacrificial rock of society—adding up to just one word: Failure. In my own eyes.
I think that a lot of us face disappointment in ourselves to one degree or the other, quite possibly more than we face disappointment in the eyes of others. For me, attaining for and reaching my goals– for which I put my so-so life at great risk—were to be a means to an end: get the hell out of a life where I was spiritually and emotionally suffocated. Or take the risks that would bring me to the disappointment I am forced to deal with today. Because life after the risks hasn’t been a piece of cake; I haven’t been able to taste that pie in the sky. But, really, is that the point of taking risks? So much of what we do to better ourselves, to change our lives, to follow a different path, to shake us out of inertia, comes with the warning: proceed at your own risk.
Because this is the thing. This is what keeps me plowing through depression, as hard as it may be. Although I still wonder how to get myself to the point where I am good enough for ME, I know one thing that makes even the periodic and troubling depression worth it. And that one thing is I took the risks. I didn’t settle for mediocrity. I didn’t settle for emotional abuse. I didn’t settle for making the best of a bad situation. I didn’t settle for so-so. I didn’t settle for staying safe. I set goals and some of those goals I did not meet. Some did not work out. Some did. Some knocked me flat on my face. So, while, yes, I am disappointed in myself, I am angry at ME, I have to struggle with periodic depression about certain circumstances being what they are, I am still better off than I was before risking everything. When I traded security for reaching for something better. When I realized that I could be depressed AND suffocated, or I could do something about it. So, now, when I suffer through these bouts, I know they will be self-limiting. I took those “leaps of faith” and jumped off the cliff with no safety net. I was bruised and battered when I reached the bottom of that cliff, but I was ALIVE. Some things were better. A few were worse. But, I experienced life rather than just allowing it to proceed while it numbed me into acceptance. I chose to BE, not just to be.
I’ve been very edgy this week. In a sense, because I’ve spent the week apart from my husband, who has been in Ohio helping my oldest son move. This is the first time we have been separated for this long since we married. So, I’ve been listlessly poking around on Facebook—with which I have a “like-dislike” relationship—in between baking and cleaning sprees. Facebook, of course, is the ultimate narcissistic tool. Some of my “friends” are conservative evangelical Christians, or just conservatives, or just evangelicals, or just Christians. Or any combination of the three. So are most of my family members, some of whom I have on “hide” because their posts are the ultimate in self-righteous narcissism, some of them so phony and sugary that they literally trigger a gag reflex. If you are reading this, I seriously doubt you are one of them. I think that is what I dislike the most about Facebook. What is posted by so many just comes across as phony. Religiousy, self-righteously, arrogantly phony. But, I have enough friends and family on there –and they are in the majority–with whom I want to stay in contact and share photos and updates with, as well as some friends and family members who post some really great stuff, that I keep my account open. And the vast majority of those on my friend list, even among the right-wing evangelical Christians, are just fine. I don’t know how long my relationship with Facebook will last, but it is as it is at this time. In response to some of the more galling posts, or just to get under the skin of some people, I will normally post an article, a status, or a quotation that is decidedly left-wing, anti-religion. Of course, I rarely get a response. I have a feeling I am on “hide posts” by some of my “friends”. Anyway. So many of these people are just so damn sure they are RIGHT all of the time, so convinced that they are the center of the universe, or that they have the ear of God in their pockets as they rattle off scripture and the “praise God” tripe that makes them sound like bloomin’ idjits, that I started thinking—would they keep me on their “friend” list if they really knew who I was and what I believe? Have they just ignored the hints? Or am I just one of the collectables? Whatever the case, I’m going to use this blog as a disclaimer for any more people who I want to “friend” or who might want to “friend” me. I totally get it if they decide I’m not the person they want me to be.
First off, I’m a liberal. A card-carrying member of the left wing. Some would call me a socialist, and they would be correct. Non-partisan, I will support the candidate who is the most left-wing and upholds left-wing ideals. I support a woman’s right to choose; the right of all religions or non-religions to exist in this country as long as what they do harms no one physically (because there are sure a hell of a lot of religions out there that are permitted legally to harm people mentally, and, IMO, they are usually peopled by right-wingers); the rights of immigrants to full access to citizenship without being hounded or deported—as long as they are law-abiding—which I believe is the vast majority; social programs; universal health care; environmental protection policies; animal rights; civil rights; and most every other liberal cause one can throw out there on the boards for my consideration. I fall somewhat to the left of center on a liberal scale, mostly because I do believe in the death penalty in some cases. I can’t tolerate braggarts. Or showboaters. Or arrogance. Or social climbing. I don’t care how much money a person has, or how big their house is, or where they live, or what their sexual preference or gender identification is. I am, however, a bit of a snob when it comes to intelligence, because I cannot tolerate empty headed plastic people whose lives center around what they want others to think about them.
On religion: I do not believe the Bible is the inspired word of a god. I do not believe that the historical Jesus was the only divine being to ever come to earth. I do believe in a Divine Power, but not that described in the Christian Bible. Or the Qur’an. Or the Jewish texts. I tend more towards the belief that God is everywhere, in everything, and has many avatars—male, female, etc., as well as more than one being within “God”. For me, God is most often in female form, or a female member of “God”. I believe that God may very well be a family of Divine Beings, with perhaps a hierarchy. So, I am “pyramid” pan-theistic. But, I believe that God as a whole cannot be anthropomorphized. Sort of like a family. There is a family. There are members of the family. And, I believe that these divine beings send messages down here to earth through various channels. But, I do not believe those channels are those that encase the human soul within the bounds of a man-made, or woman-made, religion. Because, to me, religion is hogwash. At least the Abrahamic, patriarchal religions that dominate most of the Western World.
I don’t believe in heaven as it is portrayed in either Christianity or Islam. As far as Judaism goes, I don’t know enough about the various beliefs in the afterlife within the forms of Judaism to say whether I believe or do not believe those versions. Yet, I do believe there is an afterlife. I also believe in reincarnation of the soul—sort of like being sent back by the Divine until I learn lessons that will finally lead to me joining the Divine in another State of Being. And, I think that takes many lifetimes. I also am not arrogant enough to believe that humans are the only worthy life-forms in the entire universe. I believe in past life regression. I believe in spirit guides and angels. I believe we, as the human race, do NOT know a hell of a lot more than we think we DO know in matters dealing with the unknown.
I do believe in the “light”, as well as the existence of destructive dark forces, although I do not believe in a literal devil. I do not believe the name for God is all that important. I do not believe that bible study is important in and of itself as a way to find God. At least not for me. Although the bible is full of wisdom, it is a historical text written by men. The same with all holy books. They were written by men. The same with religion: rules set down by men to control the masses. Not my thing. Not my cup of tea.
I tend to have conversations with the Divine rather than formal on-my-knees-eyes-closed prayer. Public prayer from self-righteous people really gets on my nerves, as do people who want to pray for my unsaved soul. Or talk about how they are saved. Or talk about “the lord”. Or quote scripture at the drop of a hat. Or…well, I digress again. There are a few exceptions to this, however. When I hear someone talk about scripture in a logical, sensible, scholastic sense, I appreciate it. Because there is wisdom in the ages, in the collection of holy books that contain the stories of how humans came to grips and dealt with the unknown. Anyway, when I meditate and “pray”, I just talk or think to the Divine in my mind, and listen for answers. No, I do not hear voices. To me, it is more a message that I just feel. But, nothing formal. I pay close attention to my dreams. I believe in ley lines and energy fields and auras. I believe that there is something to astrology—although not the simplistic astrology of which most people are aware. I believe in soul mates, although I feel they can be multiple and not always those whom we marry or with whom we have romantic relationships, as is expressed in pop culture. However, I am thankful I am married to one of my soul mates. Who accepts me for who I am, not for who he expects or wants me to be. Because, most of all, he wants me to be me and loves me for that. As I love him. Our fourteen year age difference makes not one whit of a difference. Oh, and I believe in science. And evolution. And reason.
I have been called names. I have been derided. I have been hurt terribly. Emotionally hurt. I’ve been told that I’m not really a liberal, but I just think I am. People have tried to convert me to their way of thinking. People have thought this was just a “phase” I was going through, or am going through. The right to believe as I have come, after many years, to believe has been trampled upon, dismissed, laughed at, scorned, or received with shock by some of my right wing Christian acquaintances. I’ve been accused of pretty much everything one can be accused of when one believes as I believe, both politically and religiously. I’ve had people consider me to be “flighty”, or “over-emotional” or “dramatic” or just plain “out there”.
And, that’s ok. Because the more I am derided, the more I am scorned, the more I am the target of people attempting to “save” me, the more I believe what I believe, the more I separate myself from these people and their narrow minded beliefs and actions. And, in their refusal to accept that not everyone believes as they believe. Surprise, Surprise.
I’ve spent years of frustration, anxiety, and fear coming to terms with the way I now believe. With my new-found spirituality. For years, I was—as my last post presented—a sinner in the hands of an angry god. I developed my way of belief through the friendship of those I consider my soul-sisters and soul-brothers. They know who they are. I carry them in my heart at all times.
I can count the number of close friends I have, soulmates, fellow seekers, or otherwise, on one hand. I am very, very choosy about whom I call “friend”. I’ve been torn apart by those I thought I loved, and put back together by those who I love and who love me in return. I do not throw the word or concept of “love” around helter- skelter. Those whom I say I love, I love. But, the word “love” loses its meaning –loses all its meanings–when used indiscriminately. I do not trust easily, but when I trust, it is wholeheartedly. That has brought a lot of pain, and a lot of lessons. Perhaps that is THE lesson I am here to learn, among others.
So, in keeping with the whole narcissistic Facebook theme, this is me. This is my status. I would like, however, for the reader to take more away than just a rundown on what I believe, because what I believe is just that: what I believe. How I feel. What makes me unique. I would like the reader to take away a re-affirmation that the individual mind is what makes each of us unique. Each of us comes to different conclusions, different stages, at different times. One stage is no more valid than another stage. I don’t need a “spiritual leader” to tell me where I am or where I need to go. I am where I am NOW. My personal journey is just that: my personal journey. Spiritually. Physically. Mentally. I don’t have to believe something because the majority of my friends, family, and acquaintances believe it, or because I am supposed to fear NOT believing it, or because others have conditioned or programmed me to believe it. Or someone else thinks it is the “right” way to believe because others do so. Or because I want to be accepted. Or to not make waves. I don’t have to fit in a box. I don’t have be anything other than what and who I am. I shouldn’t have to pretend. I shouldn’t have to make excuses. And neither should anyone else. Because life isn’t a popularity contest. It’s a journey. And sometimes, it is a lonely one.
When I was a very little girl, before my parents were introduced and inducted into an apocalyptic millennialist cult, I had a child’s assumptions about God. I didn’t consider God to be scary. He was more like a large, grandfatherly “person” who would watch over me, but who also saw when I did anything bad and was mildly upset about it. Santa Claus was scarier than God—especially since if one was naughty, one was excluded from the Christmas bounty; which, to a kid, is THE thing about Christmas that stands out. God was, well, GOD. When I was told that “God loves” me, I didn’t see the avenging God of Jonathan Edwards. “God is watching” didn’t cause me to feel fearful. I felt protected. It was, as much as I remember, a sort of cozy feeling. But, then, I was only six, and children look at most things through a trusting lens. I regarded angels the same way. Demons and Satan I only stereotyped in my child mind. I didn’t really fear the dark forces. I was a child. I thought as a child. I had not yet been introduced to the God of Specific Doctrine. The God of Fear.
When we started going to this church, switching to it from a weak version of Methodism, I began to hear about a God of punishing anger. A God who would allow—no, MAKE SURE–those who hadn’t heard of the “truth” (i.e. their version of the truth) to suffer through the coming “great tribulation”. To the ministers of that church—who loved to expostulate on the subject in sermons that would last for two or more hours—that punishment from God for non-conformance meant famine, pestilence, torture, and death. Most of this was to occur at the hands of Germans, who allegedly were the Aryans of the Bible, and who, in the views of the elite of this organization, would rise again and attack the United States. I remember having horrible nightmares. Nightmares in which Germans would invade my house and tear up my “stuff” (I was only six, remember). And then would take us away to a horrible fate. Nightmares in which my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and beloved cousins would die horribly because they were non-believers. I had nightmares of demon possession, another favorite subject of those who “ministered” to the congregations of this cult. These nightmares I remember 49 years later. Nightmares largely due to my introduction to a God of Fear.
Of course, fear of this God kept me pretty much on the straight and narrow through my pre-teen years. When I would slip, I would feel terribly guilty and fearful; after all, this slip of mine could very well cause the horrifying deaths of all of my immediate family. If I was bad, God would no longer afford me or those I loved his protection. But, being on the straight and narrow meant more than just following what the Bible teaches. It meant conforming to a certain interpretation of those scriptures. Which I felt guilty about, as well. Because I just could not get my mind to wrap around and embrace what I was taught to believe. It just did not make sense. But, after the normal period of teen-age and early adulthood rebellion (about which I also felt extreme guilt), I settled into a life which centered on these beliefs. I gave in. I conformed. Outwardly. Inwardly, all I felt was guilt, confusion, and anxiety. As well as resentment and fear.
Eventually, my parents began to seriously consider leaving this organization. I was also ready to leave—what my parents did and said had great influence over me, even after my first marriage, because I felt that to displease them was to displease the God I feared. Although I was an adult, and had been baptized into this religious organization (albeit with multiple misgivings), I still feared that, due to my inward rebellion, bad things would be heaped upon my head, and the heads of my parents, of my then- husband, of my children, by God. So, I lived with the guilt of not believing. And the fear that terrible things would happen because God knew everything I doubted, everything I resented.
My then-husband took great pleasure—especially after the consumption of quite a bit of alcohol– in describing to me, with great detail, what was going to happen to my parents because they were questioning the higher authorities of “the church”. I was torn now in three ways: go with my husband, go with my parents, or follow my own way. To follow my own way was unthinkable. I was too weak, both in mind and body (I had one small child at the time and a complicated pregnancy was followed by the birth of premature twins) and too beat down emotionally. I now had three small children to think about, and out and out rebellion during these transition years would have been disastrous to my marriage. Although I was very good at putting up a strong false front, I was torn apart inside. And, I really didn’t have a spiritual “plan”. All I had was what I had been taught. And that included letting others who were more spiritually “mature” guide me. Within a few months, however–and during my pregnancy with the twins– my then-husband and I mutually decided for us to leave the mother organization, and we–or, mostly, he–started going to the services of the main offshoot of this organization. This turned into attending church with multiple splinter groups of several connected organizations as—I realize now– he was looking for a religious “home”. Each with their own version of God.
Basically, I followed where I was led. In spurts of rebellion, I would balk or even outright refute what was still considered to be the “truth”. But, due to religious imprinting, fear, insecurity, guilt, or whatever, my rebellion stopped when fear took over. I was spiritually trapped—and, because leaving the organization did not, in most ways, affect the doctrinal beliefs, it was the same trap as that which had imprisoned me since I was a child. It was merely the matter of changing the face of the organization. While a few “doctrines” shifted, the main reason for the split and splinters was, and IS, due to power struggles within the top echelon. So, nothing much changed, in terms of the “big” doctrines (i.e. holydays, a coming tribulation, the seventh-day Sabbath, et cetera). Nor did God seem to be any more loving to me in these groups, even though most of the participants talked about a loving God. But, this loving God had certain people he had chosen to know the “truth”. And that “truth” certainly did not set me free. Because I kept thinking something was wrong with me that I could not accept this God. Yet, I feared this God.
I struggled on for years, alternating between spurts of rebellion against the God of Fear and earnestly seeking a God of Love. I tried several different paths. Ultimately, I realized I would never be free unless I left, not only the religious belief system in which I was brought up, but those who tied me to it. I had a circle of close friends, as well as my mother, for support. But, leaving was the only choice. And, I was not just leaving behind home and family, but I was leaving behind a God that I feared. I hoped. While there were other reasons for dissolving my 25+ year marriage, one of the main reasons was that I quite simply just could no longer tolerate being torn, feeling guilty, feeling stupid, or fearing that maybe…just MAYBE…I was wrong. That I would, inevitably, be punished. I, quite literally, ran away from, not only a religion, but from the God of that religion.
But, running away doesn’t solve anything. I still felt that everything that went wrong in my life was punishment from God. I thought finding another spiritual “home” would solve things. Maybe another expression of God, another religion, another perspective, was what I needed. I converted to Roman Catholicism during this time, largely because the first homily I heard was about God’s love and forgiveness. My new husband was, at the time, basically a non-practicing Catholic and we both felt this was a spiritual path with which we would both be happy–even though we both disagreed with many Catholic doctrines. The formal conversion process took a little over a year. The RCIA program solidified my resolve to give this a chance. I really thought my journey was complete. For a long while I was quite happy—even though I did not agree with many of the doctrines, with many of the “rules” one had to follow to be a good Catholic. I thought that as long as I kept my mouth shut, I could feel comfortable and safe in my new spiritual “home”. Until I started feeling the same way I had as a child. That, as long as I kept my mouth shut about not believing in the “rules”, I was left alone. That, even here, where the concept of a God of Love was taught, that same God was going to punish me for not believing. I’m not talking about moral rules, ethical rules, or just the rules for being a good person. Rules that tell me that I am wrong because I support a woman’s right to choose. Because I do not believe in the virgin birth of a savior only one time in the history of the universe. Because I do not believe that the historical figure of Jesus was the only begotten son of God. Rules that both my husband and I questioned. I could not swallow the myth, even in this form. A completely different religion—in fact, the religion which the old church considered to be the epitome of the false church of the book of Revelation—a completely different set of doctrines, and the God of Fear was still there, just expressed with a different message. Coated with love this time, but watch for his wrath if you don’t conform to the rules. And, if not wrath, then a nice vacation in Purgatory.
Of course, the story of my religious journey is much more complicated than I could ever put in a post. And, much more private. But, over the years, I have come to realize that, while some people are happy with the Christian version of God, I am not. Some people do not see a God of Fear underneath their version of a God of Love. For some, the God promoted by various organizations, denominational or non-denominational, and by various spiritual gurus, is a God of Love. That’s fine for them. I don’t see it. I see, underneath, a vengeful God, the God of Jonathan Edwards. A God created by Man. A God made in the image of those who profess to serve him. A God so concerned about specific doctrines that he would condemn all who don’t conform to those doctrines to a horrible fate. A God I grew up and spent most of my adult life fearing. Maybe it was early imprinting. Maybe it is because I tend to dissect everything to death. Maybe I think too much. But, I no longer believe that if I don’t follow a set of man-made or man-written doctrines that God is going to punish me. Because that God just does not exist. I don’t believe there is a Christian God. Or a Muslim God. Or a Jewish God. There is JUST GOD. A God with no specific book. No specific religion. No specific name. A God that cannot be anthropomorphized. A God that has many forms, many faces. A God who just IS. A God in whom I CAN believe. With no qualms. With no guilt. With no fear.