Is It Official?
February 2, 2011

The other day gave me an opportunity for reflection on where I’ve come philosophically in the past several years. For the first time ever, I officially listed myself as “Non-Religious” on a government document. Though I’ve frequently tossed around the term, there was something about the act of scrolling down the jury impaneling form, pausing, and chuckling a bit in irony when I came to the question of religious affiliation.

*By the way, I’m publishing this post with some hesitation. That was a confidential form that will be read only by people who couldn’t care less about my religious affiliation if it doesn’t benefit their courtroom argument. And this post here is a very public statement I’m making. And I know this may have some potentially undesirable consequences. But oh well.*

For some of you, such a thing may seem like no big deal. But for me, it kinda is. Not like “OMG-WTF” huge. But definitely “fo-reals” significant.

Anyway, I can now officially be listed in the minority of American religious views. I’ve migrated from the Major Two-Thirds of the pie chart to the 16-percent of Americans who claim no religion. And it’s quite different from just saying something like, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

Right now I don’t feel like detailing the minutiae of thoughts and feelings involved. I especially don’t feel like defining what exactly “non-religious” means to me, or the reasons why I made it official. But there’s just something about  making things official. For me, the official-ness frees things up. No need to explain. Now, it just “is.”

I’ve also mentioned in previous posts how I wonder if it’s anything like a coming-out experience for an LGBT person. I doubt it could ever compare, but when you feel like you don’t have to hide anymore, life just seems to open up a bit. Of course, on a jury form, I was under penalty of perjury, so I had no choice. 😉 It gave me an opportunity to be completely honest.

And while I’ve been honest here on my blog, in other online locales, and in conversation with friends, it was especially interesting to be able to, in some tiny way, announce myself to the greater world as a specific minority category.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that. How about you? Have you had an “official” experience with announcing a major category shift in your life…a shift that you previously felt safer hiding?

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The Bride and Prejudice
January 19, 2010

A relative was telling me how, years ago, she went to the KKK rally to sell puppies. She’s a good Christian, mind you. It’s just that, until about the time I was born, the area of Texas we’re from was, shall we say, not very well known for its racial tolerance. Just up the road was one of America’s last “sundown towns.” So prejudice infiltrated our blood in some ways, or at least our minds, so much so that I didn’t realize I looked down on others unlike me until I had lived out of the state for years.

So when I visited family, it shouldn’t have surprised me when another relative, an ordained minister, called someone a nigger. (I know I shouldn’t use that word, but I’ve got to remind myself that it still exists in the minds and mouths of millions.) Here’s the interesting part: This person has always been a very loving man. My model of Christ-like charity. He has given so much of his life and finances to the underprivileged and the rejected among society. For instance, he has given undocumented immigrant workers a roof to sleep under and a job and money for food …but he will call others wetbacks. This person has a Bible school and supported a black man through the school, graduated him, ordained him, and to this day they are close friends and my relative heavily supports this man’s ministry in Central America…but then refers to another black gentleman and says, “There goes the neighborhood.” How does this happen? Every time I visit I hear this talk. And the worst part is that these people are Christians, if that means anything. Maybe that’s one reason “Christian” really doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. It’s just another relative, arbitrary category.

My good friend Jimi recently wrote a wonderful book about the still-existing phenomenon of racial prejudice among Christians. I highly recommend it. Jimi was a musician in the 60s, in San Francisco, playing with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Dr. John, and Sly and the Family Stone. He says that Christians can learn a lot from the rock n’ roll scene about acceptance. Jimi has seen a lot. He’s experienced racism personally…a lot. He’s a wise man and I’m grateful that he shares his experience with me. He has helped me become more aware of myself. And this may be stating the obvious, but I think Christians should learn more about acceptance…I think we all should. Not to guilt ourselves, but to make ourselves aware so we can adjust where we need to adjust.

But it’s not just racial prejudice that I see among Christians. There’s prejudice involved with categories in general. When I was deeply involved with conservative Christianity, I thought our little group had the true insight. We had a special revelation that people like those liberals out in San Francisco didn’t. And then my life took a few turns and I switched teams. I started thinking of people like those in my old home town as narrow-minded, redneck bigots. Damn conservatives screwing everything up. And then my outlook adjusted a bit more, at least religiously speaking, and I considered myself an adherent of a “third way,” a way that tries to eschew both the right and the left. But then I soon found myself turning my nose up at “modernists” who just couldn’t get over the concept of categories. …Okay, maybe I’m still there a bit, but hopefully you get the point.

The fact is that we all have our own lenses through which we see others around us. Some lenses are the ones our parents handed down to us, which we’ve maintained and kept polished all these years. Some have been custom-made for us by the ones we admire. Some are the new ones we’ve created for ourselves just recently. That’s just a fact of life. And I think the trick is to make sure we clean our glasses off occasionally to be sure we’re looking at the world clearly. My metaphor breaks down a little here, so I’ll drop it for now and mix in another one.

What I’m trying to say is that (1) of course racism is terrible. It still happens in “the Church,” which for centuries Christians have called “the Bride of Christ.” But (2) even if we don’t look down on our different-pigment brothers and sisters, we look down on our different-lensed brothers and sisters. I still sometimes think I’m smarter than some of my conservative loved ones…hell, sometimes I even blame it one their genetics. …And to clarify…I’ve been wrong for that. Another example, is that many of us still look down on those of different religions. And although I may not technically call myself a Christian, I still feel I’m somehow part of that body called the Bride of Christ. Maybe I’m just the black stain on her veil. Regardless, I think all of us are part of that body…the Bride of God, I’ll call her…regardless of our religion, regardless of our way of seeing things. We all make up this entity.

And whatever our perspective, I think we should at least try to be more aware of our thoughts and attitudes toward others different from us. We shouldn’t waste energy feeling guilty about the times we’ve turned our nose up (even in our minds) at those we think just don’t get it…but we should take a moment to become aware of those thoughts and adjust them. Maybe we can think of ourselves as that bride…and try to be a nice bride instead of an overprotective bitch… You know, the kind who won’t let her husband go out with the guys..ever. I think God wants to have fun with everyone…we don’t all own him. Now, my metaphor is breaking down again, but can you see it? I don’t know if God is a polygamist (although I wouldn’t put it past him…He’s got “big love” ;)) but I think God wants to love us all, regardless not just of our skin tone, but even if we’re conservative or liberal, or somewhere in between, or agnostic, or whatever.

So, one thing that this MLKJ Day helped me remember is to try to just be aware of how I see others who are not quite like me. How about we just let God love everyone….and here’s the hard part…Let God love them through us. It’s easy to love the helpless in Haiti…they’re not condemning about us…But it’s a little trickier, when for instance, my relatives start talking about how the government is going to steal their money. It’s hard for me to sit quietly, calm down, breathe, listen, and maybe ask them why they feel that way…and just listen. Because when I do that I find that I hear my own head screaming out even more mean-spirited thoughts than what that person is telling me, or at least I find that I’m not really listening…I’m trying to form my argument against them because they are not like me and I must “defend my values.” Wait…I think I’ve heard that phrase somewhere. Oh, right…from them. Anyway, after listening, I might soon realize that maybe, for instance, they’re just scared about their finances because they got hit really hard by hurricane Ike and they’re still terribly stressed and I’m not making things easier with my smarter-than-you, more-tolerant-than-thou attitude. …And I’ve been wrong with that sort of thinking.

I never marched with Martin Luther King Jr., but I can follow in his footsteps in my own little way. So I’m trying to become more self-aware concerning my own prejudices, one step at a time. Will you march beside me?

To Pat Robertson: On Haiti, the Devil, and the Problem with Answers
January 14, 2010

To Pat Robertson, anyone else at CBN, and other Christians who might be reading:

I felt a mixture of deep sadness and white-hot anger when seeing this…

I watched Sanjay Gupta interview the president of Haiti (watch from 0:50), and one line that struck me was when Sanjay asked President Preval why he was staying at the Port Au Prince aiport, to which he simply replied, “My palace collapsed.”

It’s powerful to see the contrast between a proud man prognosticating in front of a camera in his ivory tower and a broken leader not knowing what to do with hard facts.

Why do we humans, the religious especially, feel compelled to have an answer for everything?

Never mind the fact that the facts to which you (Pat Robertson) referred are debatable. The reference to Hatian leaders making a pact with the devil  centuries ago has been improperly used for years by some Christians to support whatever claims to authority they feel they have. Apparently this information has been passed from religious leader to religious leader without anyone thinking to re-check the facts. Several years ago, a Haitian-born minister (and PhD ) discussed his own research of the related facts on his blog, so there’s no need for me to go in depth here. But I must say, from the perspective of someone familiar with ministry, that ministers have a terrible habit of latching on to things they read or heard from other preachers who heard it from other ministers who possibly heard it from someone else who either adjusted the facts to fit their message or even made it all up. Besides this, you also might want to realize that there are also many Christians in Haiti…some of which might even watch and donate to CBN. Were they cursed too? …But that’s another story.

My primary issue is not about the validity of your facts, it’s about why you said them in the first place. I just want to strongly recommend that you step out from in front of the camera and keep quiet for a few years at least. Take a cue from people like Franklin Graham in this situation. Your words are heard by millions, so you must choose your words wisely. If you have a hard time with that, just please keep your mouth shut, or at least just keep your opinions off-camera. This is for your own good. I know you are surrounded by an inner circle of yes-men and yes-women, so they probably haven’t told you this, but you have lost your credibility. Most of the world thinks you’re crazy. Sure, you can argue against that on the basis of your Bible or what you think your God has told you or that you think what you say will save people. But, just so you know, and I say this as a recovering Christian who is trying to maintain balance in his perception of preachers like you … YOU’RE NOT HELPING!

If God is anything like the picture you paint of him — a god who is bound by some sick sense of justice; an “almighty” god who would somehow be bothered if a small group of slaves at one point were willing to do anything to have their own land and freedom back; a god who would hold that against the people of that nation for centuries; a god who didn’t have the power to overrule some pact with a devil to offer grace and help to suffering islanders; a god who, apparently still bound by old-covenant law rather than the love his new-testament son gave away freely, thought it better to destroy thousands of poor people than to urge a wealthy Christian TV mogul to shut his fucking mouth and go get his hands dirty helping people — if that is the case, your god must die, because no one in their right mind needs another god like that. The actions of Al Qaeda have proven that already.

So please wake up. You do not have divine right to this world. And you do not have all the answers. Even if you think you do, we do not want them. The fact that you seem to have a difficult time with is that most answers are conjecture. Answers are not truth.

But perhaps there is the possibility of truth. Perhaps there’s one answer that might wake you up. And that’s the day when you realize that you are only human and when the world asks you for your perspective, your answer will be simple: “My palace collapsed.”

[Now, I apologize for writing in such an angry tone. For a far better, more mature reaction to Pat Robertson’s comments, check out Donald Miller’s blogpost about it.]