I’m writing this after just taking a fresh dose of Tylenol 3, so bear with me. Some of this might sound awesome. Some of this might sound like Drinking Out of Cups.
I finally had enough of Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief and started a novel just for fun (is the subtitle a nod to Pagels?). I’ve never read the alphabet series, so I’m a few pages into A is for Alibi. I think Kinsey and I are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It reminds me a little of Mallory’s Oracle, but only because Kinsey Milhone and Kathy Mallory are somewhat similar in their delivery and approach to their work. I love novels with strong women leads, because I want to be a strong woman and it doesn’t hurt to take their strength into myself. It’s like getting a shot in the arm of bravery, because if they can get up every morning and do what they do, so can I.
In terms of giving up on Amen, I can’t put it away entirely. I’m trying to finish it before Sunday, because the class has had this book for a while and I don’t want to show up unprepared. My former minister friends are very interested in my opinion. I don’t know that they’ll like what I have to say, but I’m willing to put myself out there, anyway. My answer to this entire book is that the author seems very full of herself. Absolutely sure that there’s not a deity, because prayer works regardless. The thing that makes me feel that she’s so conceited in her writing is that she may not mean to, but she speaks down to those who do believe there’s a deity, as if those who believe are just not as mature in their faith as she is.
Let me say for the record, “fuck that noise.”
Faith is not a journey toward believing there is no deity and praying, anyway. Faith is a spectrum, just like sexuality. To illustrate, I will go back almost ten years and tell you about the time I was sitting in the back of the church at Bridgeport while the Portland Lesbian Choir was setting up for their dress rehearsal (we rented out our space for concerts). One of the women was wearing a t-shirt that said, “100% Lesbian.” Nancy was in love with a woman, but had never dated any others. Before she met her partner, she considered herself straight. At the time, I was dating a man, for the first and only time as an adult (so far). We sat there for at least 20 minutes trying to decide what percentage of lesbian we were. Some days, I feel gayer than others.
It’s the same with religion. Sometimes I am absolutely sure there’s a God, and sometimes I’m not. But there is never a point at which I will go all the way toward atheism, because the question will never be settled for me. Just as I will never consider myself gay or lesbian, because to me, that is saying that even though I have only been married to women, that means the men I’ve dated don’t count. And of course they do. When Ryan and I were together, we dated for a year and two months, and that was in middle school… highly unusual for kids that young, and yet, we just fit. He was the cream in my coffee and the butter on my bread. It was one of the happiest times of my life. To call myself gay after that is just ridiculous. Bisexuality gets a bad rap because most people think it means that you date both sexes at the same time to be happy. Not so much. Bisexuality is a spectrum that lasts your whole life, and if I look at my whole life, I’ve been attracted to men as well as women, but never once has it occurred to me not to be monogamous.
To extrapolate a little further, my first wife was bisexual as well, and because of this, she really wanted to go to a bisexual conference held in Houston where one of the keynote speakers was the late and great Fritz Klein. Remember that name, because even though he died a relatively long time ago, he will teach you just as much about your sexuality now as he told me in that lecture. He took Alfred Kinsey’s work (the scale from 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 being completely homosexual) and added to it in ways that most people never think about, but should. Getting to meet and spend time with him is one of my fondest memories, but this is his legacy.
If you click on the image, it will show a version large enough to print that you can fill out on your own. Here’s the catch. No matter what you put in any of the boxes, Dr. Klein firmly believes that one box trumps them all, and that is self-identification. Say you fill out everything with numbers that say you are as queer as a three dollar bill. If you self-identify as straight, then you are. Period. You are what you say you are, and no one can tell you any different. Self-identification comes at your own pace, on your own time.
There should be some sort of grid for belief, as well. Perhaps I will be the one to make it. I certainly have enough information over my lifetime to complete something like it in terms of belief, prayer life, commitment to religious services, etc. It is a rolling set of emotions. Sometimes I feel more spiritual than others. Sometimes I feel more willing to commit to going to church than others. Sometimes I feel more altruism than others. However, if I look at my faith over my lifetime, I have consistently believed that I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I have never, not even once, believed that there was no God. I always fall into that category of, “who knows?”
I have told this story on Nadia before, but I will tell it again. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a loudmouthed, often profane, heavily tattooed Lutheran minister whom I seek to emulate, but in the best of ways. One of the stories she tells in her autobiography, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, is that she was called to the bedside of a man who said, “I’m an atheist!” She said that in her head, she was thinking, “good for you. I wish I could pull that off.” I knew intimately what she meant- that for this man, there was no struggle. It was black or white.
Even for “professional Christians,” it’s sometimes a struggle to believe that someone is listening when we pray. However, there are two things that keep me in the game at all times. The first is this scene from Shadowlands:
The second is that regardless of how I’m feeling when I show up for church in the morning, there is that moment where we’re all in deep prayer together, sharing joy and pain… or there’s that moment when we are hearing the words that have been said for hundreds of years that begin, “on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: ‘take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'”
I don’t do all of this because I think God cares one way or the other. God is too big, too mystical, too unknowable to think that God might require worship. I do all of this because I see what it does in my own life, just like Jack Lewis. I do not have the option not to pray. It flows as easily from me as do blood, sweat & tears (as a brass player, you didn’t really think I was going to pass that up, did you?). It strengthens me when I think I do not have anything left. It shows me my flaws in my own reasoning because as I am praying, God whispers back… and of course I think the god-conscience is part of myself. I think that the god-conscience resides in every living being.
Where you fall on the spectrum is whether you decide to use it. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It means that you have something else in your life that fills that spot for you. As a liberal Christian trying to take back the fanatical words of the Evangelical movement, I am sorry if you are an atheist and you have ever been treated badly by a Christian wanting to help you to death.
You are welcome to walk with me. I will even hold your hand. It is not either of our jobs to change each other’s minds, just to be together, because the spectrum is wide, but not so much when our fingers touch.