The Churchless Sunday

canstockphoto1218783With the heated-up rhetoric about a war on religion, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve kept my status as a non-believer on the down low. Most of the people I know are believers of one ilk or another. We’re polite with each other and very rarely does the issue of theology come up. We’re not in college anymore, so having deep conversations on the nature of the universe has been replaced by discussions about our crappy health insurance, should we be so lucky to have some.

Today my family did what it usually does. We went to visit my mother-in-law at her nursing home and then went out to lunch. We returned home ready to unwind. My husband took his Sunday siesta. My daughter played her viola in the garage. I went out and started working in the garden beds, which usually entails me staring at bugs and birds a lot. Tonight I’ll be reading, he’ll watch TV and she’ll be playing some more until I tell her to knock it off. It’s a simple, low drama, casual dress routine. I thought about how other people spent their Sundays.

Both my husband and I grew up attending church. He has fond memories and connections to his Lutheran church – a church attended by his neighbors with a strong Scandinavian bent to it. I grew up and was baptized in the Seventh Day Adventist church which at the time was pretty fundamentalist and in the 70s, literally preparing for the second coming.

canstockphoto42249646I attended church on Saturday with very strict rules about not working, not playing with friends, and not eating things with cloven feet. I memorized the Bible and did what I was told and believed everything that the pastor said. We were a poor family in a wealthy church. When we got scholarships to attend the private church school, my mother took us out of the school I’d been attending Kindergarten through 6th grade and stuck us in a school where girls couldn’t wear pants with pockets and rock and roll music was forbidden.

The next year we moved to a community with no Seventh Adventist church. That was the end of my churchgoing. It wasn’t the end of my belief system, but as I got older and read more and met more people, I knew that religion in and of itself did not provide the answers to many of my questions. Every few years I’d go through a church search, attending Catholic, Methodist, Universalist, Episcopalian and some church where I was creeped out because we had to hold hands in a circle in the park.

canstockphoto31872630Perhaps it was that I’d begun to read more history and took an interest in Eastern religions which seemed to have more wisdom and fewer rules. Or it could be that my introverted introspective nature began to dominate and anywhere people gathered was where I didn’t want to be. I decided that I didn’t know if there was a God, but since I didn’t know, I didn’t want to spend time trying to sort it out or hanging out with people who knew they were right and wanted to tell me how wrong I was.

Having a child returns the issue to the forefront. In respect to my husband’s beliefs, I told him he could take her to church if he wanted. But by the time she was old enough, something changed my mind and I think, his as well. She asked a lot of really good questions. She asked so many good questions that I couldn’t bring myself to lie about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

This got her in a little trouble along the way. One of her friend’s parents called me. Your daughter told my child that I was lying to him about Santa Claus. I was mortified and secretly proud. I apologized and then talked to my daughter about how families have different belief systems and that we need to respect that.

It got me in trouble on the way, too. In parent education classes, when we talked about the holidays, one mother was horrified that I’d essentially ripped my daughter’s childhood out from under her. Never mind that we have lovely holidays with our own family traditions. And that her kids were constantly in meltdown/ sugar crash mode, while mine had a pleasant, consistent temperament. Yeah, I judge a little when attacked.

It hit me the other day that I’ve raised a skeptic with critical thinking skills. I don’t know how I feel about that. It sometimes gets suggested that nonbelievers of deities are lacking in beliefs in general. But we have some pretty strong beliefs and we’ve passed them onto her. Be kind and considerate. Be stewards of animals and the earth. Work hard. Appreciate your good fortunes. And believe nothing without verification from multiple sources. It’s no surprise that she wants to be a scientist (with a side job as a violist in a movie soundtrack orchestra).

canstockphoto3744371There is something to be said for the sacred and taking the time to honor being alive, being here with whatever patchwork of friends and family we have. There is something to be said for turning off and tuning out and slowing down and being grateful. Right now I’m sitting here and I can hear mowers and blowers and trimmers in our neighborhood and I think that maybe it’s a bit of a shame that not everyone has a quiet day. But it’s always an option, with or without our Sunday best.

How did you spend your Sunday?

Shaken, but Stirred

canstockphoto27374822I’m the overly cautious driver who slowly backs out in a parking lot. Most commercial parking lots have the functionality of a demolition derby – narrow spaces despite the ginormous size of some vehicles, blind spots, limited turning space, cart racks askew. Add to that the tank-driving, texting mentality of some license owners (you’ll move, right?) and yesterday happened for me.

Backing carefully out, looking both ways, I nearly get rear-ended by a minivan rounding the corner at 30 mph. She honks loudly at me as I slam on the brakes and then speeds away. As is often the case when something like this happens, I think, I hate people and I need to go home.

Anxiety has been rather high this week. I have some weird medical shit happening to my body and have to go to the doctor. I haven’t been for several years except for flu shots, because I’m of the mentality that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Every time I’ve ever gone to the doctor, I’ve gone in feeling fine and I leave with some syndrome or abnormality that hey, I can either take a bunch of drugs for or I can wait and see. I usually take door #2 and that has kept me upright and functioning for a good 48 years.

canstockphoto5050400Cue middle age. My body has become a three-ring circus. Hairs sprout in places that were previously erogenous zones. My eyes sink into my head – those luminous blues squint through progressive lenses and folds of saggy eyelids. I remember how my grandma always insisted on full makeup before she went anywhere. Now I think it was so she’d look like she had eyeballs.

Medical maladies, thanks to the internet, are either minor irritations or a death knell. Things I could ignore before, now keep me awake at night, as I think up game plans for every possibility. I try to keep myself on routine, make myself go through the motions of working out, but I’m tired and I feel weak. I feel vulnerable.

canstockphoto23413180Politics, guns and religion are making me anxious. Following the coverage of the Iowa caucus, I see people cheering for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and I want to weep. It’s not the politics, it’s the way they have taken the stereotype of the Ugly American one step further – bullish stupidity and crass hatred. I don’t know why people think this will serve us well.

If we’re going to turn this country into a reality show, I’d like to vote some people off the island. And most of them are citizens.

Much of the public display of religion has become devoid of ethics. It is being used to justify repressing others and it all gets packaged up in an American flag, a cross, guns and a whole lot of whiteness. I believe that we should have the freedom to believe what we choose, up until the point where you’re in my government, in my bedroom or at my child’s school. Or showing up at my Target with an AR-15, when I’m just trying to buy toilet paper.

This is a whole lot of anxiety. It could be this way the rest of my life – just trying to get out of parking lots without getting hit. Hoping that each medical malady is just a bump and not a catastrophe. Trying to remind myself that the social and political cycles of my country ebb and flow.

I could sit in my little puddle of worry and fear, as my world and my worldview get smaller and smaller. I could learn to see the world in us and them terms and dogmatically embrace stereotypes as truth. I could become so blinded by the bad news that I believe the apocalyptic pronouncements spewed by religious and political leaders. We’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

But then there’s life. My daughter came home in tears because she had forgotten to do an assignment and then promptly lost the worksheet she needed to do it. Harshly, I said, “Stop crying about it and figure out a solution.” The forgetfulness and disorganization of a 6th grader was nothing new, but I heard myself. I heard the edge, the anxiety, the anger. This is what happens when anxiety takes over.

I slowed my breathing and asked her what she was supposed to learn from the assignment. She was supposed to compare and contrast Mohandas Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi. Wow. I suggested she write an essay doing that. She would turn it into her teacher with the understanding that she might get a zero on the assignment. She worked for two hours and with a measure of pride, asked me to read it.

How easy it is to forget the butterfly effect. Hers and mine. Gandhi’s and Aung San Suu Kyi’s. How easy it is to forget that an individual can make a difference in the world around them – that we do not need to rely on the loudest among us to lead the way. How easy to forget that being afraid does not abnegate responsibility to be kind, to be peaceful, to be compassionate. If everything in the world is going wrong, I’d rather err on the side of loving kindness.


We have a choice when we are frightened, when politicians feed us doomsday scenarios, as we age or when we simply have a bad day. I hugged my daughter and told her that I was proud that she worked so hard to fix a mistake. And now, I must work to fix my own.

 Some Soothing Reading:

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

The Green Study: Have We Met?

canstockphoto8155142This past week, I’ve been ruminating about this exhortation as a writer to “find my voice”. I’ve read so much on and offline lately – voices that are passionate, opinionated, hysterically funny, heartbreaking. There are writers with unique voices who have learned how to get out of their own way. I see myself coming towards the Publish button and I promptly lay down in the road.

I’ve rationalized my moderate ramblings as being thoughtful and respectful, but I have serious doubt about whether I’m being fearful rather than respectful.  I’ve decided to spit out the topics that seem to enrage people all in one post. I apologize for the length of the post. It’s longer than my usual fare. Time to rip off the bandage.


I’m an American leftie and a fiscal conservative, but not the kind of fiscal conservative that believes that social issues should be tied to fiscal policy. I don’t want the state monitoring my calls or my uterus. I don’t think compromise is a dirty word. I loathe that classic misdirect of picking on poor people, while ignoring the military industrial complex and corporate coddling.

I believe strongly that many problems in Congress would be solved by term limits and campaign finance reform that doesn’t get gutted. Seriously, how many more mummified, befuddled congressional representatives do we have to listen to? Apparently they’ve got a really good health plan, because they seem to live a long, long time.


I am skeptical of organized religion – especially those with religious doctrines that still relegate women to chattel and second class citizens. I don’t know ANY answers about the existence of a higher being and I don’t think any other humans do, either. Some humans just like being more right about what they don’t know.

I think, too, belief systems get used to justify really horrible behavior – by nearly every organized religion. I am curious and interested in all belief systems, but I am rarely willing to talk about it, because I’m not sure that I can retain a tone of civility and respect when we start talking about theological rationalization for brutality and judgment by other humans.

Guns and Mental Health

Background checks. No loopholes. Serious regulation of high capacity weaponry. Those weapons are for one thing only – killing a lot of people quickly. For those with home arsenals in anticipation of the zombie apocalypse or less likely, a totalitarian regime (seriously, the government can’t even run websites, much less a takeover of your yahoo asses), see your local mental health experts.

Elevate mental health problems to the level of a physical illness. Give it the funding, resources, media blitz. Make options available, accessible and affordable to families and institutions when someone goes off the rails. Right now a majority of our mental healthcare system resides in the form of law enforcement and a lucrative prison system.

Gender and Race Wars

I have never made life decisions based on traditional gender roles. I’ve done what I wanted to do. I’ve mocked those that think because of my gender, they can suss me out. I’m raising a daughter who is strong and confident and doesn’t give a toss if you think she should dress like a girl. I resent inequality for chromosomes of either ilk. I think boys have a tough uphill battle fighting stereotypes and societal expectation as well.

As for racial disparities, I can read and try to understand, but I’m not going to pretend I have any true knowledge. All I can do is ask questions and listen to what those in the know have to say.

My personal experiences have informed me that being a decent human or a complete jackass have nothing to do with gender or skin color. Here’s the bottom line, though – there’s history and residual resentment and stale attitudes and some systemic shit that needs to be fixed. There is work to be done.

Whether you need to call yourself something or not, we should all be proponents of not judging other people’s intelligence, strength, abilities or worthiness based on their gender or skin color.


I apparently have the basics down, but I don’t find it that interesting of a subject to write about or discuss – enough other people are doing that. The cultural obsession with it in marketing and entertainment has made it all a bit artificial and tiresome and whatever meaningful enjoyment it has, well, there doesn’t need to be that much talking, lighting, costumes and choreography. Unless, of course, that’s your thing.

I think civil unions should be available regardless of sexual preference. I hate the phrase “the sanctity of marriage”, especially coming out of people’s mouths who have just had their married hands on a staffer’s butt. Keep religious laws in the church and out of the state’s legal protections for committed couples.

Fashion and Beauty

I am baffled by the current Western beauty culture. High heels? I don’t understand footwear in which you can’t run.

Weight. Bored with this paragraph already. I’ve struggled to meet life insurance table requirements my whole life. I’ve been in the middle of a thousand conversations with other women about bad/good foods, working out, diets – it’s incredibly tiresome. And so much of it is informed by bad nutritional information, fads, and corporate marketing gimmicks. How do I feel? Do I feel strong, nourished, energetic? I will only get there by feeding myself well, making my body move and confronting body image dissatisfaction with common sense and kindness.

I am an average looking woman and that’s all I’ll ever be. To try to meet cultural standards would kill me – it would take away time I could spend doing things I like to do, it would require chemicals and injections and spackle, possibly some duct tape. It would require money that I could otherwise spend on books and traveling and experiences. It would require me to stare in the mirror, coldly and cruelly, assessing what work should be done next. When I look you in the eye, what you should see is a smart, intuitive, generous and funny human being. If not, I’m still strong enough to knock you on your ass.

Well, I think that about covers everything that could alienate readers. I don’t expect people to agree. I have friends with entirely different opinions and beliefs and we still like each other. That’s the kind of world I’d like to live in – where divisiveness and trolls don’t rule the day, where you and I can disagree and still be friends. There. Now that feels authentic.

Finding Your Way Without a Star

canstockphoto0108300We are a secular family, so every December, we wend our way through a minefield of holiday traditions. When you’re an adult, you have settled on a belief system that hopefully gets challenged and re-evaluated on a regular basis. One of the things that forces you to look things over again is having a child.

This is a particularly difficult subject to even write about, because I know it can be emotionally charged for many people. Please don’t try to convert me. I don’t operate that way and you shouldn’t tire yourself out.

My husband and I had our biannual heated discussion about religion yesterday. He was raised in a Lutheran Church with a sense of community and belonging. His experiences with God and organized religion were so inherently positive, that he doesn’t understand my disinterest and occasional hostility.

I was raised and baptized into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. I attended church regularly until I was 13. There are evangelical and orthodox churches that are much more intense. The SDA rates about an 8, between churches you only attend on holidays and churches at which you make animal sacrifices. People are fierce about their beliefs and this is the point at which I depart. I don’t know the answers and I’m really comfortable with that. I don’t know if there is any god or twenty.

People of faith talk of being touched by the hand of God, but I’ve never felt that touch in organized religion. There are things in the world that make me feel that way – when I am outside, in nature, when I watch my husband and daughter play together or when I read or see astounding literature or art or music (the first note of a live music performance is rapturous).

As a child, I believed everything that I was taught at church, so hellfire and damnation were just around the corner waiting for me for the mildest infractions. We were once read a story in Bible study class to illustrate that the Sabbath is a holy day. A little girl went rollerskating on the Sabbath and she broke her leg. What kind of God does that? The church had movie night on Sundays. I saw the apocalyptic movie “A Thief in the Night”. For months after that, I expected to wake one morning to find my family gone and “666” burned on my forehead. I was 10 years old, two years older than my daughter is now.

I have a hard time with organized religion and man made ideas of God for a few reasons:

Chauvinism. This is where my husband and I part ways on a very intrinsic level. It’s taken me years to come into my own as a woman and to recognize that no one has the right to belittle or abuse me. I have a knee-jerk reaction about men telling me what to do. Most major religions have chauvinism built right into the system, from using texts that treat women as property, whores or virgins, to blocking them from being church leaders.

Born Sinners. Some religions purport the idea that children are born inherently flawed and in need of redemption. I find this disturbing, especially now that I’m a parent. I could never look into a baby’s eyes and see evil – although all that crying, spitting up and pooping reminds me of “The Exorcist”.

Hypocrisy. I’ve simply met too many people who have declared themselves, imposed themselves and announced themselves to be of a particular faith when they are the people I would least put my faith in. I feel the same way when people say “I’ll be honest with you” right before they lie or “I don’t want to hurt your feelings” right before they insult you.

Exclusivity. For many religions, proselytizing and spreading the word are a requirement. The inherent nature of telling people how wonderful your beliefs are, is that you are saying that you know the answer and anybody else is, well, not a member of the club.

Exceptionalism. I realize I’m being petty, but every time there is a disaster and people die, there are always people who say this to the news camera: “God was looking out for me.” In their relief that they survived, they express gratitude that God skipped everyone else to save just them. It defies logic.

I had a great exchange with S. Smith, the author of Seed Savers this week. It was regarding the knee-jerk reaction people have to religious references – a reaction of which I’m definitely guilty. My daughter just finished the first book in Ms. Smith’s series, called “Treasure”. The book was wonderful and the biblical references fitting, but I had to look beyond my own prejudices to see that. Wisdom can come from a variety of sources and I believe, for many people, organized religion and spiritual text serves a positive purpose.

I spent about five years of my adult life “church shopping”, trying to find a place where I felt comfortable, where I could find a spiritual home. It was me, not the churches. Much like the old Groucho Marx quote “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” The bottom line is that I’m an introvert. Clubs, meetings, congregations, parties, riots – these cause me anxiety and do not keep me grounded in humbling and spiritual thoughts. Religious beliefs are personal, but so is one’s experience with organized religion.

How will this translate for my daughter? She knows a little about a lot of religions. We read and talk about religious and philosophical texts in our home. When she is curious enough, we will take her to a range of church services. She must know her choices to make choices, so my daughter will be raised with a weird hybrid of religion and nature and art. But she was born good and we’ll do our best to help her remain on that path.