WWJVF?

Today was the first time I’ve been inside a church in twenty-three years, unless you count the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegasin 1999, but I imagine that doesn’t really count.  My husband and I didn’t have a church wedding because we weren’t church going people.

So, with my limited experience of attending church of the Methodist and Presbyterian variety on Christmas and Easter, I kind of had an idea of what to expect from a Sunday service.  I knew there would be singing and preaching and at some point, a plate would be passed around to deposit money. For my first day of church of the Baptist variety (my maternal grandmother was a Baptist), I opted to attend the traditional service instead of the contemporary service.  I guess I’m old school and I kind of dig hanging out with old people, so there you have it.

What I did not expect at a church service was politics.

So, I sat down in the last row and moved into the middle so that I could be surrounded by people—less chance of an escape route that way. (Oh, pipe down, it was just a joke!)  To my left was an older man by himself who had a lovely singing voice.  To my right was a couple in their fifties and at the end was a single older woman.  Everyone in the chapel was white, with the exception of one black woman who was by herself two rows in front of me.  At the front of the chapel was a white haired piano playing woman and on a giant screen was an American flag.  I figured, well, it’s the fourth of July here in three days, so that’s great.  I love America!

The service started out with us all standing and singing.  First up was “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,” then we said the Pledge of Allegiance and then it was back to singing.  We sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and finally “America  the Beautiful,” but only the first and last stanzas.

So far, I was digging it.  I like to sing and I rarely get to do it outside of the shower, so the man to my left and I were really belting it out.  It felt good.  The people to my right seemed to be merely mouthing the words and the couple in front of me kept whispering to one another during the songs.  I imagined them saying something along the lines of “Maybe we should just go to Starbucks. Do you think the pastor will notice?”

And he wouldn’t have noticed.  Why?  Because he wasn’t there.  He was being televised onto a screen.  I was like, dude!  I could do this at home in front of my computer.  Okay, maybe I couldn’t sing patriotic songs with a bunch of strangers, but I kind of wanted to see a real live person addressing the congregants.  Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?  When a real person stands in front of you and talks, afterwards you can go up to them and ask, “What did you mean when you said that a presidential candidate who doesn’t believe in the absolute truth of the Bible (like if he believes in the theory of evolution) that we shouldn’t vote for him?”

The whole thing was about who to vote for, but not specifically.  From what he said about “Obamacare” I didn’t get the feeling that he cared for our President that much and he said that Mitt Romney is a Mormon, “which is a theological cult.”  I don’t know, maybe I have a childish view of religion in that I wanted it to be about loving my neighbor (even though he doesn’t mow his lawn) or having it reaffirmed that “Yes, Jesus loves me.”  Instead, I was told that I could register to vote right outside the chapel. If I wanted politics, I could turn on the TV.

As I left, the first song on the radio of my car was by Billy Joel.  These lyrics popped out at me as I drove home.

You may be wrong for all I know

But you may be right

The service I attended is available on CD and DVD according to the Church’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. The times, they are a changin’!

And yes, I’ll be back there next week.

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Beliefs

I start church on Sunday and let me tell you, I’m ready to throw in the proverbial towel.  This has been a tough week for me. Why?  Because my personal beliefs are in conflict with the beliefs of people that I like and respect.  Remember the elephant in the room?

I don’t think homosexuality is a sin.  There, I said it.  The cat’s out of the bag.  I think love is something that should be celebrated whether it’s between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman.  I’ve known many gay people in my life and I’m not going to say they’re so cool and loving and lift them up like they’re saints. They’re just human beings like the rest of us.  They watch TV, do laundry, drive their kids to school, pick their nose, put the roll of toilet paper on the wrong way, etc.  They just happen to be attracted to the same sex.  If people are nice to me, I could really care less what their sexual orientation is.  So now I’ve got two groups of people that I like, but one group thinks the others are sinners.

What am I supposed to do?  Well, I went to the library to look for answers.  I walked by the “New in Nonfiction” shelf and a book leapt out at me.  Well, not literally but, its title did.  When God Talks Back: Understanding the Evangelical Relationship with God. It’s written by an anthropologist and so far, she seems to be describing what I’m encountering in my Bible study. You can check it out at www.whengodtalksbackbook.com

Then I went to the movie section and saw a documentary that said, “Watch Me.”  It’s a documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So.”  My husband and I watched it last night.  It’s about several different religious families who had a gay child.  The filmmaker shows the journey that each family went through.  He also interviews Biblical scholars from several different faiths.  And it pretty much all boils down to Biblical interpretation and context.

So as I drifted off to sleep last night, I tried talking to God in my head hoping he would give me some sort of answer in my sleep.  But, it didn’t happen.  I slept like a rock.  But while writing this post, I kept thinking of a horse with blinders on.  What kind of exploration would this be if I only focused on what made me comfortable?  I could stay home and do that.  The end.

How boring would that be?  So, the blinders are coming off.  I’m going to look at it all and see what happens.

 

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Zombies and Vampires and Elephants, Oh My!

So, you all know that I missed the meeting of the Bible study on Sunday and that the leader wanted to make it up to me. From a Facebook post, I knew she was meeting on Wednesday at Starbuck’s to talk about Esther and Ruth, but I didn’t think I would make it.  I’m too busy.  This bit of info will be important in a paragraph or two.  I promise.

This week’s Bible study started out with a request to do a “fast” from negative thinking for 24 hours.  It also wanted us to reflect on this passage, “Pleasant thoughts are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24, NIV)

I totally believe in the power of positive thinking, so I was like, awesome, let’s do it!

So, here’s how my train of thought went in the past 12 hours. Last night, as instructed, I read from John 5-8.  FYI, I find the Bible difficult to read.  I can’t be the only one.  And I’m like an avid reader.  I’ve usually got two or three books going at a time.  But the Bible?  It doesn’t give me the kind of narrative details that I want to know.

So, I get to this part.  For those who want a more interactive experience, it starts at John 6:51.

51 I am the living bread which came down from Heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.

I am confused. And apparently, so are the men he’s speaking to.

52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

I know, right?!

53 Then Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Like a zombie!

I know I’m not the first person to have had that thought, but that’s exactly where my mind went.  Here I am trying to think positive thoughts and I start imagining Jesus as a zombie.  And that’s not what’s supposed to happen.

55 For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed

56 He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.

Is Jesus speaking metaphorically?  Like belief in him is as sustaining as a 9 grain loaf of bread and a glass of organic milk?  And if so, why doesn’t he just say so?  What would happen to Jesus in 2012 having this same conversation?  I don’t mean to sound disrespectful of Jesus, but people would casually dismiss him as someone who watches The Walking Dead perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

Okay, so I finished reading the John chapters and then I went on to the next part of the study about choices. I was asked to think of a time when God asked me to do something difficult or risky.

And that’s the problem right there.  How do I know if God is talking to me?

So, I drifted off to sleep and woke up as I usually do at 6am.  I stumbled out of bed and shuffled towards my kitchen.  Usually, I can smell coffee which makes me feel better, but this morning there was no coffee.  The light on the coffee maker was on, but there was nothing in the pot.  I checked to see if I’d remembered to put water in the well.  Yep.  Coffee was loaded.  I unplugged it.  I plugged it back in.  I pressed the button repeatedly.  I prayed. Please God, I can’t function without my coffee.  You should know this.  Please make the coffee maker work.

But it didn’t.  God had a different plan.  He didn’t tell me this plan because he wasn’t talking to me, but I immediately thought of the Starbucks down the street.  Yes, the exact Starbucks where my Bible study leader and a group of women were meeting in three hours.  I couldn’t wait that long to wake up, so I went to the drive through, but the seed was planted.

With a rather fuzzy mind, I thought about belief in God this morning.  Blame it on the lack of caffeine in my system or the previous night’s vision of Jesus as a Zombie, but I thought of an old vampire flick from the 80’s called “Fright Night.” Hollywood recently remade it.  I haven’t seen the old version since the 80’s, but I vaguely remember a scene with Chris Sarandon as the vampire confronting the vampire killer.  The man grabs a crucifix to ward off Chris Sarandon’s advances. Chris Sarandon is not amused nor is he scared.  He laughs and crushes the crucifix with his hand.  “You have to have faith for this to work on me.”  In other words, you’ve got to have faith.

And now a musical interlude.

Which brings me to the Bible Study group at Starbuck’s and elephants in the room.

So, I showed up and we all gathered at a front table. I pretty much monopolized the entire conversation with questions and the story of my coffee maker which might or might not be a sign from God.  I asked about how God could speak to me.  Would I hear a voice?  Should I be looking for signs?

The Bible study leader contemplated this question carefully and said that there could be signs, but it’s not like she could “Ask God for a sign, like the next person to walk through the door will be wearing a blue shirt.”  Her back was to the door, and I kid you not, just as she said this, a man wearing a blue button down shirt walked through the door.

“He just did,” I deadpanned.

I took it as a sign, but then again, I’m kind of kooky and look for meaning in broken coffee makers.

We all got a good laugh out of that one.  And then I asked if I could attend church with her next month.  And it’s a go.  And then she began to tell me about this class at her church called the elephant in the room and one was about gay marriage.  And I was like “For the record, I’m all for it.”  I was alone in this sentiment, which leads me back to thoughts about belief.

I’m running a little long with this post.  Don’t worry, folks.  I’m not going to take my rainbow colored ball and leave the playground.  I’m in.  Open heart, open mind.  Things happen for a reason.  At least in my book they do.

I’m gonna leave you with a song.

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Random Post About People Who Need People

So, today I was contacted by the Bible Study leader.  She said she’d read yesterday’s blog post and felt really bad that I thought I wasn’t wanted at the Bible Study.  She also said she’d be more than happy to get together with me in the next week to go over the first week’s lesson.  Now I feel guilty for making her feel bad and for making her have to do more work all because of my roadblocks.  I think I’ll be okay if I don’t go over it with her.  And yes, I do plan on attending in two weeks—come Hell or high water!  Can I say that without offending anyone?  I guess I just did.

Anyway, now that that’s settled and I’m going to keep on keeping on with my original plan, I was freed up mentally to do a little cleaning of my house this morning. And, man did it need it! I did some deep thinking, but not so much deep cleaning.  With my other book, an agent asked me what was at stake.  In other words, what would have happened if I hadn’t explored death?  I had to do some soul searching on that one, but I finally figured it out.  I used to have pretty bad social anxiety and looking at death helped me to live.  And I imagine you’re totally thinking What???  I assure you it will make more sense if you read the book.  Maybe one day you’ll have that opportunity, but don’t hold your breath or anything.

In 2010, I went through four months of cognitive behavioral therapy through a study at SMU and my fight or flight kookiness really got better after that. I could write an entire week’s worth of blog posts on the crazy stuff they made us do in therapy, but I don’t want to completely veer off track.  Okay, here’s one thing because you’re probably thinking I’m being sort of secretive.  It involved trying on ugly/ill-fitting clothes and then walking around a retail establishment asking random strangers what they thought about my ensemble. So, anyway, I’m still not a social butterfly or anything, but I’m no longer avoiding situations that involve people.  And that’s a good thing.

So, this got me thinking about why I’m doing this particular exploration.  I’m going to let Barbara Streisand, a very talented Jewish singer answer it for me with a song.

Confused?  Are you thinking, but Pamela, I thought you wanted to find God?  What’s this about people?  Well, here’s the thing.  My husband and I moved to Texas two years ago on my fortieth birthday. It was like 100 degrees outside and I felt like Samantha in Sixteen Candles, except everyone knew it was my birthday, but they had to move my couch inside and that was probably more important than celebrating the fact that I was turning the big 4-0.  Sorry for the digression.  What I’m trying to say is that it is difficult to make friends in a new town when you’re old and prone to profuse sweating in the presence of strangers.

So, I went to therapy.  And I met one friend, but not in therapy.  I met my friend through the PTA at my kids’ school.  And the thing is, she’s really religious.  And I’m not.  This is the Bible belt, ya’ll.  I’m surrounded.  And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  I’m just saying, I’m curious to see what everyone is so excited about.  I’m also a smart shopper in that I’m not going to pick the first place I find.  I want to explore several places (and that would be 12 because a year sounds like a reasonable plan) to see what’s out there.

And that involves going out and meeting people.  In houses of worship.

Are we on the same page now?  Good.  You can go back to whatever you were doing.

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What Happens at the Bible Study…

Today was supposed to be my first day of Bible study.  I woke up and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies as some sort of peace offering to the women of my group who would have to tolerate my lack of faith, not to mention my endless series of questions.  At about1pm, my husband showed me his elbow.  It looked seriously puffy and weird.  I told him he should go to the Care Now to get it checked out before he went on the road for a week.  Since it was 99 degrees outside today and his 65 Ford doesn’t have A/C, he took my car. I figured he’d be home in plenty of time for me to get to the meeting at four.

What do they say about the best laid plans?

Yeah, well, we all know how that story ends. So, when my hubby called at three to say he was still waiting to be seen, I called a friend who was also going to the Bible study to ask for a ride.  I left her a voice mail and about twenty-minutes later I texted her. Then I called the leader of the Bible Study to let her know I would probably be late.  That call also went to voicemail.

Neither call was returned by Four-o’-clock.  Was this a sign? I could be completely creating this all in my neurotic noggin’, but I kind of got the feeling that my presence was no longer requested.  Why?  Well, for one, I’m a writer and I guess the rules that apply to Vegas also apply to women’s Bible study groups—what happens at the Bible study stays at the Bible study.  Unless, of course you’ve invited a spiritually questing writer to observe said Bibly study, then all bets are off.  I probably wouldn’t want me there either.  This got me thinking that I may need to do this inquiry into religion without telling anyone I’m doing it. Because once people know, they’ll either act differently or else they’ll shut down and won’t want to talk to me.

What to do?  What to do?

Should I be like Groucho Marx who once said, “Please accept my resignation.  I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for a very important message.

 

Okay, so my friend, the first one I called, just texted me back to say she’d fallen asleep and didn’t go.  So, I guess I was just being paranoid about them not wanting me there.

But then I also thought, maybe I’m making this all manifest to prevent me from partaking in the Bible Study.  Did I send my husband off with my car so I wouldn’t have a ride?  Do I put my own road blocks up because I’m scared of being judged?

So, I guess I’ve got to ask myself, what would Jesus do?

I prefer being upfront and honest with people, but maybe this journey really isn’t about other people and what they do.  It’s more about what I do.  So, should I attend the next Bible study?  Or should I go it alone on a covert mission?

What do you think would work best if my mission is to discover my religion, while also writing about the experience?

 

 

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Week One

I did the first week’s lesson plan from the Frazzled Female in one day. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it, but it’s reflective of just how frazzled I am. This book is written by Cyndi Wood and if I’m going to be perfectly honest, which I usually am, I am having a problem with the language. I am a person who knows very little about the Bible, so it’s like I’m going from not knowing how to swim to jumping into the deep end and hoping I’ll figure out the breast stroke when I’m immersed in the water.

So, here’s a passage to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

If you have made the choice to begin this intimate relationship with your personal Lord and Savior, delight in the fact that the Father longs to experience a deep love with you. He has so much in store for you as you learn about His extraordinary love and seek to know His ways.

Okay, I am forty-one years old and I’m just now exploring Christianity. I’m a good person. I volunteer. I take an active interest in my children’s lives. I vote. I pay taxes. I hold the door for people. I say “Bless you” if you sneeze. I’m kind to animals and old people. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think I’m a pretty good person, but after reading the first chapter of this book, I think I have a gutter mind. Seriously. When I hear “intimate” relationship, I think of, well, my husband. I do not think of Jesus. I think of Jesus as some long haired really cool guy that we celebrate a couple of times a year, but I don’t really know much about him other than he made water into wine and cured some people and was eventually executed on a cross.

Along with talk of intimacy in the above passage, there’s “delight” and he “longs” for and “His extraordinary love.” Is it just me or does this sound kind of sexual? Okay, so before you cast stones, I get the fact that it’s my own language problem and not Cyndi’s. She’s just saying I need to get to know Jesus—on an intimate level. Because he’s really cool and unlike most men, very open to intimacy.

I get that.

So, how does one get intimate with Jesus? Cyndi advises that we talk to him. A lot. Tell him what’s going on. In other words, she suggests we pray.

So, here is my second obstacle during week one. Yes, I have prayed in the past, but it’s usually about the big stuff (please don’t let the plane crash, please don’t let my mom have cancer) and it’s generally directed to—and here’s the problem—I don’t know. I worry that if I talk to Jesus about everything, like what to make for dinner or when should I let my daughter wear mascara, I feel like he’s going to tune me out when it really counts. Bad stuff happens to good people all of the time.

Reassuringly, Cyndi says that, “If God denies your request He has something better planned for your life.” So, what if you need a heart so that you can parent your young children into adulthood? Or you need a job so that you don’t get evicted from your house? And then neither of those requests is answered? What then? Does that mean death and/or homelessness is the better plan?

I would have serious doubts that I wasn’t praying loud or often enough, or that I wasn’t worthy of my request. Up until this point in my life, I was told to “Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.” Expecting Jesus to handle billions of prayers from “should I make tacos?” to “please don’t let my son die before I do” is a lot to ask of a man.

This is going to be a tough six weeks, but I do have a prayer. I pray that these women will be patient with me and my silly questions and not want to pummel me in a moment of frustration. And yes, it will be interesting to hear how my questions are addressed at the meeting.

I’ll keep you posted.

P

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Well, I guess I’m really doing this

And what’s that you ask?  You can read this post on my other blog to get started.  That is, if you’re interested.  But since you’re here, you might as well find out about this project.  Sit down.  Relax for a minute.

Okay, here’s the deal. I’m going on a spiritual quest over the next year to find my religion.  I’m going to explore one religion a month by reading text, attending services and seeing what happens.  And I’m not limiting it to Christianity.  At the end of the year, I’ll pick one.  Kinda like the bachelorette on TV, but different.

 

Why am I doing this?  Well, for one, I’ve spent the last couple of years exploring death.  What I found is that religion and spirituality went hand in hand with death.  There’s the obvious question of what happens after I die, as well as someone’s faith giving them comfort in their last days of life.

I wasn’t raised with religion.  Yes, we went to church on occasion, but it wasn’t a regular part of my upbringing.  And I kind of want that.  I want to feel a part of something larger than myself.  I want to know what faith is.

I recently joined a Bible study group to see what that’s about.  We’re working from a book called The Frazzled Female.  I started talking with another PTA mom on field day and she mentioned her church and this Bible study group.  I saw her post on Facebook that a new group was forming, so I just took the ball and ran with it.  That’s how I roll.  If it comes up organically, then I’ll go.  I do have a plan, but I’m going to trust whomever that is running the show to put this stuff in my path.

Photo courtesy of J.T. O’Neill

At this point, I don’t have a regular idea of what I’m going to do on this blog.  Posts will be random at first, but hopefully I will have questions and maybe a few answers to discuss.  Thanks for stopping by!

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