Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Religious Smackdown

Why does happiness and joy seem to bring out the worst in some people? I have seen it over and over.

I think the first time I remember seeing it was as a young child going to the First Baptist Church of the small town my Grandmother lived in. It was a beautiful spring day. The songbirds were happily laying claim to their respective territories among the flowering trees. The sun was shining, but it was not unbearably hot yet,like it gets all too quickly on the Great Plains. It must have been March or maybe early April, because by June summer is in full force.

The town was so small that no one who actually lived in town was more than a few blocks from church. I had walked to church, and so had my Grandma. My neighbor from across the street was there at church, as were so many older people I knew from living in that town. The barber, the mechanic, the fourth grade teacher. That's just how it is in a small town.

My neighbor from across the street had also walked that morning and thoroughly enjoyed the new life bursting out all around her as she went. She was like that.

I loved this lady. A couple of times every summer I would go over to her house, where she lived alone, and break up the boredom of summer with a visit. She always made me a cool drink, and we would sit on her back porch and enjoy what little shade there was on that prairie. It seemed like all the shade on the whole prairie was concentrated in her back yard, as she had so many trees and shrubs around the perimeter.

She also had this magical patch of soft, thick green grass that was completely unlike the scratchy hard grass that grew everywhere else. St. Augustine was the name of her sumptious living throw rug. She carefully tended that small patch which grew only in the shade and required hand watering each evening.

She also had two other things of interest, a piano and a canary. When we were inside, she would often play the piano and we would sing together. We would sing children's songs and hymns both, having a good time belting out either one. It was the freedom to sing that was healing, more so than the words we sang.

Or if we were sitting on the back porch, the canary would sing for us. He was a delicate little bird with beautiful yellow feathers. She would whistle to him and he would whistle back. My neighbor was also delicate and tiny and beautiful. He was the perfect pet for her.

On that particular Sunday morning, my neighbor was up in the choir, beaming as usual. I don't remember if she waved at me that morning, like she sometimes did. I do remember that she was very, very happy.

The boring pastor was just wrapping up announcements, when my elderly neighbor piped up from the choir.

"Excuse me pastor." Her voice wavered a bit in the way of the aged as she tentatively slipped up her hand.

"Why yes, Mrs.________. Do you have an announcement to add?" The pastor smiled and turned toward the choir. He was a nice enough man I guess. I don't remember a word he ever said but I don't remember him being mean either.

My neighbor was just glowing with happiness. It oozed from her being. She closed her eyes and let the bliss settle over her countenance.

"Oh yes, I just want to thank Jesus for creating such a beautiful world and such a beautiful day. Isn't God good?" She enthused. Honestly and from the heart. No religious show-boating about it. It was as plain as day that she truly meant it.

My own heart leaped on the inside and I thought to myself YES! I feel it too!

My Grandma snorted in derision, and muttered not too quietly, "Oh shut up, you old fool. You look stupid."

Now as a child, I really had no reaction to what my Gramdma said. I didn't agree with her, obviously. My heart resonated with the joyful proclamation of my neighbor. I just observed, and that moment is etched in my memory forever.

What is it that causes the unhappy to hate those who have found joy in life? It remains a mystery to me. You think at the very least they would be happy someone was experiencing it, even if they themselves were not.

But no, the instinct is to shame the honest, living, loving, laughing person; to try to bring social censure down upon their head; to destroy love.

Unfortunately many do so in the name of God. My Grandma seemed to be of the opinion that God preferred passive faces going though the motions of a "church service" to hearts on fire with life.

I love my Grandma, but she was so wrong that day. She is in glory now and I believe she herself is probably sheepish today in remembering her attitude, yet not shamed. There is no shame in the presence of God. His perfect love casts out all fear, so that honesty and humility are not a source of rejection. They just are. I believe that with all my heart.

It isn't confined to religion though. It happens every where, in church and outside of church. Tight-lipped bitter people despise those with real joy, in many cases successfully manipulating public opinion to ostracize the emotionally whole and push them outside of their social circle.

I run into it in the oddest of places. I have smacked up against it in home school support groups, churches, home owner's associations, women's clubs and the work place. I have been bullied by it most often by professing Christians, but also by unhappy people of all faiths and no faith. It is the oddest phenomenon.

You hear it expressed as derision for those who are "liberal". You read and enjoyed The Shack? You are a compromiser! You had fun drinking beer with your neighbors and even got a little tipsy? You are horribly compromised! You cussed and cried when your heart was ripped open? How dare you call yourself a Christian!

This ugly self-righteousness seems to stick to people who have themselves given up on religion. Like the time my sister reviled me for ordering a strawberry daquiri at a restaurant once. I am openly a Christian. She was openly not. It would seem that she would not care whether someone bought and enjoyed an alcholic beverage or not. I certainly don't care, and I am a Christian. I don't think God cares either. Not the God who has richly given us all good things to enjoy, including wine to make glad the heart of man. (Look it up if you're interested. The Bible includes both statements.)

Yet she condemned me for drinking! It's as if all the ugliness of dead religion was what she brought with her out of the fundamentalist upbringing she left behind. She was indignant, snorting at me with derision just like my Grandma did to my neighbor all those years ago.

It's one of the most sad things I have ever seen. A person leaves a faith that only hurt them with rejection, but the one thing they take with them is the self-righteous denunciation of the "unworthy". They keep the worst part and let it be a part of who they are forever. Yuck.

And so I am writing out my manifesto of faith this morning for all to see. God is love. This I know. I know that I know that I know. Nothing can shake this from me.

Jesus is the human representation of God on this earth, so we could get to know who He really is and how much (how amazingly unfathomably much) He loves us. This I believe. I'm not letting that go either.

God is so good (that's what holiness really is folks, pure goodness-NOT PURE MEANNESS!!). I know this too. And I believe that the only way He could envelop us not-always-good-creatures in His presence was to purify us first. This task He took upon Himself in the cross of humiliation, to cleanse us in His own blood. Christus victor.

Now nothing can separate us from His love. (By the way, God is spirit. There is no gender in Spirit, but He refers to Himself more often as Father than Mother. Though there is that too! El-Shaddai= Mighty Breasted One; in the gospels as a Mother Hen wanting to gather in her chicks. It's in there, fundies. Deal with it.)

I raise my voice when I'm frustated. God loves me. I sing when I'm full of happiness. God still loves me. I cuss when the wrong buttons get pushed (PTSD is a beyotch!). God adores me. I complain when I feel hopeless. God dotes on me. I bitch and throw fits when life sucks at the time. God patiently waits until my emotion is spent, still treasuring me as beautiful while I blow my nose and dry my tears. I drink and dance and live life to the fullest my heart will allow. God dances with me.

God is good. Life is good. For all the haters, sucks to be you. I haven't a clue how to help you, or I would be quick on the job. I think it's something you have to figure out own your own. I wish you well.

And any time you want to join me in enjoying love, learning and liberty in this life, you are welcome. You don't have to share my faith (aka my theology), my sense of style, or my taste in music. Just chuck the self-righteousness and jump on in. There's plenty of room. Promise.


  1. This post really resonates with me as I have often talked to my family the last few years about how hard it is to just let people see me be happy. It sounds so strange, but I really do tend to often think about if someone might be having a hard time and I don't want to rub my happiness in their face, or it seems "cheesy" or something to be as happy as I feel. It was a real problem for me for a while, though (partly because I was struggling with intermittent depression so emotions were a challenge anyway). Also there is the problem of superstitious "as soon as I start to enjoy something, something bad is going to happen." I don't think I've ever been much of a squasher, at least I hope not. When I've been at my most depressed I've just avoided people.

    I don't know if I'd call the squashers self-righteous, but I'm not sure what else to call it. Most people in my family have an anxiety disorder to one degree or other and my one brother suffers a LOT from anxiety about religious things. He is definitely fundie and yet he really, really loves people. He is often a wet blanket out of real concern but we can usually joke him out of it.

    On the other hand, there is a family I know of who is ALWAYS posting "Yay, God loves me and I am SO happy!" type statuses and it's starting to really get to me. I think it's because it feels fake, though. Hope it's not because I'm a grouch, LOL!

    I love the stories about your neighbor lady, I've always wanted to be that kind of welcoming and interesting person that kids and lonely people drop in on...


  2. I hope we both wind up like my former neighbor!

    I would post her name if I could remember it, but it escapes me. I could get a forensic artist to come up with a good likeness of her face though! LOL

    Sorry you are feeling blue. Hope it lifts soon. (((LT)))

  3. Oops, just notice the verb tense is past: WAS struggling with intermittent depression.

    YAY! Glad that's over and done. Live loved, and enjoy the happiness God gives you. It just might resonate with some little girls heart someday, ya know?

  4. Thanks, I am doing much better nowadays, phew! :-D I will remember that about kids and leaving an impression on them. It is funny what the smallest things can do.


  5. Nice post... I totally agree!

    ; )

  6. LOVE this post. This is amazing Titus 2 stuff. <3