There’s been a shift in my life recently that I’ve been meaning to write about, and it seems appropriate to share on a Sunday: I think I have finally reconciled with God.
I grew up in a small, tight-knit church community. The things I remember most about my church-going experiences were:
- Eagerly volunteering (at age 3, my first day) an answer to the Sunday School question, “How do we grow big and strong?” My answer: “spinach.” I knew this from the Popeye cartoon series, duh. (The correct answer was, of course, Jesus.)
- Adults and teens around me judging others based on the clothes they were wearing, their make-up or hair, or with whom or where they were sitting.
- Our patriarchal God, it was taught, was alternately loving and wrathful. (And, it goes without saying, bearded and white…it’s man who was made in his image, remember?)
- The parties (alcohol and porn included) we held at our teen youth group leader’s house. And this same youth leader trying to take me to bed as soon as I’d graduated from his school. But don’t worry, it was a volunteer position — he wasn’t actually paid for getting a bunch of teens drunk, renting porn for the guys or trying to peel off my clothes.
There is no question that the Bible is filled with invaluable lessons and is the basis for much of Western thought, civilization and history. And that many other people have healthy church communities and experiences.
After high school, I left the country for Asia, the Orient, a world in which this whole virgin-giving-birth story simply didn’t make sense. (Eastern religions often incorporate elements of nature; thus anyone who could believe such a tall tale might be considered loony-bin worthy.) And it was commonly known among the foreign (white) population that many ethically-questionable Christian missionaries simply memorized a litany of thought-provoking questions in the local language and nodded politely during the answers they couldn’t understand.
In summary, many of my formative experiences were ones that turned me off to organized religion. I began exploring Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism and, later, New Age thought. For a long time now, I’ve believed that terms like the divine, collective conscious (or collective unconscious), loving intelligence, universe, universal consciousness, etc. are the same thing as God, but a redefined God — a loving incorporation of our most vile and beautiful energies and potentials all rolled into one, a God with no opposite.
I continue to see examples of faith or religion — Christianity, Islam and others — used to further the forces of evil, such as lobbying against the right for homosexuals to marry. I’ve even heard there’s some wacky group of believers who drive gas-guzzling SUVs and do their best to pollute the environment in the hope that it will speed the second coming, when they will all be raptured away to the kingdom of heaven. But I also see signs of hope. It seems that some congregations are broadening their view of God, integrating mysticism back into the scriptures, engendering hope and allowing for the possibility that miracles can happen in our contemporary lives. It’s nice to believe that not all the “good stuff” happened 2,000 years ago.
Still, for a long time, people bringing up God or religious beliefs made me feel uncomfortable — visibly and viscerally. My mind was prone to make judgments about people who practiced their faiths in certain ways. And even the name God brought up an inner resistance to this notion that the masculine, patriarchal and wrathful could be the creator of all things. The ultimate act of creation — giving birth — is, after all, a feat of the feminine.
Whether this shift in consciousness has been my own or part of a greater, universal shift, I think I can finally say that I’ve let go of the baggage. I respect people for practicing their religions, whether I agree with them or not, as long as they don’t cast judgments on others or use their beliefs as weapons to combat love, acceptance and forgiveness. In the end, religion, science and life experience provides great evidence that we are all more alike than not and that The Golden Rule is the ultimate moral code.
I still don’t go to church, but I’m inching toward beginning a tour of several diverse services for me and my children (after all, I kind of like the music). And now that I’ve redefined my understanding and embraced all the inherent contradictions, I can finally hear or say the word God without cringing. I’m just a little surprised that it took me so long to get here!