Struggle

•September 17, 2014 • 1 Comment

As some people may know, recently I have been struggling more than normal with living in a world dominated by Christian thought and principles. I have made more Facebook comments than normal, even though, usually, I refrain, knowing that the comments won’t make any difference one way or another. I suppose to some people that I come across as bitter…I’m not exactly. I’m just more than a little angry lately that Christians can advertise their beliefs wherever they want, while I am restricted from doing so. This isn’t really a new thing. The concept of everything mainstream being accepted and everything “other” being vilified is something that every era of human history has in common with another. However, that being said, I find that as I get older, it gets harder and harder to just “suck it up” and “deal with it.” So, in answer, I’ve contributed more of my thought lately to Facebook posts that cause me irritation than I used to. So far, most of the threads in which my opinion has been rendered have been deleted. Particularly those that make valid points about how militant, warmongering and unforgiving Christianity’s tenets can be. I’ve elaborated on my disdain for the religion because of what it causes people to do to one another. So far, I’ve been called a bigot, an idiot, a dummy… I’ve been accused of wanting to see the demise of Christians and their faith (which is not true, I simply want them to allow for other opinions and give those opinions the respect that they themselves expect as Christians).

I have before written in blog posts about my beliefs, or rather my inability to forgive the Christian religion for its dark history and its trespasses against humanity (e.g. the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Witch Burnings, the Old Testament supported genocides, the coming of an Apocalypse in which all people who disagree with Christian tenets will be severely murdered) and the things those who typically follow the doctrine end up being forced to support: the denying certain people their equality because of their sexual orientation, color or gender; the doctrine’s desire to take away a woman’s choices regarding her own body; the tendency toward keeping the white male in supreme dominance over everyone else as is evident by the white male’s total dominance in government; the desire to kill or destroy those who practice Islam by claiming it to be full of only militants who demand America’s demise; the latent belief that women are not as capable as men at leading; or even that women are responsible for the sin and downfall of the world and should be avoided (Thanks, Paul the Apostle), etc. ad nauseum. BUT, for me, the way I feel, the hatred I have for such a vicious religion as Christianity, has nothing to do with God. Not really. I’m an atheist, sure. I don’t believe there is anything after death, or that there is a god who cares about us individually. I do not hate the idea of a God. I don’t hate people who believe in God, and I don’t hate Christians even though I despise most facets of Christianity itself. (Although the quotes on the love of money being the root of all evil or doing good to those who despise you I can agree with.) I remove that idea of Christianity from the people who practice it because most, if not all, of the Christians I know are excellent people who want to help others and who rely on the “grace” portion of Christianity to get them through life, without thinking about all the rest. I don’t think these people are idiots, or dummies, or bigots. I think sometimes that they willfully close their eyes to certain truths that are too painful for them to digest, as all of us are wont to do.

For example, there can be no doubt of all the terrible things the Christian God did to other races in the Old Testament. The murder of people is one of the core staples of the Old Testament. It cannot be denied that the Old Testament supports and encourages this murder, endorses slavery, denies those with afflictions from God’s temple, or even condones rape. It cannot be denied that the only two books in the Old Testament by women support the idea that a woman is either a.) a good wife to a man or b.) a prostitute in some version or another (Ruth vs. Esther). Those things are in the Bible in black and white. But, if you mention these to a Christian, the doctrine tells them to ignore those things, and to say that we live in the Age of Grace and that we don’t need those laws anymore because Jesus died for us. That’s a convenient way to sidestep the issue. However, my question is, why did we need those severe laws in the first place? Why would any benevolent leader allow children to be murdered, and even command it? Why would someone who has sex with his daughters, or commits the act of incest be among God’s chosen emissaries? Why did we need laws that stated a man should be put to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath? Why should not a benevolent leader speak out against slavery instead of saying that a slave that does not do his master’s will by accident will receive few stripes while a slave that does not do his master’s will on purpose will receive many? Why not denounce the act of slavery altogether? These are my questions. Why would anyone follow a leader who commands so much massacre and violence in the first place? Forget whether or not Jesus was put to death to bridge the gap between a mean, jealous God and us, and tell me why he was mean and jealous in the first place!

An easy way out is to tout free will. To say if we had not sinned, God would be nice to us. However, so many things God did involved an erosion of a person’s free will. Such as when he hardened pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the Jews go. Pharaoh didn’t decide that. God did. And even Jesus himself says that he did not come to “bring peace, but a sword.” WHY is Christianity so violent? It’s violent because the people who created it were violent. That was the way life was back then. Why cannot humanity’s involvement in creating Christianity be acknowledged by its followers? What kind of God urges his followers to follow blindly with faith, ignoring all reason? Who would follow a human leader like that? No one! And those who did cause terrible things to happen (i.e. the Germans following Hitler).

This is what I hate about it. And, in my opinion, any moral person SHOULD find these things disgusting. Any person with a moral nature should reel in horror at the things mentioned in the Old Testament as the works of God. Drowning the entire Earth’s population except for one man (and his family) who was a drunk and a lecher? Burning and destroy the whole towns of Sodom and Gomorrah including the babies and the children who have had no chance to even make choices? Even Lot, who survived, had sex with his own daughters! And he was considered godly? Killing David’s newborn baby to punish him for killing Bathsheba’s husband? Making this man the greatest king in recorded biblical history, despite his murderous tendencies? There are MANY people in the world today who would never think of killing anyone, even if they did covet another person’s wife. What about them? Why aren’t they God’s examples?

I’m not saying any of this to try to convince anyone that their religion is wrong. I’m saying this to explain why I, personally, cannot believe in it. Morally, I recoil at the idea that any race should be put to death, whether they were the Midianites or the Muslims or the Jews OR the Christians. I cannot justify Christianity’s dark history in my mind nor in my heart. I cannot “forgive” a religion that causes so much infighting and destruction while humanity tries to reason out its principles. (This goes for Islam, Judaism or any monotheistic or polytheistic religion that fits this category.) I simply cannot do it.

I’m not angry with God. That would be like me being angry at Santa Claus, who I also do not believe exists. I’m not angry at spiritualism that says there’s more to the Universe than just science and flesh and bone. I think that would be neat, even though, personally I haven’t seen much to indicate there’s a deity out there. It would still be cool if there were a nice one to help me in my day to day life. I’m not angry at Christians, who are mostly good people, at least if they are serious about their faith, who want to do good and want to save the world from evil. I’m angry at the doctrine. The doctrine that says that “If you are not with me, you are against me!” (Would it work the same way to say, “If you are not against me, then you must be with me?” I think not.) I’m angry at the doctrine that says it’s wrong to be gay, even if you’re a good person and you were born that way, and that therefore your lifestyle and person must be vilified and your choices taken from you. I’m against the doctrine that forbids people who believe in Christianity from being “unequally yoked” with those who do not believe, thus forcing Christians to be judgmental in that way. I’m against a doctrine that says “Judge not lest ye be judged,” but in the same breath advises its followers to “be aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing” and “false prophets” which makes it impossible for a Christian to then be non judgmental. I’m angry at a doctrine that sets us up to fail and then continually focuses on our failures and constantly touts us as weak and unable to be good people without some kind of threat of fire and brimstone or eternal suffering. I’m angry at a doctrine that causes people who would normally like each other and get along fine to be constantly wary of each other an unable to trust. I’m angry at a doctrine that vilifies Jews or any other race/religion as less than, or worthy of slaughter. I’m angry at all the things Christianity has made possible, at least, in the sense that it has allowed others to hide behind its tenets in order to commit their evil deeds.

If you are a Christian and you are my friend, then rest assured I am not saying you are not a good person because you’re a Christian, or that I consider you less of a friend. I base my friendships on how people treat me and how they treat others. My inability to believe in your religion is in no way intended to belittle you or to say that you are obviously misled or uneducated. My inability to believe in your religion and to forgive Christianity’s dark and dangerous past isn’t personal, or about YOU in any way. If you feel I’ve stayed away from you, it’s only because I have not wanted to offend you by my presence, which makes some Christians uncomfortable, knowing they have an atheist in their midst.

I am trying to avoid posting my thoughts on religion on your “private threads” or comments or posts. Not because I think that Christianity is benevolent and moral, but because it makes it hard on other people (in my family especially) for their friends and other family members to know the truth about me. I, for one, though, am tired of being forced to keep silent for fear that Christians as a whole will be offended by what I have to say. I get offended by Christianity in one form or another every day. Not because of God, but because of the doctrine which I feel is oppositional, judgmental and unfair. Because of a society that insists that the Christian God, as doctrine has come to define him, is moral and will save us from our doom. BUT, that said, I am going to tone it down because my personal beliefs put those I care about in danger of alienation or ridicule by those in the Christian majority. As for my Christian friends, those who are close to me know intimately my problems with Christianity as a whole. Many of them have the same questions and irritations that I do. Those Christians realize that there is a difference between the God they believe in and the God as Christianity has come to define him. They are not threatened by my beliefs. Their God is fair and righteous and full of grace. In fact, most of the time, I’m convinced that theirs is a different God altogether, one that is much more worthy of praise and admiration. There are also those who desire to be willfully offended. They will intentionally mistake my words and twist my complaints in the light most favorable to the doctrine of their choice. That’s fine. I can’t please everybody. To those of you who are my friends, though, rest assured that I am not out to destroy your faith. I believe you should be allowed to practice it in whichever way is suitable to you. I will go to bat for your rights to practice Christianity, so long as it stays out of government and avoids trying to insinuate itself into places where it does not belong (such as legislation). I feel the same way about Satanism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, or any other religion that seeks to influence public policy in its favor. So, Christianity, don’t assume that you are being persecuted simply because you are being held to the same standard as everyone else. Fair is fair.

Making Progress

•August 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

For a while now, I’ve been doing freelance work. The freelance life comes down to making money, and so I’ve been dedicating a lot of my time to it recently. Then, of course, with the move and the new teaching job looming, I’ve been putting my writing aside, even though it’s the one thing that truly makes me happy. Happiness doesn’t pay the bills, yo! But, today, even with the need to do stuff for which I will get paid is clearly rising like Godzilla out of the sea, I sat down to write in the book, because I NEED to and because it’s been so long, it feels like I haven’t even been myself. Today, I am pleased to report that I penned eleven pages and two chapters for the book, and did a few corrections that focusing more on a minor character in this book than in the first one inevitably causes to happen. So, the novel gets closer to its completion date, and I’m glad that I haven’t released the first novel yet, since I ended up having to do some changes to a very small plot line from the first book. Anyway, I’m happy with my work and proud of myself, even though my shoulder is killing me, I haven’t done any paid work today, and I haven’t yet been on the treadmill. Yowza!

Humiliation.

•May 20, 2014 • 1 Comment

I had a terrible day. I’ve been having a lot more of those than I’d like to admit lately. I should be working, making money, doing all the things on the “to do” list that have been piling up. But instead, I feel like lying in bed, pulling the blanket over my head, and refusing to believe that this day–or the one before it, or maybe even the one after– ever existed. Times have been rough for me emotionally since August of 2013. That was the month that the Advocate Program I was working for–and the Juvenile Probation Office– removed my clients from my care and virtually sent me packing. I say “virtually” because the Advocate program did not fire me, or even remove my clients on their own accord. In fact, according to them, I was great at my job, great at assessing people’s needs (even to the point, said my boss, that people might become uncomfortable because I knew what they needed before they did) and at solving conflicts and redirecting focus to meet goals. But, the Juvenile Probation Office did not agree. Their reason for not “trusting my judgment” was based on lies. In fact, their decision was mostly political. But…some of it was religious. I have not hidden my atheism from others. But, I haven’t blasted it out with a bullhorn either. Mostly, I let people believe I am exactly like them and believe exactly what they believe by not engaging them in debates or making them feel like I am criticizing their faith or the belief system on which they were reared by their parents or which is basically practiced by their whole town. I’m okay with that. I suppose that sometimes I make people defensive about their faith, but it is all unintentional. In trying to share what I believe, sometimes I say things that put people on edge. I don’t realize I’m doing it until afterwards (usually waaaaay after), but I don’t mean to. I’m just trying to be honest. With myself and with others.

The trouble is, people in this town believe that if you don’t believe in God and you don’t go to church, there is no way you can be a good person. Their general belief is that if you are not “with us” you are “against us,” or that people like me are “pawns” of the devil. That our intention is to lead people from God and pollute young minds with “science” or “realism.” Such was never my intent. In fact, I never mentioned my religious beliefs, or lack of them, and I never approved of any discussion of religion with clients who were not religious, as my colleagues often did. I just didn’t consider our job as advocates an appropriate platform for advancing ANY religious subject. Still, despite my harmless intentions, people’s perceptions of me affected my job. It’s not that I did something wrong. It’s that they were afraid I would.  In order to justify their feelings, they believed everything anyone said that cast me in a negative light…even if that person did not intend it as such. They believed a woman who was diagnosed mentally ill and unhappy about the program’s involvement with her family, who blatantly stated she was no longer going to participate in the program and would have said anything to get out of the court order, regardless of the fact that my record was stellar and that there was no proof of her accusations. This became the basis of every other negative-seeming comment made, and eventually allowed the JPO to cast me in such a negative light, that they assumed I was unable to do my job. They even made things up to confirm their already decided belief about who I am. I can’t lie. What they did broke my heart. More than anything, though, it broke my spirit. 

I worked so hard for the young people in my care. I did everything I could to nurture them and provide them the structure they lacked in their families. Sure, I made mistakes. But who doesn’t? The mistakes I made didn’t warrant so severe an impeachment on my character. This is the first time I’ve written about what happened to me publicly. I don’t want to point fingers or cause bad blood. But it’s been nearly a year now, and I have yet to heal. It would not have been so bad if they had just said there was no room for me, or that they didn’t need me anymore. But that’s not what they did. They humiliated me. They said they couldn’t trust my judgment, which is key for any job I do. They caused me to question myself and worry about my own judgment. What could I have done differently? How could I have gotten a different response? Should I have kept everything about myself secret, even though to do so would feel dishonest and against my own moral compass? Should I hide who I am for the comfort of others? 

Most importantly, I have learned that something I believed with all my heart is a devastating lie: that if you work hard, and do your absolute best, you will be safe. That you can affect the outcome of your life by monitoring and perfecting your behavior. The truth is, your behavior doesn’t matter at all. The only thing that matters is how other people want to perceive  your behavior. If they want to see you as incompetent, they will find all the evidence they can, and see you as incompetent. And if they can’t find evidence, they will twist what they do find to reflect what they want to see. No matter what you actually do, they will see what they want to see, and they will convince others to see the same. 

So, where is the lesson in all this? What is it that Life wanted me to take away from this heartbreaking event? I’m not sure. But perhaps, it was a lesson in humility. Or perhaps it was a lesson in compassion. I have learned to be more compassionate. When I see someone who has been downtrodden, or hear someone putting another person down, I immediately wonder if my view of that person is what I myself have observed, or just what someone else wants me to believe. I am less quick to pass judgment, and quicker at checking the things I say to make sure they are not unduly harsh or cruel or faulty (not backed up by actual evidence). Still, the wounds I suffered have not garnered more compassion for me. People still judge me cruelly or harshly, are quick to see (and spread) the worst aspects of my personality, and in general “expect” more from me than from other people. Today, with all the pressures I face daily to succeed at writing, to train a headstrong puppy (with which I have no previous experience), save enough money to make the move to Florida that I have been promising myself for years now, to keep my relationship happy and fulfilling, to eat healthy, to maintain a clean and attractive home, to help my sister plan for her wedding, and to work the four jobs I have to make enough money to survive, I’m feeling a bit stretched. It’s at times like this when I look at what happened to me last August, and feel hopeless that I can ever make anything better. I had no control over that situation, and I have no control now. I will still continue to do the best I can every day because that’s what I do. No matter what, I have to strive to be the best I can be, come what may. But sometimes, I’d like to yell at other people to GIVE ME SOME SLACK! Instead of the demanding, “why haven’t yous” and the “what’s wrong with yous,” and “when are you gonnas…” maybe once, I’d like just a little tenderness. Just once. And then, again.

Doubt

•April 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

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Doubt

 

I don’t want to talk about talent. I want to talk about skill. Skill is different than talent because talent is like crude oil. The resource is there. It’s deep in the ground (or deep inside you, to continue the analogy), but the drilling of it—the refining of it—that is where the knowledge, the craft, the skill comes from. Just being a “talented” person isn’t enough. A talent is considered something you are born with. (Or call it “aptitude.”) But if you just leave it in the ground, if you refuse to drill it, to refine it—it just sits there, unused. I feel like I was born with a modest amount of talent.

 

My interest in writing, my passion for it, found me early. I come from a long line of memory-keepers, journalers, amateur geneaologists. So, I suppose it isn’t surprising that writing is the thing I love the most. But my skill… I feel I have a great amount of skill. I can turn a phrase, rock the grammar, and turn out pages of type that is compelling. But my belief in my skill, my trust in my refined talent, is limited. It’s like having a large reservoir of oil beneath the ocean—so far beneath that no equipment could ever sink down low enough to mine it. And I’m afraid that this failure to believe in my ability to succeed has made me an unpleasant person.

 

I wonder often how people with less skill, who have worked less at honing the craft than I have, who misspell frequently and avoid grammar entirely , can be so successful as writers, while I, full of self-doubt and angst about my skill, despite the number of man hours and the amount of money spent for the credentials and study, essentially fail all the time.

 

I have become close friends with failure. Failure greets me every morning when I wake up. It’s my constant conversant in dinner conversations. It showers with me, sleeps with me, works out with me. It’s the critic in the back of the room while I teach students about grammar and the importance of its everyday applications. It’s with me at the law firm, when I’m translating the honest answers to discovery questions into passive voice designed to lessen the impact of a client’s culpability. It’s with me when I meet people who worked at the job I was considered “unfit” to do. Every day, failure and I play a little game where I try to tell her my successes, and she lessens them into dog shit on the bottom of my shoe.

 

The problem with skill is that it opens the way for doubt. And the problem with doubt is that it’s the byproduct and evidence of failure. There is always something else to learn, some aspect of writing to refine. If the poem is great, its performance is likely to be sub par. If the plot is fantastic, the dialog needs work. There is always some skill to hone; there is always some voice to disrupt the confidence gained from mastering aspects of the craft.

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So, while others are succeeding because their belief in their skills outweighs their actual skills, here I sit, glass full of skills and with nothing to show for it. I wish I could step outside myself, discover my brand, become “accessible.” But, I fear that my version of accessibility will never be suitable. I talk too much. I tell corny jokes. I love puns. I use big words. Not because I’m trying to confuse, but because that’s how I talk. I don’t realize that I sound inaccessible.I don’t realize that the way I am isolates people.

My belief in being the best you can be makes anyone who might show me their work feel like I’m going to rip their self-esteem apart and tell them they have no talent. I won’t. Because this isn’t a question of talent. Everyone has talent. Maybe it’s unrealized, but it’s there. This is a question of skill. I might say that something could be more skillful, but I’ll show you how you can make it so, if I know. I don’t always. I have some benefit of experience. I don’t have ALL the experience. And I am surprised by the massive amounts of failure I face every day. I want people to write. It’s an amazing activity that we have been using for centuries to share our feelings, to make sense of our lives and our environment. But personally, I do want to be rewarded for my skill, and for the time I’ve put into crafting writing. I don’t want to play the trumpet. I don’t want to advertise on a bullhorn. Unfortunately, before I can get to the point of reward, I have to silence my nemesis: myself. My doubt-ridden self. I have to make friends with failure, to dismantle doubt, and to say, even if it’s only for a minute, that where I am right now, what I’m doing right this minute, is enough. That even if no one ever notices how skillful it is, the writing and the expression is beautiful and worth doing. Undoubtedly.

 

 

Well…you win some, you lose some.

•April 24, 2014 • 1 Comment

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So, I tried. I stepped out of my comfort zone and I tried something new. And I failed. Failure has become quite a friend of mine lately. So, instead of being afraid of her– this big, smelly, obvious friend failure– I’ll just embrace her, and eventually, try again. What am I talking about, you wonder?

Well, a while ago, I decided to change my blog’s presence from WordPress to my personal website. I suppose for some folks that idea would work fine, like for my friend and fellow writer, Maisha Z. Johnson. However, Maisha is infinitely more popular than I, and so, for her, I’m sure success was inevitable. For me? Not so much. 

The truth is, I absolutely SUCK at social media. I’m awkward, and half the time, the things I want to talk about just don’t interest people. When I blog, it doesn’t seem to encourage people to want to talk about things. Rather, they simply passively sit back and read without letting me know if I’ve hit the mark, or missed completely. To hell with it!

The truth is, whether other people read my writing or not, I still enjoy doing it. I’ve missed blogging in the way I miss journaling when I don’t do it. I’m a writer, and a thinker, and as such, I must write and think. Still, it’s the dialogue I am missing. As a writer, life can be lonely. I don’t mean personally. I mean, I have a wonderful partner who fulfills me in so many ways. But as a writer, I yearn for other people to reach out, to embrace the writing and the conversations the writing strives to introduce and talk to me. Not just as a writer, but as a person, as a thinker, and as a fellow human being. My desire for interaction is biological. As a social creature, I can’t escape from the desire for engagement. Every day, I am writing or thinking about writing. I journal my days, I write poems, I write novels, I edit and proof copy, write on student papers. Writing is such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine my life without it. Not sharing that thing that I love so much, that thing that I must do, is very lonely and isolating. 

I post pictures that look like the places I have invented in my book on my Tumblr page. I post parts of the story. And still, there’s no one who seems to enjoy reading these posts. I don’t think it’s that they’re not interested. I just think that it’s not promoted well enough or visible enough for most people who would enjoy such things to find them. Thus, my thesis statement above: I suck at social media. 

I will concede, though, that it’s not about how social my media is or whether or not people like what I write that drives me to do this activity. I’ve said over and over again that I write because I must. Because it’s integral to who I am. I will say, though, that my faults regarding blog postings are that I don’t open up enough about my own vulnerabilities. When I do, I feel stupid and self-conscious, which is exactly the reason I must learn to open up about those things.  Because it’s honest. Because it’s normal. And if we writers don’t do it, no one else will either. 

So, I’m opening up about this now. I make so many mistakes every day. I’m silly. I’m awkward. When I talk, I’m quite certain that people just nod and say “uh huh” and “yep” because they have no idea what I’m talking about. Especially my students. But everyone is quick to indulge me. Quick to try to make me feel like the things I say make some kind of sense or resonate. And I appreciate that. 

I wrote all this to say, I am returning my blog from my website to WordPress because I feel that the platform is easier to interact with. People know it’s here and they can avoid having to navigate through all the other things on my site that may not be placed with easy access in mind. So to those of you who have subscribed, but have not gotten anything from me recently, I’m sorry. I suck. It’s out there in the open now. Thanks!

Alaska

•December 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Alaska

Waiting for Sunset

Grand Tetons

•December 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

The Majestic Grand Teton National Park

GT024 WMK