Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hallelujah

I’m a regular reader of the irreverent Reverend Jayne’s Sunday Sermons. She’s wicked smart and always makes her point with a clever smarty-pants tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Additionally, a recent post and subsequent discussion in Stephen’s comments got me thinking even more about spirituality and religion. I left the following long-ass comment with Stephen last night. It’s the kind of comment that's probably better suited for this space.

I was raised in a Christian Church that punished people who asked difficult questions or challenged the leaders. The power structure was male dominated, ethnocentric and rigid. Until I was old enough to make my own choices about how to spend my time, I kept my doubts and faithlessness a secret. Later in life, I realized that I missed some things that church provided. I missed the comfort and familiarity of the rituals. I wanted a sense of belonging. I wondered about all the questions that I wasn’t allowed to ask as a child. For a little while, I explored a few new churches and asked some of my questions. My exploration stopped when I needed guidance and support but was blamed and shamed instead. Since then, I’ve contented myself by developing a very private and personal sense of spirituality. At the same time, I’ve met dozens of people who’ve shown me through their example that my limited experience doesn’t represent all religious organizations everywhere.

Personally, I may never find spiritual definition or clarity through association with a particular religion. I may never join a church or make such a thing a priority in my life. However, I’ve seen more good things come from religion than bad. I’ve witnessed amazing human survival based solely on faith. I’ve seen people turn their lives around because they found peace and hope where there was once conflict and despair.


As some of you know, my father was left in an orphanage as an infant. (story here) He was placed in a foster home but never adopted. Throughout his young life, he never experienced a sense of belonging or of being wanted. The loneliness he felt might have been unbearable if it weren’t for the relationship he developed with his God. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always maintained a steadfast sense of morality. It’s not the kind of morality that is harsh and judgmental. He’s simply good, kind and generous. I don’t think he understands any other way. One of the few times I ever saw him cry was after learning that someone did something very bad to me. He said, "Why do people do things to hurt each other when we are capable of so much love?"

Many years ago, I did a two-year gig as a Chemical Dependency Counselor. I was hired as the Family Specialist, but a short while after I started, the Director assigned me the additional task of becoming the agency expert on Spirituality & Recovery. As a girl who goes into Anaphylactic Shock from the sight of communion wafers, I tried very hard to get out of the assignment. However, as I started to do research and talk with true experts in the field about the topic, I discovered that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. I also discovered that beneath it all, I felt deeply spiritual in my relationship to others, the world and the Universe.
I felt the greatest impact of my work when someone I barely recognized dropped by my office to visit me. He was a healthy, strong 65-year old man. A year earlier he’d been a strung-out addict, just released from prison, barely clinging to his sobriety. During his visit, he told me that a conversation he had with ME (?) about spirituality had been the key to finding his path to recovery. After a lifetime of serial incarcerations, all related to alcohol and drug abuse, he had finally found his way. I have no idea what I said to him, but whatever it was, his heart was open to hearing it.

I know a couple who lost their 9-month old daughter in a terrible accident. Less than 2 years later they were blessed with another baby. Unfortunately, soon after, tragedy struck again. They learned their new son was gravely ill. His disease was rare and the prognosis was uncertain. The doctors warned that they might only have him for a few short years. The family stayed strong in their faith, prayed a lot, did everything the doctors told them to do, and relied heavily on their community of church friends to help them through the difficult times. Years passed and their sick baby grew into a child …
then, he grew into a teenager …
eventually, he grew into a beautiful man …
And then he fell in love ...
and married me.

Can I hear an Hallelujah?

23 Comments:

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Yoga Korunta said...

This is outstanding, Theresa. Having wrestled with unanswered questions regarding organized religion, I have concluded that one can have a strong sense of human worth without surrendering one's dignity.

If we took the money from religion/politics we would have fewer charlatans. Don't forget when the Puritans sought freedom of religion, they meant for themselves only.

 
At 5:09 AM, Blogger Ed said...

Excellent post, Theresa. I was exactly like you and finally decided upon atheism in my teens. I'm not sure about the more good than bad. Look at the number of wars and conflicts in the world that have religion at their root. But I, too, have also seem much good come out of religion and indeed am married to a committed Christian.

I also feel that I can be a spiritual person without being religious.

It's strange because I read your post immediately after reading a post about embracing Buddhism:
http://koshtra.blogspot.com
'A Short Happy Story'

Funny how some of us can start off at the same place and end up somewhere different.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger AndyT13 said...

Lessee...firstly thanks for reading my book. I'm worried that my female friends who read it will all hate me or think I'm a psycho after reading it. There's some dark stuff in there.

Secondly, there's an AMAZING amount of discussions about religion and faith going on all over the place. In the blog-o-sphere, in the Mainstream Media, in politics, EVERYWHERE. It's kinda creepy. God is great and faith is good, but all this yakking about it gives me the willies. My faith is something I keep close to the vest. Me and God, we're pals but I don't like to talk about it much. It's nobody's business but his and mine. And I don't want to know about other people's private business with God. Hey, that's just me.

Finally, your stories continue to amaze and inspire me and I think YOU'RE the one who should be writing a book. I'm just saying...

And Dammit, when are you joining HNT?! We (and by we I mean ME)want to see you half nekkie! :-) Cheers!

word verification: datdfuc =
That would fuck?

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger ZooooM said...

WOW. As usual. I too have had the wonky experiences with religion all my life. Thing is, I've never opened myself up to anything remotely close to it since.

This is a most wonderful post.

Reading you is like reading a happy/sad/thought provoking/intense novel in a capsule. I LOVE IT.

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger littlefeet said...

i too, am one that has been burned by organized religion...

but you, in this one instance, have been blessed by it... :)

how awesome is that...

peace...

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger David Kasper said...

Theresa, it is sad that you were punished for asking difficult questions about the Christian faith. Jesus never punished people for asking difficult questions. He was actually the one that was asking the difficult questions.

I grew up in a Catholic household and was required to attend church every Sunday. I remember my sister and father having yelling matching over this topic. (example of religion, not faith)

You are exactly right about religion and faith being different things. Until I found my faith, I was living in religion.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger Chick said...

Power...you found it in spirituality & choices...you opened your heart to it all & were blessed.

I feel a similar way about religion. I was brought up with all the guilt & repression that being a Catholic brings with it. I was forced into Sunday school & hated it. Today I also tend to be more spiritual than religious...but I do take comfort in the community & rituals that come with being a part of something.

BTW...the babes below...so beautiful...I find myself starring.

 
At 11:51 AM, Blogger Kyle Stich said...

Theresa, you should move to the Pacific Northwest. A controversial survey conducted by Trinity College's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life all around the nation and concluded the Pacific Northwest was a religious "None Zone."

Most people in the PNW don't claim traditional religions as their faith; instead, most attend the newer entrepenurial Christian fellowships or follow some "spiritual" path rooted in Nature or Eastern Philosophies like Buddhism.

The most striking aspect of the study was how many of the respondants emphasized that they were "spiritual" not "religious."

I was planning on providing links to the issues surrounding this topic, but the sides are so numerous, I couldn't do the debate justice. Google "none zone" and you'll find scads of information on it.

Many people here were up in arms, because Christianity saturates this region. Fellowships, in particular, pop up overnight. And, each is just as rigid and burning as the Catholic Church, maybe more so. They place so many questionable limits on their members, that many hop from fellowship to fellowship. Every one of these church-hoppers wants more to be part of a "respectable" community than to commune with God. Which in itself, is a form of spirituality.

Now I'm rambling, but I believe many people move to this region looking for nourishing spirituality vs. the stodgy old East Coast religions.

Thanks for your eloquent post, Theresa.

BTW--I too get the willies when confronting religion. Also, I went Atheist as a teen when I learned about all the ways Christians used their doctrine to justify the slaughter and oppression of millions of people, especially during the Crusades. Did you know Bush originally wanted to call the invasion of Afghanistan "The Final Crusade," yet he denies it's a holy war we wage? Now, I lean toward a belief in spirit, whatever that may be.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger Julie said...

I grew up in a religious environment…not because my parents were religious…but because my dad thought I would get a better education in a parochial school. In high school I moved to a public high school and rarely went to church. When I found my way back in college, I was shocked and disappointed. I found the sermon very “fire and brimstone” and not loving at all. I struggled with my disappointment with church through college. When I moved to L.A. after college I happened about a church when I was walking in the LA Aids Walk. I was upset my some protesters who were yelling awful things at us, when I looked up and saw an entire congregation of beautiful people applauding us. When I looked up the church and saw that they offered a “celebration” service, I knew it was the place for me. I loved this church! It was beautiful and loving and forgiving and accepting. I’ve been in Portland 4.5 years and haven’t found anything close! I yearn for a community like that (let’s face it, my views on sex alone make it difficult for me to find acceptance in my traditional religious environments)…
I now think of myself as more spiritual than religious because I haven’t found another community that I identify with…

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger Al said...

fyyQuoting the Blues Brothers...
Me and the Lord, we've got an understanding.
I'm not a super religious person. I've always kinda figured that God - whatever he/she/they/it are has to have a sense of humor. Because, only he/she/they/it could find the movie Ishtar humourous.

GLad you found your someone - we all need someone to love

 
At 6:13 PM, Blogger Bougie Black Boy said...

Oh my, I didn't know you were married?! I guess there goes my future goals! ! ! LOL :)

Very well written post. As usual, suprises me when someone references my site. Much love!

The story of your father is an amazing one that should bring courage and hope to all.

As usual, u're an amazing writer.

 
At 7:32 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Yoga - Thanks, Sweets!
Religion and money don’t seem to mix very well.

Ed - Yeah, there are lots of wars in the name of god, and lots of other oppression … but what about the hundreds of charities that have been started by churches and religious organizations? For instance, the YMCA was started in England as a bible study and social group for young men moving from rural areas to cities in order to get jobs. Eventually, they also provided housing and healthy recreation. And then they invented basketball. See what I mean? God + (young men in close quarters) = Basketball Goodness

Andy – I’m getting kind of scared of your book because of all the things you’re saying about being scared that every woman who reads it is going to think you’re a twisted woman-hating psycho-path. I’m still on the first chapter, but I like it so far. You’re gonna have to give your readers a little credit, Babe. I’m proud of you for doing the novel. I don’t think I have one in me, but I have thought about a book of essays or short stories. Keep pushing.
As for the HNT, * sigh * I’m a shy girl. I need some time to work up to it.

ZooooM – Reading your comments is like a big bowl of happy/warm/feel-good/I-don’t-suck soup. I LOVE YA!

Monkey – I like to focus on the good stuff. Peace to you too, Hot Chik!

David - I’m totally okay with Jesus. From everything I know about him, he was all about the “good” and none about the “bad”. I like that in a spiritual leader.

Chick - I’m all too familiar with the guilt and repression stuff. While growing up, my catholic friends used to feel sorry for me because of the church I belonged to. I didn’t dare tell people at our church that I even had Catholic friends. **** BLECH ****

Kyle – You’re right. I should definitely move to the Pacific Northwest.
Great information about the “None Zone”. I’ll check it out.

Julie - Your old church sounds fantastic. I think you’ll find something to meet those same needs in your new home. Maybe it won’t be a church. Maybe you’ve already found that place and those people.
… And, about mixing liberal sexual attitudes with mainstream religious beliefs … I’m with ya, sister!

Al – If laughter is devine, you’re an angel.
Thus far in my life, I’ve loved several people. I married one of them. He’s still my best friend.

Stephen – I’m glad you read the story (letter) about my Dad. I’m so proud to be a part of his life.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Aisha T. said...

Amazing and outstanding experiences, Theresa! I was raised in a strict Catholic household (what happened to me?) and I just couldn't take the hypocrisy. Also couldn't stand that women have no voice in the hierarchy. I like going to church every once in awhile--not forced--there is a comfort level from being so familiar with the whole mass. But, I tend to be more spiritual than anything else. Definitely been leaning towards a Buddhism a little more.

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger Blazngfyre said...

I too was raised as an Idol Worshiper (Catholic).
I also was persecuted for asking "difficult" questions, and was ultimately, kicked out and told my soul was damned to hell for eternity.
Whatever.
Those words were spoken by a man
who, other than being more educated than I at the time, and taken a vow of abstinence, was nothing more than a man.
Mortal man.
He had no power to absolve me of any sins, let alone pass judgment.
I have never gone back.
Despite my issues with The Catholic Church, and organized religion in general, I am a very spiritual person.
I merely keep my beliefs and feelings closely guarded.

The quote I heard last weekend summed it up quite nicely for me, "Religion is for people trying to avoid going to hell; Spirituality is for people who have already been there".


BTW/No wonder why you're such an incredible Hott Chik .... you come from GREAT stock! ;)

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Aisha - You are such an independent woman. I can't see you being confined by anything. Perhaps your upbringing made you fight even harder to perserve that part of yourself.

Blaze - It sounds like you've found peace with your past experiences. The more I know about you, the more respect I have for the way you've perservered despite the obstacles in your life. You are such a hot Hottie!

 
At 9:00 AM, Blogger Popeye said...

Not to defend religion too much (although I recognize this defense will seem pretty rigorous), but pretty any where there's power we humans find a way to abuse it and twist it. Even though there's this idea of most of the world's conflicts being around religion (such as doctrines or beliefs), I think that's really been true a whole lot less than is actually true. I do think its true that religious language had been used in wars that were pretty much for the same old secular purposes that we see in most conflicts now (land, money, ethnicity, etc.). But that's different. I don't think that it really works to call a war "religious" simply because some religious language was used to justify it.
The time of differentiating between all these things is relatively new; in the same way that the idea of the separation of church/belief and state is pretty new. It wasn't all that that cut and dry in the past where the ideas of the state, art, science, etc. ended and another field began (in fact there's one philosopher that argues we've moved the way we think from intergration to differentiation to disassociation). I think it's always a good idea to ask whether, any time we read religious language about past conflicts, if religion was the reason for the conflict or if it was used/coerced to justify the war. I really see those as two different things.
When you look at it this way, I think you can begin to make an arguement that religion, in and of itself, may have actually done more good than harm. Non-battlefield hospitals, public education, social service systems, progams that care for the poor were all started by religious entities. I'm for the separation of church and state but I also think these insititutions have had more problems the farther they've come from the initial, motivational values of those that founded these institututions making them prey to fundementalism and more and more economic interests in more and more direct ways, now. I'd continue to suggest that religious ideas have been used/coerced by those in power as a terrible weapon but I'd add that religious institutions have found it difficult to resist this misuse. I do think there's a difference here that may seem subtle initially but, in the long run, really isn't.

 
At 9:11 AM, Blogger Laurie said...

Wow... incredible post.

I feel the same way - I'm spiritual, but I don't practice a certain "religion".

I wasn't raised in a religious household; I was baptized in the Romanian Orthodox church, but never went to church except when my Romanian grandfather came to town and took me to mass with him. (Nice memories - the Orthodox ceremony is beautiful)

Basically, I've been on a spiritual "quest" for most of my life, and I've incorporated bits and pieces of different beliefs into my own "spritual soup" along the way, and that is where I'm at today. So I guess that you could call me part Jew, part Buddhist, part Christian, part Hindu, part new-ager... :-)

Your dad sounds like an incredible guy - it's no wonder you turned out like you did :-)

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger JayneSays said...

Hey! I'm finally back and read your wonderful post! Thanks for the sweetest shout out, dear. I am honored that the Love Goddess comes to my church on Sundays : )

How amazing that you were able to touch and change that man's life (and how many others you don't know about yet?!)

I applaud you for writing about spirituality. I know it gives some people the willies (I have a whole post about inducing a "cringefest" whenever I mention spirituality.) But like you, I realized I don't need to throw the baby (authentic spirituality) out with the bathwater (organized religion). Our spirits ought not be ignored, just because it makes some uncomfortable, or because it isn't "cool" to talk about these things, or because, like Popeye pointed out, some individuals and entities have coopted true spirituality.

God (Goddess, the Universe, the Field, whatever) embraces you for remembering to be and express All that you are.

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger Dick the Boomer said...

Great post, Theresa! I was raised in the Baptist Church and as soon I was on my own I dropped organized religion like a bad habit. But I too yearn for some sense of spirituality in my life. I suppose it's a quest that will continue for the rest of my life.

I love your writing. I'm going to read your post about your dad now.

From Fa-la-la-la-laaa to Hallelujah? You're too much!

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger Dick the Boomer said...

I'm laughing my ass off right now! I just caught a glimpse of my link.

Thanks... I think...

I'll get you for this :-)

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger Allison said...

Great post! To me this speaks about having faith not religion. I know that is fine line, but you seem make the distinction clear.

I agree with Stephen, you are an amazing writer.

 
At 10:41 PM, Blogger Mr. Toast said...

Your post gave me goose bumps. As someone recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, I've had my own crisis of spirituality -- but have found no real answers from patronizing albeit well-meaning churchfolk in this small town. I've concluded that you don't need to be in a certain building at a certain time each week to have a meaningful relationship with God. When my time does come, it will be because it's the right time for me to be called home, no matter what the method of my transition happens to be. I'm OK with that. And if I'm wrong in what I believe, at that point it won't really matter, will it?

 
At 11:24 PM, Blogger theresa said...

Popeye - Thanks for adding your thoughts. I was trying to touch on that a bit with my little YMCA/basketball comment, but as usual, you said it with great clarity.

Laurie - Spirituality is very personal. I think even those who adhere to a specific religion realize that each person is ultimately responsible for their own spiritual growth. You're simply of a more eclectic nature.

Jayne - I meant every word. You're the hottest thing never to hit a pulpit.

Dick - Glad you got a chuckle. It was too much fun to resist. How does one watch their back in blogland?

Allison - Thanks for visiting and leaving a sweet message for me.

Mr. Toast - Welcome to our little blog. I took the liberty of skimming yours and noticed you have a link to the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster. I guess you like the smarty-pants kids too.

 

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