Yesterday I was in an argument on my facebook page about religion, churches, the charity work they do (and is it actually charity if it comes with a sermon), whether atheists get credit for doing the messy work of service (or if they are reviled regardless) and more. It was a tame argument, but brought up some feelings from me, and complex ones.
1) Dogmatic religions have caused a lot of problems and hurt a lot of people, including me.
2) I don’t necessarily see the government doing the work it needs to do to lift up all citizens and take care of them, something Christian churches do act on, getting messy in the process but there is often a quid pro quo involved.
3) There is indeed a Christian privilege in our nation and atheists and others are treated badly.
4) I imprinted early on a wild organic radical Christ and it’s hard to let go of that, even when I want to. Plus, I love science. Plus, plus the moon and drums and theater and owls. Plus, plus, plus I know that most old works of religion are metaphoric and poetic but that only makes me love them more.
5) It winds up being poles and poles and poles and anger and resentment and everyone digging in and doubling down instead of trying to understand each other.
So then I went to an Interfaith Thanksgiving service through iACT, an interfaith service non profit here in Texas. It was absolutely amazing, moving, wonderful. Hundreds and hundreds of people were there and the mission of the organization is profound. There were speakers from the major faiths, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity all in one room. Music and performance from each culture, with audience participation in all. Foreign languages, different music, different faiths, but all calling out for one thing: Peace.
For a person like me with a desire to learn about other cultures, it was pretty awesome just on that level. The potluck after had loads of diverse foods, lots of good conversation and all. But really, I was struck by how lucky we are in liberal Austin, Texas, in the US where these different faiths can be in the same room, at the same space/alter, and not have difficulty or violence. Really, it’s the infrastructure yes? We all have peace enough in our daily lives (lack of threats, plenty of food and education and a desire for gentleness and hope) that we can all come together and be civil and kind.
The Executive Director spoke passionately about his work prior to iACT. He’d worked at KLRU and felt he knew Austin inside and out. It was only when he took the job, much of which involved serving people in east Austin living in deep poverty and near homelessness (for one of their mission is upgrading homes), that he realized he knew nothing about Austin. About thousands of people (in deep poverty and despair) living outside the media, the gloss and fun of things like SXSW or the University or the festivals, or the arts and culture shakers and makers that he’d been so fortunate to know. In fact, most of us never see that kind of pain. It’s easy to ignore.
His job is to see it and to help solve it. I felt…heavy upon hearing it, but pulled hard to get involved.
When I left, I ran into a Muslim woman and I told her how beautiful her part of the service was, and it was for she was just amazing. She looked so…grateful. She thanked me and turned and thanked me again.
And I realize I could be projecting, but that’s how it felt. Do you know how that made me feel? Sad. Tearful, actually. Pretty horrible and guilty that she felt the need to thank me for being open. Wanting to rush back in and get involved. Angry that we live in a world where she probably lives in some level of fear wearing her hijab and holding her faith, especially after 9/11 but really, life is not easy for those who are Islamic in America.
We left and went to another potluck for the Improv community, where I spoke to a friend about my experience at the service, especially a song that a Jewish leader sang, and the audience was to do this wordless song back and under her song, an Ohhhhhh Aaaaah, Aaaaah Ohhhhh, which was hypnotic (and my eldest totally loved). My friend said, kindly, many things but one hit me square in the chest, “I just don’t really have that God Gene.”
And I knew exactly what he meant. And maybe that’s just it, yes? Just like blue eyes or black hair, or double joints, or mental agility or certain dysfunctions, perhaps it’s all just genetic.
I clearly have the God Gene. I know I’m probably causing consternation and confusion in many of my friends. “What is she going on about? Is she just regressing back to some childhood comfort? Is this the midlife crisis? Wait, I thought all the sex stuff was her midlife crisis! What is going on!!!!”
Truth is, I’ve held back for years joining into the “family business” that my Gillis relatives so clearly have been a part of–religion. Mostly because I see the deep and nearly irreparable damage religion has caused. Not “little s” spirituality, or heck even “big S” spirituality, but religion. But I’ve always felt the pull to theater and to community and to groups and to this connecting force that binds us even as we do our best to divide ourselves. I’ve just not been willing to admit it openly until now (as with many things). But not speaking is worse.
Some people don’t have that gene, if indeed that’s what it is. No wonder they think religious folk are damn crazy. It’s clear to me that’s part of the problem, that there are people with brains that feel and see things 180 degrees different than another and even empathy doesn’t always serve as a bridge. Maybe that’s why atheists create their own communities and avoid religious folks and vice versa.
And it’s just tribal, yes? Are you one of us? Or one of them? Why can’t we be both and all and neither? But maybe we can’t. Maybe it’s as simply as like attracts like, and should stay with like. Thus all the wars ever have come to pass. And if that’s true I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself for I don’t like those rules.
I just know that I felt at home tonight, in the chapel filled with songs and poems from around the world, with people who want to figure out paths to peace, and with foods, and flavors, and sounds of such variety and beauty that it seems impossible that anyone could reject a world with such diversity and majesty in it.
And I felt just at home in the world of agnostic, goofy, talented, snarky, intellectual, comedians who were having just as much of a ritual as any church I’d ever been in (and better than many actually). Why can’t I have both? Why can’t we all?
Foolish, privileged me, to dream such dreams. I’m not the only one dreaming it at least.