Dreams Worth Dreaming

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.



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2 responses to “Dreams Worth Dreaming

  1. mufffdyver

    i understand your feelings. i think it is based on inclusion.
    my lady has a strong need for inclusion as it gives her the comfort of respect by peers. funny how religion tears down her self esteem and i work constantly to build it up, but they are the important ones.
    i do not have that need. i have many friends, yet i am not attached to any group. i never seek attention.
    she seeks acceptance, respect. ( my assumption, but her actions indicate this)
    these are interesting dynamics since her parents were scientists (leading micro-biology for 40 years, and mine were military paper pusher and mentally challenged.
    so she is devout and i am an atheist. mmmm.
    i have a special needs child. INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL THROUGH BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS. he will be 30 on saturday. god did not give him an easy path.
    he can’t claim any credit for this!
    he kicked butt, never took no for an answer and forced people to accept his very strong personality as though he has no handicap!
    i love your work. i respect your thoughts, but you need some experience outside of your comfort zone. i know you are strong in other than hetero life, i am talking about those that may never have a romantic life. where a hug is orgasmic because they have nothing else. and nobody is opening doors for them. (please understand this is not a criticism of you)
    walk down this path and you will give religion a lot less credibilty.
    i am not bitter. i have a cousin with downs. i carry no guilt. how do you have guilt over heredity? unless you a slave to a non-existant god?
    thank you for who you are and what you do!!!
    i hope to meet you someday!

    • Thank you for your comment. I do indeed want more experience, though I”m not sure how you know I haven’t had experience outside my comfort zone, unless you are speaking of the abilty/disability communities? That’s true indeed and something I think about a great deal, our culture (and other cultures) way of making people invisible which denies them a birthright of touch and love.

      It’s absolutely a human need and right and thank you for talking to me about it.

      I don’t give religion much credibility at all, and perhaps my writings haven’t expressed that well. I have a great distrust of dogma and religious structures (and anger for the pain they cause), but I do have an interest in humanity and what it is that it that can connect us (or disconnect us). I guess I call that “little s” spirituality.

      Your child sounds wonderful, and I know you must love him so deeply that there is no doubt your love and confidence in him has been a part of his success. I agree with you, there is skydaddy up there deciding if your son will be successful or not.

      I appreciate your words and thank you for stopping by. I’ll look forward to your visits.

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