When kids stop believing the “you came from a stork” bit, parents are forced into the dreaded sex talk. I remember mine. It involved a picture book with a skinny male cartoon grinning on top of a lying on top of a fat female cartoon. I can’t remember if she was smiling. Both were naked. Traumatizing.

Dad was conspicuously absent for this conversation, but both of my parents discussed kids and religion, how they would handle it, etc. I knew dad attended Catholic school  — he has the scares to prove it — but before I started this project, I had no idea mom had faith in God. She doesn’t anymore.

To better understand my disconnect to religion, I interviewed both about their experiences with organized religion as well as their hands off approach to helping us find it.

Here’s what my mom had to say. (She said I misquoted her in a past blog. Bad journalist I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say about this one.)

Me: Did your parents raise you with religion?

Mom: For part of my life but it wasn’t the whole household. My mom was the one who started going to church when I was probably eight-to-10. I believe it was a Lutheran church. I kind of feel like this was an out-of-the-blue decision but I’m not sure. I went with her but I can’t remember if my siblings went.

My dad wasn’t ever interested in any religion. I feel like he was raised Italian Catholic and probably went to Catholic Church as a kid but I’m not for sure. I feel like he was neutral about church.

I don’t remember religion being a part of my life before that but I went to a Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and I also went to Catechism class.

Q: You went to Bible camp with that Lutheran church and got saved. Can you talk about that?

A: I was saved at camp, which means you accept Jesus Christ. It was the most exhilarating emotional experience I’ve ever had in my life to this day.

The camp counselor, who was a teenage girl, asked me if I was ready to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. We were by ourselves and whatever words were said. I agreed to do it and it was like a rush of beauty that ran from my head to my toes.

I always had a very strong faith back from when I went to Catholic Church with my aunt and uncle and had a very strong belief in the whole Christian thing. I should have died then! I would have been guaranteed a place in heaven!

Q: What were your first thoughts of Jesus? Did you ever fear religion?

A: I don’t remember but I remember that at times I felt like I had a holy presence at the foot of my bed but they looked like the pictures that are on Catholic funeral cards (laughs) so I don’t know if it was spiritual or an overactive imagination.

I wasn’t fearful of Jesus, but I was fearful of going to hell.

After we stopped going to church, I held onto my beliefs. I said nightly prayers and for extra brownie points I would always pray to God to bless everyone I cared for and everyone in the world and I’d put myself last because I thought that was good manners.

Q: Did you feel faith had a positive impact on you?

A: Yes. I liked being a good girl and I’m sure it kept me out of trouble. One of my dad’s favorite expressions, as we all know, was Goddamn and I literally cringed whenever he took the Lord’s name in vain. All I know is that it (faith) personally made me feel good.

Q: What happened?

A: I had a strong belief until I went into high school and then our family started falling apart, started splitting, which in turn made other bad things happen in the family. It was dark and chaotic and I think I just quit saying my prayers and thought, what’s the point?

Q: So that’s it? No more religion?

A: I don’t know. I feel like I’m not an atheist or an agnostic. I’m a confusiest. I’m confused because I do believe it (faith) works for a lot of people and sometimes I do believe there’s got to be this greater something but there’s so many unanswered questions in the Bible that I just can’t really go by that.

Q: Did you and dad talk about religion before you had kids?

A: Yes. You know dad is a wounded former Catholic schoolboy so you know he had a pretty tainted view of religion but we both agreed that religion was a choice our kids should be able to make when they were mature enough to fully understand it.

I think when you start taking kids from birth and going to any kind of church, they’re just raised to believe something because their parents believe it. We wanted our kids to understand the different choices.

Q: I don’t remember you taking us to church so how did I have the opportunity to see the church side of things?

A: I think you were all asked at a certain age if you wanted to go. I think you and Taryn (sister) experienced some churchiness with friends.

I didn’t feel like going to church because I was unsure what my beliefs were and I thought, ‘How can I guide my children one way or the other?” I felt that would be extremely hypocritical on my part.

Q: What impact did this decision have on your kids/family?

A: I really feel horrible about the times I saw my kids have embarrassment over their lack of knowledge over really basic things like who is Jesus (laughs) and why do we celebrate Christmas.

Q: Are you serious or messing around?

A:  I’m serious. I do regret not exposing you guys to more but if I still had that opportunity now and was raising you kids, I still don’t know how I would do that. You don’t just dump your kids into church and say have fun. It would still be a slippery slope for me. I regret exposing you to more of it but I don’t know how I’d do that without believing myself. Besides, I always wanted a trio of heathens to join me.

Q: So how do you deal with things when life is challenging? Specifically as it relates to your kids?

A: Heavy drinking (laughs).

Q: What if one of us kids died tomorrow? What would happen to us?

A: Boy I really wrestle with this one. I want to believe there’s a forever after so we can all be there together someday. I just don’t know.

Q: What if I become a nun? Will you still love me?

A: That will never happen. They won’t have you.

Q: That never crossed your mind?

A: Yeah like it crossed my mind that I’d be an astronaut.

Suck Me in and Spit Me Out

January 24, 2011

Grand Avenue Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Ark.

11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Parking Lot Sign: “You are now entering your mission field.”

Chosen because…”You’re in Baptist country honey.”

For the majority of my eight-hour drive from Tennessee to Arkansas, I fantasize about this church experience. Small Baptist church in a field of sunshine. Large black women in robes singing in the choir. As the only white person, I stick out and after service, the women embrace me, invite me to a picnic. The pastor’s wife asks me to stay at their house for undetermined amount of time. I ask them about racism, get it on film documentary style. I’ve seen too many movies.

Woke up early. Asked white desk clerk how to get to the church. Said he didn’t have a phonebook (?!). I should ask the black bellhop. Awkward, did it anyway. Old white maid gave me directions.

“Is this OK to wear to a Baptist church?” Concerned about jeans and tennis shoes.

“Honey, as long as your dressed I don’t think they’ll give a damn.”

Suck Me In

Church is in large part about community and I loved this community. Over perfumed women walk to my pew, squeeze my shoulders, cup my hands, talk to me in those darling southern accents. Swoon.

No one looks at my shoes but then again, the man next to me has a Band-Aid in the middle of his forehead. I’m second tier entertainment.

First up, a baptism. Dressed in white, the pastor ascends to a spotlighted platform six feet above the choir and dunks a teenager. Creepy. Too much power. The pastor magically disrobes, descends, sits with kids on the stairs like Mr. Rogers and says, “Committing yourself to Christ means you’re willing to do something just a little bit weird.”

Asks those needing prayer to raise their hand. I want to raise both hands and legs, but I’m writing. Pastor invites people to pray at his feet. Men join him and they cry. Heaving shoulders. I cannot stand seeing grown men cry, especially if I’m the source of the pain. I want to hold them but they’re burly and I know I can’t assuage their pain so I cry.

Emotional pain manifests itself physically. When I start to cry, my left calf cramps. I lean down to rub it and smash my forehead on the pew back in front of me. This gets some attention. I turn red.

Spit Me Out

Then the sermon: “The Invisible War, Spiritual Warfare.”

The pastor talks about using prayer as a weapon against evil we can’t see — devils, warlocks, etc. The next eight weeks are devoted to this topic. Not only does he use the Bible and prayer as a weapon and religion as warfare, as he speaks his face changes, it’s almost demonic and every time he wants the congregation to “mm hm,” “amen” or laugh, he cups a hand to his ear.

One of the men in my pew sees me taking notes and gives me “The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare” by Chip Ingram.

“Here, you can take your notes in here. There’s plenty of room for note taking.”

Though I’m a heathen, I respect my elders. I take it so as not to hurt his feelings.

Take Away

I’ll go to a Southern Baptist bakeoff or chili cook off for community but faith by fear is not cool.

If the pastor wants views faith as war against the spiritual world fine. That’s his opinion. I can accept that. But would he accept mine? Unlikely.

Why Believe?

January 2, 2011

I’ve closed it. The Bible I mean. Yes, I neglected Revelation for my own reasons but I have to ask, why do you believe? Is it the comfort of immortality? Is it to make yourself a better person? Fear?

I’m definitely glad I read the Bible but I guess I’m fine with just being. I really don’t think about what will happen when I die. I think about what I’m doing now, who I’m affecting and the impact I’m having on others. That’s it.

I’m going to write a few entries regarding general themes I didn’t understand, questioned, etc., but I also plan on going to church. God save us all. I tried to maintain an open mind reading the Bible, but church will be a challenge. Generally I fear the “meet your neighbor” part. I’m not big on touching people I don’t know.

Many of you have given me church visitation ideas, but if you have more, please let me know. I’m guessing this new quest will start in mid-January but that’s just a guess.

If you don’t have at least one vice, don’t plan on infiltrating my personal circle. I’ll never trust you.

God and I agree on this point, he just doesn’t know it. According to this bit of Bible, God gives non-believers “corrupted minds” so they can do things they should not do, so they can entertain vice, which includes: evil, greed, jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, malice, gossip, evil talk; hating God; insolence; pride; disobedience; lies; and cruelty.

Above all else “every man is a liar.” Agreed (women included), but what a disingenuous way to garner followers. Essentially God is saying, “since you’re human and these things are bound to happen, you’re screwed so you may as well give yourself over to me and, if you do you’ll have eternal life and this drudgery you live will disappear.”

I’ve stayed away from cliché arguments against religion, but using force and fear as a means to facilitate loyalty is repugnant.

The Book of Romans is fascinating. It’s about God’s Law and it is written like a congressional bill so if a person isn’t paying attention, they just get the fear and follow message. It’s winding, wordy (new word) and extremely difficult to follow. But the stuff Paul wants us to know — you’re bad and if you don’t love God you’re screwed — is written in plain English.

At one point Paul says (in parenthesis), “I use every day language because of the weakness of your natural selves.”

As in, listen up dummy, here’s everything you need to know. God created you to sin, but is merciful and will forgive you and let you walk among angels if you believe. Aside from coercion, this is a lie. In the Old Testament, God is anything but merciful. He doesn’t show grace, turn a blind eye, or bestow patience on sinners. He eviscerates them.

I know the Bible offers a lot of value — I see it — but this is propaganda used to fool people into letting fear overtake thought.

Now, I’m trying to remain open minded. As I said, I’ve found a lot of value in the Bible. I even found two bits in The Book of Romans that apply to my life.

“If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have.” If we don’t act on that faith, then we’re in trouble. But, if my faith is within myself, does that count? It may not be what God intended, but it’s faith.

Paul says that if we, as individuals, think something is right and we do that thing, we’re OK. But if we have any doubts about it, we’re guilty and therefore it’s wrong. So if I think it’s OK to kill a certain person – no doubts, no guilt — is that OK?

At one point Paul portends to address some important questions, questions no person of faith has ever answered for me. For example, if God is merciful, how can God find fault with anyone? Peter’s response: “But who are you my friend to talk back to God?”

That’s my problem. The answers I see in the Bible are ones of don’t ask don’t tell.

Unfortunately, interpretation is nine-tenths the law and I’m the outlier.

Stopping Point: Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

* Note to the few of you hanging on despite this post: I will be traveling across the country starting Friday. I will continue the posts, but may add some travel updates as well.

 

Sympathy for the Devil

October 26, 2010

Here’s a christian favorite: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

He sure does. I dozed off during today’s reading. I blame Gog, a man with an interesting name and dull tale. When I woke up I thought, “What the hell am I going to write about today? All I’ve got is Gog.”

To stay awake during the rest of the reading, I turned on Pandora and wouldn’t you know, the first song was “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. When I finished reading, I got an email from a reader about Stones’ front man Keith Richards quitting the Bible in 2008 because “it was boring.” Coincidence? I think not. God wanted me to find inspiration in the devil.

Before boring Gog, I read “The Valley of Dry Bones.” Anorexics existed during Biblical times (many people nearly fasted themselves to death in the name of the Lord) but this valley is full of bones, no flesh, no organs, no fuzzy faces. Bones.

God breathes life into these bones, thereby creating new humans. How, might I ask, does this exclude reincarnation as a possibility for Christians? What if God screwed up and breathed souls into animals or trees? I’d like to delve into this topic, but I’m brain dead and it’s almost Halloween so let’s get back to the devil.

All God has to do is breathe life into bones. The devil, on the other hand, has to personalize purgatory for every sinner. That, my friend, is quite a task. I am not bothered by the prospect of spending eternity in inferno. Extreme heat is not on my Top 100 List of Irritations. When I go to hell, the devil’s going to need to customize a chamber for me, Ivy Hughes, and it should include the following:

Old people eating liquids

Barking dogs

Morbidly obese people in motorized scooters

Snakes

Politicians (there’s some overlap here)

Glenn Beck and his stupid university

Bjork

Mark Zuckerberg

Raw chicken

Those are just a few samples from the list I’ve been compiling for about a year and that’s just me. My husband’s chamber would include wet socks, mismatched socks, Oprah and unsolicited contact with bodily fluids.

Imagine how many people are in and will go to hell. Imagine customizing purgatory for each and every one of them.

In “Sympathy for the Devil,” the Stones say the Devil “stole many a man’s soul and fate.” Imagine managing all of those stolen souls? The Devil only gets one holiday — Halloween — so make sure it’s a good one.

The Rolling Stones : Sympathy For The Devil (live) HQ

Stopping Point: The Book of Daniel

*We’re adding faces and opinions. Thursday our first guest blogger, Laura Talley, creator of the Redheaded Skeptic, will contribute to ThumpMe. If you’re interested in contributing or have suggestions for contributors/subjects, please leave a comment or contact me at ivy.hughes@gmail.com

For all the wind I blow about being a non-believer, I sure do find myself wearing articles of faith. Sometimes I do this insincere promise making I suppose the liberal minded might consider prayer. It goes like this: “Whatever you are if you get me the hell out of this hurricane, I’ll try to be grateful for what I have.” Etc. I also believe in something greater than myself, embrace my own mortality and am fascinated by the spiritual world, but that’s only because I have Irish ghosts.

I’ve criticized God for being contradictory but in the Book of Isaiah, he sticks to his general theme of punishment and forgiveness, destroying people and land and then rebuilding both. He does this over and over again. Why? Because people don’t learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. If they did, this cycle would stop.

Interestingly, God doesn’t want people to listen to the dead — he abhors it. Curious. His prophets are dead. The people in the Old Testament are dead. If a person reads the Bible, aren’t they listening to the dead? Think about what we could learn, what some of us have learned, from the dead.

Let’s look at my Irish ghosts.

Letterfrack Industrial School Graveyard

I don’t like to harp on sexual abuse in the church. It gives religion a bad rap and unfortunately, abuse happens everywhere. However, the physical and sexual abuse administered by the Christian Brotherhood for nearly 100 years is exactly why God should encourage us to listen to the dead.

In the late 1800s through the 1970s, Irish parents turned their sons over to the Christian Brotherhood believing the fathers could not only feed their sons during a period of grave economic depression, but could also teach them a trade. These children attended schools like the Letterfrack Industrial School. Rather than getting an education, many of them were raped, beaten and killed.

My husband and I happened upon the Letterfrack Industrial School several years ago. We learned about it while sitting in a bar. Miraculously I convinced my husband to visit the school’s cemetery at dusk. This is what happened during our encounter with the dead.

What We Discovered Before Going

Thousands of boys were abused and then murdered, buried in surrounding peat bogs; the church wasn’t held responsible; families never knew what happened to their sons; supernatural interactions were common; no one wanted to talk about it.

What We Experienced

10 p.m. Summer. Dusk. Walked through the woods. Extreme presence, heavy. Sounded like singing in the trees. Curiously non-threatening. Opened the gates. Few graves. Large monument. Me taking photos. Husband behind a monument. Suddenly he asked to go, felt unsafe. We headed to the gate, thousands of microscopic bugs ran up our arms, legs, everywhere. Ran through the woods. Got in the car. Looked through the photos. Saw ghosts. Went to a pub. Showed the photos to patrons, watched the pub clear.

We returned to the site the next day to disprove my husband’s theory that the orbs in the photos were actually “medallions”, but we didn’t capture anything else on camera (or see anything in the trees). On the flight home my husband, Mr. Science, admitted that he had actually wanted to leave the graveyard because while standing next to the statue, he felt something on his neck. Interestingly, I took a photo right before he asked to leave. In that photo he’s standing near an orb. Odd.

Water spots are common on pictures, especially digital photos however, I’ve talked to several photographers about this photos and none of them have been able to explain these orbs. (Look at the detailed shot. I see an orb and a face. Crazy?)

I can’t stop thinking about Letterfrack, about what happened to those boys, about the priests, the crimes they got away with and the idea that this might happen again. Can’t we listen to those kids? We listen to prophets. Both are dead.

In the grand scheme of things, Letterfrack is a small example as to what could happen if we would just listen to the dead. What if the Rwandan government listened to those who died during the Holocaust? What if U.S. leaders took a little peek at Roman history? All those dead guys?

Why doesn’t God want us to listen to the dead? The dead wrote the Bible. They destroyed nations. They ruined the reputation of the church. The dead have a lot to say.

I’ve been researching the Letterfrack Industrial School for years and — if given the opportunity to do an in-depth study on some issue — this would be the one. All I need is funding, possibly a bit of protection. If you would like more information about the Letterfrack Industrial School, check out The Knitter blog or “Founded on Fear,” a book written by a man who went to the Letterfrack Industrial School and eventually killed himself.

Stopping Point: Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66

Note: My apologies for the Thursday post. Some really cool opportunities were presented to me yesterday and I had to take advantage. Will not happen again.

I don’t understand why so many people remain “friends” with their exes. Even if that person is a good person what, exactly, is the value of the friendship?

Five years after my wedding (anniversary is Oct. 9, cheers!) and halfway through the Bible and I think I’ve figured it out why I have no desire to hold onto those who scooted through and ran out of my dating favor. I live my life according to David’s son, the Philosopher, an influential and often morbidly pessimistic man who doesn’t allow for clinging to what was and grasping for what may be. He’s the closet the thing the Bible has to a Buddhist and he’s second only to Job in my heart.

The Philosopher is a bit grim. The heading, “Life is Useless,” tips off his musings on the complete meaninglessness of life and our miserable fate as human beings, but when his edge is removed, he and I are completely on par.

The Philosopher talks about four basics ideas that I would say, set the foundation for how I live my life:

1. “Everything that happens was determined long ago.”

2. There is no way for us to know what happens to us after we die.

3. The same fate comes to both good and bad.

4. All we can really do while we’re alive is do the best we can and be happy.

The Philosopher takes this to mean that God has laid a miserable fate on us but, for the first time in my life, I’m going to push back with optimism and suggest something is allowing each and every one of us to experiment, play and experience for a finite amount of time. This is a gift.

I try to live in the moment. It’s a struggle. I imagine it always will be. But I believe I am much more capable than most of finding peace in life because I also find peace in death. Incidentally, I do not believe in heaven and hell or God or Satan as defined by the Bible. My belief is linear. I am here now, I’ll be here as long as I’m supposed to be, I’ll be as good as I can while I’m here, I’ll be as happy as I can while I’m here and then I’ll die. Done.

If more people adhered to this idea — and it is not a negative one, hence my commitment to enjoy life —would organized religion start to fall apart? If humans were less concerned about where they came from, what they’re meant “to do” and what will happen when they cease to exist in the frame in which they recognize existence, would they spend as much time reading the Bible? Looking to a higher being for guidance and assurance of things they can’t control? Really, I’m curious. I’m enjoying this read and the Bible provides a lot of good insight into human nature, but it’s really hard for me to hold onto the greater thing — in this case, God — when the thing itself is right in front of me, soon to be behind.

Why, if a relationship has run its course, does either party hold on to it? Some of my friends say it’s because they don’t feel any resentment toward their ex. Others say it’s because they like the person. But what is the point of putting effort behind something no longer relevant? Why hold onto things that used to be or place hope in something intangible that may never be, such as an afterlife?

I love this quote from The Philosopher:

“This is all that I have learned: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.”

Stopping Point: The Book of Isaiah

15 Minutes of Fame

July 28, 2010

I’m noticing that as my peer group ages, particularly if diminishing time includes reproduction, it trends toward organized religion. People state various reasons for the return — renewed faith, trauma, fear of death — but I believe the overarching reason is tucked in the subconscious and can only be defined as an overwhelming desire for fame, an eternal recognition by the masses that yes, they are SOMEONE SPECIAL.

People don’t like to use the word famous as it relates to their desired legacy. They prefer to be “remembered” yet for most, finite remembrance by a universally insignificant amount of people (nuclear family for most, extended for a few), is almost tragic.

We don’t know what the afterlife — if there is such a thing — will bring, but fame is a possibility. Let’s say you’re 60 and decide you’ve got about 20 years left to “make a mark.” Let’s say that so far your only “mark” is a one-sentence quote in an archived local paper. Wouldn’t the very idea of having an unlimited amount of time to become “known” among many be very compelling? What if even after all that time, your legacy was whittled down to a paragraph? Would you still do it?

The First Book of Kings discusses the life and conquests of Israel’s most influential kings including Solomon, who is known for being “richer and wiser than any other king” one “the whole world wanted to come and listen to.” I suppose he was sort of like Oprah. Even though he was considered a “great,” when he dies only a small paragraph is devoted to his life. The same goes for the other kings mentioned in this section including those rarely recognized, such as Zimri.

This pattern continues today. The 2010 TIME 100 list of  the people who have most affected our world includes some household names — Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Ben Stiller (he is listed as a “hero”), Oprah, Lady Gaga, Conan O’Brien and Prince — but how long will their fame last? Certainly longer than Louise Brooks and Gustav Mahler, but not by much. If they’re lucky, their lives will collapse to a paragraph in a mass-produced high school history book. But everyone wants a paragraph and many will look to a fantastical afterlife to get it.

Many times people say they don’t want to be famous. They’d rather “influence” others. I believe many do, but influence is often a smokescreen for fame. Influence in its true sense, which I see as an altruistic means to help others, isn’t flashy, not even when it touches fame.

How many of these people could you talk about (intelligently) for more than five minutes?

Zaha Hadid, Elizabeth Warren, Douglas Schwartzentruber and Larry Kwak, Michael Pollan, Atul Gawande, Jaron Lanier, Victor Pinchuk, Lee Kuan Yew, Deborah Gist, Kathleen Merrigan, Steve Jobs, Tim White, Lisa Jackson, Elon Musk, Edna Foa, Jaime Lerner, Paul Volcker, Amy Smith, Matt Berg, Amartya Sen, Michael Sherraden, Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, Tim Westergren, David Boies and Theodore Olson and Sonia Sotomayor.

These people happen to be the 25 “thinkers” on the 2010 TIME 100 list, which gives them more exposure than most other 21st Century “thinkers.” But they’re still not household names because influence isn’t sexy, fame is.

Perhaps if we let go of fame and focused on influence purely as a means to improve the lives of others, the number of people returning to church as a means to get one last shot at fame, would vastly diminish. If you’re goal really is to influence, there’s no need to cling to eternity. If you’re goal is fame, and you’re not Lady Gaga, hold on tight and don’t miss Sunday mass.

FYI. This video explains how they made the TIME 100 list.

Note: I will be publishing again this Friday, July 30. To keep on track I need to get through the Second Book of Kings this week. Next week I’ll be back on the Monday/Wednesday track.

Stopping Point: Second Book of Kings


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