I had the opportunity to summarize my Bible reading and ThumpMe blog at TEDx Lansing in May. In December, when I finished the Bible, I wrote a small conclusion. It was paltry but it’s impossible, even now, to effectively express what I learned during the six months of reading this monstrosity. The TEDx Lansing invitation forced me to reflect on the experience four months after the fact.

So, if you’re interested, here’s part of what I learned.

TEDxLansing-Ivy Hughes-The Bible Told Me So

Can I Get an Amen?

May 17, 2011

10 a.m. t0 12:30 p.m.

Abyssinian Christian Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

Chosen because…ethnic diversity touted on website.

I grew up in what’s fondly referred to as Vanilla Village. White, middle class America. When I was a kid, if we saw a black person it was like encountering a rare bird. “Oh my God look, it’s a black person! Where do you suppose he lives? What’s he doing in Ft. Collins? Where do you think he works?”

Our fascination wasn’t malicious. We weren’t trying to find his workplace to torment him, we were just curious. Ft. Collins is more diverse than it used to be, but it’s still really, really white.

So imagine my surprise on Sunday morning when I walked into the Fort Collins Abyssinian Christian Church and found myself in the minority. It was fantastic.

Culture Shock

This church is in the middle of a neighborhood, which is how church should be — an extension of community. It’s very plain. Blonde brick. Basic A-frame. Old office chairs stand in as pews, each one with what appears to be a handmade pocket on the back. The pockets don’t hold Bibles as everyone brings their own and, when they pray, they hold them up to heaven. This is new.

A woman greets me at the entrance, hands me a handful of peppermints. Confusing. Later, during a pause in worship, a woman sitting near me offers me a peppermint from her stash. Is this some sort of new age icebreaker?

Several men stand to the side of the cramped aisles. They’re well dressed and big. They look like bodyguards and do not leave their posts during service. I’m intimidated. Not by them, but the situation.

I’m not the only white person in the congregation, but I stick out because I look like a bum and everyone else seems to adhere to old-fashioned church values of dress up. The dreadlocked hippie in the choir provides some comfort.

Get Your Shout Out

The choir and keyboardist are active and unbelievable, providing accompaniment I actually want to listen to. This is the first time I’ve heard a church choir sing. Usually they mumble, occasionally harmonizing words. This choir does its thing throughout the service, including when the preacher speaks.

The preacher greets us. “I hope you woke up with prayer.”

We all did. Even me. My prayer was, “Dear God, please shoot me.”

I can’t imagine anyone else in the congregation greeted the day this way because they’re moving about singing, talking, dancing, smiling — they’re thrilled to be in God’s house.  This is an anomaly. I’ve never ever seen such enthusiasm for God. Ever.

As per usual, the greet your neighbor bit sends me into a panic. A very large hatted woman to my left gives me a huge bear hug. I sit, terrified that the man jumping over a chair is headed toward me. He isn’t, kisses the kid in front of me instead.

The preacher encourages us to “get our shout out,” which means clap, yell, sing and dance the devil away. Terrified and amused, I sit, watching. Eventually a smile dents my crabby face. Though I’m not shouting, the shout out is working.

I’m fascinated by a woman in the front who looks like she’s leading a Jazzercise class. She disappears. She either had to suddenly tie her shoe or she’s fallen to the ground. When she pops back up, she sits in a chair fanning herself so I think she was probably writhing.

The preacher says religion is “not a spectator sport,” but I cannot will myself out of my chair. I don’t feel judged by anyone other than myself. Personal problem.

The preacher’s messages are simple. Be grateful for the day. Put your faith in the Lord. I like what he has to say because he speaks like a human – not a theologian – and says things like, “Can I get a witness?,” prompting the congregation to follow with“Amen” and “yes sir.” I freaking love it especially when the older woman behind me starts croaking out “that’s right.”

I don’t care about this church’s message. The congregants are so excited about God that it really doesn’t matter. Enthusiasm for anything is half the battle. Why is this the first time I’ve seen people get excited about church?

El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

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.

Might be a Mennonite

February 21, 2011

Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, Fort Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to noonish

Chosen because…I’m fascinated with buggies and bonnets

I love Mennonites. At least the ones I met at the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. They’re friendly and as far as I can tell, they view Jesus as a symbol of peace, not a vehicle for judgement.

Now, on the judgment front…

I saw my first Mennonites at a Taco Bell in Fort Collins. The girls were darling in bonnets and homemade dresses. I assumed the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship parking lot would be full of buggies, men in cute hats and suspenders helping bonneted women to the street. Giddy, I thought, “Try not to make an ass of yourself by immediately asking about the buggies and bonnets.”

I’m not sure why these Mennonites are singing in a subway, but this is what I thought my Sunday would be like.

Mennonites Singing on a Subway

In a group of less than 30, I found one bonnet. I should have known. The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship site addresses bonnets, notes they’re not the norm. Another newbie asked about bonnets and horses. The people he asked politely chuckled and explained.

So who attends the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship? Very chill people. Very Colorado looking people — jeans, Merrells, outdoor wear. I felt like I was at a peace rally. A bell kicked off service. Two girls — one barefoot — lit a candle with this long thing, the one without shoes nearly clipped the other’s face with the flame. Then some acoustic guitar, a bit about Haiti, sermon or talk, bell, discussion, refreshments.

Mennonites Hit No. 1 on Church Billboard Chart

The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is No. 1 on the ThumpMe billboard chart because they do peace and acceptance. They’re open-minded. In fact, I found them by going to www.gaychurch.org, curious as to which churches are cool with homosexuals.

While homosexuality wasn’t discussed (I believe David was gay), the Sermon on the Mount was. Mennonites believe Jesus’ word trumps all others, including angry God and confused prophets. The speaker talked about going beyond religious laws to uncover deeper meaning. Does it really make sense to take in all the wretched souls and then condemn them for committing adultery simply because they looked at another woman? No it doesn’t and that’s why I love the Mennonites. They are what I think people who proclaim to follow Christ should be — emissaries of peace and understanding.

The speaker asks, “If your religion does not go beyond, what is it?”

Nothing.

Observations

The bulletin said “we are all ministers in the fellowship” and included quotes from Buddha, which is confusing, all inclusive and quite a bit different than my southern Baptists. Two individuals knitted during service, one worked on a laptop, one read a book. Very laid back.

After the sermon/lesson, they opened the floor to discussion. Discussion! I couldn’t believe it. No one said much, but encouraging opposition nearly knocked me out of my chair.

At the end, we held hands and said a prayer which was way uncomfortable for me but whatever. I think I heard a bongo or some other instrument I associate with freedom, but can’t remember.

NOTE: I don’t have a photo of this church. I once again left a piece of clothing in a public place — my jacket, restaurant  — and was without a camera.

What am I Missing?

February 16, 2011

T-Bar Lounge, Wellington, Colo.

3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Favorite signs: If you drink to forget — please pay in advance; Get me drunk and enjoy the show.

Good ‘Ol Boys

I love Colorado. Despite being white, it’s fairly diverse — cowboys, hippies, yuppies, mountain people, potheads, granolas (hippie/yuppie combo), etc.

I love Colorado. Despite being white, it’s fairly diverse — cowboys, hippies, yuppies, mountain people, potheads, granolas (hippie/yuppie combo), etc.

Wellington is part cowboy, part cookie cutter. My drive to Wellington a short jaunt down memory lane. I recognize fields and barns where high school compatriots with little self control partied; a particular curve in the road was reputed as landing spot for blown chunks in the 1990s; and a fence post broke records for destroying first car fenders.

I drive a car. Everyone else drives a truck. Cowboy stands outside smoking. I like the black cowboy hat, green Carhartt jacket and creased Wranglers.

The bar is clean, smells like vinegar. Various types of barbed wire and rusty tools hang on the wall, cigarettes for sale behind the bar, someone hacking out a lung in another room.

Six people sitting in upholstered chairs — think 1980s pastel dining room — a thin old man and an older woman at the bar. They are not together. The woman wears looped, electric blue earrings. They look like scissored glow sticks. I doubt she raves.

They watch Ellen, talk about lottery tickets, the Grammys and the newscaster who had a stroke or something while covering the Grammys. They know more about pop culture than I do.

Man talks about the weather, tells me the steers love the unnaturally warm weather (60 degrees).

“But,” he says. “the mountains are at about 130 to 140 so imagine what’s going to happen if we have a dry spring? All the water will go east anyway.”

For you out-of-staters, this means the mountains have a 130-to-140 inch base, which is normal however, if we have a dry spring, floods will follow and regardless of how much water we have, surrounding states and communities will steal it. Good to be back in the land of water wars.

Someone Else’s Skin

I’m writing on a bar napkin. The bartender asks if I want paper. This has never happened. Ever. He says he’s a southern gentleman. He loves booze, women and cigarettes and, “if you take one of those three out of my equation I may as well cease to exist.” Touché.

Old Woman: “I’m leaving but I’ve got some Avon in the car. I’ll just leave it here so Deana can get it when she starts her shift.”

The old man buys me a beer. I can’t remember the last time a man other than a friend or family member bought me a beer. I remind myself to rethink the ranch lifestyle and 70-year-old body parts.

They all know each other and by the time I leave, they know me too — my name and my hand that is. I end up talking to a man who looks like a politician but is a former newspaperman and publisher.  After he buys me a beer — everyone else drinks liquor — he says, “I’m sorry. I just don’t say much.”

“That’s OK. People who talk the least tend to say the most. My brother is like that.”

I tell him things I haven’t shared with you. I will. Someday soon. Perhaps.

Driving home through a fairy tale land of the old west and urban sprawl. I think about the dichotomy between what I think I want and what I thought I wanted.

Separated by less than half a mile, this is Colorado.


This is also life.

I feel more comfortable in places I don’t belong than those I do. People sense comfort. When I travel, tourists ask me for directions even in countries where I clearly standout. I rarely get this in the states.

This is why I have to keep moving. That, and superficial relationships are more palatable than those that are not.

Thou Shalt Not Judge

January 12, 2011

Long Branch Bar, Laporte, Colo.

3:40 p.m. to 4:52 p.m.

Notable Matter: Plastic shot glasses, “I swerve for Shem” bumper sticker

I lose faith in humanity and then I fall in love with it.

The Long Branch Bar. No windows. Few cars. Sign on the door says, “Wet Floor.” I walked in. I hate to admit it, but I was reticent. Not because my dad said, “I know a guy who got shot there, be careful,” but because I didn’t know where to go.

U.S. citizens can’t move without signs. They’re everywhere. Step here. Don’t smoke here. Wipe your feet here. Unload here. Sign here. To the left of the entrance was a long hall similar to one I walked down in college that led to a drug den, a place I didn’t expect to be and feared I would never leave. To the right, the back of the bar.

Gray hair, no teeth, a Poudre High School sweatshirt (my alma matter) flanking acid wash jeans, the bartender smiles, motions me to the back of the bar and around the counter. I walk down the bar, drag the only free stool close to a man with a handlebar mustache, thick hands, Carhartts and teeth blackened by tobacco.

“Don’t sit there,” he says.

“Why? Is it broken?”

“No. No. I’m just giving you shit. You have to be able to take some shit.”

“I can take shit.” I  sit.

The bartender asks for my ID, probably thinks I’m an undercover cop prepping for a sting. The man with the mustache me helps her find my birthday. “Girl, there’s no way you’re that tall.”

“I am. Promise.”

The ID comes back. The man says, “Michigan. Well, I know where to find you when I stalk you!”

“If you want to drive that far in the winter to stalk me, go for it.”

This is why I love dive bars. No one takes themselves seriously and no one ever reads me their resume.

First 15 Minutes

The man’s wife sits next to me. Sweet lady, kind eyes. They have four kids. Their youngest daughter, 24, is in Kandahar, Afghanistan serving her first tour. She has two more to go. She puts packages together for men in the field, wrapping food, water, clothing and ammunition in “puffy stuff that looks like honeycombs” so when they drop the packages at night — always at night — the ammunition doesn’t explode.

The woman hasn’t heard from her daughter in weeks, says the U.S. pays the Taliban to protect the communications towers, that one must be down. Even though guard dogs sit in the mess hall, her daughter eats outside. The mess hall was bombed. She’s afraid.

“How did your daughter seem the last time you talked to her? Was she OK?”

“She was OK the first three months. But that was the first three.”

“So how do you distract yourself from thinking about her every minute of every day?”

I drink.”

Love

I don’t want to give the impression that this couple is depressed, forlorn. They’re kind and funny and real. They want what everyone wants — safety, a happy family, a job, shelter, love.

They’ve been married for 33 years. Not only do they enjoy each other, they love each other. He kisses her, talks about the cute blonde he met at the army base. It’s amazing to watch.

Of course it wasn’t always that way. They lived in Kentucky for several years. He worked nights, she worked days. Life was hard. Four kids. Backwards community. Few neighbors had septic tanks. One of the neighbors did his business over a 5-gallon bucket. When the bag under the bucket filled, he threw it on top of a hill.

It was rough on the kids. Their peers would only play with them if they went to the same church. They didn’t go to church. They lived in a dry county, drove two hours for booze. The Baptists didn’t approve but somehow made peace with the bootleggers who sold alcohol and drugs to the kids.

The man and woman left. Then their kids left.

“All of a sudden you don’t know your husband. You just have to learn to fall in love again.”

Religion

She grew up Catholic. He wishes she’d kept her faith. She has…sort of. Went to church on Christmas, usually prays at home.

They agree we won’t win the war. It’s religious, no hope. He searched for spirituality years ago, settled on the Mormons.

“You know, that whole have-a-bunch-of-wives stuff is a bunch of crap. That’s like five percent, less than five percent. Do you know what they do? They give 10 percent of their income to the church so when you’re in trouble — no job, financial problems — they take care of you. It’s about family.”

We talk about aliens, things greater than ourselves, reincarnation. He suggests we could be one large ant farm someone’s watching, occasionally releasing us, sometimes killing us.  I’ve never though of it that way.

“Who is anyone to say we’re the smartest beings?”

He has a point.

I tell him I’m not looking for religion, just humanity.

“Girl, as long as you follow the basic rulesthe 10 — you’ll be fine. You don’t have to be a great person. You’re not a bad person. You’re just a person.”

I am. So are they. The woman hugs me when I stand. She smells like soap. I don’t want to leave.

How many misunderstandings, fights and broken relationships can be attributed to big mouths, angry emails and thoughtless or misunderstood Facebook posts?

I’ve done all three multiple times in 2010 and I’m an alleged communicator. There was the colossal Facebook fight with my sister; a few pissy emails (I’m not yet accustomed to hitting “draft,” thinking, then hitting “send”) to various people; and, as for the big mouth…in order to choose an example I’d have to pick a genre and who has time for that?

I cannot differentiate between passion and judgment. When I’m pissed at someone, I’m pissed. I yell, occasionally say things I shouldn’t and then it’s over. No grudge. No remaining judgment. When I’m observing people I plan to write about, I pour over everything — hair, facial movements, socks, language, scent — compartmentalizing them until I put them together the way I want them to be (judgment) and write about them (passion). While doing this I think things like, “This man has a mullet AND a rattail and his wife is wearing ski boots in the city.”

These are judgments, but I don’t mean to be cruel. I genuinely think people, such as the two listed above, are amazing. But technically I’m judging them. Right?

James is very keen on the tongue, which is out-of-control, the nucleus of boasting, pride, judgment, pain and sin.

He says: “…but no one has ever been able to tame the tongue.” Fire, yes. Tongue, no.

But now we have electronic, wicked fast tongues in Facebook, Twitter and email. What are we to do with those?

We are to be slow to speak, to listen but man is that hard when “return” and “enter” are a pinky finger away.

This is James and I love it: “Who do you think you are, to judge your fellow man?”

I, admittedly, am the last person on earth to judge another and I don’t judge people by the clothes they wear, social status, physical appearance or profession. I look at the whole. I’m a writer, that’s what I do. Paul was a writer, so was Thomas. How did they write without judgment?

Stopping Point: The First Letter From Peter

Merry $mas

December 22, 2010

Among other things, the Bible is all about refraining from idol worship. Ask fourth graders about their idols. Football players. Pop stars. Cartoons. Some anorexic chick on the front of Seventeen magazine.

How many would name Jesus as their idol? A few I suppose. You know, those poor Catholic school kids haunted by raised rulers and swirling wrath.

Who else? How many of you adults consider Jesus an idol? Is that your only one? What about those miraculous Spanx keeping you smooth in your Christmas dress?

I’m in a cafe listening to these materialistic but entertaining women discuss their diamond rings, their bags, etc. This isn’t anything new especially in an affluent part of the country (this isn’t as big of an issue in Mid-Michigan), but it’s hilarious because many of these women are the type of women who claim Christianity because it too is a symbol.

These women will park their Land Rovers in a church lot Friday or Saturday, walk their little designer boots (type varies according to region) into the lobby — excuse me,  first their husband or some other obligated man will open the door for them so as not to disturb the tall skinny latte in their right hands or the behemoth bags resting on their left forearms — rush into the prayer room or whatever it is, daydream during the service while sipping said latte and get the hell out before the dreadful “meet your neighbor moment.”

Perhaps I’m projecting myself on others but, according to the Washington Post, retail revenues are up 5.5 percent from 2009 this Christmas season and, at least where I come from, this revenue is supporting other idols — clothes, cars, engagement rings, vacations. Anything but Jesus.

I’m having a really hard time getting through the rest of the Bible so I need to grab hold of randomness like idol worship. The girl sitting across from me has on Nike with a big swoosh, a Mountain Hardwear fleece, a Droid and Fossil jeans. I hate when companies place their labels on the outside of clothing, but if I put my clothes on inside out today, same situation.

Unless I missed the glowing bulbs, reindeer holding birdhouses (?), santas and creepy nutcrackers snuggled in the manger with Jesus in the middle of the New Testament, every single person in this cafe is worshiping some anti-Christ idol.

My parents’ house looks like the North Pole. Every room, every blanket, every picture, every decoration replaced by something Christmas-like. It’s fantastic. However none of it has anything to do with Jesus. Admittidly, we’re not relgious. My dad went to Catholic school, an abusive and terrifying experience, but us kids are heathens.

My mom tried to give us a dose of Jesus (it’s his birthday after all), but it didn’t work. For a few years, she  kept this horrid painting of Jesus in the guest room. Eventually we convinced her to get rid of it. I literally couldn’t fall asleep with that sadistic Mona Lisa looking at me.

A few days ago, I asked my mom what happened to creepy Jesus. She said she didn’t know so I asked if she had anything other than the glittery angel ornaments my sister and I made when we were kids in any of the six of 11 first-floor rooms decorated for “Christmas.”

We searched. This is what we found. Upside down. Behind a ladder in the garage.

Out of respect I cleaned up the poor guy, righted him, but couldn’t do anything about the crack in the glass.

This is Christmas. Right? Obviously the commercialization of Christ is as old as the day is long but every year it blows my mind and I have to write about it especially because Christians are not supposed to worship other idols.

I have some idols, none of which have to do with Christ but so does everyone else so what happens to those Christians? Are they nixed? So American Christians don’t exist?

Well, at least we can be charitable during the season, think of other people and their hardships. I do it all the time. I mean, my heart bleeds for the guy sitting across from me. Here I am clicking away on a Mac while he clunks away on a TOSHIBA! I have no idea how the poor soul gets any work done.

Stopping Point: Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

I don’t know how many people listen to Eminem while reading the Bible but I LOVE it. Love, as in one of thousands of emotions people refuse to express until it is proffered by someone else.

I’m listening to “Stan,” a rather morose ballad about a confused young man who loves Eminem with such ferocity that, when Eminem doesn’t answer his letters, he cuts himself, puts his pregnant girlfriend in his trunk and kills them both. Stan could have used psychiatric intervention, but I commend his commitment to emoting.

Emote is a verb. It means to show emotion. Few people know about it. Why? It could be our educational system, but I think it’s because we strive to ignore our emotions. We feel them, think about them, weigh the consequences expressing them will have on our hearts, our reputations, our jobs, our futures, assess how people will react to them and, finally, we either release a watered down version of them or bury them in our intestines. Healthy.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he wastes words apologizing for his feelings.

He says: “I wrote you with a greatly troubled and distressed heart and with many tears; my purpose was not to make you sad, but to make you realize how much I love you all.”

Here’s an idea, save yourself a 10-page apology and just say what you mean! I love you!

The contrast between what we feel and what we express is disappointing at best. I love South and Central Americans because they’re extremely expressive. They kiss, they hug, they love, they scream and they’re honest. They enjoy their lives.

We hoard our emotions because we worry about what others think and we don’t want to get burned but: “We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies; but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.”

Musicians, artists and writers understand this. They feel. They express and then release. But they can’t always support themselves because we place a fiscal premium on stoicism. We’re a constipated society.

I write to release, but I’m learning I can’t write away emotions. I took a leap of faith and tattooed an emotion on my wrist but guess what? When it’s convenient, I hide that thing beneath my sleeve.

Feelings can be selfish, but if you let them go, they’re liberating. Challenge yourself to laugh, cry, scream, hug and explode before you have time to think about it. It’s hard, but magnificent.

I’m doing it and all I can say is: Damn it feels good to be a lova.

Disclaimer: Though this video exemplifies the exhilaration of emoting, I am not an African American male; I do not pack heat; and I do not drive a hoopty.

Geto Boys — Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta

Stopping Point: Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Note: This stuff is interesting and pertinent to my life so I’m slowing down. In order to meet my Christmas deadline, I’ll be publishing at least Mon., Tues. and Wed. from here on out.

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