Essay: Grace Before Rant (and why I care)

So many things about other people are none of my business. It is not the same with everyone because my relationship with each person is different. It begins with me, then my immediate family (in my case), then my friends, professional relationships, then people who want something from me like money or my vote. It may include strangers with whom I share driving on roads, rooms (the sign said ‘employees must wash hands’), grocery stores, air, or transportation systems.

Ambivalence, freedom, and self-preservation

If the man sitting across from me on the bus wants to pray, I don’t care. If he puts down a prayer rug that blocks my exit, I do care. If he jumps up and yells something that sounds like god is great in Arabic, I care a lot about his intention. As the behavior of others moves closer to interfering in my life, the more what is not my business is made to be. Not by me. I begin to care.

Pray, pay, and obey

When I lived at home with my parents, I was the youngest child in an Irish Catholic family. For nine years (1950s), I attended a Catholic elementary school (K-8), as did my older siblings. I was taught all traditional things catholic kids were supposed to learn. I memorized the Catechism. I learned about the religion as it was taught to us, about the saints, and some bible history for eight of those nine years. We had to pray. We had to go to confession and to Mass. We had no choice, but I also recall none of us resisting. We saw it as normal.

Millions of children around the world grew up in similar circumstances (and some have spent a lifetime recovering). It was brain washing, of sorts. We prefer to call it religious education and indoctrination, to be more politically correct.

We prayed to start each school day. We memorized new prayers as part of the curriculum, some in Latin if you were gunna be an altar boy. There were no altar girls then (now both sexes are altar servers), but the Latin has been scrapped in most cases. Before and after recess, we prayed. Before lunch, we prayed Grace Before Meals. When we returned after lunch, we stood next to our desks and prayed the Grace After Meals. Before we left for the day, we prayed. We were expected to pray at home.

When old enough, every Friday, or the day before a Holy Day of Obligation, we went to confession as part of the school day. More prayers; and the assigned penance was to say more prayers (five Hail Mary’s, five Our Father’s, and an Act Of Contrition). Think about that for a minute: prayer as punishment? We did that in anticipation of receiving Holy Communion (the body and blood of Christ) at Mass. You’d have thought we were Trappist monks in training (they pray seven times a day).

Reciprocal respect (do your thing)

I am not going to repeat what I’ve said about prayer (mine or other’s) in past posts. But I want to express a concern (PC for pointed rant). I only know what a few other non-believers do in these circumstances, but I want to briefly whine over how I feel about it.

Maybe I’m being picky or over-simplistic about this, but I strongly believe that no gods exist or ever have. Consequently, communication with something non-existent is pointless, if not weird. I do not include mediation, talking with others (including animals), or talking to self in the same way because in each of those situations, the self or other being exists and meditative relaxation is probably healthy. I have talked to my pets my entire life and in many cases I am sure there was some degree and form of understanding me and what my intention was, even if the language was not understood. They never talked back (at least not in a language like English).

My wife (not atheist) and I occasionally have meals with religious friends (Evangelical Protestant, Lutheran of some kind, Catholic of Roman blend, whatever). In most cases, it goes like this. We meet up, we talk, we sit, read menus, we talk more, order drinks, talk more, order food, they talk even more, and then the food comes. That’s usually when the religious people decide to pray.

Now, if we can pray at religious school before we go home or down stairs for lunch; couldn’t they get the prayer part done a lot sooner? Furthermore, praying, especially while holding hands with convinced atheist, is not a social experience. It is a religious one.

Sometimes, they do pray early. If you go to their home for an outdoor barbeque or buffet style meal, they pray in one of those large group things. Usually, the protestants, and often Catholics, still want to hold hands, bow heads, close eyes, and mumble incoherently. Anyway, I will usually hold hands and watch as someone mumbles a long thanksgiving kind of prayer, often as the food cools. Early prayer is possible.

Truth is, these are my wife’s friends much more than mine (she and they may disagree). If I do not feign cooperation, it could affect her relationship with her friends. I don’t want to do that.

In most of these situations I feel awkward (and maybe a bit hypocritical) because of my beliefs. If they did not pray, or would pray on their own, it would be fine. The problems come with the showing off. That’s when I feel like I am socially being made (as in forced) part of the prayer, prayer group, or blessing process. Maybe I should say something like,

“You go on ahead and pray. I don’t do that. I’ll wait, but if you take too long, I’ll start without you. I’m here to interact with you socially and to eat. Not to pray.”

But I won’t do that.

Is my conclusion equally valid?

While I’m willing to speak openly about my atheism with almost anyone (there are limits), I don’t want to cause problems. I’m often demonstrative when arguing or debating religion (or anything). That’s not good.

Moreover, I don’t want to be the cause of my wife’s friends shunning her or pretending out of sympathy. I don’t care what they think about me. (I’m atheist, I know what many think). But there is irony in that. I do care how the world treats my family, especially when I may be the reason for it. (Your father, grandfather, husband, friend, what-evah).

What do you think?

If you have an opinion or experience with this, I would like to hear it. If you pray, how do you feel about a non-believer excusing themselves or feigning participation? If you are not a believer, how do you handle such situations? Please comment, even if it is that you don’t care either way.

If you watch this show, you know that they seldom hold hands: Catholic.

Bill Reynolds, 5/11/2018

Look both ways when crossing to the other side.
Mind the gap of our differences.

Poetry About Death

Poets write about many things. One is death.
Another is love. One could easily fill many book shelves with the love poems written just this year.

After working out this little ditty which touches on the part of death I call ‘the leaving and being left,’ I discovered another jewel by John Updike. It looks at death from the point of view of the artist (his).

I’ve added the brief reading video of the Updike poem below. If you enjoy poetry, art, are an artist, or may face death someday, it is worth a couple minutes of your time, in my opinion.

 

Let me Die

Please don’t sigh, when I cry, just kiss me now
and let me die.
Let me go
now to be.
Look at me and you will see,
when again together,
in death we’ll be.
Sigh and walk away –
to live what life’s left for you,
Not to fret and do not let
us to mourn this life or even death.

We had our time in love sublime
as you kiss me now upon my brow.

Bill Reynolds 11/01/2018

Perfection Wasted by John Updike

Wow!
Look both ways; to life and to death.
Respectfully mind the gap; it’s where the dying lie.

Will I Care? Don’t Talk Like That!

The past happened without me, as will the future.
Beginning on what day will I no longer get out of bed?
Unable to remove the mask and walk away,
to pee or whatever. Will I know anything?
On what day will I no longer want coffee?
I can handle not to have. But not to want?
Does nirvana or moksha reflect happiness or denial?
On what morn I’ll no longer begin a day’s reading?
Is not my quest for knowledge stewed in desire?
To have and to hold, to want and to need. To care?
There’s more I want to know. Will I care? Do I?
Must I stop loving her on that day? As the Jones song goes.
Will my dignity be intact, or will it be the first to go?
Will I die in a puddle of shit? As many would see that as fit.
Will I remember my name, yours, where I am? Will I care?
Is there such a thing as death with dignity? Or do we
just pass on to return life for life? Don’t talk like that?
Away and towards. Turn, turn, turn. Say I love you.

I care.

I do.

Love you.

 

© Bill Reynolds 10/15/2018

Look both ways; to the beginning and toward the end, when gaps no longer matter.

The Key FOB Story

 

Mary’s — Colorado City, TX

 

After leaving Mary’s Country Café in Colorado City, I was feeling bloated and wondering how and why I packed away so much of their chicken-fried steak. I was driving down a depressingly hot and joyless west-Texas country road, 20 miles east of nowhere special.

 

Chicken Fried Steak, gravy & extra, fries, Texas toast, green stuff

 

The desperation of the settlers who first moved there is unimaginable for me. They didn’t even have a/c in movie houses, movies at all, or a/c for that matter. The middle of nowhere may be overused and trite, but this place is there.

My excuse for being here is that I married a native. Her family and what is now our tribe live around there. I reckon they don’t know any better, but I’m here cuz they are.

After a while, I spied one of them plug-in jobs on the roadside. Casually leaning against the car was a hot (in both senses of the word) little number lookin’ plumb distressed in her flipflops, cutoff jeans, and a sweaty, thin tanktop. She was on the highway side with her arms folded looking at her cell phone like she might get service. Not out there.

 

See the blue dot on curve, right side?

 

I forget which rule it is that says no honorable man shall pass such a sight without rendering aid, so I just pulled on over after slowly driving past. It was a hot dry day, too miserable to be stuck in a fix of any kind. But that sweet little pumpkin-head was dressed fer it.

“Howdy ma’am. I’m Billy Don Russel from o’r West Bumbfuch. Y’all doin’ a’right?

That little girl acted plumb excited to see me. “Oh-Em-Gee. Thank God!”

Did I mention she had long black hair pulled tight into a quarterhorse tail that was sitckin’ out the back of a ball cap, like they do? The cap said Daisy Riding Service.

I managed to keep my eyes on hers and my eyebrows down. Men in them parts follow a strict role or can’t be trusted. And women like that are usually packin’ small caliber. Texas, ya know. We got critters, some are human.

With a neighborly smile I asked her, “What seems to be the problem, young lady?”

She held up her key FOB and screeched through her bright white teeth for the world to hear, “My clicker thingy won’t unlock my effing door and I can’t get into my gee-dee car.”

“Would you like me to try, Ma’am?”

She handed me her keys. I quickly glanced around expecting to see if a candid cell phone was recording all this. First, I tried to open the door with the handle. Sure ‘nuff, locked. Pressing the unlock button changed nothing.

I looked closer at the metal portion of the key and then back at the distressed damsel. She gave me a “told ya’” expression and shrugged her hot, sweaty, bare shoulders.

I gently slid the metal portion of the key into the little hole near the door handle and twisted slightly to an audible click. Handing her the key, I suggested she drive off first to be sure everything else is ok. She got in her car and rolled down the window.

“Thanks, Grandpa. I’m so embarrassed.”

“You drive careful, young lady. It’s dangerous country out there.”

“Please don’t tell Mom or Dad. They already think I’m a brainless twit. Tell Gramma I said hi.”

I managed to get back into my pickup with a straight face. My wife asked, “What was that all about?”

I looked at her and smiled, “Jessica said to tell you howdy. I’ll tell ya the rest over dinner, but she was having some technological issues.”

“She didn’t know how to use it?”

“More like didn’t know how not to use it.”

 

Look both ways on them deserted roads.
Tumble weed and roadrunners will get cha if ya don’t mind the gaps.

Happy Father’s Day

Glad Dad

this very day it’s been about
those many years you called me out
by a that tag without a name
with rules never quite the same

i must admit and i’m truly glad
yet sometimes i was very sad
the years i called my father dad
now it’s this time for me to add

it was easy as you may see
in the game of one two three
to wish the better for me to see
dad is neither simple or free

days were good yet sometimes bad
i still love my kids to call me dad
my special treasure to be had
their father’s name my greatest fame

Look both ways and mind the gaps.

Essay: My FWB Neighbors (3 of 4)

 

I have always liked the Diamond Rio song, Norma Jean Riley, so it follows this dribble for no other reason than I like it.

Part 3 of 4: Norma Jean (not Riley) and Mac

I met Norma Jean and her hubby, but I recall little about either of them. He was quiet; she was not. I had no judgmental opinion, but my wife seemed to like them. That means they are “fine.” They were longtime residents of the neighborhood and had raised their kids there and all of that. But, we all have our foibles, right? So, I will set this up for you.

We rented the house on the cul-de-sac we lived in for three years. When we announced we planned to move, the owner put it on the market and sold it. The couple who bought the house had children, were of some middle eastern ethnicity or nationality, and of the Islamic faith. I never met them, but I may have seen them when they looked at the house, since it was being shown while we lived in it.

As I understand, after we moved (bless her heart) sweet ol’ Norma Jean, who is of the Southern Baptist tradition, went to meet and welcome her new neighbors. It’s what we do. Being neighborly, right? In classic, southern, Bible Belt fashion, she invited her new neighbors to attend church and especially invited the children to Vacation Bible School.

The father of the children explained to sweet Norma Jean that he and his family were Muslims. He added that while his family would be following their own religious tradition, Norma Jean and her hubby were invited to a sit-down discussion of religion so that they might understand Islam better.

I don’t know what Islamic sect or part of that tradition the family followed. The conversation ended there. I’m sure Norma Jean sweetly declined the invitation. But then, bless her heart, Norma Jean shared the experience and her take on it all with my wife.

Apparently, Norma Jean was quite upset (shocked?) by the invitation for a chit-chat on the topics of Jesus and Mohammed. In righteous indignation she contacted my wife and shared her venomous opinion of such a request. “I have never been so insulted,” is how she felt about it.

I asked my wife how Norma Jean could in good conscience invite a Muslim family to a Southern Baptist church and to Vacation Bible School, but be offended by an offer to compare notes, quid pro quo, especially about two of the three Abrahamic religions of the world.

Some things I will never understand. Most people I will never understand. Southern Baptists and Muslims are two groups that fit both categories. But, that is fine since it is unlikely that they understand me either.

Look both ways in comparing notes with others. Turnabout is fair play but mind the gaps.

Poetry: Everybody Has a Mother

52 years ago.

Everybody Has a Mother

I had a mom. And I loved her too.
Then she died, as all mothers do.

Now I have this woman here,
Texas gal and hell-of-a-dear.
Not my mother, no siree,
Nor sister or brother, but oh is she
Mother to the progeny,
who are something
that’s part of me.

She is my lady,
you can see,
love ‘er to bits like a
long-time lover
should.
She’s their mother.
They all love ‘er –
she loves ’em too,
as mothers do.

I love her so,
And likewise them.

Mom o’ my children,
all Texas born.
Now all growed-up
with kin a their own
Tex-bred kids
of one kind or other.

We love ‘em all,
short, fat, skinny and tall.

We love ’em up,
but she Loves them
more than I,
‘cuz that’s what Moms
can do. Love them all
a lot, you see,
more than you and more ‘n me.

Daughter, sis, and cuzin to some,
Wife to me, a very special one
Good sport of a kind and sort,
Mom to three,
Oma to more.

Yolonda,
this poem, my dear lady,
is just for you.

(Bill Reynolds © 12 May 2018)

Y’all be lookin’ both ways cuz Momma be comin’ with a spoon.
Mind the gaps.