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.

Morality Series: LUST!

You’ve been waiting for this one, right?

lust-4As a noun or verb; it means a very strong sexual desire, or a passionate desire for something. The synonym list is downright erotic: sexual desire, sexual appetite, sexual longing, ardor, desire, passion, libido, sex drive, sexuality, biological urge, lechery, lasciviousness, concupiscence, horniness, the hots, randiness, greed, desire, craving, covetousness, eagerness, avidity, cupidity, longing, yearning, hunger, thirst, appetite, hankering desire, be consumed with desire for, find sexually attractive, crave, covet, ache for, burn for, have the hots for, fancy, have a thing about or for, and drool over. (Whew) The key word in all of that is desire. This is not an act, it is merely a basic human want, or as George Carlin put it, “You gotta wanna.”

lust-5“It’s what’s in your mind that counts. Your intentions. Wanna is a sin all by itself….it was a sin for you to wanna feel up Ellen, it was a sin for you to plan to feel up Ellen, it was a sin for you to figure out a place to feel up Ellen, it was a sin for you to take Ellen to the place for you to feel her up, it was a sin to try to feel her up, and it was a sin to feel her up. There was six sins in one!” George Carlin, Class Clown, 1972.

When I get to be Pope, this lust deal comes off the list. The desire we call lust may cause us innumerable problems, but by itself, it’s no sin. It is not even bad. Our behavior may be bad. The desire may burden us in some way. We may not even admit to its existence. We lust, and we do it well. Were it not for bit of lust taken to the physical level about nine months before our original birthday, none of us would be here.

lust-9I wanna. Before you tar and feather me for being a dirty old man (normal), know that I was raised Irish-Catholic, just like Carlin was. Human sexual desire for other humans is normal, good, healthy, and leads to some of the best moments in our lives, not to mention procreation of the species. A vigorous libido is a good thing to have. But, not everyone agrees with me. Most obviously, many Roman Catholics, and certainly not their leadership. I quote from a piece by Sam Guzman, republished in The Catholic Gentleman.

“In my own observation, lust seems the most obvious of the seven deadly sins, and also the one that can overcome the unwary Christian soul like a flash flood.”

I like the flash (flesh?) flood part. But lust isn’t bad – it’s not immoral. It’s normal. Sexual repression, on the other hand, is abnormal. Yet it is supposed be the hallmark of a good Christian life. Accepting the reality that lust is a feeling just like any other, and learning how to deal with it seems much healthier than trying to deny its existence, repressing it, and making millions of young people think they are going to burn for eternity because racing hormones are doing the talking. Think about it. We’ve all been there.

lust-2

One source I found said the opposite of lust is chastity. I disagree. You can do both: be chaste, but still lust. I looked up antonyms of lust, but the list is unsatisfactory. Only apathy (sloth?), and satisfaction (Rolling Stones song) got my attention. I don’t think there is a precise opposite for lust, unless it is not-lust, and that’s dumb. Maybe sloth is a good opposite, but how do we say having no desire, or not thinking? Dead? I wish not to be dead. Lust is a good sign that I’m not. Is un-wanna a real word?

lust-8

When I was challenged to do this series, the proposal was to juxtapose the sin with its opposite. In this case, I can’t point to anything, and it would be pointless anyway. Sorry, I just can’t get no satisfaction.

When we fight against nature, two outcomes are possible. Either nature wins, or our human nature becomes corrupt and disordered.

lust-1

Everything leads to something.
How we follow that path, and where it leads, is how we live.
Passion is good, desire is good, wanna is good! Lust to your heart’s content.
We get one life – live it well and enjoy the parts you can.
Mind any gaps and look both ways.

NaNo Rebel – One Week Done

Telling my story
Telling my story

In the first five days of NaNoWriMo, I’ve written 11,000 words toward the goal of 50,000 before midnight of November 30th. Since my personal goal was 2K words a day, I’m ahead. I have picked up on several things about my writing.

  • I am not isolated. My wife comes and talks to me routinely, and I go talk to her. I have vacuumed the house, gone to meetings, and done shopping. I answer phone calls (not doing surveys or talking to telemarketers, and I voted early), and I go for walks.
  • I have time available to write. Being retired, I could write all day and night. But I can take time for a football game, and maybe some NCIS or Blue Bloods. I read about what I am supposed to be doing: writing memoir. I talk to people, often about things having nothing to do with writing.
  • I think my weakest writing skill is the art, the creative parts, the telling of the story. I blame my experience with technical writing for part of that. But for this memoir, I continue to work on my skills to show and tell from my POV at the time. Can I be both protagonist and antagonist?
  • If I read a sentence that I wrote last week, I will change it. It will be better, but the challenge is to write, not to re-write and edit. This slows me down, but it looks like I can semi-comfortably write a maximum of about 3-thousand words a day. I did 2,800 twice last week.
  • I made an outline, a spreadsheet, and a memory list. The list has turned out to be the most valuable. I never look at the outline or spreadsheet. My only problem with the memory list is that I write in chronological order and the list random.

img_0833-1

  • Here are examples from my list:
    1. Working to pull out coal stove and put in gas hot water heater and gas stove for cooking.
    2. Looking up at Dad realizing I was looking at a drunk man who didn’t care. I had eerie feeling that he resented me. I was not seeing my father.
    3. Helen Hxxxxn (Whitey) BB gun. Tomatoes.
    4. Peggy Rxxb and the Rxxb family.
    5. Carol Mxxar and Joe Mxxxxen
    6. Dog named Rusty and my treatment of the dog
    7. Age 5 birthday party
    8. Danny
    9. Raised by both bio parents…first in fam….Linda was second, but hers divorced (he left) right after Linda graduated high school
    10. Mom’s relationship with my half-bro, Danny, and my view of it.
Write. Just write you must.
Write. Just write you must.

I will be writing this memoir for a long time to come. I’ll win the Nano challenge and complete this memoir, but not anywhere near at the same time.

I miss writing this blog, but I choose not to do both.

If you ever consider writing memoir, I suggest it. For me, it’s not about the book, it’s about me. I still have a lot to write and things to decide. Do I want to write about something or make it available for others to read? Those dark “things” about me? I work at keeping the words and stories on my intended spiritual track, but in my mind, everything relates – particularly during my formative years.

The following excerpts from my memoir are from two more dramatic events, both relate to a nun who taught me. Context is that I had just learned that the same nun who taught 7th grade will be teaching 8th next year, then we jump to what I was worried about.

Blues Brothers movie, my fav part
Blues Brothers movie, my fav part

….“Mom, Coughlin is 7 to 12th. Can I go to 8th grade there? I’ll go next year anyway.”

“Now, Billy-boy. Why wud ya? Jist graduate St. John’s. After I see ya graduate, God can take me. It’ll never happen again.”

“I’ll graduate Coughlin, Mom.”

8th grade was worse than 7th. Even Father Burns was afraid of Sister Mary Siena, and for good reason. She was the tyrant of the school.

Gerry Dxxxxe sat behind me. As I was turned around explaining something of extreme importance to Gerry I heard, “Mister Rxxxxs, what is the answer?”

“The answer to what, Sister?”

“Young man, you better know the answer to the question I just asked the class.”

After I suggested that she asked one of them, the anger-crazed dark shadow in black habit grabbed her instrument of torture and death. As she stormed down the aisle heading at me, in her hand was the yard long wooden pointer. It was round, about the circumference of my thumb. She yelled for me to standup and turn around.

As it turns out, blows to the flesh behind the knees with such a pointer are not soon forgotten….

At times, how I saw it.
At times, how I saw it.

Life is interesting,
look both ways and mind the gaps.

Free from Religion

atheism8

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Talking about this is difficult enough, but putting my spiritual story into words has been a challenge. It’s 70 years long. While details are normally important, I cut them out because there are too many. I’ll save the “rest of the story” details for a memoir.

I grew up Roman Catholic–I prefer Irish Catholic. In parochial elementary school (K thru 8th grade), I was taught by nuns (Sisters of Mercy, who had none). That was a lot of church and religion. Then, I attended public high school (9-12).

Around age 13 or 14, I would leave home for church on Sunday mornings. But, I would go play pinball for an hour and then walk back home. Maybe I believed in god as a teenager. Because of the way I lived then, I don’t think I did.

My friend Jack and my girlfriend at the time, both attended the Episcopal church down the street. I started going to that youth group, but my participation there had nothing to do with religion.

Following high school graduation, I joined the Air Force at age 18; I met and married a girl in Texas at age 19; graduated from college and started having children by age 25. Two years later, I was back in the Air Force and flying B-52s.

While I sampled some other Christian denominations during the 70s, I also ventured back to the Catholic Church for a couple of years. We had our marriage made official (sometimes incorrectly called blessed) in the eyes of the Church.

We had three children in the 1970s: boy, boy, girl. While we played on the Pope’s team, the boys were baptized. The girl was born in 1978, but she was not baptized Catholic.  So we must have stopped going to the Catholic Church before mid-1978. By that time, my wife and I decided that Catholicism was not working for us as a family.  Perhaps the anti-Catholic sentiments in her family contributed to her part in that decision. My wife and I always wanted to have a church home for our family. So, we kept looking.

The 80s decade began with us living on the island of Guam for two years. We seldom went to church there. Then we moved to California where we attended a Methodist church. That went well for a long time, and our daughter was baptized. However, our try at Methodist fell apart after the Methodist leadership decided to write political letters. They had no right to speak for me. Eventually, other distractions overwhelmed us, and we stopped going.

We next moved to San Antonio, Texas, then to Oklahoma. From the mid-1980s through the mid-90s, we participated in no religion. While that time was among the most difficult of my life for purely secular reasons, spiritual help would’ve been welcome.

About 1997, we again tried religion. This time it was the First Christian, or Disciples of Christ, denomination. During that time, I was reading books about, and trying to learn about, eastern philosophy and religious thought (Buddhism, Taoism, etc.). That led to my reading of Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. I was spiritually moved by that book, by him, and by other mystics. I considered myself a searcher in the spiritual sense. I was looking for something and trying to understand what I was going through.

In 2000, as we prepared to move back to San Antonio, I told my wife that I intended to go back to the Catholic Church again. Her response was, “Good. I think I’ll go with you.” We did, and this time she became a confirmed Roman Catholic, which means she joined the Church through the sacrament of Confirmation.

We did everything to be good, active, participating members of our large Parish: pray, pay, and obey, as one guy called it. If there was anything we could do, we did it. We went to every adult religious education class, and we participated in many other “ministries.” I ended up teaching those adult classes and I added several lessons to the curriculum, including a critical one called, The Problem of Evil.

I read all of the Bible and started adult Bible Study classes. I did all the lesson plans and taught every class for years. I also taught children’s religious education classes.

I applied to be ordained as a Deacon, but later withdrew my application for a variety of reasons. One was time, and becoming a Deacon required a multi-year program. For two years, I was a member of the Parish Council, then I served as its President for two more years. We were in the top five percent of financial donors to the Parish. My oldest son was married in the church. We did it all. My wife was also employed as the Parish Office Manager for more than 10 years. After she retired, I applied for and received a job promotion that required a move to Florida.

Before we moved, I began to realize that my twelve year immersion into the religion and church of my youth had crystalized within me what I was trying to avoid. I was deeper in doubt. Oddly, it was like I knew too much. I began to realize that I didn’t believe any of it. I felt unfit for any religion because no matter what I did over the years, I did not believe what I professed. I couldn’t. I don’t do hypocrisy well.

I was not ignorant. By 2012, short of most clergy and some long-time apologists, I knew as much about the Christian faith and many other religions, as any layman–more than most. For the next two years, I pondered my beliefs and all that I had put myself through. I am a… I’m… what?

I no longer considered myself a Catholic, practicing or otherwise. I was peeling away the nonsense and discovering my personal truth. I knew the answer, but I avoided it.

I watched a documentary about former ministers who are now atheists. Some were still ministers. I was in awe of their courage. I couldn’t imagine doing that. I still can’t. That’s when I knew I was going to come clean. But how? When? As what?

I probably have not believed in god since I was about 12, but I kept trying. I couldn’t bring myself to write or to say words contrary to belief. I didn’t want to tell anyone. For a long time, no one asked. About three years ago, I did volunteer to a coworker, “I don’t believe it—none of it.” He’s an apostate Mormon and told me that his father, a life-long Mormon, eventually said the same thing.

Question One1Retiring and moving to the Seattle area provided time for me to consider my beliefs in greater detail. I read more about atheism, and I started to write about it.

Then, a few months ago while meeting with my writer’s group, one lady asked me, “Do you consider yourself an atheist?” I didn’t answer the question right then. After more thinking, I knew that I had to say it. So, days after being asked, my answer was yes–I am an atheist.

I gave up on religion because it never worked. Perhaps it never worked because after I reached the age of reason, I never believed again. I wanted to believe, and I wanted it to work. Now, I know that was impossible. I accept that, and I’m pleased with the outcome.

give up religion

I have few regrets about any of my life-long spiritual journey. However, I do regret that so many people consider atheism a dark, bad, evil thing. It’s not. Admitting my atheism freed me from the last of my self-imposed, people-pleaser bondages. Now, I need to find a pinball machine for Sunday mornings. Free again, at last.

May your spiritual journey lead to discovery of your personal truth. Let no one place limits on your life, so that you may grow and learn. We need not fear the truth revealed to us, by us.