[Looked for a picture of a female hacker but the world sucks and they were all sexualized]
LB (my daughter) is getting bigger, smarter, faster, stronger. She talks better than most kids her age and has surprising agility. Her imagination is off the charts and I couldn’t be more excited.
Enter today: She was registered for preschool at a church. If you know the deep south, then you can relate. This isn’t odd at all. Churches are (or were) the cornerstone of community in the south. That’s where you spent your Sunday and Wednesday, met your first crush, made friends and business connections, got into mischief, and—well, worshiped (at some point). With the experiences I had in church, the outright lies I was told as a child by church, I ask myself often: How much do I want to expose my child to that place?
I had a decent experience in the Christian church as a kid (mostly Baptist), or so I thought at the time. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve reflected, and the more I’m not so sure.
In Sunday school I was told pornography would lead to death (and not the spiritual kind, but a literal, physical death). This not only skewed my perception of sex for most of my pre-adult life, but terrified me into thinking that if I lost my virginity I was heading down the road to ruining myself and that of everyone I knew. That’s a heavy burden to put on a hormone filled teenager.
In 1993, my mother started having nerve pain the result of a car wreck ten years earlier. The doctors thought she was a drug seeker and an addict, when she complained of chronic pain. For a long time medicine did no good. On the advice of a church friend, we went to a faith healer in backwoods Alabama (outside Dothan I believe), and in a dirty old dance hall the man laid hands on my mother. He shouted at her again and again, saying her faith needed to be stronger or she would never be healed. I swear, people in the rear were handling snakes. We left without a miracle, scared shitless, and on my mother’s back was a weight as great as a mountain.
Your faith was too weak to heal you. You are a failure.
There were other instances, long stretches of time in which I believed I was a horrible person for wanting sex and that the reason I couldn’t face those feelings without temptation or be more successful with finances was because I didn’t have enough faith. God was punishing me for being weak.
Then there’s this. I was going to Hell for sure.
Under all this pressure I became a sort of zealot, a Jesus freak (as the DC Talk song went). I was in and out of churches, part of a slough of varying denominations that had one central theme: Your relationship with God was a competition. You had to be more humble, more giving than the next person. You had to pray harder, fast longer. God became an excuse for every misfortune and equally given glory for all minutia.
But things have changed as I’ve grown up. I spent my twenties finding myself (and in the opinion of many church goers, falling away from God. Back sliding.). I did a lot of things I’m not exactly proud of, and many that just needed to happen. I learned to be an imperfect person, a “Jesus freak” no more. I learned to fuck up and be okay with that. This is a lesson I didn’t learn in a church or from pastor. I learned it from my friends, my family, those good people I hedged my heart with. I learned it from reflecting and connecting to my changing image of God.
I believe in God, yes, He is all around us, within us. I believe his son walked this Earth and died for our sins, and that his spirit persists. But is God only what a book, made of oral tradition and parables, passed down, edited, all he is? Is he more? Is He (And I say He only out of habit and without agenda. I believe gender is irrelevant to God), actually the sum total of every soul in humanity? Is God what we are made of? Or perhaps, God is the soul of all intelligent life in the universe.
We know we aren’t the only possibly habitable planet in the wider cosmos.
I can’t say.
What I can say, is that blindly subscribing to any religious doctrine, is as dangerous as believing every meme you come across without question.
We live in an age of rapid change. We want things fast and easy, 140 characters or less, take this pill and lose weight, make money without doing any work. I see less people who have a deep relationship with God (in any form), and more Facebook feeds filled with self-aggrandizing statements (promoting how hard someone prayed or what they gave). And beyond that, a sickening narcissistic pride. Not to mention, a flood of narrow minded judgement. In my opinion, I’d rather be opened minded and later be proved wrong, than be stuck safe within a bubble of ignorance all my life. God does forgive.
Ignorance breeds hatred and misunderstanding. Ignorance is the space in which the powers that be can manipulate the narrative to their own ends. Muslims are no more evil than Christians or Hindus or Wiccans. Their religion is being used a scapegoat by evil people, an excuse to commit terrible acts, just as Christians did in the middle ages, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials… Take your pick. And let’s be honest, Pope Francis is working hard to change that image (at least when it comes to the Vatican).
If we would take a step back and look at humanity as one body, we would find that body cursed with an auto-immune disorder.
Sure, there are broken cells, viruses and organisms that need dealing with, but in our ignorance and hatred we are only hurting ourselves. The body is attacking its own, sending good organs into failure.
So when my daughter goes to school and learns a little bit about God, then asks me about it—what do I tell her?
This is the answer I came up with.
To follow the true, unadulterated example of Christ. To be giving. To love everyone as yourself, regardless of who they are and where they came from. To be willing to give all that you have, for the benefit of others. That many wolves come in sheeps’ clothing, and that money does not equal success. To question the world, not take what everyone says at face value. I will tell her that I am here to support, not to put a mantle of rules upon her so heavy it breaks her back.
To anyone reading this, just know that I love you. We are one species, one body. And even if we can’t agree on what form God comes in, or if at all, that doesn’t matter. All that matters in the end is love and connection.