Having Jesus over for tea

Welcome to another one of those can't-speak-publicly entries. I can smart off on solecist but cat.net is for thinking. Make no mistake, that is what this entry is -- thinking through keys -- and I write it with a great deal of worry about how it will go over.

I have never stated my religion publicly on this site. There are reasons for that: among other reasons, I am not sure if there's a name for people like me. In cases of religion, I am negative space, more easily defined by what I'm not than what I am.

I'm not Christian.

Those are words you just don't say out loud down here. The American South is permeated with religion; even our speech drips with phrases of religious origin. Even the speech of those of us who aren't in the majority.

Saying you're not Christian in the South isn't a death sentence, but it's not a recipe for social comfort, either. One of the easiest ways to get to know people here is to go to church with them. Not going that route immediately strips you of a social safety net, and I am adult enough to admit that I have seen my friends cared for by their fellow church members in times of need, and I have envied them.

But I can't be something I'm not, just for the sake of a bit of social comfort.

I've kept my mouth shut ever since Roy Moore. His stand over the Ten Commandments didn't baffle me quite as much as the citizenry's reactions did. I wanted to shake many of them collectively and to say, "Don't you see? They might be good guidelines to live by, but they're one religion's specific guidelines, and not everyone living in this state follows that religion!"

What I saw was that while there were decent people living here, decent folk who understood that not all of their neighbors necessarily shared their beliefs, there were people who just couldn't or wouldn't see that the rest of the world might not be like them.

The end result? People like me duck their heads. We shut our mouths when religion is brought up. Nobody wants to be 'tolerated' or 'accepted.' We just want to belong, and that's an entirely different animal.

Fast-forward to a recent work event. There was a small group of employees working it, and we were on the clock. In the final few minutes before the event started, we were gathered together in the staging area, and a quick announcement was made that we (those of us working) should have a prayer before we started the event.

I think I did a triple-take.

The funny thing is that the prayer was over fast, and took less time to say than one of the longer paragraphs here took to type, but I was so surprised and bewildered that I stood there in silence. I didn't bow my head, but instead just stood there with this quiet look on my face.

They were praying, but what was going through my head? "I don't really know this Jesus well enough to feel comfortable inviting him over for tea like this." It was a surreal, humorous moment, and I was grateful I didn't blurt out my thoughts.

I don't plan on doing anything about it. Realistically, there is no point in doing so. It would only serve to ostracize me from people who genuinely like [what they know of] me. It would do nothing to improve my work environment, and likely wouldn't change anything. I wasn't physically hurt or oppressed, but it did make the room an incredibly lonely place for me. I was keenly aware of not belonging.

I say this knowing full well that my silence did me no long-term favors. The people involved went home secure in their belief that what they did was the right thing for everyone involved, and did not learn that there was someone in the room who didn't share their viewpoint.

I wonder if they would be shocked if they knew.


I still love you :)

I've been raised Baptist and am still not entirely comfortable in a church. I just feel I don't belong and lightning may strike me down, but I go anyway because it makes my parents happy.

Participate in a religion if it makes sense to you and makes you comfortable. Just remember that religion and faith are two different concepts.

For me ...
Faith is individual concept.
Religion is a group concept.
They are often diametrically opposed.

I remember when I still lived in Tennessee (back when I was all of 18, too). I remember my days as an atheist, sitting through those same prayers, refusing to look down so that I would know I wasn't praying, but keeping quiet and still so that no one else would know.

It's different now that I don't live in the South, and now that I'm not an atheist. I wish you the strength to continue living by your convictions, but I know you don't need my help to do that.

John, you were actually one of the people I thought about when I was writing this entry last night. I think what I said here would eventually have been said with or without any specific conversation, but in one of our [sadly few] in-person conversations, I remembered your mentioning the process of telling your friends and family that you were converting to Islam.

What you said was pretty simple: it was right for you and you felt you had to follow your convictions.

That stuck with me.

My hope is that not too many people were surprised by what I said in the entry. It's always been easier to keep my mouth shut when matters of religion came up, but given enough instances, my repeated silences should convey meaning just as clearly as carefully-chosen words.

The people I have always admired the most for their beliefs have always the kind who show you, and don't tell you. The ones who don't let you get a word in edgewise because they're explaining about their deep personal relationship with Christ (or Krishna, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) are the ones too busy to do anything about their belief. The ones raging away how religion is "abuse" aren't very inspiring either.

But I am lucky that I know many people who are happy to act on their beliefs, and after knowing them and seeing their actions I know far better what they really stand for. Whether people believe in a specific deity or not, doesn't bother me. The people I will always want closest to me are the ones who live their lives with their own integrity.

"The people I have always admired the most for their beliefs have always the kind who show you, and don't tell you."


Hi, Misty. Hi, Stephen. :)


The prayer at work thing happened to me too, the first year I worked here. We all gathered in the boardroom for a potluck Thanksgiving thing, and the CEO led a prayer. I did what I normally do, kept my head up and eyes open, and caught the CEO's 8-year-old daughter peeking too. I gave her a wink and a smile. No idea what she thought.

The loneliness isn't the only thing - its the judgment and the smugness and the "sorry you don't know any better I'll pray for you" if someone gets beyond the silence to realize the truth. *shrug* I've had it happen a few times - not often, thankfully, since government contractors tend to be a little more aware of that kind of thing.

Not following whatever the majority religion is in whatever part of the world places you outside of a lot of things, but in this country - I believe in part because we are raised on the conflicting ideals of "freedom of religion" and "my church is absolutely right" - we tend to resent being put to the outside for something that secular society says doesn't matter and religious society says is the only thing that matters.

And no matter what else you are, there aren't a lot of social groups for it :)

...Jesus prefers Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire tea, with organic milk and sugar in the raw. But he's fine with anything, really. Because that's just the kind of guy he is.

All kidding aside, an ex-girlfriend (whose religion remains undefined) once told me that she enjoyed the fact that I had not hardened my heart against prayer. Granted there are a lot of short-sighted people who pray from unenlightened self-interest (sporting events, lotteries, and general selfishness), but prayers of right intent seem to have some real power to them, regardless of religious affiliation.

Man, long rambling 2 AM post that I've started over three times here. This is a tough topic for me - and the first time you and I had a good conversation about religion, Amy, I had to go home and do a lot of thinking. I want to think of myself as open-minded and accepting and all that, but I keep finding myself a bit sad that you didn't feel the same way I do about something that's so important to me.

That's the initial reaction. The secondary reaction is to tell myself - hey, self, you haven't been to church in almost two years, and you've stopped even pretending you're going to get up early on Sunday mornings. You don't read the Bible, you don't listen to Christian music unless you're singing it in the chorale, and you very rarely pray. How can you say church is so important to you if you don't participate in any of the trappings that go along with Christianity? Sure, I'll try to be moral and upright and all that, but it's not like one religion has a monopoly on being a good person.

Even when I try to pin down various aspects of Christian theology - do I believe in the resurrection? Do I believe the Bible is at least mostly accurate? Do I believe that God does or did miracles? Do I believe that God actually cares what I do with my life? - I have a hard time answering "yes" to any of them individually. But taken as a whole, yes, I do believe in the whole package. So why do I have such an aversion to being happy for someone who agrees with me and doesn't take all the individual pieces of Christianity as, err, gospel?

I really don't have an answer, and this is still something I'm wrestling with. With Morgan too, actually - although we're more on the same page than I ever expected, he's never been baptized. This really bothers me, and I can't articulate why it's so important to me that he go through this ritual that neither of us logically believe is physically necessary. It's not my decision, and it's really frustrating to me.

So yeah, 2 AM posts tend to ramble and sound a lot less deep in the light of day, but I had to throw something up here. It's been too long since I've had a good religious discussion with someone whose views were new to me and made me think - shallow bible study classes (either in church where I'm expected to share everyone's opinion, or non-denominational get-togethers where everyone's afraid of offending each other) just don't do it for me. Next time I'm up in the middle of the night with some of y'all, we need to sit around and sound profound and give us all more to ponder. I miss being in Junior High when my religious views were all able to be tied up into one neat, clear-cut, easy-to-articulate package.