faith


I got a weird “spam” call the other day. I don’t usually answer numbers I don’t recognize, but I did this one. An older-sounding man said, “Hello. My name is Joe. We have so much bad news these days that I wanted to give my neighbors some good news.” “Okay,” I said in my skeptical I-don’t-know-who-tf-you-are tone. He continued, “It says in the Book of Isaiah—” At which point I hung up.

It reminded me of the summer when I was seventeen and fell in with a bad crowd. This all came about because of a super huge crush I had on one of my classmates in high school, and because I was graduating and not entirely sure of my direction, and because I was an introvert who wanted to feel part of something, and because of music. Lots of fun music and riotously fun Tuesday night rival-like meetings at a local church where they had gigantic, rollicking singalongs and talked in tongues and laid on hands and all that jazz. So I spent the late spring and summer of my seventeenth year on a journey of attempted indoctrination into the cult-like world of the Evangelical Christians. This was also the summer my BFF and I volunteered at the La Brea Tar Pits working in the labs there. A weird science/religion combo if ever there was one, but I was confused and exploring my options.

I won’t mention the particular sect I got involved with because I don’t want to paint an entire group of people with a broad brush. It all began with my crush, a newly minted born-again Christian, talking to me at lunchtime about Jesus. I had not been raised in any religion. My mother had always encouraged me to listen and make up my own mind about things. But I had “sampled” many of the Christian churches of my friends, both Protestant and Catholic, and I had been enchanted by the occult from my early teens. So I listened politely to my crush, mainly (if I’m honest) because he was cute and I liked the attention. Sometimes my BFF would join us in these lunch discussions. She was always more skeptical, asked more questions, had more objections to blanket declarations than I had. I suspect my crush had a crush on her. At any rate, he invited us to a Christian coffeehouse with him one Saturday where they played Christian-themed folk-rock and it was something to do for two introverted girls, so we went along. It was actually a lot of fun. The music was good, everyone was friendly, and there was a dynamic young long-haired preacher from New Zealand who made the rounds talking to the kids. (And he was really cute—with a dishy accent.) Things at the coffeehouse usually broke up about 11 and afterwards we’d pile into my crush’s car and drive all over L.A. and into the canyons to look down on the lights of L.A. and go to the all-nite eateries—all innocent, good clean fun. It was a blast, so it got to be a regular thing. Me, my crush, my crush’s BFF, and my BFF. Kind of like dating, except not.

The young preacherman at the coffeehouse would come around and chat with groups of kids. He was quite charismatic and emphasized over and over again how we needed to stop random people on the street and start quoting scripture to them because even if they resisted the message and scoffed, you could be planting a seed that would allow God into their hearts and save them. I won’t even get into how dangerous that would be for young girls to do on the streets of L.A., but regardless, I wasn’t about to do it. First of all, I was far too introverted to even contemplate such a thing, and second, I couldn’t help thinking that if God was such a mighty being why did he need my pissant help to open somebody’s heart? Seemed like he could do that on his own if he was into forced conversions. No, what the preacherman was talking about was a human need to spew scripture, a way of proving something to the same human doing the spewing. Like, I don’t know . . . that they were holier than thou? Or maybe, as I suspect was the case with my telephoning Bible spammer, something that made them feel like they were taking positive action in a world that was confusing and often terrifying and often felt like it was spinning out of their control.

But I won’t say that I was unfazed by all this, especially by the really cute preacherman and the sincerity of my crush (even though it became clear as summer waned that he wasn’t interested in me in that way). I was enchanted, to a certain extent, and briefly felt part of something larger and there was. . . fellowship. I can’t emphasize enough how powerful the draw of fellowship was to a questing, confused little introvert like I was then. (That’s how cults get you.) That enchantment even went so far that I allowed the preacherman to convince me that I needed to burn my tarot cards. Yeah, I know. (And for anyone who might be justifiably horrified by this, please know I would not do anything remotely like this now, but it was a weird time in my headspace.) I’ve regretted that so many times I can’t even tell you, but I was caught up in the moment.

Preacherman wanted to burn them with me present so I could be “released from Satan’s bond,” but I declined. I was already feeling uncomfortable about the whole thing and they’d been a gift from my two best friends who had pooled their resources to buy the deck for me, so I was feeling like a foul betrayer of their friendship and thinking I should just call the whole thing off, but, I mean, like, I’d already brought them there and everyone was staring at me expectantly . . . In retrospect, I realize the preacherman wanted that audience of kids to watch me watching those cards burn, hoping my reaction to being “liberated” would play into their acceptance of his message, but I didn’t get that at the time. I just knew I didn’t want to be part of it. Those cards did liberate me, but not in the way the preacherman anticipated.

He took them out to the parking lot with a group of followers (they didn’t want the fire marshal to come down on them for burning something inside the club) while I stayed inside. He was out there for quite a while and when he came back he was flushed with victory. He started preaching about how those cards of Satan had really resisted the flames. He kept lighting them and Satan kept putting out the flames but he prayed and prayed and finally they caught fire and burned with a great, bright fire. And all the while I’m thinking, “They had a protective coating on them. That’s why they resisted the flames. And that’s probably why they burned so bright afterwards.” The preacherman’s house of tarot cards collapsed in my mind at that point. It wasn’t the final final straw, but just about. I couldn’t help thinking that if he was full of shit on that count, what else was bullshit? I eventually came to realize it all was.

So a deck of Smith-Waite reproduction tarot cards—and science—saved me from an Evangelical cult. Something inevitably would have, I think, because I was never a true convert and my BFF had already called bullshit and I was much more accustomed to listening to her than preachermen (even really cute ones). But those cards were the catalyst. I still regret the loss of them, and I kind of wonder if maybe that’s why I can never get decent readings from Smith-Waite decks. They are almost always overwhelmingly negative. I can’t say I blame them for holding a grudge.

Random quote of the day:

“We can’t allow ourselves to be frightened into not living our lives, and I think that we have to keep going and we have to keep going with the faith that things will get better…And things will get better when we make them better.”

—Oprah Winfrey, interview on Entertainment Tonight, as quoted on KTVB, October 2, 2017

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”

—Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

I was having a very interesting conversation over on Dreamwidth with my friend notasupervillain in the Comments section of my last Musings post (July 24, 2019). It grew into a post-long exchange. I have taken my part of the conversation and reproduced it here, cleaned it up, and expanded a bit. I’ve left the original exchange as is in the Dreamwidth Comments.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not young enough to be absolutely certain I know the truth. The shades of grey multiply with each year. But that’s okay. The things that are important are beyond those kinds of thought processes. We can feel around their edges, if we try real hard and remember they’re always changing shape anyway.

—from my original Musings post of July 24

I’ve known many truths, but they keep shifting as time passes. So, I’ve stopped trying to hold onto them and I certainly don’t try to convince anyone of their validity. Not like I used to when I was young. Whatever works for as long as it works.

This shiftingness of truth applies even to (or especially to) religious faith. I’ve long maintained that faith is experiential, not received wisdom. I don’t reject received wisdom out of hand—often it is quite valuable—but if all you have is that received wisdom, faith is never going to withstand the rigors of living. Once you’ve crossed that boundary of experience, though, faith has the ability to adapt and change. If you let it. Some people are so wedded to a single interpretation of spiritual experience they can’t see beyond it and try bending all of life to their rigid mold…until it breaks. Adapt or die.

I’ve never been religious, but I consider myself spiritual. That spirituality is fostered and sustained by numerous experiences I’ve had that convince me there is something in the universe besides materiality. Some of these experiences I’ve had alone, some with others, some have been creepy, some have given me great comfort. But they are the basis of my faith.

Now, because I am who I am and always questioning, I’ve long-since reconciled myself to the fact that they may be illusion, “mistaken identity,” brain chemistry, etc., etc. As I have more and more experiences, though, it gets harder to deny that something weird is going on. But I try to stay flexible with it, not confine it. I let it seep inside me, grow and change—I stay mindful.

If I was a strict Baptist or a Catholic, for instance (and as I understand it from some strict Baptists and Catholics of my acquaintance), I might have to consider some of these experiences as manifestations of the devil (because they believe all ghosts and other things are evil spirits trying to fool us into thinking we’ve been contacted by our deceased loved ones, etc., etc. ad nauseam). If I believed there was one God who was just and righteous and ruled over everything, I might ask myself, “So why did He allow the Holocaust to happen?” and it might shatter (or at least erode) my faith.

But the one thing that I know absolutely is that I don’t know what rules the universe. It may be nothing, it may be a lot of somethings, it may be one something in many aspects, it may be something I can’t even conceive of in with my limited human POV. I don’t even know if it’s a just universe. I know what I feel and what I’ve come to believe, but that hardly constitutes proof that someone else can take to the bank of faith. All I can really count on are my experiences, not the received wisdom of a religion or religions—which are always filtered through limited human perception anyway. That wisdom may point me down a path, but I am always going to have to be the one who walks that path and decides for myself what I see. Those experiences are not something you can hand off to someone and say, “Here, this happened to me so you should believe as I do.” If they haven’t had their own experiences, it’s not going to stick. But that hasn’t stopped many people trying to do just that through the centuries.

I know that I do not know, and I have my experiences, which allow me to feel comforted—if not always comfortable—in the midst of a vast uncertainty. They allow me to adapt and change, and to keep seeking answers, following paths, being surprised when new things occur to me that I hadn’t considered before, and moving forward.

Random quote of the day:

“There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than that year after year the whole God enterprise survives despite the way the professionally godly promote it.”

—Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“You never lose faith in your vision. God might choose fools and people who glow with neurosis for his partners in creation, but he doesn’t make mistakes.”

—James Lee Burke, “Writers On Writing; Seeking a Vision of Truth, Guided by a Higher Power,” The New York Times, Dec. 2, 2002

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“If you don’t have doubts, you’re kidding yourself, or asleep. Doubts are ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

—Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Science emerged from the Copernican revolution as the winner, the new paradigm, to use Thomas Kuhn’s famous term. But science is wrong if it believes it is the last paradigm or the only one that deserves credence. The nature of new paradigms, as Kuhn wrote, is that they explain more than the previous paradigm.”

—Deepak Chopra, The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

—Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Faith sees God’s face in every human face.”

—Catherine Doherty, Poustinia

 

Happy holidays, everyone! See you January 3.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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