Monday, February 1, 2010

Shannon, the Christian

If you are devoutly religious please do not read this. It is about my life and is not about you or your family except if you go to Bethany Community Church and drive a silver volvo
This morning, before Joshua was awake, I was driving Wren along 80th on the way home from the Zoo. We had enjoyed seeing the lions roar and the penguins swim so fast they leapt out of the water. Once again preferring 80th, we drove past Bethany Community Church and I starting wondering what I would have to do to pass for a Christian.

This church appears to be a perfect match for families. Looking in the window the congregation is young, up early, has kids, look happy, have a very full modern building (in the NW style), they have pictures of BICYCLES on the church website and if you google search the front page for JESUS it says Not found.

This is their 'Vision' - tell me if it doesn't sound cool? If necessary you can replace the word God with something you value to help you relate. The word 'coffee' works for me.

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This attitude has been the guiding vision for the Bethany community, and through it we seek to invite people to [coffee ] God, to community, and to wholeness. As a result, everything that we do here at Bethany seeks to meet each of these three criteria."

Now, here's my guilty secret: some days I miss being a Christian.

How I found God and Had Fun
When I was a teenager I found religion at a Church Crusade (why they would use this word with its history, I dunno). The college guys played love songs to Jesus on guitar (which is the Lord's instrument) and the pretty girls sang. The sad girls wept and told you how they had been saved from sadness. The counselors pursued us for Jesus and made everyone feel very wounded and very special.

I had one of those on-off again relationships with God through my early teens and then around the age of consent, I joined myself to a fabulous community church. For the non-initiated, Community Churches are a kind of movement. Having been in that cult, I recognized Bethany as a community church from a mile away. Community Churches are post-denominational. They exist as a kind of "freedom loving" church movement which returns to the bible as a source of truth rather than to doctrine. They call on your to live for the Lord realio, trulio but don't go for steeples and big marks of the crucifixion. If you're a contemporary urban type who uses the words christ and god** when you're not smashing your finger in a drawer, then its the way to go.

The one I joined in 1981 is now called Glenridge and its a big deal in Durban, South Africa. When I joined it was a small outfit called The Invisible Church (aka Inviz). It met in a warehouse in an industrial area and was full of musicians and artists in tie-dyed shirts and thongs sharing intimate details of their lives.

I had found my spiritual home.

I have since learned that his form of Christianity is the exception rather than the rule. In the era of Googling, I found an article about Inviz titled:
Tripping on Jesus': the social dynamics and psychedelic religiosity of the Invisible Church in Durban, 1973-1983," by Glen Thompson.

I have been unable to get hold of a copy so I don't know about the cultural analysis but I shall say no more than that I felt a great harmony.

So where do I find this village to raise my kids?
Since I've been pondering priorities lately, I have to tell you that I am a big sucker for community and the question of community / spirituality has been on my mind. Being an immigrant not once, but twice, has given me a lot of of time to reflect on community. The post office can give you a kit to get your mail forwarded but they don't forward your friends. You can have been the most popular / successful / qualified person in the whole of Durban / Saigon / Ambon / Facebook but when you start in your new country your three dimensional self is a non-popular nobody.

I know its not only forriners who have this experience. My friend Laurie, a veteran of many-moves as the wife of an aspiring (now tenured) academic, tells me that she is exhausted with the work of making and losing friends to moves. Like so many people I have met in Seattle, she is From Somewhere Else (actually, California which accounts for 9% of Seattle immigrants). According to this article using data provided by the Puget Sound Regional Council about 42-43% of Seattle's population is US born non-native Washingtonians but in the '05-07 data 20 percent were foreign born.

Now, granny and grandad living in California can't provide childcare but they can come for holidays and birthdays. If you really need them, they can shoot on up here for under $500. Having relatives on other continents is only good for conversation with strangers. When people say that it takes a village to raise a child they don't mean a Global Village or a family in the virtual cloud. They mean a nice local network of people who live in huts near yours and can look after your kids when you need to do Life.

That's what I saw when I drove past Bethany. There was the village waiting to claim me.

Family Friendly Believers Inc
Keeping an open mind I wondered how other religions would work for my family. I am a buddhist but its not family friendly round here. The Sangha I was part of tried. They had a family group, they do an annual picnic, they mention kids occasionally but while buddhism is a family religion in Asia, round here it is full of single people and older divorcees. It also attracts people who like to gaze in their navels and as you parents know, there is nothing in a navel but skin and fluff.

If you didn't care about community it could work well. Buddhists teaching is that mindfulness is practiced in the midst of life and buddha was careful to point out that one did not need to become a monk to reach enlightenment. Here is my practice of parenting:
Arising: Children shrieking.
Notice: children shrieking. Notice: shoulders clench. Notice: aversion. Notice: reaction. desire to yell at them to stop.
The desire becomes overwhelming. Decide not to notice.
Notice: I am reacting. Yell at them.

Clearly, some of the boddhisatvas of my generation had families because there has been a spate of books published to help you practice the path of mindful parenting. Still, without a noisy, supportive, loving structure that welcomes kids its hard to show your kids what its about and the practice of community becomes something on your To Do list rather than a source of sustenance.

I have enough to do already so I am struggling with my buddhist practice (not the fundamentals though).

How Important are the Fundamentals?
When I stopped being a Christian at first I was scared. I wasn’t scared that I was wrong but I was told that God took it very personally and would roast me extra long because I’d had a relationship and broken up.

Then I was sad that I wasn't In The Team anymore. Janine Dawson and I did it together and we were both going, like "what, are we allowed to just decide not to believe that anymore? Can't we still be friends with you?" I am sure cult therapists have a word for this as some stage in deprogramming. You stand on the abyss and if you leap you have to start to find the earth all over again.

Since then, I have been a bit leery of Faith.

I know that some of you feel it works. You believe in the religious part and if you do all things take care of themselves. That’s true. It is very comforting. But really, are you that obedient? Would you really drink the koolaid? If the pastor of your cult started to believe in child sacrifice would you still take Junior to Sunday School?

Methinks not.

I believe that faith and culture are not clearly defined. We believe what we are accustomed too. Take me, I really wanted to be a Wiccan for a while. I tried hard but by bejesus those Wiccan's can be kinky. After a year and various run-ins with Wiccans I had to admit that however appealing the spiritual practice and the connection with nature, the culture was just too matriarchal and love-honey for a girl like me.

Now Judaism is different, for community Judaism rocks.

There have been times in my life in which I have inspected my family tree looking for a mysterious female Jewess so that I might discover that, after all, I am Jewish (through that name-switching maternal line). I really love the way that Judaism recognizes the culture of Judaism as more than religion, that they are intertwined, that there is a whole Secular Jewish movement.

That's what I am grasping for. I want to be a secular christian. I feel the lure.

You know. I have had lots of devout Christian ancestors. If it was secular, I could join Bethany, I'd dress Frost and Wren in their Sunday Best and attend service at the Chapel where I can drink coffee and enjoy the casual atmosphere while I listen to the sermon. It would exort and encourage me to reflect on my life (and hey, who gets enough time to reflect) while the kids (from nursery to 6th grade) enjoy the "Children's programming at all services

I guess that was the daydream as I drove along 80th NE without the strumming of guitars in my ears or the prospect of a gang of nice pals to hang out with after service

Instead, Josh rewired the kitchen and Wren and Frost made a big mess with bathwater, styrofoam, comic books and blankets. We now have way too much wattage in the kitchen and are considering removing the new fixture and replacing it with a more compact single or double bulb ceiling fixture. The light was so dazzling that it reflected in the screen of the computer and Frost kept wincing. We finally removed 3 of the bulbs from the 5 bulb slots and it is tolerably lit.

I could try make a little metaphor of this and point out that "let there be light" is all well and good but, sometimes, life is more gentle lived in a half-gloom. Least thattaways your monsters can rear from the screen without reflection.

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