Sunday, November 11, 2007

Film + Faith--Oh God!

I was supposed to participate in RC's Film + Faith blogathon earlier this week, but my back wasn't cooperating and I didn't get to post in time.

He's graciously allowed me to submit it late!

First and foremost, I have to confess that I have a real problem with organized religion. I don't have a problem with other's participation, I'm not going to advise or advocate one over another or insist on none. It's just my own journey, as I think it should be for us all.

When I was a kid, we were originally members of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Quite a bit of fire and brimstone there, and I thought God was a very very scary old geezer who was going to send me straight to hell for wishing my older brother would eat a bug in his sleep and choke on it. In my mind, He wasn't accessible to me. I couldn't relate to Him as someone I could confide in, confess to, ask forgiveness from, or thank for my blessings. He knew all my secret bad thoughts and would "get me" in the end.

Although we were members of the Lutheran Church, my mom was pretty broadminded in our religious instruction. She thought it was fabulous that my Jewish kindergarten teacher taught us about Hanukkah, the dreidal and the song "Hava Nagila" (oddly enough, this came in handy years ago when karaoke was in its infancy---I was a DJ in a number of clubs in the city---that's how I met my current husband--and a middle-aged woman with her elderly mother had scoured the area to find a show that not only had the song on it's playlist, but someone who'd sing it with the mother. So they'd visit this rather seedy little club twice a month, drink a club soda, and we'd do a duet! ;-))

But yes, I'm digressing. Nowadays, if a kindergarten teacher in a public school did this, there would be indignant screaming all around!

Mom also sent us to different churches for summer day Bible Camp as well. Maybe she was looking for a break (which I get), but also I think she understood that the Bible Camp in our church was pretty damn grim. My favorite was the Baptist camp. Their message included uplifting music that just made my heart sing! Over the years we went to Catholic Bible school, Presbyterian Bible school---a huge variety of faiths.

When I was 10, the movie Oh God! came out. What a revelation! Instead of scary Santa, George Burns was God! It made me start thinking.

Jerry Landers (played by John Denver) says: But I don't even go to any church!

and God (played by George Burns) says: Neither do I!

Huh? What a concept!

My mom was active in our Church. Our minister would tell her over and over again, "Hope (not her real name, but she has one that is equally as religiously appropriate), I don't know what we'd do without you! You have a true calling to our faith!"

When my dad ran off with one of his employees (I loved him to death---he was a great dad, but a total shit as a husband) after 24 years of marriage around 1978, Mom found herself at odds at the age of 46. She had a graduate degree (worked as a teacher while putting my dad through college to his doctorate), and felt she had a calling and asked our pastor to mentor her.

He completely slapped her in the face. "We hardly allow women to become pastors", he sneered. "What makes you think we would allow DIVORCED women to do so?" Like it was HER fault my dad was a dog and couldn't keep his dick in his pants.

Big first blatant strike against organized religion for me.

But my mom was a champ.

She basically said "f*ck you" and got her Masters in Divinity as a United Methodist minister instead.

The odds were against her. Out of her graduating class, there were very few posts available, and not many churches were willing to accept a 40+ divorced woman as their first choice. She ended up as an interdenominational protestant circuit preacher in a small farming town. She'd drive 100 miles every Sunday to do three services in three towns. One of the services she held was in the basement of a hall, and the entire congregation consisted of one family, 6 members in all, who'd be there every week.

I went and lived with her my junior year in high school (my brothers and I had moved in with my dad to stay with the school system we'd grown up with when she was posted). I was appalled at the small-town patriarchal system that was ingrained in the citizenry itself. There was a new power facility being built (a 2-3 year endeavor), which brought a large number of new people from all over to the area. Mom was new, and actively worked to help these people feel like they could find a home in our church, and tried to make it truly interdenominational. She was pretty successful (increased the membership by about 40%).

The old folks didn't like it and tried to have her fired. They wrote letters to her bishop. They held secret meetings just for this purpose. They didn't approve of having a "woman" minister. They didn't approve of the improvements or changes she was implementing. Their efforts didn't work, but it hurt her terribly. She'd come home and cry. The politics disguised as "faith-based" can be loathsome when spewed by supposedly-Christian people.

It was another strike for me against organized religion. Although it hurt my mom a lot, I volunteered to work at my job at the local bakery on Sundays. I couldn't bear the hypocrisy of being pleasant to these people who were nice to my Mom's face on the Sabbath but were scheming behind her back. I simply couldn't "turn the other cheek". I wanted to punch them in their sanctimonious mouths, and had to remove myself.

Essentially, this ended my tolerance for the behind-the-scenes political bullshit that happens in church that can only be realized if you've actually been there, done that. Over the years, we've attended a few different parishes, but at the slightest whiff of anyone approaching us with the "us against some other faction of members" I've yanked us out, lock, stock and barrel. It might not be really fair to the kids, and I've had some guilty feelings over it.

So it comes back to Oh God! and how the message affected me as a person and a Christian.

Do I have to confess my sins to a priest, or wear magical underpanties, or speak in tongues to reach the stairway to heaven? All of that foolishness is a result of organized religion, in my opinion. I don't do any of those things, and no, I don't think that George Burns is God, but it helped me clarify a lot of things in my mind and in my heart.

I don't have a problem with an atheist message, or an agnostic one either. To each his own. I can profess my faith without pushing it on others.

Bottom line, Oh God! helped God be accessible to me. Instead of being a formidable and punishing presence, I can think of Him as being benign and loving. I can pour my heart out when I talk to Him---articulate my fears and follies, thank Him for every blessing in my life, ask Him to watch over soldiers and people who've had tragedies and my children, etc.

"I know how hard it is in these times to have faith. But maybe if you could have the faith to start there, maybe the times would change. You could change them. Think about it. Try. And try not to hurt each other. There's been enough of that. It really gets in the way. I'm a God of very few words and Jerry's already given you mine. However hopeless, helpless, mixed up and scary it all gets, it can work.
If you find it hard to believe in me, maybe it would help you to know that I believe in you."

For me, that's it in a nutshell.

As a postscript....after 6 years in that small town, over the years, my mom went on to be posted as a minister in several other small parishes (she wanted to live closer to her children)---none of which had ever had a woman minister. After she moved on, they all specifically requested a woman to replace her, which really made her a pioneer. She retired at the age of 70 a few years ago.

I'm so very very proud of her. She's such an admirable woman.


golfwidow said...

I don't have a hot video. Sorry. All I have is an observation: I don't like organized religion either. I am a disorganized religion, consisting of one follower (me) and a deity who understands why I'm such a jerk.

I think I love your mom, though. If I'd seen a religious leader like her during my formative years, I might not have given up so easily.

phlegmfatale said...

"It's just my own journey, as I think it should be for us all."

That sums it up for me, too. Good on your mom for following her calling and not letting some strait-laced oppressors steal her joy. You know, the details have differed slightly, but I've come away from regular church attendance with the the frequent thought in my head that the place could easily be called "house of blasphemers." The political and social pressure is tons-per-square-inch, and I think that is anathema to what Christ taught. Just my opinion. Anyway, they can keep their big bag of bullshit, and I'll just tend my garden and be thankful for the world and my life in my own quiet (and occasionally obscene) way!

Casdok said...

Your mother sounds wonderful!

Litzi said...

Hi Attila,
What a “spiritually uplifting” post…hallelujah! The stigmas the various churches placed on your Mom because she was a divorced woman (Lordy, Lordy) indicate how shallow and hypocritical some organized religions can be. It’s these same Bible-thumping zealots that have the audacity to call themselves “Christians”. Unfortunately, their major tenet is “our way or the highway” with zero tolerance for any diversity of belief or thought. A great many people have been off put by this type of attitude and as a result do not attend any church.

And then there’s the issue of the “collection” plate. When parishioners are coerced into giving more than they can comfortably afford or made to feel guilty because of what the church deems paltry, it’s about time to pick up your holy book and go worship someplace else. I find being in my garden or strolling along the beach on Sunday morning can be more spiritually elevating than sitting in a pew listening to someone drone on about the possibility of redemption…and there’s no need to dress up!

This is an excellent thought provoking post. Hallelujah Sister!!

Angela said...

I sort of feel the same way I do go to church some times but for the most part I have made my own path

cripchick said...

amen :)

i think the one good thing about organized religion is that there are other people you can talk to about faith. a support system when you need it.

but of course, it has many many many flaws and hypocrisy overwhelms all the good qualities that may have come from it.

KL said...

I always say that I have my own church. I believe in goodness, and in being kind to others. I do not believe in 'organized' religion. Is it just me, or is there a reason we also have something called 'organized' crime?

I really can't stand people who insist on pushing their beliefs down my throat. Especially when those beliefs seem to be very close-minded. I always think I am alone in this, but your post, and the responses have shown me that maybe I am not so alone after all. Maybe I should start my own 'organized' religion about inclusion and fairness to others, and letting people live their own lives as they see fit, as long as they are not harming others...

Anonymous said...

Your mom is an awesome woman.
And it's easy to see how you and her are alike ;]

Anonymous said...

What an Awesome Mom You are sooo Lucky!!

As for church I agree with your thoughts about organized religion... IN the depths of my depression my husband reached out to our pastors and we were told just to forgive and move on and snap out of it... Not the help I needed at the time... So many hypocritical people there...


Anonymous said...

I am SO with you on organized religion. I have never thoroughly enjoyed observing my religion and is the main reason I don't practice today. I have no problem with those who choose to fill their lives with it as long as they don't preach to me about it.

Beth said...

Wonderful story about your Mom - what a courageous and determined lady.
And I agree with your stance on organized religion - stopped attending the church years ago after witnessing much "throwing of stones."

imfunnytoo said...

Wow ATM...what a cool mom... and what a person to say to herself, "Well if the pastor in my home church doesn't have the sense that God gave a goat...I'll find a divinity school and a faith community that does"...and sometimes she did :)

I'm outside of organized religion too, for some different reasons... and I refuse to *impose* what I believe on someone else. That's the height of rude.

Being the wife of a seminary student...any protestant church has to do three things for me or I just won't bother:

1. Understand that God loves peoples physicalness just as is--- no faith healing desired or required...

2. Open communion, not closed.

3. Don't put Paul's letters--written by a former Pharissee and Christian-hunter with an axe to grind *above* the actual words of Jesus... If anybody's going to read the New Testament, doesn't is seem that the the first lamp of ones interpretation ought to be Christ's words? Maybe I'm stupid.

carmachu said...

Wow. Thats one impressive mom. Way to go!

Now on to other things:

Yeah. I loved the oh god movie myself. worked well. I loved that line too. It also sparked my line of thinking.....those are just buildinsg. God's work is usually done outside of them....

As to behind teh scene poltics....bah. That happens everywhere. But you were definately right: why be nice to people that smile to your face and stab you in the back? Better to kick them in the nuts when you see them.

Mrs. G. said...

Can I just say that your mom kicks Christian ass!

LBJ said...

Your Mom is truly an inspiration! I can't imagine what courage that took.

I unfortunatley agree on the organized religion. I was raised Lutheran but it wasn't the Missouri Synod one, and they have a female pastor.

When I moved, I went to a Lutheran church down the block. . it WAS Missouri Synod. Imagine my surprise when the minister did his serman on how men should pray that the "Evi" women who take men's jobs away from them will be vanquished". Then happily smiled at me wanting me to tithe 10% of my $126,000 year income I made as an EVIL woman.

The final straw was when I went with my ex boyfriend to his church for a while. They were asking for volunteers to serve on a committee to help with some budget items. I volunteered. I have an MBA and Ph.D. I could probably offer SOMETHING. The pastor looked at me like I was crazy said "that job is for a MAN. . but we do need help in the nursery". Yup. . two graduate degrees and 20 years using it and I can't help, but by god since I have a uterus I can take care of babies, in which I have NO experience.

I have not been in a church since. Though God and I communicate on a daily basis through prayer and reading. . just not in a church.

OneEar said...

Cool post. However, it is hard to get too far outside of the organization, isn't it?

Joe said...

Its not so much the believing in the sky daddy, its the goddamn church and all the bullshit that swirls around and in it. Good for your mom to persevere in the face of God's love.

Charlie said...

All of that foolishness is a result of organized religion, in my opinion.

Mine too.

Maybe religion wouldn't be so foolish if there were more people like your Mom.

Zenmomma said...

"The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the
green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly
alive." ~Thich Nhat Hanh

One of my favorite quotes. I too was brought up a Missouri Synod Lutheran. I've recovered nicely. :o)

Wonderful post.

Brenda said...

Hmmm, I was here but I didn't show up.

Special K said...

I personally know a family who had their lives thrown into complete disarray by a bunch of sanctimonious assholes in their parish. With friends like these, Christianity doesn't need enemies.