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Spiritual or Religious – How Do You Worship?

An acquaintance (for anonymity I’ll call her Ivy) recently asked me to what church do I belong. I’ve known Ivy professionally for a few years, and as long-time patrons and proprietors sometimes do, we disclose some information about our private lives. I’ve learned that she is a devout Christian and attends church regularly. That aside, I believe her to be a kind and thoughtful person, and I think the feeling is mutual.

When I answered Ivy’s question by saying that I was not affiliated with any church, for a second she looked like she didn’t believe me, and then she asked, “Why not? Aren’t you religious?”

People rarely accept a straight yes or no answer to any question. The subject of religion is no different. When I responded no, Ivy’s puzzled expression did not surprise me.

“I’m spiritual,” I told her, “But not religious.”

“What does that mean?” She asked. (Did I detect sarcasm?) “What’s the difference?”

I expected that question. I’d been asked before. Expressing my opinion usually leads to a long, dragged out discussion.

The last (and only) house of worship where I held membership was Guildfield Baptist church. I think I was about 12 years old. I had been attending Sunday school at the little church for as long as I could remember. One day, I asked my mother if I could join, and she consented. The next Sunday, when the pastor opened the doors of the church, I became a member. A few weeks afterward, I was baptized.

Having watched movies like The Bells of St. Mary and The Song of Bernadette, led my naïve and impressionable mind to believe that when I grew up, I wanted to be a nun. (Silly me.) I did not understand at the time that as a Baptist, I would have to convert to Catholicism to pursue that goal.

My parents reared my siblings and me religiously. I attended Sunday school regularly, church occasionally, and sometimes both on the same Sunday. I think mother was proud of the fact that I also sang in the junior choir, and I enjoyed it. At home, when our family gathered around the table for meals, we kids were required to say a Bible verse after grace. When I could think of nothing else, I opted for the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.”

I still remember, occasionally, sitting with my mother as she read the Bible to me and sometimes asking her questions that she answered to the best of her understanding, but not always to my satisfaction. My bible discussions with mother remain as fresh in my mind as if they occurred yesterday.

My affiliation with Guildfield church ended after my family moved out of the neighborhood in the mid-1960s. During the years following our move, I attended numerous houses of worship, including Mosques and the Kingdom Hall, but I never joined any of them. The only time I enter a church nowadays is to attend a wedding or, most likely, a funeral.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

My religious upbringing remains embedded, but I stay away from organized religion.

The question from Ivy wasn’t the first time that someone asked me to explain what I mean when I say that I am spiritual but not religious.

As I explained to Ivy, “It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God. I’m not an atheist, though I might be borderline agnostic.” I laughed. She didn’t. The puzzled look on her face told me that she didn’t understand my humorous jab or she didn’t think it was funny.

What I wanted to say to her was, “I take issue with organized religion. I dislike the hypocrisy, the disguised money-grabbing, sanctified pretense, and the holier-than-though attitude of some church folks.” But being the diplomatic person that I am (most of the time), what I said instead was, “I prefer not to follow organized practices and religious dogma. You know what they say, ‘Different strokes for different folks.’” That ended the conversation.

I don’t need religious, social networking, nor do I feel compelled to commune with a group of people or pray in a house of worship. I have a one-on-one relationship with God. If it is true that God hears us when we pray no matter where we are, then I could pray as easily in a closet or car, as in a church.

In my lifetime, I’ve known some professed atheists whose moral standards and actions are better than some people who regularly fill the church pews. Absent their belief in God; I find atheists to be no more immoral, judgmental, or hypocritical than folks who claim to be holy and sanctified.

Some people use the terms religious and spiritual interchangeably. As I see it, religious people base their faith on what they are taught by ministers, priests, pastors, overseers, and other dutiful clergypersons. Spiritual but non-religious people often develop our beliefs based on personal experiences that may or may not be gleaned from our familiarity with religious organizations. No matter how we choose to identify ourselves — as spiritual or religious — the important factor is how we live and how we honor God.

 

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Count to Ten

People are losing their mother freakin’ minds. Our lifestyles, social practices, and in some cases, living arrangements are changing from day-to-day. The novelty of enduring temporary adjustments has worn off, and social distancing is forcing another new norm upon us. Health-minded, law-abiding citizens are trying to comply with each change, while resisters in places like Michigan are openly protesting. Nearly everybody’s patience is growing wafer-thin, and some people are spelling pandemic P-A-N-I-C.

I don’t go outside very often unless I need something from the store or am feeling claustrophobic and desperate for a change of scenery. This morning, I decided to go out and buy groceries, and I invited my daughter and grandson to join me in case I purchased more items than I could carry.

We were all wearing masks as was everyone who I saw in the store, and most shoppers were following the silly arrows on the floor, directing pedestrian traffic.

As we were preparing to leave, we apparently got too close for comfort (less than 6 feet) to a woman who was standing in front of the exit with her cart of groceries. She too was wearing a mask.

Perhaps she was waiting for a ride; I don’t know. What I do know is that if you don’t want people walking near you, then you need to stand someplace else instead of in front of the exit door. Anyway, as the three of us drew nearer to her, she got wide-eyed, grabbed her cart, and sprinted back into the store, all the while mumbling something mostly indecipherable about social distancing. I can smell attitude from a mile away, and she had a big-time bad attitude, which I chose to ignore.

As I said, people are losing their mother freakin’ minds. And to add to the madness – some grocery and convenience stores are now scheduling shopping days based on shoppers’ last names.

Stressed to the max is the phrase of the month. I won’t be surprised to see skirmishes start to break out in grocery stores and everywhere else over little indiscretions. I feel that if things don’t turn around soon, it will come to that. I say turn around instead of return to normal because I doubt if normality will ever return. Normal bought a one-way ticket to forever-gone. Having to adjust to new societal rules like social distancing is driving some previously mild-mannered citizens mad. What do you think?

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Contemplating Unfinished Agendas

Sometimes life body slams us so hard that all we can do is cry. Kobe Bryant’s death had that effect on people worldwide. It even brought grown men to tears. Like most people, I am equally saddened about the other eight people who lost their lives in the copter crash, including one of Kobe’s daughters. But I can’t count how many times I heard repeated, “Kobe was the man!” I have no qualms about that. Deservedly so, the entire world is giving Kobe props.

From an early age, we learn to set goals, not only because it is a wise thing to do but because it gives us a sense of direction and some control over our life. I emphasize some control because the word control is worrisome to me. I regard it with the same reservation as I do another impractical word – fair.

I remember reading a while ago, and I can’t recall where I read it, but the author was spot-on when he wrote that “Fairness cannot exist because nothing is fair.” That statement reverberates in my mind whenever I hear someone say how unfair it is that Kobe died so young. Not that I disagree, but as I see it, the concept of fairness is as conditional as the notion of control. Think about it. Are we ever completely in control of our life? Anyone who believes that we are, probably believes that fairness is a reality, too. Contrary to the myth, all is NOT fair in love and war or life.

And speaking of goals. Kobe had goals beyond those that he had already accomplished. What he did not have was control over his life. Fate took charge of that, leaving an unfinished agenda in Kobe’s book of life.

I often record information in an appointment book, digital calendar, or a personal organizer. Many other efficient people do it too. We log into appropriate timeslots activities like community meetings, doctors’ appointments, or hairdresser. For less urgent tasks, we make a mental note or jot on our to-do list:  Straighten the linen closet. Get the car washed. Finish reading War and Peace.

I am a positive realist (aka a call-it-as-I-see-it person).  I maintain a positive attitude, but I also acknowledge the fact that no matter what goals we aspire to, there will be challenges that may prevent us from achieving that goal.  So many things depend on extenuating circumstances, so I don’t harbor the illusion of being in control. Fate sometimes undermines our plans. Robert Burns understood this even in the 18th Century when he wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

We’ve all heard stories about people who experience life-altering situations and we acknowledge their situation as either good fortune or bad luck. Consider the unemployed husband of five. The day after he loses his job, he wins the biggest jackpot in lottery history. Good luck, right? On the other hand, we also remember the family outing that turned tragic when a mother lost nine family members including her husband and three children in a Duck Boat accident. Neither the father of five or the mother, suddenly of none, had control over what happened.

At times life’s unpredictability hits close to home.  A few years ago, a friend of mine walked from her apartment to the communal laundry room, which was mere steps away from her door. She was carrying a plastic laundry basket containing a few items of clothing. A light load. She placed the laundry into the washer, turned it on and then returned to her apartment. Suddenly feeling ill, she was rushed to the hospital by a family member and within minutes was in the ICU. By the time the washer finished its final spin cycle, she was dead.

Every morning when we are fortunate to wake up, those of us who are religious thank God for the blessing of seeing another day, and then we go about our business. Off to work, shopping, or doing whatever we have planned for the day. I don’t dwell on the “what if” something bad happens; nevertheless, I am always aware of the fact that there is the chance that in a flash, a quirk of fate can change all plans. Phone calls go unreturned. Emails unanswered. And laundry is left unclaimed in the washer.

I repeat I am a positive realist. My life’s experiences have led me to embrace the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (and I am paraphrasing), “I always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

When I was a child growing up in LeDriot Park, I sometimes heard an angry parent yell at her misbehaving child, “Keep it up and I’m going to hit you so hard you’re gonna wake up dead.” That idle threat was more intimidating than, “Do it one more time and I’ll knock you into the middle of next week.”

My mother never said anything that mean to my siblings or me, but hearing other people say it left naive me wondering – after we die do we wake up dead and do we know that we are dead?

There is so much about life – and death – that is a mystery. But one thing is certain. Regardless of what we plan, each individual’s lifespan has a timeframe. There are no retakes and few second chances. I think of life using the analogy of a horse race. Once out of the gate, we may stumble and then get back on our feet, but we cannot turn around and start all over again. We must run the track – until we can’t. Life is a one-way trip from the cradle to the grave over which we have only limited control and sometimes we leave unfinished agendas.

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Being Still

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

The other day I took time to relax. What’s unusual about that, some will ask. It’s unusual for me because it’s something I rarely do. Perhaps it was mental fatigue that led me to stop scurrying around and be still for a moment.

Being still is difficult for me. I’m a little bit hyper. I feel compelled to always be doing something because doing nothing seems like a waste of precious time.

When I am at home and not out and about, typically I am undertaking several tasks simultaneously. Doing laundry and house cleaning. Cooking and reading. Taking online classes, researching something on the web, or composing essays while listening to the TV – generally a political talk program – always on in the background. I know that so much busyness isn’t conducive to flawless productivity. So, I decided to take a break. Give it all a rest. Do nothing, but be still, sit back in my recliner and relax for a while. Some would equate that to meditating.

But it wasn’t working.

Feeling determined, yet antsy, I decided to add some music. I closed the blinds and turned on an all-music station. Appropriate for the season, they were playing Christmas songs.

Most of the tunes were popular during my childhood and early adult years. Christmas oldies, I call them, though those songs never get old. Music stations play them annually. Sometimes they combine the old school Yuletide hits with contemporary Christmas music by Fantasia, Taylor Swift, John Legend, Mariah Carey, and others of a younger, hipper generation. In my opinion, there is no comparison. Ask any boomer, and they will tell you that our generation had the best music.

I remember as a child hearing Eartha Kitt seductively purring Santa Baby, and Bing Crosby croon about dreaming of a White Christmas (Do the PC police now consider that phrase politically incorrect?) Kitt and Crosby were great artists in their time. However, their songs don’t compare to Darlene Love belting out Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). I love having Luther entertain me with At Christmas Time, but nothing beats a melody of hits from The Temptations’ Give Love at Christmas album. And how can I not tap my foot and sing along to Donnie Hathaway’s version of This Christmas? When Gladys Knight and the Pips sing, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I whisper, “Oh yeah. I  hear it.” My blissful mood continues as Carla Thomas exclaims Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas. There is no better way to relax than to be serenaded by old school R&B Christmas hits and slow jams.

My self-imposed, quiet times don’t last long. I suppose it’s nervous energy that compels me to constantly move around, do something, keep busy. I think (too much) about the chaotic state of the world and I need a distraction to help take my mind off of it.

I was a child of the sixties. I am a boomer. And as bad as some of my fellow boomers may think that our formative years were, given a choice, I prefer the sixties decade over the current era.

Back then, time seemed to move at a pace slower than an impeachment hearing. Sure, there was social unrest. People were protesting and fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-war, while politicians were posturing just like they do today. Wars abroad, crime and discrimination in the states, and the assassination of prominent leaders; for the generation of my youth, that was our normal. Mass shootings in schools and a cocktail of other “new norms” were not.

When Charles Dickens wrote his book, A Tale of Two Cities in the Nineteenth Century, he was recounting the period leading to the French Revolution. I don’t know how many times I find myself thinking that he could well have been describing the present. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . . it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.”

These days it looks like we are cursed to live under a spell of Darkness ruled by the Dark One. The tranquility that many of us relish is quelled by irreligion and ungodliness. If we are wise, we will bring God back into our society instead of trying to erase Him. Perhaps then, we will survive our “winter of despair” to see the “spring of hope.”

My readers, I thank you for continuing to read me and support this blog.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, whatever your preferred greeting. May your holidays sparkle with peace, love, laughter, goodwill, and light, and may the year ahead be full of happiness.

Now turn up the volume on your speakers and enjoy this, my Christmas gift to you.

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Reminiscing Thanksgiving Holidays Past

Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday. Not everybody celebrates it, and if you are one of those bodies who don’t, that’s okay. It’s your prerogative.

But tradition is ingrained in my soul, and every year around this time, nostalgia embraces me like a Snuggie blanket. As I write this, Thanksgiving Day is slightly more than 72 hours away. And I remember.

I remember when I was a very young child, Thanksgiving was the time when our family would often kiss the city goodbye and head south to visit our relatives in the Tar Heel State. Usually, we stayed with our maternal grandmother at her farmhouse. Some of grandma’s other grown children would arrive with their families, and we would reunite with our numerous cousins and other relatives, those who arrived for the holiday weekend, and those who lived in the small town near grandma’s farm.

During the years when my family did not go to grandma’s house for the holiday, Mother would sometimes prepare the Thanksgiving meal and we would pitch in to help. As her children grew older and we had families of our own, we’d sometimes bring a dish that we prepared at home; creating sort of a pot luck Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember one year when I volunteered to bring the collard greens. What I did not realize after cooking what I thought would be a chef-d’oeuvre, not only were the greens undercooked, they were poorly seasoned. I had failed to add any of the staples for making a delicious pot of southern-style greens. No ham hocks or fatback or smoked neckbones. Minus those cholesterol clogging meats I should have seasoned the greens with table salt, but I didn’t think to do that. Can you say bland?

I don’t remember anyone complaining about the greens during the meal, although some of the suddenly wide-eyed expressions by folks when they began eating them should have been a giveaway. One forkful and everyone around the table knew that those were not my mother’s collard greens. Mother was born and raised in North Carolina, and back in those days, if southern women learned nothing else, they surely learned how to cook. And when it came to cooking collard greens, my mother could burn. She put her foot in it. If you are not familiar with the vernacular, those latter expressions are compliments, meaning mother’s greens were supreme.

After dinner, mother pulled me aside and trying to spare me from hurt feelings; she gently told me, “The greens were okay, but you should have cooked them a little bit longer and added some seasoning.”

That was my first attempt at cooking fresh collards. (Canned and frozen greens were the norm for this busy working mom.) Lesson learned. Do not volunteer to prepare a dish that you’ve never cooked for a family holiday dinner. Since then, thank God, I’ve learned to properly cook and season greens.

Sometimes, after our holiday dinner, we would clear the table, cleaned-up, and enjoy playing Bid Whist. (A note for the uninitiated — Bid Whist, is a card game where bidding partners strive to earn high points to win).

My younger brother was often my partner. Sometimes mom and dad played against us or my sister would be mother’s partner. If other whist-playing relatives, like my Aunt Sarah and Uncle James, were visiting, they would be partners. When there were enough people playing we would play rise and fly. That’s when you lose, and if there are other folks waiting to play, the losing partners get up, and another couple sits down to play.

I cherish those good times.

Unfortunately, as unavoidable as it is, things change, and so do people. Our family Thanksgiving holiday gatherings at my parents’ home ended way too soon. I’ve tried to maintain the tradition with my immediate family including grandchildren with the hope that after I’m dead they will have as many treasurable memories of family holiday gatherings as I have, and the tradition will become part of the family legacy for them as it did for me.

Due in part to PC and sometimes to religious beliefs, Thanksgiving Day, like Christmas and so many other festive occasions, has become a cause célèbre. I see the day as a time for gathering, to be with friends and family. If the history and origins of celebrating Thanksgiving Day bother you, then don’t think of the day as celebrating Thanksgiving. Think of it merely as an opportunity to get together with family and friends, some of whom you may not have seen for years (except at a funeral) and enjoy a good meal. It certainly is a convenient time to have the family gathering on a day when a lot of working people have the time off.

Life is short. IMHO sometimes, we need to temporarily set aside our convictions and seize the opportunity to enjoy spending time with those we love because opportunities don’t last. We never know if a loved one that we spend time with today may be gone tomorrow. A missed opportunity can sometimes be a huge regret.

I don’t wait for a particular day to acknowledge things for which I am thankful. I am thankful every minute of every day. I am thankful for my family and friends, including my blog and Facebook friends. Some of my online friends are people who I’ve known for much of my life. Perhaps we met in grade school or grew up together in the old neighborhood. We were friends long before there was social media. And some of the friends who I’ve met online, I’ve known them long enough now to consider them to be genuine friends. They are friends with whom I occasionally talk on the phone, and sometimes exchange birthday cards, email messages, or notes. I am thankful for real friends and also for good neighbors.

I am thankful for good health. I am thankful every day of my life.

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