Browsing Category Religion

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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Looking Back at The Funeral

I wrote the entry below in my journal on May 11, 2014, the night before Mother’s Day, weeks before my ailing mother died, and days after her doctor called my siblings and me to his office to tell us what I had already presumed. (The fact that this is being published on Father’s Day is coincidental.)

Mother’s cancer had returned after three years in remission and a few months following her breast surgery. It was terminal. Her doctor said that chemo and other interventive efforts to prolong her life had been exhausted. The ire that led me to express angry feelings in my journal later that evening was not the result of the doctor’s disclosure. I became enraged after my sister told me over the phone that she and our mother were writing down service arrangements for mother’s funeral.

I knew that my exclusion from the planning was intentional because my sister and mother were members of the same religious organization and I purposely have no membership with any organized religion. The deliberate slight led me during that telephone conversation to decide that I would not attend my mother’s funeral. (Circumstances, which I’ll later explain, changed my mind. I did attend the funeral. My sister did not.)

My sister, brothers, and I each dealt with my mother’s pending death in our own way. I, as I often do, wrote through my pain, confiding and psychologically transferring my feelings to my private journal. Now, as the fifth anniversary of mother’s death approaches on June 18, I’ve decided to share, in my public journal, a condensed version of the entry I wrote on that Mother’s Day eve. For me revealing these thoughts and pent up emotions is cathartic. Others may see it differently, and that’s okay. And as much as I know I should resist saying this about that; I’m going to say it anyway – Whatever.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. What a time to be writing this.

I won’t be attending mother’s funeral. People will wonder why — let them. While the service is underway, I will be here, at home, feeling a lot of things, but guilt will not be one of those emotions. I’ll probably be reminiscing.

Like every good mother, mom instilled pearls of wisdom in her children as she and dad raised the four of us. She never stopped giving us advice, even when we were adults. I remember following frequent news reports about the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana that dominated the airways, mother and I had many conversations about how easily people are lured into cults. “Stay away from them,” she cautioned.

I detest the fact that mother ultimately disregarded her own advice when she joined an organization that in my opinion, is nothing less. Her decision curtailed our family gatherings and resulted in our family becoming distant in the past few years. I imagine that once mother leaves us we will be more estranged.

So often I think about family gatherings that we enjoyed at mom and dad’s home on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas until her conversion changed that. I miss those get-togethers. What kind of religious organization restricts members’ from participating in what they call “worldly” activities, birthdays included? How crazy is that?

They like to take control. Mother let them take over her life, and I will always believe that she ultimately came to regret it, though she would never admit it. Dad tolerated them because of mother but he turned a deaf ear to her request that he join a study group and he refused otherwise to have anything to do with the organization. He and I sometimes discussed the irony of the situation. How unfortunate that when he died in August 2006, mother invited them to eulogize his funeral. I don’t think I will ever get over that. It’s part of the reason that I cried so hard at dad’s funeral. I’m still pissed-off about it because I felt that dad was disrespected. If he could have sat up in his casket, pushed the lid off and said, “Hold it one damn minute. I’m not going out like this. Not like this.” He would have.

Although he didn’t regularly attend church, he was a protestant, not one of — them. When arrangements were being made for dad’s funeral, I told mother that I wanted one hymn included in the program. Just one. My favorite, “Amazing Grace.” She told me that was considered to be a pagan song. Therefore it wasn’t allowed. Well, darn, dad and I were both pagans then, weren’t we?

Since mother has assigned my sister to oversee her funeral arrangements, I am certain that I will not be asked if I have any input. Just the same, I am going to keep insisting that the program include the congregation singing Amazing Grace. The same song that I wanted sang at my dad’s funeral. Nevertheless, this woman persists.

Dr. Wayne Dyer says that “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” I studied with the organization for a brief period even before my mother did. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I wanted no part of any group that manages its members with what I consider nothing less than mind control. I’d say that exposure gives me props for knowing something about which I speak. Against the protest by my then friend with whom I was studying, I refused to succumb to the brainwashing and, I quit the sessions.

My presence at mother’s funeral would serve no purpose. Feeling as I do now, resentment would most likely lead me to show my annoyance during the service for the group that I feel stole my mother from our family long ago.

They profess to be nonjudgmental, yet they judge others every day, especially people who they label as pagans because pagans are of different faiths and are “of the world.” They spew a lot of hogwash about how they cannot fraternize with people of the world. Oh? Where the hell do they think they are on Mars?

I don’t see where they exclude themselves from taking part in worldly things – except those things they don’t want to participate in like jury duty or the armed services. Then, they quickly become religious objectors — if you can call it that.  They cheer for their favorite sports teams. They buy worldly convinces like automobiles and computers. They’ve even put their literature on the Internet. Are those not worldly things? And just like numerous other “Christians” some of them fornicate, lie, and commit crimes; and then they try to justify the bastardly deeds of their corrupt members by saying, “Oh that person was not truly one of us.” How many times have I heard that used to justify a wayward sheep?

I mourn for the person that my mother used to be. I feel that she was taken away from me a long time ago even though she had not yet left this earth. I have my peace, knowing that she will no longer be under their control. I hope that she has her peace.

An organization that philosophizes to its members that they are God’s chosen while putting other religions down is, in my opinion, hypocritical. Granted — it is every person’s choice to be a member of whatever religious group they choose – or to be a member of none. But what peeves me is when one religious organization condemns others while claiming that theirs is the only “truth.”

Ultimately, I did attend my mother’s funeral. It was my sister who chose not to do so. The unplanned situation that resulted in mother’s funeral arrangements being left to me by my sister was the result of some tense, back-and-forth conversation between us over my insistence that Amazing Grace be sung during the service. The minister my mother had requested perform the service strongly objected to including that hymn or any hymn associated with pagan religion and informed me through my sister that he would refuse to administer the funeral if I persisted. I did. In turn, my sister also refused to have anything to do with making the arrangements or attending the service.

You see her faith advises members against taking part in what they consider services associated with a “false religion.” A funeral is considered a religious service because it may include such practices as the congregation joining in prayer with a “worldly” minister or priest who is not of their faith, and God-forbid the funeral be held in a church. Mother’s was held in a funeral home.

People who purport yourselves to be God’s children — check yourselves. 

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Mother’s (Birth) Day and other Special Occasions

Had my mother lived she would have turned 91 years old on her forthcoming birthday, October 22nd. Instead, she slipped into eternity early on a warm summer morning four years ago.

I’ve seen where many people wish Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary or post other heartfelt greetings to their deceased loved ones on social media; and if that works for them, that’s fine. But I can’t help but wonder – why?

When my mother’s birthday arrives in three weeks, I won’t wish her Happy Birthday on Facebook nor will I post it in any other public place. Because if the Bible is to be believed – that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) – then mother won’t know that I wish her a Happy Birthday anyway. And as much as she expressed her disdain for social media when she was alive – by the off-chance that there is Facebook in the hereafter, she surely would have nothing to do with it.

My mother’s chosen religion forbids their members from acknowledging birthdays and other so-called pagan holidays; so when she was alive wishing her happiness on such an occasion often led to a repetitive interchange between us.

Mother would say, “You know I don’t celebrate (whatever the holiday in question).” And I would protest, “But I do.”  The conversation usually ended there, until the next time. Yet, to my pleasure, she never refused to accept the cards or gifts that I gave her on those days. And she always (perhaps begrudgingly, although she didn’t show it) acknowledged the gesture with a polite, “Thank you.”

I regretted the fact that mother would not allow me to take her out to dinner, to a stage play, or someplace special on her birthday, but it bothered me more on Mother’s Day. Even before I became a mother, I relished Mother’s Day and considered the day to be a special occasion for honoring and showing reverence to all mothers and especially good mothers like mine.

Since my siblings and I were adults when mother decided to convert her faith, I have wonderful memories to cherish of earlier times of family get-togethers at my parent’s home on holidays like the Fourth of July (Can you say crab fest?), Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And for a few years, even after my siblings and I married and had families of our own, we’d all bring our kids to the grandparents home on festive occasions. Unfortunately, those happy get-togethers dwindled and eventually stopped; too soon.

In three weeks when mother’s birthday arrives, I won’t publicize it on social media. I will acknowledge it privately. And before the day is over, I know I will smile with tear-filled eyes as I remember a recurring dialog that she and I shared many times in the years before she died.

“You know I don’t celebrate birthdays.”

“But I do.”

 

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Watching Mother Die from Behind an Emotional Firewall

Rose on the tombstoneAt my mother’s funeral service a few weeks ago, I read a tribute to her which I wrote. Some remarks from the tribute are referenced in this post. In the days after the service, several people told me what a good job I’d done with the tribute and how nice it was.  Considering the occasion, I aimed to do the right thing. But what many people didn’t know was that – although I always loved my mother – I had been mourning her loss for years before her demise.

Although her Anglo-Saxon name – Mildred – means gentle strength, my mother was an incredibly strong-willed and self-sufficient woman.  She was also more controlling than a drill sergeant indoctrinating new recruits. Mother ran a tight ship. Not only were her offspring required to abide by the “my house, my rules” dictate that many parents – rightfully so – impose on their children, we also had to contend with a mother who was very strict and sometimes overbearing.

I recall an occasion during my adolescence when mother was upset with me about something. I honestly don’t remember what it was. Probably something that I wanted to do that she wouldn’t allow. Or perhaps it was something that I did that I shouldn’t have. Nevertheless, I was moping over whatever was bothering me and mother was trying to get me to talk about it. I refused. I just sat there on the sofa beside her, teary eyes lowered, saying nothing.

“Why won’t you talk to me when something is bothering you?” mother asked in her typical demanding tone.

When I mustered up the nerve to answer I replied, “Because you always talk like you are fussing, and I don’t want to be fussed at.”

“That’s just the way I talk,” she said in a manner that I perceived to be serious attitude, causing me to again revert to silence.

Mother had a quick wit and an even quicker temper. It didn’t matter who you were, she would not hesitate to give you a take-no-prisoners tongue lashing when she felt it was warranted. So rather than risk drawing her wrath I kept my emotional distance. When I recall past conversations with my siblings, I think that perhaps mother never knew how to talk with her children on a level that did not alienate us.

Granted the teenage years are a time when most teens find it difficult to communicate with their parents, unfortunately sometimes that lack of communication extends into adulthood. And since mother was not one to pull punches, when she and I had tense conversations, out of respect, the best I could do was bob and weave to deflect the verbal blows, or erect an emotional firewall. Over the years, the latter became my refuge.

During the last month of mother’s life, my sister and I took turns spending alternate weeks at mother’s home – bringing her meals, meds, and tending to her other needs. It was a difficult period, but it allowed my mother and me to spend more time together than we had shared in years.

In spite of the fact that — prior to her illness — we talked on the phone nearly every day; unfortunately our busy and dissimilar lifestyles barred us from spending much face-time together.

Mother was the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister and she had been raised in the Christian faith. Sometime during the mid-1970s, she joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her conversion not only changed our family dynamics, it splintered our family unit. Gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas time and other holidays, and even the exchange of birthday greetings were curtailed and eventually ended.

During the final days of her life, mother’s voice grew gradually weaker until even her whispers could not be understood. I recall one day, as I sat beside her bed, she murmured, “Why can’t I talk?” Although I suspected that the lung cancer had spread to her throat, I just slowly shook my head side-to-side implying that I didn’t know.

Like any dutiful daughter who assumes the role of caregiver, I did what I could to make my mother comfortable in her last days, even to the extent of neglecting my own obligations and putting my life on hold.

The short weeks during mother’s hospice, allowed she and I to spend time together, to share some laughter and a few brief, but long overdue, lighthearted conversations. And although there were many things that I wanted to say to her, when someone is on her deathbed is not the time to bring up and rehash bygone discord. Therefore, many things that I would like to have discussed calmly with my mother before she died were left unsaid.

When I was growing up – and even as an adult – mother and I had several conversations about religion and family.  We even discussed cults, especially in the days following the Jonestown massacre. Yet, the time ultimately came when I perceived that mother did not heed her own advice. In that regard, the thing that I regret most that I never had a chance to say to my mother is this:  We should never allow people – or institutions — to speak to us so loudly that we cannot hear ourselves – or to command us to such loyalty that we lose ourselves.

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The preceding page is from my forthcoming book, A Whistling Tea Kettle and Other Sounds of Life. If you would like to be notified when the book is available, please provide your email by clicking this button

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A Boomer’s Introspection on The Purpose

“You are not an accident. Even before the universe was created, God had you in mind, and he planned you for His purposes. These purposes will extend far beyond the years you will spend on earth.” Those thought provoking words are from Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.

As Baby Boomers come closer to the end of our road, some are pondering our objective for being here. Although I once had a firm conviction about purpose, I am beginning to question my own thinking on that subject.

For years, I have been among those who believe that every individual was created by our maker for a specific purpose; and I suspect that our personal goals are secondary to the purpose for which we were born. I also wonder, are our personal goals commingled – unbeknownst to us  – with our purpose for being here? And, if we do all have a purpose and the purpose of some people is to do basically good things – like strive for world peace or, on a smaller scale, improve a chaotic society – then what is the purpose of evil doers?  

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