I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this blog — not the “how do you set one up” question, but the “what does one say in the very first one” question. Then, of course, I realized that you have to jump in and just do it — choose a topic close to your heart that has risen into consciousness for some reason and say what you think about it. So here goes.
Though until late 2007, I hadn’t set foot in a church of any kind for over 30 years except as museums, or for weddings and funerals, I am a follower of Christ, and always have been. Raised in an old country Baptist Church in the deep South, the Christian tradition was mine by default. But, though I am now Episcopalian by technicality, I do not seek safety in numbers in a spiritual sense by lumping myself in with those who publicly profess any particular man-made creed or dogma. I don’t believe what any pastor, priest, rabbi or yogi says just because there are letters after their names, or a prefix denoting them as clergy, anymore than I believe that my masters degree in psychology trumps the wisdom of a lifetime lived. And I can’t say that I believe everything in the Bible or any other “holy book,” because they were written by humans.
As a former psychotherapist, and more recently an author and editor of other people’s words, I am too aware of the nuances of human motivation, the power of language, and the impossible task of communicating anything with these little man- (and woman-) made alphabetic symbols without the spectre of misinterpretation arising. I can’t bring myself to blindly accept the literalness of words written yesterday, much less those written two-thousand-plus years ago in a different time and context from that in which I am steeped, so I am left with the aspiration of doing the best I can, through the filters of my own experience, to interpret the meaning of a sentence spoken or written by another. In writing this blog, I venture out in trepidation for the same reason, knowing that my words are no longer mine once they leave my pen, virtual or otherwise, and they will be imbued with meaning and inflection and motivation that may or may not have been mine — projections from the experience of those who will read, and hopefully, respond.
I left the church because, though I longed as a child to see the principles I’d heard about — compassion, authenticity, life lived in abundance — applied in everyday life outside the church, I frankly didn’t. Born into what would become a “broken family” because of my father’s abandonment and our subsequent homelessness, I grew up in my grandparents’ home during the time of the civil rights movement, the equal rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, MLK and Bobby, the Vietnam war, and the resignation of a sitting President, and though I cannot say that I personally was treated with unkindness by church members there, I saw far too much cruelty displayed and disdain shown toward people because they were different in some way — skin color, denomination, gender. Feeling “different” myself because of my family composition, the problem was compounded when I was met in the first grade with the question “What does your father do for a living?” (I had no idea what to say) and the apparent shock that I was better at math than the boys in my class (I’m a girl). I hung in there with the church through my teenage years but eventually changed even my major in college from math to psychology in an attempt to reconcile the chasm between what I’d thought I read and heard and what I had seen well-intentioned, good-hearted people say and do to each other.
In one way or another, I’ve been looking to bridge that gap all my life. And I still am, even though I’ve fallen hard into the chasm more than a few times. I guess, though I will soon be 53 years old, I still believe with the naivete of that six-year-old that it is possible to close the chasm that renders us unable to embrace ourselves and each other as children of the same God, even if we don’t employ the same words to describe it, even if we don’t share the same political or tribal views, even if our life experiences are so vastly different that we cannot fathom what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes.
The fact remains that, as Simon, the Siamese cat who inspired my first book once said, “We all want the same things — enough to eat, a bed to sleep in, a chance to play a little, and a reason to raise our tails high.” Those inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” described in the Declaration of Independence aren’t affected by majority voting. They don’t apply only to the subset of Americans of which we are part — black, white, hispanic, asian, Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, rich, poor, you name it. They don’t apply just to Americans, period.
And, whether the idea scares us to death or not, they don’t just apply to Christians, either.
Remembering those things, let’s talk. Let’s argue, let’s pray, let’s do everything but filibuster….
Let’s live what we say we believe…and build a bridge.