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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Usually my weekends are full of blogging.  I can finally stop and breathe – spend a little time on my couch ruminating.  Or a lot of time.

Not so much this time of year.

I’m running around like mad, attending events, preparing myself and my family for said events, buying things for the events, helping out with the events and on and on and on, really.

Yesterday was my first Bat Mitzvah, and it was a very.  full.  day.  I just can’t imagine what it is like to be a member of a thriving synagogue, where these events happen every weekend!!

The service was at 10:15; ended at 12:15.  The luncheon followed immediately, and was scheduled to end by 1:30, but people weren’t cleared out until 2.  I knew, because I was the last to leave – other than the mom of the honored girl.

I left at 4:30.

I helped set up for the party.  Then, when I had to cry uncle, so I could get home, I instead went and bought a gift for the child, which I had neglected to do until them.  Damned my status as a working mother who dared to have 2 birthdays, a work party, a book group meeting and a kid who had her first dance all in the week prior to the Bat Mitzvah!

I got home at 5:30 just to jump in the shower and bitch* my way through getting my family out the door … which we did 30 minutes late.

The party was crazy fun.  My girls barely sat down all night – they danced like a couple of fools.  They even dragged Beloved and I out onto the dance floor a couple of times.

During the party, I was jealous of the culture.  Not the religion, but the culture.  I was jealous of the dancing and the clapping and the songs.  These things that the adults had been doing since they were in their parents arms, and which were natural and fun – which they associated with parties and smiles.

But earlier in the day, when I was asked point-blank “don’t you wish you were Jewish?”  I could only stammer “the service was lovely.”  If I’d been able to gather my thoughts better, I would have said, “no, but I do wish I could speak Hebrew.”  Because the sounds were nice.  The writing is pretty.

But the prayer book included translations, and I believed not a word of it.

Like, not even one.

I guess I was a little surprised how similar it was to the things I had been exposed to in my younger years.  I have been educated more and more on the Jewish faith over the past few years, while living in a largely Jewish community, and was led to believe that the two faiths were worlds apart.  I mean, I was told they don’t believe in SIN!!  How can you have a religion without SIN?  Doesn’t sin=religion?

But nah.  The words in that book weren’t so different.  All the almighty-ness, and one-ness, and power, and source of all life and on and on and on.

___________________________

I also wondered, while sitting in the service, whether my kids were feeling a hole in their life.  They watched their friend exhibit the fruits of months and months of study, practice and meditation.  Clearly, this 13 year old girl had some level of belief in all she was saying and doing.  Yet my daughters sat there watching without any corresponding dedication or belief system.

J sat between Beloved and I, and for most of the two hours, she was rigid, if not trembling.  She seemed so uncomfortable.

It was hard to translate.

I spoke with E today during our day together (post hopefully forthcoming) about the service and the experience.  She had sat with friends, but only a couple rows in front of me.  I know she was engaged in the service, and I know she read along in all the books, and I know that she didn’t talk to her friends ONE TIME in two hours (man, was I proud).

She said she did not feel at all jealous, and was not interesting in exploring whether there was a religious community which she would be comfortable within.  She listened to me (eyes rolling) about how I felt some jealousy about the shared culture, the passing down of FUN from generation to generation.  I told her how I still feel so self-conscious in my body – in dancing, in sports – and that I wondered if I grew up dancing at parties with my family if I’d have more freedom.  She said she didn’t think that the religion had anything to do with it, and she doesn’t want to go to a church.

We also sat with 100% Jewish couples at lunch and dinner, and I noticed how quickly there was community based on the shared faith.  Not to mention the built-in community within the congregation.

Of that, of the community, I was a little jealous.

But I can’t do it – not based on religion.

I have a (non-Jewish) friend who is a member of a Unitarian church (or is it Universalist?), where they celebrate and embrace everything.

I can’t do that, either.

I can’t say, “the pagans have it right!” and “The Jews have it right!” and “The Catholics have it right!” and run around hugging everyone for their rightness.

Isn’t there a church where people get together and talk about how bogus all the various faiths are?

Or where people get together and talk about how cool storms are?

Or about how Hilary Clinton is George Bush with a vagina?  And perhaps a few more brain cells?  Like 2 more?  Or 4.

How about the cool-ness of the daemons in the His Dark Materials series?

Can we talk about what it’s like to watch our kids grow up?

Why does it have to be about god?  and the absoluteness of the truth of our ideas?

Well, other than the absolute truth that Hilary is a butthead.

The answer is no.  I don’t wish I were Jewish.

I do wish that dancing was fun for me.  And I do wish I could make cool noises in the back of my throat.

That’s where it ends.

I did have a great day, and thought the party was fantastic, and I’m happy for my friends that their daughter’s day was as wonderful as they had hoped it would be.  I’m glad I was able to help, and I’m glad that we were included on her special day.  It was an honor.

* So, sue me.  I’m bleeding to death, I’m tired, I have a lot to do, and all I want to do is rest.  Instead, it’s go-go-go.  Yes, I was bitchy as a result.  I tried to make good.  I tried to be up front about my stress level and exhaustion level.  I tried to apologize when necessary (often).  But I’m not perfect.  (Understatement of the year).

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My swearing in ceremony was nice.  It was held in historic Fanueil Hall, and the ceremony and speeches capitalized on that.  In a good way, in my opinion.  I spoke with a couple of senior associates later in the day who said, “do they still tell all the same corny jokes?” and I said, “but I liked the jokes.”  I guess I’m corny.

They let Beloved give me my license.  A strange Massachusetts tradition, where your primary loved one (whether that be your grandmother, your toddler or your husband) comes up on stage with you, and THEY are given the license, and they can then give it to you.  Beloved and I played along.  This was not done in front of an audience, per se.

But my license!

When I received my notification that I passed the bar, it came along with a sheet to fill out indicating my swearing in preference.  Do I want to do it in Boston?  Or in Western Mass.  Is there a reason why I can’t do it during this week of formal ceremonies?

And finally … do I want my license to say “in the year of our Lord…” or just “in the year.”

It seemed like a funny question at the time.

We all know that I’m not only an UNbeliever, but a Bitter Unbeliever.  Even still, I felt a bit catty checking that box.  The “get the ‘lord’ off my license” box.  I checked it still.

Yesterday, Beloved handed me my license.  He kissed my cheek.  He took my picture (for my parents).  Then we stuffed the thing in my bag, and went out to lunch (delish, by the way).

When I returned to the office, I showed my license to a friend.  She said, “but you checked the box!”  Huh?

There it was, “in the year of our Lord 2007.”

Damn.

If I was feeling catty about checking the box, I certainly feel catty raising a stink because my license has the lord on it.

I think I’m just going to let it go.

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Law School Mom started an interesting conversation at her blog – regarding contraceptives being handed out in a middle school in Maine.  She took issue with the fact that “middle school” includes kids as young as 11 years of age (and she and I both have daughters that age), and feels that for a school to be handing them birth control with no requirement of parental consent is wrong.  (I don’t want to try to summarize her opinion beyond that, because of the risks of inaccuracy – read her words at her place).

I tracked down the article – here’s NPR’s take. (I’m confused – the article says in on place that the contraceptives will be available for 7th and 8th graders with parental permission – but in another place that services are confidential and parents won’t know.  It seems that parents sign a general permission slip at the start of the year allow their kids to receive services from the health center, but won’t necessarily be informed if the kids choose to receive birth control.  I’m still not clear on whether the birth control is only available for 7th and 8th graders (typically 12 and 13 years old?), or for everyone.

I predictibly disagreed, and felt that the program was appropriate.  The bulk of what I said:

In my view, this policy is not for our kids. It’s for a kid who cannot talk to their parents. If a kid is feeling that sex is an appropriate activity at age 11, I’m sorry – but there’s a problem with that parenting already. I’m picturing a disinterest. Neglect. I’m not talking about lousy communication skills.

I don’t think the school is trying to take my place – or your place. I think they’re trying to fill gaps which are already present in families where conversations don’t happen – not about anything. The school can’t fix that. But perhaps they CAN fix the result of that? They can keep the girls in school, rather than dropping out to give birth?

According to the article, this decision didn’t come out of the blue, but rather follows a “spate of pregnancies” in the school.

In my comment, I  also joked that my 11-year old E is so NOT ready for such a thing, her reaction to being offered a contraceptive would be one of disgust and perplexitude.  (I think I made that word up.)

Which I believe is true.

I do know for a fact that this isn’t the case for everybody in her grade, though. Unfortunately.  I think they’re by far the minority, but as all the kids get older, I think they are more easily swept along by those who are more “progressed.”  Not so far along that they need birth control, though.

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Sunday Morning Services

As I said the other day, I’m reading god is not great, by Christopher Hitchins.  I was irritated with the first chapter, but have found it less grating since.  I even put a sticky-note on a page today, to read to Beloved later.  It had to do with vaginas, and religion’s obsession with them being “a one way street.”  He he he.  You know, with all the virgin births in the mythology?  Get it?  {I was surprised at just how many there were … not only weird non-birth creations of gods, but also virgin births.  I was raised to think Christianity was a wee unique.}

Yesterday, I saw this article in the Washington Post – regarding how many people are losing faith – or admitting that they are not people of faith, and how the numbers for those with “no religious affiliation” are steadily climbing.

Then today, this article in the Globe – again about the rising numbers of atheists/humanists, and one man’s quest to create a “church” of said folks. I must say, I don’t get that (and the last page of the article highlights others who feel similar to how I feel).

My lack of understanding comes from the same place that my refusal to be a part of a “so-so” church came from – back in the day where I knew that fundamentalism was not for me, but was hopeful that I could find a “church home.”  Because I had been indoctrinated as to what is the “word of god” and “god’s law,” I didn’t understand why people would want to still worship a diluted version (as the me of that time in my life saw it).  If you didn’t believe that homosexuality was a sin, and you didn’t believe that women should be subservient to men – why go to church at all?

This confusion probably came from the warring factions within my soul at the time – the dogmatic part and the faithless part.  You must believe it all, or walk away with no pain.  The part of me that does not click with belief in god could not fathom what it would feel like to find refuge in religion, in church, in ritual, and did not see why the absence of those things in one’s life would be problematic.  I understand now, in a very detached way, that people do in fact find a peace in religion, and from god – and just because they are shunned from one church, say, on account of their sexual orientation, does not mean that they should be forced to do without an important part of their lives.

But I guess that lack-of-understanding part of me is still here:

How can you have an atheist “church”?  Why would you want one?  Can’t people just be comfortable with the fact that they don’t believe, and not look to create a new category?  Isn’t the creation of these categories of people 90% of the problem with religion?  Why make a new one?

I understand that most of the pull to a religion is the community, the support, the like-mindedness.  And that is something that human nature enjoys.  The company of others.  The comfort of knowing that you aren’t a freak – the only person who thinks the way you think.  But can’t non-believers be more creative?  The Globe article even refers to “sermons.”  Geez, the last thing I need is a sermon.  Didn’t I reject being told how to think?

I also think it is important, as the “Chaplain” highlighted in the Globe article stated, that it be pointed out to society at large that just because a person does not believe in god does not mean that they are morally bereft.  There are many similarities between my own ideology and that which I left behind.  My motivation does not come from the same place, true, but the lack of a servant-like motivation does not mean that I am devoid of morals and a code by which I live.

When I was a part of the born-again community, the idea of a “godless society” was tantamount to a society of murderers who have sex with goats in the street.  When a friend and I had a conversation during my departure from the ideology we once shared, she told me that she could never imagine not believing in god, because there would be no limits on her behavior.  She would just spin out of control – or so she thought.  But this is not true.  People can make decisions which respect fellow man, respect themselves, and respect the society at large.  We are more than capable without external edicts.

___________________________ 

I also wonder how many people had traditionally declared themselves “Christians” because it was how they were raised, and it was a comfortable label – but were forced to ask themselves serious questions as the current administration, as well as those friendly to it, used Christianity as a cover for intolerance and oppression.  As Dr. Dobson came out with threats against Bush – speak out against abortion and gay marriage, or suffer the consequences! – people were forced to consider whether that was the religion that they were wanting to check a box for.

Anyway, I am glad that some attention is being paid to the fact that not everyone considers religion an important part of their life.  It’s interesting to see the surge (or blip?) of media attention on the issue, and I hope that it works to lessen the assumption which I had seen  – that everyone who does not believe in god instead follows a “if it feels good, do it” philosophy, and is out to rape and murder your daughter.

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When my girls were very, very little, I read a lot of parenting books.  A lot.  The reason for this:  my background did not match my instincts.  Or my instincts did not match my attitude.  Or my attitude did not match my background.  I was a mess.

I was raised before “time outs” and I was spanked.  Sometimes with a wooden spoon, sometimes with a belt.  Not hard, not often, but it was always an option and a threat.  My mother did say “because I said so” often, and also did say that “children should be seen and not heard.”

I didn’t get in trouble a lot.  I was not abused.  Far from it.

But my parents’ attitude was pretty durned old-fashioned.

My mother loved to tell the story of how “stubborn” I was even as a toddler, and that she spent an entire day sitting near the television set with me, and smacking my hand every time I touched the buttons, telling me “no” over and over, because I just wouldn’t learn.  She said I was so stubborn, my hand was red and raw, and I still kept touching the buttons.   (Uh, Mom?  It didn’t work!)

As I got older, our family took a more conservative turn.  When parenting was in my future, friends gave me the books of James Dobson and his ilk.  When E was growing within me, I read about how children are rebellious from the moment they leave the womb, that they will seek to manipulate their parents (i.e., they will cry), and about the importance of “breaking their will” at a young age.

This sat poorly with me.

I said “poppycock” to the advice as to babies, and instead took much of my direction from Dr. Sears.  Not whole-hog, mind you – but I did find permission to love and nurture my baby, and to see her as an emergent new life looking to learn and needing comfort, rather than as a rebellious little clump of sinfulness, looking to manipulate and needing to be punished.

As E became a toddler, I struggled.  I had instincts (my nature, I believe) telling me that she needed guidance and love, but other instincts (the nurture of my own childhood) telling me that “disobedience” was a sin above all others, and that I needed to discipline (punish).  E had quite a few spankings in her 2nd year of life.  (Meaning up to 10 – all for getting out of her bed at night after I told her to go to sleep.  It really never worked.)

I felt really uncomfortable with it all, and was really drifting.

So I looked for books.

What I hated was the books that said, “say this” and “do this.”  I didn’t want a script.  These were my kids.  I was their mother.  I would choose my own words, thank you very much.  I just needed a philosophy to be grounded in.  I needed a foundation from which I could choose my words without floundering.

I read Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloruso, and I read Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson.  They were my favorite two.  They talked about the ineffectiveness of punishment and rewards, and they talking about the danger of shaming language.  Yet they also talked about the importance of being firm, of children learning correct ways to behave (it really came down to consequences v. punishment, which may be a very fine distinction, but it has provided a basis for my parenting decision-making for 8 years, regardless of the girls’ stages and ages). They acknowledged that yes, obedience is important, but give the children the respect of understanding why they’re doing something (when possible), rather than just “because I said so.”  They made sense to me.  But when I looked at Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, I didn’t like it.  It told me what to say, exactly how to respond to specific situations.

Turns out, I hated having “techniques” dictated to me.  I like to think for myself.
And yet, today, it’s a “technique” that I have found works so well with my kids, and now on a very consistent basis, that I find I must post it.

 ________________________________

My girls are expected to do chores.  They are also expected to keep their room clean.  They are expected to help keep our home running.  It is all age-appropriate (in my opinion – despite the fact that it does NOT mean that it’s what all their friends are doing, because I think they’re one of the very few in each of their grades who have daily and weekly chores), and unless they make a mess purposefully, it’s never excessive.

When they have a chore assigned (or have to clean their room, or have to do their homework, or any other unsavory task), and are not taking the initiative to get it done, I will say to them, “Look at the clock, and pick a time when you will ______.”

Every time, almost without fail, they choose a time within the hour, and they keep track of the time.  When the time arrives, they do not whine, they do not complain.  They accept the fact that they chose when they would do what, and they do it.   I do think that giving them some control makes them feel participatory, rather than just obedient to a “higher power” (he he).

There have been times when the time they choose does not work with our day.  Say we have company coming at 2 p.m., and at 1 p.m., they say “1:50!  I’ll take the recycling down at 1:50!”  I will say, “no, that’s too late, it needs to be before 1:30, because I don’t want to be rushing around last minute before our company arrives.”  So they don’t get carte blanche.

And of course, this isn’t always possible.  If their chore is to set the table before dinner, they don’t get to choose when they do that.  What are we supposed to do?  Wait 30 minutes while they finish the chapter in their book while dinner gets cold and gelatinous?  Hardly.  Beloved gives a 5 minute warning as he’s in the final prep stages, and they are expected to then get up and set the table.  And they do.

______________________________

It was nice today to notice something that I do right.  As I struggle through E’s 6th grade start-of-the-year experiences.  Of course, the struggles are over the social life of middle school girls.  Her academic year has started off strong and enthusiastic – even in Math.  But the girls!  Why must they be such girls?

And I am struggling to find the balance – how hard do I push to keep her away from clearly bad combinations?  I’m not even talking about bad kids – I’m talking about toxic combinations.   How strong can I say “stay away” without either driving her closer, or causing her to clam up, and not share what’s going on with me?  She can stay away.  She has a lot of friends.  She has other choices to make.  I’m not asking her to give up her social life (far from it).  She’s shared with me in the past that she finds certain friendships (the problem ones) harder than others, and wishes she could “get away,” but when it comes down to it, the girl is with arguments like a moth to the flame.  She can’t let it go, and by refusing to do so, she contributes to the problem.  She also wants to “solve” it.  She thus far refuses to say, “this isn’t working out” and choose not to be friends.  She wants to be friends with everyone.

So allow me my moment of pride over my ability to get my kids to do their chores.

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being mean about god

I checked out god is not great by Christopher Hitchins yesterday.  I was sort of excited to think that I really felt like I had it in me to tackle a non-fiction book.

Yeah, it requires an abundance of energy.

I hate reading non-fiction.  Hate.  It.

I didn’t hate reading school assignments.  They were decidedly not fiction.  But for “pleasure reading” – I just can’t do it.  Even memoirs can drive me nuts.   I don’t give a shit how profound or funny – I hate ’em.  (Case in point:  Eat, Pray, Love – my year’s worst book.  Freaking whiny self-important self-absorbed annoying woman.)

At my first book group (which was represented to me as a fiction-reading group!), a couple of women started throwing out a few non-fiction titles.  That was the prelude to Eat, Pray Love* being shoved down my throat, although it wouldn’t be chosen for a few months.  They also mentioned the Omnivore’s Dilemma, which sounded to me like the most godawful book in the entire universe.  I don’t want to know the history of a potato.  Who the hell cares?  Not me!  Unless, of course, the potato has children.  And feelings.  Which it talks about.  A life-altering tragedy?  An epiphany?   (I do care, actually. I care about the industrialization of agriculture, and I care about additives in and mutations of my food – but give it to me in a magazine article.  Not a whole freakin’ book.)

But the god book – it just seemed so me.  I do not think god is great.  I think that the god written of in the bible is a real meany-head, and his meany-head-ness is used to do many, many bad things.  People give themselves the license to be meany-heads, because after all, they are created in this meany-head’s image.  So, no, I do not think god is great.

I also know in a very deep and meaningful way that I am comfortable with the fact that I don’t believe in the god that I was raised to believe in.  I don’t believe that the bible is written by that god.  But I do not have a concise sentence, or even paragraph, in which to convey the reason for my lack of belief.  I can talk about the reasons and the process, I can talk about the issues that made me start to question what I’d been taught, and where those questions brought me.  But it takes a hell of a long time.

This book promised a concise intellectual reasoning.

But in the first chapter, I’m finding someone with more bitterness than myself, and it’s not even clear why.  I also find it slightly misdirected and off-point.  And off-putting.

One benefit that I have from my upbringing is that I feel I can clearly look at both sides of arguments over Christianity.  I know the counter-arguments.  I know the thought process.  And this book’s arguments thus far just do not answer those of believers. I doubt that believers are Hitchins’s intended audience, but what’s the point in having the discussion if it’s easily dismissed by those it’s discussing?  (I know he aims his attack at all religions, and not specifically Christians, but they are one of the major groups.)

Hitchins says that one of the four main  irreducible objections to religious faith is that “it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.”  Uh.  “No it does not.” says the Christian.  It’s like saying, “Religion is bad because it is wrong.”

I wanted to enjoy this book, and to have a running conversation with myself here.  But so far, I’m put off.  Hitchins is belittling and dismissive (‘If you read Hawking on the ‘event horizon,’ that the theoretical lip of the ‘black hole’ over which one could in theory plunge and see the past and the future … I shall be surprised if you can still go on gaping at Moses and his unimpressive ‘burning bush.'”( p. 8.)  Must I point out?  To those who believe in Moses and his “unimpressive burning bush” don’t see it as a “theory” but as a history.  This will remain “impressive” and much more so than something that has, to them, not been proven).  He generalizes the attitudes and beliefs of atheists in a way that offends me.

I am thus far hugely unimpressed, and find it doubtful that I will find any categorization of my own thoughts and feelings coming from this man’s pen.

I am going to continue, though.  I’m going to look for something of value.

I’ll keep you posted.

* This book is also another bullet point on my list of reasons why I don’t like Hilary Clinton.  Despite being a rabid democrat, I don’t like that woman, and I don’t want her to get the party’s nomination.  I can’t go so far as to say, “and I won’t vote for her” because I’d vote for a rock on the democrat ticket before I voted for a nasty-ass republican, but I don’t want her.  I’d vote for bible-thumping anti-gay marriage John Edwards before I’d vote for “I’m proud of my vote for the war” Clinton.  [That looks just wrong.  I may need to work through this more in my head before the primaries come to town, because really – I would vote for an anti-gay marriage person first?  Not really something I’m proud to have just said.  And when put that way, it’s really not true.]

ANYWAY – the point of this asterisk being – Hilary liked Eat, Pray, Love.  (So the book section of Oprah magazine said recently.)  She is therefore dumb.    Then again, I read Oprah magazine ….

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