Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Nice Hot Cup of...

Imagine you are having family into your home for breakfast.  Your doors are always open to family and the coffee is fresh and hot, ripe inertia for fellowship.  The guests are seemingly in acceptance of the coffee at first but with each sip this facade seems to wilt.  Halfway through the cup, the conversation turns to the drink itself.  You see, your family doesn't drink this brand of coffee.  As a matter of fact, they are devoutly beholden to their own coffee back at home and feel compelled to share the benefits of their coffee in comparison to yours.  Where they come from, there can only be one correct coffee.  However, you can't bring yourself to spring for a canister of it because it just doesn't sit right with you. Your guests quietly push aside their cups, unwilling to finish what you've offered; unable to digest it because their good coffee at home simply won't allow it.  The conversation turns again, this time from the coffee to the host.  What is wrong with you that you can't get the right coffee?  We all drink the coffee which makes sense to us and it should make sense to you as well.  You're missing out on the good coffee and they're worried about what effect this false coffee has on you.  It's causing a rift between all parties present and making the air stiff and uncomfortable.  They express their hope that you'll switch to the right coffee before it's too late.  You're only way out of this condemnation of your coffee is to change the topic of conversation to something less controversial.

This is what it is like living as an Agnostic in a Christian family.  The impressions you're getting from the guests of our breakfast party here are the projections I've lived with for over 20 years and my coffee's probably never going to be good enough for my family to swallow.

When I left the Church as a teenager, it was because organized religion presented more questions than answers to me.  What I experienced was the segregation of folks into an echo chamber where curiosity was a sin.  Compliance and unwavering belief were mandatory.  Putting your faith to work in recruiting others was obligatory.  At the time, God made sense to me in the respect of my human understanding needing an architect and origin for our existence.  The religion part is what didn't make sense to me (and never will.)

Over the next few years, I sought out answers to my questions elsewhere: in books, in nature, in love and friendship.  The summer of 1998 after our graduation, I found myself sitting on a beach at midnight with my friend. Dan. Conversation came and went, filled in-between with moments of vast concentration which was lightly serenaded by lapping waves.  It was the first time either of us had seen the ocean.  Dan broke a bout of meditation with an observation I'll never forget, "Why would people go Church on Sunday, when they could go somewhere like the beach at night?"  Moments like this, coupled with the musing of writers like Emerson and Thoreau are where I began to find insights into what would become my core spiritual beliefs.  The following year, I discovered a work by my favorite author, Aldous Huxley titled "The Perennial Philosophy," which simply collected the writer's favorite takeaways from different sources of religion. The collection pointed me to Taoism, Buddhism, and eastern philosophies which in-turn answered so many of my questions:  how to embrace life, how to accept death, how our true judge is ourselves because the fabric of being is in itself God (or perhaps an extension thereof).  I gradually realized I didn't have to labor and worship to be spiritual, but rather simply be the best version of myself and acknowledge my place in nature.  This also helped me realize I didn't need approval or a degree to be an artist either, because I already was one!  These breakthroughs of self-discovery define me today.

I accept the faith which my family prides themselves in (and have for generations).  I see the positive benefits of their beliefs which generally speaking, overpower the facets I find distasteful.  However, my family can't seem to accept my maverick outlook on spirituality which brings me full circle to the discontents which drove me from religion over two decades ago.  It is not a prerequisite of my belief system that I recruit others to my way of thinking.  My faith doesn't compel me to condemn others to a lake of fire for thinking differently.  Modes of worship, colors of skin, and sexual tastes don't affect my empathy for others; it doesn't make me fear others or condemn them.  My spirituality is all inclusive as I see the benefits of worship for all 4,000+ religions in the world.  I don't deny the existence of God, but I also don't relate to God in my image.  Alternatively, I see God as the animate energy of life- as the power which fuels us all.

Despite my efforts to explain my spiritual stance, the attempts at conversion never cease.  In their most passive moments, family have told me they just worry about where I'll end up in an afterlife I don't believe in.  In their most desperate moments, I've been told if I can't convert for my sake, then I should do it for theirs.  In the final months of my dear Grandmother's life, family members insisted I should come back to the church before she died as if my existence as a non-Christian was a burden on her passing.  This only hurt me and seeded resentment for their religion.  I never wanted to resent it, I just wanted to coexist and experience the unconditional love which should come with family. All too often, I've been shown the Christian belief system allows no room for other modes of thought.

There's a wedge between my family and myself.  It's shaped like a cross.  We can still make eye contact across the barrier, we can even embrace and express love... but the wedge always casts a shadow on me.  From my side of the divide, I don't understand why I'm outcast.  From their side of the divide, they don't understand why I'm an outcast.

I still love my family, every last one of them.  I drink their coffee when I'm at their house even if it's a little bitter.  They still humor me and taste my coffee even though it's my one-way ticket to Hell.  I see it as my path to the Divine Ground. Most of us love a cup of joe. In the end, it's all just coffee and it'll do as we will it.  I can promise you no matter who you are that my taste in coffee is universal. I'll drink yours and respect it no matter the color, flavor, or source.  The door's always open to share a cup.

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