Little rant about Christianity today

There. I’ve said it. “I don’t even consider myself a Christian any more.”

Lucy and I have these discussions pretty frequently. About what we believe, about the Christian group at Eastman, and about modern belief systems. It made me think about Brendan, the only stable Jesus-loving presence in my life (besides, well, my grandma), and about his organic, true-to-love way of communicating about his faith. The kids here are NOT like that, and it drives me crazy. Okay, being judged is part of life. Fine. But as I actually know a few true, down-to-earth, Jesus-loving people (who love everyone regardless of who they are or what they’ve done), I think I’m on the right track by saying that being judged by a cliquey pack of self-proclaimed, over-churched snobs is not really in anyone’s plan for their day.

Is it really important to take others’ sex lives and drinking habits and potty mouths into consideration? Doesn’t it matter more how they feel about themselves and about others? Or maybe God really doesn’t want people who like alcohol or physical pleasure. I’m sure that whenever someone tells God to “Fuck off,” that he actually says “Okay” and puts their name on a list for hell. That’s what the Good Book says, after all. RIGHT?

Give me a fucking break.

I consider myself someone who loves people (including the kids I’m currently ranting about, weirdly) and loves the idea that there is something out there that’s taking care of us. That gives a shit, you know. But I’m not about to turn my nose up at my roommate, who doesn’t believe in anything. She’s one of the most accepting people I’ve ever met. But she still feels excluded from our local cross-wearers. Because she’s unaffiliated, she’s not welcome.

I have to say, I don’t really want a ton to do with a pretentious sect of people that struts around excluding everyone from their fun and games. Not that I actually consider sitting around bashing others’ beliefs and lifestyles fun. Or game-like.

The 2006 Jeremy Brock film “Driving Lessons” sums up my feelings on modern Christianity in a few sentences.

“How is a person truly free, until they can think and act for themselves. If you say to me, ‘Am I a Christian?’ I say to you, if you strive to do good, then you’re a Christian. If you don’t seek to hurt or betray others, you’re a Christian. If you’re true to yourself, and treat others as you’d have them treat you, you’re a Christian. 
The more a person parades their Christianity for the benefit of others, the less I’m inclined to trust the Christianity they claim to bring. God tells us, ‘True faith is the freedom to choose truth.’
Now, how you express that: the way, the manner, the means at your disposal, these things are of no consequence be you Christian or atheist, unless in your heart you are true.”

I don’t think that making yourself out to be a member of God’s Special Club speaks of love for others. I don’t think that avoiding people who have sex and drink and cuss will have any effect on your so highly valued purity. I don’t think that pretending you’re not human and are all distant, fake smiles forever, even to the lowly un-religious (like myself), makes you a Christian. And I certainly don’t think that proclaiming your love for church and the Bible and other devout Christians puts you any closer to divine salvation, unless you can come down off your self-constructed throne and mingle as one of the masses. Rub elbows with the filthy and share with the downtrodden and the gleeful sinners. Not as an emissary of Christ, but as a fellow human being. Love is the dynamic force that will change this world. Not self righteousness.

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Crescendo to a thought

As always, Brendan’s blog got me thinking.

I wish I could say it made me think about how great people are, and how humble I strive to be, or even how much like Jesus we should try to be.

Instead, it got me thinking about three separate things.

One: a behavioral pattern I see here at Eastman.
Two: ideas that have been swarming in my brain lately.
and Three: that Brendan needs to write a book.

Relating to one, which I think is the most trivial of the three…
I see a pattern between the “partiers” here and the “religious kids.” The religious ones either keep it to themselves or go to extremes to invite people to their well-behaved events. We have one group, called InterVarsity (it sounds like a sports group but it’s a Christian organization here) that holds all kinds of events. But somehow it kind of seems like they’re in their own little bubble. They’ve extended information to the non-affiliated kids (like they mentioned a gathering to me once, I think) but to me (the non-affiliated), they seem a little upper echelon. A little too good, if you know what I mean. This may or may not be true (I don’t know) but that’s the vibe I get.

In addition to these Christian sects here (and they do separate, we have more than one little club for each denomination), there are the party-goers. The weekend warriors, if you will. It does get incredibly intense here during the week and to me, an outing seems like recreation to release stress (even if it becomes an unhealthy behavior eventually). Now I don’t see any of the partiers in the Christian groups. I could be overlooking someone, but I don’t think I am. In fact, there almost seems to be some animosity between partiers and groups like InterVarsity. I do recall on Ke$ha night being asked in the car if I was a member of InterVarsity… if I was my new best friend (whom I was, uhh, like laying on) was going to kick me out of the car, regardless of our shared sports views.

Back on topic, though. So. My friend Katie here said the other evening to another friend, “When’s church in the morning? I think I’m going to try to go.” This surprised me, because A.) Katie and I were going to the River Campus that night with the intent to find somewhere to dance (to the uninformed it looked like we were going to get smashed), and B.) Katie had never seemed the “type” to go to church.

I realize this is silly thinking on my part (slap on the hand for stereotyping) but to be honest she hadn’t fit the mold for kids I know here that go to worship services. That got me thinking, why can’t I try to go to church? Granted I would love to sleep in on Sundays… but maybe I could even go to a youth group thing or something here. Who knows? But then again, I’ve been known to be out late on weekends. That doesn’t make me any less of a follower of Jesus, though, does it? Then I thought perhaps some of these groups needed a reminder that, first of all, drinking isn’t a sin (hello, wine in the Bible). And secondly, most importantly, Jesus loves the sinners, too. I’m not saying that I go around getting wasted, swearing and having wild monkey sex with everyone I know (because obviously that’s not really my game plan here). But someone who’s not to hip to the holiness thing (aka me, or anyone else, really) is just as loved by God and (if they’re doing it right) should hopefully be just as loved by the little clumps of Christians floating around here with their wooden cross necklaces and conservatively buttoned shirts.

That about rounds out topic number one for me.
Topic two? IDEAS.

Liz Shropshire will be the speaker at next Tuesday’s Colloquium. I. Am. So. Pumped. I really want to get involved with that. In case you haven’t heard of the Shropshire Music Foundation, the link to the site is here and I blogged pretty extensively on it here, because man, am I excited. It’s finally a window (dare I hope, a door?!) into using music to make a serious difference in peoples’ lives. Children’s lives, more specifically.

That brings me to ideas. I haven’t even heard Ms. Shropshire’s spiel yet, and I’m already planning what could be done back in my hometown to bring more revenue to the Foundation. Then (it’s ambitious) what about starting something similar of my own? Maybe a mix between School 17 here (it’s a huge string instrument program for younger kids, but in a city school, if you’ll believe it) and the Foundation. The ideas are still molding themselves, shaping like silver ore in the forge that is my mind, but it’s exciting. To think that the training I receive here won’t restrict me to performing for the elite (if I ever get that good)… it’s really cool. I could use my degree(s) to pour the salve of music into the bleeding gashes of the world.

That said, here’s a poor segue to topic three.

Brendan needs to write a book. Yeah buddy, if you’re reading this… I feel like now’s the time. Okay, maybe in a few more months. But soon. Use your blog and some other topics, get them edited (Jordan and I did offer, oh so long ago…). I’m not trying to flatter you, I’m being honest. Reading words from someone so young in the scheme of things, who’s really trying to connect to his faith and figure crap out is really inspiring. And it makes your audience think. Or at least it makes me think. It’s so real, too. Like God is giving you words with which you can poke at someone’s thoughts. Little nudges. And they show that you absolutely don’t have to be some godly snot in order to have a real relationship with Jesus.

So, whenever you’re ready sir…

On that note, this post is so done. I have theory homework to do. But those are just some thoughts before studio class that I feel needed to get put on a webpage.

Your mission for the day? Listen to the song 'Why do they shut me out of heaven?' It's a Copland tune with words by Emily Dickenson. The Barbara Bonney version is pretty decent.

What did Brendan tell me? Oh yeah: “Kim, I feel like you’re searching”

*Just a quick note: I wrote this from my cell phone late at night (or, early in the morning) before this past Wednesday. I spent the day with this awesome German I know all day yesterday, so I did not get a chance to type it and post it. But, here it is, unedited and in honesty.  

Brendan texted me tonight, from Waynesburg. Told me about a book he feels I should read. He said, “Kim, I feel like you’re searching.”

  
I feel like I am, too. 

So here is how it is. Here is how I come to be typing– texting, really– forming a blog entry from my phone because I was dumb enough to leave my macbook upstairs, and it’s past midnight: my entire family’s sleeping.

Here is how it is: how I am sitting here sniffling and experiencing mild heartburn, feeling like a complete fool with a temperature.

Here is how it is. How I have come to abruptly halting my reading process and doing this, setting down (temporarily) Don Miller’s Searching for God Knows What.

Miller writes: “…I felt something missing inside myself, some bit of something that made me feel special or important or valued. This thing missing inside me… is something God would go to great length to explain in His Bible. …By trying to find an identity…

Don Miller also wrote Blue Like Jazz, also a good read

I was displaying some of the very ideas God would speak of in Scripture, some of the ideas about being separated from a relationship that gave me meaning, and now looking for a kind of endorsement from a jury of my peers” (Miller 42).

Isn’t that exactly what I have been doing since June, scrabbling frantically around to improve myself, to impress others or receive their attention, simply to feel accepted? To find an identity.

Here I was so worried about making the right impression at Eastman or at work or even on my adventure/excursion that I was completely and totally blind to the fact that I’m obsessed with my image or what people think. Haven’t I trusted God before and never had to worry about it at all? Hadn’t I felt a sense of peace, finally, and an invasive, infectious happiness, a sunshine?

I’ve been trying to find God again, and I think my dip into Spiritualist Central helped concrete my own beliefs and outlooks. It didn’t shake them as much as it could have.

It served to remind me that, without God once again as a fully recognized presence and driving force in my life, my worst and most horrifying fears will be realized and I will fail. God has been with me every step of the way thus far. I know He won’t “leave” me, but I am scared of the consequences. Scared of the thought of evangelism, of losing sight of things, and dumbly, of knowing God’s love as it was meant to be felt. But mostly I’m just ashamed.

I know as a Christian (is that what I am?) I would feel the need to reach others– and to be honest I feel as though that impulse has been with me my whole life. But I’m not good enough to do it, I’ve tried before, when my faith was really strong. Or I thought it was. Now I fall back under the excuse, I’m too flawed, even though I know that’s stupid. But time and again I’ve kind of tried and definitely failed to serve God because I didn’t want to give it everything and fall short, again.

I think I’d want to share news of God’s love. Of an nonjudgmental, unconditional, unrelenting love. I just doubt I’d be a decent spokesperson. Plus it doesn’t help that it feels like, as soon as you tag “Christianity,” all anyone ever seems to see is piety, when (at least in my case) they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

So… how do I go from being “in control” of my own actions to handing myself over to God?

The search is far from over, but I’ve found something at least. Here is how it is.

Pathetic, brimming with shame, and flawed, I figure it’s about time I stop moping around scared and wimpy and be an instrument for God to use. Or, I guess it’s more fitting… a voice for his love.

To ghost along the border of spiritualism: my first visit to Lily Dale

Get ready for one long, in-depth analysis


So my visit to the mediums of Lily Dale was a learning experience, to say the least. I’m a lot calmer about the whole idea now, knowing what can be expected there.

I learned a LOT. It helped that, the entire time, I was thinking of it sort of like a field trip, like a class. Milk all you can from it and remember it, that sort of thing.

I’d done some research before leaving, so I knew that spiritualism was a religion. Upon arriving I had so many questions: they just weren’t written down. I legitimately had no idea what to be prepared for.

It turns out we were to wait in line for two hours before being admitted to Circles. I met Sarah’s grandparents: her grandmother is a medium, and apparently so was her great-grandmother. I also met two ladies staying with Sarah’s grandma; one was from Britain and the other from Rochester. Apparently they frequent Lily Dale as visitors over the summer.

My first impression of Lily Dale as a place was that it’s beautiful. Quaint little houses, brilliant greens of the trees. A kind of innate stillness and picturesque quality underscored by an air of mystery, of presence. It was just really pretty.

While waiting, I asked questions. At first it was tough to get going because hey, I’m not a journalist– I don’t really have an excuse to pry, and as silly as it may sound, I didn’t want to offend anyone. They take spirits and things very seriously there. But I am an obsessed academic and eventually found a manner in which to ask, without sounding like a putzkie.

Here’s a brief summary of some facts I garnered from a few who know a great deal about the facets of spiritualism. Bear in mind they’re just knowledge I’ve gathered, I don’t necessarily put stock in all of them. More on what I do put stock in will come later.

– Firstly, spiritualism is: a religion, a philosophy, and a science.
– Spiritualists worship one deity, one creator God, but acknowledge the existence of many spirits, floating around in the ether.
– Spiritualists believe that, just as in life, spirits can change for good or for bad on the other side as well.
– Ouija boards are a NO-NO: they let whatever’s chillin’ over there come visit, with no boundaries to keep the creepers back.
– According to spiritualists, we each have a group, a “band,” of spirit guides that accompany us as we grow. They can change depending on how we change or how we come to need them, but they are there to protect us from things like anxiety, imbalance, health problems, and, of course, evil.

And naturally there are other things, too, but those are the most prominent tidbits of insight I scrounged up.

Now for details on my own ten minutes with a medium:

We got into Circles the first round (there was a massive line). There were at least twenty mediums set up on the floor of the auditorium. Seating varied: some had four chairs around them, some five, and others six. We were taken to a medium named Bonnie White, an older lady with pale hair and grey eyes, dressed in black. She handed me a watch and said, say when it’s been seven minutes, then you get three minutes to ask questions. So I was the timer.

This is Bonnie White, the medium we met


She started with a prayer. We held hands and she asked the great spirit to bring a white light down around us, to protect us and bring us only good spirits.

I will say this, when I first entered and sat down I felt a great deal of energy, not my own. Around me, a warmth touching my skin, the right side of my neck. It was pleasant, not unnerving or weird. Just different. But it was something.

It turned cooler as the sitting went on.

She started with Sandy, Sarah’s mom. Spent a few seconds touching her hands, “connecting with her individually.” Then Ms. White proceeded to tell Sandy things that a stranger wouldn’t know.

It was hit and miss, with Sandy and with Sarah. She did “sense” that they were mother and daughter. She hit upon Sarah’s boundless energy and constant activity, as well as her interest in athletics and music. It seemed as though she faltered a bit, though: if she stumbled upon something correct, she would blather about it for a little before continuing on: to fill the time, is my guess.

When it was my turn, Sarah took the clock. Apparently she’s better at reading cell phones than hand-clocks, because she gave me twelve minutes instead of ten (love that girl).

It was weird, to say the least. Maybe I just use weird as a filler word because I don’t know what should really go there to describe it.

I was skeptical, but then I’m always skeptical. I tried to keep an open mind, though, for the sake of… I don’t know. For the sake of academia.

She didn’t connect me with anyone from the other side, though. I guess no grandfathers felt like chatting with me (don’t know how I feel about that). Potter must not have wanted to, either, but if she’s in spirit form she’d be bounding off and eating something instead of waiting for me to hold hands with some bad psychic.

Instead Ms. White told me I was artistic. This is when Sandy, Sarah, and I exchanged glances because she told me I had a “good” singing voice, but art and drawing and fashion design were where I was really suited. Fact: I only ever finger paint. I suck at drawing. Blatantly pathetic.

Oh, and I’m going to the Eastman School in a week, folks. I think they accept at most ten sopranos per freshman class?

Man, I hope they have an art program so I can switch my major (HA).

No, you do not 'bong' on this instrument... merde, some people.

She asked me if I played a stringed instrument (no way, Jose), then said she saw a piano-like thing, and what did I play? I told her the xylophone, and she replied, and I quote “Don’t you bong on those?”

Oh, geez. If I wasn’t so curious I would’ve put my head in my hands, a mercy, please gesture before she could say anything similarly silly.

Then, a little later, she spoke directly to me. Earlier, when speaking to Sarah and her mother, and at the start of my reading, she was kind of speaking in show to the group. Now she was entirely focused on me. She began to get agitated. Grey eyes under bristling pale brows tried to connect with mine, fervently almost.

And this is as close as I can remember, it could be a little out of order but this is the gist:

“You’re very sensitive, I’m getting an image of a heart. You know what people are thinking, you’re very intuitive. This is hard for you. You know what people think and you’re right, but it’s hard to know it.

You’re very accurate, perceptive. You arrive at conclusions before everyone else, you’re quite quick. It’s sometimes hard, awkward really, for you to be there, but they’ll catch up. You get there differently, but you’re right. You are also on– what do you call it? Like, on the right note, you’re good at that. In tune. You know when you’re in tune or not.

But… you’re sad– anxious. There’s a spirit guide around you who just wants to calm you down. Do you have a lot of stress, relating to making choices? It’s difficult for you to know you’re path. Did you have a lot of stress recently about college?

But you can follow your intuition. You’re right when you do. When you see a light around a decision, take it, you know it’s right.”

And then she became the most lively she’d been:

“I– I just get this sense– I just really want to comfort you. Don’t be sad, okay? No one wants you to be sad. It will all work out. Your life is just beginning now. It will be an entire change for you, but it’s just starting. Just don’t be sad. You’ll grow from it.”

Later as she said the closing prayer it was as if she was trying to talk straight to me. “Let us be comforted and feel safe and grow and learn from new beginnings, wherever they may be and wherever they may take us.”

That was the weird part for me, when she started talking about being sad. I never mention that to anyone. Ever. She told me that the spirits “wanted me to” march forward with my head up. You know, be confident and all that jazz. She made a cringing motion when she tried to illustrate what they didn’t want me to do. They didn’t want me to enter this new chapter of my life weak and scared. They want me to go kick ass, apparently.

In Sarah, her mother, and her grandmother’s opinions, this lady sucked. I’m not saying she was legit, because I gathered she made stuff up to fill time. I’m not a fool.

But the part about being sad? It’s cute, I guess, that there are floaty guys that want me to not be sad. No one else would know that. In fact I try my damnedest so no one does.

When I got home, I rehashed it all with my mother and sister. My mother’s not “into” it, per se, but she’s aware of the fact that we’re not without ectoplasmic friends.

My mother has had contact with a “spirit world” before, and I’ve talked to people who have had legitimate touches with the other side. In the case of my mom, she didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it. “I never liked spooks.”

But she’s had vivid dreams, in which dead relatives have been with her, spoken to her. She doesn’t normally dream at all. Yet, she’s done a walk-through of her grandparents’ home in her sleep, where she saw things she wouldn’t have drummed up in her subconscious by herself (her memory is awful). She’s ridden in the car with her uncle on the night he died, from her sleep. And she’s had a conversation with a member of my father’s family that she’d never met: when she woke and described her, it was exact.

She’s been to see a medium twice in her life. She said the first time was out of spite, when she was in college. Her father died in an accident when she was in her early teens, and this was a personal visit for her. She was angry with him, and with the medium, for reasons I won’t discuss.

The second time, she said the best part was the dog the lady owned.

Schnauzer (not necessarily the type of dog the medium owned)

She did tell me, very seriously, that psychics and whatever were for entertainment purposes only. And I get that completely, because if you don’t know who you are or where you are in life, it’s highly possible to be duped and tricked. Personally I know that if I spent time trying to puzzle out the mysteries of the ether, I’d go stark-raving. But I’d like to have a professional reading done, for the hell of it. Just because I’m curious. I feel that I’m like my mother: I’d be able to go and keep a level, cool, head. Without putting my faith where it shouldn’t go.

I’m not buying into spiritualist rituals and all of their theories. But I’m a firm believer that there are things out there– call them what you will– and that they come in shades of good and bad. Where some would touch their relatives or friends with love, others would seek to harm. Whether we become these things after death isn’t up to me to figure out. I’ll gladly pass that decision on.

In addition, I know there are, because I’ve felt them. This is what I asked Sarah’s mom, a practicing spiritualist, about. I know when I was younger, and even recently, I’d be praying alone, just trying to have a conversation with God, and feel a little niggling worry, an unease. A lurking, creeping fear. I used to feel it a lot when I was eleven, twelve. I would get scared and start praying hard. Just curl up in my bed, jostled from my thoughts, praying like the dickens for it to go away, for God to protect me.

Sarah’s mom’s take on what to do was similar to my actions. She acknowledged that there were spirits who might try to bust in while I’m praying; she said the spiritualist action would be to say “God bless you, but leave me alone in peace,” and to always ask for “the best and the highest” spirit when praying. And something about asking for a white light.

See, I always just start going when praying, you know? Just, “Hey, so God:” and go from there. But it’s interesting to think that when I’m talking to him, there are eavesdroppers… some benign and some not-so. At least I can tell them to hit the road because it’s a private convo and know I’m not being a neurotic paranoid.

Sarah’s mom also told me something else. Let me just say right now that at no point was she ever trying to sell me her religion. She was just informing me about it, which was cool, because I wanted to know.

The board outside a spiritualist church

She told me that spiritualism wasn’t a mainline religion and that she was raised with a Lutheran background so she’d have something steady, then made her own choice to become a spiritualist when she was old enough to learn about it on her own. A remarkable statement I recall, though, was: “At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters necessarily what we call the one we worship, because it’s probably the same guy anyway. Allah, God, the great spirit, the Creator– probably all the same. It’s what you do in this life that matters– whether you use your life for good or for evil, what you do with it. How you love.”

It reminded me a little of Brendan, and even of my own conclusions relating to religion and love. Just love with all you have and learn everything you can. Keep an open mind and an accepting heart and you’ll be okay.

And so yeah. I’ll wrap this summary up with what my mother told me after I got back home and recounted to her the events of the evening.

“You’ve been raised with a strong faith. You have a strong faith. Don’t waste your brilliant* brain cells trying to figure out things about spooks. Know that there’s good and bad in this world, around us all the time, and that there’s God. The rest you can come up with yourself, but always remember those basics. And now I’m going to smoke and go to bed.”

*Not saying I’m brilliant here. Just quoting my mother, who is probably obligated by law or something to say that.

Candy coated

This picture makes me almost as happy as the half butter pecan/half cookie dough candy coated medium cone I had earlier this evening at La Via :) I mean... LOOK AT IT!

Growing apart from the people you love is hard.

I read that on a blog tonight. I actually have been on a little adventure online: first from Brendan’s blog, then to two others. All in all I have thought a great deal about what those two talented writers had to say. The following conclusions are mine, but I am thinking. Wheels and clogs are turning. You know how it is. But yeah. Anyway.

Firstly, I need to come to terms with the fact that I Am Leaving. I am going away. It feels like I’m just moving on naturally but the truth is, I am starting a completely new chapter in my life. I need to face facts: my family will be, too. It’s not going to be “normal” anymore. Coming home will be a special occasion. Making plans with me will be one of the last things on my family’s collective mind; they have their own lives to lead. And I should let them. There’s no point in getting upset because they’re already starting to do things without me while I’m working. No point in being sad when they discuss what they’ll be doing or the fun they had. None whatsoever.

Secondly: it’s friend-losing time. Tonight I said goodbye to Brendan for what was probably the last time. I might see him again in two Saturdays, I think. But aside from that it’ll be pure chance if I meet up with him again. Until… until, I don’t know when. Well shit.

Thirdly. That dependent and homebody little piece of myself, that loves to laze around in the sun with a book and chocolately coffee? She’s got to go. At least until next summer. I can’t have her screwing up my intense schedule and workload that will be college or the pre-college theory studies I still have to slog through. And when she leaves, she can take the desperate, bored, miserable chunk of me that seems to weigh me down with every mistake I’ve ever made. If the blog-surfing tonight taught me nothing else, I’ve learned, been reassured, really, that the most horrifying circumstances can be forgiven.

I’m not alone in royally screwing myself up. I’m not alone in obsessing, or trying to distance myself from people so they don’t reject me for the self that I am. I’m not alone in trying to maintain a relationship with a god that no one else seems to openly talk about or really, seriously depend on and love.

You know, after a while, it’s hard to be positive if the tenuous strains of faith you had are still there. Reading about other struggles with faith (and the growth of such relationships with God) gives me a little boost. It’s nice to know others share similar plights, just as it’s nice to know that they pulled through just fine.

Anyway; that’s all I have for tonight. I should have been sleeping two hours ago, but… yeah, I went out for ice cream and it was awesome. Ice cream is another reassurance. It’s says, “No matter how crappy you might feel, I am delicious and pleasantly unhealthy. But I do have dairy (so look on the bright side), and sprinkles up the wazoo (oh yeah baby). Oh no oh no, I’m melting… better hurry up because whatever your problems are, I will be here. Until I’ve been completely devoured and made the day infinitely more wonderful for you.”