Giving Up, Parts One and Two

Part One

When I was around eight, I kept bugging my mother to take me to church. Something was driving me. I wanted to go so badly. My mother was a (lapsed) (Northern) Baptist and my father was a (lapsed) Catholic. Since I was closer to my mother, and she was less lapsed than my dad, eventually I started going to the Baptist church.

My Baptist upbringing was not at all like what most people describe as a Baptist upbringing. Although our church didn’t allow alcohol on the premises, my mother and many of her church friends drank elsewhere. Our pastor once described being served sherry at a little old lady’s home and rather than offend her, he drank it, even though he himself was a teetotaler. Dancing was fine. No hellfire-and-brimstone sermons were ever preached in our church.

As a kid, I took for granted that God existed and, like many other things from childhood, things seemed simple on that front. On the other hand, for various reasons I kept becoming convinced I was bound for hell. So that was fun…sort of.

My mother had gone to the same church as a teenager and a lot of the adults were her friends from that era; a lot of the kids went to school with me. It’s one of the few places in life I’ve actually felt comfortable and part of a group, for the most part. I sang in the adult choir even though I was still a kid, because I was advanced for my age and a good solid second soprano. For several years, the pastor’s daughter was my best friend — until she became pretty and popular and I, not so much. Then her father left the ministry and so that edgy dynamic disappeared.

Throughout my childhood, though, I was wistful that it hadn’t been my dad taking me to church. I was absolutely fascinated by the world of my Catholic friends — rosary beads, nuns, statues, missals, crucifixes, Fathers.  I appropriated a 1960s St. Josephs Missal that my dad had, which had belonged to one his aunts. (I still have it. Such illustrations!) I read and re-read The Song of Bernadette when I was around nine, amazed that there were actual photographs of saints — and I did consider all the saints to be saints, somehow, even if I was totally unclear on the concept of what “praying to the saints” meant. I had the usual Protestant misconception about that. I always knew I didn’t want to get married in our blond-wood sanctuary with grey vinyl padded pews, frosted glass windows, and one lone, unadorned cross over the baptismal font in the back of what we called an altar, although there was no actual altar there. I figured I probably would, though, if I ever did get married.

And then I went to college. A Catholic college, actually. For the first time I was taught by nuns — though none of them wore habits — and it was there that I totally lost my faith. I had never considered all the obvious questions about creation, other faiths, contradictions…things that cause some people to lose their faith and things that people who keep it need to grapple with. I also discovered politics, and in the volatile mid-to-late 80s that was often about the right to choose and feminism in general.

That left me in an emotional whirlpool. If there was no God, then there was nothing after death, and my lifelong terror of death was justified, because it meant I would cease to exist, and that also rendered life meaningless to me, since no matter what I or anyone did, we would just be extinguished when we died. On the other hand, those conservative Christians were absolutely wacko  … so … (My apologies to any conservative Christians who may read this, although I doubt any conservative Christians will.)

I made one last-ditch effort to save my belief by taking to the chaplain and deciding to become Catholic. When he told me how you had to go through RCIA and then be presented to the bishop — a process totally foreign to non-liturgical-Protestant me — I fled from that. And into total unbelief, and anger at the people who believed and were using that belief to keep the United States back, even as I mourned not having faith in an afterlife.

And I stayed in this conflict whirlpool until I was around 28.

I was on a plane to Alaska reading about the Romanovs. There was quite a lot about the Russian Orthodox Church, and I knew Alaska was a bastion of Russian Orthodoxy, but while visiting my then-boyfriend there wasn’t really a chance to find one, especially as he lived in a semi-rural community and this was just before the Internet was a part of everyone’s phone.

I came home, did some research to assuage my curiosity, and found that, yes indeed, they mean it when they say Orthodox. What was a pro-choice feminist thinking? (Oh, but the Liturgy!)

During my research, I felt myself drawn to the Episcopal Church. Anglican! Liturgical! Not (for the most part) right-wing! I wondered why I was so interested in religion all of a sudden — to soothe my fear of death? Give life meaning? Give me back the ritual I hadn’t had since I aged out of Rainbow? Or was it actually the promptings of spirit?

From 1996 until 2012, and then with one more last hurrah in 2013, I tried like anything to believe. I joined the Episcopal Church in 1996 and was married in a Very Very High Church wedding in a beautiful Episcopal church in Berkeley in 1997. (We had a female priest, but we had incense and stupendous music and the Eucharist.)  In 2002, as that marriage was exploding all around my head, I joined the Catholic Church — RCIA and all. (In a not-beautiful parish that wouldn’t know High Churchery if it hit it in the head, but it was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes and the people were lovely.)

I eventually ended up in a very conservative parish where I wore a mantilla and where they didn’t sing any of the really ridiculous Oregon Catholic Press/David Haas music; offered confession in actual kneeling, anonymous confessionals before every Mass; and actually had the Latin Mass before Pope Benedict made it more easily accessible. I was trying desperately, by clinging to things — my missal, Latin, my mantilla, my rosary, my Divine Mercy chaplet, everything — to force myself to believe. I even looked into Orthodoxy again — I actually agree with them about things like the filioque and some other issues to do with soteriology, if you take the fundamental premises of Christianity as given.

I left that parish the day the priest compared Obama to Hitler. You’ve just Godwinned me out of God, I thought. I had pushed aside all of my philosophical difficulties, simply not thinking about them — because really, my social and political beliefs were simply not reconcilable — but that was too much. The fact that they thought Masons were evil plotters, when as a Rainbow Girl I’d been surrounded by hundreds of benign Masons who couldn’t plot their way out of a paper bag? Oh well. The fact that they thought yoga as practiced in American yoga studios was malevolent and spiritual-but-not-in-a-good-way, when I’d taken yoga classes, knew that wasn’t true, and also knew that just about every person I knew who did yoga was pretty unspiritual? OK, whatever. Praying for the “pro-life” cause every week? Sigh, yes, I knew this was what I was signing up for being Catholic. The edict against any sex outside of marriage and even civil unions for gay folks? Ditto. But the Hitler comparison was just the last straw.

I went back to the Episcopal Church, but I felt half-hearted about it. I wanted to want it, I wanted to believe, I wanted to have an anchor and some hope, but last year I could no longer keep trying.

I just don’t believe in the core Christian teachings.

I want to.

I wish I did.

I wish that I did and that there was a way to reconcile what I know and believe about life with having faith, but I don’t and I can’t.

Still fascinated by religion, I read a lot about people of faith, and essays and memoirs by them. I miss liturgy — structure and ritual — and I miss the practice of study that having scriptures invites. (I know, I should just join Eastern Star now that they admit Majority Rainbow Girls who aren’t related to Masons and get my ritual fix, and go back to school for the study. Actually and unfortunately, I wouldn’t fit in with the Eastern Star women anymore either, alas. I would love, love, love to go to graduate school, but that’s a whole other issue to tangle with.)

It does feel good, though, to give up. The struggle and tension between things I knew to be true (and things I suspected to be true) and things I was willing myself to believe were true was painful and exhausting, and letting it snap and fly away was like taking off too-tight shoes after a long day of walking.

I don’t consider myself an atheist, but an agnostic. I don’t think the Christian story is true, but I am not discounting that a) I could be wrong or b) there may indeed be a God, or something we might as well call God. And in all honesty, I hope there is, because simply ceasing to exist at the moment of death is, to me, even worse than the thought of being fundamentally alone in the universe while I’m alive.

In some ways I feel like I wasted nearly twenty years trying to force myself into a mold I cannot fit in. But there’s no point in ruefulness. It was interesting, if nothing else. And maybe someday I will find something I believe and a niche into which I can fit. We shall see.

Part Two

Has nothing to do with religion and is considerably shorter!

My job. Oh God, my job. For three years I loved it, and then a rotation happened and they sent me out to talk to strangers all day, right? And honestly, it’s been pretty awful. There are days that are okay, and individual interactions that are nice, but overall, I’m tired and miserable and I am counting the days until I get rotated back.

If only I knew when that was…I have joked (okay, “joked”) that at least when you go to prison they tell you how long your sentence is. If I knew when my blessed release from this assignment was coming I could count down the days. I do at least know every day is one day closer to whenever that is. It’s been six months. Six months of my indeterminate sentence completed.

A day came several months ago where everything came to a head. Not going into details, but I knew that if I didn’t think of a solution, I was going to either get fired (not an easy thing to do with my employer, thankfully) or come home and do something rash.

In the end, I combined two approaches. One was suggested by a friend who hates/is as bad at customer service as I do/am: When she had to do this sort of thing, she pretended she was playing a role. It was a movie or a play, and she was simply playing the part of The Employee. To the extent that this doesn’t work, I…simply don’t care anymore. My mantra is “OK. Whatever.” A member gets mad or agitated? OK, whatever. Someone yells at me? OK, whatever. I get asked to do something I, with every fiber of my being, don’t want to do? OK, whatever. Nothing matters. Whatever. I’ll just do it, accept it, take it, because it doesn’t matter — whatever comes next is bound to be unpleasant, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

I do my best and don’t generally screw much up, but I have ceased to care what happens. I don’t even cringe away from all the things I have to do that I am so bad at — the talking to strangers all day, the endless patience I have to project when I am the least patient person on the planet. I liken it to the way when drunk drivers get in accidents, they’re not the ones who get hurt because they’re all floppy and relaxed. I am floppy and relaxed in the face of this rotation, in the face of all the strangers I have to deal with, in the face of all the  terrifying stuff they ask me to do.

I also take a lot of anti-anxiety meds,  but without Playacting and Not Caring, it wouldn’t be enough.

And it feels so much better. I’m still exhausted at the end of every day, but less so — I don’t have to go to bed at 7:30 PM anymore. I still get depressed and full of dread on Sunday nights, but I apply Oh Well Whatever and it eases a bit. I still will go buy a bottle of real Champagne and drink it all myself when I finally get rotated back into the back, but I think I can survive until then. Floppy. Relaxed.

As the old Ashleigh Brilliant postcard says: “I feel much better now that I’ve given up hope.”

Sounds very dreary, but I think of it more as just backfloating down the river of this assignment, not fighting the current, and waiting for it to be over.

So two struggles let go. I wonder if this will give me more emotional energy for other things!

 

 

 

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Rant

As I posted elsewhere today:

Bah. And bleargh. And other annoying sounds.

Just totally out of sorts. Worried about money (things are eye-crossingly tight until either the first payday of May or until I get the estate settlement — the latter should come first but I hesitate to believe it). I’m tired of ramen, and I think my poor diet of late — heavy on things like ramen and low on fruits and veggies — is contributing to my general malaise.

Also, things hurt. I need to get into better shape and I need to stop eating from the pile of junk food my work neighbor leaves on her credenza for everyone, but a) it’s free! I’m temporarily poor! and b) I have almost no willpower. Oh, and c) it helps when I’m having an I Wanna Go Home Day. They won’t let me break out a book or my knitting, but I can snack! Yet, this has gotten to the point where my hips, knees, and feet actively hurt all the time, so…

Also, I should walk from BART to work instead of taking the Muni metro, but I work in a depressing neighborhood and have to run the panhandler gauntlet to get there, so I am disinclined. But: body is falling apart.

Simone keeps throwing up. Can’t do vet stuff til next month. Thankfully she is a Cat of Size so she won’t be wasting away in that span of time.

My computer is elderly and had better not decide to die in the next couple of weeks.

I have a strange charge, labeled “recurring” from Experian on my bank account. I have disputed it with Wells Fargo and emailed Experian. WTH? I have not ordered credit monitoring or anything from them.

I am also having something of a spiritual crisis and I’m not sure there’s a way out of that one, so that’s depressing.

I had today off and it was a lovely day weatherwise, and I’m mad at myself for wasting it being depressed.

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much…But not Really

I was thinking earlier about how of late I keep saying, “I actually love being single most of the time!” and how that probably comes off as a defense mechanism. I mulled it over to see whether I really do feel this way or whether deep down I still think a solitary life is useless.

Trying to imagine someone else living here with me is almost impossible. I’ve been basically single for ten years now, with a few minor quasi-relationships along the way. The last thing I had that could have been called any kind of relationship at all ended the day before Thanksgiving in 2006, so it’s been a long time. And barring a couple of long-term houseguests, I’ve lived alone for a decade now (literally; my ex moved out in March 2002).  I try to think what it would be like and I just can’t feel it, even though when I got together with my ex-husband he did indeed move in with me in a place where I was already established.

I can’t really adequately explain how I feel internally freer without a partner; I would say it’s because of my own psychological or emotional weaknesses that I prefer to be own my own, mostly. For instance — religion. When my husband I got together, I was in the process of joining the Episcopal Church. He moved here in August and I was confirmed in October. We were married in that church the following August. In the last year of our marriage I was in RCIA and I was received into the RCC a couple of weeks after he split. (That was not a joyous Easter, regardless, I must say.)  Obviously, I kept him in the loop and tried to explain my wandering ways to him, but that was sort of uncomfortable for me. And it would have been even worse if, say, he’d been a devout Anglican. Right now, as I float around churchwise, not exactly sure what I’m doing or where I will end up but doing a lot of reading and praying and thinking, I find it so comforting that I don’t have to explain myself to anyone, or feel guilty if I don’t explain myself to anyone.

(Actually, I kinda dread religious conversations with my family, as well, but I can avoid them a lot more easily.)

So that’s an example of a way in which I find it so much less stressful to be on my own than with someone. It’s not just the sharing of space or the negotiating about money or other logistical, practical things, but the bigger, deeper, more sweeping things as well.

Annnnnnd this probably just again points to how I never found someone I was in enough sync with to want to share that much with all the time. Or else that I just am not cut out to do it. One or ‘tother.

But in any case, I think the reason I keep saying “Wow! I really quite like this!” is “no zealot like a convert.”  OMG I HAZ SEEN THE LIGHT! Also, it’s an immense relief after about thirty-odd years of pining after boys/men who didn’t like me “that way” (I was everyone’s friend and that is just about the most frustrating thing ever), of being anxious when I was in a relationship (because of the never-finding-my-soulmate  business), of being heartbroken after a relationship… now it’s like my God, I’m free, oh thank God.

Of course it doesn’t help with the sharing of bills or chores or having a built-in date (I was so grateful for the automatic buddy when I was married and thankfully I was actually aware of and appreciated it at the time) or someone to drive you to the hospital or caretake for you or anything like that. But everything has a trade-off and since this is where I am and I believe likely to remain, I just need to figure out ways to cope with that and continue enjoying the good parts of it.

It’s sort of like the question, “Well, I’m X years old. If I go back to school and get my degree, I’ll be X+4 years old! What do I do?” to which the answer is, “You’ll be X+4 years old anyway. Do you want to be X+4 years old with or without a degree?” I can be single with or without enjoying it and with or without doing the things I want to do irrespective of my relationship status. I’ll be 60 and single one day either way. Do I want to be 60, single, and having spent the previous 15 years doing interesting things, or not?

“Not” doesn’t sound so great.

Eating My Words

Some time ago I said I didn’t want to be a “Church-hopping dilettante.” And I really don’t. I cringe when I think of it… but I may end up one yet.

Funnily, I never think of the Baptist church of my youth as one of the stops along my hopping way, even though that’s where I was baptized in 1978 at the age of almost-eleven and where I went from age eight-ish to eighteen-ish. I guess because I didn’t choose it myself, it doesn’t count in the black book of spiritual restlessness.

There are a few things in that original post that I’m rethinking. One of them is this:

[various Episcopal things] make me feel like I’ve taken off shoes that were too tight and put on a good pair … I got myself a BCP (not sure where my old ones went) and started saying Compline before bed again. It had been ten years since I had, but the words rushed over me and I thought, “Ah! Yes!”

I think in one way it was relief from what I experienced as legalistic narrowness in the RCC. But in a bigger way, in retrospect, I think it was more nostalgia. When I was an Episcopalian, some things in my life were very much worse (for instance, I had two horrible jobs during that time whereas now I like my job fine…and have done so for two years, which is unheard-of!) but some things were comforting (my mother was alive, I was married). Spiritually things were simpler for me, as well, not having gone through the Catholic experience.

There are a lot of things on my mind, but one line from the Episcopal liturgy keeps gnawing at me — one about delivering us from schism.

We’re Anglicans. Born of schism!

And I really don’t know what I’m going to do with this or what I’m going to end up doing. There is no place that is going to align perfectly with my political views. And that’s okay. I actually like my religion more conservative than I am politically — I don’t want some kind of vague, shallow spirituality. Go ahead and challenge my beliefs — just not in a “the President is like a Nazi and if you vote Democratic ever you are bound for hell” sort of way.  The legalistic mentality of the RCC really wore me down.

So we’ll see.

 

 

 

Taking a deep breath

Three days after that post, I found out the littlest kitty has lymphoma. They drained her lungs and put her on steroids and while she will eventually die from this barring a medical miracle, she is doing really well.

Things were utterly hellish around here for a bit though.

Now I spend tons of time cuddling her because she’s a total mama’s girl — and she will jump onto whatever I’m sitting on, onto my lap and then onto my shoulders (either pulling herself over to be held like a baby or sometimes jumping all the way up to stand on my shoulders or back). She struggles to stay on and cries if I try to put her down. I figure the expensive organic cat food and all the cuddles can only help.

Middle-now-oldest cat does get a little annoyed sometimes. And sometimes I end up buried under two of them. I was watching the New Year’s Eve NCIS marathon and ended up spending one and a half episodes unable to move because of felinity.

I also got a cold and lost my voice around Christmastime, and because of vet stuff and whatnot could not be as decadent in the present-buying arena as I like to be for the holidays. Additionally, after Advent I I never made it back to church.

There’s one major reason for this: church is at 10. I can just make an 11 AM service on Sundays, but I have the hardest time in the world getting up before 10 on weekends. Left unchecked I will sleep til 11 or noon, but I can swing getting up at 10. However, without something external (like work) forcing me to get up, I simply won’t do it. I know part of it is psychological: Daytime is bright (hurts my eyes), loud (hurts my nerves), has lots of other people in it (ramps up my anxiety) and requires getting dressed and moving around (my large unwieldy body and lack of new clothes is no fun for that). But part of it is simply that I’m a night person biologically as well as tempermentally.

So there’s that.

I was laughing, sort of, at myself the other day, because my ideal Saturday night is pizza or some other simple comfort food, a drink, a kniting project, a book, and some interesting TV, preferably documentaries or something. I can alternate knitting/TV with reading, and I’m at home, safe and cozy and laid-back.

This doesn’t really jibe with the fantasy double life I have always led in the back of my mind, where I’m sociable and friendly and fun.

Well, I can be sociable, friendly, and fun, but it requires a) having had enough sleep previously, so work nights are out; b) alcohol; c) people I am at least close to the same wavelength as (alcohol can only do much). These three things very rarely coincide.

Now it’s a new year and I’m wondering if some good stuff — like the settling of my aunt’s estate and my subsequent buying of a non-rattletrap car — might come along relatively soon. I’m hoping the cat stays in her status quo and that if I get caught in the next rotation at work I don’t go to the scary customer service unit yet. (Once I do go, I’m arranging for monthly massages and pedicures and lots of vodka for after work, and possibly finding a therapist just to deal with the terror.*)

I’m about to go find a fun knitting project to work on, because I’m all flail-y and unfocussed knitwise, and I was trying to work on something for my sister with some yarn she bought but she bought so little that my options are very limited and the yarn is no fun to work with, so I’m putting that aside again. Alas.

And I just ordered some recipe cards and a binder, so I can organize the stuff I get off the Web and write down recipes from cookbooks where I only like a handful of recipes, so I can send the books themselves on.

Also up for “when the estate settles” — getting an old London Underground poster (“Brightest London is Reached by Underground”) framed to match my Paris metro map and my 1908 Underground map; getting a smallish bookcase to live between the big bookcase and the sideboard; maybe getting a new dining room set that matches all the other living/dining room furniture (ie, is not pine from IKEA).

2011 wasn’t hideous but December kicked my ass, so I’m hoping for some smooth sailing for a little bit. Please!

* When I took the job I didn’t know there was an entire unit dedicated solely to customer service; I figured everyone just had a little sprinkled into their job like at my old place. Also, at my old place we actively discouraged people from coming in; we only wanted stuff done in writing or over the phone, and had very little space/provision for people to come into the office. Here, they actually require you to come in and see us, which means they need to have a whole unit just for that. It’s scary as all get-out to me.

 

Making Up My Mind

This last week I’ve kept coming across, or having occur to me, things I can’t make a decision on. It’s frustrating. I’m middle-aged! Why don’t I have a handle on these things yet?

Thing the first: Homeless folks/panhandlers

I think I’ve mentioned this one before. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and I like people in the abstract and in the very particular, but I have a hard time with the in-between. As in, I am pro-humanity, and I think policies and philosophies and procedures should be kind and generous. (Which is why I believe in universal health care and a social safety net.) And I like my friends, obviously. But everyone in between sort of stresses me out.

After work the other day as I was on my way to my car in the BART parking lot, a guy was roaming around and came up to me and just thrust his upturned baseball cap in my face. I shook my head and he went on. And I debated with myself the whole way home. On the one hand, do I know his story? Maybe he didn’t speak because he can’t. Maybe he’s so mentally ill he couldn’t hold down a job if he wanted to. Maybe he is simply really unintelligent and isn’t hireable. On the other hand, maybe he’s just a jerk. And I thought about the horrible, awful jobs I’ve had since 1990 when I graduated from college — jobs that made me ill, exacerbated my anxiety, contributed to my being a total bitch sometimes, made me twitch in a Pavlovian way when I see the words “friendly reminder,” because in my last job that meant “here’s a reminder to adhere to the draconian rules, you stupid peons!” I kept those jobs because I had to. I had no choice. They were crushing me both mentally and physically but for some reason no medical professionals seemed to care, and I had no options but to get up and go back and let them slap me around again. So I did. Most recently for eleven years until  I got this job, for which I am grateful on a daily basis.

Which makes me sound like such a right-winger: “Hey, I suffered; you should suffer too; no one helped me, so why should I help you?”

Except I believe no one should have to suffer like that.

I also struggle with my belief that the government should be responsible for taking care of the less fortunate, and not leaving it to the whims of people’s charity (although Ido give to charity and would continue to do so if I lived in a country with a decent social safety net). Part of me thinks, “You just want this so you don’t have to have the discomfort of stepping over people sleeping on the sidewalk when you’ve just gotten out of your nice warm bed, and you don’t have to have the discomfort of saying no to the same homeless people every day.” Another part of me thinks, “Well, yes, but wouldn’t it be better for them too if they weren’t sleeping on the sidewalk and reduced to begging?”

Thing the second: Immigration & Imports

I got a chain email the other day from someone I actually do like, about how people should buy goods and services from American companies and providers this Christmas. I agree in principle (to a point). I am very much in favor of  patronizing independent artisans; I don’t do all my shopping at big chain stores although sometimes for budget’s sake it’s unavoidable (and I have to confess to a passionate love of Target that I have to work to rein in); I make a modest effort to buy things made in the United States. On the other hand, I am a sucker for anything made in Europe — for instance, I buy Maille mustard not only because I like it but so I can feel some French person is having the same thing right now.

And this email was not only pro-American, but anti-China. Now, I am no fan of Chinese politics or of the quality of a lot of their exports, but I would have felt better about the email if it had been “This Christmas, support your local service providers, your local independent stores; go on etsy and find independent craftspeople who make cool stuff; do a Google search for artisans in your area. Support your community, give a unique gift, keep money in the local [or at least American] economy,” rather than “STOP GIVING MONEY TO CHINA SO THEY CAN BUILD ANOTHER CITY.” They’re people too….sheesh.

Then there’s immigration. On the one hand (my eternal refrain), I can see why one might find illegal immigration to be bad. Of course, if they’re employed other than under the table, they are paying taxes, so the fact that they then receive services related to those taxes doesn’t bother me. And as a comic I heard once said, “What? You want to pick your own lettuce?” I’ve read about how the farmers in Alabama can’t find American citizens who want to do, or can do as well, the work that Mexican migrants did. So I think a serious revamp of our immigration policies and guest worker programs is in order.

Also: the only reason I didn’t move to England in my twenties was that I didn’t have the chutzpah to marry a British citizen for his citizenship. I had the offer; England was like the Promised Land to me, one of my ancestral homelands (Dad’s side) that I longed to return to. I just wasn’t brave enough — I’m a bad liar and I knew I’d get caught, or if I didn’t get caught I’d live for years on edge. So on a personal level I have to hand it to people who are brave enough to do what it takes to live where they will be happy, and I would be a hypocrite if I condemned them. That isn’t something that can make policy and so it’s a good thing I’m not a politician, but on a personal level, I’d be living in Europe now if I’d had their courage, so I should shut up.

(Now I’d like to find a legitimate British or French husband…but at my age that ain’t likely. I digress.)

Thing the third: Religion

I’m finding I’m too Anglican to be a good Roman Catholic and too Catholic to be a good Anglican. Which I guess means I need to stay with the Anglicanism, since it’s much broader a tent. But I find that I go back and forth on what I think and how I feel. I can’t abide  mushy loosey-goosey “everyone is going to heaven” sorts of “theology,” like one hears bandied about by “spiritual but not religious” people (I’m not really thinking of Anglicans here); I find things like allowing unbaptized people to take Communion simply wrong (we didn’t even do that in the non-liturgical and non-sacramental Baptist church of my childhood);  and I like the straightforwardness and discipline of much of traditional Catholic doctrine. But I also find some of that doctrine completely unpalatable (see here).

Of course, I also find it difficult to get up and go to church, any church, on Sundays because of my pathological hatred of mornings and my introversion. I really miss Saturday evening vigil Masses. No getting up early, fewer people!

I find all this and more quite frustrating because I know people with convictions and the courage of those convictions, and sometimes they’re 25 years younger than I am. You’d think at my age I’d have figured out where I stand on things. I suppose on some things I have, but these issues among others make my thoughts swing wildly from “yes, this, but on the other hand, that!”

Sigh.

Poltical liberal, theological moderate, liturgical conservative

That’s me.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I’ve gone back to the Episcopal Church after nearly nine years as a Roman Catholic.

ETA: I realized later that, as long as this is, it’s still just the nutshell version. There are so many tangents I could go off on on all three of these aspects. This is just the “quick” explanation.

Politically

It’s tough to be a liberal Catholic. There are, actually, some fine-by-Rome opinions that are considered liberal in the US — guaranteed health care, for instance, or being opposed to the death penalty. But whenever you get into matters sexual, you’re walking in a minefield. I simply could not force myself to try to be on board with the no-birth-control, no-abortion-ever-n0-matter-what-n0-way-no-how, civil-unions-for-gay-folks-spells-the-end-of-civilization mindset. I heard the president I voted for compared to Hitler in a sermon — I am not even kidding. That was the beginning of the end for me. I think this may be different for cradle Catholics who are liberal, because it’s been their church since birth and they feel freer to disagree and yet remain. I felt, as a convert, that I should try to follow the teachings of the church as outlined in the catechism and encyclicals as best I could. I really did try.

Theologically/Canonically

I’m not a theologian, and I’m not even a gifted amateur in the field. So what I have to say is not the sort of thing I’d submit in a paper if I were taking a theology class, but just my own current take.

I began to disagree with the primacy of the pope even though I agree with apostolic succession; I was not able to swallow the infallibility argument either. I read Humanae Vitae and thought, “No. Just…no.” I could not agree with the belief that if you didn’t want to have children for whatever reason (didn’t care for kids; didn’t think you’d be a good parent; were dirt poor; had conditions you didn’t want to pass on; had conditions that might make childbearing deadly for you) then you should be relegated to celibacy and solitude.  I found the argument that you could follow your conscience, but you needed to “correctly form” your conscience, and if you did so you’d be unlikely to disagree with the church, to be completely unpalatable to me.

I began to have problems with mandated confession, although I think the existence of the sacrament of penance is a good thing. I like the Anglican “all may, some should, none must” view of it. Because I was having so many internal disagreements, right down to the requirement of the sacrament of penance itself, I found I couldn’t go to confession. Since I couldn’t go to confession, I knew I ought not to take communion at Mass. Do most Catholics skip confession and still go to communion? Yeah. And I did too for the first few years, but then, like I said above, really tried to toe the line. So for the last year or so, I took communion only once or twice, after I had forced myself, all twisted up inside with guilt, anguish, and ambiguous feelings, to go to confession.

Amongst the devotions of the folks who did seem to be trying to toe the line, I was finding an awful lot of stuff I couldn’t accept. I read the life of St. Gemma Galgani, and I just kept thinking, “This girl was mentally ill.” She may very well also have been a saint — actually I believe she was — but I still find her life disturbing, some of the tales about her unbelievable, and I’m still convinced she was mentally ill. I enjoyed St. Faustina’s Diary, but some of what she says flat-out contradicts Scripture as I understand it, and I don’t believe that, for instance, someone reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet (which I do love) at the bedside of a dying person will save their soul. At least, not simply by its recitation; it’s quite possible hearing the chaplet might move the dying person to a moment of conversion, certainly. Then there was the priest who called Obama akin to a Nazi — he would also recount pious legend as actual fact in his sermons. He’s a very sweet man, but…

The space left for reason and common sense in the Episcopal church is a relief to me. I do like me some mysticism, but more on the lines of St. Teresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich, who were both some pretty commonsense women along with the mystical gift.

Liturgically

A toughie for me.  I always felt like I was being shallow, but I’ve been at RC parishes whose liturgies were, well, awful. I was on edge, irritated, certainly not loving my neighbor, especially if he were the choir director or a  lay Eucharistic minister in a Snoopy sweatshirt. I’m not saying they weren’t valid Eucharists; they were. Rather than list all my dissatisfactions, let me just say that I love the organ, traditional Western hymns (and singing the whole thing!), traditional language, vested acolytes, vested choirs (who can sing well), chant, incense, beautiful vestments, traditional church architecture.

OK, I do have to mention I went to Mass once at the cathedral, and when they broke out the tambourines for the Gloria, I got up and walked out and drove to my usual parish. Also, liturgical dancers in the Western church — oh please, no, no, no. I understand they may be traditional in other cultures; not this one.

I was married in the Episcopal Church, although not the one I’m attending now. I had the highest of high-church weddings. We had gorgeous music, incense, a nuptial Eucharist, a priest and deacon, the works. It was awesome. I could have had a wedding like that in the Catholic Church, but only in the parish where I heard the Obama/Hitler sermon. The parishes I knew who were more liberal were not likely to have folks who knew how to handle a thurible.

I did always feel, and feel still, that those folks who could be faithful Mass-goers under these circumstances are much better people than I am. I admire them.

And so then

About six months ago I threw up my hands and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I just don’t believe a lot of the things I’m supposed to believe in order to be Catholic. I can’t go to confession and I can’t take communion. I can’t do this “square peg/round hole” business anymore, where to get a liturgy that doesn’t make me want to stab myself with a fork I have to listen to reactionary politics from the pulpit and pretty much be told outright, ‘You can’t be a Democrat and a Catholic.’  There is no place I fit in here, and although for a few years I was convinced that if one were to be Christian one ought to be Catholic or Orthodox, I don’t know what to think now. I simply can’t do it.”

So I didn’t go anywhere.

However, in a forum I read, there’s an Episcopal priest and a couple of Episcopalians. One of them had just left the Lutheran Church for the EC. Apparently a seed was planted deep in my brain.

After awhile, I checked out Episcopal Churches in the city I live in and the city I work in. There’s an Anglo-Catholic parish near my office, which looked interesting, but I didn’t think I wanted to commute on Sundays too (although I could hit Evening Prayer or holy days after work). I didn’t want to go back to my original Episcopal parish; I read the Web sites of others. And I decided to visit the one I’ve been going to. They’re traditional but not high church (Morning Prayer once a month, no incense, that sort of thing). It’s okay about the lack of high-churchiness. I like that a lot, but that’s not a requirement for me. The facts that the music is wonderful, the liturgy is dignified (Rite I, the liturgy of the Eucharist celebrated ad orientem; the 8 AM service and the monthly MP service are out of the ’28 prayerbook — and if you live in my area you can now easily find my parish), the preaching and the writing in the bulletins and newsletters is serious and reverent where appropriate but also contains humor and even-handedness; that the Peace is controlled and calm and not a free-for-all; that no one applauds the music; that we’re allowed to intinct; that I can go to communion without having had to go for formal confession — all these things make me feel like I’ve taken off shoes that were too tight and put on a good pair.

Actually, that’s exactly what I felt when, several weeks before I went to this church, I got myself a BCP (not sure where my old ones went) and started saying Compline before bed again. It had been ten years since I had, but the words rushed over me and I thought, “Ah! Yes!” I wanted to test these waters before I got back into them. I didn’t want to be a Church-hopping dilettante. So I said Compline for about three weeks before I got up my courage and walked into an unfamiliar — and small! — church. As shy as I am in these situations, I still felt relaxed and at home.

I find that I feel freer to pray now that I did before. I still like formal prayers, of course, but for a long time as an RC I relied solely on them. I felt distant from God and really unable to simply speak to Him. Now I am better able to pray both formally and informally. I realize that God doesn’t change, but my perspective has.

Disclaimer

This is just me. It’s not an indictment of Catholics or Catholicism; I’m certainly not anti-Catholic even as I disagree with some of the official teachings of the church. I realize the more stridently orthodox will say that I’m a heretic and an apostate; that I am overly concerned with liturgy and not concerned enough with being in a state of grace; that my discomfort with mandated confession is just evidence of my unrepentant sinfulness; that my comfort with Anglicanism is just me settling into moral laxity. I disagree, of course — but for those who believe that, I say, good for them and God bless. I certainly don’t mind if they pray for my soul, because certainly we all need that. And surely, if I find myself unable in good conscience to be a faithful Catholic, would it not be better for me, again in good conscience, to attend a church whose tenets I do believe, and try to do the best I can there, rather than simply give up on faith altogether?

Also, the question may be asked: “Uh, didn’t you know what you were signing up for when you converted?” That has a “yes with a but” answer that will have to wait for another time.

And on that note, I am going to bed!

My favorite part of Compline:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ, give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Ah, a Sunday that’s Really a Saturday

I have a day off tomorrow, so tonight is really the same as a normal Saturday night. Yay!

About half my Christmas shopping is done. There are some folks I find it very difficult to buy for, and it’s not helped when all their Wish List stuff starts at $30 and we’re not that close but I still must get them something. I have definitely had some crazy stuff on my WL, but it’s balanced out by books around $10 and the option to buy a gift card at any price.

I did not start the final homeless-project scarf today as I’d intended. I slept badly last night; dreamt I’d bought a house with a pool but my ex-husband’s name had to be on it for some reason. Then the house turned into a condo, and I was living there with someone apparently, but he was really in a relationship with a guy down the hall and they were scheming to kill me to get me out of the way. I kept telling them I’d just leave; I think I woke up around the time I thought I’d locked them out but turned around and they were both there. Also, in order to get my mail, I had to reach up high into a cubbyhole that was suspended over the open part of a stairwell, which meant my mail ended up falling out of my grasp.

Dreams about houses and nice apartments are a very, very, very frequent occurrence for me and why is really a no-brainer. However, this was not the sort of dream I woke up disappointed (“oh, I’m still in this charmless cubbyhole of an apartment”) from.

Having slept like crap I didn’t feel like getting out of bed this morning, but it’s Advent and I got myself up, dressed, and off to church. There was a baptism and the priest has a sense of humor I really like, so it was all good. And I’d really missed the awesome music and singing in the Episcopal Church; it’s so good to have organ every Sunday and to sing all the verses to hymns and have them not be the 1970s-80s pabulum I’d been getting a lot of in the RCC. (I know, I need to cover that whole church issue at some point.)

I futzed about, met a friend for a latte and the handing-off of some yarn oddballs she’s going to donate for me, then I went to the store and got dinner. It was supposed to be a pork chop, some green beans and a baked potato, but the potato didn’t get done in time so it was pan-fried chops and beans I’d popped into the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Nom. I’m going to take the potato tomorrow, cube it and pan-fry it for lunch, I think.

It rained ferociously late this afternoon — we were sitting outside (but under the overhang)  at Starbucks because there were no indoor seats, and watched the heavens open up. It would let up slightly and then it would crash down in violent torrents. We finally realized we were just going to have to schlep back to our cars in the deluge. We were both wearing Chucks and they’re not the most waterproof of shoes, alas.

And here I am, at 9:15 on a Sunday night, not having the crushing Sunday despair. It’s odd, since I will start to feel slightly that way and then realize — oh wait, no! Tomorrow night won’t be quite like a Sunday, since one workday is already down, and Thursday is a short day for our Christmas party. I do wish that were on Friday, but at least we’re having one, offsite, and it’s not some truncated workplace thing like at my old job. (It used to be a 90-minute luncheon/singing contest at my old job but last year they cancelled it altogether, although we were allowed to have potlucks if we wanted to.)

Then I have next Monday off too. The week after that is short for Christmas. Then I’m back to full weeks til mid-January, but that’s how it goes.

I heard a quick thing on NPR tonight about how having kids and retiring early don’t mix. Dodged that bullet at least! I have a pension from my old job; if I stay here long enough I will have another; soon my deduction for our 457(b) plan (like a 401(k) for government workers) will kick in. I assume a portion of what I’d be entitled to under Social Security will still be available, even if only half or so. I definitely want to stop working at 62 if I can. If I stay where I am, I could retire from there at 62 and take that pension and my 457(b) — and I could go get another part-time job if I wanted to, since I can continue working as long as it’s not with the entity I work for now. At 65 I could collect my other pension, and 67 is my full SS age.

I so want to make sure I have a good chunk of living left after I can stop spending most of my waking hours working! My current job is fine; I like it. But I don’t want to be getting up early and going off to work and only getting home ten hours later for the rest of my life, you know? My dad had only about a year or so of retirement before he died. That would, quite plainly, suck.

I really should start that last scarf. I only have a week!

Advent I

I got my Advent wreath out last night; a few years ago my sister got me a ceramic one. I know I should probably get some greens to put around the base for more authenticity, but at least the cats don’t chew on ceramic. I’ll light the first candle and say Evening Prayer tonight. It’s funny how I really could use candles whenever, but tend not to except in Advent.

Church today was Morning Prayer from the 1928 prayerbook (more on why I was at an Episcopal, not RC, church later).  I’d actually never been to a ’28 service before and it’s right up my alley, so to speak. Also — sad but true — Morning Prayer not having a Peace cuts out the one thing about church that has made me slightly anxious since I started attending liturgical churches. It’s not that I don’t wish everyone peace, but the exchange has always made me feel awkward. At least in this church, when it isn’t MP, the Peace is very understated. I always hated going places where it became a five-minute mini-social where, if you’re shy like me, you’re standing there shifting from foot to foot after you’ve shaken the hands of the four people around you.

I like the quiet, dark, quasi-somberness of Advent; I’m not sure what I would do if I were experiencing Advent in the Southern Hemisphere, but as that’s unlikely to ever happen, I settle into the early dark and the candles quite happily.

So this morning was good.

Not-good is that my Kindle is playing up (email off to Amazon — worse comes to worst, I pop it back in the mail to them, since I have a 2-yr warranty) and that it is again freeeeezing in my apartment. Someday I will live somewhere that is possible to heat and has no upstairs neighbors!

Ah, so the Episcopal church. I think that will take another post.

Hey, e-reader

I was sitting outside the closest Starbucks to work today (there are two… of course there are). I’d gotten hot chocolate and  a croissant and was reading on my Kindle. I like to buy something when I use their wifi to download Kindle books. I’d gotten some .89 – 1.99 books; between them and the freebies it’s such a joy.

A young man — maybe 30ish — came up and said, “Excuse me, sister,” and began to explain that he was trying to get BART fare to Pittsburg, so he could go home to his mother. She said he could come home as long as he got on his psych meds.

Normally, I don’t give money to folks on the street. There are just too many of them, and some of them (young and intelligent-looking) make me irritated. However, I was reading Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism, and it seemed an unpleasant contrast to brush off this guy and go back to reading my religious book. My religious book on my Kindle. I had four ones and I gave them to him. He thanked me, said he’d talked to about twenty people and I was the first nice person, and asked how I liked my Kindle. He said, “I’m not a bum!” and indeed he seemed neat and clean.

He walked by a few minutes later and called out, “Hey, e-reader!” I looked up and smiled and he said, “If only more people were nice!” I said I’d looked to see if I had an old BART ticket, but I didn’t. I did give him another dollar in quarters; he had my four ones and an old card with not much on it. It’s about six bucks to get from San Francisco to Pittsburg. He told me he’d come to SF to kill himself and ended up in the psych ward, and that he was bipolar. He rattled off all the drugs they’d prescribed him.

I don’t know if his story was true, although I think that one probably would have had to have the experience to know all those drugs — none of them were the common Prozac or Xanax type. He didn’t seem like a street person but he did seem sort of embarrassed and uncomfortable and anxious — which is how I spend a lot of my time, even though I am a “respectable” member of society with a full-time fairly-well-paying job, an apartment, a car, cats and food and on and on.

So I parted with five bucks, and if he was lying, well, I make more than five times that in an hour — I am fortunate. I felt happy as he walked away, and I didn’t feel hypocritical going back to my book on mysticism. For even a nominal Christian, both “do unto others” and “as you did to the least of these, you have done to me,” should at least occasionally pass through one’s consciousness. I know I fail in that a lot — especially with people whom I know well, who drive me nuts, and who aren’t asking for money but for my attention — but at least today I didn’t. And if he was really a bipolar, suicidal guy who wanted to get to his mom’s, then I am triply happy, and I hope he’s there having dinner now.