Janie and I returned from our 36 hour adventure in Kennewick late last night and we quickly spilled into bed and drifted off. Before I faded, I could hear Carson eagerly drinking from her water bowl for what seemed like minutes. Her rhythmic lapping sent me to dreams of her peeing all over Janie’s pillow.
We arrived in Kennewick late on Friday evening and quickly tore off our pants and laid on the bed, before turning on the television. We seem to have made a habit of this…watching television without our pants on. Whenever we sit in front of the screen, it’s like they instantly fall down to our ankles. From time to time I’ll see mine across the room and have no recollection of how they got there. It’s probably for the best that we have moved our only television into the bedroom. No one but Janie should be relegated to the horrors of seeing me without pants.
We landed on a 20/20 episode focused on the topic of Hell. I was instantly drawn in, as I have often been told that I’ll be heading straight there when I die. The story featured Carlton Pearson, a man who once led a congregation 6000 strong until he was struck with the realization that hell did not exist but in the minds and makings of human beings. It was wonderful to hear an evangelical preacher step out with new and revolutionary ideas. He risked his entire career on a new set of beliefs and the knowledge that he was put here to share this concept he names the Gospel of Inclusion. His congregation dwindled to a few hundred very quickly. He went from filling arenas with devotees to renting church space for sharing his message. I admired his tenacity, his honesty; his openness to new ideas. Finally I had seen the picture of a human being, a religious man, a PREACHER, who was open to change and to acceptance. I felt, for a moment, a sense of calm, like maybe this society, with the conservative cloud that’s been looming above for so long, might lift its grasp. I felt, for a moment, that there was hope for understanding; for revolutionary change.
The following afternoon, after we took Janie’s first trip into a WalMart store for gluten-free snacks not otherwise provided by the hotel’s free breakfast, we attended the wedding of a distant cousin. It was a Catholic ceremony (another first for Janie) inside a church filled with crosses, religious statues and a picture of the Pope. The priest was missing his middle finger. This I noticed while he gave a sermon that I didn’t pay much attention to until I thought I’d heard him say “We don’t believe in science, we believe in God.” I whispered to my sister, “Did he just say ‘We don’t believe in science?'” She replied, “I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. But I noticed he’s missing a finger.” I turned to Janie, “Did he just say we don’t believe in science, we believe in God?” She nodded. I was horrified.
This is something I don’t remember from years ago in religion class. Could it be that I paid so little attention back then that it slipped by? It was after this that I began to feel pretty angry. Angry that I’d spent so many years being force fed some bullshit ideology that has taken me years to shake. Years of church-going and religion classes have given me an incredible sense of guilt and fear in many respects. I have to work hard some days to understand how my feelings might be related to what I’d been taught, what I’d been told to believe at a time in my life that I didn’t know there was a choice. It became frustrating, this weekend, to sit in a church and listen again as the priest denounced science without so much as a mention of all the good it has done. How can anyone look at the world around us, the technological advancements we have, and say we believe in God instead of science? Later, the priest led the attendees in prayer that those elected to political office in our nation would “do what was necessary to uphold the ideals of family.” I knew this was a stab at gay-marriage and I rolled my eyes…seeing so clearly how little I fit in to a community I had grown up in. The struggle now isn’t pulling away from that and recognizing that I have a choice where I didn’t see one before, it’s trying to identify with my family, my parents in particular, and explain how my beliefs and ideals have changed so drastically and that it’s okay. I don’t want them to believe I’m going to Hell for being gay. I don’t want them to believe I’m going to Hell for not believing that the Bible is anything other than a great work of fiction.
This weekend was, if anything, a rubber stamp on my separation from the Catholic Church. I’d long believed I was separate, that my beliefs would not fit in, but sitting there during mass, listening to the priest , I felt so distant. I felt a disconnect that gave me permission to let go. I like that feeling – of having an opportunity to leave behind an a belief system that I am so far apart from. I feel like I’ve given myself permission to let go and to seek new ideas. I like that.