A Poem in Time of Christmas War

red cup

I

Their red paper corpses litter the ground.

Blood red, hideous blood red.

Sides pierced through,

with innards spilling out in puddles–

puddles of bitter black sludge.

II

A battle arose here this night,

a bloody battle in the longest war.

The massacre of the paper receptacles,

by the uprising of the faithful.

III

“You took away our God!” they cried,

as they wept bitterly at the plain red.

Their eyes burned with the anger of 1000 Pharaohs,

as coins departed their pockets for cheerless sustenance.

IV

The persecuted will not go quietly into that mirthless establishment.

Their voices will ring out across the nations,

till all the exhausted, fatigued patrons of the black sludge

hear their battle cry:

“Give us our snowmen! Give us our snowflakes!

In the name of Jesus, give us our caffeine!”

– A.M. Boyle

A Totally Legit Scientific Study in Contemporary Christian Music

Christian concert

If you like Contemporary Christian music, this post may open your eyes, but will more likely offend you. Leave now and continue to listen in Godly bliss or stay and fight for Jesus by unleashing your wrath on me in the comments.

I’m going to share a scientific fact with you.

Contemporary Christian music is shit.

There is a lot of shit music out there, most of it subjective to individual opinion, but this, my friends, is an entire genre proven to be the most insincere, inauthentic collection of music ever written. No other conclusions can be drawn from the empirical evidence. Studies suggesting otherwise have been proven false.

It is not “catchy.” It is not “fun.” It is not “cool” or “hip” or “modern.” It is not “bringing more people to the church with its relevance to pop culture.” It has nothing to do with pop culture. It has nothing to do with Christian culture. It is a culture of generic, store-brand artistry, in which music execs make bank by getting songwriters to assemble several sentences worth of Christian buzz words into a formulaic progression of I and V chords, modulate a few times, throw words onto a projector, and tell e’ry one at the club (sorry…church) to put their hands in the air like the Lord does care.

I’m not talking about modern sacred music written for the church. I’m talking about the actual genre “Contemporary Christian.” You know what I’m talking about. When you flip through the radio stations, and you think you’ve come to some familiar pop song, but…something’s a little off…is the singer hooked up to morphine? Did the band overdose on anti-depressants? And you can just picture some wide-eyed woman with 80’s hair and a blouse buttoned past her neck, singing on a mega-stage with a trance-like grin on her face.

I have respect for every other genre of music. I mean that. Hey, I don’t listen to all of it, but I understand the roots, the culture, the image, the background, the political and inspirational movements of everything from death metal to country. But Contemporary Christian is like the rip-off, Chinese counterfeit of all of these genres. Here are a few quotes I’ve collected to submit as evidence to my claims:

“Oh hey, death metal is so raw and emotional; let’s make a Christian version. This way we can reach emotional high school misfits by screaming incoherently about Jesus!”

– a smart music exec who wanted a paycheck

“Oh hey, pop songs have sick beats and are relevant to all the kids these days. Except, we don’t want our good little Christian children to listen to any artist who hasn’t been approved by our Christian record label. Let’s make kids feel guilty about ascribing to pop culture, and make a Christian version of every artist! We’ll trick them into feeling like they’re part of the counter-movement to mainstream pop music. This is how Christianity will become cool again!”

– a smart music exec who wanted a paycheck

“Oh hey, we haven’t been paid in a while. Christians are suckers for hip, new worship music–let’s pump out some generic love songs to Jesus that will make him re-enter his tomb so he can roll over in it.”

– smart music execs who wanted paychecks

There you have it. These are actual quotes from real music executives. They are tricking you into thinking that this music is a genre born of a unique religious movement in this country. But it’s not. The genre is a rip-off of every other genre of music, made “cool” and “original” by slapping the word Christian in front of it.

Christian Rock, Christian Pop, Christian Bluegrass, Christian Country (redundant, I know), Christian Death Metal, Christian Jazz.

It’s like, by putting the word Christian in front of it, you’re getting the seal of approval by Jesus himself to listen to this music. Don’t fall for it. Don’t be fooled into liking this crap. This is the devil’s music. Actually, the devil himself can’t even be bothered with this music. He’s moved on to Miley Cyrus or something.

Don’t even try the “Well, I happen to like so and so…and her/his music is good, even though it’s Christian.”

Don’t give that crap to me. That artist would be considered good in any other genre of music, but some label decided they could make the most money from this artist by categorizing their music as “Contemporary Christian,” thereby dooming them to a career of singing “God, you’re awesome–we are not worthy” 50 different ways for 10 different albums.

Don’t be fooled. Be constantly vigilant. You turn that radio dial to the real stations ASAP. Sing church camp songs around the campfire. Sing hymns. Listen to a choir, any choir. Play your guitar, drum set, or keyboard with your God-given talent and hard work. But don’t fall for the Contemporary Christian music, I implore you.

Why I’m Not a Unitarian

social-media-world

You might think that someone like me–an agnostic Christian who, nevertheless, thinks God is much bigger and more complex than one single religion–would be happy in the Unitarian Church. After all, the Unitarian-Universalist Church has roots in Christianity–in people who believed as I do. Their belief is that religious authority cannot be found in one book, one institution, or one person. Faith in God–or lack thereof–is a personal conviction, in which an individual’s mind, conscience, and experience have the final say. There is no book or doctrine other than “there is no book or doctrine.”

I do agree with the concept. I believe God manifests herself in many different world religions and spiritual journeys. I don’t think one religion has it right, and I definitely agree that religion is best left “to each his own” rather than “you’re wrong, I’m right.”

So why not the Unitarian church?

Well, I did attend for a summer, actually. And it was…um…spiritually void? I can’t really explain it. It was like, in the quest to allow every single person their own spiritual journey, the collective journey was lost. People were all over the place. There was no mention of God ever, because, well, God might not be a part of the spiritual journey for some congregants.

We read poetry. We sang. We lit candles. We fought for social justice.

Boy, did we fight for social justice.

That’s really all we had, collectively. We had no central God, no rituals, no common prayers, and no doctrine, but we were decent human beings with consciences, dammit.

Every Sunday was like attending a pep rally for social justice. It was exciting and uplifting for a while. I was swept up. I mean, I’m all for social justice like the next person, but pretty soon I was like “this is it? Why is this even called church?”

I’d finally had enough when, one Sunday, we sang a resounding rendition of “We’ve Got The Whole World in Our Hands” (to the tune of, you guessed it, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”) while the congregation bounced around a giant beach ball that looked like the Earth, and various gay and lesbian congregants danced in circles in the aisles, holding hands. I’m not even joking. I can’t make this up. I think we had just finished rallying for gay marriage, waaaaay back in the day when it  wasn’t legal everywhere (dinosaurs may have been alive too).

Look, I know not all Unitarian churches are as hokey as this one turned out to be, but I realized that I needed a helping of God with my social justice. I needed a semblance of a story and some goddam rituals. I needed songs that gave glory to God instead of glory to ourselves. And I may not believe in Christianity the way I was told I was supposed to believe it. But I believe in it. And I knew it was the place for me.

Now I get paid to go to the Episcopalian church, but that’s beside the point. I feel at home there. And if I were to lose my job tomorrow (please, God, let them tithe to the music fund), I have a feeling I’d end up in the Episcopalian Church anyway (maybe one closer to home).

Farewell to Fear

fear-of-the-lord_wide_t_nv

Stop letting fear rule your faith.

You’re not going to burn in the eternal fire of hell if you choose the wrong faith. Your friends and loved ones aren’t going to burn in hell for having a different faith than you.

Life is not a test to see if you choose the right faith.

God is not saying, “Haha, joke’s on you! The right religion was this other one, so you’re all going to burn in hell! By the way, I love you guys!”

God wants all of us to have a relationship with Her. There are many paths to God.

There is no one right way.

Don’t let anyone tell you there is. They didn’t discover that for themselves. Someone told them there was only one way. And someone told the person who told them. And so on and so forth.

Stop having faith “just to be safe” or “just in case.” This is no way to have faith.

Faith is not for averting something bad. It’s for pursuing something good.

Let go of fear, and pursue what is Good.

Literally Not True: 2 Biblical Facts as Metaphors

literal

I believe a lot of things in the Bible are, literally, not factual. I know this because I prayed and God told me. For me, Christianity is about symbolism. I have a sneaking suspicion the authors of the Bible felt the same way. The Bible is full of dream interpretations, parables, poetic metaphors, and strangely detailed stories depicting apocalyptic horse chariots, plagues, dying cows, golden idols, coins, numbers…lots and lots of specific numbers.

Heck, the entire depiction of Jesus’ life might very well be symbolic. (I know–I’m a heretic.) None of us know for sure what the original intent was of the Biblical authors; therefore, we–religious folk and heathens alike–can debate and decide for ourselves how we want to interpret the Bible and its contents. We get to decide what meaning the Bible has for us in our lives, if any. We can decide whether to interpret it symbolically, literally, or anything in between.

Just know that if you choose the wrong interpretation, you will burn in Hell for eternity.

Just kidding.

The movement to interpret everything in the Bible literally is relatively recent. Perhaps because of this, or, more likely, just the sheer amount of time that has passed since its origin, I think much of the symbolism in the Bible has either lost its original meaning entirely or is simply too difficult to interpret correctly in modern context. Oh well. Symbols change over time. Growing, evolving religions give rise to new symbols with new meanings that replace old, outdated ones. The Bible is a living text.

The old symbols and stories of the Bible don’t have to die though. Nor do they have to become historically true facts to have meaning in our lives. We can still gain wisdom, truth, and knowledge from a thousands-year-old story without believing it actually happened. Many Biblical “facts” have deeper meaning for me as metaphors than as true events. Here are 2 of my favorite examples:

1. The Virgin Birth

The meaning of female virginity is one of those things that hasn’t changed much in prudish society over the years. Despite arduous efforts to de-stigmatize female sexual pleasure, virginity still represents the purity, virtue, and innocence of an “untainted” woman. Biblical narrative has it, the Holy Spirit swooped down and got Mary pregnant without “defiling” her. Oh, how miraculous! With God, anything is possible, including an intact hymen at the time of birth! Yes, a virgin birth is miraculous and special and supernatural. But, for me, when taken literally, it’s the first story to ever perpetuate the myth that nothing good can come from female sexual enjoyment–like God could not even have been bothered to let Mary enjoy the process of depositing his son into her womb. Oh, the horror!

Why it’s better as a symbol: Nope, Mary was not a virgin in the literal sense–I believe she is one of billions to experience God’s perfect reproductive miracle that is having sex, becoming pregnant, and carrying a healthy baby to full term. Seems unremarkable to anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves, but Mary’s case was extraordinary. Her child’s legacy was to be the most influential representative of God recent civilization has ever seen. So, if she wasn’t a virgin, then what could her virginity symbolize? For me, it’s simple. Her purity, innocence, and “virginity” are revealed through the fact that Jesus was nobody at the time. Just another baby. An unremarkable baby. Precious to her alone. She knew nothing about his future, his ministry, his status. Can you imagine the insufferable mother of someone who knew her kid was the Messiah? Her virginity is an important symbol of her innocence and naivety that her child would ever be anyone in the world.

2. Baptism

That beautiful ritual with the pouring and sprinkling of the water. Whether you’re leaning over a bowl of holy water or being thrown convulsing into a body of water, the essential element–the most important symbol–is the cleansing, life-giving water. According to Biblical narrative, Jesus himself was baptized with water by John, and the Holy Spirit was all like *flit flit flit* “This is my Son who I like…why are you baptizing him? He is without sin.” *flit flit flit*

(The above narrative has been altered to include sarcasm.)

Why it’s better as a symbol: OK, here goes–I don’t think Jesus was perfect. The story of his baptism is immediately followed by a struggle in the wilderness, where the devil is like “Do magic,” and Jesus is like, “No thanks, but I’ll keep following you around for 40 days.” Do I think it literally happened? OK, maybe he was baptized, especially since that was a common ritual at the time. But unless someone discovers “My 40 Day Wilderness Experience: Written by Jesus Christ,” the entire story, for me, serves as a metaphor for the journey we all take: Our new beginnings, our struggle in the “wilderness,” our aimless wanderings, and our inevitable return to a community of “angels,” where we renew our commitment to the purposeful journey.

Our baptism ritual is not a literal forgiveness of all future sins–it’s the symbolic beginning of a journey in faith. A beginning that makes no guarantees about making life any easier. We can choose another journey, we can ignore the journey completely, and we can most definitely give into despair in the wilderness. But baptism is as much about cleansing as it is about having a community of people to return to after our wandering “in the wilderness.” The story of Jesus’ baptism and our own ritual of that symbolic story gives us reassurance that we can return to a community of supporters, no matter where the journey takes us.

Full disclosure: This list started out as 10 Favorite Untruths, then it went to 5, then 3, and now, I’m throwing in the towel and calling it 2. Hardly a list. The point is, the Bible is so FULL of symbolism, that I could spend a month writing about all the things the different stories mean to me. These are just 2 examples, but almost every passage I read means so much more when I bother to think about the symbolism and the poetic meaning behind it, rather than convincing myself that it actually happened. I’ve given up on the latter. And that’s the fun/scary thing about the Bible, or any religious text. The authors are long dead, so we can interpret it however we want! We can use it for nice things or mean things, and we’ll all think that we alone are right in interpreting the word of God.

Hold On Honey, I’m Busy Indoctrinating the Kids

Child-indoctrination

Kids are sponges. They’ll believe anything you tell them, because they’re hard-wired to learn as much as they can about the world around them in the shortest amount of time.

We adults sometimes take pleasure in exploiting this vulnerability–like the Calvin and Hobbes strips where Calvin asks his dad how something works, and his dad gives him an outrageous explanation that is humorously false to the reader, yet Calvin hangs on his every word with wide-eyed amazement at how the world works.

Part of raising children is sharing our version of the world with them. We do our best to tell them how the world works, and they believe it, until they experience it for themselves. There comes a moment when they start to question what they’ve been taught. There’s probably a psychological term for it–when an adolescent first discovers that the world isn’t what she thought it was.

This is how it is with religion: Children raised in religious homes are indoctrinated and raised according to religious teachings. Children learn, through various texts and teachings, how the world works–how it was created, why we’re here, what happens when we die, etc…

They are given all the answers in terms they can understand. And, when they begin to mature intellectually–when they start to question what they’ve been taught–they are either encouraged to scrutinize and explore their faith on their terms or they are told that doubt is a “test of faith” that can be passed or failed.

I’m not here to argue which coming-of-age method is better (though I have my personal opinion, which I think the majority probably share). I’m here to share my experience and to look back on all the conflicting information that was fed to me by all the different adults in my life–all the well-meaning adults with all the different doctrines and all the different explanations.

My hometown is very religious. To this day, there are many evangelicals who believe it is their life’s work to put the fear of God into as many children and adolescents as possible.

I attended the Methodist church growing up. It was a comfortable, welcoming, friendly place to learn about God, without sneaky agenda or aggressive technique. We liked potlucks, pie-throwing contests, musical gatherings, mission-based youth projects, and camping. None of these extra-curricular activities were used to rope people in so we could then give them a pamphlet, a Bible, and a scripted message about God. In fact, as a child, I wasn’t even taught what to say to someone who didn’t believe.

But, for some of my friends, I wasn’t Christian enough. I didn’t believe the right things strongly enough. I was too ambiguous about whether everything in the Bible was literally true. I wasn’t trying to convert people at every turn. I wasn’t sharing my Christian joy enough.

And this confused me. My church seemed friendly and fun. Who wouldn’t want to go to church??  But I had adults from other churches telling me I should be trying harder to convert my friends. I should be going to the right church with the right people who would lift me up.

It all started to fall apart for me by 8th grade. In 8th grade, we switched churches, and I volunteered at Vacation Bible School, where we taught little kids about Pharaoh, Moses, and those pesky Egyptians. We sang delightful songs about all the first-born babies being righteously killed, and we played games about the army of Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea:

“Can you make it through the sea kids before the water collapses and drowns you? Run as fast as you can!”

High school was even more of an eye-opener. I saw friends congratulated for recruiting the most people to church. I saw others break down, cry, and accept Jesus at Christian music concerts. I saw adults and teens alike hero-worship a teacher who taught religious doctrine and conservative politics under the guise of US history. I saw a baccalaureate ceremony turn into a fiery speech for anyone in the audience who hadn’t yet found Jesus (congrats graduates, you’ve earned yourself an alter call!). And people stood up and applauded for minutes.

I remember writing on the back of one my test papers in US History, that, thanks to this class, I had realized I wasn’t a Christian. My teacher wrote back saying that he hoped I found the Truth one day. I can’t imagine how my writing must have crushed him–after all that hard work he’d put into indoctrinating us. He was in the habit of gaining converts, not losing those who had been Christian once.

I never felt Godly enough. It was like there was some sort of secret among the Christian elite that I was not privy to. Like I had somehow missed the God train, and I was too far gone to be recovered. I had been raised in the wrong church–I’d already been exposed to all of it, so my Christian friends couldn’t exploit my vulnerability with the life-changing newness of the Gospel.

And I wondered to myself why I couldn’t just believe it all. Why couldn’t I just believe everything in the Bible and make it my mission in life to convert all my friends. Why couldn’t I just, unquestioningly, unfalteringly believe it.

I couldn’t do it. Maybe I was too far gone. Maybe my eyes had been opened to the conflicting doctrine, the arguing adults, the murky waters of ulterior motives, the greyness of the world. I discovered that the world wasn’t black and white, and there was no going back. I discovered that right and wrong were subjective, that good and bad were debatable. There was no clear answer to me then, and to this day, there is still no clear answer. And I thank God for it.

I have no answers. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know what God is. And I’m convinced that all those people who tried to indoctrinate me, who tried to convert me, and who finally gave up don’t know either. They have their explanation for things, and it’s good for them. It gives them hope, comfort, and purpose in life, and that is a beautiful thing.

I am at peace with my ambiguity. I’m at peace with my vagueness . I’m at peace with my unknowable, mysterious, unconvincing God, who is ever out of reach, but who is, nevertheless, there.

Now how do I indoctrinate my future children with that explanation?

The Divine County Clerk

county-clerk

Apparently, God’s secretary

To this we’ve come–the inevitable backlash to the same-sex marriage ruling last week:

Some county clerks with specific religious convictions are being dragged, kicking and screaming, into issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Never mind that, in the past, they’ve issued licenses to:

  • atheists
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • murderers
  • prostitutes
  • drug dealers
  • hypocrites
  • gluttons
  • sloths

Now, of a sudden revelation, they’ve decided that their Christian convictions prevent them from issuing licenses to sinners–to those who would desecrate the sacred, holy sanctity of a government-issued marriage contract.

Excuse me while I vomit.

Where was this idea born that a civil marriage contract is somehow pure, virtuous, holy, and divine? It’s a freaking government document that allows two people to enjoy legal financial and custodial benefits together. Virtuous and divine are simply not on the list of words to describe a government document. It’s like saying the Holy Spirit swoops down and blesses your tax documents with his omnipotent power.

…”Oh Lord, bless thou this 60-page Turbo Tax printout, that your divine will may be done through these monies which I must legally provide to the virtuous, holy government of these United States…”

Now, a marriage sanctioned by the church is a different matter. We religious folk tend to think idealistically–that our marriages are blessed by God, and that our sin will never get in the way of what God has joined together. Obviously, a lot of us fail at that part. We try.

But most of realize that what the government recognizes and what God recognizes are two different things. Now, I personally believe any union, regardless of gender, race, or age, made in the spirit of Love is blessed by God, but I know there are those who believe differently than me. I know there are those who think a wedding performed without the proper religious rites, ceremony, and pre-marital counseling are not a true marriage in the eyes of the church.

But, sorry, government employees, you don’t get to look through the lens of your church to wield your civil authority. Your religion won’t sanction a legal marriage because it’s not up to your religious standards? That’s great. Issue them a civil marriage license, so they can get married somewhere else. As in not your church. The government is not your church.

Isn’t it great that we can separate these things–legal authority and religious authority–so that one religion’s convictions don’t get to decide the entire country’s legal decisions and protections? It’s almost like our founding fathers knew what the hell they were doing.