Losing My Religion and Getting right with God

Some would say I've gone astray. You see, I don't attend church anymore. Unless you think of laying in the grass, listening to birds chirp, basking in the sun, or walking barefoot in the garden while being extraordinarily aware of God, church experiences. If you do, then I can honestly say that I love my church and I'll never leave it. :)

Why have I stopped attending scheduled church services in scheduled meeting places? There are too many reasons for me to address in one blog. One of the biggest reasons is that the church works so hard to teach and enforce the rules to the masses that it's often blind to the needs of individuals. When I went to church I was always worried about doing the right thing and following God's will. I thought I needed to do this or that hard thing to be right with Him. There's a perverse sort of pride that comes with giving up what one loves or wants for the sake of "following God's will."

Here's a novel idea: what if God simply loves us without the requirement of religion? What if there is no getting right with God there's just "with God?"

So much of what we're taught ABOUT God simply binds us up. It doesn't free us. I think of King David and what a joyful sinner he was and what an incessant WHINER, too. Yet he was a man after God's own heart. I think about that a lot. The Pharisees were busy rocking the rules and looking good, but God was enamored of this adulterer and murderer who was so incredibly blessed yet whined like a baby about every little thing, then jumped and sang and shouted. :)

David was AUTHENTIC. He was real. He represents each of us in our humanity, I think. Yet, instead of emulating him in his authenticity, we somehow end up wanting to emulate the Pharisees! THAT is what I see happening in churches and in religion as a whole.

I'm not suggesting that one should go out and murder and commit adultery. I'm simply suggesting that God may be far less concerned with rules and religion than he is with, say, seeing his people love one another.

I haven't gone astray and I'm not lost. I simply let go of religion and found my way back to God.

©Just Kate, March 2010

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Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones...

She walked down the hallway in her bare feet. The house was dark and quiet. She slipped into the bathroom quietly, pushed a towel up against the crack at the bottom of the door before switching on the light.

The bathroom mirror was big. Too big. She typically made a point of wearing her hair like a shroud 'round her face so she wouldn't see her reflection and other people wouldn't see her, but this time she took a deep breath and shook her hair back.

She was surprised by the girl she saw looking back from the mirror. Her eyes were so sad and guarded. You wouldn't think a 12-year-old would know to identify them as such but she was a girl who paid attention to people and saw too much. She wondered what she would one day be, if she would be ugly or by some miracle maybe a little bit pretty. Maybe she would be grossly fat. Her dad had reminded her at dinner when she'd eaten corn with her mashed potatoes that pigs eat corn. Of course, he was eating it, too, but there was a message there and she didn't miss it. She would be fat, ugly. It was her destiny.

It wasn't long before she was a teenager. She wore her hair long to cover her face, kept her head down, hid her mouth with her hand when she laughed. When some boy said she was pretty, she thought he was making fun of her. When another boy said it she lost all respect for him. If he was THAT stupid, he wasn't worth knowing. How pathetic.

Eventually, she got it. She realized that some people couldn't see the truth, that for some reason they were immune to it. She knew what she was and that was worthless. Her father saw it. Her brother confirmed it. But some people seemed to miss it altogether. She never learned to trust them. She trusted anger. Anger always told the truth, didn't it?

She became adept at pretending but the more she had to pretend the less real she felt until she became utterly invisible. You could do whatever you wanted to her and she wouldn't even feel it.

She eventually ran away from home, tried to run away from herself, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't leave herself behind. One day someone observed to her that she was made for suffering, that she had a penchant for it like he'd never seen before. Although they weren't spoken in anger, she recognized his words as truth, and thus began the slow unraveling of the lie.

Years went by and she became more and more real. She never really went back home. She tried. But home was a place where she ceased to exist, it was inhabited by that girl she'd been, and she felt like she might lose herself to that girl again if she stayed too long near home.

That girl was me. It's still hard to look at her because she breaks my heart. Why do parents sometimes hate their children? Why do people hate one another? Where do those angry words come from? We can build and deconstruct people with our words. That old kids poem, the one about sticks and stones breaking bones while names will never hurt us? It's a lie. We shouldn't tell our children such things. Words are powerful.

I grew to love words, to live inside of them. Words capture truth and lies, reveal beauty and ugliness, create peace and cause wars. I know how to wound with words and I know how to heal. I pray that God will remind me, always, not to intentionally inflict pain.

Mother Theresa said, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." Those are powerful words and true. When I get angry I say those words quietly to myself to remind me of our shared humanity.

If I could heal the world, I would.

©Just Kate, March 2010

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God in the Grass

Dew soaked grass against bare feet, soaks the hem of her jeans as she tip toes across the yard on an early Spring morning. The birds trilling in the trees seem so incredibly happy, so full of joy they have no choice but to sing.

From the grass to the barn road, ouch, ouch, ouch, she gingerly steps across the rocks. It’s not wise to go out to the barn in bare feet, but sometimes there’s no other way. The earth calls to be stepped on, to be touched. It’s as if God is in the very soil, saying walk with me.

The ponies neigh happy greetings. She has no illusions. It’s food they want, not company. The smallest one nips at her as she passes by and gets a swat on the nose, followed by an affectionate rubbing of her forehead. Pony girls have a tendency toward naughtiness, but they’re cute as hell.

She tosses hay into each stall, then slips on her Fat Baby cowboy boots, the pair she leaves in the barn because she knows she’ll be coming out barefoot as long as the weather holds. Slipping into the first stall with a curry comb, she creates an explosion of white fur. Fur in her mouth and nose. She and the pony sneeze at the same time and she laughs. The pony laughs too. She can’t see it but she feels it, like God in the grass and earth.

Barn swallows are brave little souls. They swoop down and fill their beaks with so much fluffy white fur it’s a wonder they can fly, but they do. The nests in the rafters are lined in downy white. God smiles at the same time she does, watching their happy industriousness.

Not so long ago, she would have ran back to the barn in church clothes, tossed hay at the ponies and hopped in the car, racing not to be late. Hello, hello, hello, good morning, across the parking lot she would go, hoping not to be waylaid before arriving at the church bookstore where a line already awaits her, but nobody really waits. They talk at once, asking questions she can’t possibly answer as she counts the money, marks her sheet, holds up a hand palm out, politely asking for a moment to put everything together.

By the time the service starts and she closes up shop, she’s harried and frazzled and has to stand in the back, so as not to disrupt worship. Her feet hurt, so she surreptitiously kicks off her shoes and slides them under the usher’s bench, until an usher passes by with an arched eyebrow and stern look. Right. Shoes back on. Apparently, God is not in the church floor the way he’s in the grass and earth.

The music is lovely. All around her, lifted arms reach for God. It’s meant to be an immersion, a surrender, an act of worship but it looks for all the world like they’re reaching for a God they cannot grasp. Perhaps it’s only ritual. How many minds are back at home, mowing the grass, playing tennis, drinking a beer and watching the game they know they’re missing.

Everywhere she looks, hands are dropping to adjust ties and tug at the hems of skirts. Everyone’s dressed carefully, hoping God will notice. Oh, who are we kidding. It’s not for God, not really. It’s preening, something birds are way better at and more sincere. A preening bird makes God smile in a way high heels never will.

End of service, praise God, brother, sister, kiss kiss, how are you. There’s no time to answer because he’s walked past fast, followed by him and her and her. Coffee time! Can’t miss coffee time and fellowship. Hurry up!

There’s a certain lingo in the church. God is in control. Are you spending time in the word? How’s your walk? Give it to God, brother, sister, other brother. Can I pray for you? Long words, fancy words, well practiced, sometimes sincere, mostly rote.

It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time. But more and more Sundays she wakes up and can’t find the impetus to get dressed and out the door, to rush the kids and the family, who don’t have time for breakfast, to smack, quick, quick, dog food in bowls and hay to horses, and zoom to church. How many people get speeding tickets, racing to bible study or church? She’s seen more than a few, including the pastor’s wife who blustered and blushed and insisted the speed limit sign wasn’t clearly visible. Never mind that she traveled that same road two thousand billion, jillion times before.

A day off. A day of rest. A day with God. And here he is. The wet hems of her jeans are covered in sawdust and she can’t get the pony fur out of her mouth. She laughs as the dog licks her hand and gets a tongue full of fur for his efforts. They cough together, fingers to tongue, paw to face. Note to self: don’t brush the ponies in the barn during the yearly Spring blow out. She opens stall doors and watches as the pony girls leap and buck and tumble, one over the other, pure joy, making God smile some more. She brings new hay, the other stuff will go to compost ‘cause there’s way too much white fur in it.

On a bale of hay, face tipped to the sun, barn cats twining round her legs, dog panting at her side, she pulls off her Fat Baby boots and listens to the earth praise God in a beautiful, natural chorus that cannot be scheduled or contained. It just… is. Happy trees reach toward heaven. Birds fly, swoop, twitter, cheep, even the dog smiles, feeling God in his very bones.

This is her church, her worship, her congregation. The breeze is God’s touch. The earth his heartbeat. She’ll never call a church building or ritual gathering church again, and it is good.

©Just Kate, March 2010

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    About Me

    I love laughter, wickedness, fearlessness, irreverence, and kindness. I love road trips where I can prop my bare feet up on the dashboard. I love the feel of sunshine warm against my bare skin, the smell of the mountains and the roar of the ocean. I love to read. I love to challenge conventional thinking. I'm a huge fan of spirituality but have little tolerance for religion. I love to talk faith and philosophy. I love children. I get bored far too easily. I love debate and people who don't try too hard. I love it when people aren't afraid to disagree with me and know why they believe what they believe.


    Things that sound like music to me: rain on a tin roof, the trill of birds first thing in the morning, the coo and gurgle of happy babies, the beat of African drums, the roar of the ocean as the tide ebbs and flows, the sound of a rushing river, unrestrained laughter, the wind moving through leaves, the tick-tock of my grandma's old clock, the crash of thunder, a quiet whisper in my ear, the contented purr of a cat, the musical ting ting of wind chimes, children laughing, the sizzle sizzle sound of something yummy cooking, and the rustle of dry leaves under my feet.

    I also enjoy many musicians and bands including: Ray LaMontagne, Jason Mraz, The Black Eyed Peas, John Mayer, James Carrington, CCR, REM. My favorite genre is acoustic folk/rock.

    Favorite Quotes

    "We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." —Aristotle

    "The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering." - Ben Okri

    "What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do."—John Ruskin