The long post in which I answer THE question…
February 2, 2011
“Are you a Christian?” There, I’ve been asked. It’s not really a casual question, is it? It’s not like, “Do you like chocolate, yes or no?” or “Do you want to go to the park today?” or “Aren’t you that girl from my French class?” It’s a loaded question, a “Does my bottom look big in this?” question. It’s a personal question, a “What color underwear are you wearing?” question.
It’s asking for a definition. Are you in the club or out of the club? I’ve lived long enough to know the ramifications of answering such a question.
I also know that answering “I believe that religion is a personal matter” might lead to inaccurate speculation, assumptions and judgments.
Answering this question is also an exercise in diplomacy and courage, as my main market for Arithmetic Village is American Home schoolers whom happen to be predominately Christian.
Let me begin by answering the question in terms of my business, since that was the context of the question:
Arithmetic Village is a simple math program created for all children of all religions and all cultural backgrounds so they may be gently introduced to math concepts. The characters represent their respective math functions. The Village is also intentionally positive. There are only kind words and respectful interactions. It has been suggested that I create conflict or more of a story in each books but many wonderful children’s books lack conflict or plots ..ie Goodnight Moon. The values represented in these books are not religiously based athough many reigions share similar vaues of love and kindness. If you find similarities with your religion or philosophical viewpoints, that is a bonus, I want to include everyone.
I hold transparency in higher regard than privacy, and because of this, I will attempt to answer THE question…
Let’s start by talking football. Do you like the 49’ers or the Raiders? There is a difference. I find that like football teams, the people who support the team tend to hold that preference because of their location. Muslims are in the Middle East. Buddhists in Asia. Hindus in India, Christians in Europe and the US. Yes, there are Steelers fans in Boise, but they are unique. I believe that location and culture have an impact on what type of team you subscribe to. I don’t have a favorite football team, I don’t have a favorite concept of God. But I do have a personal journey, one that I will share with you in efforts to be honest. Then you can then classify me – if you wish.
I was raised Catholic. I loved the ritual and routine and was commonly moved to tears by songs and verses and a young child as well as today.
As I grew older I wanted to explore every religion, which I did with my parents blessing. I found it fascinating how sooo many people could hold such a deep passion for their way of expressing religion. My friends were Mormon, Methodist, Baptist and Catholic. There were always very heated debates about which one was ‘right’ and why everyone else was WRONG. I had to defend the concept that being Catholic was in the same species as Christian.
In my late teens I was moved at a fundamentalist Christian service, to be ‘saved’. That experience turned confusing when I was asked to simultaneously disregard my own traditions from Catholicism.
I was married in the Catholic Church by a priest named Bob who wore sneakers under his robe.
When my first two children were little, I met a priest who said things like “You are obligated to question the Pope, he is just a man, and we have had some pretty terrible Popes”. I agreed with this, started attending church again, and even started teaching Sunday school – someone had to do it, I thought, it may as well be me. I wanted children to grow up with a kind concept of God, not a punitive one.
I also explored, honored and respected others’ belief systems. I joined a bible study group with my Baptist friends and read and shared for a year, and I found this valuable and fun. I also took it upon myself to read different versions of the bible to figure out what all the fuss was about.
When I emigrated to New Zealand I expected that I would find my community in the local Steiner school but in fact I was much more comfortable with the Catholic church. I became friends with Father Bernard and the Sisters, Clare and Joan. The nuns allowed committment ceremonies of same-sex couples in their back yard because they were appalled that the church would not. This was the type of deep love that I could understand and respect. This was ‘love thy neighbor’ in action.
I also noticed that I felt equally comfortable and moved in a conservative skirt at mass, or in a flowing skirt at a seasonal festival. I was becoming aware of my natural attraction to celebrations of gratitude or seasons.
After discovering that my husband was incapable of honesty, and with honesty as one of my core values, we divorced. As truths surfaced, I felt as though I had lived eleven years like an actress in a play. At church, I became aware of levels of bureaucracy with which I felt uncomfortable. I wondered if people watched me during communion to see if I would dare attempt participation. I wanted to wear a sign saying: I was offered an annulment (which I refused to take in order to vindicate my daughter’s legitimacy). It made me question who and what decides “legitimacy” of anything besides the person in the situation. I realized that often church rules superseded common sense and compassion.
I stepped back a bit. I looked at the idea of religion from a different point of view. I studied Theology and the bible from an outsiders perspective.
The bible is a book written by men inspired by stories of a person 300 years after his crucifixion. If I was writing an autobiography about a man born in 1711, I could imagine it difficult to be sure of the exact words he said. Jesus-like stories are common, retold many times using different names, but with the same themes – Virgin Birth, Resurrection. I felt a little silly after finding this information, as I had never researched the bible from an objective historical viewpoint.
So, how do I answer THE question?
If I answered simply yes or no, I may lead someone to believe that I don’t share your values. This conclusion might be inaccurate. We can have shared values even if we disagree on how we got to this planet, why we are here and where we go after this experience is over.
I once asked a fundamentalist Christian friend (with shared values) what she would do if Jesus himself came to her and told her he was leaving this world. Leaving her. He would not come back to save her. I asked if that happened would it change her behavior (and values). ‘Yes’, she answered. She would do drugs, she would have affairs, yes she would behave differently.
When I ask myself that question, my behavior doesn’t change. I live a healthy, honest life full of volunteerism, because it is a lifestyle that I embrace, and am drawn to. It makes me happy. I don’t do it for a future reward. Living itself is the reward! I would imagine a life of thievery, hostility and adultery to be that of a torturous life.
I honor all religions or support groups that help people become the best possible person that they can be. It’s just that because we are all different, we need different influences and experiences.
We have our own life paths and should follow them authentically without judging or criticizing the paths of others.
On my current path, I enjoy meditation. It gives me the same sensation I had as a young girl in church. I some-times join other people in religious services as I love ritual and routine. I’m inspired by the likes of Gary Zukov, Father Bernard, and my friend Daring Donna.
Donna’s home is open to everyone. Her motto is “Big Love”. She runs a cafe purely on donations from customers. She offers free get-away weekends for overwhelmed mothers. She raised her niece for three years when her sister couldn’t, then spent another six months co-living with her sister, to transition her niece back to her sister. She believes that we are all one. What happens to one of us, happens to all. She lives it.
I have never once asked her if she is a Christian. I don’t think I will. It doesn’t matter.