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Second Heartbeat

My life, you’ve always been there
Now you’re gone, and my head’s spinning
Left the childhood, left the memories, left the good times in the past
Moving on your time has run out
Wishing the clock would stand still, the world can wait
Wasting away once again, once lived as friends

As time passes by, regrets for the rest of my life
The one who I confide is gone in the black of the night.

Never will I forget you, and all the memories past
So rarely I get to see your face.
Growing, I looked to you in guidance
We knew that time would kill us, but you’re still so close to me.

To me you were my life,
To me you were my soul companion.
Now you are so far away,
Nothing can take away the times, and the memories we’ve had.

Come back – To the days when we were young,
Come back – To the days when nothing mattered,
To the days where nothing mattered.

And I feel time passes by, regrets for the rest of my life
The one who I confide is gone in the black of the night.

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HP Battle Rap

you wanna step to this?
dont make me laugh, you a squib
leave you stupified with my magical wits
its a sorcerous blitz
you aint got game, dont know the lore
my skillz fill u with fear
you only read the books once
you think patronus is a mexican beer
you a cleansweep one, im a nimbus 2000
im the pimp of the wizengamot
you a house elf bitch
leave u playin with ur beater
while i find yo girls golden snitch
dont mess with me, son
im a Rowling machine
yo skillz like a thestral
– – – UNSEEN
you can’t touch my HP knowledge
you need to go back to school
spittin lyrics so ill madam pomfrey CANT SAVE YOU
you done boy, need to call a hearse
you just got slapped with an Unforgivable Verse

damn that was easy
i gotta observe
like a sentence in azkaban

u just got served

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #4 – Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church

 995613_10100723716712775_7836175835260153883_nSabbath #4 –

Sunday, August 17th 2014

Church #5

What: 10:00 AM “Worship Service”

Where: Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Springfield, VA

Why I picked it: As an Atheist looking for a church, Unitarian Universalist (UU) church seems like a perfect fit – they purport to be a church based on secular morals rather than dogmatic faith and claim to be open-minded and welcoming of all beliefs and peoples. Several friends had suggested I check them out and there was one just down the street from me.

Notes: Up until this visit, my only awareness of UU was a couple lines from one of my favorite movies, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, when two teens are buying blunt wraps at a convenience store mention it while making fun of the clerks Randal and Dante:

-TEEN 1
Two packs of Wraps.
(beat)
Yo–how was the service?

-RANDAL
What service?

-TEEN 2
The one at the Unitarian church where
you two got married to each other
last week.

-RANDAL
What the hell are you talking about?

-TEEN 1
Jay said you had a Star-Wars–themed
wedding and you guys tied the knot
dressed like storm troopers.

-TEEN 2
Yeah. And he said you’re the bitch
and you’re the butch. Oh, sorry–the
Leia and the Luke.

-DANTE
I’m the bitch?!

-RANDAL
Well if we were gay, that’s how I’d
see it.

-DANTE
Would you shut up?!

-TEEN 1
(to TEEN 2)
Holy shit, dude. The honeymoon’s
over.

-DANTE
We’re not married to each other.

-TEEN 1
Well, sure. Not in the eyes of the
state or any real church, Skywalker.

Spring Church

It’s true that UU was doing gay marriage long before it was the cool thing to do, and I definitely appreciate their leading the way on that among churches. I was curious what UU could offer me for life-guidance, fellowship, and inspiration.

The chapel itself was cute, tucked away in a wooded area just off a main road, with a modern design. I was greeted by two friendly older folk when I entered and given a welcome packet and program for the service.

10471393_10100723717296605_7070420304509253537_nThe sanctuary was also attractive – wooden, modern-yet-churchy, cozy but not cramped, decked out in woven rainbow mini-tapestries. I especially liked the windows behind the altar showing the tops of the surrounding trees and the sky – something I have never, ever seen before in a church – and indicative of a very different outlook on the world. All churches seek to insulate the congregants from the outside world, and any outside light that enters is filtered through stained-glass. Conceptually, this difference makes sense – UU explicitly champions reason, secular humanism, and life-on-earth – while traditional christian and jewish religion (on which UU is descendant from) denies this world in favor of the next…

The service itself was…absurd. I can best describe it as a cross between a gay piano bar and an Obama rally. The service included several musical performances by a flaming and awesomely-talented piano player & singer. As talented as he was and as much as I might have (under different circumstances) appreciated his performance, I found it awkwardly misplaced and oddly profane. Were my conservative roots and Baptist upbringing getting the best of me? I like to think not: It wasn’t his flaming gayness that bothered me, although it was certainly a change from what I was used to seeing in a “church”. On the contrary, I loved his enthusiasm and energy for what he was doing…and his talent was undeniable. No, what I found awkward were the tacky, secular music choices more befitting a piano bar or a TV commercial than what might have otherwise been a halfway-sanctified-feeling church experience. He performed “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “Imagine” by John Lennon. Both stale, hackneyed pieces worn-out maybe 2 decades ago…

As for the sermon: Did you ever have a college professor who was hellbent on pushing a political agenda on everyone in the class? That familiar combination of smug self-righteousness, a captive audience, and a political message delivered from a platform you expected to impart wisdom rather than rhetoric…The pastor, speaking about the Furguson, MO news, lamented the “white cop who gunned down a poor black teen” and the police response to the looting, which was “just like the protests in Birmingham and Jackson during the Civil Rights era.” The pastor shared a popular leftist urban myth that starts off: “An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days[…]” and ends by explaining how African tribes share everything because they are not greedy and they love each other and they call it “UBUNTU” and shouldn’t we be more like the African children in the story instead of the arrogant Anthropologist and live by UBUNTU too? He mentioned a school in El Salvador that he saw on a mission trip that was “bombed by weapons provided by the United States,” decried the “collateral damage” of innocent children in Gaza perpetrated by Israel, mentioned that “the war on terror” was created to create fear in Americans in order to manufacture consent for invasions of non-white peoples and to aid racist whites at the border who shamefully turn away poor refugee children, and to top it all off – that the war on terror and border control operations are both a conspiracy to funnel government money to weapons manufacturers.

Seriously. This place calls itself a “church.” I was particularly incensed by the racist, anti-white comments laced throughout his diatribe. The uniformly-white congregation around me nodded along. He said “white people” like it was another word for “the devil” and breathlessly said the magical word ~*Ubuntu*~ like a magical incantation of the goodness of the African Tribes. My temper rose as he laid it on thick and I began looking at the chairs in my row (I sat between two people) to decide which direction I would storm out and whether to speak a word of outrage over my shoulder as I did.

474661_10150766559836063_1948548014_o

Typical “Diverse” UU congregation: Uniformly White, Rich, and Left Wing

I stayed. I calmed myself. Before the “sermon” began, they spoke words about how much they valued “diversity” and even said “it doesn’t matter how you vote…we are all family”…

Instead of storming out, I stayed till the end and approached the pastor. I politely greeted and thanked him, explaining that it was my first UU service (he seemed surprised):

“How did you like [the service]?”

“It was very political.”

60675_10100723716737725_7538756714772733612_n

“Beyond Belief” is a good description for how I felt during the sermon.

“Yes, it was today, but it isn’t always. Since we don’t ascribe to a religious faith in particular, Social Justice and ethics are very important to us.”

“I was pretty offended several times during your message, but I can appreciate having my viewpoints challenged (he nodded in agreement). I don’t know how much good it would do me, however, to have an opposing viewpoint preached at me from a pulpit every week, though.”

He encouraged me to check the website for the sermons and to come back on a week that was less-political, but said that he understood. He also mentioned that the main pastor (currently on vacation) had spoken recently about a desire to diversify the political composition of the congregation, apparently noting the overwhelming homogeneity that so rapidly alienated me.

UU is not a religion or a church, it is an overt left-wing political club with a pinch of new-age/hippie candle-lighting and singing of pop songs as ‘hymns’.

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #3 – First Baptist Church of Springfield

SIMG_3872abbath #3 –

 Sunday, August 2nd, 2014

Church #4

What: 10:30 AM Contemporary Service

Where: First Baptist Church of Springfield

Why I picked it: Googled nearby Baptist churches and picked the biggest one.

Notes: As I’ve mentioned before, I spent my middle school years in Southern Baptist Churches and even continued going to a great Baptist church (2nd Baptist of Jacksonville, NC) after becoming an atheist. I have positive memories of thUntitled-1e churches, despite my
personal struggle with faith. I was even in AWANA when I was in middle school, which was the Baptist version of Boy Scouts where you memorize bible verses and complete workbooks about the bible for badges. The past few weeks going to Methodist, Mormon, and Catholic services has made me think about the differences between my “home” sect and others and I was eager to refresh my memory at First Baptist of Springfield.

From the parking lot, I followed a family around the large exterior to enter. We walked past two signs: Contemporary Service Upstairs and Traditional Service —>

Unsure, I followed the family. As I entered the lobby, I looked around a bit lost, like I usually do, and then spotted the door to the Sanctuary and began walking towards it. As I approached the door, I was intercepted by one of the deacons passing out programs:

“Good Morning!”

“Good Morning” I replied, smiling and continuing to walk towards the sanctuary door. 

“Are you lost?” He asked, noting my previous confused looking about for the entrance, I supposed. He stepped towards me, blocking my path to the sanctuary door.

“It’s my first time here.”

“What are you here for?” he asked, which struck me as quite strange as people continued to stream into the Sanctuary doors.

“…Worship service?”

“I think you want the contemporary service, upstairs.” He said, matter-of-factly, gesturing back through the door I came from.

“Oh, do I? What’s the difference?”

“Yes. This is the traditional service…the contemporary service is upstairs. It’s for younger folks and they have a band and whatnot” he explained as he began to escort me to an elevator, friendly, but firm.

He walked me through a maze-like series of corridors until we arrived at an unassuming, smallish multipurpose room that had been set up with a small stage and some chairs. A drum kit sat inside a sound-isolation chamber next to the stage and some 40 or so people milled around chatting and greeting each other. Two projectors showed ‘old testament trivia’ questions on the walls beside the stage. I was deposited with another deacon upstairs and he asked me where I was from (a question I can’t quickly or easily answer, being a military brat).

The worship band consisted of five 20-ish young people playing drums, guitar, cello, violin, keyboard, and one singing. They were good! I enjoyed the music and sang along despite not having sheet music to follow (the lyrics were projected onto the walls behind the stage).

The preacher was an early-thirty-something dressed in jeans and an untucked flannel shirt, with a pop-star microphone headset. He had a north carolina accent. He greeted me briefly before beginning the sermon

What the service ended up being was a novel mixture of “Contemporary Christian” style with Baptist flavor. The preacher opened up with a quick prayer before going into a 45 minute-long sermon, coordinated effectively with projected slides showing bible verses and other salient points. Some assistant somewhere advanced and rewound the slides on queue. It was a tight program, and the message was very solid. The lesson’s main points all came from the book of James and were:

  1. Don’t judge your Christian brothers and sisters by gossiping and slandering them behind their back. If someone is living in sin, confront them privately.
  2. Don’t spend so much time planning for the future that you forget about god and don’t be so arrogant as to think that you alone control the outcome of your life.
  3. Don’t spend so much time “don’t-ing” that you miss God’s doing. Do not define yourself purely by what you don’t do, but instead by the positive, constructive things you do for your community and family.

On top of this excellent practical life-advice, he gave a comprehensive historical explanation of the context of the original scripture and the audience James was originally addressing in his letter.

The Methodists just seemed like watered-down Catholicism without the ritual, but also without the protestant zeal I saw in the Mormons and Baptists. The Mormons spoke exclusively about being missionaries during the service when they weren’t performing a 20-minute solemn, music-less communion or spending 20 minutes raising their hands in perfunctory administrative ‘voting’ to promote various people to various administrative roles within the church. The Catholic Mass was fascinating, the music good and moving, the message decent – BUT TOO SHORT – and of little practical value. The Liturgy (bible readings) were mostly unexplained (although referenced in the homily), without any historical context provided. I did love the catholic church building, the symbols, kneeling, and body-crossing, and the rituals, but the Baptist service really shined as the most-practical of the lot so far, with a message that I thought I could easily derive value from with only minor secularizing.

I mentioned in a previous post how Baptist services always feature an altar call, where the pastor calls congregants to the altar to rededicate their life to christ, or to become saved. I had forgotten (until this service I attended) about the distinctly-Baptist use of music during prayer. As a hymn ends at the end of each service, the band (or orchestra, or organ) plays on softly, as the pastor begins his altar call, praying that the lost and sinful among us be moved by the holy spirit and come to the altar to be redeemed. As the prayer reaches its climax, the music swells in time with it, creating a truly moving experience! This was common at the Baptist churches I grew up with and I was pleased to rediscover it here.

After the service ended, I made my way back to the main sanctuary, curious about what it looked like inside. I was blown away by how big and beautiful it was. Stadium-ramped mahogany pews, an organ and choir area, huge vaulted ceilings and beautiful decorated glass, and a large baptism pool inset behind the altar, high up on the wall. I was suddenly angry that I had been intercepted and forced to go to that crappy youth-service in the dimly-lit, cinder-block-walled adjacent building, all the windows shuttered to darken the room for the projectors…I had been cheated from this beautiful church and what was probably an even better service! I might have to return and check out the main service next time…

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Interlude – Dinner with Father John

[Note: Names of church and priest have been changed to protect his privacy]

On Thursday night I accepted Father John from St. Mary Catholic Church’s invitation to have dinner. We met at Austin Grill, across the street from his home and about 60 seconds from my front door.

I didn’t know what to expect – from the dinner, from him – I didn’t even know if he would be wearing the clerical black shirt and white collar get-up. I wasn’t sure where the conversation would go, how much I would tell him about myself.

He showed up in casual clothes (no collar) and was relaxed and friendly. If you recall, we met last Sunday after Mass and I had introduced myself as having been raised Baptist and (he later told me at dinner) he felt an immediate connection to me, having also been Baptist before becoming Catholic and then an ordained priest. So, much of our conversation compared and contrasted Catholicism with Baptist beliefs, practices, and style.

When I first met Father John last Sunday after Mass, he immediately disarmed me by telling me about his terminal cancer. He continued to disarm me throughout the dinner by openly and honestly talking about his shortcomings, failures, and even current dissatisfaction with his station (and hope for the future). I was surprised to learn that as an undeployed Air Force Chaplain, he currently had no congregation to lead or Mass to conduct, and that he had to essentially beg the main Priest of St. Mary Church to allow him to lead one Mass per week- as a temporary guest. He said that, as a Chaplain, he was currently nothing more than a glorified, secular therapist and that he spent most of his days giving tours of the White House to tourists. With notes of disappointment and weariness he told me, “Giving tours of the White House gets old fast…that’s not what God intended for me when he called me to the Priesthood…”

He also explained that he served as an Air Force intelligence officer for decades (as a practicing Baptist) before being called to Catholicism and the priesthood at the age of 37, after flunking out of Medical School.

His honest descriptions of his failures and shortcomings, his cancer and chemo, his unfulfilled hopes for the future were deliberately laid before me and he made repeated references that he shared my struggles and doubts, that he sins like I do, that he needs forgiveness and grace like I do, that ‘we are both two beggars searching together.’

I found this theme surprising, disarming, and endearing. I told him that I was hoping that I can offer something to him and not only take from him and he said that god put me in his path for a reason, that I might serve to sharpen his faith, and give him purpose. This made me feel better.

The conversation was a bit rambling, both of us excited by the topics – his story, my story, and contrasting faiths and theologies – and we often couldn’t finish a thought or story before being sidelined by another topic or anecdote of interest. We spoke for about two and a half hours and felt a mutual enthusiasm and friendship.

I was interested to learn more about him and ‘figure him out’ – I had never spoken to a priest before and was curious what they were really like. I have long regarded the Catholic Church as tyrannical, dogmatic, and thieving – and her priests don’t have a great reputation either…And yet, I expected that priests as individuals might really not all be the villains that the secular world portrays them as. Father John seems rebellious – he openly criticized Catholicism, saying that many Priests, churches, and congregations are complacent and boring, that some bishops are corrupt, and that the ritualism and legalistic redemption characteristic of Catholicism, so oft-criticized  by protestants, can indeed be abused and lead to misunderstandings about god’s expectations for a person’s life. He described being punished for “Insolence” by his bishop(?) in seminary, and getting complaints from congregants for preaching for too long. He likes to think that he has retained the ‘best’ parts of Baptist style while conforming to the ritual and tradition of Catholicism.

As for me, I told him about youthful zealousness, the overwhelming guilt and burden of shame I experienced because of my persistent doubts and emerging sexuality, my judgment of others and attempted self-righteousness, and my obsession with the book of revelations and the “end times” – a deeply distressing and malformed faith which culminating in my bitter and utter rejection of religion at the age of 14 and subsequent 15 years as an evangelical atheist…He never once asked me if I believed in god today. I didn’t say it either, and I wonder what he thinks…Why he didn’t ask. Does the fact that I went to church and told him that I’m searching for a church imply that I believe again? I didn’t want to deceive him, but I also didn’t want an awkward confrontation where I had to describe all the problems I have with religion, so early in our relationship…that discussion can easily provoke defensiveness in a believer, and close him off to accepting me. I wanted to stay on common-ground as much as possible and establish good-will before broaching areas of contention in our beliefs.

I felt uneasy the entire time as he spoke to me as a brother in christ, seeming to take for granted that we shared the same beliefs…Was this manner of speech out of habit? When’s the last time (if ever) he has had this (or any) conversation with an atheist? Did he actually believe that we share all the same beliefs? Not just in jesus, but he seemed to assume that I disapproved of abortion and homosexuality in the same way that he did, suggesting that I avoid the Arlington Parish, despite its preponderance of young(ish) adults my age when I told him I was seeking to make new friends in the church.

He told me the young adults in the Arlington parish were “too liberal” and that I should avoid it, unless, perhaps, after he and I spend more time together, I can go there as a missionary, with him to guide me. I was flattered by this, but also bemused – is he really so out-of-touch with who I am and what I may or may not believe that he can make so many assumptions? I think it might be because I told him I identified as a “Southern” Baptist – having gone to baptist churches during my formative years in Tennessee, Florida, and North Carolina. And I suppose that the implication is that I share the same (social) values as Southern Baptists – a notoriously conservative group…

Despite my curiosity about him and my intellectual evaluation of his particular sect, my true agenda is to seek counsel for my fucked up life, guidance for my stagnation in growing to be a decent human being, and most importantly serenity. He offered many words of wisdom, hopelessly wrapped in theistic language. I experienced acute cognitive dissonance throughout the dinner as I yearned to take to heart his blessings, prayers, and advice, but I struggled to maintain my atheistic frame of mind.

I felt meaning and value underlying his words, but I couldn’t process out the “God” parts quickly-enough…How silly this sounds. But, I still believe that christian prayer and belief hold value that can be secularized…I’m just not good at doing it on-the-fly yet 🙂

Near the end of the dinner, he said, “You’re going to have to tell me about all these tattoos some time-”
<he pauses expectantly as I hope that he will move on from this topic. I have a t-shirt on (and a polo last sunday) which show only the bottom-halves of my arm tattoos.>
<IMG_0596reluctantly I roll up my shirt sleeve and unveil my gigantic Lucifer tattoo>
“Light….Banger…?”
“Bringer”
“Sorry, I can’t see well. Morning…Star…”
“…” <I wait for the reaction, wait for my new friend and confidant to turn on me, whip out a handy crucifix to banish me with, etc.>
“That’s a very christian tattoo.”
“Yeah…”
“That must have taken a long time”
<I turn the bicep around and show him the writing on the other side>472129_945781608985_1468165899_o

“Reason…but where is ‘Faith’?”
“It’s like I told you, Father, since I was 14, I have turned away completely from Faith and lived entirely by Reason.” I say, with a pleading, apologetic voice.
“Baptists often teach Faith to the exclusion of Reason, but I believe that within Catholicism, there is a place for both. Consider St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas – both champions of Reason…” He speaks quickly
“St. Thomas Aquinas is my favorite saint by far” I interject, eager to be back on common ground
“For good reason, he in many ways revolutionized the church…” He continues on…

…And we continue on with our lively discussions. How could he have not reacted? His demeanor and friendliness didn’t change at all after seeing the tattoo and he kept a poker face the entire time. Did he not recognize the fallen angel? Even common christians know the “Morning Star”, so surely this priest does. I found his lack of reaction puzzling…I certainly didn’t get a chance to explain it…maybe next time?

We meet again next week. He says he will be my spiritual counselor and that we will help each other find and fulfill god’s purpose.

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Sabbath #2

I have begun reading “Religion for Atheists” – so far I’m not impressed. While I agree with the core assertions being made – that various Religious traditions and rituals retain their value in a secular context – I don’t find his writing particularly interesting or insightful. Furthermore, he suffers from a clear lack of philosophical foundation, which surfaces repeatedly as he makes lazy ethical and political assumptions or unfounded assertions that are peripheral to his central thesis. Finally, I was shocked to find that more than half of the book consists of google image searched images barely relevant to the text and massive margins around the text. I’m going to push through and see if it improves.

Sabbath #2 –IMG_3828 Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Chuch #3

What: 11:15 AM Mass

Where: St. Bernadette Catholic Church

Why I picked it: For years I have driven by on sundays and muttered “damn christians” because the traffic to and from their church always congests the main road it lies on, requiring a special cop to come out and direct traffic. Now that I am actually looking for a church, I thought it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

Notes: I have never been to a Catholic Mass before, and I was pretty surprised. First of all, the church itself was way more beautiful than any of the protestant chapels I have been in. The giant crucifix at the altar really makes an impression, as does the beautiful stained glass. Along the brick walls, were inlaid beautiful carvings depicting scenes from the bible, along with two side-altars inset, sky-lit, and with dozens of red candles. Plus holy water when you enter, altar boys in cute monk costumes or whatever, and those retractable kneeling bench thingies. The whole setup really gives the whole thing a sanctified feeling. The priest also had cool green robes on with crazy gold artwork all over it. 

The sermon, or “Homily” as they called it, was good – The father talked about how many christians pay lip service to loving god, but what were the signs of love?: spending time, spending money, and willingness to sacrifice. I liked that he was challenging people, stepping on their toes, and his anecdotes were coherent and enlightening…Can’t say I personally got a whole lot out of it, though…

I continued to enjoy singing hymns as I did last sunday, and the organist in this church ruled. I also loved the sung/chanted prayers and congregation callbacks. The music director was kind of ridiculous. He was a good singer, but was micced (and so loud) and was clearly showboating; really laying on the vibrato and waving his arms like he was Dean Martin or some famous singer performing on stage. Kind of inappropriate.

The congregation lived up to the Catholic stereotype of not being particularly warm or welcoming, unlike last week’s Methodist and Mormon trials. Not only was I not greeted by a single soul the entire time, I was basically shoved aside by an old woman who, apparently, wanted the spot on the pew that I was sitting in, but couldn’t be bothered to communicate in human-fashion.

Now, where this experience gets really interesting is after the Mass. I look around a bit after taking communion and the final hymn, as the priest greets the congregation at the doors as they file out. I eventually make my way out and end up at the back of the line, one of the last to leave. I did want to greet him to let him know I liked his message and thatit was my first ever Catholic mass as I thought he would be impressed or amused.

He seemed interested to talk to me, when he had hurried off the previous two groups of folks who he recognized from past sundays, and glanced curiously at my tattoos. I told him I liked his message and that it was my first Catholic Mass and that I grew up in Baptist churches. He said that he also used to be Baptist, before becoming a Catholic Priest and explained that he used to think that the rituals were just man-made, but then he learned that they have real meaning. He spoke fast, and didn’t make eye-contact very well. I appreciated that he shared this bit of personal information and was surprised at the coincidence. He asked if I was from around here, if I was civilian or military – he had made several references to spouses being deployed during the homily – and explained that he was an Air Force Chaplain and was on loan to the parish for a year. I told him I was civilian and lived just down the road (He said he did too, just across the street from me) and I expressed disappointment that he was only temporarily at the church and he explained that he was recently diagnosed with terminal gallbladder cancer, but that he was hoping it wouldn’t be terminal and that he was on chemo and couldn’t commit to more than a year at the church based on his doctor’s projections for his disease… I was surprised that he was unloading all this personal info on me. He asked what brought me here and I said that I hadn’t been to church in ten years and had felt the need to come back recently. He said that he understood and asked if I would have dinner with him this week. I agreed and he gave me his card…

“Would it be ok if I said a blessing for you?”

“Sure.” <I bow my head and close my eyes, as I had seen two children do in line before me when their parents had brought them to be blessed and he made the sign of the cross over their bowed heads and spoke a short prayer>

“Father, be with Charles through his hardships and struggles and remind him, Lord, that you have never deserted him and that you have always forgiven him for his mistakes, that you will always love him. Watch over him and give him strength as he suffers, lord. Amen.”

I looked up and met his eyes, with tears welling in mine. “Thank you.” 

I don’t remember what he said as I hurried away as two teardrops fought their way onto my cheeks. I am characteristically stoic, to a scary degree, never showing emotion during the worst of my times with Aimee, even while she bawls her eyes out next to me – I feel cold and detached. It scares me, and it makes Aimee feel like I don’t care. I do care, and the emotions are there, but they won’t surface. For some reason, this stupid little prayer given by a stranger, broke through whatever barriers keep me from crying when I ‘want’ to, and embarrassed me in public! I was, and continue to be, surprised.

What does it mean? What did I need to hear so badly that he give me a glimpse of? I need to think more on this. And I think I will take him up on his invitation to Dinner as well.

Speaking of, the Mormon squads have been texting and calling to set up more meetings. They seem impersonal, like aggressive saleswomen or recruiters. I will meet them, but I may begin expressing some skepticism…and test the waters of mormon acceptance for my apostasy and doubt.

An Atheist’s Search for a Church: Intro and Sabbath #1

Today marked the first day of my search for a church to call home as part of a wider experiment to experience some of the value of church and religion in a purely secular context.

I do not entertain any belief in the supernatural, but I do believe that there is great value in many aspects of religion that can be enjoyed by even raging atheists like me:

  • Prayer & Meditation – For reflection, introspection, goal-setting, focus, and tranquility
  • Fellowship – With positive-minded people who care about living a moral life, self-improvement, stewardship of the world, and being exemplary
  • Guidance – Advice for daily life, challenges to your assumptions and bad-habits, calling-out your sins and shortcomings and prompting you to improve and repent
  • Spirituality – Group-singing, appreciation of the beauty of existence and “creation,” unity through shared humanity, a common Sense of Life

I seek these things in church, yet stand by my dedication to atheism and rejection of faith and mysticism. I hope that I can find some reception for my views, but I will walk with extreme delicacy, knowing that I would be rapidly rejected if “outed” as a satanic iconoclast.9780307476821_custom-76921cf0cc7c9d216b745d88482311df4fa5c091-s6-c30

This was prompted by a long, dark time in my life and need for support and new friends – and more-specifically by a podcast from Penn Gilette’s series with a 7th Day Adventist pastor who was “trying” atheism for a year as a sort of stunt: Podcast Link Here

In the episode, they started talking about the secular merits of religion and church, and mentioned this book on the right by Alain de Botton. I had heard de Botton’s TED talk already and LOVED it (about Atheist’s need for a secular church)…:

…but I forgot to follow-up on it…Penn’s podcast mentioning of the book reminded me and I immediately ordered the book (hasn’t arrived yet) and began formulating this plan. It’s something i have talked about over the years several times (the secular merits of religion) and now was the perfect time in my life to put the idea to test with an experiment to see if I could derive value from church as an avowed Atheist.

My Objectives:

  1. Attempt to find some comfort and guidance in my life for my intractable relationship problems and the personal flaws that caused them.
  2. Meet new people who share an interest in positive-living, morality, and who are general kind, accepting people…(particularly a challenge to see if I can find friends who will accept me once they learn I am an atheist…)
  3. Figure out how (or if) religious values could be manifested in a purely secular context (Atheist church!) – try to apply any new info from de Button’s book as I read it during my search.
  4. Document and share my experience with others
  5. Secret, super-sinister objective: Share my own beliefs about god and faith with religious folk and provoke critical thought.

Sabbath #1 – Sunday, July 20th, 2014IMG_3780[1]

Chuch #1

What: 11:00 AM Worship Service

Where: Messiah United Methodist Church

Why I picked it: Closest to me geographically

Notes: Pews 80% empty. Of the handful of people in attendance, 90% over the age of 45. No orchestra. Friendly. Greeted by Dan, a trumpet player and music teacher from the church ~35 years old with cool thick-rimmed glasses. He talked to me of bars & jam sessions and asked me to friend him on facebook.

The chapel was nice enough, with the pulpit off to the right and the pastor in traditional vestment of the catholic church. The sermon was about unity and how faith should unite us as christians across political lines. Good message that could easily be adapted to a secular audience – i.e. “we are all americans, we should unite across political lines” or “we are all human, we must be more conscious of our shared humanity rather than on what divides us”. Good message, but he had this failed anecdote about a church suffering from divisions among members. He went on and on about it and then the punch-line was that suddenly they united. Why? How? He said he “thinks” god did it. The Congregation seemed confused by this non-sequiter and the pastor ended awkwardly, saying it’s time to “wake up” and sing a hymn…I thought he was on a roll until he hit this classic “Deus-Ex-Machina” moment, when we all expected some wisdom, some insight, into how to unite a divided group of people…and I think we were all disappointed with just the weakest “I think god did it!” I won’t be returning here as I seek a larger congregation with more people my age.

Church #2

What: 1:45 PM Young Adults (Singles) Congregation Service

Where: Latter Day Saints Church on Ox Rd. in Fairfax

Why I picked it: On my way home from the Methodist service, I spied two smoking-hot mormon chicks getting into their car. I asked them about their service and they were characteristically MORE THAN HAPPY to provide me with a pamphlet and took my cell-number with a promise to text me the service info. They made-good and I was just-in-time to make the Young Adults (Singles) service, which I looked forward to after the decidedly-decrepit experience at Messiah.

Notes: Now, while the Methodists welcomed me, they did nothing to retain me. The Mormons, on the other hand, lived up to their notoriety for aggressive recruitment once I found myself in their halls, about 20 minutes early. I was quickly ushered off to an isolated side-room by two young women, one of whom was attractive, who had been informed of my arrival by the two parking-lot mormons who had provided my info. Impressive coordination…They asked me some questions about why I was there, I told them I missed going to church and hadn’t gone in a long time. They glanced nervously at my tattoos, but didn’t ask to see them. They shared some info about the book of mormon and what distinguishes them from other christian sects. I was intrigued to learn that not only do they believe in the new 1800’s-era prophet (and likely con-man) Joseph Smith, but that they believe there is a (mormon) prophet and miracle-worker on earth today. This raised lots of questions for me, but I didn’t bother (yet). They wanted to know if I would get baptized and I said I would consider it once the time came. They asked for my contact info. I gave them my email…they turned out to live in my same apartment complex, and we may meet later next week…

The service wasn’t really a service, it was 30 minutes of dry administrative board-committee stuff and a very solemn and totally silent communion (with water instead of wine!) followed by three young people giving testimonies that were mumbled, rambling, ill-planned, and lacking in any coherent point. I was disappointed. Apparently the “young adult” service never has a sermon, I was informed…

Everyone was super friendly, even moreso than the Methodists, with literally everyone around me in my pew trying to shake my hand and get to know me. I really liked the people, but I saw very little value in the service…I will need to consider if this church is right for me…

Next Week

I might try the mormons again. I would like to hit up a large Baptist church (need to find one) and the St. Bernadette Catholic Church down the road from me. This Catholic Church is always so friggin packed that they have to have a special cop come out to put cones on the street and direct traffic when people arrive for service…so I’m curious to know what all the fuss is about.

I am starting to see what distinguishes Baptist services from other sects…I grew up (in middle/high school) in Baptist churches and remember distinctly the fire-and-brimstone services, the altar-calls for redemption and re-dedication of your life, the deliberate “turn around and greet your neighbors” , and the generally more-vigorous and lively feel. Maybe it was just because it was Tennessee and Florida? Maybe it was the Baptist sect…let’s find out more…