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The Issue is God — And Six Reasons it Doesn’t Matter

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The big question — that’s what we disagree on. Is there a God or not? Several of my very close friends whom I love and respect believe that there is no God: no conscious, purposeful Spirit at work in the universe. I could no sooner believe what they believe — or don’t believe — than I could decide to live in a different era.

God is a reality to me. In God I live and move and have my being, as the Bible says. This isn’t a faith passed down from my parents, it is the fruit of my own hard-fought battles with life. It is what I have learned from life and death: we are accompanied.

detail-of-creation-of-adam-michelangelo-1475-1564-flicker-jonund-commons-wikimedia-org

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I’m responding to the WordPress Daily Prompt:

“Do you have a good friend or close relative with whom you disagree on a major issue (political, personal, cultural)?

What’s the issue, and how do you make the relationship work?”

How to Make it Work

The issue is God, as I say. So, how do my atheist friends and I make our relationships work? Without having asked them, here’s what I think:

  1. Respect. Recognizing that none of us has all the answers, which requires at least a modicum of humility.
  2. Being non-judgmental. Not placing ourselves above each other, even if we can’t help thinking that our belief system is somehow better or superior or wiser or more logical or whatever. Does that make any sense? It’s separating the belief system from the person and honoring our common state of “doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  3. Refusing to play the victim. This entails trusting that “the other” is not judging. Christians can feel judged by a secular, modernistic world where the metaphysical realm is undervalued if not outright mocked. Atheists (obviously) feel judged by certain Christians who tell them they are going to burn in eternal fire if they dare to entertain non-Christian beliefs. My atheist friends avoid mocking me, and I avoid relegating them to hellfire.
  4. Dare I say unconditional love, or will that sound religious? They love me despite my belief in fairy tales, and I love them despite their inability to recognize a power higher and more loving than the human mind.
  5. I’d like to say open-mindedness, but that doesn’t fly because atheists are not open-minded about God, and I can’t very well be open to atheism. I understand atheism given our societal paradigms, but I can’t begin to open my mind to it. Some things are opinions, some things are beliefs, and some things are just unequivocally true for an individual. If life’s beating the crap out of me hasn’t made me lose my faith yet, nothing will.
  6. We laugh a lot. I have a sign over my desk that reads: “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”

So there ya go, WordPress, that’s how we make our relationships work.

As it happens, I’ve spent this week wrestling with a blog post that’s got me all tangled up in metaphors related to God, atheism, and climate change. I took a break from that blog post, and I ended up writing about the same dang thing!

I can’t help it. Sorry, atheist pals. Thanks for reading anyway.

And on earth, peace . . .

And on earth, peace . . .

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With Apologies: Another Death

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There comes a time when you feel you should stop talking about your grief. Your friends must be sick of it, right? But then someone else dies. You’ve pledged not to write one more blog post about death and grieving for fear that you’ll start losing your readers. But someone else has died.

You might even have recently had a grand spiritual epiphany of the type engendered only by great suffering, and you may now understand at your core that we are all one endless love and that there is no death. But – someone else has died, and although all that love stuff is very nice, they’re still gone.

So it is with apologies that I bring you news of another death in this blogger’s life. The third in eight weeks.

Steve was not a dear and intimate friend as were my brother and Betsy. In fact, you couldn’t trust Steve any farther than you could toss a keg of beer. He had issues, to put it kindly.

Charmed

By the time he moved into my best friend’s house next door when I was eleven and he was twelve, he had already been in something like eighteen different foster homes. A smart survivor, he had learned to manipulate, scam, and in my case, charm. Charmed doesn’t come close to describing the crush I had on Steve for seven years, which is longer than any actual relationship I’ve ever had.

Steve and I used to hold hands beneath our jackets in the backseat of his foster family’s Plymouth as we rode to church each Sunday. He was the first boy I ever kissed, the first boy I ever slow danced with, the first boy whoever clambered awkwardly on top of me as we ventured into adolescence (which scared me so badly that I fled the house with him in hot (pun intended), apologetic pursuit.

Steve had hurting blue eyes, the kind that told you he needed to be saved and that you were just the girl to do the saving. I’ll never forget the first time he winked at me when we were watching Superman and eating Hostess Twinkies after school one day. I thought I would die.

First Love

First Love

The Toll and the Turn Around

I thought he had died one New Year’s Eve in the mid-seventies. He called from New York to tell me had swallowed a bunch of pills and he wanted to say goodbye. He passed out on the phone — I called the New York City police and tried to find his sister in directory assistance, but there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know where he was. Ten years later, he showed up in Maryland and I told him he could stay on my couch as long as he didn’t drink. We spent three sweet but sad days reminiscing together before he disappeared.

When I last saw Steve, his soft, china-doll skin with the downy peach fuzz had been rendered lined and leathery by years of homelessness. The thick dark hair that his foster mother used to fashion into a perfect Beatle cut by clipping around a bowl on his head had mostly fallen out, and his full Elvis lips had grown thin and hard after God knows how many prison stays.

Everyone thought that Steve was turning his life around when he visited us a few years ago. He  had been sober for a year and was finally allowed to see the grandchildren his daughter had kept away from him during “the bad  years.”  He told me maybe we would get married at last, and we both laughed. He told his foster mother she was the only real mom he had ever had, and we all got teary and hugged a lot. It was the first time that his foster family and I had seen him in twenty five years. He was happy.

The End

When his foster mother passed away a year after his visit, I was charged with trying to find him again. I did, with Google. It was a recent mug shot taken when he was arrested for soliciting prostitutes. He did not look sober.

I never told Steve or anyone else about my discovery. Why not let people believe the best? He came to his mother’s funeral and we all hugged some more.

Steve’s secret is safe here — he read my blog, but nobody else in his family does. He died in his sleep. His sister said he had strep throat. We don’t yet know for sure what happened, but my guess is that the autopsy won’t be keeping any secrets.

Rest in peace, beautiful boy. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

Imagine Apologizing

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I have this fantasy about my old boyfriend – the guy I dated just before I got sucked into the cocaine-infused, alcohol-drenched political whirlwind of Washington, D.C. We are in the dairy aisle at the grocery store, surrounded by toxic-tinted green and orange Jell-o and stacks of bright yellow butter boxes.

Don’t worry. It’s not one of those butter and Jell-o fantasies. I wouldn’t share it, if it were.

No. We’re just standing there, leaning our elbows on our shopping carts.

I say, “Do you have a minute?”

He says somewhat dubiously, “Yes.”

Then I apologize for being such a bitch back in the day. I’ve had this fantasy for twenty-five years. A quarter of a century.

This meeting happens in reality every year or so – not the apology part, just the part where we run into each other at the community grocery coop – we live in the same town. We’ve met amidst the Jell-0, but more often by the cat food. We exchange pleasantries, and he tells me about his kids.

I always feel like there’s this huge chasm of unspokenness between us, but I never place any meaningful words into it. He asks how many cats I have now. I say “two.”

Every time I see him I think say it, just say it, but I never do.

The Question

This fellow and I were an item for two or three years back in college. I was very fond of him – nicest guy you would ever want to meet. I was a bit older and more experienced than he was and spent considerable time trying to untie his mother’s apron strings.

After a while the challenge wore off, and I was bored. No drama, no tears, no excitement. Just a quiet, stable relationship. We read a lot, played Scrabble.

I graduated and made my way into the big world while he continued his studies to become a librarian archivist (a perfect job for him). I went to work on Capitol Hill and met congressmen and senators and hung out with heavy-drinking lobbyists and attended oh-so-important press conferences and oh-so-sophisticated political fundraisers.

Then he became even more boring.

About this time, he asked me to marry him. I panicked and pretended he was joking. I laughed uproariously, and then he laughed. And then I had a decision to make because the question still hung in our mirthless laughter.

Hanging

The Decision

“Think I should marry him, Mom?”

“He’s a very nice boy, Melanie, always sacrificing himself for other people. He is the kind of person who would bring his aging parents to live with him. I’m not sure you would be happy with that,” Mom said.

She knew her daughter, and she knew what she was talking about. Mom had sacrificed much of her freedom when my grandmother moved in with her.

I asked my roommate, an old high school friend. He put it more bluntly. “You would be bored, Mel.”

They were right. I dumped my boyfriend unceremoniously. The guy was just too “good” for me, in the truest sense of the word. I had a lot of partying to do and a lot of ego to feed, and he did not fit into my plans.

Regrets

I don’t have many big regrets in my life. But the way I treated him is at the top of my list.

By regret, I don’t mean I feel I should have married him.

God, no; I would have made him miserable. I had so much screwing up to do before I opted for sanity.

God has been gracious in the intervening years, allowing me all the rope I needed to hang myself. Dangling there at the end of my rope, I learned something about humility. All the screwing up, every bad choice, has helped me to grow up and see myself more clearly.

Problem is, when you begin to see more clearly, you can’t help but notice the wreckage you’ve left in your wake. That college relationship — which had I been kind, might have been a pleasant memory — is a mangled mass of shame, guilt, and regret.

Freedom in the Ho-Hos

Still, I could never bring myself to say those simple words.

Until last night.

We met in the Obesity Aisle next to the Hostess products, and the cloying smell of yellow plastic icing with hard white swirls was almost overpowering. We smiled as we rattled our carts towards each other.

I didn’t think about it. My heart wasn’t racing, and there weren’t words crashing into each other in my head. I just said:

“Do you have a minute?”

He nodded, looking curious but also as if he wanted to bolt.

“I treated you like shit many moons ago, and I just wanted you to know I’m sorry. It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life, the way I treated you in all my dysfunction. I was a mess, and I’m sorry.”

“Well,” he stammered, “I don’t even remember it like that. But we were all a mess.”

“Yes, and I wanted you to be more of a mess than you were. Thank you for being kind to me.”

Then he started talking about his kids, and how one of them was “having issues.”

And it was over. I had done it.

In my fantasies, I never even considered the “after” part.

I don’t know how he felt. But I felt immediately – immediately – lighter, as if I had dumped several shopping carts full of shame back by the Ho-Hos and cupcakes.

I can’t believe it took me so long.

So there you have it. A simple story; no big deal.

But if you’re carrying any of that shame crap around, you know that it is a big deal. I hope you’ll learn from my experience and make amends.

Read more about shame crap here

How to Blow Up a Relationship

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They say a writer’s life can be a solitary one, and it’s no wonder. Any honest writer is going to tick off or hurt friends and family eventually. I mean, our lives are peopled with priceless characters — are we not supposed to share them with the world? A writer-friend of mine has a sweatshirt emblazoned with the warning:

Be nice; you might end up in my novel.

Authors tell me that their friends always think they recognize themselves in books, regardless of whether the character or story is actually based on them. This would be especially true if, like me, you write nonfiction using real names. Hard to miss that.

The first time this issue came up for me was in one of my earliest blog posts. I wrote about my friend John, saying that his wife didn’t care much for me. I got a call from John a few days later, saying he was enjoying my blog. Crap. It hadn’t even occurred to me that he would read it.

“How did you come across my blog?” I asked.

“You sent an email about it,” he said.

“Oh, right.” What could I say?

I thought that “sorry” was a good place to start. I tried to explain that I sort of thought these things went out into the ether and only strangers read them. I hadn’t thought about our mutual friends reading them, or that my blog might affect him. John was gracious and fine with it, saying it was hardly a secret. (He and I have a long history.)

I’m more thoughtful about what I write now. For instance, I just got back from visiting my sister, who is a fascinating woman with unusual beliefs. I’d love to write about our conversations and her newest theories and interests, but she’s very private, keeps to herself, and wouldn’t appreciate it. So that’s out.

I have a friend who has essentially been brainwashed by a religious cult, but I can’t write about that, even though it’s highly unlikely she would read it because they don’t allow their converts to mess around on the web for fear that they’ll find stories from those who have escaped. But I don’t want to jeopardize our relationship or any leverage I might have to help her get back inside her real self, so that story’s out, too.

Stories about old beaus could certainly provide a lot of material, but most are now married and I wouldn’t want to upset any matrimonial apple carts. I can’t say that I care about protecting the privacy of the guys at the CIA who stuck their married hands down my blouse or up my skirt. They’re probably all divorced by now anyway. That’s why I allowed Rubber Ducky to tell all (except names).   https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/rubber-ducky-exposes-cia-sexual-harassment/

Since my plan is to write a memoirish nonfiction book, I don’t know how I’ll navigate all this. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do you deal with it? Do you have criteria or a guiding philosophy, or is it a case-by-case thing? Have you ever damaged a relationship with your writing? Have you been burned by a writer? Did your relationship survive? Should I just assume I’m going to blow up all my relationships eventually, and just get it over with?

Rear View Of Group Of Friends...

We were friends, and the warmest of friends, he and I,

Each glance was a language that broke from the heart,

No cloudlet swept over the realm of the sky,

And beneath it we swore that we never would part.”

Lennox Amott

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