11 December 2012

Room for Us All

It's cold this morning. First serious frost of the season on the lawn and windshield. I stayed up a full 34 hours hoping to reverse a sleep-til-2 trend that was taking hold in my sleep cycle. Went to bed about 9 pm and woke up, without alarm a little after 6 this morning.

The frost outside and the sound of the furnace blowing inside...early morning quiet surrounding and permeating the house...the harmony of waking up as the town wakes up. It's good.

I am finding new friends. Online. For all the Luddite-esque negative sentiment about "the computer" and the Internet I hear from some folk, I've always believed that any tool can be used for good or for harm. The recent presidential election campaign was a license for verbal violence throughout cyberspace. With my own "voice" raw from trying to talk sense (and my soul battered from failing at this), I took a break from FB and other online forums for about six weeks.

I'm returning. Judiciously. Selectively. Influenced strongly by what seems to be missing in my social diet in Holly Springs.

I've found the "non-theists" at Atheist Nexus and the "left leaners" page at It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi on FB. As is true everywhere, both groups include personalities best left alone:  at the Nexus, there are some who are clearly wounded and angry; on FB some are "leaning on the Lord" or "fighting back" to survive their leftist proclivities.

I'm not angry; just hungry for community with like-minded others.

The question of religiosity is primary now. The doubts and questions that arose for me as a child at the mercy of the staunchly religious worldview on my father's side and the less assertive but no less devout orientation on my mother's side have returned. Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation" made a lot of sense to me when I read it last month. After years of taking a "no comment" stance when confronted with Christian proselytizing -- easy enough to do in liberal environments like northern CA -- I am coming to see the danger that religion poses to a free society.

In Mississippi, the evangelicals are vocal and oppressive. Conversations are liberally sprinkled with references to "the Lord" and "His Truth". There is a clear assumption that Christianity is "the Way" or the unquestionably correct orientation for all people, especially for "true" Americans.

I realize now that I have crouched and cowered for a long time in the company of devout and vocal Christians, feeling in some way wrong or guilty about being a non-believer. I am in the process of shedding those feelings. Finding others like me is a part of the process.

Yesterday S______ stopped by to return a CD I'd loaned her. She is an artist and entrepreneur here whose acquaintance I made at the hummingbird festival in September. I admire her because she is devoutly religious but despite a faux pas when we met -- she inquired, as most people do here on first meeting, "Where is your church home in Holly Springs?" I responded I don't have one and she suggested "Maybe we can get you to make your home at our church."  I said that was unlikely but I do enjoy making field trips to churches to observe the theater and hear the music. She was visibly taken aback by the comment, especially the term "field trips".-- she continues to be a new friend.

When I shared my story about the tree lighting episode on the square with her and admitted the disappointment and fear it evoked for me, she listened without argument. "it's the 21st century!" I told her. "Holly Springs will die if it cannot turn the page on outmoded, discriminatory perspectives." She suggested some things must stay the same. "Such as?" I asked. "Well, faith and belief," she responded. "Scripture teaches us we must love God and keep loving God no matter what the world says," she added.

"Adherence to that teaching is a personal choice. But in the public commons, what about those who study a different scripture?" I asked. "What about faith traditions other than Christianity?" She paused then and admitted she'd been uncomfortable the previous evening at the Christmas concert at her daughter's high school. The event opened with an impassioned Christian prayer and she'd wondered how the Muslim families in attendance felt.

"Precisely!" I said. "This is the face of humanity in the 21st century. This is the face of America.We have viewed ourselves as a welcoming beacon to the world and they have come. America is now Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist.... Is it compassionate or just or welcoming to require submission to Christian belief when they arrive?"

I move forward on the premise that America is yet a free country. For my own sense of well-being and freedom, I will take a stand -- and become visible to the world in this stance. We are in this boat together and there is room for all.