Friday, April 22, 2011

Those lost at sea and never found

I've been hanging laundry on a line in our large backyard. See?

Yesterday as I took laundry off the line, our neighbor, a woman close to seventy years old, hollered across the yard with an offer to let me use her dryer. I thanked her and explained that I had a dryer in good working condition, but I'm using the line to cut our energy usage and our electric bills. She persisted. I respectfully declined and changed the subject by asking her how she was.

Since I'm home all the time, she invited me to join her coffee in the mornings. That was nice of her. Then she told me how she switched doctors and had to lose twenty pounds so she could stop taking all the medication she's on. I could relate to the weight issue even though I'm not on any medications at the moment.

Then she hit me with it - why don't I start going to church with her on Sundays? Shit, people, this is why I don't leave the house. The dreaded god conversation. I hate smiling and nodding when people talk about god because I feel like a phony, but I'm not a confrontational sort so I do what I can to cut short conversations like this.

I had lunch with a new friend the other day and when I asked her how she ended up in our small town, she said a friend lived here and helped her find a place because god knew what he was doing. She belonged here. I smiled and nodded.

Why do believers feel compelled to say things like this? Believe what you want, but can't you keep it to yourself? I'm not interested in changing your mind or ridiculing you so I bite my tongue when bad things happen and people thank god for helping them through the adversity. I'd love to point out that the better god would be the one who keeps the adversity from happening in the first place. But I remain silent to be polite.

My new friend asked me how we ended up here in our tiny niche in the Appalachian foothills. My answer was simple, "My job." I could have added something about my epic bad judgment, but I kept that to myself. Either way, no god was getting credit or blame.

When we first moved here, I drove my car fast across the ridge and had the distinct feeling of riding a horse. I could feel the piston action of its strong legs, the wind in my hair even as I drove with the windows rolled up tight against the morning dampness. The feeling was so powerful that I considered whether I'd returned to a place I'd been before, in another life, or was it some genetic coding that drew me back? I had ancestors who'd come from Tennessee and Kentucky, so why not some north Georgia connection? How else to explain the random displacement of our family from Illinois to this tiny burg in rural Georgia?

But I never told anyone about that. Except MathMan and he's paid to listen to my crazy ramblings. I've seen the checks from my parents. There's not much daylight between my kooky ideas and your socially accepted beliefs so why don't we all just tick a lock on that kind of conversation? There's plenty to talk about without discussing the supernatural.

Plus, I do believe in completely random things. As much as I'd love to believe that everything happens for a reason - an incredibly romantic notion, my mental makeup won't allow it. I am incapable of absolutism, of pure faith. Things just happen. Some things can't be explained now or ever.

But here I was again, in the uncomfortable position of having to explain myself. I swatted at the mosquitoes buzzing me. "Oh, thanks, but we don't go to church."

"What do you mean you don't go to church? You can come with us."

Time to pull the Jew card, my first line of defense before tossing out the agnostic and then atheist cards.

"We're Jewish."

"You can still come to church. We have a nice Jewish rabbi who comes and writes things backward, but he writes them in English, too, so we can read them. He even reads from the Bible."

Would it be worth it to explain the difference between Messianic Jews aka Jews for Jesus and Just Jews?

"Oh, thanks, but I don't really want to....he's what's called a Messianic Jew." I smacked my arm and flicked away the dead insect.

"So? He wears one of those little hats, a yarmulke."

"Well, he believes something different from us."

"But he's a Jew."

"There are different types of Jews. See, he's comfortable in your church because, like you, he believes that Jesus is the Messiah." That should do it.

"Yes. Right. So?"

No escaping it. This would cancel out all invitations - not a bad thing as it turned out. "We don't believe Jesus is the savior."

She was quiet for a moment. "Oh. Well, those mosquitoes are eating you up. You better get inside."

What kinds of conversations make you wish you could walk the world cloaked in invisibility?


  1. Oh my Lord! Or, her Lord! My only response would ever be that I'm a recovering Catholic and if that wasn't enough, I'd collect torches from one of my previous comments and start a march.

  2. I have no trouble with this issue, because I have my faith, but I honor the faiths of others, including the atheist faith. ;-)

  3. A couple of years ago I was riding the subway in Atlanta and there was a guy walking down the aisle, bible in hand, asking people "Have you been saved?"

    Some people smiled and nodded, some responded "yes brother," some averted their eyes in hopes he would just keep walking.

    When he reached my seat and asked me "Have you been saved?" I simply said, "I'm good thanks."

    He blinked his eyes a couple of times, and moved on to the next person.

  4. I always whip out the story of how the preacher of the church I grew up in ran off with one of the Calvary Sisters and how now my faith is destroyed. That will shut them up or they persist that no man is perfect and even a preacher can sin. What is the point then I ask. That usually does it, they shut up and leave me alone. So yes, I don't socialize a whole hell of a lot with the locals. And that is why I blog, so I can read intelligent folks like you :)

  5. Ugh, it must be Easter that brings out the nuttiness in Christians. I had a Right wing jeebus troll on my blog this week. I had to ban him because he kept trying to convert me.

  6. I have three techniques. If I'm asked about their god stuff in a public place, I simply don't recognize their existence, don't say a word and I walk away. If it is a neighbor doing the missionary thing, I quickly tell them I got stuff to do and leave. Religion peddlers at the door are the most fun .... Mostly I slam the door in their faces as soon as I see a pamphlet. Sometimes I ask, have they ever read Sarte, Camus or Reich because I have extra copies I will sell to them.

  7. Oh nuts! That's such a nice offer, but Sunday is my balance out day. Quick trip over to the methadone clinic, then off to a N.A. meeting.
    Say! That's a nice necklace your wearing. Do you have lots of nice jewelry?
    Oh, you have to go? Okay, how about I stop by later and we can chat about God and check out that jewelry of yours? Maybe some other time?

  8. I have a hard time with the God thing too. Did you know today is Earth Day? Funny, the things I believe in and care about get me labeled a tree hugging hippie chick - but hey someone has to be.
    I believe in a God but beyond that - everything else is open to interpretation and because of that I'm pretty leery of those peddling religion.
    We should really try to do lunch sometime...

  9. Thank you! I could not of said it better. Rural Georgia must be interesting. My husband was transfered from England to Salt Lake CIty UT. This place is nothing but pushy religious people. I really found it offensive to be asked by total strangers what religion I am. As someone who has zero interest in religion it's been a beating. I have found that a little pinot noir takes the edge off. So grateful to have found your blog by way of

  10. God told me not to go to church ...

  11. Let's just say we have Mormon proselytizers on occasion, and when they were more frequent, I got the leader, who resembled an ex-linebacker, to understand that his teams were not to bother me for any reason ever. And after that, if they did, and they haven't for many years now, I just said, "The big guy was supposed to tell you not to bother with me."

    Now, I've become *ahem* religious (old age, don'tchaknow), but evangelization is supposed to be by example not by how obnoxious one can be.

  12. And by the way, that's the episode of Midsomer Murders that I have. ;-)

  13. I hate when people go on and on about all the adventures they have when sporting their invisibility cloak.

  14. How about this? I'm very religious but I don't go to church. I DO believe in God and Christ but I don't believe everything happens for a reason. I believe if God wanted something done, he would just do it. He wouldn't need our buy-in on the subject. But most importantly, I believe in free-will. If you believe in God you can't deny it's in the design. If you don't believe in God then it's even easier to see in life. Free-Will is what makes us who we are. So I don't have a problem with someone asking me to go to church with them. I just have a problem when they are persistent and insistent on my attendance at their place of worship. My Free-Will should tell you that if I wanted to go, I would go. And I shouldn't have to justify my response either way.

  15. The kind of conversation I just had with my mother.

  16. handled it well. When discussing such delicate things (it might be best to save such talk for those we know are comfortable with it, right? I hope your neighbor realizes that...), it is always helpful to be respectful. Sounds like you were.

  17. Think your neighbor was confused by what a Jew is? I've run into people here in Georgia who think Catholics worship fertility idols (not far from the truth, actually, now that I think about it) and had never heard of Lutherans.

  18. People suck. Spoken like a true church goer :-). You're too nice Lisa.

  19. As far as inappropriate conversational topics are concerned, you've certainly hit the nail on the head with this one. People are always looking for common ground they may share with those they don't know well and, through ignorance, tend to blurt their assumptions as accepted practice among everyone else.

    You did well getting out of that trap quickly but I'm sure you felt kind of bad she didn't have a wider view. An open-minded wacky old lady neighbor would have suited you well. Let me know if there's a vacancy next door. You have leafy trees and cherry blossoms and I don't. I'll even help you hang the laundry.

  20. I think you handled that well.

  21. I grew up in the South, and trust me, not pleasant when I tried to inject reason into Sunday school classes. Let's just say that at age 10, I decided it was all nuts, and never went again.

    I'm nearly 60, never changed my mind. But living in Alabama, I'm constantly bombarded with the religious fanatics. Here's my solution:

    1. I am a southern woman, so of course, I try to be polite. If a neighbor asks me to church, I usually just say I attend a different one. However, here's where it gets dicey: I will occasionally mow my lawn on Sunday morning. You can only imagine the looks I get as ALL neighbors figure it out.

    2. Most fun of all: I have a "No Soliciting" sign on my front door. When someone comes to my door prosthelizing, I simply point to the sign. Inevitably, they will say, "But I'm not selling anything." At which point I say, "Yes you are, you're trying to sell me your religion," as I slam the door.

    Okay, maybe I'm NOT a polite southern woman after all!

  22. As infuriating as this is to read, I have to look at it as a story with a happy ending. Now that the awful truth has dawned on her, it appears most unlikely that Mrs. Busybody will trouble you again.

  23. I get really irritated when people try to force stuff on me and won't back down.

    I am a Follower of Christ, but I don't claim a particular denomination. This really annoys some people, and they insist that I need to choose. When they get really rude, I inform them I'm a Naza-bapti-metho-cathi-luthe-presby-costal. That really gets under their skin.

    I've been chastised by some "church people" because I list Mother Theresa, Brennan Manning, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis of Avila, Henri Nouwen and Ted Nugent as "People I admire" on Facebook. Really? You're so bored that you're going to fault my Facebook stats? Let's grow up, shall we?

    [I'm tempted to invite them as friends on Goodreads, too. Then they can criticize what I read, too!]

  24. Oh, Jesus (no pun intended). Keep hanging that laundry on the line.

    Power to the people who believe what they believe. Don't force it upon others though.

    Still, I wonder if church-going Christians are immune to mosquito bites?

  25. I want to know more about St. Francis of Avila.

  26. As one who was reared in the Catholic Church (um... let me rephrase that...) I respect and admire Jesus of Nazareth, but see most overtly religious people as his antithesis - they're by and large as bigoted a bunch as I've ever met, discriminating against anyone who doesn't share their beliefs and marginalizing groups like gays and lesbians, etc.

    I'm happy to just enjoy the small and large miracles of existence and treat everyone as equally worthy of respect.

    Until they prove otherwise by disrespecting others. Then they're toast.

  27. your washing looks lovely blowing in the breeze.

    I have a friend who brings God into most conversations it's hard to cope with at times.

  28. Ha, yesterday I heard this ridiculous story on NPR:

    about whether a boy had been saved by prayer. It's not worth getting all worked up about but crimey - what about all the little boys who are prayed for and DON'T get better?

    How NPR could report this story without asking that obvious question is beyond me.

    I don't get bothered with any church invitations where I live but am surrounded by so many republicans that when I say I'm a democrat they honestly think I'm joking.

    Course, I don't consider myself a democrat anymore, maybe an anarchist wannabe.

  29. i am now getting email forwards from a 70 year old woman who read my column about there being no such thing as Hell and a Devil. i asked her to remove my email address from her contact list and she refused. (very christian of her, right?) she sent me an email awhile back saying that my blood will not be on her hands but that she and her church would pray for me. isn't that weird? some church, god only knows where, is praying for me. i hope they pray that my column gets picked up by more papers!

  30. I have a friend I've known since high school who is now a "born-again" Christian and peppers her conversations and writing (she lives 5 hours away so we mostly correspond via email) with comments about the Lord playing a part in every trivial aspect of her life. I know how you feel about it, as it gets on my last nerve too. But we have just agreed to disagree; at least she doesn't try to convert me or get me to go to church.

  31. DEAR LORD! This happens to me about twice a year. I also hate when I'm innocently lured in --- like you outside with your clothes on the line --- by someone who seems to want to get to know you. But what they really want, of course, is to proselytize. Bastards.

    No really. What I say Bastards, I mean Bastards. This is exactly the kind of thing that pisses me off no end. Like you, Lisa, I don't go around talking about my lack of belief, trying to yank them OUT of church --- so why is it okay for them to try and drag me in??? I just don't get it.

    in 2006, I went home to Missouri and, while out for drinks with old friends, I finally said it outloud: "I think the Bible is nice literature, but I don't believe in God, or that it's the 'word' of God." They were appalled, of course. The rest of the evening was awful. I wished I'd never mentioned it. Why do I remember it was 2006? Because it was, I kid you not, 6/6/06 and they swore they were sitting there having beers with the devil herself.

    Did I say, Bastards?

    P.S. "Pull the Jew card." LOL That cracked me up.

  32. Jesus Christ did you dodge a bullet.

    I too get hung up on the "praise him when good things happen" bullshit. If he were so great why would he let children die? Bah, whatever. I'm so sick of the religious fanatics yammering on about zombie Jesus this weekend. I've decided most of them are actually crazy. It's a cult. And a sickness. It makes me ill.

    So yeah, you dodged a bullet. The real bloodsucker wasn't physically buzzing around you.

  33. I have no problem telling people I don't believe. It helps ward off the crazies.

  34. AAACK! I just released a breath that I realized I was holding since about halfway through your piece!

    I was once at a home-product party; I was acquainted with the presenter and really liked her ... until a moment when she was holding open a product catalogue with a few other women (incl. me) looking through it. One page featured a statue of the Buddha; a couple of us made happy noises over it -- and the presenter said, "Eoo -- Buddha! I don't like him!" Then she flipped the page with a snap and I swear my mind just froze. I could not believe my ears ...

    There was a brief time (2.5 yrs) in my life when I was a 'believer.' It ended up feeling all wrong, like a suit that's way too tight with pants that give you an all-day wedgie. I just about drove my father mad with my Bible-thumping, but the end was soon in sight: a guy I was friends (?) with told me that being accepted into university to study psychology was 'the devil's work,' and the minister at my church, I came to realize, spent more time gazing at my chest than into my eyes whenever we spoke. Then, of course, there was that third-year seminar course in existentialism ... ;-D

    ... Your words here are *so* evocative --> "When we first moved here, I drove my car fast across the ridge and had the distinct feeling of riding a horse. I could feel the piston action of its strong legs, the wind in my hair even as I drove with the windows rolled up tight against the morning dampness." -- My stomach does that funny flippy roller-coaster thing over the ridge and there's nothing my brothers and I used to love more than hitting a certain railway crossing at 50 mph or more -- we used to egg our poor mother *on* ...

    The photo is gorgeous ... SPRING! :-D

  35. I don't care if someone mentions their own faith in an offhand way during conversation, but I DO mind if they say it in a way that implies I obviously believe the same way they do.

    Lately I've encountered a few atheists who frustrate me just as much. They aren't shy in saying it's 100% certain there is no God and anyone who thinks otherwise is a moron. I avoid that discussion just as much as I avoid the little church ladies trying to passive-aggressively guilt me into going to church.

    I'm not a believer. I'm also not an atheist. But frankly, I don't want to discuss what I AM with my neighbor or some dude on the street, especially if they have already made their own beliefs clear like they're fact. I'm secure in what I believe and therefore I'm fine keeping my mouth shut.

  36. These things do seem to come up around the Christian holidays - people kept saying too bad I had to work on Easter and I just say - no problem. When I am thinking no problem because hello? not everyone is a Christian.

  37. A great post and one that I can appreciate. I loathe how those that believe always feel it a need to share their beliefs with others, like your life is missing something.

    We had dinner and drinks with some friends the other night and the conversation turned to religion. My wife is pretty bold and proclaims her atheist position. Our one friend is Lutheran, but since we've had many discussions with her over the years, she's never pushed her position or beliefs on anyone.

    I agree with you. Why don't people just keep their beliefs personal? I never change theirs or make any efforts to. Why do they feel like they need to change mine?

  38. gees... take the simple way out.... Jesus said we should go have a beer. happy Hour in Church is usually only 45 minutes... I can get a whole two hours in at the bar...and be much happier. Jews? check out :

    makers of He'Brew (the Chosen Beer) as well as Genesis Ale, Messiah Bold and Jewbelation.
    God & me, we think alot alike about beer.

  39. Interesting to read this today. I live on a farm with a gate at the road and my house is all the way in the back. Today the gate was closed and yet a bible thumper saw fit to unchain and open the gate, drive onto the property and knock at my door to leave some information on the bible. I was polite, told her to leave it under the mat and ducked back inside. Like Dale, I too am a recovering Catholic. I have my personal spiritual beliefs, none of which need to be organized under the roof of a "house of God." But to those folks who find comfort in that, fine. I respect all views. There's a reason it's called "faith" and not fact.

  40. HA! As a fellow Jew, I've been in the same position!

  41. I guess telling them that Jesus is a fairy tale and the bible is too bloody for your tastes is out of the question, no? One truly great thing about New York City--I don't think anyone has ever asked me whether I go to church or what religion I am (or, in my case, I was raised). I would probably laugh if someone really made it an issue.

  42. Oh, and a Jews for Jesus story. I was going to NYU law school for a master in law (think fourth year...yeah, I know). Anyhoo, I can pass for a lot of things, so when the orthodox kids were selling Hanukah candles they stopped me and asked if I was jewish. When I said no, they simply walked away (they were 13 year old boys, so they had 13 year old boy manners). One day I was stopped by a Jew for Jesus type who tried to give me literature. So I said "Jews for Jesus? Where I come from they call you christians." He did not laugh. No fucking sense of humor.

  43. Those ones. Especially when it's my mother starting them up.

    And the "So, is there a man in your life?" ones.


  44. Such a loaded topic. I think of all of it (the Bible stuff) as mythology and I don't get it when people view it as history. Oh well. In my funky L.A. 'hood, there's a trendy restaurant with trendy waiters who wear black tee shirts, each emblazoned on the back with a funny, short statement in big white lettering. My favorite? "Jesus is Our Dishwasher"

  45. For some people, their culture is just not made up of people who are an exception to the rule. I don't try to make people come to my church, but I am certainly not going to hide such a pervasive circumstance of my life just in case someone finds the Jesus tats on my boobs offensive. Figuratively speaking, of course. I'm too chicken to get tats on my boobs. What were we talking about?

    Right. Boob tats. Just get your own matching set that has one of those red circles with a line across it, banning the word "religion" or "MSG" or whatever you don't believe in. No MSG is not a bad boob tat, as subjects go. Not my choice, but I respect your need to tell everyone what you want to say on your breasts.

    I think we cleared this up.

  46. Laura said it beautifully for me. I'm agnostic (or atheist, depending on what time of the month it is) but the only thing I'm sure of is that no one knows what happens when we die. The certitude with which people lay their beliefs down drives me crazy. (Also, the fact that people will quote the Bible as proof of what's written inside, with no sense of irony.)

  47. After I got the "OM" symbol tattoo on my arm, they finally stopped asking me. They'll say "What is that?" and I explain it.


    And that's all!

    Maybe you should get a tattoo? ;)


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