I was raised by a mother who didn't believe in God. Both my parents believed that it was important to have a basis in religion to help form a sense of morality - at least I think that is why my atheist Mom forced me to attend weekly services at the local Episcopal church. It helped that Rev H was big on logic, and short on judgment. My Mom didn't like God, but she really liked our "local messenger" and she respected him even if she didn't drink the cool-aid. I know why she didn't believe in God - she explained that her faith died with her first marriage (and losing her firstborn son some 20 years later probably didn't help matters). My Dad refuses to discuss his religious beliefs seriously. He still attends the same church, but there are all the lingering questions, and I have a feeling he will never give in and give me the answers for which I yearn.
So it should come to you as no surprise that my faith is incomplete. Sometimes strong, sometimes non-existent. Still I like to go to church and soak it all in, especially the music. I recently joined St. John's Church in Somerville, and it is just what I want. It reminds me of the parish where I grew up. St. John's is all about love and service. Love for one another and love for God in seemingly equal amounts. It is about service to the community and being there makes me want to be a better person. What I love most of all are the messages I hear from Father Ron (and the Deacons). I always go home thinking about the sermons.
But do I believe everything they believe? Not always. A few months ago my daughter brought her friend with us to church. The friend's Mom is quite ill and the girl was upset during the service. After the service I brought her to meet Father Ron. He sat with her, he spoke with her for 15 minutes, and he prayed with her, and for her. My daughter even commented that holding hands (all 4 of us) with the Father was a moving experience. But is it going to lead to a miracle cure for her Mom? Nope... and that would make it much easier to believe.
I've been thinking of my own doubts a lot recently as I ponder the BIG NEWS in religion this summer. The so-called Ground Zero Mosque. This time last week I was agreeing with most Americans that it wrong to put a mosque THERE.
This week after learning more about the proposal, my feelings have changed. Granted, I do get my news from a lot of left-leaning sources (NPR, the New York Times), but I still live in mainstream America. This time last week I felt it was in poor taste to put a mosque there. I was never thinking "over my dead body can they put a mosque there!" Just more like, this just doesn't sit right...
Build, Baby, Build!
After hearing more about the proposal and a call in show on WNYC my mind changed. It was an open-phones radio call in for residents of Tribecca (the area where the mosque/cultural center is being proposed). Some residents said that there is already a mosque on or near the proposed site as well as a Muslim bookstore.While the rest of the country seems against the Mosque, local residents called in with a wide number of reasons why it should go through. Since they live there,- and lived through 9-11 as the WTC's close neighbor, and the aftermath - it is important to take their views into consideration.
It is true - there are a lot of reasons to despise religious fundamentalists OF ALL RELIGIONS. But from my basic understanding of religion, the key element of any religion beyond belief in God, is love. Nowadays it seems as if religion is about loving only ourselves, and hating everyone else! How come it's fashionable to hate Muslims, but anti-antisemitism is still wrong? If it had been a Jewish Community Center, it would have been fine. We live spitting distance from a Hindu temple. I think it looks very cool and I really want to visit it sometime, but when there were proposals for its expansion, local residents vehemently opposed them. Even I find myself falling into this hypocrisy. I don't like some Christian denominations (and some I directly fear), but others are OK. Even with religious denominations that I find perfectly acceptable, I find myself saying my church is better. With a smug smile I say, "Well, we ordain women, and we accept gays - and we feed the poor, accept the oppressed and don't care how your bread is buttered as long as you come to church sometimes! We are the welcoming church."
What would the founding father's think? I hate to be cynical, but I think the Founding Fathers were thinking of the US more in terms of capitalism than religion, despite the quotes from this blog. I grew up learning that the Anglican church (known as Episcopalian here) was founded because a horny King wanted to get a divorce and the Pope wouldn't allow it. Let the religion without sin cast the first stone!
Which brings me back to my own little world. There are millions of Christians and millions of Muslims occupying the same planet. I am not the only Christian who battles huge doses of doubt. My guess is that there is a family somewhere South of Soho looking for a nice place to hang out, read books, knit for the needy, offer Arabic classes for their pre-school kids and maybe to pray. And in that same family, the Mom knows she is a Muslim, but her doubts are just as strong as mine. Maybe she smartly (unlike me) keeps them to herself as she goes about her day. My imaginary Muslim NYC mama-friend and I are not so different. This summer my daughter benefited from the "Christian Community Center" by going to YMCA camp. My kids learned to swim at the local JCC. Our lives may be fulled with similar activities and similar obligations as my Muslim mama-friend. She may be a Muslim in name, but like me, full of doubts and just wants to raise nice kids.
I'm sick of people hating each other because of religious beliefs! I'm sick of the misinformation and the judgment. The fear-mongering is beyond reproach! It reminds me of the constant discussion of impending war in Israel over religious places of worship, water and power that people have been fighting for since Christ's birth. Now, I think it's heartbreaking that the fight is over land and power is just an hour from my home.
Assuming all Muslims are Terrorists is like saying All Christians were Crusaders. Not all Jews are militant Zionists and not every Hindu is heading to fight in Kashmir!
This should be the message.... stop fighting over how people pray! Let them build it. If it offends you,so be it! Voice your opinion to Mayor Bloomberg (or to me, I like a nice debate) and then go on with your day.