Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Nation Under God

Before we dug into our Thanksgiving feast, I asked Katie if she wanted to lead us in prayer. She said, "Sure!" and proceeded to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm sure her confusion over the difference between a prayer to God and the words of Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy used to express loyalty to our republic stem from having Will and me as parents.

We're irreligious. If you look at Will's Facebook profile, he claims to be an atheist, but that's an oversimplification. My Facebook profile says I'm into the "Ethic of Reciprocity/Dudeism," which is close to my core beliefs, but still too simple.

When people ask, I tell them I'm an agnostic who loves Jesus but not organized religion. Which generally garners the same confused looks I get when I label myself as a bisexual who is married to a man, a flexitarian who eats little meat, or a philosophical relativist. I suspect people assume I just can't commit. But really, I'm just more comfortable dwelling somewhere in the middle. I should be a Buddhist, but I enjoy alcohol and other means of achieving non-sobriety too much. And I'd hate to associate myself with people like Richard Gere.

Even though Will claims to be an atheist, he's the one who first suggested to me that since energy cannot be created nor destroyed perhaps that is the case for all living things. Which is exactly how I feel. And although he perceives such an idea from its scientific aspect and I perceive it from its spritual side, we ultimately believe the same thing: we're all connected to the same energy force, aka God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it.

We're not alone. I'm reading an excellent book by Dr. Andrew Weil called "Spontaneous Happiness." It's one of those books I find myself saying, Yes, yes, yes" as I read it. I stumbled upon another yes-inducing quote from Dr. Weil this morning, "By spiritual I mean our nonmaterial essence, that aspect of our being that connects us to the essence of all other beings and to everything in the universe. Spirituality and religion share some common ground, but spirituality is not synonymous with religion." (p.63)

It reminds me of another yes-quote, this one from my favorite living religious leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama:

"Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others. I believe that at every level of society - familial, tribal, national and international - the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion."

Organized religion is generally too hierarchical and dogmatic for me, but I'm not completely opposed to going to church. Once I caught Katie pretending to belt out some traditional African-American gospel music as we were dining at a soul food restaurant. I asked the owners of the restaurant if they had a recomendation for a church that had good music. They invited us to attend their church. We have several times. We both love the music. Katie loves the crafts and singing they do in "children's church" down in the basement. I love geting hugged by at least fifty of my joyful, soulful black brothers and sisters at the beginning of the service.

We don't attend regularly, mostly because I like to sleep late on Sundays, but also because I get annoyed when the assistant pastor starts guilt-tripping the congregation into offering more than just five or ten dollars when they pass the hat so that we can send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I'm all for tithing your income to charity if that's your thing. But I'm sorry, giving more money than you can comfortably afford so two human beings can go on vacation seems not very Jesusesque.

I answer Katie's questions about God and Jesus and anything else she asks because I don't want my daughter to be ignorant of the dominant religion in her country. I like to encourage her curiosity and spiritual development. But I always temper my answers with "Some people think..." and "But I think..." I want her to realize there is more than one way to know God and that ultimately no person on this earth has the answers to all quetions. Which can be confusing to a five year old who wants a definite yes or no response to life's complexities.

So I can understand why Katie would think I meant "recite the Pledge" when I asked if she wanted to lead us in prayer. It's one of the few places she regularly hears the words "under God." It's just funny that she learned these words at her public school in a republic that supposedly separates Church and State.