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I was talking to this guy I know a little about religion and faith.

He said that he thinks maybe it’s more important to keep the faith…

yet he’s an atheist.

I made an appointment with a different psychiatrist who I have heard good things about. I’m really happy about that…

My dad gave me copies of this paper tracing some of our family all the way back to the 1600’s. It’s interesting to see what my ancestors did…

My old roommate (and one of my very best friends) was asking me about the music situation. She brought up an interesting thought.. which is that a couple of years ago after I took a trip across the country I was really contemplating dropping out of school to just live and play some music. I didn’t end up doing it… but she mentioned how it’s funny that sort of happened anyway.

Man.. I don’t understand why I’m always so wound up at this time of the day…

Song of the day: At the Hop by Devendra Bahnhart.

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I went to open mic night again last night. There is this guy- who I’ll call Travis- who hangs out around the cafe a lot.

Most performers at open mic get up with an acoustic guitar and sing songs. It’s always sort of refreshing when someone does something different.

Travis got up with a notebook and began to read a poem. Before he even started, I grimaced a little because I could only imagine what it could contain. Travis isn’t especially well-liked around this cafe. He hits on all the girls, acts pretty obnoxiously, and offends many people up and down.

I have to admit that his poem was pretty good- but very inappropriate for the setting. This cafe is a family establishment and he’s been banned before.

His poem was basically a hate and anger letter to God and the Christian religion. Although  the words themselves were well written and the questions reflected thoughts of men and women throughout the ages, they also showed his misunderstanding of much of Christianity. The worst part about it was the arrogance in which he delivered his words with, as if he were smarter than those who believe in Christianity. I respected him for putting these questions out there, but he did it in the wrong place and with the completely wrong attitude. Although many of the things he said sounded good and convincing at first, if you really thought about it on a much deeper level what he was saying didn’t make sense. For example, he kept calling God a fool. By definition, God simply can’t be a fool. He said if God is loving and omnipotent (which he pronounced wrong,) why is there pain in the world? Yet he went on to criticize that God punished his supposed son who lived perfectly.

My response is not a defense of Christianity. It is just a criticism of what he was saying, as well as where and how he was saying it.

This young man was full of such anger and hate! I feel a lot of compassion for him… as well as frustration because of him.

What I’m also getting at is that there are two types of non-Christians. There are those that harbor a lot of anger and resentment towards the God they don’t believe in and the people who do, and then there are those who are at peace with what they believe (and don’t believe) in. I’ve been burned by churches. I’ve been burned by Christians. I’ve been angry at God. I do not call myself a Christian, but I do not harbor such huge amounts of anger and hate at God or Christians in general. I believe in the things I believe in because of logic, reason, experience, and simply what my heart says, NOT because I am angry at the “God I don’t believe in.”  I find such freedom in that.

Last night I went to an open mic night downtown. I stepped outside for a smoke and an older man with a white beard approached.

It was one of those conversations that you hope you’ll always remember.

We talked about music- Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. “Bring it back to the basics,” he told me.

I’ve talked to lots and lots of people outside of this cafe. My guard is always up against what I like to call “creepers.”

Something about this guy didn’t strike me that way though…

He told me, “I don’t know what it is lately… I’ve just been waking up every morning and loving everybody.”

“Yeah?

“Yeah.” He takes a drag of his cigarette. “I’m not going to try to understand everyone, but… my heart is just full of such… such love for them. You know?”

“Yeah, I do. The world could use more people like you.”

Silence.

“Where do you think that love comes from?” I ask, curious if I’m going to hear the pitch for Christianity next, if he’s going to pull out the conveniently placed religious tract and invite me to his church.

“Honestly? Between you and me?” He trails off for a moment. “I think it’s from God.”

He gauges my reaction.

“I just… I look around at all these people,” he gazes across the street where dozens of high schoolers are hanging out, “and I see a generation that is so lost. I have my bad habits too,” he says, glancing at his cigarette, “but… ” he trails off again with his head down. As he looks up, I see tears in his eyes. He looks at me and apologizes. “I just pray for them. I care about them; I really do.”

We talk about a few other things. He advises me to get more into nature. I smile and say I will. Little does he know how passionate I am about nature.

He was legit. He was passionate. Maybe he was lonely. I really don’t know.

But something about what he said… and how he said it… it gave me a lot of hope.

“When you’re young… everything that happens is a thing all by itself. It’s a lonely thing. I know, I ‘member… They’s a time of change, an’ when that comes, dyin; is a piece of all dyin’, and bearin’ is a piece of all bearin’, an’ bearin’ an’ dyin’ is two pieces of the same thing. I wisht I could tell you so you’d know, but I can’t.”

-John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

I know, I know… Steinbeck again? Sorry, but I love him.

I’ve been thinking about this quote. A woman is talking to her daughter. The grandmother just passed away and the daughter is pregnant.

I think there’s such wisdom in this quote. It’s so easy to only see the small picture… unconnected from anything else.

When I was a Christian, I always felt uneasy when people consoled me or others with that whole “God has a plan” spiel or “everything happens for a reason.” I figured that God could make the best of any situation, but to say that something horrible was part of his plan, well, I just couldn’t believe that.

I don’t really think that everything happens for a reason. I do believe, however, that good can come out of any situation… as hard as it may seem at the time. And that good may not directly make up for the bad, but it is what you choose to rest your eyes on- the good or the bad- that will ease or increase your suffering.

I believe that there is beauty in sadness. A friend once told me, “Two things can bring you to your knees: beauty and pain.” There’s wisdom in that.

Where I’m at right now… it’s hard to focus on the good coming out of all of this. I do see a few things already though. I feel really at peace with my family. My heart has really opened up to love. I know that I will come out of this thing much stronger than when I entered it. I’m learning a lot…

But in no way have I pulled through it yet. I still suffer daily from bouts of despair, hopelessness, terror, panic… times when I don’t see the good at all. Other times during the day I just feel like I’m sort of teetering on the edge but not quite there. And yet other times I feel on top of the world. Every day I go through this range of emotions, and it does get quite exhausting. And to make things even more complicated, even when I’m feeling like myself, sometimes I will think about the good part of my life that I left behind and of course I naturally grow very, very sad. I think about the beautiful children I worked with, the amazing organization I worked for, my friends, my consistent passion for life and learning…the path I was on, it was exciting and I was very content with it. I try to tell myself to be happy that I got to experience those things, know those people, and that helps. Sometime in April or May I’m going to go to Milwaukee for the day and visit the kids, get some closure. I think that will help too.

Yeah, it’s pretty hard to see the big picture sometimes. It seems, like the mother from Grapes of Wrath said, that “ever’thing that happens is a thing all by itself.” There is a bigger picture, though, and many different levels at which things are connected. There is peace in that…

I have an interesting history with religion.

I grew up Lutheran- Wisconsin Synod- which is the most conservative synod of all the Lutherans.

My dad was a pastor, and my mom is a pastor’s daughter. I grew up walking next door to church every Sunday, going to Sunday School, and attending a parochial school. Along with that, I went to almost all of the church functions.

I remember being a kid, listening to the pastor (or teacher,) and actually thinking about what he was saying. I remember it making me happy.

We were taught that what we believed was the most important thing in the world, and that it was the literal truth. It wasn’t just some tradition to keep going.

I remember being thirteen years old and losing a friend in a car accident. I remember relying on my faith to get me through that.

I remember a year later questioning everything I had been taught.

I remember asking my dad, a pastor, “Dad, how do we know that the whole bible is actually the word of God and that it wasn’t changed or something?”

His reply: “Well… see, it’s complicated. We just have to sort of trust that the church did the right thing in passing it down and that God wouldn’t have let his Word get changed.”

“Oh…” And I remember thinking how that wasn’t a sufficient answer for me. (In hindsight, I realize that my dad was simplifying the answer quite a bit.)

I remember my confirmation day. I was fourteen years old. I felt tremendous guilt for having such strong doubts, but I refused to verbalize them. Instead, I had to swear that I knew that the Lutheran Creed I was saying was the truth in front of a large group of people. At least I got a cake and presents.

When I was sixteen, my dad was asked to resign as pastor. My dad was in his 50’s with no job, no money, and we had three months to find a new place to live.

That year I started going to a non-denominational church. My faith was inspired again. I started attending church every week, reading my bible daily, and at one point I even helped start a prayer group at my public high school.

My freshman year of college in  Milwaukee I even helped to start a church.

But the whole time… I had these nagging doubts… doubts about the accuracy of the bible, the teachings of the Bible, the Christian Church, and a lot of doubts about the theology behind what I said that I believed. I was still attending church regularly (a church that I loved,) participating in a small group, and attending other church events. I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people really admired me for my “faith.”

Then one day… I just stopped going. I had usually looked forward to church, but one Sunday I just decided not to go. And I never went back. Throughout the course of the next few months I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t know, and that I had never really allowed myself to question my beliefs without feeling guilty… that guilt was instilled in my since I had been a child. It was such a liberating feeling- not because I thought I could morally do whatever that I wanted, but because I was allowing myself the freedom to really THINK without guilt, to acknowledge a lot of things that I had buried within myself so deeply for such a long time.

And don’t get me wrong… when I was in the hospital last month, at the lowest point in my life, I wanted terribly to choose to have that faith again. My whole family would come to visit me, giving me hugs and telling me how much Jesus loves me, how God has a plan through all of this. It made me so sad… being a Christian would have given me so much comfort at a time that I had needed comfort more than any time in my life.

But I couldn’t just force myself to believe something because it was convenient at that point in time.

Last night I went with my sister to her church. Mostly, I just wanted to hear someone talk that would make me think (not being in school is really getting to me!) Also, I wanted to spend time with my sister. And… I knew it would make my sister and mom really happy if I went.

The sermon was called “Just Do It.” The pastor basically talked about how we should just obey God and not question Him. He said that if we were stumbling in believing things in the Bible, we should stop questioning them and just take them as God’s Word (he had a much more convincing way of saying it.)

It reminded me of this John Steinbeck quote from East of Eden:

“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most important thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.”

It seems wrong to me to tell someone not to question what they believe. In fact, some of the “strongest” Christians I know seem to ask themselves the really tough questions. It also seems pretty convenient to teach people to not question it.

And… maybe most importantly, it really takes away from the value of individuality, of the ability to reason- two things that I believe are some of the best traits of humanity.

I could go on and on about religion- it is such a huge part of what shaped me. But I’ll stop here. This stuff is enough to chew on.