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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.

I have been absent from the wordpress world for the last week…  I’d have to say that things have been getting harder, but that’s a whole different story. I can definitely say that my meds are not helping- and I’m starting to wonder if they’re actually making things worse. More on that later, though.

What I do want to write about is pretty unrelated.

This morning I checked out a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The topic was life after death. I was really interested to hear what the minister would say about such a topic… especially because although they call themselves a religion, they don’t really have a set of doctrinal beliefs- so I wondered what they could possibly say about life after death.

The minister first gave a very general overview of what different world religions believe about life after death. She then talked about her own beliefs concerning the topic, which were very similar to mine… basically, that there is really no way to know.

As I’ve written in previous entries, my family is very religious- and I grew up that way too. I need to point out that they are religious in the sincere way- they truly believe what they say they believe. It’s not just about tradition or appearances.

For my mom, her beliefs grant her huge comfort. The idea that she thinks she knows where she’s going after she dies consoles her in some of her hardest struggles. It used to be that way for me too- I was very passionate about my faith. Yet in the midst of that I always had this fear that I was or could be wrong… and then always felt guilty for having that fear. The ultimate freedom for me was actually admitting what I really believed all along- that I really didn’t know- that there really is no way to know... and that that’s okay, and life is still worth living even if there are no pearly gates. I believe more than ever that this life is the most precious gift, and now I only fear death when I am feeling truly in love with life and don’t want it to end. But even then it’s not really a fear of death- it’s just a love of life. To me, that is comforting.

I think I made a mistake though. Just a few minutes ago I told my mom that I went to the UU Fellowship. I tried to preface it by telling her that what she had heard about UU was probably wrong or very misleading, and explained that it’s not a religion in the sense of the word that Christians think of as a religion. Although different answers to some of life’s biggest questions are presented, none of them are really taught to be the Truth. They encourage you to explore your spirituality and boast that people from all different faiths are a part of their church. They don’t tell you there is a God, but they don’t tell you there isn’t one either.

My mom was not happy. In all fairness, she wasn’t angry either. I know I’m lucky for that. At least she didn’t scream at me, threaten to kick me out. But you should have seen the look on her face. Pure concern and sadness.

It’s not her reaction that upset me (although I obviously don’t want her to be worried or sad.) What upsets me, what angers me, is that her reaction was based on what she knows about Unitarian Universalism- which comes from the world of conservative Christianity and Christian Family Radio. “UU is dangerous! They will indoctrinate you with false teachings!” How ironic considering UU emphasizes not having any formal doctrines or creeds, whereas at the church I grew up in, we all spoke in unison our creed every week. Every week, every day I was indoctrinated. Maybe “indoctrinated” is a strong word- but I was certainly taught that what our religion proclaimed was the Truth. The UU minister this morning openly admitted that she could be wrong about what she thought. That doesn’t sound like indoctrination to me.

Don’t get me wrong- I have enormous respect for my mom and her beliefs. Maybe I’m the cowardly one, sticking to the easy, middle-ground answer of “well, I don’t really know.” But that’s honest- it’s the truth. I recently told my mom that I thought certain things were really impossible to know (in the midst of a conversation about religion) and she thought that I was ascribing to relativity, or that I was saying that the truth really isn’t that important. Again, there’s so much irony in that; it’s because the truth is important to me that I’ve admitted that I don’t know. I can’t pretend to believe something that I don’t.

I guess it also frustrates me because I wish she would have been happy for me. Yet at the same time, I understand why she isn’t. I don’t agree with it, but I understand.

Yes, Mom, there is reason to be very concerned about me. I’m really struggling here. There is something not right in my brain- the chemicals, they’re mixed up. But in the sense of spiritual and religious beliefs, I am healthier than I ever have been.

After seeing the look on my mom’s face today, I know that I can never be completely honest with her about how I feel about religion. Along with frustrating me, it broke my heart she was so sad and worried about it… because honestly, I’m glad that she gets so much comfort and hope from her faith. I admire it. I just wish she could admire the way I address those same questions.

“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.

When I think of acceptance in social terms, I think of two religions or denominations accepting one another, meaning that although they don’t agree on everything and they certainly don’t understand each other very well, they can agree to disagree, if not appreciate one another or even admire certain things about the other.

Or I think of accepting those of different sexual orientation. A straight man may not at all understand a gay man’s sexual preference, but he can still learn to appreciate the gay man, and vice versa.

And the examples could go on.

I’ve been thinking about acceptance because I know that I need to not only accept where I’m at right now, but also accept what I’ve left behind and the things that happened during the months prior to moving back home.

What I realized is that just as a religious group doesn’t have to like another religion’s beliefs in order to accept the people of that religion, I don’t have to like that I left behind so many good things, and I don’t necessarily have to understand it either. But in order to accept it, I need to stop fighting it. I know that it’s okay, even necessary, to feel angry and/or sad about it, but I can’t let those feelings overtake me. I need to learn to appreciate that I had those experiences (even the bad ones) instead of fighting the memory of them off.

In other news… here’s what I’m looking forward to about this weekend so far:

  • Going grocery shopping tonight with my mom and brother (I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but I honestly love grocery shopping… especially when I don’t have to pay for the groceries!)
  • Getting coffee with my old roommate and one of my closest friends who will be in town tomorrow. I miss her so much.
  • Taking my brother Nathan to a movie at the cheap theater tomorrow night.
  • On Sunday I’m getting coffee with an old friend who lives in town.
  • Sunday night I’m spending time with my sister
  • Knowing that March starts on Monday!

That’s it for now. Happy Friday!

A couple posts ago I wrote about how I met with a new psychologist for the first time. He basically asked me questions for the whole session, and I’m still thinking about some of them.

He explained to me that both Freud and another famous psychiatrist (I don’t remember who) found that a significantly high number of patients who came in with strong feelings of depression yet had seemingly good lives could not answer what they thought the purpose of life was and they did not find meaning in their work.

So, my psychologist asked me what I think my purpose is in life, why I’m here.

Now, first of all, I’m only twenty-two years old.

Second of all, what a big question. People ask themselves that throughout their lives. Some answer in terms of religion: “To spread the Gospel.” Some answer more lightly: “To have fun!” Some answer with philanthropy: “To help others.”

I’ve always asked myself big questions. I think that most people could be content doing a number of things with their lives. I don’t think there is only one profession I am called to do. In terms of religious or spiritual beliefs, I’m really unsure where I stand on a lot of it, so I really can’t answer from that perspective. But the answer that I’ve come up with in the past is pretty simple.

I answered the doctor: “To love. And to let others love me.”

And he actually gave me a sort of funny look and said, “Okay… well, more specifically than that?”

I said: “I don’t know. A few months ago I had a plan, and now I don’t really have that plan anymore. But I feel confident that there are a lot of different ways to love people, a lot of different things I can do.”

And in my journey towards “learning to live” again, I realized that this is still something that I believe. To love… and to be loved, is really the best you can do in this life. And it’s really not easy either. So many of my actions are motivated by things that are far from it. Heck, I could start a whole different blog called “learning to love” and I’m sure I wouldn’t run out of things to post about.

What do you think your purpose is? Your meaning? Why are you here and what makes you answer the way you do?