Archive for the 'Past' Category

Inadvertent Education

When I was in second grade, the private Constructivist school I was attending started to go downhill like an 18 wheeler with no brakes.  My parents had assumed I would be at the school until it ended in 8th grade, so they ended up flailing about for a new private school for me to attend.  They ended up choosing an Episcopalian school, as it was the best they could find.  It was rather traditional – they had uniforms, there was mandatory chapel twice a week, there was daily religion class (which is to say, daily Christianity class), etc.  Independence was discouraged, and group cohesion was valued.  I won’t go into the number of times my strong independent streak got me in trouble, but suffice it to say, it did, and rather frequently.

Now, when I got to this school, I had had essentially no exposure to organized religion.  I knew about the concept of God, but that’s pretty much where things ended.  I had no idea who this Jesus guy was, or that the bible supposedly wasn’t just a really long story.  My mother instructed me to pretty much actively ignore most of the religion parts of the class, and so I spent a lot of time staring at the magic-eye posters on the wall (even today all I have to do is blink and I can see them).  However, this was not always possible.  In my two years at St. Mark’s, I read pretty much the entire bible twice, and we were quizzed on it, so I actually had to read it.  I just looked at it as a really long and complicated story, and that’s about it.  Being an adventure fan, I actually rather enjoyed much of the old testament, what with all the running about and killing eachother, etc.  I thought the vengeful god was way cooler than the pansy that he seemed to turn into in the new testament.

But, reading the bible was only part of that class.  I distinctly remember that on most days, the teacher would choose a particular passage or story, and we would all discuss it together (a teaching technique I now know as “think pair share”).  Those discussions were what got me in trouble.  Since I was pretty much the only student who had no idea what these stories were, or that they were special, I was pretty damn irreverent.  I asked a million questions, most of which were quite unanswerable, or even rhetorical.  I also asked “Why?” all the goddamn time, a question that is generally relatively incompatible with religion.  It drove the teacher mad, and eventually I ended up being essentially banished to playing with marbles and blocks in the adjoining room, so as to not inadvertently disrupt the class.

Before my exile, I did learn a few things.  First of all, I found out that my birthday is Michaelmas, or the feast of St. Michael (sometimes known as Michael the archangel), a relatively important day in Catholicism.  I got a bit fascinated by angels at that point, in particular all the weird and arcane beliefs and mythology behind them.  Plus, as far as angels go (and I had always felt they were pretty lame – they were very one-dimensional to me), Michael seemed like a pretty cool dude, being basically the warrior and whatnot.  Another thing I ended up learning was that religion was eerily similar, in my mind, to the superstitions and whatnot that I had developed over the course of my life at the time.  I was not a fan of Christianity (too many things I enjoyed were frowned upon), but it did get me thinking in a more structured way about my own belief system, which, by the way, I will eventually actually talk about!

So, while I hated my years at that school, and generally feel that they were quite negative in nature (the fact that I was almost expelled at least once should tell you something), something positive did come out of my time there, and something that is actually far more important and significant than I could have conceived of at the time.

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Hiding in the wings…

When I was young, I was what most people would regard as extremely superstitious (and in fact, I’m still relatively so).  I thought the back corner of our yard was evil, and would not go past our elm tree (about 20 feet from said corner) past dusk or so, unless there were other people around with me.  I thought that if I behaved a certain way, wanted it bad enough, and “proved that I could make it”, that whatever omniscient being I felt was in charge of the universe would grant my wish and send me back in time.  I believed these things pretty much until the end of high school.

What’s interesting about this is that I was raised with no religion at all.  My maternal grandfather was a Methodist minister who was kicked out of the church for preaching that the bible, while a good example of how to be a good person, was not explicitly true.  I think this was a great thing to say, but, well, the church did not, and he got the boot.  When I was a kid, my mother had a very negative view of organized religion, and I strongly suspect this is at least part of why.  My father was raised in a Presbyterian church by relatively devout parents (my grandfather literally kidnapped me once as a kid, to try and have me baptized before my parents could find him) and while he had some fond memories, he didn’t really believe in raising a kid with a religion either.

Now, their goal was partially to let me choose my own path, and partially to attempt to steer me away from organized religion, keep me from believing in a greater universal force, etc.  Ironically, by leaving me to my own devices, I ended up creating my own little personal religion (which, while not Christianity, did involve a higher being, etc), in response to the vacuum that was my spiritual life.  It was 100% personal, too.  I never told a soul.  I don’t think it was intentional, but as a kid, I got the impression that having a religion was a negative thing, and even seen as vaguely shameful in my family.  As a kid who was very aware of how I was perceived, I did not want to let my parents know that I was indeed a spiritual person.

I remember when, around age 14 or so, my best friend (who was raised Irish Catholic) asked me what I thought happened after we died.  I said, without hesitation, “They put you in the ground and you rot.”.  She was taken aback by this frankness and apparent atheism, and I remember feeling a great degree of internal conflict over wanting to tell her what I felt happened to the rest of a person once they died.  Even today, I am very hesitant to discuss religion, especially my early days of it.  I wish I could be more open about it, and I’m hoping that this blog will help with that.

What is this?

I intend to use this space to talk about my feelings on religion, spirituality, etc.  I was raised in a non-religious, non-spiritual home, but have always considered myself a rather spiritual person.  I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church in college, but switched to attending a Quaker Meeting (on a very, very irregular basis) by the end of my studies.  Though I have not attended a meeting on a regular basis, due to my moving around so much, it has very much resonated with me.  I am overseas right now, and upon my return to the US, I intend to further explore this aspect of my life more directly, but for now, I’d just like to use this space as somewhat of a “brain dump” on the subject of me and spirituality, etc.

Oh, and the title of the blog is from a joke that a friend of mine made once, that the bumpersticker for Quakers should be:  “Quakerism:  Shut Up and Listen”.   Given my propensity to talk my head off, I often have to tell myself this, and so I found it funny and appropriate.