Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blinded by the Light, or perhaps just Blinded

I've started going back to church. My neighbours invited me with them and I decided to go. Something was missing in my life, some hole that I decided needed to be filled with God. And thus - church.

The first Sunday I went, I was amazed by how welcoming everyone was. I hadn't been there for 5 minutes and four people had shaken my hand. Welcomed me there. Expressed pleasure that I existed. The worship music was lead by an enthusiastic and decent group of musicians and singers. The sermon, delivered by a young man in his third year of seminary, was also enthusiastic, if completely unsophisticated. I was surprised by how it landed with me, how my intellect didn't get in the way and write off the young man for losing his place, his train of thought; for his entire sermon of cliches and non-original thought. It landed, and I had an experience, my faith renewed like it has not been for years.

I went back the next Sunday. It was another guest speaker. An old man, a man who preached in the style of my youth, designed to push my buttons with his incessant prattle about how God will make you wealthy if you tithe with an open heart and just have faith. After all, he and his wife had faith that God would provide when they stepped out and bought their fifth property without knowing for sure they could pay for it.

Thanks. That's really relatable. Fifth property, huh? I bit my tongue and held in my cynicism. When I talked to my mother, decompressing, I got the mixed messages of "I can't handle the Prosperity Gospel" and "You shouldn't go to church to get something out of it. Going through the motions has value too."

Full of cynicism and confusion, I slept in the next Sunday.

The pastor's wife called me a few days later to see if I was okay. I was both pleased to be missed and annoyed that I had to call in sick to church. And then she asked me if I could use my acting talents to help the youth put on a Christmas banquet in 6 weeks. "We haven't chosen anything yet," she said. "But the youth pastor is quite a talented actor too! He did all kinds of things in high school. I'll have to chat with you both on Sunday!"

She prayed for me too. Prayed that God would shower me with blessings, money, and find me a good husband one day. She didn't ask if I had a man already and I didn't volunteer that information. She did a lot more talking than listening and I just wanted to get off the phone before my phone bill got higher. I might have tithed when Old Man Prosperity preached but it hadn't returned to my wallet, guided by the Golden Hands of God, just yet.

I hung up with a rueful smile. It was true, what my acting teachers had said. Every time church people find out you're an actor, they try to rope you into putting on amazing productions in no time at all - after all, it can't be hard. Every high school student does drama. It doesn't take time. I bit down on my jaded knee-jerk reaction and planned how to politely decline any responsibility for a Christmas concert/program/banquet thingy while not making them sound like blithering idiots for their ignorance.

I went on Sunday. I tried to leave my judging eyes at home. Tried to have an open heart and mind, a teachable spirit.

"Who here would rather have a million dollars? Who here would rather have True Riches?"

This is what the pastor segued too, in a sermon about faithfulness. I bit down. I am here to be teachable. I am leaving the judging eyes at home.

"Define True Riches!" shouts special dude behind me. He's been singing in harmonies the entire morning, much to my surprise; harmonies that arise from him trying to sing the tune, I think, since they work but they don't sound fully intentional. He's also been yelling the odd supportive phrase throughout the sermon, which he has done every Sunday I've been there. Nevertheless, by this point I am in total agreement with Special Dude. I want the definition of True Riches already, particularly since the pastor has asked the question, with minor variations, 6 TIMES. I mean, get to the fucking point already.

Except when he got to the point I could no longer hold onto the teachable spirit I'd been trying to cultivate.

Because the point, and the definition of True Riches...


"God wants you to be rich!" "God wants you to make more than $100,000 a year! Why? Because $100,000 a year is a limit, and God wants you to have no limits!" "God's blessings are the goose that laid the golden eggs! People can take away your wealth (the golden eggs) but you'll still have true riches (the goose)!" "I believe this verse is about money!"

Verbatim. Unfortunately. That is all verbatim.

I wrote down some furious notes. I ran out of paper. When the pastor asked if we believed what he was saying, I shook my head emphatically - I don't think he saw. I began to shake with rage, my arms crossed, sitting in the front row, anger rising and rising until I had to either jump up and slap the pastor across his lying face or leave.

I left. My heels clicked all the way across the community centre floor to the back, where the two door guards (I guess they're called ushers) pointed out the washroom. I went in, looked in the mirror - my face was pale, I was shaking, I looked distraught. "I can't go back in there," I whispered to the empty room. "I just can't."

I texted S. - "Fucking prosperity gospel. Coming home. Want a cheeseburger and fries?" I took a few breaths and snuck out while the guards - sorry, ushers - weren't looking. I made it to the car, got inside and locked the doors - I felt like I had to escape. It was so oppressive. And as I drove away I checked my mirrors, expecting the pastor's wife to chase me down and haul me back inside.

I talked to my mom. "I got away though," I said. She laughed but that's how it felt.

I ranted for a long time. To S., to my mom, my dad. On here, now. On Facebook. The lies this man was preaching, masquerading as God's word, cloaked in the verses about a cheerful giver - tithe to Pastor Moneybags, God will reward you with cash, it's working for Pastor Moneybags, isn't it? As he grows fat on the tithes of his impoverished congregation who cannot afford a building of their own and must use a community centre while they wait for God's blessing to arrive, in the form of Mamon.

A word he actually used in the sermon, to describe God's blessings.

Last I checked, the Bible said you could serve either God or Mamon. Not both.

Not both.

And last I checked, Satan made promises of material wealth too.

So if both look like angels of light...

If they both shine brighter than the sun...

If they both give you money when you follow their rules...

What the fuck is the difference?

From an earthly perspective, that is.

I've struggled with money, and with faith, and I've almost made the choice to choose Mamon over God. To hear that if I only had enough faith, and the right kind of faith, I'd be rewarded with money...well, that rubs me the wrong way. That invalidates the faith journeys of every poor person on the planet. Why isn't it working for the Christians of Africa, or China? Surely the Christians who are prosecuted for their faith, who have to make a choice between worshipping God or living their lives in peace, surely they have enough faith to be given large gifts of cash instead of having their fucking lives taken away from them? This message of bullshit invalidates my childhood, where money was rare and God was not. My parents, who experienced poverty and faith hand in hand. It makes a mockery of everything I feel to be true and right, and turns God into a Golden Calf.

I can't handle it. Obviously.

The pastor's wife called me that night to ask if I was okay. "Someone said you left during the sermon," she said. I took a deep breath and told her the truth, politely. "The prosperity gospel pushes a lot of buttons for me," I said. "I had to leave."

"Oh. Oh," she said. She didn't seem to know what else to say. "Well, thank you for being honest," she finally said. "You're welcome," I said. "I'll call you on Wednesday and we can chat," she continued.

S. said I should have told her not to call me or contact me ever again. I guess I was too polite. I think being polite and nice is going to catch up to me one day, when I snap and have a breakdown of some kind on some random person - God help that random person, they're going to wonder what the hell happened to them - but since that is still just a thought and not a near-future eventuality, I didn't tell her to go fuck herself with her golden Bible.

By some accident my phone died today.

Accident? Or divine intervention?

I don't know.

But it's a good thing, either way.

Because today might have been the day that I snapped.

I drove to Saskatoon today. I've had an overly busy last two weeks. I've had 3 days, in the last 22, where I didn't go far as I can remember, anyway...but I think I only took one of those days to just do nothing. So I think I'm pushing myself to a breaking point of some kind. For the last week or so I have been spoiling for a fight - you know those days where you wake up and you just want somebody to do something or say something so you can just light into them and rip them apart, just so you can feel better? I wanted to break someone's nose, or cut them to the soul with my words, or something violent and cruel and completely unnecessary, just to be a bitch and get it over with. I fantasized about going back in time, to the customer who was grouchy because their favoured dog food was out of stock, who told me we were going to lose business if we didn't get our act together instead of reading the GODDAMNED SIGN ABOVE THE DOG FOOD THAT SAID IT WAS A MANUFACTURERS SUPPLY ISSUE and had nothing to do with us - fuck, I wanted to go back in time and take out 26 years of being nice to people on her until she cried. Good thing I haven't got a time machine.

I didn't fight today. I had a few chances to be a bitch but I held back and was nice and lied when people asked me how I was, said fine, smiled, all is well in the inner workings of this maniacally tired girl. I saw a friend and that was a high point in my day - it's possible to just rest in the largeness of her almost-to-term belly and take some real delight in the life that resides in there. And then I kept driving. I cried a bit as I drove. I talked myself through all the reasons I need to go to therapy. I think I've decided that I should get at least one sleep-in day a week, a day where I do nothing and go nowhere and just hang out with my man and my dog and try to restore my sanity in little pieces every day. I decided I shouldn't be in customer service, where the chance to explode on innocent people is just too readily available. If they ask me to be a merchandiser, I think I'll take it - it means dealing with product, not people, and you can swear (quietly) at product if it's frustrating you without getting fired.

Doing the Arbonne thing feels a little confusing to me right now to be honest. Is it chasing Mamon in another form? Or is it okay? Am I the hypocrite, or am I simply searching for a way to use my God given gifts and still have a roof over my head? My sponsor wants me to kick it into high gear. I'm tired and confused and I feel like I'm letting her down. I don't know what I want anymore, and I don't know what I'm doing for me and what I'm doing to be nice.

I have a lot of sorting to do and I thought I was done sorting through things - do you have to continually resort as life goes on? Don't you get to some point where you've done your sorting and you can just live already? If so, that apparently doesn't happen in your 20's. Sigh.

And now I'm in Saskatoon, waiting for my roommate for the weekend to arrive. I'm exhausted and I just want to go to sleep even though it's only 7:30. I usually am at a writer's class right now - and I just realized I forgot to tell them I was going to be absent this week. Insert the expletive of your choice here, I feel like I've used up my quota for this post already.

So I'll finish this post, and close my eyes, and wait for a knock to signal that I need to open the door and let her in...and then I'll crash hard and hopefully tomorrow when I open my eyes I'll be in a place to listen to this speaker I've come all the way here to listen to, and hopefully I'll be rested in spirit and in body when it comes time to turn around and go back home and work for 6 more days before I can sleep in again and take a much needed resting day with the two creatures I co-habitate with.

Assuming the dog - and S. for that matter - hasn't forgotten that I do in fact live there too.