That could have been my personal headline and public service announcement a couple years ago. Now, this is a rather winding tale but I will do my best to tell it as simply as possible. Grab a cup of coffee. This is finally where you get to me, post-religious zealot “Gypsy Gail”! And yes-we will be backing up soon, as usual! You are getting used to that, right? But to begin…
I had decided to join our local YMCA to lose weight, get fit, be stronger, and all that. I had a tour and one free session with a personal trainer to get started. She was very nice and was understanding of the fact I still smoked. I had been back to outpatient drug treatment and was now ready to take better care of myself.
When I began walking, cycling, and lifting weights, I was not able to do more than twenty- five minutes total for all three. It was somewhat embarrassing but I was determined to do what I could and try to steadily improve. I went to the gym five to six days a week.
Additionally, I went on a diet. I bought some weight loss shakes and cut out pop and much of the bread I was so smitten with. Instead, I snacked on celery and almonds, and drank water with lemon juice all day from a Mason jar.
I was also attending four to six AA meetings each week. That may sound like too many but I can safely say that I’ve never gone to too many meetings; I have just done too many drugs and drinks.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? AA proclaims it is a spiritual program. The founders of it made a point to distinguish between religion and spirituality, though. They said one need only have a willingness to believe in a “Higher Power”. Then, you simply attempt to pray and/or meditate to improve your contact with that Power. At times of stress or temptation, you ask your Higher Power to help you. Seems simple enough, right?
Here is where we back up.
I was raised on a farm, near the sleepy little hamlet of Center Junction, in Jones County, Iowa. The town was so named because it is at the center of the county and there was, long ago(many years before I was even born), a railroad stop there. By the 1960’s, that was gone. However, the town did boast a small general store, one gas station, one beauty shop, a church and a tavern.
That church was a very small Presbyterian variety. Every Sunday, my parents took all six of us kids to Sunday School and the church service following it. Mom and Dad served as deacons, choir members and Sunday School teachers at various points in my fourteen years there. But by 1980 or so, they decided to leave and rejoin the First Congregational United Church of Christ, in Anamosa, Iowa. There were more kids our own age there and it seemed to be more active in mission work.
So, from the age of fourteen to the day I converted to Islam, the UCC was my home for all matters of faith.
Still, I was baffled from a very young age, as to why an omnipotent god would need anyone’s assistance so that He could forgive my sins. This, to me, was the story of Jesus in a nutshell. He was the guy whose dad had him killed on my behalf. I found little comfort or joy in knowing I was a part of that plan. Forgive me or not, but please don’t whip a man bloody and nail him to a cross on my account!
When I asked my mom why this happened, why God did that, she just said it was part of his plan to save us from our sins and keep us out of hell. Wow-that did not make me feel better! I had grown up with this image of Jesus being such a nice guy! He loved children and the poor and he helped people. Now, I was being told that his suffering was related to that lie I told last week! Pretty heavy burden for a kid.
Later in life, I would question why certain things happened, why tragedies were allowed. In other words, if God is omnipotent, then He is able to stop the suffering of his people. If he allows them to suffer anyway, then I’m sorry-God is a jerk!
One thing I really liked about Islam was the story of Jesus. To Muslims, he was a great prophet and he is the coming Messiah. But the Quran states that he was not crucified. Rather, the story in Islam is that God spared him and took him up bodily into heaven. From there, he is waiting his time to return and judge each of us. I thought it was a much nicer ending, certainly more humane and maybe even more plausible than the traditional version I couldn’t accept.
Alright, well, my next faith crisis came when a relative who was working in hospice care lost a four year old patient to a brain tumor. Upon hearing this, my heart sank. I sobbed, feeling such overwhelming grief for this family I did not even know! I asked my husband “How is it that his parents prayed for a miracle and they lost their son anyway? Some other family prays and their kid lives. So, this so called “loving God” picks and chooses like that?!” I was angry! What sort of God would do such a thing?
The final blow came several months later, after all my praying, dieting, and exercising took twenty pounds off me and then no more. That day, I was riding the exercise bike at the YMCA and watching a TV screen, when the local news came on. The top story was about a flash flood we had experienced the night before. The reporter said that a fourteen year old boy had been swept into a storm sewer and drowned.
Again, I did not know this family. But I felt something in me snap! This time it was more than anger and it was more than a questioning of faith and God. This was a visceral reaction. This was the end of my relationship with God. I was done!
From that moment, I’ve not regained anything of the faith that I lost.
I’ve tried to pray, meditate, and contemplate who God might be.
But now, it comes down to this: I am not convinced there is ANY God out there and I don’t want to associate with a traditional monotheistic version of God. Let’s face it-THAT God seems to have anger issues! He is also manipulative and judgmental. The Bible says that we are constantly angering and disappointing God. Well, you know what? He can get over himself! At least I didn’t have the power to save a child and then sat back and let them die anyway!
No sir, if anyone should be judged, perhaps WE should judge God! And from my vantage point, I can safely say that he looks like a big jerk! My honest hope is that there is a Creator of some sort and that after this life, there is a better one waiting.
But, I’m not holding my breath!
Hey folks, it’s all good though. Here in Iowa the sun has come out and it will be a nice day.
When we meet again, I think we should discuss climate change. It is March 9th folks, in Iowa, and the bulbs are all coming up and we’ve seen a robin on the ground already! That is several weeks too soon and does not bode well for what the summer will be like!
Until next time, be well!