Monday, August 29, 2011

Maybe Heaven is Pluto . . .


I live in the Bible Belt where strangers come to the door to deliver invitations to attend their churches, curious to learn if I have a church when the truth is that they are curious to see if church has me. A mother and her four children, two of whom looked as if they should be in school, rang the bell this morning.

Here, in the Bible Belt, people define themselves as Christians with family values while classifying Catholic and Mormon families as something else, especially if their religious preference comes packaged inside brown skin. Some in my state are probably proud that voters in this State were among the first to approve a law prohibiting the use of Sharia law when arguing in one of our courts, and many have not ever been on the side of Israel.

You see, folks in the Bible Belt suspect those who have not been born again in Jesus, especially Muslims, of being in league with Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, Satan--the devil. And I guess you could say tolerance is not one of our strengths. I guess you could also say that here in my homeland, people have only the vaguest of notions about the branches of government, the truth about the Founding Fathers, and Christian charity. They say the poor will always be with us so, being philosophical, they take the position that we should just let 'em be poor, except at Christmas, around Thanksgiving, and of course, Easter. Bible-belters say that nasty Separation of Church and State doctrine prevented early Congresses from printing a Bible for their own use, and they are deeply concerned about being saved from the fires of Hell.

I am not much like my neighbors, and I must hasten to emphasize that there are many more like me. We tolerate difference and change. We embrace the amendments, every one of them, and we’ve read Sarah Vowell’s Wordy Shipmates and Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower so we’re pretty clear about the Founding Fathers. We are not afraid to let our children dip and delve into controversial matters, believing that they are stronger for having considered all sides of an argument before making an informed choice. We even go so far as to declare that the nation really does need to have a conversation about war and peace, rich and poor, social supports and flying without nets.

And how did I set foot on the path of tolerance? Mother. She is one of the first to have nudged me toward that path. Remember she encouraged me to know about segregation and Civil Rights. She believed in the Voting Rights Act, the very one over which the state of Arizona is now suing the federal government, claiming that the law forces a state to bend to the will of Big Government (also known as Big Brother among the Ayn Randian millionaires and billionaires who spur these old horses into life).

Mother offered two ideas about religion, the first about the truth of Genesis and the second about Heaven, both in response to questions I posed, questions kicked into life by stuff I heard from my peers. About Genesis, Mother said she was pretty sure that the origins of the earth predate the creation of a calendar so how could anyone be sure that those seven days just gave the Creator 168 hours to begin and end his project. About Heaven, Mother said she’d always wondered if “up there” might be Pluto or some place beyond the sights of man. Both answers jarred my imagination and opened my mind to figurative interpretations rather than literal ones long before I’d read about translations and scrolls and such.

Mother also insisted that I complete a full summer’s worth of study about the religions of the world, a course offered by the church we attended then. I was struck, as I’m sure she thought I would be, by the common ground in all those religions and their stories that guide believers to similar core values and convictions about living a worthy life. Many years later, Mother asked me to read a book about Christianity and Judaism. She was still a seeker and would be still if only Alzheimer’s were not such a cold-blooded thief, wrapping its tentacles around ideas and memories, squeezing until they are gone.

Still what I inferred from Mother’s answers to my questions and her own search for spiritual well-being live through me. I am very glad about that.