Wednesday, April 1, 2009


When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a statue of the Virgin Mary on her coffee table. Of course, I didn't know it was that Mary at the time. I thought, "Look at the old fashioned lady holding the pretty necklace." Hung on her delicate ceramic hands was a beaded necklace holding a cross. While the grown-ups talked and my brother and sister played, I picked up that necklace and slid it over my neck. I was a princess. I was an old-fashioned lady wearing a pretty necklace. Suddenly, my mom grabbed me by the arm, pulling me out of my fantastical reverie.

"What are you doing? Take that thing off. NOW!" She was in a state of panic.

I had no idea what I had done wrong. I had no idea why this necklace had put my mother into such an angry frenzy. My grandmother said, "She can wear it. It's no big deal."

"It is a big deal. It's a rosary. Don't tell me what my daughter can and can't do..."

I stopped listening after that. I heard the sounds of fighting but I was beyond understanding the words. Grown-ups were fighting about me putting on a necklace. I was so confused. After the rosary was put back in the Virgin Mary's hands, we left. I never touched the necklace again. But I often looked at it, trying to understand its mysterious power. Trying to understand why my mother was so afraid of it.

I still don't completely understand why this happened 25 years later. My mother doesn't even remember the incident. I do know that Jehovah's Witness doctrine teaches that the cross is a idolatrous symbol of false religion. They believe that Jesus died on a stake, not a crucifix. Seems a small matter to me. But to Jehovah's Witnesses the difference is huge. And to have a cross in your church or home, or worn around your neck is a sinful act of idolatry and disrespect.

I bought a cross the other day for the first time in my life. I'm not entirely sure why I did that. I saw a pretty one at the jewelry counter and I had to have it. I feel like a rebel with this thing around my neck. I may be the only person alive who thinks that wearing a cross makes me a bad-ass. It's a lovely thing, all sparkly, fake diamonds across the face of a torture device hung sprightly on a sterling silver chain. It's not slathered with guts, excrement, urine, and bloody tears the way the real thing would have been.

Death on a crucifix must have sucked big-time. Thousands upon thousands of people were punished that horrific way in the past and, unlike our pal Jesus, they didn't have super-power daddy in the sky to raise them up from the dead to a glorious place in heaven a million times better than the world they left behind (i.e. a place where people don't run the risk of having their arms nailed to a wooden beam before being subjected to a slow, excruciatingly painful death) Therein lies the problem I have with God's big sacrifice, his redemption of all sinful, imperfect men. How much of a sacrifice is it really when you get to have the thing you sacrificed back in, like, 3 days?

I'm not trying to be subversive, offensive, or disrespectful. I just remember sitting at church as a teenager listening to a sermon on "God's Ransom Sacrifice". I remember hearing about how much I should feel grateful to God for what he did for me, for little old, undeserving me.

"He gave his only begotten son so that you might have everlasting life."

I was supposed to feel unprecedented, weighty gratitude. I wanted to feel that heaviness in my heart, I wanted to will my eyes to manufacturer tears at God's grief and loss. Grief and loss that he endured for my benefit because I'm such a disgusting, sin-infested human. But I just couldn't feel it. Not really. I would look at all the old people sitting in the front row straining to hear these tidbits of spiritual truth, some of them suffering from illnesses like cancer. And I'd think, "What good has it really done? Is this what redemption looks like?" It made me really angry.

I was indignant at the fact that we were all supposed to feel indebted to God for his great sacrifice to redeem us all, when in reality he had lost nothing at all. There was actual loss all around me. Tangible loss. Real suffering. Unmitigated anguish. And there was God living up in some heavenly palace with Jesus, the very person he had supposedly sacrificed.

I've been thinking a lot lately about God. More specifically about whether or not I can believe in the existence of a higher power in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Damnit, I know God is dead. But you know what? I'm tired of being at sea without a compass. I'm tired of walking an endless road. There has to be something more than what I can see, or touch, or taste. There has to be another plane of existence, another level of being. Right? Or is my grief deluding my sense of reality?

Remember how the show The X-files had that little saying that flashed on the screen at the end of the opening credits? I Want To Believe. That's what's going on in my brain right now. Except with 100% less spaceships and alien abductions.

Feel free to call me a hypocrite for displaying my crucifix around my neck after all the shit talking I've done about God and his boy wonder Jesus. Actually, I have no problem with Christ. My problem is with the one who created this twisted mess and then tried to lay a guilt trip on humankind as part of the solution.

The cross is more of a symbol of hope to me than anything having to do with faith. It's also a triumph over past superstitions and traumas. It's my way of connecting to something greater than myself, and holding on to the dream that my sister's soul is gone to God waiting for reunion.

P.S. I'm also happy to finally have a vampire repelling object at the ready. I fucking hate vampires.


  1. I don't think you're a hypocrite. I think you're trying them (religions, belief systems) all on. Like outfits. Find one that doesn't pinch, or bind, or ride up. But definitely, mess around, try them on. (I think I'm a nudist when it comes to this analogy.)

  2. try quakerism...god lite (not for ALL quakers, but it is more flexible).

  3. Or Unitarianism--The saying about us is that we believe in at most one god.

  4. I don't even get why an all-powerful God needs to sacrifice anything to give people a shot at atonement. It's a total non-sequiter. "Hi, I'm omnipotent, and I'd like to forgive you, so I'm going to make a person and have him killed."

    But I still play hymns on my piano. Some traditions die hard.

    Now I go to "church" in the mountains. There I feel grateful for the beauty of the earth and for my life, and I just feel like I need something to thank.

    Hopefully that's good enough for God.

  5. Gwen, I don't think you've been talking shit at all. The best way to understand something is to take it apart completely...see how it the pieces fit. Then you mush 'em together the way that's comfortable for you. Easier said than done, I know...but a satisfying process.

    You bare your soul on your blog. Brave girl.

  6. I'll never forget the question my then young son asked one night: "Mom, does God believe in child sacrifice?"

    "I would hope not," I replied.

    "Then why would he sacrifice his son?"