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Category Archives: Religion
My brother is one of the few people in my life who I feel understands me. The distance that grew between us in the months following his stay with us created a bit of a hole in my heart. I have never been very good at letting people go – I understand that people change, but when I feel as strong of a bond as I do with my brother – it is difficult for me to let things be as they are and go about my day-to-day life without thought or worry. I watched, mainly through pictures and emails from my mother, my brother breeze through the initiation into the Navy, graduate first in his class, and thereby taking the privilege of choosing where he would take on his first assignment. He chose Spain, and thus, he fulfilled a dream. He’s always loved Europe and never really wanted to settle down in the US. So, his move to Spain was something that I both admired and feared. His entry into the Navy was something I’d feared for many reasons, the obvious ones and the not so obvious ones. My worry proved true as he continued ignore his alcoholism because he entered a world where drinking alcohol came with the job, much like it came with being his father’s son.
When he called me to tell me how scared he was about unexpectedly becoming a father, his voice was rattled and heavy with reality. He spoke with conviction and desperation and I did what I knew I had to do… what he had done for me so many times. I had to validate him, encourage him, and allow him to feel everything he was feeling without judgement. After he admitted to me that he is an alcoholic, I immediately told him that this was the first step in his recovery – and I don’t mean that in a 12 step program kind of way. My brother isn’t one who would benefit from AA. He was trained very well not to accept such formal treatment. After all, he was the one who got to hear my dad’s reaction on the day I sought formal treatment for my disease. I didn’t use the word recovery, either. I did encourage him to consult his commanding officer and reach out to someone for help. I explained how helpful therapy has been for me and that I, of course, would not suggest he join “something like AA” but I did highly recommend that he give himself the gift of an objective listener so that he could work through is feelings and grow and change as he was so desperately telling me he wanted to. His response to me? “I’m doing that now. That’s why I called you. You are my therapy.” Few things are more complimentary than that. While I was flattered, I immediately told him “Thank you, but I am involved in this, honey. I am not an objective listener, as much I want to be, it’s impossible. You are my brother and I am emotionally involved in this situation.” But, at the same time, I took such incredible comfort in that comment and I clung to it… thus allowing myself to believe that this meant I had a little piece of my brother “back.” I thought, as I had a couple of times in the last two years, that he was coming back to me… that our bond was rekindling, that my friend was mine again.
The next time we spoke, his voice was once again, less familiar to me. He spoke with authority and an almost robotic confidence and conviction. My heart sank a bit, as I knew there was no way I could reach him in this place. I had written him many things in the aftermath of our conversation, including what I thought was valuable information for him to consider. I explained to him that he should wait as long as possible before telling mom and dad. I told him that he should probably tell them in a letter rather than face to face or over the phone, as their immediate reactionary words could be almost irreversibly cruel and hurtful. I still have the Skype chat…
Hey hon… need you to touch base with me, please. I really wish we could make a date to Skype – I know weeks are hard for both of us but if you can just drop me a quick line so I know that you’re okay. I really want to talk to you before you tell Mom and Dad – just to give you some advice. I don’t want to alarm you or make it even harder – but I want to caution you to give mom and dad as little details as possible about this situation. I hope that you will trust me on this and that you will also trust me when I tell you that you must not internalize anything that they may say to you. In fact, it may be better for you to write them a letter so that you cannot hear their first thoughts because they could potentially be very, almost irreversibly hurtful. You know that I’ve been through a lot with them and I’ve shocked them and challenged them in many ways. I really want to make sure that you know that regardless of anyone’s reaction – I am here for you and I want and need you to communicate with me and stay focused on my support because you need to know that you have it. Just like I knew I had yours – knowing that kept my heart beating at times.
Prior to that, I’d sent him many message in my immediate reaction mindset… looking back I realize it is fairly intense, but I know why now. These “My brother” chapters are obviously eventually going to come back around to me. Here are pieces of what I told him after finding out about my new niece/nephew:
I have to be truthful here as well… as much as mom and dad love us and their grandchildren, they are far less involved in their little lives as your sister and I both imagined. This has been extremely painful for both of us and it’s something you probably are very surprised to hear… but it is true. Mom and Dad are very much in their own world and visit the cabin more than they visit their grandchildren. They make excuses for why they can’t make it to birthday parties – mom rarely wants to leave dad’s side so she hardly ever (and I mean once or twice year) comes on her own just to spend time with her daughters, and when she does, it’s almost always when dad is traveling. Two reasons I’m telling you this: so that you know that this is how they are and when they are this way with your future wife, you’ll know it isn’t just because of mom’s fears about her. This is just the way they are. The second reason is because you won’t be able to count on mom and dad’s help and support like you may think you can. Because your sister and I have both been shocked, humbled, and hurt by how often they have been absent. When Dad is with mom on the weekends, they are rushed because dad is anxious in a crowd and can never wait to leave. (when I say dad is anxious in a crowd, I mean anxious outside of his own house… anxious even when it is just our families that are present. He can only handle being away from home/mom for so long and it changes even the way mom interacts with the boys when they are both here.) We have told Mom how we feel more than once, and nothing changes. Our feelings are ignored. This is probably way too much to put on you, but I just want you to have a realistic picture of what things are like – so that you aren’t shocked or disappointed when you don’t get the support that we should all expect from our parents/grandparents of our children. It’s just the way it is.
Here is what he wrote back to me:
Yes, the message I just got was WAY too much. I wouldn’t like to have any other way. We will have to speak, and I wish it could be in person…….. my frickin brain is overflowing. It is my fault that we have not been able to communicate enough. My fault. But, the energy that you just stirred up in your brother, I have told my father once, only once, twelve years ago, that he better not say another fucking thing about this girl, and he got the message. Mom was there. I am truly lucky to have you in my life. I consider you as one of the best influences, and simply one of the best human beings the world has ever seen. And you don’t have to apologize to me, sweetheart. I am the one who has laid this crazy news onto the planet. I’m just lucky to have a great sister that I can spout my mouth off too… they will support us. That is what families do. They do not have a choice. And neither do I. There will be another life on this planet because of me. I just hope it has my last name. The fact is that I am a sailor in the US Navy and my future wife has to go through this all by herself. I know you will be a part of the support structure that she needs and that i can’t give from 3000 miles away. I know you support me, so get on board. I know you already are. goodnight, sis.
And, as our chat continued, this is what I wrote back to him while he was sleeping in Spain:
I love you so much. After talking to you and realizing the incredible bond between sister and brother and how powerful it is, I feel the need to have another baby. Because your little nephew shouldn’t be alone in this world. All I think about is you taking me on that date when we lived in Europe, giving me that rose, showing me that I was human when I felt so very far from it. I remember you walking into the hospital and hugging me, despite the fact that our sister, Mom, and Dad all walked past me like I was an insect. You were the only one that didn’t. And you know what the counselor said to me? She said, “You aren’t the one that needs to be in here… your whole family, save your brother, needs to be in here.” Because what kind of family doesn’t support their own DAUGHTER when she feels so incredibly sad that she wants to end her life? Remember dad’s reaction?? He said it to you. So, remember, above ALL ELSE, that Mom and Dad are NOT perfect and they DO NOT know it all. You are about to feel the wrath of this family – and I have only felt it like you are about to feel it. My advice to you is to tune out as much of it as you can. It does come from love but it will eat you alive if you listen to it. I have had time to think and really reflect on the whole situation and I feel SO much better having talked to you and hearing your voice and knowing that I have my brother “back.” I have missed you.
You need to stay focused, stay strong. No. Matter. What. I am here for you. Fuck religion, fuck tradition, fuck judgement, fuck presumption. Fuck the past. I want more than anything for you to do the same. I have so much faith in you that I know you will rise to this – I know you will be who your dad never could be. I know you will face your worst fears, you will fix your demons, you will face yourself – and you will conquer everything that attempts to defeat you. You are one of the strongest people I know. You can do anything you set your mind to, you’ve already proven that. Alcoholism is no joke and you, more than anyone I know, can squash it like a small bug that lives in my house and is very, very annoying. All it needs is a little vinegar down the drain and a LOT of discipline. You know a little something about discipline, ey? I already love this baby and I already love his/her mother, because I know that if you love her, I will too. Whatever happens in this, I am with you.
And, that is that. That is the last time we spoke from the heart. It saddens me that I miss who he is when he’s drunk, because most of the heartfelt things he said were said when he was drinking. No wonder it is harder for him not to drink that it is for him to drink – that is how he described alcoholism to me. My confession is that for part of that conversation I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol as well. I rarely do so, but in familial stress especially, it just comes natural to me to deal with that particular anxiety with the old familial remedy more commonly known as red wine. I’m never particularly proud of that fact, but it is a fact; and I only do it once in a blue moon. As you can see, our bond is one that only sister and brother could share. The fear and confidence we exchange is incomparable and irreplaceable, and unfortunately, also happens once in a blue moon.
So, my brother is now on a plane back to Spain. He was just here for a week. He flew home on Thursday, came to our house for dinner on Friday, had lunch with Rachel (not her real name but it’s getting difficult to leave names out) and her parents on Saturday afternoon, went to my parents’ cabin to have dinner with them on Saturday night, got engaged on Sunday morning, drove back to town that night to have dinner with us again… but never showed up. He called to say they’d had a long day, told me the ring fit, and apologized for waiting until 8:30pm to call and tell me he wasn’t going to make it. All day I’d been telling my son that his Uncle was going to come back. All day I’d been preparing food and anticipating the time with him. When 6:00 came and I hadn’t heard from him, I called and texted Rachel. No response until 8:30. This is the brother that I don’t know, the one I’m not bonded to, the robot that seems almost void of connection and affection. On Monday, he obtained a marriage license, they were married in a courthouse on Tuesday (while the rest of us worked) and left for their honeymoon. They returned to town on Friday. I didn’t hear from him all day on Friday. Apparently he had dinner with our sister that night. He had told me on Monday night that he’d call me when he got back to town. He didn’t. I didn’t hear from him until I called and texted again, on Saturday. When I finally got to hear his voice again, he explained to me that they had a busy day of running errands ahead of them, furniture shopping and such. I told him that I’d really like to see him before he left because I had something to give him. His response cut a knife in my heart, reopening the hole that I thought was full again. “Okay, well, do you guys live near any furniture stores?” In fact, we do. So I explained where he could buy furniture for Rachel, and how to get to my house from the stores. I asked what their plans were for dinner… again his response all but broke my heart. “We don’t know yet, we may go out, we may just order in.” He had no desire to see me again. I practically had to beg him to just stop by long enough so that I could give him what I had for him. I had a card for him, that was it. I didn’t want to mail it, I thought I was going to get to give it to him on Sunday… and if not then, when he had returned on Friday. I had no idea he was content leaving town without seeing me again at all. That’s not the brother I know, that’s not the brother that is my best friend and one of the few people on earth that understands me, and vice versa.
I’m not religious. At all. My husband says that I don’t believe in God. Sometimes I don’t think I do – but I can’t look at my son without the belief that his presence is anything less than a miracle. The moment of childbirth solidified my belief in a higher power. I do believe… just not in the traditional, Southern way that I was encouraged to.
I was raised in a church. I was baptized, went through all the ceremonies of First Communion, Confirmation… all that. And then I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted. So I followed my sister to her church. We were both vulnerable and passionate teenagers. We loved our friends and having fun… we shared confusions and frustrations that we didn’t know how to verbalize. We were “normal.” We were as normal as two loving, spirited, vulnerable teenagers living in the South could be… so it was a perfect time to stumble across a church that would attempt to transform us into little Christian soldiers. For awhile we were both hooked… to the point that I remember actually believing that because my parents didn’t approve of our attending the church, this meant that they were destined for the fiery depths of hell. And all the pastors could tell me was that “not everyone is destined for the promise land.” While I recovered pretty nicely from this temporary insanity in college, it changed my sister’s life forever. She hasn’t been the same since. We stopped going to that church right around the time we left for college.
We both left for college determined not to let the separation from our newfound baptism (that church) shake our faith. I entered college as a Bible thumping, glorified Christian ready to take on all the sins that awaited me with a solid, “No.” I left wondering if God existed at all… and believing if nothing else, that if he did exist, the last place he was to be found was inside a church/mosque/temple. I don’t believe in Christianity. I am not a Christian. Calm down now… I promise you it’s okay. I always feel so defiant and rebellious still when I “admit” to that. It horrifies my husband. It horrifies my sister. My sister changed forever when she entered that crazy church – she is as brainwashed today as she ever was. She once told me that the reason I was depressed was because I had a “hole in my heart where God belonged.” She actually said that to me. It was a strange moment in our history as sisters. She felt so bad for me… and in a very different way I felt so bad for her. We will never understand each other, and for the most part we’ve stopped trying. I am sure that my way of life disappoints and confuses her much the way hers disappoints and confuses me. I am sad for her, and I’m sure she is sad for me.
It’s an interesting study. We were raised in the same house – and while I cannot say that my parents didn’t sacrifice for us or love us – I can say that we experienced the same level of hypocrisy and contradiction in our upbringing. My parents tried, but not as hard as they could’ve. Maybe that isn’t fair. Their generation didn’t encourage self-reflection…rather I guess it was more about where and how they were raised in their own houses and less to do with the time they were coming of age… which would’ve been the 60s and therefore they should truly have no excuse for not having explored themselves and their limitations a bit more. Regardless, as loving as they were – they weren’t and they still aren’t whole people. They think that they complete one another – but truly I believe that they have grown to fill a space in each other that each of them gave up on in themselves. My dad has been a functioning alcoholic for as long as I can remember. My mom, although highly educated, never has been able to separate herself from the traditional “wife” role her Southern Baptist upbringing taught. Although I did watch her rise against it in protest many times throughout my life, and she’d deny it and be utterly offended if I were ever to tell her, but my opinion is that she ultimately settled in defeat. She decided, almost overnight, that her life would be less challenging if she stopped fighting and instead, allowed herself to fall second to my dad. I am sure it was gradual, but sometime I am sure I will post a blog about the night I think she made this decision. For now… back to religion.
Everyone in my life is full of contradictions. As am I. Maybe it’s unfair for me to talk about my mom giving up on herself because sometimes I feel like I am in the process of giving up on myself… at the very same time that I feel more empowered and strengthened than I ever have… I still can’t gather the strength to accept that I have changed and that my marriage hasn’t changed with me. It isn’t my husband’s fault that we are unhappy. He hasn’t changed. It’s me who’s gone through an enormous shift – and while I’ll tell anyone who asks that I’ve become stronger and less insecure and aware of healthy boundaries… maybe the truth is that I’ve just gotten very good at telling myself that I don’t have to settle for what I’m settling for, even as I settle for it. I know I’m not free of hypocrisy. That’s my point. But at least, I know it. At least I own it. This is something that many people do not even recognize in themselves. I worked damn hard in therapy to get to this place where I do recognize it.
My sister goes to church nearly every Sunday… and between her and her husband they also each attend another church function at least once during every week. She has always looked down on the rest of us in the family because we don’t share her “passion for Christ.” I am sure that her heart genuinely aches when she imagines, through her religious goggles, that we aren’t destined for eternal happiness in Heaven as she and all her fellow church going Christian friends and family are. She doesn’t know that I’m not even a Christian. She’s fully aware that I don’t subscribe to the ways of any church. A couple years ago I told her I didn’t believe in missionary work. She nearly lost her lunch. I explained that it’s not the “doing good for others” part that I don’t agree with, but the “doing good so that you’ll think Jesus is your savior” part that I cannot fundamentally support. I believe in helping others because we should want to be helped if we were in need. I believe that our desire and at times our need to help one another is fundamentally human. In fact, it’s not just a human trait… we are animals, and just as most living things do, we are generally programmed to help and protect one another from harm. I don’t believe that it is fair or genuine to help someone under the pretense that by helping them, they should then believe in the same thing that you do. This steals the love out of the very deed you boast about to your fellow church goers. I only pick on my sister because I have a window into her world. I am therefore exposed to this religious vision of the world that she has. It is draped throughout every area of her life. Her blog makes me sick to my stomach… many times. While I agree that I should let her live as she lives – it is painful to watch and listen to her put her all into something that doesn’t even bring her genuine joy. All it brings is guilt. Constant guilt – her blogs are filled with “I should’ve… I should…” and praising of those people in her life that agree with her and support her religious beliefs and her overall struggle to find God and Jesus in everything… right down to the Easter egg hunt that she put together for her very small children…she’s all about keeping Christ in everything. While she’s busy finding Christ in everything, she’s worrying about how inadequate she is in every way – as a mother, as a wife, as a servant to God. She is constantly apologizing and explaining and talking about how unsupported she feels and all at the same time she’s blogging about how thankful she is… wait… so am I! So who is to say that we are so different? I just went to therapy, instead of church. I recognize this. What I rejected about religion as I went through my journey, was the guilt it encouraged in me. I grew up with so much guilt it took me years to find myself in all the layers that were so neatly put together over my spirit throughout years and years of being told just how “wrong” I was about pretty much every thought I had. I’m not sure my sister’s experiences were the exact same as mine were – but they weren’t far off. We were raised by a perfectionist whose pride caused immense pain and confusion in our hearts. He loved us, but we were never doing what we should. If anyone did what she should, it was my sister. Until she found that church. My parents hate that church – ironically for much of the same reasons that I do.
I go to church, as I did this morning, with my husband from time to time, to show support to him… although he knows that I do not believe as he does. When we met we were on the same page with religion. We understood each other. We shared the general believe that God didn’t belong in a church – that Christianity was just one of so many religions that claimed to be “the way, truth, light” when ultimately all they were doing was creating war against one another. He changed a few years ago when his life took a devastating turn and he experienced something that few will ever know, including myself. It’s not to be shared now, but I understand his turn toward religion, because it was the only way that he could make sense out of what happened to him. And that’s okay. Maybe that’s what the undertone of my sister’s search is as well. And that’s okay. It just doesn’t make logical sense – I wish it did. But it just doesn’t.
This morning, and every morning that I sit in church I am utterly disturbed by the militant and mindless worship. Repeating a creed while raising your hands in the air… is different than bowing towards a temple and repeating a different creed… how exactly? Telling your “followers” that they are right and others are wrong… in the same breath that you tell them to have hearts filled with love… is teaching love… how exactly? One thing the priest said this morning was true. He said, “For it is love that builds faith, and not the other way around.” This is true. If I felt that what was behind this Christian movement was more about love and less about faith and whose is stronger/louder/more correct, then perhaps I’d sympathize with it a little more. I’d understand and even sympathize with my sister a little more. But the underlying message that she and all other religions teach is that it is faith that builds love… and only the “right” faith leads to “true” love. That’s why my sister has built a protective wall between us… because my lack of what she calls “faith” contradicts her own, and the church teaches her that those who do not walk in the kind of love that they seek, will only lead them astray. It’s a great analogy they use with the flock of sheep… genius, really… like everything else that’s brought the Christian empire where it is today. It takes a certain genius to gain power and maintain it for so long. They even change the sacred “word of God” every couple years by coming up with a new “version” of the Bible that helps translate their message through each and every era we’ve experienced as a culture… and few question it. It’s okay to have doubts… God can help you with that. But to question the word of God… that’s blasphemy. It’s faith that she thinks she has. All that she is truly searching for is the kind of love that we were never really shown. The kind of love that comes naturally at the start of life… when a person who has experienced some serious radical self-love and acceptance can feel. It’s the kind of love that I feel for my son. The kind of love that is unparalleled and unyielding, selfless but with a healthy dose of selfishness too – because the only way you can truly love someone is to love yourself. It’s that self love that religion frowns upon. Because if taught to love ourselves with all our faults… then what would our faith be? What good would that do the church? If people don’t feel guilty all the time, they don’t give money, they don’t gather and worship, they don’t feed the insatiable need for power that every religion from the beginning of time has held.
So, that’s it. Another great divide between my husband and I. That’s not really why I blogged about it… I blogged about it because it’s been heavy on my mind. Marriage is an offspring of religion… and I am still studying how and why I am so scared to imagine that it is as free of logic as religion itself. Some things are so ingrained in us that even years of acknowledgement can’t cure our denial. Maybe I’m not really that different from my own mother, after all.