There are many public figures that I frequently try to avoid hearing words from because they make me want to scream obscenities and slam my head into a wall. Mike Huckabee is one of those. His psuedo-Christian preachings tend to make me want to contemplate returning to my Pentecostal roots just so that I can scream in tongues. This week, his words just make me sad. (In fact, the bulk of this post was written on Facebook and was spurred by someone I used to attend church with…someone whose children I taught in Children’s Church…someone who I was surprised to find agreeing with the hateful words that Mr. Huckabee was spewing in the aftermath of the shooting in Connecticut.) I wrote a little about the “God is not allowed in schools” issue the day of the shooting, and I’ve since had several discussions about it that have helped refine some of my thoughts.

I have to vehemently disagree with you on this one [in response to her comment with the video that it was worth listening to]. I don’t think that anything that he has to say is worth listening to because he has proven himself time and again to be more filled with hate than compassion. I’ve heard things come out of his mouth that were directly antithetical to things I learned growing up in church.

Instead of trying to turn this into a religious issue, he should simply be trying to pray for the people who are affected by what was a horrible tragedy. Where was God? God was there in the hearts and minds of those children. God was there in the hearts and minds of teachers. There have been reports of one teacher who told her students who believed in prayer to pray for their safety and for those who didn’t believe in prayer to think good thoughts. God was there in her words. God was there with the teacher who sacrificed herself to save her students. She hid them all in cupboards and closets around her classroom and when the shooter entered, she told him they were in the gym. Hers was the only life lost in that classroom and she gave it up for her students.

God guided the six year old boy who took his friends half a mile from the school to get them to safety. He wanted his friends to be safe and after someone picked them up and took them to the fire station, one of his friends reported that “he just wouldn’t stop!”

God was there wearing many names, as he often does. God is allowed in schools and there is no magical barrier that keeps him out of them. What is NOT allowed in schools is religion and it shouldn’t be. First, not every student in this country is Christian and they should not be forced to learn Christian religious education at a public school. Second, whose version of Christianity would be taught? I heard a story once about someone who asked the question, “Why do students not say the Lord’s Prayer in school every day?” and someone else asked, “would you still be all right with prayer in school if students then followed up the Lord’s Prayer with a “Hail Mary” and an “All Father” as many Catholics do? After all, Catholics are Christian, too.

How many Protestant religions are there in the world? Even within a particular flavor of Christianity, not every church agrees on doctrine. (After all, Westboro Baptist Church calls themselves Christian…and they are proclaiming that God sent the shooter to Connecticut and that those people died because God wanted them to. I would surely hope no one would want THAT version of Christianity taught in schools.) There’s not even one version of the Bible, but instead, many translations and versions with differing takes on the text. (And it certainly shouldn’t be the King James version given that King James actually spent a lot of time tweaking parts of it to better suit his needs. It’s why it’s named after him.)

I grew up Christian. I taught Children’s Church. I was a member of Bible Club at my school. I talked about church at my school. And even as a teenager, I didn’t want religion in schools because I didn’t think it belonged there. There’s a difference between faith in God and religion and dogma. People should be able to believe without having one type of belief forced on them over another. I LOVED the moment of silence during the day because it let me take a moment to pause, reflect, and speak to God on my own terms. Before the moment of silence, when a daily prayer was read, I wouldn’t have been near so able to find my moments of peace in the Lord because I would have been listening to someone else’s words and prayers. (Seriously, there were many days in high school where the moment of silence let me find my center and balance for the day.)

Further than all of that, to say that God was not in that school shows a shocking lack of faith. In Matthew 18:20, the Scripture (roughly) reads “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am” and there is not a doubt in my mind that there were people in that school praying their hearts out while that shooter was inside those walls. There are other places in scripture that speak of God’s omnipotence and how he is everywhere and in all things. If as a believer in God and in Christ you believe that to be true, then to say that “God is not allowed in schools” is to say that somehow man’s laws that require a separation of church and state (for some very sound reasons, a few of which I mentioned above) are stronger than God’s will and God’s word.

God was there and no one is keeping him out of schools. (After all, in every school where there is a test, there is likely a student whispering a prayer.) I just do not understand the sentiment behind this type of “preaching” that Mr. Huckabee is speaking here. It seems to argue against itself and it certainly seems to argue against scripture and I don’t entirely understand why that can be considered a good thing.

That was the entirety of what I wrote and I could perhaps easily stop there; however, I am feeling introspective and yes, a bit melancholy, and it tends to lead to a bit of navel gazing. Religion is such a touchy subject and it is both personal and subjective. My interpretation is not necessarily your interpretation or your pastor’s or your priest’s or your shaman’s. Religion is inherently something that should teach us to question our beliefs. Why do you believe what you do? Exploring faith (or the lack thereof) should be a part of one’s journey in life. After all, how can you wholeheartedly follow a deity if you don’t know why you are doing so? Even if after exploration and questioning and studying you find that your beliefs are the same, you at least now know why.

My path was a bit different. I started to question some of the things I’d learned in church during history classes at university. Renaissance and Reformation history is a fascinating subject and you learn a great deal about the path that Christianity has taken over the years. If you take classes in the periods before the Renaissance, you’ll learn of the origin of Christianity and how it began as a mystery cult with people meeting in secluded houses in secret for fear of persecution. Honestly, studying history is always fascinating but studying religious history is definitely something that will make you think.

Another university level class that made me consider my faith was actually Spanish. Learning a new language and the origins of that language saw me beginning to question the Bible and its translations over the years. If you do some research on the Bible, you’ll find multiple translations and multiple editions and there are differences in every single one. (If you research nothing else, I strongly urge you to look up the history of the King James Bible. It’s pretty fascinating and certainly isn’t as close to the original texts as possible.)

In my study of history, mixed with my curiosity about languages, I learned about the Council of Nicaea. If you’re not familiar, the First Council of Nicaea was a meeting of Christian Bishops in 325 C.E. One of the main goals of this first ecumenical council was to determine the relationship between Christ and the Father (which still seems pretty pretentious to me). The argument had arisen within Christendom about whether or not the Father and the Son were of one purpose or were of the same divine being. Each side used Scripture to back up their arguments and the argument essentially came down to language and word choice. (Hmm…I wonder if this might have had anything to do with translation?) Ultimately, they decided that the Son was the true God. This led to the Nicene Creed which has been a point of contention at several times over the course of history. Along with determining the nature of God and the Son, the Council of Nicaea also decided to change how the date of Easter was determined, dealt with the issue of a small schism, and came up with a list of new canon laws that would become part of the Christian religion.

Okay. Let me get this straight. The Emperor, a group of Bishops, and some other dudes got together and decided what the Divinity of God was and wrote some new laws to add to the Bible. I…I…I…of all the hubris of man, this one ranks pretty high on my list of “what the heck” moments. I understand that they were trying to bring agreement to the many sects within Christendom and I understand that they thought they were doing what was best, but I can’t help but wonder how this particular group of men was so led to act.

Yet it is within councils like this one that much of the dogma and the doctrine of modern Christianity was born. Even today, heads of churches sit and make these types of decisions. Factions within religions happen when one group doesn’t agree with another. And somewhere in the middle of all of this the messages of love and hope seem to get lost.

I’ve been through church splits: twice. It’s painful and it’s upsetting and it can shake your faith to the core…right up to the moment that you realize that the building is your church and the people are your friends but your God is wherever you are. Both times it took time to heal, though the second was worse than the first for me personally and it changed the dynamic of church going for me. That was the point that I stopped going because the people in the church at that point were doing nothing for my relationship with God.

Over time, through a lot of study, soul-seeking, prayer, and perhaps a bit of navel gazing, I’ve come to my own conclusions about Deity, the Divine, and the Universe. I’ve come to realize that the strongest message from my young life was that God is love and if you go to him, there will always be love. What I’ve learned from watching battles amongst religions and battles amongst public personas who feel they have a claim to speak on God’s behalf is that the message is “we will love you if you do exactly what we say and we will support you if you do exactly what we say, but if you deviate from that, we have no space for you.” It makes me angry and it makes me sad. Jesus taught a message of love. His greatest commandment is to love one another. How could that be confusing? Love one another.

We are all people and we all have our own beliefs. Trying to make your neighbor become Roman Catholic or Buddhist or Episcopalian isn’t what the message was. The message was to love one another or to respect one another or to treat other people as you wish to be treated. In this country, we seem to have an increasingly vocal minority subset of the Christian faith that want to legislate their religion into everyone’s daily lives. These are the same types of people who argue that we must always stick to the Constitution which makes them hypocrites because the First Amendment gives freedom of religion to everyone and it was designed to keep the government from creating a state church. The Founding Fathers left England because of a state church and because of religious persecution; they didn’t want the same fate to happen to their new country so they instituted laws to make it so that wouldn’t happen.

And yet over the years politicians have been slowly working at breaking down the separation of church and state despite the fact that it goes against the Constitution they are supposed to uphold. Many people like to toss out the Pledge of Allegiance and yet the words “under God” didn’t appear until the 1950s; that clause was not originally part of the Pledge.

People like Mr. Huckabee try to stand up and argue that we are a Christian nation and it isn’t true. Yes, there are a lot of Christians in this country; however, what we are is a country that is supposed to cherish religious freedom and freedom from persecution. Teaching one type of religion in schools is the exact opposite of what the framework of our country was built on.

In the conversation on Facebook, someone replied and essentially said that everyone has their own opinion but I believe religion should be in schools. The person in question did not address ANY of the arguments that I made against it nor did they consider the points at the end. They simply decreed “religion should be in schools.” After inhaling for a moment, I set about typing a reply and this is what I came up with:

Why? Why would you rather leave a child’s religious teaching to someone whose beliefs you know nothing about as opposed to taking them to your church and having them be taught in the house of worship you CHOOSE to attend.

On the other side of that argument, if you believe that religion should be in schools, and you understand that the same Constitutional amendment that allows you to freely practice your beliefs also was designed to ensure that -no- national religion was placed into law, then would you be comfortable with students learning about -all- religions? If you want Christianity to be taught in schools, then you would have to allow equal time to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shinto, pagan and earth based religions, and -every- other religion that makes up a part of our country today. There is not room for picking and choosing here because the Constitution is pretty clear about not allowing a national religion because the Founding Fathers were firmly against the idea.

I grew up Pentecostal. I also spent time in a Southern Baptist church with my Granny. I also visited several other churches either with friends, with family, or for revivals. There were differences in every church I went to and though the basic idea was the same, the methods of getting to that basic idea were occasionally vastly different. After all, there is a rather large difference between a Pentecostal service and a Catholic Mass. Every time people start talking about wanting to put religion into schools I always want to know how they feel they are going to manage to come into agreement about -what- to teach. No one has come up with an answer yet. I tend to get a lot of “I don’t agree with you and I think religion should be in school” type comments like yours without even a thought to how it could be implemented.

As a mother, I would far prefer to be the person in charge of my daughter’s religious upbringing than I would some of the adults who have been at her schools. For that matter, I am very glad that I am in charge of my daughter’s religious upbringing as opposed to certain members of my family. Religion should be a decision made as individuals and as parents. It is a matter of choice and it should remain that way. And wanting religion in school or not doesn’t change the fact that God -was- there that day. I’ll leave you with a quote from a minister that I came across the day of the shooting and then I’ll stop writing paragraph’s on [name redacted]’s wall. The minister’s name is Jennifer Crumpton and what she said struck me as very poignant and was written in response to people like Mr. Huckabee and his “God is not allowed in schools” message:

“In my role as a Christian minister, I have to speak up about the lie politicians and others are putting forth, that the CT shooting happened because “God has been removed from our schools.” This is a dangerous, irresponsible, and and theologically immature statement. God is not found in the rules or activities sanctioned by a school, or the doctrines that make that an issue. God is in the hearts of human beings, children included. And praying to God will not in fact avert the tragedies of our world…we’ve all seen/experienced that tragedy happens inexplicably. God does not “allow” things to happen because we do not adhere to human-concocted doctrine and superstition. Where is God? God is grieving with us. But God is not smiting children because of the separation of church and state.”

Where is God?

All around as the divine always has been.

I’ve said it before and I will likely say it again, but if the type of $deity that you worship is the type that would send a gunman into a school of elementary school kids and let them be murdered or if your $deity is the type that would send a hurricane to demolish part of creation just to “teach a lesson” then I want nothing to do with said $deity. If that’s the type of $deity you believe in, then your $deity is a big bully and I have no time for that in my life.

While I am not always successful, I do strive to be the type of person I believe I should be: kind, compassionate, caring – in other words, not a dick. Do I fail? Certainly. I can be a raging *censored* but that doesn’t mean that all of my efforts are equated with failure. Part of being a human is trying and failing. So instead of dwelling on the failures I try to make amends and I try not to kick the crap out of myself for being an asshole and then I try to be the person I strive to be. I look for the divine all around me because I believe that is where Creator exists. I see the divine in cats because Bast has certainly laid her claim on my life. I see the divine in things great and small because the divine is a part of all of us. Things like this shooting in Connecticut and the other rash of shootings that have been publicized hardcore on the news make it so easy to slide into a mindset of “the world is a terrible place and everything is horrible and blah blah blah” and yet if you do not seek out the good and you do not find the light in the darkness then your spirit will wither and fade.

The idea that Creator in all its forms would be so cruel and callous as to take some of the most precious parts of its creation and snuff out their lives in a fit of pique enrages me. The fact that people genuinely believe that and worse that they believe those actions are just actions just blows my mind. Do not try to tell me that “God is love” to only turn around and tell me that your God is a child murderer because someone sinned. Um, excuse me? Wasn’t that why he sent Jesus to die on a cross again? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. Is this ringing any bells yet? If you believe that Christ’s sacrifice was to save the world from having to make sacrifices how can you turn around and believe that a tragedy is a punishment from God? And if you are a person of great faith who faithfully follows all of the rules and who repents when you stumble, what does it say about your God if tragedy befalls you?

It seems much more likely to me that as the minister I mentioned above said, God is grieving with us. The power of free will is a very dangerous one and it isn’t always used with the utmost care. That doesn’t mean that God abandons us in our hour of need.

God was in that school Friday whether religious dogma was or was not.

God was there. It is now up to you to examine your faith to figure out why you could believe that he wasn’t.

——

I suspect at this point that this has gone far beyond the long ramble I expected and has turned into an epic tome. I’ve been writing it off and on for a few hours now and I really didn’t get any sleep last night because I was trying to get things together for Girl Scouts today and things together for our impending trip, so at this point, I am impressed that I’m making full sentences. I suppose if you want the tl;dr version it would be this: The Divine (in whichever form you believe in) is everywhere and that means that the Divine was at that school on Friday (and given that it’s been released that the killer had a lot of ammunition with him, I’d say there are some pretty obvious examples of divine intervention) and dragging religion as a debate for public policy won’t change that. Also, kids pray in school even if no one leads them in a prayer. And they are probably pretty good at figuring out a prayer on their own. I was always clever enough to do so.

Until the next time I decide to ruminate about the Divine…

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