Carry no one’s cross! Choose freedom!

Remembering the patriarchal manipulation of the cross

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Recently I was elated to see a number of great Twitter posts regarding news of an imposing 34 foot cross being removed from a public park in Florida.  This victory means that members of the non-theist and non-Christian communities can feel free to enjoy Bayview Park without that imposing religious symbol looming.  But in my opinion, this is not only a victory for those who wish to be free from having religion imposed on them.  This victory is also taking a step forward in dismantling the patriarchy which has silenced girls and women for decades.

I will acknowledge that for many Christians the cross is a symbol of hope, comfort, and inspiration.  We see it all around dangling from necklaces, rear view mirrors, tattooed, and randomly scattered along the grassy banks near highways.  For numerous Christians, this symbolizes hope that they will be spared from the fires of hell in the afterlife and instead meet Jesus, their savior.  Even when I attempted to follow the Christian path, I simply could not manage to avoid being distracted by my memories of how the cross, and in particular, the crucifix was used to silence women.

The memories that I associate with the cross center on experiences where this symbol was used in conjunction with two scripture passages in particular, in order to justify ill treatment of women.  One scripture was Genesis 3:16 which states “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”  The other passage, directly related to the symbol of the cross, which was taught by pastors to justify enduring unhealthy relationships was Luke 14:27 saying that “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Those who are familiar with the passion story are fully aware that the carrying of the cross as referenced, is equated with suffering and brutality.  So the implication used toward women was that the earthly inconveniences that they endured simply did not measure up to what Jesus endured as he willingly carried his own cross which he would eventually be nailed to.  And if being an obedient, subservient wife to their husbands meant keeping their mouths shut and following the rules of men folk, then it was their cross to carry.  Lovely little sentiment isn’t it?

It’s bad enough that the carrying of the cross belief is used to exonerate Christian followers and urge them to suck it up and remember that Jesus endured much more.  But what’s even more disturbing is when the cross and the aforementioned scriptures are used to teach women that they are obeying God’s will in accepting their lowly place in their relationships to men.

I’m most disturbed by defeated attitudes of women who remained in physically or emotionally abusive relationships because of such patriarchal brainwashing.  Far too often I’ve heard women’s sigh of defeat as they depressingly maintain their places in abusive relationships based on unhealthy expressions of religion.  It truly saddens me to think that there are still women who willingly give up their self-worth and joy for life to fall in line with this belief system.  It saddens me because as a Secular Humanist, I believe that this life is all that we get and not a minute of it should be wasted by stifling the value that we can offer to make the world an even more awesome place.  A quote from Natalie Portman’s 2002 interview with Rolling Stone magazine sums it up nicely for me.   “I don’t believe in the afterlife.  I believe this is it, and I believe it’s the best way to live.”  I share in Natalie Portman’s belief and this is why it saddens me to think that someone would give up the possibilities to make this one life as beautiful as it can be as a result of oppressive, archaic religious teachings.  While I try to remain respectful of peoples’ religious beliefs, I will always find it disturbing to think that a woman would choose to be belittled and silenced by her husband because of the advice of some minister, elder, or brainwashed woman.  Or the fact that there are women out here who not only carry that metaphorical cross, but also bear the physical and emotional scars as punishments for daring to express their individuality.

I can only imagine what it must be like for those women who feel it is their religious obligation to withhold their opinions, downplay their intelligence, and stroke the egos of their husbands or significant others.  And that in doing so, the belief is that they are becoming disciples of Jesus by carrying the cross that was given to them.  Well my opinion of the Bible’s passion story, is that carrying the cross didn’t end very well.  After all, the cross carrying story is incomplete if it doesn’t include the brutal beatings, the big owey of having thorns smashed into skin, and stakes being driven through hands and feet.  But the rationale is that if Jesus could willingly bear the brunt of such brutality for all of humankind, the least that a woman can do is happily and dutifully take on the occasional discomforts which come with modesty and subservience.

While I am disturbed by the fact this belief system is still to this day being taught, I am also enthused that I happen to live in an age where there are growing numbers of strong, independent women and girls who exercise their rights to call BS on such a manipulative tactic.  Women who see this practice for what it is – beliefs based on ancient scriptures that were not only written by men, but also taken out of their cultural and historical context for the purpose of controlling a population of people.

No woman, or any person for that matter, should be expected to sacrifice the beauty of life and expression for the sake of carrying anyone’s cross.  No one should be the target of a guilt trip inflicted upon them by clergy or brainwashed lay leaders who use the passion story as a tool to suggest that compromising dignity and self-worth is a minuscule price to pay in comparison to being flogged, spit upon, and nailed to a cross.

So again, for me and my experience of the cross, the victory in Florida’s Bayview Park was yet another forward step in freeing the general public from religious imposition as well as the oppressive overtones that said symbol has had for many people, women in particular.  Maybe now members of the non-Christian and non-theist population can fully savor the golden glow of the Florida sun in all its beauty, free from the literal looming shadow cast by an imposing symbol of one-sided beliefs.  And for those who saw the removal of the cross as defeat as opposed to victory, maybe they will now be inspired to erect one in their own backyards to enjoy in private as it should be.

Carpe Diem,

Jay

 

Abracadabra and away we go!

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Good day readers and fellow bloggers.  It’s a beautiful sunny day today in the midwest and I just spent part of it driving with my windows down to take in that awesome smooth breeze.  The sun’s out in its full power, there are beautiful people out making the most of the brilliant sunny day tossing Frisbees, spiffing up colorful perennials in front yards, and spandex clad cyclists whizzing past on their sleek road bikes.  For the most part, people are driving at reasonable speeds, which makes my journey even more awesome.

Driving along the busy strip filled with trendy restaurants, artsy stores and shops, I notice a large eye catching sign printed in ornate cobalt blue letters advertising free trial yoga classes.  The sign immediately takes me back a number of years to when I’d made the decision to leave the security of my job to become a full-time freelance yoga instructor and aspirations to open my own yoga center.  I’d been practicing yoga years before yoga had become the cool thing to do.  I’d felt a rush of enthusiasm at the thought of helping others with their yoga practice and reaping the gratification at seeing the looks of achievement on participants’ faces.  I dove in full force, obtaining teacher certifications, received my yoga teacher insurance from the California Yoga Teacher’s Association, and participated in countless intensives and seminars.  It hadn’t long before I had matched the salary from my full-time job as an Administrative Assistant at Columbia College.  I taught at least 25 classes a week at various fitness centers and yoga studios as well as taken on a number of private and semi-private students in my home.  I was in my element, even being invited to lead seminars in public libraries on the background of yoga. I enjoyed the autonomy, of meeting new interesting people, and making the science of yoga more appealing to those who would otherwise feel intimidated by media depictions of svelte, athletic models.

Conversely, the inception of my yoga teaching days was also during the time when I was still attempting to ignore the red flags about the religious world.   Even though I wasn’t involved in organized religion, the god language was still there.  I’d even written a few articles for Yoga Chicago, a local yoga publication which made reference to a god presence during sunrise yoga on the beach.  However the articles were never directed to any specific religion, simply presented as spirituality.  But even in doing so, I started to attract people who not only loved yoga, but also held tightly to their religious beliefs.  I’d learned about a number of yoga enthusiasts who had incorporated the practice into their Christian faith.  Of course it was aptly branded and marketed as Christian Yoga.  I found this a little surprising because there were some participants in my classes who were initially skeptical and feared that practicing yoga would require conversion to Hinduism.  But the tag line was that the goal of the practice was to bring praises to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through yoga movements.  This population even went as far as renaming the ancient poses to fit the Christian theme.  For example, the seated staff pose had suddenly been renamed the “Moses staff pose.”  Yet again I made the mistake of ignoring the internal cringing in response to such a thing.

Being a full-time yoga instructor, I felt compelled to stay apprised of current trends in the practice.  Even if I wasn’t in agreement with the direction of those trends, I would at least need to be educated as to what was out there.  I’d seen hip hop yoga, Motown yoga, Mommy and Me Yoga and a host of other derivatives.  As I decided to look into what “Christian yoga” was all about, I thought that a reputable resource would be a popular Christian bookstore chain.  Today as I was driving and noticed the advertisement for a yoga center, the memories flooded in like a tidal wave regarding the infamous experience I had as a yoga instructor walking into a Christian bookstore.  The middle aged male cashier seemed friendly and welcoming enough.  However his demeanor changed abruptly when I asked if he had any books or videos about Christian Yoga. His response still echoes to this day.

“What!?  Christian Yoga!?  Absolutely not!  We would never carry anything like that here.  That’s mixing the good news of the gospel with the dark arts!” he exclaimed his brow furrowed, the corners of his mouth drawing back in a blatant look of disgust.

Since that day, I’ve had countless exposures to yoga advertisements, yet for some reason passing by the grand opening of a new yoga center triggered memories of the Christian bookstore incident.  I could still harbor residual bitterness in response to the brash response that I received from asking a simple question on that infamous day.  Quite honestly, the response that I received in the Christian bookstore was a bit startling and it’s no surprise that from time to time it resurfaces.  But  I’ve learned to simply acknowledge the memory, then release it and enfold myself in gratitude for where I’ve arrived in regards to the sense of liberation and authenticity in living a life devoid of dogma.

I acknowledge that there are many others out there who share that cashier’s sentiments about their religious beliefs.  The religious zealots who have their judgments and damnations locked, loaded and ready to fire at not only yoga practitioners, but my fellow non-theists, or marginalized groups such as Secular Buddhists.  Responses such as the one from that cashier only continues to add to that smoking gun of stigma aimed at those who do not share their beliefs.  Whether it was for the sake of safety or cultural conformity, I spent too many years of making the mistake of sacrificing my authenticity by attempting to fit into that group myself.  However it was only a matter of time before the appeal of inner and outer peace associated with living a life of authenticity would override that tendency.  And because of that sense of peace, I released the fear of rejection that can unfortunately come with choosing to no longer lie to myself and others about religious beliefs and customs.  As a result I’ve had Facebook and Instagram friends disappear.  I’ve had relatives suddenly shut down lines of communication with me.  The sense of peace that I have in being true to myself is worth the lowered population of Facebook friends or being erased from relatives’ phone books.  The friends and relatives who have remained throughout the process are the ones who love and accept me as I am, someone who loves life devoid of faith in a god, holy books, or customs to provide a sense of security for me.

Yes, I’ve found peace and empowerment  in my secular life and I try to respect the fact that there are others on the other end of the spectrum who have also found peace be aligning with systems of beliefs and rituals.  So while placing faith in religion is not something that I align with, I know that there are many others who do find total solace in that world.  And if there are factions of the religious community who equate my being an Agnostic yoga practitioner with the dark arts then so be it.  I cannot change that view nor should I try.  But what I can do is continue joining other non-theists who want the freedom to live out our lives in peace and enjoyment without being subjected to unwanted proselytizing, conversion techniques, and arbitrary predictions about where we we go after we take our last breaths.  So if after all of that I’m labeled as being a practitioner of the dark arts, then I will respond with a resounding Abracadabra!

Carpe Diem,

Jay

 

 

 

A little about me…

Loving life in my Secular Humanist Way

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Hello and a big thank you for taking the time to visit my little corner of the web. Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Jay, I’m approaching my mid 50’s, hoping to someday become a prolific, published author of creative nonfiction and I am also a Secular Humanist.  To continue my expression in writing I finally got up the nerve to venture into this whole other world called blogging.  I suppose it took something that I was clearly passionate about for me to dive into the pool.  That passion for me is life in general.  More specifically, living a life that’s centered on quality, not governed by fear of what will happen after I take my last breath.  A life that makes the most of each day in the here and now, devoid of dogma, the shalts and the shalt nots, nor ancient texts.

So yes, I am a proud Secular Humanist.  I always have been and always will be.  I was a Secular Humanist before I was equipped with the language to claim it.  Secular Humanism was likely in my mindset beginning with the steely gaze that Sunday School teachers shot at me for daring to ask questions instead accepting their advice to walk by faith, not by sight.  It was within me during the many years of my unsuccessful attempts to play it safe by parroting religious rhetoric, even from a pulpit.  Yes, you read that right.  I was even ordained a minister into a progressive form of Christianity.  But over time, I simply could not ignore the internal cringing I felt throughout that journey.  Of course I’ll expound on that in other parts of my blog.

Becoming a successful full-time writer is my ultimate dream, however currently I am a hospital Chaplain.  More specifically, I am a Secular Humanist Chaplain and this is something that I do not conceal nor should I.  To some that may sound like quite an oxymoron.  But being in this role I’ve also grown pretty adept at swimming upstream.  You can imagine just how tricky it must be to feel a total sense of peace as a Secular Humanist yet also perform the daily duties as a hospital Chaplain, which more times than not, is associated with organized religion and evangelism.  Instead of oxymoron, others may even use a term with sharper edges such as hypocritical.  This would undoubtedly come from the faction of people who still make assumptions based on the old model of Chaplaincy, which was predominantly young white males, wearing cleric collars and carrying Bibles and devotionals and saving the souls of the unchurched. I however am not a young white male, I don’t wear cleric collars, and instead of saving souls, I respectfully meet people where they are in life.  But I also stand up for the rights of the unchurched, the non-theists, and those whose expressions of spirituality stand outside of the mainstream.  Yes indeed, it can be a rigorous swim going upstream as I face the presumptuous public who simply can’t wrap their minds around an Secular Humanist Chaplain.

It also may not have escaped some readers that in my description, I used the word “currently” in relation to my job as a Chaplain.  Because as I stated earlier, it is my deepest aspiration to shift to successful full-time writing at some point…hopefully soon.  Chaplaincy is an avenue where I have fought for the rights of non-theists, in a setting where spoken prayers reverberate through the institutional white walls.  However, a Chaplain’s role is not one that I foresee performing for the remainder of my life.  Realistically speaking, the fact that I’m in my 50’s means that this is likely the last half of my life – or as some describe it, my Act Two.  I want my Act Two to be spent doing what feels the most authentic.  To honor that, in conjunction with my passion for living a meaningful secular life, I will move forward to the place where my inspiration lies – reaching others through pen and paper.  And beyond pen and paper, it is my hope to take this passion further by advocating for greener initiatives for the sake of our planet, equal pay for women, and equal rights for the LGBT community.  Whew…that might be a big agenda for Act Two, but I’m up for it!

I hope that I can utilize this powerful medium called blogging to celebrate non-theists who choose reason over blind faith.  I hope that through my writing, I can celebrate with fellow Secular Humanists in riding this ultra cool wave called life and emphasize human agency to inspire others to make the most out of each and every day.  Carpe Diem all the way!!!!  Through my writing I hope to contribute to dismantling the stigma placed upon non-theists and the unfair overarching assumption that we are self-centered, irresponsible, and lacking a moral compass.

Through this blog I will provide context, history, and current snapshots of my life journey to embracing the  Secular Humanist philosophy.  I will talk about ways that I advocate for the much needed separation of church and state.  As a part of that journey sharing, I will provide entries chronicling my efforts in advocating for the non-theist population.  And in particular, those non-theistic individuals who for whatever unfortunate reasons have been physically compromised, hospitalized, and at the mercy of those who feel compelled to shower them with their one-size-fits-all religious beliefs and prayers without consent. Through my writing and involvement in non theistic organizations such as The American Humanist Association, I hope to advocate for those not just in the hospital room, but also the pre-game locker room, the pre-performance backstage areas, the meeting rooms, and any areas where non-theists are marginalized and subjected to intercessory prayers against their wishes.

I realize that as I continue to explore the medium of blogging and mass publication, I may be opening myself to brash comments from members of not only the conservative evangelical world, but even some so-called progressive Christian denominations.  I’m not at war with either.  I’m simply a man who has found my peaceful home in a secular life.  I am a Secular Humanist and I also remain respectful of those who do happen to find hope in religious beliefs.  But for me, making the most out of life and maintaining authenticity go hand-in-hand.  I’m reminded of a quote by Kurt Cobain who once said “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”  Who I am is someone who is in love with life, with people, and with my truth which is that we possess the power to make life an amazing journey.  Who I am not, is a follower of blind faith and I choose not to pretend to fit into that camp.

So here I am, a 50 something year old man, cultivating a love affair with life, a lover of feel good reggae music, an 80’s music geek, practitioner of Classical Hatha Yoga and mindfulness meditation, and one who has found peace and contentment through living the life in all its wonder, beauty, challenges and even occasional setbacks.

I hope that you’ll come back to visit me and my blog and feel comfortable enough to hang out for here for awhile as I continue to explore this medium called blogging.  I’m aware that there may be those who could possibly relate to me and potentially love me for who I am and there will also be those who will hate me for who I am not – someone who believes that faith supersedes logic and reason. But as I said earlier, I’ve grown adept at swimming upstream.

Until next time…CARPE DIEM!!!!

Jay