My son, the atheist

My son says God doesn’t exist. This statement came about suddenly, with no warning, at the end of our nightly reading session. My baby is suddenly a person, quite separate from me and with opinions very different from my own. I am torn between great pride and great shock. I probe more, and I discover that he doesn’t just think that God doesn’t exist; he thinks that my belief in God is a sign of my great fear and intellectual laziness. He says that it is perhaps because I am terrified that something horrible will happen that I feel the need to fall back on this mythical entity.

I am on the defensive now, and feel forced to *prove* that God does exist, an impossible task and particularly unsuited to someone as doubt-filled and uncertain as me. He is so much surer of his stance: for every Mother Teresa and Martin Luther, religion has produced thousands of ruthless zealots; religion does not make people kinder, it makes them more certain in their illogic; religion is used primarily to force others to conform and Christianity is especially suspect since it comes backed by richer and mightier groups; if there was one true God, then why is it that holy men-women across the ages have come up with such differing ideas of who this God is, each claiming their theory is fully correct?

I turn my head to look at this child sharing my pillow – who is this new person? This is not the same one, the one who, not-so-long-ago, would cry piteously if I didn’t sit next to his potty chair while he did his business. I am torn between pride at how well-thought out and critical his arguments are, and consternation at this insight into my child’s opinion of my faith, and concern that perhaps he will not discover a life-giving faith of his own.

Pride wins out.

And as I listen to him falling asleep, I pray that God will work his wonders and reach my son too.

flirting

On occasion, men hit on me. On very rare occasion, women hit on me. Usually I am slow to figure it out because I’m one of those people that has been in a serious monogamous relationship almost every day since I was 17. I started dating my husband at 20. I do not have a lot of dating experience, and I have never tried to meet anyone to date outside of my existing social circle, unless high school counts. So not only am I slow to notice when someone is hitting on me, but I’m really unfamiliar with the norms of flirting seriously with a stranger.

On two recent occasions, as I was standing alone in public, existing peacefully with myself, men have hit on me. The second one was tonight, when I was sitting on a bench at the gym. I work out at a gym attached to a health clinic, which is the kind of place where everyone wears sweatpants and is pretty non-competitive. After my workout, I was sitting on a bench drinking some water when the guy who was vacuuming the gym asked me how my workout was. I thought, hopefully, that this was just a friendly employee, and answered cheerfully “good!” Then he continued and added, “I saw you over there. On the—was it the treadmill?” “elliptical…” I answered, getting a sinking feeling. Then somehow the exchange ended, either because I looked down at my phone (very possible) or the guy just knew he should keep working and moved to vacuum somewhere else. As soon as he walked off I went in to the locker room so I didn’t risk seeing him again. The whole thing made me feel kind of creeped out and uncomfortable. I wondered what he meant. Had he been checking me out? Was he going to keep trying to hit on me or would he get the message when I hadn’t asked him anything in return? Did he hit on me because I made too much eye contact when I saw him a few minutes previously?

I was left wondering, too, if I was being oversensitive. I mean, after all, people have to meet each other somehow. Maybe this was a harmless flirtation, and all I had to do was politely indicate that I wasn’t interested. Why does this kind of attention almost always make me feel targeted?

One possible interpretation is that it has to do with my genderqueerness. Maybe my reaction to men who see me as a woman hitting on me is about feeling like I’m being misread. Maybe I feel like I’ll be found out as these men realize I’m not really the woman they are looking for.

But as I thought more about why I find it so impossible to just say “sorry, not interested” I realized that there have been times that I have tried to say that. And many of those times the man in question has immediately turned aggressive and mean. My first reaction to street harassment when I first ran in to it was in fact to politely rebuff. For my trouble, I got responses like “you’ve been sorry your whole life you white bitch!” So my reaction to stay silent and hide is probably the only rational one. If I continue the conversation, I’m leading the man on and I’ll just have to rebuff even more unwanted attention later on. If I try to end things quickly and clearly, like I’d like to, there’s a non-trivial chance the man will turn hateful.

I wrote this post in September, and it took me until February to walk back in to the gym again.

What would you give up?

There is a striking parallel in the lives of saints across religions, whether it be the Hindu rishis or the Buddhist monks or the Catholic nuns. They let go of worldly tangles and exchange it for joy. That seems like a pretty fair deal. Would I be able to do the same?

Celibacy and silence: I believe the two are linked together since the absence of the former makes time for the latter. And I want the latter. The long hours of silence and prayer speaks to a deep thirst inside me, but is it possible to delink silence from celibacy? Why not structure my life to match the nuns’ schedule without giving up husband-sex-children? They wake up at 5.00, prayer-mass-bible-silence until breakfast at 9.00, then off to work, pray again for an hour at lunch, then work again, and then 5.30-7.30 community time, and then silence-prayer-bible-mass until bed. I could have the same schedule, simply replacing community time with family time. It would take discipline, but it is not impossible.

Giving up ipad, ipod, personal laptop, computer, and the vow of poverty: The nuns claim that giving these up was a big relief, and I can understand their view – how wonderful it would be to cease striving; to do one’s best every day but to unclench and let go of the death-grip on goals – career goals, goals for the kids, retirement-savings goals; what a relief it would be to let go. These certainly give me no joy, and stuff, in any case, happens, no matter how I try to bend reality to my will.

Still obsessed with nuns…

What is the secret of the nuns’ joy and peace? Can I replicate it, within the context of my life?

Let’s start with the easiest – makeup, pretty shoes/clothes etc. – these I think would be easy to give up, a relief not to have to think about what to wear to work everyday – the frustrating daily calculus of determining what would be feminine, but not too much so; what attire would display authority while still being approachable; what combination of sweater and scarf would ensure that no skin is displayed without treading into hijab territory. Oh and not having to worry about hair and its arbitrariness? Yes! Giving these up will not be a sacrifice. I can easily see how this alone – donning a uniform every day which covers my hair – would significantly improve my quality of life. And I wouldn’t even be the first to do this. So no problem with this one. I could simply decide on a “uniform” (white shirt and jeans?) and buy 15 pairs, and I am set for life. Done.

Community: Oh, to have the community that these women share! I am most envious of this. I bet that just this one thing – being among a community of sister saints – increases their joy. But this one is difficult to replicate for a lay person unless some serendipitous combination of circumstances makes good friends move close by and they also have the time for daily community.

And then there is obedience: This is the most problematic of all. The idea I think is the following: I want to read a book but the kid is sick, so I must joyfully (instead of resentfully) give up my desire and obey, enjoying my time with the kid. I can see how that would lead to peace. But what about obedience within a context of unfairness? There is something cow-like about these nuns who are joyful within a church that denies women. It is troubling, their untroubled joy. Do they not care about injustice and hence not hear God’s call to correct it? Or is it that we only hear that which already exists within us? Or are some of us are called to care about particular things, while being blind to other equally important things? It is troubling-confusing, the sisters’ joyful acceptance of the status-quo; inexplicable in an otherwise perfect model of what humans could really be.