Am I an Atheist Christian?

Do I believe in God? I have no idea. I think the problem is I don’t believe in believing.

I’m not trying to be difficult. I just don’t know what it means to say that I believe in something. What happens if I don’t? Does it *poof* go away?

Do I believe in good and evil? Of the two, I choose good. Does that make evil weaker? Is belief like voting? Is belief off in the wings, waiting for enough of us to choose wisely? After the votes are in, will the winning belief take the stage?

Is belief like wearing 3-D glasses? It’s the same stuff in the movie but with belief you get a heightened experience?

Do I believe in spring because it keeps coming? Do I believe in winter because you can’t stop it anyway? Do people in Arizona not believe in winter? Did they stop believing and their winter went away?

Does Arizona believe in my snowman?

Can I believe in sounds? Symphonies and speeches and heart-moving sermons? Do I have to believe in the air that carries the sounds? – because some days I can’t tell the air from nothing.

Kids believe in Santa Claus. Some of them get toys, some of them don’t. The child with the scooter believes. The child with the empty stocking, used to believe.

If I believe in soap, does it clean better? Am I absolved from bathing? If I believe in hot baths should I walk around carrying a bucket of hot water and a towel, because that’s who I am, that’s what I believe? Should I lug the towel and hot water around in case someone needs them? Does that make me a believer? Or a lugger? Can you be a believer and not a lugger?

Is it my great privilege to still be entertaining the idea of belief at all? Does that mean I haven’t had enough crap happen to make me give up this topic all together?

But there has been a lot of crap. About a wheelbarrow and a half. It might have been halfway into that second load I started to wonder…what is all this open and shut belief? Believe in God and nothing bad will happen to you?

And when the hard times come, if you have a lack of belief, then you know what your problem is. Ye of little faith, if only you’d believed. The crowd says tsk.

Is belief like a really, really long wish? A wish you wish your whole life? A good luck charm. Hold it tight in your palm and shut your eyes and imagine what you want, imagine it so so so so hard.

Do I believe in things because I love them? Do I believe in people because I love them? Because I need them? Do I believe in God in case no one else cares about me? Who wouldn’t pick God to be on their side? Who wouldn’t pick the biggest, strongest, smartest deity on the block. OF COURSE you’d say God was on your side, pulling for you night and day.

Do I believe any of what I’m saying? Do I believe in myself? Do I believe in the cancer that grew in my neck? I saw my lymph node. It looked like baloney. Did I believe in the doctors? I don’t know if I did, but I thought it important that they show up. I didn’t believe God was with me or watching me or teaching me a great big fat lesson. It just happened. I can tell myself it happened for any reason, I can tell any story, quote any book, tape any psalm on my bathroom mirror. The belief can’t make it real, not if I curated it. The story – the thing I tell myself so I can breathe, so I can hug my children good night and ever let go – that story is my story. I write it, and re-write it, every morning, so that I can get out of bed. Which means, it’s a story. I made it up. I made 3-D glasses and put them on. So I can stand to look.

Maybe I believe in stories. Maybe I’m believing in myself as the creator of my own stories and not thanking God for giving me the ability to make them. Or maybe I’m cutting out the middle man.

Is there still time to become a believer? Could things go smoother here on out? Could I save myself a lot of trouble? I see the believers at their party. My old neighbor, she checked in with God on the tiniest decisions, God told her the answer, and she never looked back. I say, lovely. How nice to think belief is driving the minivan, while I’m back here piling rocks behind mud-stuck tires.

I can’t conceive of a life where I don’t question: everything. I believe in the questions. If I believe in anything, it might be them.

Maybe it’s not clear. Except for a time in my twenties, I’ve gone to church all my life, quite often thought to be a place for people who believe in God. Yet the more I attend, the less and less I believe. I’ve been told by a religious person this is okay. (Thank you, Episcopalians.)

And if I understand less than ever, there’s a contented sense of wondering. Maybe it’s moving farther away from categories, the yes/no’s, the columns. Heading out into the Great Something, something you feel in your gut. You are in some kind of communication with it, no? So what is that?

I’ve made some sort of loving liturgical commitment to my gut.

When I had the cancer, I was 25. A few days after the diagnosis, I sat on the edge of the bed. The shock was there but I was tired of crying. I looked out the window and it was a sunny July morning. Like you couldn’t believe. I tried to pray but shook my head, fuck it, and then I had this weird experience, a feeling and an image in my head of the prayers and church and God as I’d known them as so much scaffolding, and that scaffolding just buckling and falling slowly and gracefully and beautifully to the ground. And THAT was a peace that surpassed understanding. Peace like a semi-truck. Like wasabi lighting up your head.

Years later, I can’t begin to describe how beautiful it was. I still remember it, though I’m older now, the upstairs bedroom with the creaky wood floors, a crack moving diagonally up the wall, and, that weird dusty peace streaming in the window. Peace that was utterly familiar. And completely unknown.

I think of that peace sometimes. It lets me come in and visit, again and again. And every time I can get there, it’s like the peace was waiting for me to come back. Like it knew I would. Like it believed in me.

Is Gratitude a Sham?

Lately I’ve been having trouble with gratitude. Sometimes it feels like a sham. Like another thing people do to make themselves feel better, like go to church and eat organic food.
(I go to church and eat organic food.)

How could there be anything wrong with being thankful for all you have? Keeping a gratitude journal? Posting the list on Facebook and challenging others to do the same?Who gets skeptical about “feeling blessed”?

And I do feel blessed. I have so much to be grateful for. My life has included cancer surgery, radiation, divorce. It’s not like I’m sitting here with my golden ticket saying, sucks to be you, because at many points in my life it has sucked to be me. When I wake up and I’m healthy, trust me, I’m grateful. When my kids wake up and they’re healthy, I am grateful. Like you have no idea. Thank God.

But sometimes my “gratitude” feels a little too much like “whew”.

Today, at least, we were safe.

And then I feel guilty. Grateful but guilty.

My husband is a police officer. He once made a traffic stop when he was working the night shift. It was two or three in the morning, the couple – the parents – were on their way to drop off a drug delivery. Their toddler was in the back seat buckled into a car seat. Across the tray of the car seat the parents had scattered a bag of Skittles for him to eat. At three am. On the way. To the drug drop.

What is that dear child of God grateful for today?

Sometimes gratitude seems like another way to talk about luck.

Sometimes gratitude seems like heads when you called heads. Tails when you called tails. Heads my kids get Bob’s Red Mill Organic Steel Cut Oats. Tails your kid gets red-Skittled saliva dripping down his chin.

Not only that, but it’s healthy for us to be grateful. To boot! Like a supplement. If you have food, water and shelter you will live longer. And if you’re grateful for those things you will live even longer. It’s an upward spiral.

Something about this seems convenient.

I drew a long straw today. Who knows about tomorrow. I better keep being grateful. It’s worked so far. Lucky socks. Rabbits feet. Thank you God. I really like the stuff you brought today. See me being grateful. Do you see me, God? Wow, what a servant. Makes you want to keep it coming, huh?

While I’m ostensibly a Christian I’m not a very good one and if I’m honest I have to admit that I would thank ANYONE if it kept my husband and children safe and healthy. False gods? Of course I worship false gods, I worship New Seasons, I worship flax seed smoothies, I worship Oprah and her columnists, I worship Hanna Andersson long johns, I worship my emergency preparedness kit in the basement, for a time I appeared to worship Thomas the Tank Engine, believing that collecting the entire line of trains would keep my three-year old encircled in an oval track of safety/happiness/contentment. A rosary of steam engines.

There are children in India who live on mountains of trash. I do not want to live on a mountain of trash. I do not want my children to live on a mountain of trash. I promise you if the Flemings end up living on a mountain of trash that I will not find one single thing to be grateful for and if you tell me to write in a daily gratitude journal I’m going to tell you to fuck off. Fuck off you happy blessed person. Fuck off and get me off this fucking mountain of trash.

Tails.

My son’s word since he started first grade has been random. A random kid at school, a random Lego guy, for a snack he asks for a “random” blueberry muffin. Random: not part of a pattern. Unpredictable. Without cause.

Babies learn cause-effect. You drop the rattle. I pick it up.  You cry. I pick you up. As grownups, we still see the effects. Do we ever stop looking for causes? Do we ever stop looking for the big cosmic mama? Do we think we keep getting the good life because we are thankful for it? Are we scared, possibly terrified of what can and does happen in this world, and have to try something?

My greatest fear is that I will get cancer again and die and leave my babies alone in this world without a mother. My son loves me “so much it makes the moon look like the tip of a marker pen.” My daughter has Down syndrome. I believe in her more than anyone in the entire world. Who will be her army general without me? What would happen to her life?

I can’t breathe.

If expressing my gratitude keeps our winning streak going, I will do it. I’m missing the whole point I’m sure, but I’ll do it. On with gratitude. On with thanks! I would thank God, goddesses, Life, Creators, or a sequined skunk on meth if it could promise me I will get to finish raising my children.

My seven-year old said something to me the other day. He said, “One thing I notice, Mom, is that you say thank you to people a lot of times they don’t say you’re welcome back.” I knew what he meant. You’re welcome gets dropped.

Maybe that’s my problem. I’m dragging on the you’re welcomes. Maybe thank you is like a hot potato. Maybe by the time you say thanks you should have passed the thing on that you’re saying thank you for.

Wake up in a warm house, say thanks, get dressed and help someone else find a house. Wake up healthy, say thanks, and drive off to help someone who’s not healthy.

Say your “thank you” but by the -ou” part you should be out the door.

Maybe thank you is too hot to hold. Maybe that’s my trouble with gratitude: my blessings are burning my hands.

Maybe, oh maybe, that’s why sometimes it hurts.