There really hasn’t been a curmudgeonly rant on the blog since I began it and put that term in the tag line. However, today I believe I will show you what I meant when I wrote that line. I’ll warn you, some of you may be angered by this post, but I am going to strongly encourage you to read through to the end, because it is not what it may first seem.
On the way home from work this week I needed to stop for gas. I pulled into the pumps at our local convenience mega-mart a few blocks from home. As I was putting the pump into my vehicle, a white Caravan pulled up behind me but perpendicular to my car, so the driver’s window was beside me. A woman rolled the window down, a bit older but not elderly. I approached the window and immediately noticed the van was outfitted for a handicapped driver, with extended controls and a platform with a steering mechanism kind of like a miniature ship’s wheel. The woman looked at me, motioned to her adaptive devices, smiled, and said, “Would you mind pumping my gas for me?” I immediately said, “Of course not. I’d be happy to,” and meant it, sincerely, even though it was cold and blustery at that time, spitting rain. She smiled and said she would pull up to the pump next to mine.
I got my pump started and walked to her car. I approached her car door and she opened it slightly and handed me her credit card, saying, “Thank you so much.” She told me her zip code, which the pump would require, and said, “I have the store card, too. Just a minute.” She closed the door and began searching for her loyalty card, then opened the door again and handed it to me with another thanks. I asked her what grade of gas she wanted and she said the lowest grade. I took her cards and returned to the pump, inserting the loyalty card and then the credit card. I was caught off guard when it offered her a reward of 1 cent per gallon or the automatic discount of 3 cents per gallon just for using the loyalty card, and hit the reward button by accident. I remember feeling glad it was only a 2 cent difference, hoping she wouldn’t be upset.
While her gas was pumping, I walked back to my car, now filled, and completed that transaction. Then I returned to her car, waited for the pump to stop, and completed hers. I took the receipt to her car door, and she opened the door, took it, and said, “Thank you again, so much.”
And then it happened. She reached back through the door with something in her hand. My first thought was that she was going to try to give me money, and I was fully prepared to refuse, but instead she said, “Here is something for you to read,” as she slipped a leaflet shaped like a wallet with large bills slightly extended out of it into my hand. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to process it, and I smiled and walked away as she closed the door and started her car.
The leaflet was from an evangelical Christian organization whose website proclaims its mission of “Inspiring and Equipping Christians in Fulfilling the Great Commission.” When you open it, it begins with a “personality analysis,” a series of multiple choice questions.
“If this was a real wallet packed with real money, would you: a)Keep it. b)Take it to the police. c) Give some money to the poor.”
“You have been underpaid for years. There’s a BIG mistake in your paycheck to your advantage. Would you: a) Tell the boss. b) Keep quiet. c) Give some to a church.”
After a few more multiple choice questions, it shifts right into some lovely open-ended questions. “Did you realize that the Bible warns that thieves, liars, fornicators (those who have sex out of marriage), idolaters (those who create a god to suit themselves), adulterers, and the covetous (the greedy,) will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?”
I had stuffed the leaflet in my pocket when she
forced it upon gave it to me but I knew immediately what it was and began to fume even before she drove away. In my inner self-dialogue I was furious for not being quick enough to reject it, to say a polite “No, thank you,” and walk away. But I didn’t do that, and so, what I hate the most is that in her mind, as she drove away, she believed that I accepted willingly, that her effort was worthwhile, that she was, indeed, justified in handing it to me.
I have a VERY uneasy relationship with religion. I was not brought up in a traditionally religious family. Before you feel sorry for me, please understand that I DID grow up in a wonderful family of loving, good people who approached religion as it felt right to them, and I was exposed to religion in a variety of ways. I have an uncle who is a retired minister and had grandparents who attended church regularly. My best friend in high school (and still a friend today,) was the son of a minister, and I spent many nights in their home and more than a few hours in their very conservative church. I sang with the Chapel Choir in college, mostly because it was the premiere vocal performing group on campus; I can’t say I enjoyed getting up for the services on Sunday mornings, and I know my voice was rarely any good those mornings I did manage to make it, but I also have to admit that it was by no means an entirely unpleasant experience, attending chapel those Sundays. Still, it was a journey of my own, with no pressure or expectations, and an outcome that was entirely up to me.
Through all of those years, I was discovering myself, as everyone does. It was a difficult journey in the 70s and 80s for a gay teen. Please try to understand this; it was almost impossible to see any positive representation of a gay person anywhere in society. I internalized a deep need to hide that aspect of myself. The idea of living openly and authentically seemed impossible. I suppose I was especially sensitive to this, but it seemed to me that religion, in general, lead the way with a concrete opposition that left no room for dialogue. Religion decreed that homosexuality was wrong, with such moral authority that there was no room for disagreement; it simply WAS. Fact. End of discussion.
As I went through college and then beyond, my world expanded. I met people of different faiths, experienced a wider variety of views. As I did, I realized that nobody held moral authority over me unless I allowed them to. I was becoming more comfortable in my own skin and allowed my doubts about myself to fade as my doubts about Religion (upper case,) grew. It became difficult for me to accept absolutes about anything as I became able to see the diversity of thought and belief and reality among people. Over time, I developed a deep mistrust of religion, seeing it as a personal attack on my right to live my life. I found myself quite guarded when I met a person of strong religious beliefs. I rejected the “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” approach, as I found it just provided cover for some people to actively oppose my rights, to marginalize me while ostensibly being my friend.
I still feel this way today. See, the thing is, I don’t need prayers. I don’t require saving from myself. I am a whole, deeply flawed, organic being, living my life as authentically as possible, as true to myself as I can be, the best I can. I fail, a lot. I am not proud of my mistakes, and there have been many. I have positive attributes, too. I am, as they like to say sometimes in weather forecasts (which Jeremy hates, by the way,) a mixed bag, as we all are to some degree. It took a long time for me to accept this about myself. The younger me, the version who hated himself and lived in fear, lived through the anxiety and came out the other side, deserves the current me to honor that journey by being proud. I honor that teenager and all of the others, past and current, struggling to make sense of their lives in a sometimes harsh world, by being authentic and honest, flawed but perfect in my imperfection. So pardon me when I say this, but screw your prayers. If it makes you feel better to pray for me, have at it, but please understand that I don’t give a rat’s ass, unless you are praying for me to be happy and healthy and to continue on my journey successfully.
I’m worried that this may sound bitter, and I don’t intend for it to be so – although I warned you that this is a curmudgeonly rant, so I suppose it is only fitting that there may be a little piss and vinegar coming through. I also want you to know, though, that in my journey I have also come to meet and love some people who are very religious. I have learned that there are people of strong faith who actively reject any component which tries to require them to believe there is anything wrong with me. In fact, I have met many such people and I count some among my closest friends. To me, from my perspective, these people give me hope. They prove to me that I need not knee-jerk when somebody shares their faith with me, that I can and should trust people of faith, and I value this tremendously, as it is not in my nature to generalize about any group. I have learned to allow people the time to and opportunity to show me their true selves. To be patient and open, and to value differences which do not automatically have to drive a wedge between us. I have allowed these experiences to balance my bias. I’ve learned to accept people for who they are.
But back to the disabled lady at the gas pump. This really infuriated me. How dare she hand me (or anybody else, for that matter,) that leaflet? I’m not sure I can adequately express my anger about this. She had no right to do that. Can you imagine the outrage if a Muslim were to do the same thing? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a leaflet about Islam, either. But what if I handed out leaflets about the virtues of homosexuality? People disparage Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for their proselytizing visits. How is this different?
I guess what really gets me is that I performed a small act of kindness, one I was happy to do and would gladly do again, one which I don’t believe makes me better than anybody else, and I was “rewarded” by being handed a leaflet that presupposes that there is something wrong with me, something lacking in my life, by a person who knows nothing about me, but who clearly believes she possesses the moral authority to do so. And that pisses me off. (It also pisses me off that the leaflet felt I wouldn’t know the words fornicators, idolaters, and covetous, but that is an altogether different issue!)
Later, I saw this image on Facebook which really summarized my feelings about this incident.
I suppose I could have just made this the blog post, but I wanted to share with you the context. I’m not as angry about this now, but I am still determined to fight this type of “religious shaming” when I can. I’m not better than anybody else, nor am I worse. My beliefs are my own. If you want to know about them, ask me. Or better yet, watch me and draw your own judgments based on my words and actions, on how I treat others, on who I am as a flawed person trying to do good in my own small ways. I promise I will extend you the same common courtesy.