Holding grudges…

It was the summer of 2001. I’d been separated from my husband for half a year and I was lonely. My two local friends weren’t dependable. One suffered from depression and would disappear for weeks on end, refusing to answer her phone or the door. The other was constantly busy and running behind… yelling we’d have to get together soon as she hurried to take her kids somewhere. I desperately wanted to connect with someone but had no idea where or how. Common interests seemed a good starting point so I worked up my courage and wrote out a few signs looking for someone to help organize an atheist group.

Weeks went by with no real interest. I had one phone call but the person was looking for an established group with regular meetings and guest speakers. He asked me to call him back once I got everything sorted out. I hope he’s not still waiting. Over a month later I received another call from a hesitant sounding woman. She belonged to the local Unitarian Universalist church and thought I might be interested in attending, assuring me it wasn’t religious and several members of the congregation were atheists. If we were interested, she’d be willing to drive us there. I agreed to give the church a try.

We showed up on the best possible day. Potluck. Jeremy was thrilled to discover they had free lunch after the service while Emma enjoyed playing downstairs in RE (Religious Education). The lady hadn’t lied. The service was secular and the people were friendly. Even so, I probably wouldn’t have gone back if it wasn’t for the kids. They’d loved church and desperately wanted to keep going. It wasn’t nearly as enjoyable for me.

Every week the service would end and I’d drift, hoping and failing to connect with anyone. People would cluster in groups and chat while I hung around the fringes and tried to look involved; drifting from one end of the room to the other hoping to find somewhere to fit. Then the kids would come upstairs, happily showing off artwork and begging for cookies and then we’d go home.

We’d been attending the church for almost a year when the minister asked if she could come to my home. She claimed it was just a friendly visit, that she tried to meet for tea with every new member and was feeling bad that she’d left our meeting for so long. I ignored my warning bells and said that was fine. She arrived on a gorgeous spring afternoon while the kids were at school and chattered about nothing of substance. Finally it came time for her to leave. She paused with studied casualness then said she’d almost forgot to mention a concern that several members of the congregation had voiced. I knew immediately this was her whole reason for arriving, the friendly visit was nothing more than an excuse. She went on to say that Jeremy was using the wrong washroom and it was bothering people.

Jeremy was in kindergarten at the time and terrified of flushing the toilet (or even hearing it flush). Zie had never been in a public washroom on zir own but that didn’t matter to her. It also didn’t matter that zie was simply going into a stall with me then washing zir hands and leaving. It wasn’t as if zie was running around the washroom, swinging on the doors and tossing the toilet paper. Then she turned it toward me. Didn’t I trust the members of the congregation? It was a small church and everyone was nice. Surely I could be a bit less paranoid and let Jeremy grow up. I couldn’t drag zir into the washroom with me forever. I reluctantly agreed, telling her I didn’t want to hear any complaints about Jeremy’s refusal to flush. The next Sunday I convinced Jeremy to try the mens room on zir own. No one showed any sign of noticing anything different.

If it was just me, I’d have left the church then and never gone back. I didn’t like how she’d manipulated me and lied in order to tell me about the washroom. I looked suspiciously at everyone in the congregation for weeks afterwards. If she was telling the truth, it could have been any one of them who’d chose not to speak to me directly and gone to complain to her. And if she was lying, she’d pinned the blame on the congregation instead of owning up to her own unease. Either way the church wasn’t comfortable for me and didn’t feel comfortable again until she retired several years later.

And now she’s back, not as a minister, just as a member of the congregation. I find myself going through our calendar and avoiding the Sundays where she’s scheduled to speak. I don’t like her, which is something I wouldn’t say to anyone in our congregation; she’s held in high regards there. It’s been over a decade now and I’d let go of my grudge except for one thing. She was there on the Sunday I outed Jeremy. Our new minister made a point of coming to speak with me about Jeremy, talking about how she’d seen zir at the youth group and found zir to be both funny and insightful. She asked about pronouns and how zie identifies. Our former minister hasn’t said a word.

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God hates me…

Jeremy and I went out shopping last night. He needed a t-shirt to wear with his pyjama bottoms and a white t-shirt for signing at CanUUdle. And, since he only has one pair of decent pj bottoms, we figured we’d look for another pair too.

We started off in Target, which only recently came to Canada. I never thought I’d say it but I miss Zellers. Target (in Canada at least) does not have much selection. We were browsing through the men’s department when Jeremy asked a clerk where the men’s pyjamas were. They don’t have them. Alrighty then, onward to Giant Tiger.

Giant Tiger is a Canadian discount store. I figured we wouldn’t have much luck but Jeremy loves shopping and insisted (extremely vocally) that we give it a try.

“Is this the men’s department?” Jeremy asked. He sounded bored. I don’t know what he expected but it definitely wasn’t the clothes Giant Tiger was offering.

“Yes,” I confirmed. The section was filled with camo, dark colours, and fluorescent vests. The ladies department didn’t have the vests. “Look, I found the pjs. They have Duck Dynasty.”

Jeremy snorted. “Like I want his face anywhere near my crotch.”

We started walking toward the electronics department (if a rack of headphones, slimline phones, and blank CDs can classify as a department) then Jeremy did a double take at a photo in the men’s underwear section.

“Is that a girl?” he blurted in astonishment. He looked closer at the picture of a young, long haired man. “Oh, no wait… it’s just Jesus.”

I stifled a laugh. The young man really did resemble those paintings of Jesus, except I’d never seen one of Jesus topless before. It was that classic ‘sitting with his arms crossed on his knees while taking a dump pose’ that school photographers love. Maybe the photographer got a promotion from Lifetouch photographer to discount underwear model photographer. If that was indeed a promotion.

“You know? I’d never invite God into our house,” Jeremy mused. “God hates me. If I invited him inside he’d try to rip my face off.”

I found myself with no idea what to say. Meanwhile Jeremy curved his fingers then raked his hand downward before smiling. He thought a bit more.

“Jesus would probably be okay.” He nodded to himself. “Yeah, I’d invite Jesus in. He seems like a nice enough guy. But I definitely wouldn’t invite God. God doesn’t want me.”

I’ve raised both my kids as an atheist and both have grown up to be atheists (Jeremy spent a few years as a kid believing we went to the Pokemon realm when we died). Plus I’ve raised them in the Unitarian Universalist Church, which is not considered Christian (in Canada) and hosts a good chunk of atheists and pagans. So, thankfully for Jeremy this was more of an academic question. He might as well have been pondering whether Santa Claus liked him enough to leave him presents, knowing full well I’m the one who buys them and already have them bought. But I can’t help feeling horrible for the kids growing up in a religion that claims to be full of love and kindness for everyone except for you, you, and *tsk* especially not you. That isn’t love.

I wonder if the “love the sinner but hate the sin” Christians realize how much of a message of hate they’re preaching. Because the kids are hearing it loud and clear.