You might as well try talking sense to a cat

If I follow my own counsel, I have to take responsibility for the consequences. If I follow other people’s counsel, I have to take responsibility for the consequences. This alone prejudices me in favor of following my own counsel.

If I follow my own counsel, I discover my mistakes sooner. If I go to a mentor or take a poll of my friends and behave as they advise, and doing so turns out to be a mistake, it won’t be my mistake, and all that I am sure to learn from it is that they were wrong.

No one can know for sure what’s right for himself much less for me. If I tell you I’m off to teach peace to the Islamic State, and you tell me it’s a bad idea, how do you know it’s a bad idea? After all, I might succeed. At the very least, it could turn out that if I stayed in Oregon, I’d fall asleep while driving and run head-on into a busload of school children, killing them all. No matter how sure we are that something is a mistake, none of us can see the future. I remember a time when I ignored my sister’s advice and later regretted it, but I wouldn’t go back and do things differently because I don’t know but what the right decision might not have led to a worse outcome.

If you feel the need to give advice, it’s better to avoid anger and condescension, because anger and condescension distracts from your argument and causes me to wonder if you’re acting out of a private agenda that has nothing to do with my welfare. At the very least, if it turns out that you were right, you will have made it hard for me to come to you for support because I will anticipate you thinking, “See there, I told you so. Maybe you’ll listen to me next time.”

Sometimes, a person might do as someone else advises because it seems to make sense, but other times, the reason might simply be a lack of self-confidence. Since no one can build self-confidence by ignoring his own best thinking in favor of the best thinking of someone else, advice-givers aren’t necessarily being helpful even when they’re right.

I think it’s nearly always better to ask questions than to provide answers. By asking questions, you’re encouraging me to find my own truth and my own path. By providing answers, you’re offering that which you think your truth and your path would be if you were me, only you
’re not me. You’re a million miles from being me.
I have observed that advice is often obvious, left-brain, superficial, and insulting. For instance, if I say that I’m unable to stop grieving the death of my father, and someone says, “You just need to learn to accept that which you can’t change,” he’s implying that I’m such a moron that I never would have thought of this on my own. He’s also implying that he is my superior in that his own life is ruled by logic rather than by emotional need and desire, although I’ve never observed this to be the case.

If I have a problem, I will have spent many hours pondering solutions that the advice giver thinks of off the top of her head. I invariably  know more about why I have the problem and what needs to be done done about it than those who would advise me.

Giving advice to me is hardly more useful than giving advice to a cat because I’ve spent my adult life ignoring what other people thought was perfectly good sense. I’ll give three examples. When I grew a beard during the summer of 1976, the principal at the school where I was teaching assumed I did it for the bicentennial and ordered me to shave before school started. I refused despite growing threats from the administration and the combined wisdom of everyone I knew. Years later, I joined the ACLU and American Atheists, despite the fact that all of my Mississippi friends and neighbors thought that these organizations represented everything that was wrong with America. Every time I’m called to jury duty (eight times in three states), I refuse to take the juror’s oath because it contains the word God. Nearly everyone I ever talked to about this said that I was making a big deal out of nothing.

What might look like a mistake to an onlooker might conform to a guiding vision that is invisible to him and, perhaps, only vaguely known to myself. I am not always able to defend my path to the satisfaction of my challengers, but I don’t take this to mean that I’m in error. I’m more likely to conclude that my would-be advisers are acting out of ignorance, whether of the facts of the matter or of my needs and values.

A decision isn’t necessarily wrong because it isn’t as good as an alternative decision or because it fails to succeed; rather it’s wrong when it originates out of base motives.

I think it might be possible that most people don’t share as deeply as I do on their blogs because when you share deeply, many people assume  you’re weak, vulnerable, and looking for advice. If I were weak and vulnerable, I wouldn’t have the guts to share as I do, and while I’m willing to consider advice, I seldom take it. 

One good thing I can say about advice is that those who give it are at least paying attention. Whether they are paying attention deeply is another matter, but they are paying attention, and I think that in nearly every case, they really do want the best for me.

Well, well, well. Well, well, well, well, well.

The following is a letter that I just sent. I share it as a post because it says what I would say if I wrote a post. I feel badly that I can't keep the people's identities a secret from those who know them, but it's clear, I hope, that what I wrote is my impression rather than their reality. Once I share my blog address, I know that, forever afterwards, the person I shared it with might actually read it even if he or she never brings it up. Furthermore, I can never be sure but what that person shared it with still other people whom I might write about. I know all this, but I can't let it alter how I write because the point of my writing is to write openly about what's important to me.
Brent, when I started going to Resurrection last summer, I never intended to keep my atheism a secret, but I didn’t know how or when to broach the subject. I shared it with you, of course, and a month or so later, I shared it with ___ through my blog. I thought he would be likely to understand my position because he too lives with a fact about himself that many, if not most, people at Resurrection reject him for, however subtly. My father was himself a transsexual, and this gave me another tie to ___. When I gave him my blog address, I asked if he would be willing to get together and talk sometime, my interest being in how he made the decision about when and how to tell people of his transsexuality. He said he would, but when I next saw him, I realized that he must have read my blog, because he seemed nervous and intent on avoiding me, a situation that continues. I was disappointed in him about this since he plans to be a priest, but I told myself that he was only one person.

As the months passed, I came to feel badly that I was flying, as it were, under false colors by letting people assume I was a theist, but I didn’t know what to do. Then, ___ started attending the book group, and he seemed like an open and sensitive person. Also I had spent most of my life feeling as shy as he, so that too gave me a bond with him. One night while we were walking to our cars together, I told him about my blog, and asked if he would like to read it. He enthusiastically said he would. The next time I saw him, he said that he had “tried” to read my blog, and offered that it must be strange for me to be in the book group. Nothing more was said, and I got the idea that he preferred to keep his distance.

A few weeks later, I got an email from the lady who was hosting the dinner for new people. Peggy wasn’t interested in going, and I couldn’t go. I let ___ know these things, and she wrote back that her husband felt as Peggy did about church, and she asked if Peggy and I would like to have dinner with them some other time. I wrote that we would, and, after my signature, I impulsively put my blog address. I haven’t heard anything more from her, so I assume the dinner is off, along with the “loving reception” that the original email promised.

I find it considerably harder to tell myself that it’s only three people than I did when it was only one person. Maybe I didn’t share my atheism in the best way. On the other hand, polls show that Americans hold atheists in the same esteem as rapists, so it seems likely that I would have been rejected no matter how I had broached the subject. You anticipated a better reception, and I wanted to believe you, but my experience with Christians has long been extremely discouraging (when I became an atheist, I was shut out of the lives of people whom had always been my friends). Having shared what appears to be regarded as my shameful secret with three people other than yourself, and having been seemingly rejected by all three, I don’t see the point in continuing. I’m far from needing everyone’s approval, but neither do I wish to go where I am treated like a pariah. Nothing is written in stone here, but for now all the joy of attending church is gone for me. I plan to come to class on Saturday because I have to come out and return some books anyway, but I rather doubt that I will continue beyond that. I know that this is a busy time of year for you, and I don’t want you to feel any obligation to meet with me again even when you have more time, yet if you have any ideas that I haven’t thought of, that would be another matter. Emails are good too. In fact, I prefer them in some ways.

I understand that your vision of a church is that it be a place where people are cemented by values rather than beliefs, and where people can safely come together to share the news of their spiritual journey no matter where that journey has taken them. I, too, would love for church to be such a place, but I think that your goodness might sometimes make it hard for you to anticipate the failings of others. Without meaning to elevate myself to what I regard, in some ways, as your level of virtue, I think this is also true of myself, because, otherwise, why would I have ever walked in the door at Resurrection?

Whatever my faults, if the Christian talk of loving one’s neighbor is to mean anything, I have as much claim to that love as anyone. At the same time, I recognize that tribalism is a strong need within our species, and that church is one of its strongholds. I’ve even noticed that those outsiders whom your own church goes to such pains to help can be counted upon to remain outsiders, thereby allowing the church to see itself as helping its neighbors while at the same time trusting that those neighbors are unlikely to draw uncomfortably close. I don’t mean this as cynically as it must sound, because I know that there are other factors at work here. Yet, would you not say that the people who appear to have turned their backs on me are among those who take their religion the most seriously, and who therefore might have been considered the mostly likely to embrace me? You might ask what I would have liked from them. The answer is acknowledgement followed by normalcy. I wasn’t seeking conversion; I wasn’t seeking to convert; and I wasn’t looking for heartfelt conversations about God or atheism. I instead wanted to be accepted as I am, which is how you have accepted me. If, beyond that, someone had shown an interest in my experiences and views, that would have been wonderful, but I didn’t expect it. Truth be known, I got what I did expect, what experience has taught me to expect.

The nature of the beast

I have now told four people at Resurrection that I’m an atheist (three of them only through my blog) without anyone but Brent showing the least interest. I increasingly feel that I must tell people in order to avoid flying under a false flag, yet I hate doing so because I think Brent was overly optimistic when he said, “There is a place for you at Resurrection.” My belief is that if I tell people, they will reduce my entire being to that one fact, a fact that they find repugnant. Ever afterwards if I say something that surprises them, they will dismiss it with, “He just said that because he’s an atheist.” On the other hand, if I don’t tell people, I will distance myself from them, as I am already doing

Prejudice against atheists takes two forms. One is common among conservatives who take atheists at our word, consequently hate us, and look forward to lounging around heaven listening to our screams from hell. The other is usually found among liberals who seek to define us out of existence. The following is from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with atheist distance swimmer, Diana Nyad:

Oprah: “You told our producers you’re not a God person, but you’re deeply in awe?”
Nyad replied: “Yeah, I’m not a God person. I’m an atheist.”
Oprah: “But you’re in awe?”
Nyad: “I don’t understand why anyone would find a contradiction in that…”
Oprah: “Well I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe, and the wonder, and the mystery, then that is what God is.”

I have found Oprah’s brand of bigotry to be commonplace. It consists of defining atheists as stupid, immature, or insensitive, and denying that anyone who is smart, mature, and sensitive is an atheist, his or her own opinion notwithstanding. Oprah is unable to entertain the thought that, just maybe, atheists too experience awe and wonder, but see no reason to call it God. My sister serves as another example of the tendency on the part of liberal theists to deny the validity of atheism. When I found her definition of God as “the universal tendency toward good,” lacking, she dismissed my opinion without argument, implying, like Oprah, that the truth of her position was so obvious that it needed no proof and the failure of mine so abysmal that it required no refutation. Such accusations qualify as reductionism, and it’s pointless to argue against them because anything one can say will be interpreted as evidence of denial, proof of a past hurt, or some other psychological limitation. They reek with arrogance, although they are invariably held by people whom regard atheists as arrogant.

When I was young, I was sometimes told that no one with all my many virtues could possibly be a real atheist, but I’m too old now for theists to retain their optimism. When I did encounter it, it was invariably from people I was growing close to, and it hurt me in the way I imagine it would hurt a black person if a white person said he was so smart that he surely must have some “white blood.” I always felt a stab of betrayal upon realizing that this person whom I thought I could trust only accepted me because they didn’t believe I was who I said I was.

To continue the black/white analogy, I’ve had precisely one black friend here in Oregon, but then I’ve only known one black person. She had been here for decades but was from Louisiana. She said she sometimes misses the South because the prejudice down there is out in open, whereas here it’s so subtle that it’s hard for a black person to know where she stands. So will it be at Resurrection when my atheism becomes widely known. The question then becomes, why stay?

A cat is not a dog

Lee and Robin visited last night with our 21-month-old grandbaby. Brewsky hated Sidney at first sight, but has since become grudgingly reconciled to her presence although she tries to poke her fingers into his eyes. Last night, she had no sooner seen him than she hit him on the head, and this so infuriated Brewsky that it’s to his credit he didn’t bite her, but neither did he spend the rest of the evening hiding as he once would have done. Instead, he intermittently, over the next six hours, hissed long and loudly at her parents. Lee and Robin seemed mystified rather than worried, and I had no idea that he would actually attack them, so I did nothing to silence him, partly because when I chastise Brewsky, he has a history of later biting Peggy hard enough to draw blood.

I initially left it to Peggy to solve the biting problem, but when months passed, and he was still transferring his anger at me onto her, I felt that I had to help. The next time he ambushed her, both of us chased him through the house cursing loudly. She soon thought he had had enough, but I chased him until he was too tired to run, and I then lay on the floor and cursed him some more as he cowered under a recliner. This was nearly a year ago, and he hasn’t bitten her since, but I wasn’t about to stifle the rage that he felt last night because I had never seen anything like it. It’s also true that I could scarcely believe it, and this tended to paralyze me.

Brewsky is 4 1/2, and it has only been within the past six months that I’ve grown close enough to him that I’m content to not have a dog. I’ve always admired several of his features, for example, his self-cleaning feature, his litter box feature, and his never needing a walk feature, but now I admire him. My present problem isn’t so much with longing for a dog—as Peggy does—but with being tempted to get another cat. If not for Peggy’s refusal, I would surely have two cats, although I would worry about Brewsky’s reaction. I met a couple last week, the man of which talked his wife into getting a second cat. The first cat hated the second cat so much that when they were alone, he would pin her into a corner and keep her there. Brewsky seems content with his life as the only cat, and at 14-pounds he could be formidable if he didn’t like his new brother or sister.

Peggy plays with Brewsky and cuddles him to the small extent that he will allow, but I mostly massage him. He likes deep tissue massages, and never bites or claws when he’s had enough. I also give him frequent small treats. He’s normally so easy-going that I sometimes greet people at the door while holding him upside-down under one arm. I think it fair to say that I’ve become that which I never thought I would be, someone who loves a cat almost as much as he could love a dog, and to think that it only took four years. It’s only the trouble they represent that keeps me from having another dog (I never imagined that I would someday be burned-out on baths, foot-wipes, vet visits, wet wintry walks, and late night poops, but I am), because I would have fewer qualms about exposing Brewsky to a dog as to a cat.

I call Brewsky Sweet Man, Shit-Head, Fuck-Face, Best Cat in the World, and many other terms of endearment. Yesterday, I hugged him while pretending to cry as I said, “I love you, man.” So often when one straight male tells another he loves him, he’s so overwrought that he throws in the word man to avoid sounding effeminate or, god forbid, gay, and so it was that I got a laugh from Peggy by assuring Brewsky that I hadn’t gone sissy on him.

My only wish is that he was more affectionate. Of course, I had a schnauzer named Wendy who was less affectionate than Brewsky (Wendy would walk away if you tried to pet her), but I never doubted her commitment because twice she came after me when I left her at someone’s house. The first time, I resolved to never do it again, but the second time, Peggy was there, so I didn’t hesitate. On both occasions, I met Wendy walking down the road looking for me when I returned. Peggy says that Brewsky gets upset when I leave home even for a short time, and twice when we were both gone overnight, he knocked heavy flowerpots off the top of the refrigerator. This tells me that he feels connected to us, but as Peggy’s sister who has nine cats told us when we got Brewsky after decades of nothing but dogs, “You are dog people, and a cat is not a dog.” This is so true. I’ll always miss having a dog, but if Brewsky died tomorrow, I don’t know but what I would grieve for him as much I have for my many dogs because, as with dogs, he isn’t just like a little person in a fur suit, he’s better in some ways.

Hitting the wall?

My church attendance might be hitting a wall. The trouble started last week during a discussion of the renunciation of wealth in my book group. I had never heard Christians discuss renunciation because my usual experience of them has been that they only differ from non-Christians in that they go to church, equate Christianity with American patriotism, blame the desperate for their desperation, and tend toward smugness and hypocrisy. By contrast, many of the people at Trinity take part in a feeding program for the poor and open their church doors on cold nights so that the homeless will have a warm place to sleep. Then there’s their priest who spends much of his time helping the homeless on the streets and visiting people in jail.

I don’t want to help the poor or visit people in jail, and church isn’t even on my list of deserving charities. Most notably, I find no meaning in Christ because too little is known about him to picture what he was like. As for the Biblical account, it portrays him as angry, impatient, self-contradictory, and a teller of troubling parables with uncertain meanings. What, therefore, do I have to offer to this church? I enjoy going; I owe a minor allegiance to its priest; and I try to make a positive contribution to the groups I’m in, but even if Francis is somehow right, and I will still be welcome as my atheism becomes more widely known, I will never really belong because I won't let myself really belong.

John’s children held an estate sale last weekend (John---pictured--was a friend whose death in July somehow inspired my return to church), and as I perused his 200 or so books, I saw that several of them were by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. In terms of right-wing hatefulness, Coulter makes even Rush look tame, yet reading such books didn’t inspire George to talk politics with me. He was ever gracious, ever generous, and while he could still be active, he volunteered at the local Catholic hospital and took a friend with Alzheimer’s into this home. Clearly, one doesn’t have to be a liberal Christian to be a good Christian. When I compare myself to this reader of Limbaugh and Coulter, it becomes obvious that I give almost nothing of myself, and I carefully measure what I do give.

I’m not naïve enough to imagine that any church is composed of saints, but it just so happens that the kinds of activities that I engage in at Trinity are the same activities that those who take their religion seriously engage in. For example, I go to Saturday mass, and my last book group read the autobiography of Dorothy Day, the woman who started the Catholic Worker movement. She was definitely hardcore in terms of renunciation, and Francis, as well as others, looked upon her as someone to emulate. I enjoyed the group until the discussion of renunciation, for it was only then that it hit me that I was on another planet from everyone else, because of my selfishness as well as my utter lack of belief in Christ on any meaningful level.

Another thing that has hurt me of late is that I’ve shared my blog address with a couple of people at church only to have one of them pointedly avoid me and the other act uncomfortable in my presence (all he said about my blog—not that I asked—was, “I tried to read your blog.”). I’m not too surprised by these reactions, and maybe I was even tactless to share my blog. Besides, I'm only talking about two people, but they and Francis are the only people I’ve shared my blog with, so their reaction has increased my feelings of estrangement and consequent disengagement. One of them is a transsexual, and I had imagined that he, at least, would understand what it is like to be hated for who he is, and to go through life with the feeling that he is looking in from the outside. Yet, he’s the one who goes out of his way to avoid me.

To complete my list of problems, Trinity and a local Lutheran church held a joint Thanksgiving service last night. I lasted ten minutes before I became so bored that I left, but I only mention this to illustrate how little patience I have for things that bore me, which means that I wouldn’t attend Trinity if it wasn’t truly important to me. Still, my main point is that this church is something of a sister church to Trinity, and on its website, it welcomes all ages, races, marital statuses, and sexual orientations, as well as addicts, the impoverished, the disabled, and people with a criminal record. It struck me that in advertising who is welcome (as is popular among liberal churches), churches likewise advertise who is not welcome. For instance, the list didn’t include atheists, racists, pedophiles, the morbidly obese, or anyone else liberals consider it acceptable to scorn, including conservatives. I believe the list could have been on Trinity’s site. Despite Francis’ optimism, I have no thought but what I will be held at arm’s length once my atheism becomes known, as it’s sure to do if only because of the comments I make and the questions I ask.

Anyway, my feeling of not belonging doesn’t come from any one thing, and maybe I’ve even made a poor case for it because I can’t always be sure but what a particular feeling predated the reasons that I give for it. In other words, did the reasons cause the feeling, or did the feeling exist below my conscious awareness until it found one or more reasons with which to justify its existence? 

My experience with Medicare, Peggy's attempts to get Obamacare

First Medicare

I’m about to start my second year on Medicare (the US government's healthcare insurance program for the disabled and people over 65), and I’ve learned two things. One is that I love my Medicare Supplement insurer—State Mutual of Georgia—and the second is that I loathe my Medicare drug insurer—Humana—and its lame-ass online pharmacy, RightSource. I just switched my drug insurer to Express Scripts, which has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any stand-alone drug provider, and, like Humana, has its own pharmacy. After what I pay for my four prescriptions is figured in, I’ll come out cheaper paying Express Scripts $55.90 a month instead of the $12.80 that I’m currently paying Humana. My total Medicare insurance costs for 2015 will come to $3,500. Medicare is what happens when the government takes what should be an easy to understand insurance program and throws it to the wolves, that is to the private insurers that hide the true cost to consumers behind a wall of options, legalese, and acronyms. It is not for the good of the individual that scores of companies offer scores of impossible to compare plans.

I started Medicare two months after breaking my back last November. I had plenty of time on my hands, so I began to study my Medicare options in the naïve belief that it would be fun and interesting, but it turned out to be a nightmare, the understanding of which would require a team of lawyers to evaluate and compare 120 page insurance contracts, one after another after another. This is why most people buy their Medicare policies from private agents. The downside of doing this is that these agents are themselves largely ignorant, and their primary goal isn’t to help the consumer but to make money by selling the policies of the very few companies that they represent. It’s also true that not all insurance companies sell through agents, and those that don’t can offer better prices because they don’t have to pay commissions. State Mutual of Georgia is one of them. You either buy from them yourself or not at all.

Dealing with Humana’s pharmacy—RightSource—is so bad that I would qualify it as abusive. The policyholder part of its website is all but undecipherable, and filling every order for every drug is so time-consuming and tedious that I never know if I will ever receive my order, but certainly not in less than three weeks. RightSource is such a joke that I have come to wonder if it's in Humana’s interest to deprive customers of their drugs. After it repeatedly “lost” or delayed order after order placed by my friend, Walt, on the behalf of his senile parents, Walt stopped even trying to use his parents’ insurance, and started paying the full costs for their drugs himself. The last straw for me came when someone at UPS stole my monthly order of oxycodone, and RightSource took it out on me by refusing to ever again ship me oxycodone. They knew the loss wasn't my fault, but they simply didn't want to be bothered with trying to ship narcotics to someone who had had a problem receiving them.

Obamacare, aka The Affordable Care Act

As tedious as Medicare is, it’s a hell of a lot better than what most people have. Unfortunately, Peggy is 63, and she can’t start Medicare until she is 65. Since she recently retired, she will hopefully go on Obamacare, which, like Medicare, is a government program that is run by private insurers. She initially tried to go on Obamacare when she retired this summer, and to this end, I (being the one who handles her business) registered her with Obamacare in March, but even though I started five months early, I still couldn’t get her a policy before she retired. This was due to the failure of Oregon’s Obamacare website whose creators are now being scrutinized by the feds to discover how all those millions could disappear without anything but an unusable website to show for it. Because she couldn’t get on Obamacare when she first retired, she bought a catastrophic insurance policy that is nonrenewable and expires on December 31.

Applications for Obamacare for next year opened on November 15, and I started an application for her on the national site on the 18th. No sooner had I set a username and password than I was locked out of the account that I had just created. I called their toll-free number, and an agent spent a couple of hours trying unsuccessfully to fix the problem. I spent many more hours over the next two days talking to different agents without ever getting logged-on. The last agent gave up, and said he would fill out the form himself and snail mail it to me. I didn’t see how this would enable us to buy a policy when we couldn’t even compare the policies (when I try to look at them online, all I get is six blank pages with the following words at the top of the first page: “Here are your 59 policy options”), but it seemed better than nothing. He was almost through with filling out the fairly long form when the software reloaded and all of Peggy's information was deleted.

I finally tried to create a whole new account for Peggy by using another email address, and this seemed to work, but when I tried to finish filling out the required form, the pages wouldn’t load. This has happened everyday since, so I haven’t been able to finish setting up her account, and I still can’t see the policy options, something that I should be able to do without having an account.

This is but a tiny taste of the state of insurance in America. If you work for a big company, you probably have insurance unless that big company is a franchise like McDonalds in which case you have no insurance; you don’t make enough to buy insurance; and the taxpayer is left to pay your medical bills through a program for the impoverished called Medicaid. On the other hand, if you’re disabled or over 65, you probably have Medicare. If you're not insured at work, or impoverished, or old or disabled, your insurance policy consists of hoping to god you don’t get sick because, unless you’re rich, you’re going to wind-up in bankruptcy court if you do. No matter how long and hard most people work or how much they save, few people can stay solvent when they’re too disabled to continue working, and they owe a half-million or more in medical bills, medical bills being the leading cause of bankruptcy in America. Obama promised to put an end to all that, but the dumb-fuck can’t even get a website up and running no matter how much time and money he throws at it. 

Going deeper

When I lived in Minneapolis, I had a friend who collected the antique trappings of Christianity.

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father…

He didn’t go to church, and he wasn’t a Christian, yet he was captivated by statues, censers, crucifixes, and altar bells because he believed they were magical, and that their magic would fill him if he was surrounded by them.

We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory…

I too am a dilettante and idolater. I don’t care about the poor, the crucifixion, or the Trinity, but I get off on religion just as I used to get off on women and hallucinogens.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer...

It’s not the meaning but the music, antiquity, repetition, and imagery. They’re sensual just as the wine and the bread are sensual, just as a woman’s body is sensual. For decades, I thought it was women whose holy waters could protect me, and it was only the passing of many decades that enabled me to see that beauty can’t save its possessor much less me, this despite my years of work on ambulances and in funeral homes.

For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father.

I know that Jesus can’t heal me, or save me, or even find me a parking place because Jesus isn’t there; Jesus isn’t anywhere. But while other atheists feel bored or offended by the very mention of Jesus, I get high saying the ancient prayers .

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis…

I need them now just as I needed them during my childhood before I even knew they existed, going as I did to a church that believed them to be the idolatrous creation of Satan. Year in an year out, I heard preachers say that people who attend mass will burn in eternal hell, and when I got home, I would hide under my bed because I was afraid that the Lord would return to earth that very afternoon and send me to hell. I built my first altar when I was eleven, decorating it with rocks and wisteria. I didn’t even know it was an altar, just that it seemed more holy to me than the plainness of my real church.

Ritual makes me flower like water makes a plant flower, and I wither in the presence of dogma like a flower before a dry wind, but I am less than a “white-washed sepulcher.” Like my Minnesota friend, I really just want to get high on religion, and I do get high at times, only to, at other times, think that it is just all too stupid, that my feelings about it are too bizarre, and that I have no right to take part in anything related to it.