When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”.  That was a core value in life.   I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways.  I very much resonate with the value of relationships.  I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me.  I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle.  I was a compliant kid.  I was afraid of my father and of all authority.  I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished!  Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal.  First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental.  Second, how do you even know what is “right”?  Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to?  What if that authority tells you to harm someone else?  See, it gets tricky.  How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything?  I think that covers it pretty well.

One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity.  It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads.  Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so.  Some have just stopped communicating with me.  I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday.  Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism.  Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life.  This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study.  Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it.  I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17.  Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day.  So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today.  First, a photo or two to open the mind:

What is the value of a sparrow?

A cardinal, far from the Vatican.

My thoughts for today:

I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church.  On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going.  At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie.  As we walked to the library, it was just Steve.  Now you’ve entered the discussion.  Welcome!  Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church.  So much of it is about the social aspect.  Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other.  Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be.  What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off?  Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation.  Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for?  People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle?  How do they behave?  Is that what Christianity is about?  There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.

Theology & Philosophy.  The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe.  And why.  I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason.  My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it.  It can be worked in with the other legs.  Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story.  But it’s still a story, a Myth.  It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true.  I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other.  If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected.  I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again.  I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact.  I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness.  I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing!  Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together.  The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible.  Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same.  I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir!  Singing!  And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down.  Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight.  He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!”  It’s so true!  I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence.  I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt.  I want to be free and respected for what I am.  And what am I?  A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.

Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today.  I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey.  It means a lot.  I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something.  You know what I mean?  And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement.  Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well.  I respect you for that.  I think that’s how Jesus was, too.  I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees.  He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on.  And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting.  What a great example!

– Priscilla Galasso

© 2013, essay and photographs, Priscilla Gallaso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~  started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

22 thoughts on “What’s Important?

  1. I could so relate to your quest and your questioning of what resonates as supportive to you. I left my Christian roots behind while still a teenager and have had a diverse journey that has brought me to a place (currently…it could change again) of focusing on my innate wisdom and paying attention to what feels like a connection or disconnect with my surroundings and others. Certainly I can learn from others but bottom line it’s how I feel about something in my deepest core that I pay heed to…to guide me to my joy.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart such a personal story and being courageous enough to stand by your convictions…whatever they may be…today.

    Gayle

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    1. Discovering my innate wisdom and my deepest core is something I’m newly venturing into. It’s amazing how practicing a religion can make you deaf to your own soul. That’s not to say it can’t also awaken you to it. I think I’ve gotten all the benefits of my years as a Christian behind me. It’s time to move on to new mystic territory.

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  2. Dear Scilla,

    I read through your piece and found it very interesting, and it is clear that you speak from the heart.
    My father was Jewish, my mother was Methodist, and religion was something other people did. I was twelve when I attended a baptist revival with a friend (she promised me ice cream). Then she cried loudly when I wouldn’t go up and get saved, because I was going to go Hell. I went home and, for the first time ever, asked my mother if she believed in a higher being. I would say, from her response, that she was agnostic. I thought, “Dang! Wish she’d mentioned that before!” But now I feel fortunate to have been allowed to find my own way.

    I love what Jamie said in her comment, and couldn’t possibly say it better. My post, Flight of the Sparrow: expresses the way I feel about life and afterlife and higher power and purpose. I don’t know all the answers, but I don’t feel I need to. I see purpose in my life, and feel that I am, as Jamie says, a citizen of the Universe. Storytelling helps me make sense of the world, and so I suppose you could call that my religion.

    Dr. Laura once said that all people need religion, and any religion is better than none, to keep them in line and to make them behave themselves. I strongly disagree. My mother taught me to be a good compassionate person, not for fear of punishment or in pursuit of an afterlife, but because we owed it to ourselves and to the world. I believe everyone should find peace and comfort and fellowship wherever and however they can. Many of my dearest friends find comfort in prayer and their belief in a higher being, and I wouldn’t deny that to anyone. My objection is when people, in the name of their god, try to impose–or legislate–their beliefs upon others. Human rights should not be based on gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or which end of the egg you crack open first.

    As I read what I’ve written to you just now, I think perhaps I am a secular humanist, with my feet planted firmly on the earth and one ear turned upwards, listening for stories I will recognize as truth when I hear them.

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    1. Steve has been very instrumental in asking the questions that challenge assumptions that I grew up with, and at the pivotal opportunity. Believing that it’s possible to be a good, responsible human being without supernatural assistance is rather an epiphany for me. But it seems to lead to greater ownership of choices and ‘citizenship’, as Jamie puts it. Believing I am a sinner lost without a savior sets up a disadvantage with crippling repercussions. I’ve discovered a distrust of myself that is just not helpful. It’s tough but not impossible to regain that trust. I like meeting people, like you, Naomi, and Steve, who live without that distrust, and I hope that my children will grow into that citizenship, believe in their own goodness, and make responsible choices.

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      1. It seems to me that Steve is a very good match–someone who challenges you to move out of your zone of…what? Not your comfort zone, because you are not comfortable there. Maybe a thought-eddy that you got stuck in because that’s what you were taught and what was reinforced all your life. It seems wrong to me that a baby born pure and innocent would be taught from the cradle that he/she is a born sinner. But I don’t think someone as thoughtful and well meaning as I know you to be would raise kids who didn’t believe in their own goodness. Maybe you could try to be as kind and forgiving and encouraging to yourself as you are to your kids.
        Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ were as natural to us as “hello’ and ‘goodbye.” I didn’t remember ever being taught to be polite, and asked my mom how she did it. My mom said it only took about 2000 times before we caught on, and that it had happened before we were old enough to remember it. I wonder if you can consciously teach yourself–even if you have to do it 2000 times–that you are a good person, capable and responsible for your own choices. Not like writing it on the chalkboard 2000 times in a row, but whenever you start to feel bad about yourself, that’s the time to be mindful and deliberate. Ask yourself whose voice you are hearing–yours or your father’s. Consciously or subconsciously you chose a partner who is intelligent and aware, who challenges you in a good way, and who you can discuss this sort of thing with. Wishing you peace and comfort and joy.

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        1. Steve always refers to ‘modeling’ and ’embodying’…teaching the way your mother did. I’m very aware that I’m doing that for my kids. They see me changing in all kinds of ways these days, including being kinder and less punitive in general to all living things.

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  3. John, thinking twice..and again…about faith is the best way to avoid becoming dogmatic. A commendable approach. I do hope you find community and music for your soul. Thanks for visiting! Peace to you.

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  4. Priscilla, I have now read this rich piece several times. So well considered, well constructed, and so very representative of the philosophical and theological struggles many of us go through in our lives, the most important and THE most profoundly human struggles.

    I love the smörgåsbord of religious and non-religious thinking that stimulates us to the job of thinking, sorting and tossing. There’s a lot of beauty and wisdom and a lot of pain and division. I find I learn something from each and commit to none. I am a citizen of the Universe and a sister to all and I go on from there.

    My core values have stayed fairly consistent over the years if I were to just look at the names of those core values. However, what has changed is my definition of each and – more importantely – how I express my values. I find the question of an historical Jesus irrelivant. It’s what I get from the story that counts.

    I always reserve the right to change my mind and I learn and grow.

    Having lived in the shadow of death since November of 1999, I’ve learned that diagnosis trumps denial and shadow – like the night – fades with the sun. Whatever death involves, it is as it should be and it is life in this moment that calls for attention. This is just a “sound-bight,” if you will, so much more to this than what the essence I’ve stated here.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Priscilla. Always a joy to read your work.

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    1. …”Thinking, sorting and tossing”…yes, that’s the work in a nutshell. “Whatever death involves, it is as it should be and it is life in this moment that calls for attention.” For a sound bite, that’s awfully succinct and pertinent! Thanks, Jamie, for your comment and your support!

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  5. Wow! You are one cool chick … for whom I have great respect. And as you age,your ideas will become even more refined. I am 67. When I divorced at 27, I was leaving a 7 year marriage from hell. To give you an idea, my ex went on to purposely give HIV/AIDS to at least two women, killing them both. He died in about 1991 – I think. Anyway I had a “born again” experience that saved my life. Prior to this, my ex and I attended a nice Methodist Church. We had a lovely Christian circle of friends, who immediately dumped me upon my divorce, because they were quite sure that I would pursue their husbands. NOT! I was a mess and needed 30 years worth of counseling so this “born again” experience gave to me the tools for that change. I could not afford counseling and this experience gave me the way to go. It happened within a prayer group at someone’s home. I never did go to church after the Methodist thing. So my experience was very helpful. That was in my late 20s. I never did feel that Christianity held any exclusivity. That just made no sense to me. My parents were VERY exclusivist and very snobby. That has never worked for me. So the upshot of my former Christian experience is that 1) I must work to become the best that I can become and 2) religions are simply the languages that God has given to the world’s different cultures so that the culture and God can communicate.

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    1. Hello again, Liz! Thank you for your comment, for another story to learn from. Your conclusions are not far off from mine: learning to be responsible and learning to communicate are important. I would add another thing: learning how we think. The Power of Myth was mind-opening in that it really showed how universal our thought dilemmas are. The Biggie for me is Death. How to face or avoid or explain or dismiss or deal or redeem…the thoughts are endless. I’m still working on that one from both intellectual and emotional perspectives. BTW … I thought of you today in a lecture on bird anatomy where they ran a video clip showing how smart ravens are. 🙂

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  6. What a wonderful post. I appreciate how you presented your thoughts as personal, and not as an assault. My own spiritual thinking has come to so many of the same places as yours. I worked at a very conservative Evangelical university for 24 years and as a religious liberal this gave me continual opportunity to clarify my own thinking and values (very quietly although I found many sympathetic intellectuals). The only part I would have problems with is giving up my belief that Jesus was born on earth as part of the Trinity. That is the only part of the Biblical “story” that would be hard to adjust in the face of scientific evidence. Thanks so much for your gourmet breakfast for my brain.

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    1. Ah, “a gourmet breakfast for my brain”… I like that! A little lox and shmear, a little rice, some Earl Grey tea or nothing at all, to make that metaphor ecumenical! Thanks, Pat!

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  7. Your post has definitely resonated with me…having spent some time in my past “immersed” in church/religion/and attempting a daily walk and serving a congregation as lay minister of sorts (music), my most recent 15 years has been more about personal discovery rather than sacrificing myself. Like many, I was affected by poor human examples of church leadership, and it has caused me to think twice about my faith in the institution. I do miss the family aspect, and like you, the music. Thank you for this post.

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