29 December 2011

Apologetics? I wish.

Here we go again. Another religious entry, dammit.

Maybe I am reading things wrong or too quickly, maybe I am missing some information, maybe just plain not doing enough research, maybe understanding things poorly, maybe misunderstanding the cross-generational cut, but in the cross-section of eloquent-to-non-eloquent responses I have seen in regards to just about any version of dogmatic interpretation (and believe me, I've seen quite a bit since my last post on this topic, not to mention over the whole course of my life), the information people have seems to be drastically short of substance somehow. A quark or two off from understanding the number one ethical basis of life: how the greatest law of life is love; and how genuine, earnest application of that basic, underlying, cemented root of ALL things is non-refundable, non-interchangeable, and absolute.

To me, neither side totally has it. But then again, I probably don't have it, either. I just had to say something. I just spent some more time scanning Catholic forums and was stunned at the sheer volume of inaccuracy. Such is the way of forums, and I am no studied theologian, but I was stunned. Stunned that there is no loving guide to put the retarder brakes on the snowball of misinformation going on, stunned at the gross number of people going round and round, already misrepresenting a whole slew of information, and dismayed that it will end up justifying some crazy-ass, wanked out position, or get in the hands of some already-jaded atheist.

Now, before I go turning you off with the implication that I am about to present the grand Pooba motherload of horsecrap, based on my perception, and call it "truth," just simmer down and take a breath. I'm not going to do that. Actually, I did do that, in the first paragraph, but if you haven't picked up on it before now, my entries concerning this subject are more defensive, as though I were attempting to speak to the heftiest of opposition.

It is, for lack of a better way to put it, a debate that I am having in my own head, having been sparked by this debate several years ago. Since that debate, I've been on a mission of sorts to better equip myself for answering the questions this debate called to light, since I have what I feel is a huge, deep-seeded desire to not only root for the underdog and for justice, but to hopefully provide a thorough presentation of something that is difficult enough to be summed up in a lifetime, much less a 2-hour debate. If I could stammer and fumble my way through a good conversation with Chris Hitchens, I'd consider myself pretty lucky.

I know it seems kind of silly, especially when it's just this one debate. But I've seen massive piles more of these kinds of things since this interview. I've read and reviewed articles on this subject, researched and double-checked actual dogmas, talked with priests and laypeople, discovered people who are trying to do what I'm doing but with limited understanding of the dogma (which then slips the slippery slope into rhetoric) and been a lifelong Catholic.

In addition to carefully swallowing every bit that an atheist, agnostic, or otherwise oppositional has had to say that I've come across, I've also been full of my own doubts. I cannot honestly sit here and say I've been a staunch Catholic from day one to year 32. One of the recurring themes seeming to surface as I go on a scavenger hunt for people with elevated intelligence on this subject is that wherever there is honest-to-goodness, hardball points to be made in opposition to the church, and to religion in general, this guy is there.

My dad, a rather devout Mexican Catholic, taught me that it was more important to search for the truth than to stay Catholic. He told my brothers and I that as long as we were on a quest for truth, that was more important than keeping a label. And from my mom, I learned the importance of being loyal to your beliefs.

That is what allows me to detach from the Catholic label and approach the topic as a person of freewill, compassion, and understanding for hard truths in the hearts of the most deeply-rooted opposition. Because maybe that's what Jesus would do. Jesus seemed to always speak for the underdog, the down trodden, the heavy-laden. I know for sure he didn't come to this world to free of us eternal death with the word "catholic" printed on his swaddling clothes.

But there is such a huge part of me that is deeply rooted in this discussion of faith and debate of ideals, this clashing of the masses, because humanity is capable of great love and love is the single most important, weighted, and valuable thing in this life. It is the element in which we do everything---e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g---it is the place from where all that is good transpires and doing good is rooted.

And so, that is the underlying principle, argument, and artillery I have to speak my ideas. Love. Unconditional love. Unwaivering love. The kind of love so strong and so pure that you would sacrifice personal comfort for. Epic love. The kind Dante had for his Beatrice. Or Romeo for his Juliet. Only those are just a snippet of what divine love is, and they still messed it up because they were humans. (Are you getting it now? Do you get how strong pure, thorough, and encapsulating divine love is? Okay, stay with me, don't worry about it for now.) God has that love for us, but on an unfathomable level. It is so ridiculously high above us and warm and comforting that to see that level of love, the brightness, the acceptance, the warmth, and the joy that is Him that we could not handle such a sight in its fullest form. You know, without dying and all, that is.

It is, also, coincidentally, the single most inspiring notions ever to beget the human race.

It is, also, totally and completely skewed by human vision with human trials and errors and feelings.

Our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions work to shade our eyes from that love in various degrees and intensities, much like sunglasses. It's not that the sun got dimmer, it's that we put something over our eyes.

Understanding this makes it easier to understand the pain of another human being. It also makes you want to judge less. It makes you want to do the things it will take to get you closer to that purer light. It also makes you realize that a creator of such divine love is a creator that could never forget his children, who could never be a god of wrath and of vengeance, or of capriciousness. The church needs to remember this and make it its focus; and the opposition, regardless of how high or low, needs to consider this.

Being able to come to some compromise in such a debate as this would be the application of that love in every sense. Loyalty, humility, passion. What are we doing when we spout out secular or religious truths in a way that is unpolished, incongruent, abridged, or deficient? Sparred out of pain or confusion?

We are simply just finding places for our pain to take root, that's what. Pain that comes from not having our questions answered truthfully and feeling left out at sea. And hard questions about the church, too: female priests, homosexuality, abortion. And that is hard to watch.

I mean, I've done it, too. We all do. We find moments of righteous frustration and we focus on them as being right. And as long as no one is offering to provide provable, solvable, tangible answers that change our mind, we keep on going. That is part of our human experience. We are not exempt from it.

But what if it wasn't so cut and dry as any one side puts it? What if it was?

Here's the thing: I think it is cut and dry. But not by us. By the divine creator, by our Savior, and the Spirit who guides us all. We have a duty to hold our brothers and sisters responsible, yes, but not to judge them. If the One who loves us loves us so much, then we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Period. Sinner or not. It is cut and dry in a way that in the face of His love, we will know our mistakes automatically, but it will be a private moment because our relationship with God is as individual as each one of us. As long as we choose Him, no matter our mistakes and atoning for them, we will be comforted in His arms.

There are no easy solutions, and that is probably why I will never be able to win a debate of this kind. But I have read as much on the lives of the saints as I have wonky forums, and I still get rather passionate about the plethora of ideas that circulate out there.

28 December 2011

Moving On. An Older Topic.

(Originally written in September of this year. Edited to post today.)

As I get ready to embark on the next stage of my life and there being a 4,000-kilometer expedition in front of me before getting there, I am inspired to expound on other stages in my life where I have already begun to piece out a story. It's therapeutic. Fun. And insofar that I am far less emotionally invested than I used to be, retrospection can be spun more positively. Old-fashioned conventions of writing, of time lines, of perfectly positioned punctuation WILL be tossed out the window.

On a side note, I have also thought about selling a large majority of my life story as fiction. I'm already sick of the one-question-begets-another cluster of assbackwardsness that is my life. And I mean, what's the point of putting a title on that story, extracting and sucking more (and hypothetical) sympathy when I have already had the experience of it being ignored, minimized, and slammed with antipathy? At least I won't have to rely on my imagination in order to come up with a good book. But I relent. I'm sure I couldn't even find a publisher. Not that I want to seriously go looking for one anyway, but I still have this retarded, deep-seeded wish in the far back dust traps of my mind that someone would pick it up.

But then I would probably just have one excuse or another for not wanting to work so hard on actually putting something together in the first place. Guess that's why I stick to my blog. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, in whatever order I deem to be in the mood for.

So then, where were we? Oh yes, I hadn't even started. And I was supposed to continue my post from yesterday, which I'm not doing after all. But like a good blogger person, I'll probably make a link from the continuation of yesterday's post to yesterday's post when I get around to it.

For today, though...


And no, not the totally awesome musical with Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel (who played Elphaba, the witch, in "Wicked",) but the foreshadowing I referred to here (12th paragraph down, just before the asteriks and again 2nd to last paragraph.)

At the top of the switch-over, when I moved into the city after my living with friends flopped, I offered the aunt a small amount for rent. It wasn't much but at least it was something. I had done the same with my friends. By then my in-patient husband was getting his long-term disability paychecks and even though they didn't stretch far with an infant and a two-year old, at least we had something. My girls had what they needed and I was taking up space in their house, eating their food, and getting rides from them to the hospital. It seemed... fair.

But then...

End of January comes, beginning of February, something like that (yeah, not too long after the Christmas I was displaced--another entry coming soon to computer near you,) and the aunt pulls me aside and says, "well, hey, look, it's not quite enough. What you're giving me isn't covering enough." Vague like that. No details. In her squeaky, passive-aggressive smile, she doesn't explain. I don't ask. I just come to understand how maybe the near-four-hundred dollars for bigger-city living isn't a realistic number. And I trust her. I feel like she's family and I'm cheating her. And what do I know about the cost of living there? Nothing.

So I oblige. I don't think to check the newspaper to compare prices. I don't think to go on the Internet. And this is before the days of Kijiji. I don't think to do much of anything because my husband is sick with cancer in the hospital. I don't think about much else, at all, really, because it's already so much to be in this weird universe where I've lost control of my life, I'm trying to keep it together for my daughters, and security is a long-lost, foreign, far-away dream concept; and I am only 21 years old. My head is too full, I am perpetually in a state of alarm, and I just keep waiting for someone to have pity on me and be able to afford my leeching, or maybe even just know what to do.

But no. Next month, same thing. I don't even remember where the month went in terms of time, and here this woman is pulling me aside with a paper in her hand with figures on it. Somehow the rent goes up another chunk. Now I'm getting a little curious. We're talking over five hundred dollars now. In 2001.

I start to stew over it. My in-laws do nothing about it. What could they, do, right? They warned me not to move in with her in the first place. Husband comes out of the hospital for a short stint to get a change of scenery and in between chemo doses. He stays with us at the aunt's, and guess what? Yep, that's right, she ups the rent again.

By this point, it is costing me $680 to rent a small corner of her house. An enormous house that she and her husband got for cheap because they bought out someone's foreclosure. It doesn't cover my baby's foods, diapers, or formula. It doesn't cover any extras. This is just to live in a hole in the basement of her house.

One day, she comes home with arms loaded with loot from Michael's Craft Store. Another day, it's new HUGE television (before the days of HD.) Yet another day, it was a complete bedroom set for her youngest daughter.

I am now starting to see where all my husband's disability checks were going.

I am livid by the time I point it out to anyone who would listen.

Which is pretty much no one.

During my husband's stay with us and before going back into the hospital, he was with just enough presence of mind to agree with me about the maddening nature of all of it. I wanted to confront her about why she was charging me so much for rent. I wanted to know what she was figuring into the price of rent. And since she couldn't, for the love of God, give our young family a break, I wanted speak up and out loud.

But I was so filled with anger that I could hardly make sense of what was going on, much less what I wanted to do about it. It was a daily thing. No one seemed to clue into any part of the pain I was going through and to make matters worse, here was this aunt contributing to the injustices we were already suffering. I didn't even care about paying rent to earn my stay there nor paying a certain number as compared to the housing market around me, it's just that one or the other of the two choices would have at least yielded something more akin to freedom and the money that was being sucked from my pocket was sick money.

And freedom I did not get much of. I got lectured for one thing or another pretty much every other day. I never knew when I was going to be pulled aside for something, cornered about, or "suggested to." If it wasn't my bedtime--my bedtime for crying out loud! After bearing 2 children? Was she serious?--it was about cleaning the house, or about the way I cleaned it, it was about the way I disciplined (or did not discipline enough) my children or the way I did or did not talk about my emotions with her or "seemed" to be not understanding my situation. Oh, I understood it perfectly well, thank you.

Not to mention, again, no car, no job, no immigration status, no money of my own, no way to make a few bucks here or there. Trapped.

It was maddening all on its own to have been reduced from being my own person with a family and the husband's promising career to some kind of know-nothing, grunt-level, entry-level, belittled kid thing whose loosely-tied "family" status somehow enabled the aunt (or maybe entitled her?) to treat me like crap AND try to fake like she wasn't. But then paying big city rent for a shithole bedroom in her basement and cleaning her house and watching her daughters live comfortably spread out while I crammed myself and my two babies in the shithole bedroom was less than exciting. After months of trying to take it all in--the cancer, the aunt, the inlaws, the young motherhood, and immigration limbo--and nothing coming out, and this short off the heels of a year-old marriage, college with a baby, single motherhood, and no family around anywhere, I didn't know what end was up. It was like jamming a gig of information in 750 megabyte computer and the RAM is fried.

So I practically jumped at the idea of my mom buying me a plane ticket to hang with her for a month in Nevada. Of course it meant leaving my husband to deal with his lung surgery by himself (with his mom) and my mom would have to work and carry on her life while I was visiting, but I would be OUT of that place.

And I had received my mother in law's blessing. Respite came slowly in those days, and emotionally unintelligent people were slow to respond, but my mother in law's understanding of the situation (in addition to her own severe contempt of her brother and sister-in-law) helped relieve the guilt I had about going. By that point, it was May, the prognosis for my husband was looking better, and all the procedures his oncologist had promised were actually starting to be followed through on. I had had all I could stand of the situation. Had I stayed one second more, I might have had a psychotic break.

With what little sanity I thought I had left, I packed up everything I could carry, including two little girls, and made my way through the scary maze of customs to see my mom waiting at the port.

27 December 2011

I have turned into one of THEM moms!!

My kids got phones this Christmas.

I have been in serious, inner moral dilemma about this. I am probably about the last parent on earth to advocate kids having cell phones. I don't like the idea of them having them. I detest the idea of them in schools. I've seen the crap and output of what our voyeurism age can produce. I didn't have a cell phone until I was in my mid-twenties. (And guess, what? I survived!) I don't do bandwagons. I reject the reasoning all other parents have used. And worst of all, my own little cheapie one doesn't work.

Of all the things their father and I are able to agree on, we are in utter solidarity over this one.

But since the unfolding of the past 3 and a half months has produced mass confusion, missed volleyball or basketball games, miscommunication about schedules, and just an overall amplified level of stress, it dawned at me that maybe, just maybe, it's way more about the comfort level of the parents than I had, *sigh, originally thought.

I mean, what the? Societal norms have only dictated the "tiniest" (!) part of my life. You know, the part that's convenient when it's convenient? I make the tough parental decisions along with the co-counsel, their father, and we stick to our guns. And even though he and I are divorced, we lay down the law. We don't budge. My very significant other is as equally supportive and backs me up in our home. And I said, kids don't need cell phones.

But. Relent we did. And it wasn't an overnight change of mind. It had been coming over time and I had been discussing the issue with my ex. It just boiled down to them growing up, their social circles expanding, me seeing less of them, and them being so much smarter and more emotionally intelligent than everyone else. I mean, they ARE the single most intuitive and perceptive preteens I've ever known. I was at a perpetual stop-loss for why not. That and I had to do something to remedy the sinking of a feeling I got every time they were out of school and knowing they were going ahead with plans that were their own, quite probably not fully cleared with me ahead of time.

And I don't really think it will be so bad. There are going to be rules set into play. There are going to be consequences set for breaking the rules. But even with all of this understanding to come into play, I still can't believe my kids have cell phones. Just re-reading this makes me cringe.

26 December 2011

"Nah, you're not! Have you seen you, lady?"

This was the main idea behind me, a little white kid with freckles and starkly dark brown eyes, going around staking claim in my Mexican heritage as a VERY non-Mexican-looking runt. For pretty much the whole of my life, I grew up being half-Mexican.

Not half Norwegian, not as mutt-worthy as I really am, just... half Mexican. Anywhere I went, any time I had the chance, I was looking for a way to butt in with my cool Mexican-ness. In the band room before school, meeting new friends, heck just meeting new people. Going to coffee, starting in a group, and then later as a so-called grown up, it'd be a conversation piece. Sometimes related to the topic being discussed, sometimes not. Most times not. Eventually it grew to be, "Hi. I'm Amy. I'm Mexican. And your name is?"

I don't look at it. AT ALL. I have fair skin that never tanned (until I was an adult) and about as much natural rhythm as any puritanical protestant fundamentalist. But there was no consideration of this. Not because of extreme Mexism in our house, no. After all, my dad was just a simple, proud man, deeply defined by the rich culture and history from where he came. But because he instilled that same pride into his whitey kids. We. Are. Mexican. And... I did have just enough rhythm at unexpected, effortless moments to trick myself into thinking I could be Latina. (Those moments didn't really stick, though. Just ask my 7th grade band teacher who didn't let me into the jazz band.)

No rhythm plus conductor equals no jazz for me!

 And isn't it really something that a man who grew up in Mexico, emigrated to the states with his single mother in the 60s, and mated with a Norwegian woman with starkly blue eyes teach his pale-faced, dark-brown-eyed kids to hold onto their culture?

So hold on we did, in varying degrees, to our Mexican heritage. Full-bore and headlong into an unsuspecting world where no one really dared to point out that we didn't really look the part.

Then one day, my dear college friend just kind of stopped me dead in my tracks by daring to ask with a puzzled frown, "But you're Norwegian, too. What about that part of ya?" Clearly she was appealing to my sense of culture and NOT my pale, shows-up-better-in-black-light visage. It made me think. For all of about two seconds. Then I'm pretty sure I changed the subject.

Then I had an Angst-For-Dad phase (you know, out of some crazy, ill-notioned thought that he should have reacted differently to me getting pregnant at 18) and did kind of focus on my Norwegian side. For about a day. Yeah, I looked up some stuff. Read that there is no real unified language as of yet, so instead of picking on dialect to try learning, I proverbially threw my hands up in the air and said, "Oh well, can't learn 'em all today. So why try." I know. Good, eh?

The best part? I am so full of contradictions I could make your head spin. It's fun living in my world! What with the cold Viking blood and the hot Aztec blood fighting itself in the same blood stream. It's a wonder I didn't end up bi-polar or ADHD. Guess I'll just have to settle for being Gemini.