Friday, April 20, 2007

Hate in the name of God

I saw a bumper sticker yesterday. “God, please protect me from your followers”. How I wish I had the balls to put that one on my car. The fact that it would offend some is fine. The problem is that it might offend people I care about. People for whom church and God are very important. I should mention at this point that God is important to me. The standard God. Jesus on the cross. He who created all that we see. I don’t dispute that. What I dispute is that a loving God...MY loving God...would create people so that his followers could revile them.

I was raised Catholic but don't feel compelled to label myself a CHRISTIAN -- you know, the upper case, fish on my car kind of Christian. No, I haven't "found God" because I don't believe I ever lost him. I remember my daughter asking me once if we were Christian? Of course. Why? "Well, Christie said we were Catholic so were weren't Christian." Out of the mouths of babes, or more accurately, their Baptist parents.....

No surprise that I’m a lapsed churchgoer...the classic “cafeteria Catholic”. I consider myself Catholic but don’t attend church. I believe in God. I still find comfort in the church and it's smells, the candles, the statuary. It is the people I'm not comfortable with. The people that I feel have interpreted the Bible to justify their intolerance. Those that think that, by allowing same sex marriages, we would be desecrating the sanctity of marriage. Huh?!

I miss going to church or at least I think I do but I finally realized that, more than missing church, I simply feel guilty for not going. I feel it on all religious holidays but especially on Christmas Eve when the priest welcomes “those of you who we only see once a year”. Yep, nice Catholic traditional guilt. Once a year, my family walks to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It seems like each year, I tell myself I’ll start attending church on a more regular basis but I never do it. My daughters are all baptized and I've raised them to be kind and to believe in God but I'm sure I've not been convincing. After all, their friends that go to church are the "real Christians" at least according to those friends. Hauty, holier than fish is bigger than yours. My oldest considers herself agnostic and has educated herself on other religions because she has trouble reckoning a belief in Jesus Christ with hatred (or at the very least intolerance) for many of her gay friends. Can't say as I blame her. My other daughter occasionally attends services at the church her boyfriend's family attends. It's a "fundamental" Christian church. It's attended by many people involved in 12-step programs and the pastor often reminds everyone that they are lowly sinners. My daughter doesn't figure she's all THAT bad but the people around her seem to need that weekly verbal beating.

So, we recently attended an concert where Arlo Guthrie performed with several of his children a mix of his songs, their songs and his father, Woody’s, songs. In between, there were stories. Long, rambling, warm funny stories. Among the stories, was his tale of purchasing the church that was the focal point of the traditional Thanksgiving song.....Alice’s Restaurant. He bought the actual church and has opened it as a community gathering place. Sitting on a stool on stage, guitar in his lap, Arlo told the audience about a pastor that showed up on the doorstep of the church and inquired as to what kind of church it was. After some consideration, Arlo told him that it was a “Bring Your Own God Church”. His daughter commented that “it’s cool cuz there are a LOT of `em”. This was an epiphany of sorts for me. A real lightbulb moment when I realized that maybe I didn’t connect with my family’s God because it was a different God than I worshiped. Same name. Same likeness. Altogether different teachings.

Arlo also shared, actually taught us, a song of his Dad’s called “My Peace” -- “I pass my peace around and about `cross hands of every hue”. I thought about the "handshake of peace" offered during Catholic masses where we take the opportunity to shake hands and/or hug our neighbors. When I was in high school, during the folk mass where I played guitar, we often had to round up Father Tom, so wrapped was he in the whole handshake/hug process. I miss that feeling and it's been a long time since I felt it in church. After Arlo sang, he commented that “if everyone had the little peace in their heart, the big peace would take care of itself”. Amen Arlo! Thank you.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


So, you move to a state, a new town or a new neighborhood. You move there, presumably, because you like it. Maybe, like the neighborhood in Nevada where we lived, you're looking for open spaces. Coming from Santa Cruz, the high desert was a huge change for us. Some of the differences were space. You could see for MILES in every direction. The view out our living room window was the eastern slopes of the Sierras. I would marvel on mornings following a snowfall, there was a very distinct line on the mountain range, above which would be white, below was the bare, craggy face.....yep, that must be 7000 feet. In the summer, the brush fires burning on the California slopes of those same mountains were visible from our house. Other features, like the blistering heat or the dirt that blew EVERY afternoon, was NOT pleasant.

Most unusual was access to open range land. You could literally walk, drive or ride a motorcycle right off the end our our street into open desert -- federal land monitored by BLM. Truthfully, nothing but sagebrush and dirt...and the occasional herd of mustangs. This brings me to the point of this blog:

When we first moved to Minden in 1984, our neighborhood had in its midst, a small band of mustangs. Scruffy and small, one REAL swayback mare. I woke up on my birthday in August of 1986 to find them in our backyard, nibbling the buds from my freshly planted windbreak. "Damn....we really need to get the yard fenced!" Each spring would produce a foal or two those first few years. Then, they were gone. "Have you seen the herd?" "No. Not for a while." Then we learned that they had been rounded up by the BLM. Why? Because someone had complained those nasty horses had walked across their perfectly groomed lawn and nibbled their petunias. What the !#&?!

Before long, another herd would move into the void left by the last band and, once again, some prissy neighbor would complain and the BLM would be forced to respond with helicopters and horse trailers. We started a petition. We made an appointment to discuss with Nevada Senator Harry Reid an amendment to the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act that would require any complainant to put out effort (i.e. build a fence) to protect their yard before being allowed to complain. But Mr. Reid was not interested. In his defence, I'm told that making just one modification to that Act would have left it open to other, less benevolent changes.

So, why would someone move to the open high desert, build a house, then have veritable icons of the west hauled off to pens to be sold for dog food? The same type that demands street lights and sidewalks in the "country" they profess to love. They move to a rural area then complain about the noise of chickens or the smell of horses. Ew!

So, here I am, fifteen years later, back in California faced with a similar situation. A new school was started in Eureka in the fall of 2005. An early-college high school located on the campus of College of the Redwoods. The school itself is small, just 70 freshmen were accepted. Although they blend (some better than others) with a large population of college students, they meet and have classes together and have become a very cohesive group. Very different from a huge public high school yet also different from a stand-alone charter school. The main advantage is that the students of the Academy of the Redwoods will, if they follow the schedule, graduate from high school in four years with a 2-year degree.

This is an awesome opportunity. It was made very clear, however, that academics would be the focus of the school. If music or athletics were a major part of our child's life, this would NOT be the school for them. Any sports or music would have to been done independent from AR as the budget just would not allow for additional programs except as provided by the college. Since Gloria was in band, we had to seriously consider how this would affect her. As it happened, it was an easier decision for her than we expected. She would miss band less than she would hate attending Eureka High. The wonderful music programs in the Eureka City Schools could not make up for the public school herd mentality. She would do without music at school and was accepted into the Academy of the Redwoods.

We are now in the second year and it seems that there are first-year parents who are adamant that a music program somehow be provided to the students. No matter that there isn't enough budget to pay an I.T. department to keep the computers running let alone have a music program. And no matter that we AGREED to the program as described. These parents INSIST that music is detrimental to the development of our children. No argument there....statistics have long shown that music students score high on standardized tests. As my daughter tells me..."I guess we count to four better than the other kids". Were these parents not told? Were they not listening? Why are their kids at THIS school when all they want to do is change it?

It is SO frustrating. There are plenty of other charter schools in Humboldt County, including North Coast Prep which has music as its primary focus. Why drain energy away from the Academy of the Redwoods by pushing so hard for a content never intended? Why not put your kids in a school that already fits your needs? Don't move to a neighborhood with the intention of changing it. The people who already live there LIKE it the way it is.