Monday, January 21, 2013

(Took a Ring Off It) Part I: Crosses

Last June, I did something that I thought I'd write about.  I ended up throwing a few notes about it in a draft, and it has resided in that wasteland of a folder all alone for these many months.  Now it seems inconsequential, at the time it was just funny to me, but in the bygone past, it would have seemed like an enormous deal--heavy and frought with meaning.  It's winking at me now in the form of that annoying paranthetical "Drafts (1)" that seems so untidy.  So, without further ado, here is the story of how I lost (gollum, gollum) a ring (gollum).

Actually, not so much "lost" as "took it off and threw it out of a moving vehicle while curving around an interstate exit close to a McDonalds and our town's only titty bar,* head thrown back and cackling."  (Gollum).

This strange event had its roots in previous months, and really years, as I had gradually shed my former faith and religious beliefs.  As these things happen internally, the physical stuff starts to fall off as well, and in this case I really do mean material things like crosses and whatnot. 

Even as a believer...even as a child believer, I always thought that it was really strange that Christians wore little mock execution devices on chains around our necks and used them to decorate (decorate?  yuck) our homes and churches.  Would we have done the same if the Chosen One of our particular faith had bitten it in an electric chair or had been stoned to death (actually, I can picture that one--little rocks), or had been strung up and hanged?  I noticed as a youngster the differences between the ones at various churches.  The ones at my church were usually either brass or wooden, and they were everywhere.  There was one really thin one up on the wall in the front of the sanctuary behind and above the baptistry.  They were the shiny handles on top of the communion trays, covering the tiny cracker-esque things and little glass cups (before we went to plastic disposable ones) of Welch's grape juice.  They appeared in gold foil on the covers of burgundy hymnals. 

The thing they had in common at my church and ones like ours was that they were empty (no dead or dying man), and they had no writing of any kind on them.  The writing was neither here nor there, but it was maniacally important to the adults in our church that the cross was empty.  We focused on the resurrection, not the death of Christ, unlike those guilt-wallowing, superstitious weirdos a mile or so away on Main Street.  You know the ones.  That last bit, after "we focus on resurrection, not death," was never spoken aloud, but we kids got the picture.  When visiting other churches for various events, I noticed that some of the more mainline denominations like Presbyterians and United Methodists had crosses up on their altars or communion tables with the inscription "IHS." "What does that mean?" I would ask various adults in my church, Sunday School teachers and the like, and they would invariably crinkle their brows, look at some vague point in the air, then their eyes would widen with satisfaction as they turned back to me and said, "In His service!"  Of course, this is not what IHS means.**  Only in adulthood would I look back on many of my primary church experiences and realize that there was a lot of guessing going on.  Guessing, and just plain old making stuff up as they went along. 

But I digress...crosses.

At various times, I did visit Catholic churches and homes, and saw the NON-EMPTY crosses that they had.  I don't know.  As a Christian who had a connection to that guy, they did have their own sort of morbid beauty, and to me they weren't any weirder than the empty ones.  Crosses were all about torture.  They were all about death.  And I had been told many times by these same adults who I described above, some truly kind and intelligent, some honestly a little vacuous, that when I did something wrong, I swung the hammer that nailed Jesus to the cross, or I put another nail into Jesus's flesh, or something similar.  I had a vague idea in childhood that Latter-day Saints had a similar view as I did to crosses as decor and accessories--"No, thank you."  I'll have to look that up to be sure.

So, as I slowly came around in the last few years to pulling away from Christianity, and eventually being honest to the mirror and saying, "I don't even believe in any deities anymore," the crosses that I had acquired over the years in spite of my mild distaste for them really had to go.  In addition to my feelings about them and my current disbelief, I just didn't want to give anyone who visited me the wrong idea.  "Oh, see, she's still a believer" or "she's struggling with faith" when the truth is I am not either of those things.  Every space I've ever occupied has been a true reflection of who I am, and the cross lady was no longer me. 

I got rid of a number of things...nothing given to me by loved ones, otherwise I would have kept them because of sentiment and love for people in my life.  I had four cross necklaces, three of which I'd bought myself and one that was given to me in youth group by an upperclassmen I barely knew, simply because she had drawn my name in Secret Santa (or Secret Wise Man--whatever they called it).  I had a really beautiful wall cross that was supposedly made out of stone from Jerusalem.  I purchased that one with my employee discount at a Christian bookstore where I worked years ago.  The stone was rough and imperfect, which made it beautiful and artful, and I really hated to see that one go.  I put it in the big basket where I keep stuff for the next Goodwill run, and eventually it made it there.  I hope someone got it who really enjoys it and appreciates how pretty it is, and who isn't hung up on silly things like how it's an execution device, and who doesn't think about things like science and human origins.  And I hope it's not some gun idiot...

But I digress...getting rid of things (and keeping others).

I kept and still display a mask that I made that has a cross on it, but it has a different meaning for me now, as I explained in this post.  I kept several Christian books, simply because I still read all kinds of books that reflect on religion--Catholic ones, Buddhist ones, Mormon ones, along with the atheist ones, humanist ones...freakin' Baha'i.  Learning is still learning, and history is still history, so for the most part, the books stay, although the syrup-y crap by Max Lucado (and others), who may have given me adult onset diabetes even as a believer, is gone with the wind.  If you dug or looked closely, you'd find Celtic crosses here and there in my apartment, but those are as pagan as hell.  It was funny in Ireland to overhear a shop owner explain how extremely Christian they are to a little old American lady, and then explain how pagan they are to a wicca interested (wi-curious?) young English lesbian (her t-shirt told me so).  Oh, and I definitely kept my Bible--not the many different translations and paraphrases that I used for extra study, but the NIV I'd had since childhood, had recovered when it was falling apart, and used all through college and adulthood.  You can see how serious I was about Bible study in the pictures I posted here.  All of the others got donated.

It's taken me nearly the length of one of those Bibles, but I finally come to the subject at hand, and that is my ring (I won't gollum anymore--pinky swear).***  I've had a few Jesus-y rings that had really been lost or given away, and when the great purge was happening early last year, I only had one left.  It was a sterling silver band, quite plain, with Hebrew writing etched in.  The English translation was found on the inside of  the ring--Jesus, the Messiah.  I didn't part with it right away, because I really liked how it felt on my left middle finger.  I've heard other ring-wearers say that one finger or another calls out to have a ring on it, and for some reason that finger is the one for me.  I feel a little naked without one there, like when I've worn a hat all day, and when I take it off all I am conscious of is the feeling of non-hatness on my head, except that eventually goes away and the ringlessness seems to be there always.  So, I kept the ring for more months than the other things, and just wore it so the inscription was facing down and not as visible.  I really did take this thing seriously about not giving the wrong impression--I do not think that Jesus is the messiah, nor that there is even a messiah to be had.  Honesty is crazy important to me, even more so as an atheist than it was when I was a Christian.

...And, honestly, I have prattled on so long about crosses, that I'm out of time to write.  Next time, and it will be soon, I'll finally get to how "I didn't like it so I had to take a ring off it...Whoa-oh-oh..."

*To be fair, this exit also has a Cracker Barrel now that wasn't there at the time, so, you know.  It's really true what they say... "It gets better."

**IHS is a Latin acronym from the Greek letters Iota, Theta, and Sigma.  In English letters, it would be JGS--Jesus, God, Savior.

***A pinky swear is a...just kidding.  No more asterisks, either.