The danger of belief

In one of our book club meetings recently, we discussed belief and how what a person believes in can actually be a dangerous thing. I’ve always thought that a person can believe what they want to, as long as I’m allowed to do the same and our beliefs don’t cause each other physical harm or distress. I guess it’s a little more complicated than that. Some beliefs, while not being demonstrated by outward abuse or violence, can simmer below the surface and hinder the progress of others.

There are many times during my workday that I feel like the most enlightened person in the room. I know that sounds egotistical, but you would have to meet some of the people that I work with to understand that it’s not. It seems that my village has more than its fair share of idiots and that most of them work with me.

Yesterday, two coworkers informed me that neither they or anyone they knew would be voting for a woman or a “n*gger” for presidential office. Knowing that I would have no problem supporting either Clinton or Obama, I was appalled that anyone would so blatantly admit to their racism and sexism without a hint of embarrassment. I immediately informed them that they didn’t represent the majority of people in this country, a weak attempt to make them feel as insignificant as the minorities they were railing against.

The conversation morphed into a discussion about religion and “the truth”, which they informed me was anything found in scripture. I said that truth means different things to different people, while one claimed that his thirty-something pastor could always tell the truth by referring to the Bible. I countered that reading the Bible is all about interpretation, and was then told that there was no point in discussing the “truth” with someone who doesn’t believe in the infallibility of scripture. As the conversation was quickly deteriorating to the point of argument, I decided that it was time to bite my tongue.

While I am flabbergasted by many of their beliefs and consider them to be extreme, I’m sure they think the same of mine. The difference is that I try to err on the side of justice, kindness, and reason while many of their beliefs are rooted in discrimination and ignorance. I can’t help but wonder how they came to feel the way they do about certain issues, while I feel so completely different. Did personal experience or parental coaching help mold their beliefs into what they are today?

I know I’m not always right or that what I consider truth is superior to others, but I can defend most of my beliefs with something more than a gut feeling or a random Bible verse that is taken out of context. The search for truth which my coworkers referred to is so much more complex than their narrow concept of it. While they consider it to be absolute and tangible, I consider it to be relative and just outside my grasp. Yes, there are universal truths, but a combination of experience and reason usually brings forth a personal truth – something that we believe wholeheartedly, even if it’s wrong.

I sincerely hope that none of my beliefs are damaging to another person. Racism and sexism hurts other humans and homophobia hurts our brothers and sisters, yet some people still live and breathe those ideologies. I pray that I am not so steadfast in my opinions that I wouldn’t even consider changing them if presented with evidence to the contrary. That doesn’t make me wishy-washy, it just makes me open-minded and willing to evolve. That’s a characteristic that seems to be sorely lacking in my neck of the woods.

Baptism

I saw my first baby baptism on Sunday. Having grown up in a church where baptism was always performed after a born-again experience, this was a rather interesting thing for me to witness. I’ve been baptized twice, once when I was quite young and then again in my late teens. I don’t think I fully understood the significance of either event and don’t feel that either has had any impact on my spiritual life.

Growing up, our baptisms took place in a pond or river and usually involved several people at once, since the ritual was a relatively rare occurrence. I remember one very cold day in winter when several converts were bravely lowered under the near freezing waters of the Mississippi as we all watched in awe from the bank, nestled under homemade quilts and blankets. My experiences were much different, occurring in warm waters on lazy summer afternoons while a chorus of human voices sang “Shall We Gather At The River.”

So, needless to say, the baptism on Sunday was a far cry from what I’d become accustomed to. The baby’s parents joined our church a few weeks ago and many of their family members came to witness the child’s christening. She squirmed and wiggled incessantly as her parents promised to raise the child in a godly home with love, patience and compassion and the church members vowed to support the child through thick and thin. Her hands and feet waved wildly, clutching her mother’s hair, kicking one of her booties off, dropping her pacifier. She seemed completely unaware of anything going on around her as the congregation giggled and our pastor dipped her hand in the water to perform the rite.

Then, something amazing happened. As Karen touched the infant’s forehead to make the sign of the cross and said, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, the baby became completely still. My father, who was visiting our church for the first time, looked at me with widened eyes and said, “Ain’t that something?” I was suddenly struck by the beauty of the event and must admit to feeling a little emotional as the baptism ended and the family took their seats.

I understand that the calming effect on the child could be explained away as the shock of the water or of unfamiliar touch, but I prefer to believe that it was the spirit of God touching the child through a ritual that goes back over 2000 years. On the flip side, it’s almost comical to consider that the few drops of water on her head may wind up being more spiritually significant in her life than both of the times that I was completely submerged. God works in mysterious ways, eh?

When I grow up

Yesterday on the telephone, my pastor asked me when was I going to go to school. The unexpected question startled me and I stammered out an incoherent response, so she continued by asking me if I wanted to work where I’m employed for the rest of my life. The rest of the conversation revealed that this question was really a thinly-veiled compliment, and I must admit that it has me thinking about things.

I was the first person from my immediate family to graduate from high school. I don’t think any of my grandparents had either, so it felt like quite an accomplishment to receive that diploma and I remember beaming with pride as they all watched from the audience.

I had one English/History teacher in high school that would urge me to go to college, reminding me that my grades were good enough to get at least a partial scholarship. College really wasn’t on the agenda, as neither of my parents had even discussed that option with me. So, a couple of days after graduating, I became a full-time employee at the place I still work 15 years later.

My employment actually began at the age of thirteen, when I went to work during the summer months with my father. I would sweep or do other janitorial type jobs for a few hours and then basically sit and wait for the end of the work day to grant my freedom. It was a good learning experience for me, because it taught discipline and allowed me to have some money of my own.

That working arrangement continued until I was in high school and old enough to drive. I worked an hour or two after school until I was a senior and was allowed to co-op. I would attend the classes required to graduate and then leave to finish out the day at work.

I have been allowed great freedom to grow at my company, going from performing manual labor all day to being able to have a desk job that entails quite a bit of computer skill. Much of the initial computer knowledge was gleaned from a coworker, but I have managed to learn quite a bit on my own.

So, technically, this year marks twenty years of employment at the same company and I’m only thirty-three. I doubt many people can claim that and I consider it somewhat of an achievement, but there are regrets.

I really wish that I had went straight to college after high school and chosen a career that is more inline with my interests. Now I’m at the point that I could only attend night classes and it would take much longer to complete a degree.

I also feel that I have missed out on many different experiences in life because I’ve been with the same business for so long. What incredible friendships and career opportunities have passed me by as I remained in my comfort zone, scared of taking risks by trying something new?

It’s kind of a shame to be my age and still not know what I want to be when I “grow up”, but unfortunately I have no idea. Knowing what I enjoy is one thing, but turning those interests into a profitable career is another thing entirely.

Maybe one of these days I’ll figure it out.