Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Politeness Fails

Over at Gullible’s Travels D’Ma wrote of a recent conversation with a Sunday School teacher, asking the question almost every deconvert hears in one form or another—“Why don’t you go to Church anymore?”

Eventually, your friends, family and colleagues notice a change. You don’t scream out “Praise Jesus!” when your friends declare good news. You don’t post, “I’ll pray for you” on Facebook in response to bad news. You restrict your involvement in Church….drop out of leadership positions…stop singing in the choir….skip more and more Sunday night services………then more and more Sunday morning services…..

Either they seek you out, or (more likely) bump into you at a local establishment. After the few awkward exchanges—“How’s your spouse?”—the inevitable occurs; “We don’t see you at Church anymore…what’s up?” Like D’Ma, I demurred. “Oh, we were looking for a different direction.” “We started attending a different church.” “Our friends invited us to attend elsewhere.”

All true, mind you. Well…half true. O.K….maybe 1/8th true. The real reason was that I deconverted, and am no longer interested in worshipping a non-existent creature. I am no longer interested wasting my time singing songs with no meaning, reading verses out of context, and hearing sermons pandering to the least common denominator of emotional need.

There is no place for an atheist like me in a church.

At the time, I thought my justification for the half-truths was valid. My wife (understandably) was aghast at the turmoil created, and dreaded any confrontation on the subject. D’Ma mentioned it, but unless you have been imbedded in a church, you may not understand it—there is a gossip train like no other within the Christian community.

Yes, one attended church to worship God. Yes, we attended church to socialize with like-minded people. But we also attended to learn news. Who was divorcing whom? Whose kid was in trouble? Who got sick, lost a job, entered a cult? Alas—most times the news was lackluster at best. Christians generally shared only innocuous difficulties—“hard week at work,” “brother-in-law in car accident,” that sort of thing. Some times we had to look for the news—an ugly hat, a bratty child, a poor disposition.

And in the car, on the way home, spouses would share the news. Oh, the conversations that take place in cars between church parking lots and homes! As children we knew (and certainly as my children know) when the parents talked in very quiet voices on the way home from church—THAT was a conversation worth listening to!

It was rare one got big news—and a deconvert would be big news. Almost on par with an affair. (Sexual sins are more titillating.). Certainly equal with divorce. Better than a kid going to jail. This is news one is busting to share. Of course, it will be done in the politely worded, correct form of a prayer request—to be sure! To just blurt it out would be crass, crude and dangerously close to gossip. To blurt it out, and finish with “…we need to pray for him/her” is not only socially acceptable—it is doing God’s Work!

And (if it even lasted until Sunday), the news would spread quickly. The No. 1 conversation (and this would definitely be one of those “quiet conversations”) would be me. Us. And the question on everyone’s lips would be “Why?” Immediately followed by speculation. All gilded under “Christian concern” you understand.

Our marriage would be dissected. Our past Christian work evaluated. Smug self-praise assumed—“I always thought there was something wrong.” Because Christians presume one only deconverts for immoral purposes, they would find themselves free to fantasize about what my purpose was; indulge in both reckless character assassination AND thoughts normally forbidden.

My wife loathed the thought of this. I have slightly thicker skin, but this still would not be very pleasant. She dreaded it; I demurred. I shrank away with small excuses and polite put-offs.

And it didn’t make a damned bit of difference. We still managed to creep into prayer lists. The few I shared with, shared with others. I was a sermon example; those “in the know” immediately knew who the pastor was talking about. We still lost the friends we thought would stick by us; (hardy har har. Who were we to think our situation would be different?) we still became the outsiders.

And—like all such gossip—newer and juicer tidbits came along, relegating my deconversion to the dustbins of gossip history. With nothing more to feed the story—alas for them, I didn’t divorce my wife or declare my self a Satanist, or do anything exciting at all—it dropped and disappeared.

Leaving behind one musty uneasiness—because I didn’t address my deconversion, they don’t have to. Now when we meet, there is a slight cumbersome undertone where they know I am an atheist, they know I know they know, and yet no one addresses it. It is not so much an elephant remaining in the room, as an elephant that just leaves as we enter. A moment we see it, and then the elephant passes. Leaving us with inane, surface conversation for fear the elephant will thunder back in at any moment.

I continue to do this from politeness. I dislike confrontational Christians; likewise I presume most Christians do not appreciate a confrontational atheist. Like asking the proverbial “How are you doing?”—this isn’t a request to hear the person’s every mental and physical well-being. It is a form of greeting in our culture. In the same way, if a Christian acquaintance sees me in the fruit department at the local grocery store—they aren’t looking for a conversation comparing Matthean priority over Markan priority!

Yet I tire of it. I tire of the polite dance performed, forcing the conversation to the barest depth of relationship. With former acquaintances I welcome the shallow words as means to escape; but with my own family I find it bordering on insane—I am an atheist, time to face up to the fact! Either learn to laugh with it, learn to cry with it, or learn to ignore it—but learn to live with it!

I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like to confront deconversion head-on at the time. (Of course, not having a time machine, my wife could have become furious and I would be writing this as a divorcee right now. We never know.) I wish I could have stated, “I deconverted.” Let them know Sunday School teachers deconvert. Pastors deconvert. People you thought were the greatest spiritual leader you ever personally knew…deconvert.*

*Not that I am remotely claiming I was—I am thinking of other deconverts whose paths I’ve crossed.

Let them know life is NOT polite. It is messy. It is hard. It sometimes involves more than surface greetings and polite non-committals. Things are happening they can either choose to address or choose to ignore—but they ARE happening.

Please understand this is not a primer for what to do when deconverting. Although I mentioned D’Ma, I am absolutely not saying she should announce by billboard any change in beliefs—far from it. I empathize completely with the situation she is in. I would do the same; I DID do the same.

These are the words of a person seven years post-deconversion. A person who has found other friends and other relationships, with a few lingering family interactions and occasional acquaintance encounter. A person who avoided confrontation out of politeness and gained by it………nothing.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Michigan Warrior Dash 2011

Each Warrior Dash is different, with varying obstacles. This description will only fit for my experience.

Our friends have a membership in a camping community, so we reserved a couple cabins for the crew, planning on spending the night before and after. Friday went up and enjoyed a good evening of fishing, fires and general friendship.

Woke up to Eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. Saturday proved to be hot (91 degrees) without a cloud for any relief. The Dash sends off runners every 30 minutes—our time was 2:00 p.m. Had two (2) couples, plus me and my son, who just turned 14; the minimum age to run was 14 and his birthday was in June so he was either the youngest or the next to the youngest. Had about 10,000 runners on Saturday, and 9,750 on Sunday.

There were tents to buy merchandise, tents to get food (primarily huge turkey legs) and tents to get beer. The whole thing was extremely well-organized. Got our numbers, timing chips (which also turned out to be the token for free beer), and walked around for a bit, enjoying the other people in costumes.

Considering a band, beer and some testosterone—you might think this was only one step removed from a Hollywood depiction of a biker bar. It was not. Nothing seemed crazy or out of sorts.

The race itself.

It is a 5k (3.1 miles) that normally, with these types of numbers, one would expect the winners to be in the 16:30 range. Our overall winner was 22:30—giving an idea how much time the obstacles added.

We run for about ½ a mile before the first obstacle. This is good because it stretches out the runners. The first is a series of tires/junk cars. I told my son to be careful, either step within the tires or you might trip by trying to walk on the tires.

I, of course, walked on the tires (faster) and tripped on the very last one. My son found this funny. Another ½ mile run (this is really stretching out the crowd nicely) and our second obstacle. Go though a stretch of water with logs at about waist level. (Chest level for my son.) Now we will run the rest of the race soaked. Makes the shoes heavy.

Had a cargo net stretched horizontally. (Fastest way to do it is roll.) A series of over/unders where you go over a wall, and then under barbed wire. Climb a wall with ropes. This is a video tour of our course, if you interested.

They stretched a series of bungee cords in a number of criss-cross patterns. I found the fastest way was to lift up the bungees, and stoop under all of them. Some of the people stepping over the bungees I was lifting up gave out shouts of “Hey! I’m stepping over that!” I can’t help it if you are doing it the slow way. It is a race…

There were rumors of a “mystery obstacle.” As we run through the woods we hear laughs and shouts ahead. Not sounding good.

Imagine a steep ditch (normally you would go up it, using your hands) Now fill the bottom with about 3 feet of sludge/mud. It was like walking through sewage. Or so I would imagine. Alongside the ditch, there were two mud-covered logs. One would be tempted to go over the logs, to avoid the mud. I watched a number make it about ½ way and then fall in anyway. I told my son to just run through the mud.

(Even though his pace is slower than mine, I ran with him to make sure he could do the obstacles. If I had to do it again, I might not—he was fine.)

Unfortunately, the mud had a number of logs in it, which is why my shins took the beating they did.

The best bit was that at one point the mud dropped to 4 feet deep. My son went in right to his chin.

But now, crawling out, we found the real difficulty. The hill was mud covered and steep. Every step you took forward, you slid back two! There were ropes to use, but too many people, and you still had to crawl up to the rope. This was, by far, the hardest obstacle.

There was a blackout where you crawled for 30 feet in darkness. (HOT!) An up-and-down narrow wooden bridge. Wall climb with rope climb down, and then vertical cargo nets.

Two leaps over fire (small fires, nothing much to worry about.) and the mud pit. The pictures tell the story better than I.

The crowd hung around the mud pit and cheered people on. Generally they liked anything dramatic or unusual. My son came up with a great plan. We went back-to-back, took two steps, did a quick-draw and then fell in as if we shot each other. Hence the way we went in.

Our friends did a leap frog.

Sadly, on Sunday one fellow dove in too deep and became paralyzed from the chest down.

I can’t really tell you how well I did, since I did not run my normal pace. I figured I would normally have run it in about 29:00. (I run 5k in 21:30)

As DoOrDoNot’s husband is doing this, I thought I would give a few suggestions. Take a change of clothes. You will get everything dirty. They had a shoe contribution, we all contributed our shoes. You may not want to keep yours.

Bring flip-flops or sliders for after. Bring a garbage bag to put the clothes you were running in…in. You do not want these to touch anything.

Bring some wipes for your face. They have a rinsing off station, but it is not sufficient. Bring a Q-tip or two. I got dirt out of my ears for the next three days.

Have a blast. You will be addicted. I am already signed up for next year. July 28, 2012 at 1 p.m.