Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My way or the highway (to Hell)

I usually know better than to open a certain uncle's emails, the ones he sends to the entire de los Reyes universe and beyond. Especially email's with subject lines like, Fw: Obama Fan or Not - Please Read. But I was multitasking, the dismissive fan barely registering and I open it. By executive order, (it starts) President Obama has ordered the expenditure of $20.3 million in "migration assistance" to the Palestinian refugees and "conflict victims" in Gaza.

The email goes on to review Obama's other heinous acts thus far as president including: 1. His first one-on-one television interview with any news organization was with Al Arabia television. 2. He ordered Guantanamo Bay closed and all military trials of detainees halted. 3. He ordered overseas CIA interrogation centers closed.

Now, it continues, we learn that he is allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refuges to move to, and live in, the US at American taxpayer expense.

It gets worse. This wasn't just a rambling complaint. It was meant to rally support and signatures for a letter from Every real American to the president:

Mr. Obama,

I have had it with you and your administration, sir. Your conduct on your recent trip overseas has convinced me that you are not an adequate representative of the United States of America collectively or of me personally.

You are so obsessed with appeasing the Europeans and the Muslim world that you have abdicated the responsibilities of the President of the United States of America. You are responsible to the citizens of the United States. You are not responsible to the peoples of any other country on earth. I personally resent that you go around the world blah-bi-di-blah-blah...blah...

My eyes swimming, I debate whether to forget the email and accept family as they are even if they're crazy. Or to tell mad uncle what I really think. After all, he didn't pen the letter, he just forwarded it. So I compromise by asking him to please stop sending me these emails because I find them hateful.

But I get another email half an hour later. This one reads, Fw: God, please help us. I know better, but I open this one too. What can it be now? I wonder. In it Obama's bill, HR 1388, or GIVE (Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education) is compared to Nazi Germany's Hitler Youth movement. And as I fume over the stupidity of it, a lifetime of other stupid things my family has tried to force upon me bubbles up to the surface. He may not have written it but I know he (and many of my other relatives) may as well have.

And so I click not Reply but Reply All. Then I write that I not only like Obama, I thank God for him because he's not the Muslim/immigrant/non Catholic hating, war creating, fake Christian hypocrite Bush was. Among a few other things I've always wanted to say.

A few minutes after clicking Send, I call my sister to tell her I've just ostracized myself from the family for a good five years, that they'll be saying rosaries and novenas on my behalf now, and might even come over to force an intervention upon me. "Why?" she asks. I tell her about the emails and as she argues how wrong mad uncle is and why, I get yet another email from him. This one, addressed only to me, reads, Holy Souls, a sermon on the gospel of John 10:1-10. "He sent me a sermon!!!" I yell. She asks what it says even though we already know what it says. But I skim it over anyway to confirm the fact that it is indeed a sermon warning me I have to believe in Jesus or I'm going to Hell.

We are infuriated all over again. What nerve! But we are amused also. Really amused. We joke about all the Christmases mad uncle has ruined with his sermons, the rosaries prayed on our behalf for one reason or another, the lectures, the looks. Good times.

"I'm glad I wrote it," I say. "It was worth it." But she warns me to be diplomatic in my response if I don't want to find myself being thrown into a van one day and taken to some Catholic safe house.

So I thank him for his concern, reassuring him I am still a Catholic (though maybe not his kind of Catholic) and I still believe in Jesus (though maybe not his Jesus). And I repeat my request he stop sending me these political emails. There, we agreed, diplomatic, I didn't try to argue with him, I didn't tell him he shouldn't express his beliefs. And now, since we are family, he and the rest of them have to accept me as the Obama supporter I am. Yeah!

So, as I attended the first communion of L.'s sister's goddaughter two days later, I couldn't help but laugh at how pleased mad uncle would be if he only knew I was in church that Sunday morning. And since the service was in a language I don't speak, Spanish, I also couldn't help but drift into a reflection on Catholicism.
Truth is I rather like church. I like the vast echoey coolness, the beautiful, larger than life architecture, the smells of incense, flowers and burning candles, the music, and the rituals. It's comforting. I feel at peace there. This is what God is to me, this feeling of peace, and when I hear people like mad uncle spout their hateful stupidity I think they can't possibly be speaking for God. They can't possibly understand God either. And yet they say they do. And everything they say sounds topsy turvy. And makes me feel sad. My heart and my gut tells me one thing, and they tell me another.

I remember once telling a cousin of mine, who'd joked I'd probably skipped church that Easter, that I did go. I should have stopped there, but I made mention of the church I'd gone to, Grace Cathedral, because I didn't see why not. And he, knowing every Catholic church in the state, knew this was not one of them. So he lectured me about worshiping false gods because only the Catholic God is the real God. I should have known considering how many times he and the others have done this to me, but I was still flabbergasted. And though I tried to explain what I sensed to be true, that God couldn't possibly care about stupid things like that, it was like yelling at an orange. A total waste of time.

I won't end on that note though. Here's a photo I took during the blessing of the first communioners. Notice anything? If you've ever seen any of those reality ghost shows on cable tv, you might have heard of ghost/spirit/angel orbs. It's just dust, probably. But L. and I couldn't help giggling over how these specks of dust might actually be angels. It's a sign, a sign! A sign I know the de los Reyes clan would interpret as a warning from God to change my ways before it's too late. But I would rather hope it's a sign, or a wink, from God telling me, Everything's alright, Cheryl, and don't be mad because they love you. And maybe, As we bless these children we bless you, too, child of God. And that's all. close up


  1. What an absolutely beautiful post, Cheryl. Thank you so much.
    I think we are kindred spirits, though in different time dimensions. Writing to you feels like writing to myself, feeling as though I might have a chance at reinventing history, or maybe just basking in the glow of a prior self. Throughout my life, my views have swung wildly in different directions. I won't go into it, but will express one thing that reflects what I believe this post is really all about. I have listened to, and at one time or another been a proponent of, vehement propaganda of one political stance or another. They've ranged wildly from the extreme right to the polar left, depending on where I was at the time. The place I eventually decided to reside in was this place that you found yourself in this church.
    There is hate coming from the left just as there is coming from the right... it just depends on where you're standing philosophically.
    So, I don't listen to dogma anymore. If someone sends me one of these emails (and, ok, they all seem to sound like the ones from your Uncle nowadays, as they used to be from Bush haters), I just hit delete and move on. No confrontations, just a peace in knowing I was once in their camp, and understand where they are, but just not engaging/reacting. Life is a mosaic made up of so much depth, and dogmas (no matter the direction) strangle the life out of the mosaic. It's like being for your liver and against your stomach. There is reason and meaning in every point of view.
    You may have seen my tiles of Saints. I am not Catholic, in fact I no longer attend church. Being a child of God (or whatever the entity's name is) means living a life of humility and love and experiencing the beauty while leaving the ugliness to pass by like a cloud.
    I love your posts, they always make me think and I always end up feeling like my response has more to do with myself than with what you've written. You’re a magnificent writer, because you write from the heart of what you know.
    Thanks again, David

  2. Consider them as ghost/spirit/angel orbs - and yourself as blessed.
    (How do families produce such polar opposites?? i.e. the crazy and the sane…)

  3. You should send your Uncle's emails to the spam folder or purgatory.

    Churchs are nice and peaceful. I don't know if God will find you in one though.

  4. I am not a religious gal, actually I am agnostic, but I do love going to He-weasel's church of origin ( he was baptized Greek orthadox). The reason I like it is that the services are all about the mystery of God and the unknowable. If God is anything to me he is mysterious and unknowable. I suppose that the more a church thinks they have a handle on who God is and what it thinks the more uncomfortable I am in the church.

    I have a person in my circle who is forever sending me those chain emails. I hate them. I don't even open them anymore. Happily, I have no one sending me anti-Obama emails any longer.

    Love your photos. Really gorgeous. :-)

  5. What an awkward situation to be in, however if your uncle will not stop sending you these emails, can you just block him? He knows you don't agree and it is inappropriate. Would he be offended if you started sending him "hurrah for Obama" emails? My parents rarely send me anything religious because I have asked them not to. At least they are being kind enough to respect my wishes, although my mom does often say she is going to pray for me. Sigh.

  6. ps - I know the road to hell is sometimes paved with candy, but I am serious about sending treats to my wee clan of followers at the Senses blog -and you're in the first 10. Do you fancy some Scottish tablet? Email me your address and I shall send it. But I am not to be held responsible for the sugar hangover.

  7. Hi David, I didn't want to reply to your reply until I'd had a good couple of cups of tea. Anyway, dogma, left and right. I agree with you that the left can be as extreme and hateful as the right. It's the inflexibility and inability to listen to the other side, I think.

    But after disagreeing with my family my entire life, it's taught me over and over again that the more one side pushes, the more the other resists. The more one holds on to one point of view, the less able one is to see the other clearly. And I can either step aside or stay angry. I'm working towards getting to that point where I no longer automatically react. Would I rather be right or be happy? When I see people like the Dalai Lama feeling compassion towards those trying to undermine or hurt him, I'm in awe. And I can see how the things I react to are usually pretty petty. Not there yet though. And thank you, really, for being able to relate to my posts. It's good to know I can reach anyone.

  8. I will never understand what motivates people to send along chain emails, "humorous" ones, let alone some that are full of controveral topics.

    I love visiting churches. When I moved from the countryside to Rome, I enjoyed having so many choices on Sundays. There was one were each Sunday at 11am an artist's mass was held. I cherish these memories.

  9. Isn't life crazy at times ... but so magical too!

    Oooh ... and how exciting ... an orb! These fascinate me, especially after reading a book titled Beyond Photography by Katie Hall and John Pickering.

    Sending you love and light, Cheryl. Have a magical day. xx

  10. HI Beth, I do, I have to say. I want to believe they are. But I don't know about the family thing. I mean it's interesting how those in the same family or group can develop such differing beliefs although they've all been raised the same way. Just shows how marvelously complex we all are.

    Dedene - I usually just delete them. But, I have to admit putting my uncle in the spam category is more difficult. At least, I hope, he won't send me any more of those mass emails.

  11. Hi La Belette Rouge, I used to consider myself agnostic, but now I just don't know and I've gotten comfortable not knowing. I've seen and experienced too many inexplicable things. Science might try to explain it away as something in about my brain ;-) but I think human experience is too complicated for that.

    I definitely agree with you that the more a group things they know and understand God the more uncomfortable I am with them. It seems rather against human nature in a way, or against the very core of the teachings of the church (love thy neighbor as yourself) this unyielding certainty. A person is either in or out. very strange.

    And thanks for appreciating my photography addiction!

  12. Hi PurestGreen, that is a very good point. He would be offended. But, alas, somehow I can't really bring myself to block him. I'm sure now, hopefully, he'll think twice before sending me his chain ramblings.
    And Ooooo! Scottish candy! Will do.

    Hi Merisi, chain emails, amusing at best. And a natural inclination to get others to agree with you, I think. But the methods, more like a demand than a request, may not be the best way to go.

    An artists mass in Rome! I've just added another thing on my Can't Wait To Do List! I love visiting churches too. One of my favorite
    memories of Paris is attending mass at Notre Dame. Magical.

  13. Thanks Carol Anne! I'm sending you lots of gratitude in return! Life..I try to focus more on the magical, but it is definitely crazy too. Haven't read that book, but I admit I am rather fascinated by spirit photography. It's just too interesting.

  14. Unfortunately, family (just like religion) is complicated. I have a brother-in-law who is like your uncle. I try not to talk to him because he makes my blood pressure skyrocket. To me, faith is intensely personal, and I find the institution of religion too limiting to encompass faith, so I have stayed away from religion. I try to stay away from family sometimes, too!

  15. Hi Embee, we're definitely in agreement there. Faith is too personal for the one size fit's all-ness of most institutional religions. My family, though, would argue that this sort of thinking, this personalization of faith, is a great evil. And when I once told one of them I thought it was a good idea actually, he replied, "how will you know what to believe?" Oh one ear, out the other. We are all searchers in each our own way.

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  17. Ha! I just got my first angry comment today! Oh, boy was this anonymous person mad! I don't know what the point of this is, is it that Bush supporters are hypocrites? You're the hypocrite, etc. and so on, he/she said.

    The point of my post is that no one has the right to force someone else's opinion onto another person. And, that I'd rather feel peaceful right now than debate which side is right or wrong. It's interesting that what I wrote could make someone so angry. That my main points could become entirely lost in translation and my words be viewed as a provocation rather than a self exploration. Not even my family, though they might well meaningly threaten me with hell (lol), would react with such vehemence towards me. Oh well. This blog is an honest expression and exploration of how I think and feel for which I won't apologize nor censor for anyone. Freedom of expression! Yeah!

  18. A really interesting post ... and with interesting comments! ... and if the major thing we should all believe in would be tolerance?

  19. Thanks Peter, yes, tolerance! Though I can understand, I think, where such intolerance comes from. It's like the desire to live in a gated community, the hope that one can make oneself safe enough from all the dangers of the world if one could just rearrange things outside oneself according to plan, keeping certain things out other things in. Looking at it from my liberal point of view I can think of this desire as foolish. On the other hand, I've felt that way myself sometimes though I'm sure I didn't recognize myself as foolish.

  20. *f I don't want to find myself being thrown into a van one day and taken to some Catholic safe house*

    Now you have to keep blogging - any gap and we'll worry you've been kidnapped.

    Great, funny - and poignant - blog post

  21. Hi French Fancy, ah! you spotted the poignant aspect! When I wrote the last paragraph I admit I got a little choked up. Part of what prompted the post was the frustration of a lifetime of being judged and misunderstood by my family. And, in my quieter moments, the inner knowing that such things don't matter. Or at least are not necessary for my happiness. And if I want acceptance and to be understood, I have to work on accepting and understanding myself.

  22. Oh, forgot to add, I definitely intend to keep blogging!

  23. Hi Cheryl,

    I sooo agree with you on this post!! I can't stand getting forwarded propaganda and hate email... It only breeds more prejudice and racism!! I am also very happy that Obama is running the ship now, even though I am here in France...
    Those little specks of light are heavenly... Maybe they are indeed angels!! : ) I'm posting some pictures from Budapest of some beautiful churches we visited...
    Take care and have a nice weekend...

  24. Hi Leesa, I am too. I see only openness, intelligence, thoughtfulness and tolerance in him. That others don't sometimes floors me. But it's merely the flip side of how democrats used to react to Bush. Patience and tolerance...

    I hope they're angels too! Can't wait to see your pictures!

  25. These are lovely photos. As for those people sending crazy emails: if these self-appointed "real Americans" would spend half as much time trying to learn and understand the facts about the world instead of spinning and twisting stories until they're unrecognisable, we'd all be better off. It's really sad that so many people are determined to be miserable, rather than help solve the problems we face.

  26. Hi Paris Parfait, thanks, I'm thinking of turning one of them into a painting. The emails - what to do though when some ofn those 'real Americans' are within my own family? Argument doesn't get me very far so I just support Obama as much as I can, try to stay as informed as I can, and avoid family when possible.

  27. I like your blog
    very interesting

  28. Nice post Cheryl. I feel for you. Nobody can truly know what (or if) God is or what the secrets of the universe are. And anyone who thinks they do know what it is all about is fooling themselves.

    All we can do is wonder at the mystery of it all and be amazed and inspired by it.

  29. Hi Dam Ferreira, Thanks for visiting! Hope you come by again.

    Hi Chris Boyd, I agree with you. But I can understand the impulse to want to understand, to feel safe in knowing in other words. For myself, I like wondering and am more or less comfortable in not knowing.

  30. Like yelling at an orange... funny! Good post. Yes, I think politics and religion are so tuned in to personal beliefs. Would be hard to convince anyone to change their view. I think you are one wise woman in your response to David... is it more important to be right or to be happy?

  31. Hi Shanster, thanks! And yes, we pretty much know how difficult, impossible really, it is to change another person's mind, yet there's still that compulsion to try anyway. It's an endless debate. And after that long, long election season, I'd rather think about other things.


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