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Not the Portland I’m used to.

I just returned from a two-week trip to New England. Since I had never been to Maine before, Will and I started there and moved slowly south during my visit. I thought it would be fun to go to the other Portland. After spending some time in New Hampshire at America’s Stonehenge, that I talked about in my last post, we went on up north. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine by the way.

Will had found something online about fairy houses in some park in Falmouth, near Portland. We began searching for it, but all we had was the name of the island on which they were supposedly located. Google maps drew us a route directly to the center of the tiny island, accessible by a bridge, and we obediantly followed. On the island we passed through some open gates and looked around at a parking area, with buildings in the distance, but no signs helping us find fairies. Will pulled to a stop to look at the map again, and I noticed a man outside that had been staring at our vehicle and walking toward us. He came from the direction of a building with a sign on it that said SECURITY.

“Will, I think this guy wants to talk to us,” I said, as I noticed that we were in a parking lot for Baxter School for the Deaf. “Maybe he can give us directions.” As the man approached, Will rolled down the window of the car.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, in a state-your-business kind of way.

Will says in the most sincere and earnest sort of way, “We’re looking for the fairies.”

The man was perfectly still with a face devoid of any expression. He blinked. After a pause he said, “You can’t be here on campus.”

Telling the story later, Will said it was as though the security guard heard the words, decided to ignore them, and chose to state what he had intended to state in the first place. In retrospect, it is hilarious! “We’re looking for the fairies!” We must have seemed like crazy people. Ha ha!

View of Casco Bay from Mackworth Island.

We turned around and noticed what we missed at first: a parking lot to be entered immediately after crossing the bridge. There is a state public area that encompasses the beach and shore of the island, but not the center. From the lot we could access a lovely 1.25 mile trail that runs in a ring around the circular island. For a chilly evening, there were a surprising number of people there to use the trail for fitness, walking the dogs, or just to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

With or without fairy houses, it was a nice evening to take a walk, so off we went. There are multiple places to access the beach, and we did. I was mesmerized by the rock formations we found. Will and I wished for Tara (studying geology) to help us understand what we were looking at. We chatted and enjoyed the wildlife, and waved cheerily at people who passed us multiple times going the other direction and clearly moving at a pace faster than ours.

This 1 1/4 mile trail wraps in a ring around the small island, with non-stop beach views.

We liked this old tree.

We clambered around on the beach, with its fabulous rocks.

Will in the distance. Wonderful rock formations in the foreground.

Suddenly we spotted one: a small tipi stack of sticks against the base of a tree.

Once we knew what to look for, we saw more. And more. Farther along the trail the little forest debris creations were everywhere! Some very simple, some elaborate. They were right beside the trail, but as we plunged deeper into the forest off the trail, we found more.

Fairy homes built against the bases of the trees.

Since we had visited America’s Stonehenge earlier in the day, I named this Stickhenge.

This one was so big that I fit into it! I’ve never been in a fairy house before.

Eventually we spotted a sign that explained what we were looking at, and the rules for participating. I experienced a bit of glee that something official as a State of Maine, Bureau of Parks sign acknowledged the faeries who visit the forest. I’m not religious, and find it hard to have faith in anything that can’t be scientifically explained, but I do believe in faeries. And while most of my life is practical and analytic, there is this one thing about me that doesn’t fit at all, and I’m usually too shy to mention it. But on Mackworth Island, clearly there are others who believe with me.

Officially sanctioned fairy homes.

Some fairy homes were made of simple construction.

As we hunted through the forest, we found more and more elaborate houses, often adorned with shells collected from the beach.

This one looks two stories high, with a stone patio.

While the sign cautions not to use living materials, it is likely these were collected from the ground and not picked.

This one rolls out the green carpet, between columns of pine cones.

This home has exceptional landscaping and an artistic flourish of oak leaves on top.

We had fun for nearly an hour as we explored the fairy homes. Possibly there were hundreds of them; it’s truly a sight to see. That humorless security guard should take a walk over here on his lunch break.

Leah Stetson, whose LinkedIn page says she did a senior college thesis project on island fairy houses, said in 2011 in a comment on another blog: “In Maine, there are over 60 islands with active “fairy house” villages tended by children and adults alike. Monhegan is most famously known for its Cathedral Forest (and the 50-year controversy on whether to ban fairy houses–still ongoing among island officials) but islands like Squirrel Island (Boothbay Harbor) and Bear Island (Buckminster Fuller’s island, where he built the famous geodome) in the Penobscot Bay, as well as several of the less-inhabited Cranberry Isles (e.g. Baker) have fairy houses.” Stetson may have been the author of an article in a no-longer-available post from The Compleat Wetlander, which stated fairy houses are “a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers…”

DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

Faith.

And no, this has nothing to do with any deity. I am the poster child for atheism. ha ha.

I am a dedicated believer that humans are all powerful, and the only thing that limits us is our inborn fears and lack of confidence. People who are powerful are those who BELIEVE!!!

Whew! I made it all the way through.

This week off didn’t go quite as planned, but it was full. I like my life to be full. Now I’m just sort of exhausted. I am looking forward to going back to work so I can wind down. Hm. That doesn’t seem right.

Did I say good? I need to say that too. I spent the week with my family – my amazing daughter especially – and that is good soul food and something I really needed.

It’s my daughter’s Spring Break from the 5th grade. Since it’s my turn to spend Spring Break with her instead of her dad’s turn, I took the week off work to be with her. (I love that my job allows me to just take time off when I need to)

My mother showed up the first Friday, with her husband. She has been going stir crazy ever since we bought this house, wanting to come for a visit. She brought two boxes of tools and supplies, wanting to do fix-up work with us. I thought she was nuts, since she was only planning to be here for 2 1/2 days, including Easter. I think my head is more firmly centered in reality. But I let her have her Mom dreams, and didn’t say anything. Who knows? Maybe it would work out.

Ug. I forgot how completely draining it is for me to spend time with Mother. I don’t think it’s entirely her – though she is one of the most challenging personalities in the world to entertain – but it also has a lot to do with our relationship. My perception of our time together is her constantly judging, criticizing, lecturing, and whining. And then sporadically telling me how much she loves me and loves my daughter, which doesn’t boost me as much as it could, because I get confused. Perhaps that is not what is going on, but that is how it feels to me.

Anyway, generally within a week of an anticipated visit from my mother, I begin to freak out. It’s mostly subconscious. This time I only burst into an angry fit and yelled at my partner once – the day before her arrival – and he was good enough to figure out the source of much of my stress. While she’s here, I freak out non stop. I become hypersensitive to her whining complaints, and somehow feel it is entirely up to me to make her life the way she wants it. (Note: this is very, very, child-parent stuff… it’s like I’m 12 and afraid of getting grounded again. Very unhealthy and scary to me that it happens so thoroughly and so quickly when she’s in my presence.)

I am much better than I used to be, so I am pleased with my growth. That, as with so many things, is due for the most part to my amazing partner, who continues to teach me how to stand up for myself, and how to disagree with someone I love, and how arguing does not mean I care less about the person I’m arguing with. So, Mom would whine and judge me and criticize, and I was able to let a lot of it just slide through my ear canals and pass on back into the air rather than find a crevice in my head to fester in. At the same time, ever since I’ve been practicing standing up to her, she has stopped being so critical. I think she finally realized how hurtful it is for her to be like that without any sort of reign on her tongue. I can see her earnest effort to try to keep her lips together, and I really really appreciate it. This is the kind of thing that lets me know my mother does love me.

She decided to extend their visit. ha! Just one more day, and that made more sense. Friday night we went out to dinner at Seasons and Regions, a great seafood place on the West side. Saturday we went to Hawthorne and hit  Buffalo Exchange, Peets, Noah’s Bagels, and all those really truly great shops down there. Finally the sun had warmed us up, so we spent a few minutes at the ever-lovely Laurelhurst Park coming into full bloom, then went down to the Waterfront Park near where the giant Cirque du Soleil tents are set up for Corteo (my partner begged me to go, but at $85 per ticket, I scolded him out of it – we can barely afford groceries). We were all getting hungry, so wandered up to the Saturday Market and bought lunch – each of us at a different stand. Tara had corn dogs, my partner a big chicken, rice and vegetable plate, Mom and I had falafel pita sandwiches, her husband had pizza. How fun is that?

Saturday afternoon was Easter stuff: decorations up, coloring eggs, and winding down. Sunday morning, pouring rain and cold of course, so Tara found her eggs in the sopping wet. We had fun making the day special for her. She’s 10, and in the age of finding out the truth about things like the Easter Bunny. She truly was surprised that eggs were already hidden, and I could tell her young mind was trying to figure it out.

She still chooses to believe in some things, even when she learns a different story, which I like and encourage. This may offend some of you, but I am committed to this: If you believe it, that is what makes it true. It works for Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, elves, faeries, and God. Yes, God too. I don’t believe in a god, so no gods are working miracles in my life. BUT! I do believe in Mother Earth, who works constant miracles, and I believe in faeries, who play tricks and cause mischief in my life. I believe that human beings have magical powers, so I even create miracles in my own life. You may say “well, that’s God” and I agree with you. That’s why it’s so beautiful. When God is real for you, God is a personality in your life and you see Him in the lives of others.

So anyway, my daughter is a staunch believer in Santa Claus, and she also believes in God. She’s still making up her mind about Easter. ha ha.

Mother brought a stack of recipes she wanted us to cook while she was here. I picked one, and we spent much of Sunday shopping for food and cooking this meal. I was beginning to weaken against Mom’s onslaught, and her husband was getting bored. Luckily, my daughter is old enough to take him for a walk, so Grandpa and the kid took off on a couple of walks. Once they went to Target and Grandpa bought her a whole bunch of stuff for her upstairs bathroom which she has decided needs a “bamboo” theme.

Monday, my partner went back to work and I had to handle the folks on my own. By this time, my poor man had about been driven over the edge. Mom is hard enough, but on top of it, I was crumbling into a mess, and my partner had completely run out of patience. He spent Sunday in the basement ripping down the interior walls which we both hate. It was good hard labor and kept him away from our guests and away from me.

The weather improved on Monday, and my step-father offered to haul a load of debris back to Idaho if we wanted. He had been looking for a way to help us out, and this was a true gift. We live in a city. You can’t get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into the pre-approved trash cans, or doesn’t fit specific guidelines. Since we moved in, we’ve been accumulating a heap of things we just don’t know what to do with. Well, it’s all gone now! Even the plywood and 2x4s that my man ripped out of the basement. While my step-father and I filled the bed of the pickup, Mom and my kid did yard work. They worked hard and it made such a difference. I am very grateful.

Tuesday everyone left. It was a dramatic change for sure! My partner left at 5:30am to begin a two-day work trip to the field in central Oregon. Mom and her husband took off by 6:00am for their 6 hour drive back to north Idaho in the snow. That left my girl and me for two entire days of just each other. I finally let her sink into her computer as she had been wishing for (Club Penguin and Diablo II mostly), and I began taking care of business. By Thursday, I had been to the dentist, took my car for a tune-up, figured out how to check our phone messages with Comcast, had a phone meeting with my Ameriprise advisor, gassed up the car and the lawn mower, got my taxes off to a tax specialist, found birthday gifts for my nephew and niece, bought groceries, did about 16 loads of laundry (ok, maybe only 11), finished some legal paperwork for my attorney, helped my daughter get through two books of required reading, and YES, even worked on my book a little. Man! It feels so good to get so much done.

Part of why my week ended on a down note are the results of some of that stuff. The car hasn’t been in for a tune-up in its whole life, and I feel fortunate for getting it out of the shop after only $2036. Actually, I feel good about that in a big picture sense. Haven’t been to the dentist in too long, and my teeth cost me $285, which is a lot. But that is even tolerable. The problem was that I found out the reason I have been losing tiny chips of my teeth and thus experiencing terrible sensitivity is because I am freekin’ stressed out. I grind my teeth in my sleep, which causes “abfraction” which weakens and chips my teeth. The dentist told me to just tell myself to relax. Um. Yeah. He suggested wearing a mouth guard like football players wear, when I sleep. I think it’s a very good idea, and I’ll try it.

The one that FRIES me is a very bad experience with the tax person. The woman is an offensive know-it-all who repeatedly offended me and showed herself to be lazy as well. By the time I was fed up with her, she was on the phone telling me my taxes were done, so I just decided to pay her and have it overwith. I owe over $3000 in taxes, which is a shock. I have never ever ever had to pay. I always get taxes back. This sucks, but it’s probably accurate. Also, I have done my own taxes every single year except for once, in 1995. This year my stuff was just really complicated and I needed help. So it’s hard to absorb the cost of a tax preparer when I’m used to it being free. She’s charging more than $300 for insults, mistakes, and yes, for doing my taxes. At this point, I do not have confidence that she’s done it right, or well, but I guess I’m assuming her company will take responsibility if there is ever a future problem.

This week was a big week for my partner. Tuesday was his 20th anniversary of being clean and sober. In AA, they hand out “coins” for certain anniversaries that former addicts and alcoholics can earn. I carry his 18 year coin in my pocket, because it inspires me. I like to be reminded that my challenges are only difficult in my mind. There are other people who have bigger struggles than me. The coin helps me with my perspective. My partner only carries the one day coin. It’s white plastic. It used to say “AA” on one side, with carved decorations. Now it’s smooth and blank, worn thin. He tells me that he needs to remember that his battle is only with the day he is living, not with the years ahead or behind him. He carries the one day coin to remind himself that he needs to get through one day, and that the present day is the only one he needs to worry about. Yesterday was his birthday. I bought him a T-shirt that says “Surly” and the first two books of the Golden Compass series. I made him chicken enchiladas and a lemon birthday cake.

Whoo! Tomorrow I go back to work and I am looking forward to it! I miss my friends there, I miss my routine, my morning workout, my busrides with weird Portland people. My daughter goes back to her dad’s house tonight. I’ll miss her. Last night we stayed up to watch Teen Nick Choice Awards, hosted by Jack Black. I was really amazed at how many famous adults were there: Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, Usher, and Will Smith, to name only a few. Yes, they’re promoting their stuff, but still – it’s a kids show. I’m glad they took the time. Harrison Ford got majorly slimed. Come on, he didn’t need to do that. It’s awesome that he did. Oh yeah, my point. My daughter is growing up. She’s a spaz, like any pre-teen girl. She went bananas over the choices, and waiting to see who would win. It’s stuff I really don’t care a whit about, but it is important in her life. She is truly an individual and I love that.

april

Hey Beautiful,

Thanks for this little peak into your life. I always appreciate when I get a chance to witness your world.  : )

Love you, April

crystal

Well, I think I know about 3 people who would read that one all the way through. I sort of had you in mind as I kept going. I was thinking “Geez, this is a book, I need to just stop.” Then I realized you would read it, so I kept going. Ha!

Thanks, love. I know you like to hear about my life here (cuz I’m so terrible at real live letters and direct communication). Kisses!

april

Oh yeah, I meant to tell you that I might have to have a face-to-face mother experience next month for Isaiah’s graduation. Should be interesting since we hardly ever speak to each other anymore. Mom, Angela and I have not spent time together since the Christmas crisis over two years ago, and there have been a few more crisis since. But right now she seems to be doing better…finally back in church and therapy, which is the formula to keep her from descending into darkness. Part of me hopes she can’t make it due to work or something, but another part wants so much to reconcile by accepting each other exactly as we are now and building a new relationship from that, instead of one poisoned by the past. I can’t pick and choose how this new opening of my heart applies to the people in my life, so it’s time to truly let go of the negativity with the people who are hardest to love.

One of my many guises

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