Category: Religion

It’s about 2:2o in the morning.  I got into bed 90 minutes ago and in that time, I’m not sure how many times I’ve fallen asleep and woken up.  All I know is that every time I open my eyes, I look over at the clock glowing in the darkness and I wonder how it’s possible that so little time has passed. 

I’ve resorted to turning on the TV.  Late at night, Channel 27 stops showing old episodes of Cops and starts showing infomercials.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, it’ll be a good infomercial like the one for the shakeweight or one of those Songs By People You’ve Never Heard Of music collections.  Tonight, however, our infomercial is for Peter Popoff, a loud and shrill preacher who apparently can heal the sick by touching them.  Even more importantly, if you call him, you can get “free miracle spring water” along with what is described as being a “faith tool.”  I’m not sure what the tool is but apparently, if you get it, you can supernaturally cancel your financial debts.  That’s what the man claims.

Much of what Popoff says makes no sense, on either a logical or a theological level.  Popoff screams, “God wants you to be rich!” in between footage of some old woman jumping out of a wheelchair and dancing.  “Oh!  OH!”  Popoff screams, “she’s dancing!  SHE’S DANCING!  SHE’S GOING TO DO A LITTLE DANCE!”

Peter Popoff -- HEALER!

I hit mute because Popoff’s shrill voice is starting to give me a headache.  I watch as Popoff now silently yells and more people jump out of wheelchairs and toss crutches to the ground.  I notice that almost everyone in the audience is black yet Popoff is very, very white and I wonder why I feel guilty about spotting this.

Graphics flash on the screen.  “Cancel your debt!”  they announce.  Men and women — almost all of them black, almost all of them old — are now silently giving testimonials on the TV.  The closed captioning kicks in and I watch their words flash across the screen.  “I had lost everything…” scrolls across the bottom of the screen.

Suddenly, Peter Popoff and a woman I assume to be his wife are both on-screen.  Popoff is waving around a piece of paper.  I have to look away because I feel like I’m staring at the devil.

From what I’ve seen, Peter Popoff’s claim is that God wants you to be rich.  And who am I to say he’s wrong?  I’m a fallen sinner, after all.  I was raised Catholic.  I grew up wondering if I would ever be strong enough to take vows of silence, chastity, or poverty.  (And the answer turned out to be no for all three.)  Who am I to judge this ranting, scary-looking, lumbering creature who clams he can heal and who claims he can magically erase all of my problems?  Who am I to disagree with a man who buys airtime just so he can claim to be God?

Peter Popoff and friend

I’m nothing but a doubter and late night television infomercials have no use for the doubter or the skeptic.  No, infomercials are all about celebrating the fact that people will believe anything as long as it’s on TV.

It’s hard for me to believe that there was a time before I become a doubter.  This was when I could still look at a priest without wondering if he was going to be arrested on sex abuse charges.  This was when I still believed that men and women were capable of doing things out of their kindness of their heart and nothing more.  This was back when I still believed that mom and dad would be married forever and that neither of them would ever leave me behind.  This was back when I believed that happiness was something more than just an interval between pain.  In my heart, this feels like it was a very long time ago.

And back then, I so admired the men and women who chose to devote their lives to serving God.  I admired them because, unlike Peter Popoff, they served God with the knowledge that it would mean being poor and  that it would mean sacrificing everything that spoiled little girls like me took for granted.  I looked at them and I wondered how can they be so strong

And, today, I just look at them and I wonder if they were all just Peter Popoff in disguise. 

I look back up at Peter Popoff.  The closed captioning informs me that Peter is telling us that God wants us to be rich.  You cannot serve God and money, I think, that’s from the Gospel of Saint Luke.  Chapter 16, verse 13.

Enough of this.  Searching for my last faith isn’t going to help my insomnia.  I pick up the remote and lift it towards the TV, just in time to see that Peter Popoff is finished. 

Instead, Peter Popoff has been replaced with a new infomercial, this one for the Strap Perfect.  The closed captioning tell me that “Strap Perfect is the perfect solution for your bra strap problems.  Stop wrestling with stubborn bra straps…”

I point the remote at the TV and quickly turn the volume back up.

As Seen On TV

France Bans The Veil

The French Senate has passed a new law that will ban the wearing of the full Islamic facial veil in public.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, the burqa and all the various burqa accessories has always struck me as being the perfect symbol of repression, oppression, and sexism.  For me, there would be no greater nightmare than to know that every day would have to be spent bundled up and hidden away.  Maybe I’d feel differently if I came from an Islamic background but, quite frankly, I hope not.

Last week, I was, quite frankly, disgusted by an obscure pastor who announced that he was planning on publicly burning the Koran on the anniversary of 9-11.  To be honest, I probably would have been a little bit more supportive if he had been burning a burqa.

On the other hand, I can’t help but read this story and think about my St. Vitus medal.  The medal was a gift from my mom on my 15th birthday.  She gave it to me because St. Vitus is the patron saint of dancers and when I was 15, that was my life.  Nine years later, I only dance for fun and I’m no longer a practicing Catholic.  But I still wear my medal nearly every day and I still feel far more confident when it’s around my neck than when it isn’t.  Whenever I wear it, I just feel more confident and happy.  When I wear it, I feel as if my mom’s spirit is with me.

When I first read about the possibility that France might ban the full veil, I found myself wondering how I’d react if France had banned the wearing of religious medals.  Consider that the one of the arguments for banning the veil was that France is a “secular” society.  The same argument could be used to support banning anything that could be considered to be an expression of religious faith regardless of whether the wearer shared that faith or not.  While I — and many others — view the facial veil as a symbol of oppression, there are just as many people who would make the same argument about the crucifix that I have hanging beside my bed.

I’ve often wondered about why I continue to put that crucifix on the wall.  Why do I still occasionally go to mass?  Why do I wear my Vitus medal?  As I said before, I’m no longer a practicing Catholic or, to be honest, a believer in any sort of higher power.  However, it’s unthinkable to me to throw out all the symbols of my former beliefs.  Beyond any theological belief, it’s the culture I was raised in and when I look at that crucifix, it reminds me of who I am and where I came from.  Regardless of whether I still consider myself to be a part of that culture, it still played a large role — both good and bad — in shaping who I am today.

However, many people would say that Catholicism is oppressive and evil.  Many people would say that by wearing that medal, I’m supporting child molesters and homophobia.  They would say that the fact that I’m an unbeliever doesn’t matter.  They would say that as long as I wear that medal with those words — Pray For Us — I am supporting the Vatican and everything that the Vatican has ever done and will ever do.  Those people would applaud my losing the right to wear it as enthusiastically as others would applaud the banning of the facial veil.

I guess my ultimate feeling about this is that women, regardless of their religious beliefs, should have the right to wear whatever they want.  I would be a lot more enthusiastic about a law that said women could not be forced to wear the veil as opposed to a law that states that women are not allowed to wear them.

Monday. August 16th. 1:30 pm.

I’m sitting in a waiting room, waiting to see my doctor.  Everything seems to be about waiting.

For a week, I’ve been waiting for my doctor to get back from his vacation so he can write me a prescription to get my dexedrine refilled.  I’ve spent the last seven days in an ADD haze.  My unmedicated mind can only focus on the fact that it can’t focus on anything at all.  Dexedrine, as my doctor is fond of telling me, is medical speed.  It’s a controlled substance.  It’s a highly addictive drug.  For the reason, he’s only allowed to give me enough for a month at a time. 

A part of me resents it, to be honest.  I hate being told that I can’t be trusted with my own medicine.  It angers me that some faceless lawmaker has decided that I have to be seen and evaluated every 30 days just to make sure that I haven’t transformed into a speed freak.

But there’s another part of me that is very thankful for all the inconvenience.  Every 30 days, I replan my life around my next doctor’s appointment.  Sometimes, I feel like that the only thing I can be sure of is that I’m going to see the doctor in 30 days.  Everyone — my friends, my family, the people I work with — knows that every 30 days, I have to go see my doctor regardless of whatever plans they may have.  Every month, I’m guaranteed one day when the world will have to accommodate me.

This month though, everything’s been disrupted.  My doctor — the man I depend on to help me maintain the structure of my life — decided to take his vacation right when I needed to see him.  He threw off my routine and it has left me confused and insecure.  Instead of the rest of the world waiting on me, I’ve now had to wait on him.  Well, I think to myself, that’s what you get for allowing yourself to be dependent.  Go cry yourself a river.  I want to be furious with him but, to be honest, I’m just glad he’s back and things can get back to normal.

I left work early to make my 1:00 appointment.  I told my boss I was leaving and that I wasn’t sure how long I would be.  He smiled at me in that paternal way of his and said that was okay.  He told me to go ahead and take the rest of the day off.  He told me that he hoped my appointment went okay.  I often wonder if he really understands why I have to see the doctor once a month.  Does he understand that it’s just because I have to take a controlled substance in order to do everyday things that others take for granted?  Or does he think that I’m dying?  Is that why he keeps me around?  Is that why he pays me more than he probably should?  Does he feel sorry for me?  Is he secretly waiting for the day that I finally die so he can actually get a personal assistant who can type more than 75 words a minute?  And if he is, does it really matter?

I arrived for my appointment on time, even without the benefit of meds.  However, my doctor is running late.  I’ve been sitting in his waiting room for 45 minutes now.  The doctor’s receptionist (who reminds me of Betty White and always seems so happy to see me) keeps asking me if I ran into a lot of traffic on the way to the appointment.  She wants to know if it’s still hot outside.  She asks me how my family is doing.  I answer with bland and positive statements because I fear that she’ll actually worry if I get too honest with her.

Sitting across from me is a man who looks to be 30.  I may just be paranoid because I’ve gone a week unmedicated but there’s something disturbingly generic about him.  When he first arrived (ten minutes after me), I wondered if I knew him from somewhere because he looked familiar. 

It’s only after he sits down and says, “How’s it going?” that I realize that I’ve never met him but I know him.  I know his type.  He grew up here in the suburbs.  He went to the local schools where he specialized in team sports but never quite managed to distinguish himself.  Two years spent getting  an Associate Degree at a community college while he still spent his spare time flirting with the new girls at his old high school.  He still regrets that he can’t openly brag about deflowering a 13 year-old on his 20th birthday.  (She told herself, at the time, that she was giving him the ultimate present.  At least that’s what I did.)  Eventually, this guy went to either North Texas or maybe UTA, joined a fraternity, and got a Bachelor’s in Business.  Now, he’s married to a former cheerleader, has one son named Colt or Blane, and he can’t stop thinking about how his wife still hasn’t lost the weight from being pregnant.  Yes, I know this man.  I know his type.  He smiles because, if he didn’t, he’d only be capable of screaming.

He’s been trying to discreetly stare at me ever since he first stepped in to the waiting room.  Less than a year ago, I would have been flattered by the attention but now, I know he’s not looking at me.  No, he’s looking at something he feels he could have if he just hadn’t gotten married to the fatass that’s waiting for him back home.  He’s looking at me because he looks at every girl he sees and he wonders what he’s missing out on.

Every time I look up, I see his eyes quickly dart away.  I wonder if the only way to not be stared at is to simply stare straight back at him with the same judgmental gaze.  No, I decide, that won’t work.  Staring back would only be an invitation for him to try to engage me in a conversation.  I don’t want to talk to him.  I was a stutterer when I was younger.  When I speak to people I don’t know, I have to focus to keep myself from tripping over my own words.  But I haven’t had my meds for a week so I know that if I talk to him, that stammer will come out.  And I refuse to allow myself to be vulnerable to this generic human being.

So, I keep my eyes down and I pretend not to feel his eyes on me.  I hope he’s not looking at my big nose.  I try to lean my head to the side so that maybe enough hair will fall over my face to obscure that hated nose of mine.  If this stranger is going to stare at me, I hope he’s focusing on my legs and not my nose.  If he’s going to attempt to molest me with his eyes, the least he can do is focus on a part of my body I’m happy with.

There’s a table sitting between me and him.  The table is covered with magazines and, trying to get my mind to stop spiralling, I start to randomly sort through them.  My doctor subscribes to something called The Trumpet.  Every issue of the Trumpet proclaims that the end of the world is closer than ever.  Which, when you think about, is simple common sense.  With each passing second, we’re closer to some sort of end.  When my life eventually reaches its conclusion, my world — if nothing else — will be very much over.

Goddamnit, I think as I look at The Trumpet’s Are You Ready For The Rapture headline, here I am getting closer and closer to death and I’m having to spend my time getting stared at by this asshole.

I toss The Trumpet aside and discover the latest issue of Time Magazine.  On the cover, a young Middle Eastern girl stares at me.  There’s a dark hole where her nose should be.  According to the magazine’s cover, she’s from Afghanistan and her in-laws cut off her nose and her left ear when she “defied them.”  I stare down at the cover, my formerly unfocused mind now suddenly consumed with that one horrific image.

I close my right eye and I look at the profile of my own nose.  I feel ashamed for obsessing over it as much as I do.  Here I sit, upset because I can’t find the courage to meet the eyes of the man sitting across from me.  Instead of looking straight up at him and challenging his intrusive stare, I instead simply take comfort in the idea that he’s judging me based on my legs as opposed to my nose.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan…well, the point is obvious.

Okay, I decide, I’m going to look right back at him.  I’m going to stare at him in the same way that he’s staring at me.  And if he starts to hit on me, I’ll shoot him down.  I’ll let him know that, regardless of whether he has an ex-cheerleader waiting for him at home or not, he will never have a chance with me.  And if I stutter while I do it, then I guess I’ll just have to fucking stutter…

Determined now to take a stand for myself, I start to raise up my eyes to meet his stare…

“Lisa Marie?”

The voice catches me off guard and I jump a little.  The doctor’s nurse is poking her head into the waiting room.  Out of the corner of my eye, I think I see a smirk on that generic man’s face.  Yes, it’s funny to see the girl with ADD jump after she hasn’t been able to focus for an entire week, isn’t it?

“We’re ready for you,” the nurse says.

I smile as I stand up and follow her to an exam room.  The stranger that I know stays where he is, still waiting for whatever he needs.

The nurse has me step on a scale.  She takes my blood pressure and I know that this is part of their way of determining whether or not it’s safe to give me the medicine that I need.  If I’m abusing the dexedrine, I’ll weigh 60 pounds.  If I’m an addict, my blood pressure will through the roof.

The nurse frowns a little bit when I step on the scale.  She tells me that I’ve lost a lot of weight in just one month, which is true.  I’m concerned about it too even though I know I’m expected to jump and down and go, “Yay!  I’m dangerously underweight!”  Maybe, I think to myself, it’s because I don’t have my meds and I can’t focus enough to eat.

The nurse smiles when she takes my blood pressure and it comes out just as it should.  It’s a smile that says that I may be dying of an eating disorder but at least I’m not abusing drugs.  She asks me how my month has been.  We talk and I barely notice the few times that I trip over my words.  The nurse is only a year or two older than me.  We watch the same things on TV.  We listen to the same music.  She’s got a cute little nose and I wish I had it.  I hope she’s secretly jealous of my legs.

Finally, the doctor — my doctor — comes in the exam room.  The nurse runs off as soon as he shows up.  My doctor — who left me for a week without even telling me — says, “It’s great to see you, Lisa Marie.”  I want to be so angry with him but I love the way he says that.  It’s the same thing he tells me every month and every month, for at least one day, I get to believe that it’s true.

I sit in his office while he writes out the prescription.  Whenever I see him, I find myself looking at the family pictures that he keeps on his desk.  There’s a picture of him at his daughter’s college graduation.  She’s my age.  We went to the same college at the same time though I didn’t learn that fact until long after that picture on my doctor’s desk was taken.  In the picture, he’s standing to her right and a pretty woman that I assume to be his wife is standing to the left.  They’ve both got their hands on his daughter’s shoulders.  All three of them look so happy.

Looking at the picture, I say, “It’s funny to think that I was actually there when this picture was taken.”

My doctor looks up at the picture and then at me.  He looks confused and at first, I’m scared.  No, I’m not having a drug-related episode, I want to say, I was just making a stupid comment–

Suddenly, he smiles.  “Oh yeah, you girls did graduate at the same time…” he says.

He remembered.  I’m happy.

He finishes the prescription and tells me to “keep up the good work.”  He asks me if there’s any other problems.  I tell him no.  I want him to know that I’m not a weak little girl.  I want him to know that I’m a strong, independent woman.  I can take care of myself and others…

“For this upcoming month,” he says, “I want you to pay attention to what you’re eating…”  He goes on to tell me that I’ve lost a lot of weight and while he knows that’s what everyone wants, he wants to make sure that it’s not a sign of something else.  We talk about my diet.  He, more or less, encourages me to gain weight.  A part of me wants to kiss him for telling me I need to eat the things that I want but deny myself.  The other part thinks, Yeah, why don’t you go put on a few hundred pounds and see how you feel at the end of the day?

He gives me the prescription.  He gives me the bill for the appointment (“Just pay the girls up front,” he says).  He gives me a little hug that makes me smile.  I wonder if he knows that, on the same day he saw his daughter graduate, I only had my sister Erin sitting in the stands watching.  I wonder if he knows that while he and his wife posed for that picture, my mom was in a hospital bed?  While he was smiling with pride at his daughter, my dad was sitting in jail, sobering up.  At that moment, when he hugs me, I want to tell him all of that.  I want to tell him that I wish I had become his patient earlier so I could have a graduation picture with him and his pretty wife standing behind me, looking so proud.

But I don’t.

Instead, I put the prescription in my purse and I start to head back up to the front.

As I pass by, I glance into an exam room and I see my friend, the nurse.  She’s taking the generic man’s blood pressure.  I watch as she tells him the results.  I can’t make out what she says but I can tell by the serious expression on her face that they’re not good.

The generic man looks down at the floor.

He looks so alone.

“Out of the ash I arise with my red hair.  And eat men like air.” — Sylvia Plath

“I see the dream and I see the nightmare, and I believe you can’t have the dream without the nightmare.” — Tori Amos

“Never let the hand you hold, hold you down.” — Author Unknown

“You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.” — Jane Galvan Lewis

“Hear us, O God, Our Saviour, as we honor St. Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness. Help us to be inspired by her example and comforted by her merciful help. Amen.” — Prayer to St. Dymphna

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task since it consists mainly of dealing with men.” — Joseph Conrad

“We are tomorrow’s past.” — Mary Webb

“To tell a woman everything she may not do is to tell her what she can do.” — Spanish proverb

By not coming forward (about rape), you make yourself a victim forever.” — Kelly McGillis

“I can’t be a rose in any man’s lapel.” — Margaret Trudeau

This story is actually a few days old but, being an American, I’m occasionally a little late in learning what’s going on in the rest of the world.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has ordered a crack down on lingerie.

The police have apparently been out in force, telling store owners to remove not only any posters displaying images of lingerie but also any mannequins that are clad in lingerie.

To quote from the story: “Hamas’s modesty moves were widely seen by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as attempts to mollify more conservative Islamic factions that have accused the movement of failing to uphold Islamic Sharia.”

Now, I’m going to be honest and I’m going to admit that I don’t know much about the “Islamic Sharia, ” beyond the fact that it’s what adherents of Islam consider to be “God’s law.”  While I’m not a theologist, it’s hard to deny that — throughout history — society has used terms like “God’s Law”  have as a convenient way to justify a pervasive fear and loathing of anything that might allow a woman to feel special or unique (let alone suggest that she might actually be special or unique).

As Ellen Lewis once said, “Lingerie is the poetry in a woman’s wardrobe.”

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