Through the late 1940s and the 1950s we were told to be very afraid of nuclear war. The Bomb is gonna getcha. You can't hide from the Bomb. First, it was the A-bomb, then the H-bomb, then the Neutron bomb. I heard an old woman preacher rant about Neutron bombs in the early 1980s, "It'll burn their eyes right outta their sockets." After praising the bomb for its ability not to destroy property. This was the only time I met her. I sure as hell would never have gone to her church. What she told me was that she likes things and dislikes people; that is, the people not dropping dollars in her collection plate. I'd been invited by someone I knew to a "Bible study," one Wednesday evening. This was my early years in the mountains, curious about all aspects of the culture. My mailman of that time was there. He talked about the apocalypse, the rapture and the terrible sufferings at hand for nonbelievers with such zeal for their torment, my respect for him took a downward turn. This was the church mindset I grew up in that set me in motion running for my life away from that mind. It confused me as a kid noticing the church mind was full of derision for the people around them who were not members of the church, a church with attendance seldom more than a dozen, one of them a kid who was present by duress only. I don't know what it was about me that saw the preacher was spreading hate in the name of Jesus, God and the Bible. The contempt toward nonbelievers, the "unsaved," did not mix with my reading of the Bible that said, "God is love." Like Jesus said to his close ones, It's easy for you to love one another. Try loving your neighbor, the people around you, the nonmembers, the people of the world you live in. That's where my fundamentalist upbringing jumped the track. I didn't know of anybody in the church that even liked anybody else in the church.
I couldn't love indiscriminately, nor could I love the people in the church. I'd been taught about fear and punishment as our relationship with God the judge. I heard about communists that don't believe in God, how they're damned for hell, eternal suffering---they'll get theirs for not being born capitalist Americans. I wanted to talk to the preacher about these issues, but learned early he had no answers. The time the kid brought up the strait and narrow reference in the Bible, noting it is spelled strait, not straight. Same difference. I thought: What? Not according to the dictionary, but the preacher knows better than the dictionary. He knows the Bible. I recall the day at a short-lived bookstore in Sparta an old long-faced preacher stood in the open doorway looking at me. I saw a game about to start and said, "Come on in." He said, "You gonna let me in?" I said, "Sure, it's open to the public." He stepped across the threshold like he was entering the devil's lair and said, "You know, there's only one book." I thought: Oh shit, here we go, and said, "I understand that. But there are a few others." I knew the preacher and he knew me. I was not going to back down from him. I knew him to be a long-faced Bible-thumper with the hawkish eye that kept track of everybody's sins but his own. He was introducing a sermon he had in mind for me: There's only one Book. I wasn't going there and didn't give a shit if I pissed him off. I liberated myself from that mind about three decades before, wasn't going back. And I was not allowing him to control me with his poorly reasoned pontifications. His state of mind was responsible for the worst years of my life. I was not going to humor him. He knew I'd recently left a church and I knew he had heard the gossip around the departure, none of which had to do with what was behind it. He didn't stay long. I have a hard time with a preacher's arrogance; hard time in that I don't honor his role in the masculine hierarchy. I cede nothing of myself to his control. They don't like it. And I say, Good: keeps them away.
It was bewildering to the kid to be in school learning about the world I lived in, on the one hand, and on the other, church with emphasis on after I'm dead, hell if God won't have me, heaven if I'm lucky. Of course, the preacher is not going to hell for making the people twofold more children for hell than he, himself, but the kid was one heartbeat from hell for thinking about sex. My doctor who diagnosed a heart issue, said in his straightforward minimalism with language, "You're gonna die." I didn't know what to say. I could only think, Duh, and assessed it too disrespectful to say out loud in a place where you say urine instead of piss. I sat thinking, I grew up a fundamentalist, that I will die is one thing I know probably better than anything else. And? By this time in the life, a long time after turning away from church/religion, power of the few over the many, I've found by experience God is love, not a tightrope to walk with hell fire waiting below. I've found what I call raw God, the core, love. The years of religion telling me people of other religions were worshiping the devil, and Satan is everywhere, Halloween forever, took fifteen years of unwinding the burdens of a belief system that kept me in despair. In school, I recall learning the word despair, identifying with it so deeply I got it without having to memorize it. Once I caught on that God is love and love only, it took quite awhile to shed the turtle shell of defense grown from experiences with conditional love as coercion or agenda down through the early years of this lifetime. Spare the rod, spoil the child. Up yours, too, preacher. If God wants me to live my life according to your approval, I don't want anything to do with God. If you want to engage in a constant war with Satan, go for it. I approve. Do what you gotta do. Leave me out of it.
It was several years after seeing by experience God is love that my heart was able to open. Like a flower, it needed it's time to develop toward opening. The first key I got was that love and understanding are the same. I'd held love as a lofty word and couldn't find my own connection to something so "pure." Upon seeing understanding is love, I thought: I can do that. I started paying attention to understanding others more consciously. I feel like understanding led to, or unveiled, empathy. I have come to a place in the life where I have empathic feelings with everyone I know and everyone I meet. I've come to receive people I am present with aware that this is a soul who passes through many lifetimes, like I am, and this is what they're doing this time around. It does not mean I'm full of charming sweetness. There are some people I really don't like to be around for reasons I don't pet rattlesnakes. Still, they have my empathy. They are souls making it awfully hard on themselves, over and over, never seeming to get it, heads full of blaming others, self-unaware and self-centered. I'm understanding as I'm able and feel empathy for their psychological twist, I have my own, but I get too close, they piss me off, so I stay away. Only one time that I know of have I forgiven somebody. I just dismissed the problem. It went away. The one I held bitter contempt for became in that moment one of my better friends. I'm not saying I'm somebody special because I forgave somebody. We all have our own such experiences. This was mine that taught me how enlightening forgiveness is. I'm not a model of forgiveness. I still carry some bitter resentments difficult to let go of, so I don't worry over them. It's ego. They'll fade into indifference. This new kind of seeing self in relation to others, continual awareness of loving neighbor as self, looking to the good for those around me, has grown out of interpreting God as love. The old one, God as fear, made me want to rebel. God as love is convincing to me by way of experience. By now, my heart is so healed I can cry with donkeys.
salvador dali himself