September 7, 2008

Drinking with Agnostics

At the Decatur Book Fest, I went out for cocktails with a bunch of writers.

You note the above has no actual time or date, because this is a pretty apt description of how I spent all the time I wasn’t actively speaking or signing. Sometimes, instead of cocktails, you could insert the word BRUNCH or COFFEE. But mostly cocktails.

(DIGRESSION: Birdi’s in Decatur makes a CLEAR Chocolate Covered Cherry Martini --not a cream based syrupy drink but a BITEY kind of cherry with a little chocolate linger on palate. It is awesome. The owner’s of Birdi’s are CLOSING it in a month and retiring to the North Georgia Mountains to live at peace among the deers and eventually be savaged by bears and die.

If you happen to be a driven, type A, self-made wealthy person – Diane Keaton might play you in the movie version -- who has made your fat nest egg and now you want to retire from whatever sort of exhausting capitalist piracy you practice and instead own a charming martini bar in an art-farty, coffee-house-and-bookstore-riddled, organic-grocery-loving town and have a cast of funny-weird employees who make for good, contrasting subplottage, please buy Birdi’s and keep it open so I can pretty much LIVE there all during the Decatur Book Fest. THANKS!

PS. Do not change the menu. OR if you do change the menu, keep the chocolate covered cherry martini. And the artichoke dip. Because, yum.)

Most of the folks I posse’d up with at this particular fest are agnostics. I am used to this. Subjectively speaking, most writers I meet tend toward various flavors of agnosticism. I’m quite often the only Christ-bitten little turd in the herd, and I am pretty up front and out about my faith: I love me some Jesus. I say so.

I say I am devout when the topic of God comes up, and it almost always does, because we are writers. Writers having cocktails -- again SUBJECTIVELY SPEAKING --- talk about God and love and death (because what the hell else matters?) and also about history in both the literal and the personal and subjective sense (because these are the contexts that exist for God and love and death) Also, sometimes we talk about how funny it is when a dog farts and then turns to look at his own butt all surprised and quizzical because… WELL, IT IS.

Anyway, I out myself as a Christian and QUITE often the agnostics who are new to meeting me get this faint twinge of a LOOK on their faces. Not an unkind or disdainful look, just---SURPRISED. As if they only just now noticed that my nostrils have great swaths of dandling exotic peacock-ian plumage sprouting out and cascading down my chest in a colorful wave.

Sometimes I feel their surprise is a TELLING thing.
It can feel telling about how Christains are viewed, as in a “She doesn’t SMELL like she just came from setting a gay person on fire…” kind of surprise.
Sometimes it feels telling in another way, about me, as in, “I didn’t think Christians were supposed to be quite so… LOUD. Or quite so…SCATALOGICAL.”

It is TRUE that I am very loud and opinionated and competitive and at times, SUPREMELY OBNOXIOUS. I wonder if I should be troubled that it strains credulity, even for that brief second, at the reveal, that I am a person of faith? I HOPE it is not me, representing badly. I hope it is just that most of the writers you meet at fests are agnostical-ish, and so I am perforce an oddity.

It was neat to have Patty Callahan Henry around in Decatur---she is a minister’s daughter and a devout Christian herself --- being loud and kind and dear and rowdy and delightful. I want to be like her in these ways.

Anyway, this has no POINT, ALAS. It is simply a mildy troubled, faithy rambling. As you know, I am DATING CHURCHES right now. We broke up with our church, (on good terms, we will always be friends, etc etc,) but dating a new church is forcing me to try to define who I am. And who I want to be. I’ll let you know how or if it goes.

Posted by joshilyn at September 7, 2008 1:13 PM
Comments

The church I am dating FORCED US to stay for a potluck lunch today, and the food was SO DELICIOUS that I feel we are being wooed quite forcefully. But are balsamic-kissed heirloom tomatoes from someone's garden enough to build a faith on? If you add in homemade cheesecake with fresh raspberries, I MUST SAY YES.

Jesus loved cheesecake. I feel sure of it.

Posted by: Mir at September 7, 2008 1:31 PM

funny - people that I meet up here in the almost-great-white-north (erie's more of a great-white-then-yuck-slush-north) are ASTOUNDED that I no longer belong to a church but still have faith.

I wish you the best of luck in your dating quest. I haven't been able to find the right one - especially not one that serves cheesecake! Maybe I should start from that angle first ...

Posted by: Rikki at September 7, 2008 1:50 PM

We were just visiting my honey's family in SoCal. Religion is the family business. Me, I wasn't raised in a church and I'm not clear on where my lines of belief exist.
But here is what I have come to think: those of us who are not sure that they believe are surprised to find that believers are every bit as human in the Frailty & Fault department as ourselves; and, in fact, we are kind of angry that Believers are not more perfect. I don't think we get that that's exactly as it should be.

Posted by: hollygee at September 7, 2008 1:54 PM

Well if it helps, I'm a teacher and an agnostic-type, and I get the same look when people find out I'm NOT a Jesus-y person. Live and let live, I say. Good luck finding a long-term church.

Posted by: carolie at September 7, 2008 2:12 PM

Hello, some of the funnest (read: loudest, most scatalogical, cocktail-loving) people I know are Christians. So in my not so humble opinion, you belong to the VERY BEST subgroup of Team Jesus.

And while I DO loves me some Jesus, my beliefs regarding his divinity (or lack thereof <-- THIS IS MY TELL) keep me out of the club, alas. But I am fun and loud and like cocktails and fart jokes, so I would totally party with you WITHOUT giving you the hairy eyeball, I swears.

Posted by: Badger at September 7, 2008 4:15 PM

Good luck finding a church to settle down with! After I quit laughing, I found myself wishing I served a church in your area because you would be more than welcome among the Christ-bitten folks I hang out with!

God Bless!

Posted by: Sherill at September 7, 2008 4:20 PM

It's the fact that you're SO cool and funny and non-pushy that non-Christian type folks look at you fleetingly askance. We're used to being told we're wrong. You may believe that, but you're joyously, outrageously wonderful and sometimes 12, that we would MUCH rather hang with you than stuffy, boring types!

Good luck on the church hunt! We all need a community to belong to, and you'll find yours, I have absolutely no doubt!

Posted by: Fran at September 7, 2008 4:55 PM

I am not a writer but I am an agnostic person. If I could go to church with you and Mir I might be persuaded to change my mind a little. But I have witnessed an awful lot of Christian hypocrasy in my life and it's hard to overcome it all. Today, for example, I went to a Catholic christening to take pictures for the family. I happen to know that two of the people are feuding tooth and nail, one person is committing adultery, and various other sins abound. But everyone stood up there and professed to forgive those who trespassed against them and be good and faithful followers of the Word. That makes my heart hurt, you know? I too ramble, sorry!

Posted by: Jen at September 7, 2008 6:52 PM

Completely unrelated to anything in your entry, neither dogfarts nor agnostics - I love that when Faster Than Kudzu is on my monitor, I get a lovely little orange gerbera daisy daintily presenting itself on my Firefox Tab. It makes me happy ... just saying ... :)

Posted by: Dana at September 7, 2008 9:36 PM

My mother came to the new apartment today and doused every single room with some of my grandmother's homegrown Lourdes water. Didn't help much with assembling the new filing cabinet, alas.

I miss you, my loud, obnoxious, competitive, Jesus-y whoodie.

Posted by: Karen Abbott at September 7, 2008 9:43 PM

You are not having the best of luck lately, with the people leaving heartlessly? It sounds like you're in relational re-negotiations all around. To the highest level.
My dog sometimes farts when she's nervous. So when I call her into the kitchen to give her her nightly "don't pee on the world" pill, she trots in, sits down, and then farts. And looks guilty. I tell her she's passive-agressive. She's sorry.

Posted by: Kira at September 7, 2008 10:02 PM

From my own study of scripture, I find that the apostle Peter was rather loud and pushy and opinionated, so you are in good company. By a round about way--friend of a friend who grew up with you--I think you might check back into the "tradition in which you were raised." I can't say there is a lot of drinking with agnostics going on in that particular lot--of which I am one--but you might find something there that is of interest.

Posted by: Roxanne at September 7, 2008 11:23 PM

Ahhh ... dating. It's so hard to find the perfect mate - one that is both holy and hilarious, enlightening and energized (much like yourself); not somber, judgmental and hypocritical.

Jesus shared spirits with many agnostics. Unfortunately, they didn't have the chocolate-covered-cherry martini so they were forced to bask in a goblet of wine.

I say continue to drink and be merry with ... everyone. Perhaps when folks see Christians are happy, funny, creative, crazy, opinionated, loud and compassionate - as are you - they will want to jump right in the Jesus creek!

Posted by: Louisianablues at September 8, 2008 6:31 AM

I'm a godless heathen, but I was RAISED catholic. So of course, when faced with someone who proudly professes their faith, I feel terrible guilt (hey, you can't get over ALL the teachings of your youth) and expect to be accused of terrible, anti-god things at any moment.

Just my theory that maybe some of the agnostics you meet are in the same, guilt-laden boat!

Posted by: Brigitte at September 8, 2008 7:24 AM

I think for me, it's more that I don't know many religious people, so when I find myself hanging out with one, I have to quickly go through what we've been talking about to try to remember if I've said anything offensive. I tend toward the cheerfully irreverent by default.

Posted by: Marleigh at September 8, 2008 9:00 AM

From what I've read here over the last few years and in our brief email exchanges, I strongly suspect that you're the type of person I'd like to hang out with: yes, your faith is very important to you and is a large part of who you are, but you're not gonna tell the rest of us that we're going to hell because we're not you. Us godless-heathens get so used to religion being used as a cudgel that when someone mentions it in one breath, followed shortly by dog farts, we don't quite know how to react.

Keep shaking the world up, Pretty Tulip -- it's the best way to make things happen!

Posted by: Beth at September 8, 2008 12:53 PM

I am so excited! I was steadily traveling from one blog to another when I noticed the "Faster than Kudzu" link on a blogroll. I knew this had to be someone from the South . . . anyway, I love your books! And now that I have skimmed your blog, I love your blog! We know someone in common too - Darlene (mentioned in the front of I believe Between Georgia). Sorry for rambling!

Back to your blog, Good luck Church dating and thanks for the chocolate covered cherry martini tip!!)

Posted by: lmerie at September 8, 2008 3:19 PM

Yep, I hang out with a bunch of scientists, so when they find out I'm a Christian, they, too, look at me askance. Which I occasionally interpret as them thinking that I am slightly deranged. Or maybe one of those people who wish to teach their faith as science (which I am not; discovering that there might be some details left out of a story told thousands of years ago by a pre-literate people does not affect my conviction of either God's existence or the saving work of Jesus).

Mir - you are certainly going to an excellent food church! I think good food shows a fine attitude of gratitude for the diverse and generous world in which we live.

Obviously,I would prefer to believe that you and I are doing the good PR work of showing that there are genial and rational Christians out there, but perhaps it is as you say, and the Agnostic types feel that I am letting the side down by not acting according to expectations.

Posted by: Diane (TT) at September 8, 2008 4:04 PM

ME TOO ME TOO!! Loud and obnoxious and scatological!! Oh, and brightly colored enough (and sometimes clashing) to be a muppet. I think Jesus likes me this way.

Was it Tolstoy who said there are just a few dreary timetested ways to be a dysfunctional family, but a MILLION MILLION MYRIAD AND WILDLY DISPARATE ways to be happy & functional??? Whoever it was - I agree!!

Also: I adore you. From afar. With Southern expat love. Squeee!

Posted by: Kate Setzer Kamphausen at September 8, 2008 4:29 PM

Why do most "agnostics" think that as a Christian, God took away your sense of humor & personality? ( along with your sins :) )
Your right it does say something about them...

Posted by: desi at September 8, 2008 8:18 PM

Well, probably what it says about them/us (agnostics, that is) is that most people tend to hang out with people much like themselves, and so exposure to anyone else is more or less limited to the vaguest & most extreme stereotypes. So when someone like you comes along & busts those stereotypes it stretches people's minds and does Good in the world, but they're apt to do a quick double-take along the way, which can feel a bit weird when you're the object of it.

But ust think: you get to contribute to World Peace and Everyone Holding Hands and Singing Kumbaya, just by getting out there and being an out Christian who's also rowdy and drunken and non-gay-person-burning. Not a bad deal for a few faint twinges of surprise.

Posted by: elswhere at September 8, 2008 11:46 PM

Er. That's "JUST think," up there. Though I guess you could ust think, too. If you figure out what you're doing when you're ust thinking, I'd love to know.

Posted by: elswhere at September 8, 2008 11:47 PM

I've been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday. I have a great church, and will hate to ever move away from it, but find myself in waves of dedication-- on fire and lukewarm- not for God- but for the "business side" of church. Patti and I had a conversation about being role models for our kids, when I said how I struggled with the EVERY Sunday routine, now that life is busier- where before I remember going to 2 services on Sunday, bible study on Monday and prayer group on Wednesday. She said, that if you take the easy way out one Sunday- too tired, too busy, etc, that you are giving your children the idea the easy way out is ok- and what will they do when they grow up and leave your house? Yeah.

And then there are the questions I was constantly battling as a writer like, Can I curse? Can my characters do bad things? Can they hate God? Is it wrong for me to talk about things the church frowns upon? I spoke to a writer pal who is also a preacher and he said, "Linda, God has seen and heard it all already. You aren't telling him anything new. You'd only be lying to yourself and what kind of story would that be telling the world?"

I don't understand how creative people can be agnostics- how can you believe that you have a gift if you don't believe someone gave it to you?

Posted by: lindasands at September 9, 2008 8:36 AM

Church, I have discovered, is a wonderful meeting place for all of us that swear, occassional lie, fail, think bad things, and work on not doing it again. I am what is often referred to as a 'Cradle Catholic'-the soils of Ireland run in my genetic veins. But I've also grown up in the South, so we mix in a little Gospel as well. Odd mix, but it works for me.

After more years on the planet than I ought to politely tell, I've learned a thing or two about the Good Lord. He has a sense of humour-how could he not and create Armadiloes? God knows we fail, and often fail continuously. He still loves us and isn't that why there are rainbows after rain?

You'll find a church sweat pea. It will be full of some holy rollers, some half hearted sinners, and some folks just like you-trying to get by in this nutty world. None of us is perfect and that's why we all meet on Sunday mornings.

Posted by: gin at September 9, 2008 9:16 AM

I too am obnoxious and loud, prone to the occasional fit of cursing, willing to dance on tables, argumentative, selfish, and totally imperfect in every way. AND an unapologetic Jesus Freak. If I wasn't imperfect I wouldn't need Him! I know a lot of people who say they are put off of Christianity because of Christians, and I think that's very sad...and a total cop-out. You should judge Christianity solely on the behavior of Jesus...who points out His followers' shortcomings pretty often, as a matter of fact. And then forgives them anyway. It's an amazing feeling to be loved like that. Y'all agnostics should give it a shot. Just sayin'.

Posted by: Amy-Go at September 9, 2008 9:31 AM

"Church ... is a wonderful meeting place for all of us that swear, occasionally lie, fail, think bad things, and work on not doing it again."

Yep. This is me and my church and Sunday School class. We are imperfect and loving and hateful. And trying to get better at the middle part.

And there are days I'd like to SMITE DEAD all those dour sourpusses who have tried to make the world believe that everyone else should be perfect while we go around still mucking up. Or that we don't muck up - and they are the .... (change the first letter in the word muck) ups.

Thanks for talking about this. Sometimes I feel like a party of one, being my own flawed, loudmouthed, Scotch drinking, cussing, cotton-picking, Christian self.

ps: and your shoes are pretty.

Posted by: Mit at September 9, 2008 9:37 AM

I don't care too much for churches; I dated an ex-minister once who forgot to mention he was still married, and that just put me off the whole forum. I do, however, believe in the Almighty and KNOW from personal experience HE LIVES and LOVES ALL OF US -- agnostic, Buddhist, Methodist, you name it. Hell, he even loves my mother-in-law. Only God COULD do that!

Hope you find the spiritual home you're seeking.

Posted by: aiken314 at September 9, 2008 3:17 PM

I understand completely.

But anyway, I gave you an "I love your blog" award, and per the rules I'm supposed to tell you. While I've never seen you do a meme before, if you'd like to, you just need to link to four blogs that YOU love, and tell them so.

Posted by: Jess at September 9, 2008 3:46 PM

Oh I so agree! I've gotten THE LOOK so many times. There's also the moment of silence where they now feel "oh, I shouldn't really say anything" or "she must not like me now because ..."

I always tell people that it's between God and me.

And when religion and politics mix? Sheesh! I swear agnostics are so much more concerned about how I'm voting that I am - I can separate church and state, thanksverymuch.

Ok. I'm not touchy about that or anything, am I?

Posted by: Heather Cook at September 11, 2008 11:34 PM

Love your books, love your blog and now I find out you are loud, opinionated AND a Christian! WOOO HOOOO. I want to write, I'm still trying to start every day, and I do not want to become agnostic to do it. Thanks for being the role model! You are awesome.

Posted by: Melissa at September 16, 2008 8:22 PM