By Pat Green
Several months ago I was asked to write for the secular section of Patheos, and I was initially excited. I had wonderful conversations with people in the organization whose works I have read and enjoyed. Then two things happened.
The first was how frustrated myself and other writers were about not being paid for writing in spaces that are commercial ventures. This promise of exposure rarely comes to fruition and the industry as a whole is becoming more centered around either unpaid writing submissions or reduced pay. I am a writer and a photographer. Frankly, I made more money driving a taxi than writing and art. I do get a lot of offers for exposure though. I cannot buy a hot dog with exposure.
Then something else happened. For those who do not know me, which is most of you, I used to be a minister in the Progressive Christian Alliance and the Emergent Church Movement before I found deconstruction of belief in a taxi.
I still have a few friends who are ministers. Those few friends reflect the best of what faith could be. More than most of us, they have made sacrifices and taken risks on behalf of the homeless, GLBT persons (like my son), and those with mental health concerns. They have ignored empires and dogma and have used their positions to do one thing…help.
These are not just people that I know. They are friends. Two of them stayed my friends in the midst of my divorce when it was very hard to be my friend. They asked nothing of me, they just loved me and that love kept me sane.
Two of them, within days of each other, used the same quote from Dorothy Day. For those who do not know, Day was a social activist who converted to Catholicism after a brilliantly led bohemian lifestyle as an atheist. Day’s was a life of complexity and nuance. Anyway, while two of them posted her quote publicly, I happened to be in Colorado visiting the church of the third friend whom I had not seen in years. We hugged and misted up, and I finally saw her dream come to life. Even though I did not share her faith, the space and the people were beautiful. In a small room, I saw the same quote and was moved. My girlfriend at the time pointed to it and she knew it would move me because I caught the nuance.
Then I saw other friends in my life, who know who these three people are and what they do, assault them online for using that Dorothy Day quote and saying that it is reasons like this insulting slap in the face of atheism that makes it impossible for them to feel welcome.
Here was the thing. They meant not to insult another group; they were showcasing the beauty of what they see in their tradition. I have seen meme after meme and article after article that instead of showcasing the beauty of secular and humanistic life directly assaults those of belief. How can the same people who sling stones cry foul over one innocuous quote? Don’t we have memes out there about Christians who do the same things?
I was just getting over that when Sam Harris laughed at an insult on trans people on his radio show/podcast. My kid is a trans teen. My ex-wife has had to sell the house and move to a different town to enroll our child to a different school just to protect him. Even now we are fighting for his rights in this new town and literally fighting for his life and safety. With Christian public figures on one side (including progressive/emergent—bite me Brian McLaren) diminishing his humanity and atheist public figures on the other side doing the same, I am one terrified parent.
There is a third thing that I am reticent to admit to. I am not always sure my voice would matter. I am a guy with an undergrad degree from a small bible college that taught me the earth was 6,000 years old. I am not a theologian. I am not a philosopher. I am not a scientist. I am not an expert in any way, shape or form. I am a guy who learned more about people driving a taxi than I did from more than a decade in a pulpit. I am also not sure what I am in the secular world. For anyone who knows what the Dawkins Scale of Theistic Probability is, from day to day I am swinging about the scale like a desktop pendulum that you buy at Things Remembered or the Discovery store.
Here is what I do know. I know how to live well. I know how to hope. I know how to love. I am not angry. I am not bitter anymore. I am hopeful.
If I am going to write about anything, I am going to write about a simple life from a secular perspective without the need to defend, explain or assault anything or anyone. Just a regular guy leading a regular life. The everyman and everywoman is something to be celebrated. I suspect that is why Hitchcock used so many everymen in his movies as the protagonist. Maybe he saw that in each of us is more than the sum of our parts.
I hope to have the opportunity to tell you the stories of the everyman and everywoman doing extraordinary things without a theology or an ism and I hope it makes us all see our lives in a different light. I do not care if I get paid for it or not because that is something that is priceless.
In the taxi I learned two things, the first of which is this: feeling invisible hurts. The second is that there is a common thread. People in a Judeo-Christian mindset say we are Imago Dei….the Image of God. Eastern sets will say Namaste…I see divinity in you. Buddhists strive for the Buddha nature of which they think is in all of us. Atheists will beautifully say we are made of the same common stardust. So many of us think we all come from a common source and we are all equal in beauty and wonder. Yet we do not treat each other that way.
I am not suggesting we sit around a campfire, hold hands and sing songs while smoking the peace pipe. I am suggesting there is something wondrous about how what we value inspires us to live our lives and what that looks like.
Pat Green is a writer, storyteller and photographer. When not perusing his dreams and passions, he spends time with his son and truly special people. He also enjoys hiking and deep conversations about strange things.