This I Believe

Barbara - Baltimore, Maryland
Entered on November 20, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

Warning: Belief-O-Matic™ assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.

This is the disclaimer that prefaces an online test I have taken a half dozen times. Twenty questions and you won’t have to wonder what you believe. It’ll tell you. You’re 100% Buddhist or 80% Hindu or 32% scientologist.

Now what you have to understand about me, is that I was raised in a town that knows what it believes. Springfield, MO is the headquarters of the Assemblies of God, the fastest growing evangelical denomination in the world. Both my parents worked at Assemblies of God headquarters. I was saved at 5, baptized at 7, spoke in tongues at 10. I didn’t need belief-o-matic. I had bible quiz.

So now imagine what religion would be the most antithetical to the one of my youth. I, it turns out, at least according the belief-o-matic, am 100% neo-pagan.

What the hell? No, no hell, or trinity, or sinner’s prayer. I didn’t know what neo-pagan was, but when I told my husband (A former Jesuit, practicing catholic, and liberal quaker according to the belief o matic) he told me to ask his best friend’s wife, Tracy, who happened to study paganism in ireland, it’s land of origin.

So, on a cold crisp Colorado night Tracy and I sat bundled in car with a flat tire for two hours while our husbands walked a frozen dirt road to the nearest gas station and tracy, the neo-pagan, explained to me what I believed. And amidst the chatter of talk and teeth this is what I took away.

I, and neo-pagans apparently, amidst other things, believe in the middle. In borders. Places of intersection. Regions that are neither one nor the other but both . So cliffs, part earth part air part water, are holy. Pregnancy, solstice, puberty, courtship, these points of transition are not inconsequential points on the journey, but are moments of destination.

How abstract. I thought. Wait…I’m abstract. I began looking back at all the moments in my life I sat perched on seemingly contradictory borders. Born in the Midwest, not quite north or south, in a swing state, sometimes red sometimes blue, in a church, sometimes proselytizing, sometimes skinny dipping. Then in college quoted the Buddha and lead bible study. Prayed at a Baptist church on Sunday mornings, and was the designated driver for my inebriated rugby team in the afternoon. I declared a religion major and even chose to focus in Christianity, but I always joked that I studied the faith on the fringes. As Anne Lamont said, people who were “Christian-ish”. The Feminists, the Jesuits, the Mystics. People like Simone Weil. Raised an Agnostic, Intellectual, Jew-ish, she befriended priests, praised Jesus, and refused baptism even on her deathbed. She said that to convert to Christianity would be a betrayal of all of the non-Christians that lead her to the doorway of the church. So she sat on the threshold, close enough to smell the incense, hear the hymns, see the stained glass refracted on the floor, but amidst the beggars and lepers and pagans.

I’m don’t believe in allowing some computer program, however clever, to define me, but I do believe in the middle, in contradiction and ambiguity. I believe that some of us must remain undeclared, in order to serve as liaisons, translators, and moderates. I believe in standing in the isle, on the threshold, in the margins in the hopes that eventually people looking at me might look past me and contemplate on the other side their perceived opposites, enemies, and infidels.