Grandma’s God

“As I grew up, I realized that there was more to religion than fear.”

Yesterday, my hubbie gave me a copy of a book I mentioned that I’d like to read: A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong. I like the quotation above. Fear has become the driving force of so much since 9/11, and giving in to fear and letting it rule our decisions is leading us down a path of destruction and despair.

As an undergrad, I majored in Religion (emphasis on theology and ethics), but my senior year, while taking a feminist theology class, I experienced a crisis of faith and was kicked out of my Intervarsity Christian Fellowship leadership position for my questions. After ten bleak years with no faith community, I found Unitarian Universalism and felt at home in a community where questions were not only allowed but encouraged, where respect for individual people’s pursuit of truth and where collective action for justice form the basis of a creedless religion (along with a few other principles).

Now, my grandma was a Missouri Synod Lutheran from birth to death. But she was never one to adhere to the letter of what she perceived to be unreasonablly strict laws (i.e., no drinking, dancing, or gambling). Her faith was simple and absolutely unquestioning. Grandma never once judged me for my choice to become a UU. In fact, her take was always that faith is an intensely personal thing that people have no business meddling in when it comes to others. Her faith was not something she ever really thought about — it was just a fact given to her by her parents, whom she deeply respected. When I was an evangelical, I found her attitude a little irritating. I didn’t understand how she could claim to be a Christian and yet not adhere to Christian doctrine, by which I meant recognizing that non-Christians would go to helll, etc. I wondered if her faith really “counted”… How amazingly arrogant of me! I hadn’t yet learned the lesson her life offered.

Grandma, throughout her 92 years on this good earth, had seen repeatedly that things are not always what they appear to be, that life is hard and it’s best to give people the benefit of the doubt, that we don’t always know as much as we think we do, that love ultimately is a greater force than fear. She lived her life that way. Not that she didn’t judge others sometimes. She had no patience for war-makers and violence. She was firmly against homosexuality, and she believed many racial stereotypes.

Still…when it came to the practice of her daily life, you couldn’t ask for a kinder friend if you were in need. It wasn’t merely a sense of Christian duty that spurred her to help, either. Having experienced so much suffering early in her life, she appreciated any good fortune that she could share with those who were struggling, like when Grandma gave away a few thousand dollars she won in the lottery to her niece, who needed the money badly. Grandma didn’t need it. That was that.

Grandma was completely confident that she knew Jesus was her lord and that she would be with him after she died. Clearly, this understanding helped her when her time came. She told me more than once that she was ready to die. I think, despite Grandma’s faith in a divine saviour, she believed that most people would go to heaven, too. In this way, she was more of a Universalist than a Lutheran. I’m quite sure she expected that one day we would be reunited when I die, that my agnostic husband will be joining us as well, etc. And frankly, that’s pretty close to my view of things, though my version is a bit more abstract — God is a verb not a noun, and so forth.

So I am very eager to begin learning about the history of God. Certainly it will be an interesting read. Maybe it will help me place Grandma’s and my own religion within a wider context. Since I am also reading a book on Liberation Theology (The Call of God: Women Doing Theology in Peru) in preparation for my trip to Peru (where this approach to religion was invented), A History of God should be a nice complement to my other reading.

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6 Responses

  1. “As I grew up, I realized that there was more to religion than fear.” _ What a great quote. Unfortunately our leaders have realized fear is the great motivator and fear is their ticket to remaining in power.

    Also, your Grandma sounds like she was a very smart, caring, woman.

  2. Thanks, struggling writer. Yes, grandma was very wise. I miss her.

  3. Hi Writing GB,

    You should probably drop by at my post on non-fiction autobiography. I look at family history there, though not strictly memoir.
    http://www.thecraftywriter.com/2007/10/26/non-fiction-writing-autobiography-and-writing-from-life/
    Similar principles though. You’ve got a real life ‘character’ and you still have to tell a story. I’ve made some recommendations for some useful books that might help you. Grandmas are amazing gifts to us. Mine died last year, a week before her 101st birthday. And what a life she had!

  4. I posted this on my site, but just in case you don’t see it, I’ll post it here too:

    Forgot to say, GB, that you might consider fictionalising some parts of her life that you’re not aware of. You could be very up front about it, and say something along the lines of: I always wanted to know what happened to Grandma during these years, but I never did. But I could always imagine, and this is what might have happened … As long as you are true to the character of your grandma as you know it, it might be quite a clever device. Make sure of course that the readers know this is your imagined bit rather than actual facts. Sue Woolfe in Leaning Towards Infinity did something like that. OK, it’s all fiction, but it’s written as a memoir of a granddaughter writing her mother’s and grandma’s stories and ‘filling in’ the bits she’s unsure of.

  5. I came upon your blog when you commented on my post about my Grandma in my discontinued WordPress.com blog and I inadvertently deleted it as spam before I realized it was in no way spam. Gotta love the browser back button so I could read the comment again even though it was deleted!

    All I can say is “Wow”. I can’t say I really knew my Grandma’s thoughts on racial stereotypes and such, but she certainly had the biggest heart of any person I knew. Our Grandmas sound so much alike. If I had known then what I know now I would have paid much closer attention to detail and possibly tried to write about it. As it is, I have a hard time remembering details about a lot of things in my life for no particular reason.

    I am definitely adding you to my must reads.

  6. HI, tbirdonawire! I tried to comment on your new site,too, but had tech troubles, so I’m glad you found me and that you enjoyed the reading. 🙂

    Memory is a hard thing, I know. I keep finding out things that I’ve forgotten and wondering how I can write when I have such a poor memory. Luckily I taped Grandma, but some of those tapes didn’t record well. So I guess I’m going to have to try to do the best I can.

    I find my memory works better if I get some sleep, too 🙂

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