Our lives have been mostly consumed with wedding planning for the past couple months. We had a beautiful wedding, with all of our most favorite people there to celebrate with us. We spent a glorious week in Jamaica for the perfect honeymoon, then came crashing back into the reality of our everyday life. We returned with sun-kissed skin, the happiest of memories, and new vigor for making our dream life a reality in the years to come, together.
I am nearly finished with my next book, You Are Important. I’m hoping to publish later this year, and so excited to see what I can do with it! Writing the book is huge, but my real mission is much bigger than the book. I truly hope to impact people’s lives- to help people see their potential, find their purpose, and foster unconditional self-love and acceptance. So, I decided to start a Facebook page where I can start some groups and gather people together so we can get some conversations going.
Of course, when you start inviting a bunch of strangers to an online forum, anything can happen. Typically, it’s wise to establish some ground rules, so I wrote up a little post and pinned it to the top of the page for all to read. In it, I asked participants to approach unfamiliar ideas with curiosity rather than judgement. I asked that people educate each other gently and with kindness, because we want everyone to feel comfortable. In our group, we are to speak openly, share honestly and agree that everyone is entitled to their values, opinions, and ideas. We don’t have to agree, and we don’t have to conform, but we do have to be kind and respectful toward one another.
Naturally, after you’ve put a statement like that out into the world, there will be a test. My test came this morning at the gym. I woke up early to do my favorite classes. I’ve been gone for a couple weeks with all of the wedding craziness, and didn’t know there would be substitute teachers in both Barre and Yoga.
I walked into Barre and got my equipment set up as the substitute introduced herself to the class. She seemed nice- friendly and enthusiastic. Then, she turned on the music to get started and I cringed. Hard. My ears were asulted with christian worship music, and my little atheist ass was not happy about it.
Number one, this is a secular gym. It’s actually a recreation center that is owned and operated by our local government. So, the separation of church and state thing should definitely be a thing there. Number two, it was early and I was un-caffeinated, which makes every annoyance extra annoying. Number three, I’m a Midwest girl, and this is a Southern thing. I’ve been in the South for almost twenty years, and I still can’t get used to the bible belt stuff. People in the South are used to christianity being ingrained into the culture- it doesn’t seem to bother them at all. But, for someone like me, who is neither Southern nor christian, it just feels disrespectful. People have no problem forcing me to sit through their prayers, worship music, and preaching- they don’t even ask if I’m comfortable with it. And, if I speak up and tell them that I’m an atheist, they clutch their pearls and promise to pray for me, because in their minds there is only one God, one religion, and one way to get to heaven. Their way.
So, it’s early, I haven’t had my coffee, I dragged myself into the gym for an 8am class on a Saturday morning, because I want to recommit to my fitness goals now that we’re back to real life. I’ve just made this public statement about allowing others to be who they are and respecting their beliefs even if we disagree. And now I’m stuck on a yoga mat fighting with myself. In the past, I have walked right out of classes like that. At my old gym, I knew which teachers played Jesus music in their classes, and I made sure not to go to them. I didn’t get a choice today. I didn’t even know we had a sub, and certainly didn’t expect her to come in with her worship playlist on full blast.
I’m in all black, tattoos out, looking like a pagan witch, ready to crawl out of my skin listening to this music. But, if I react poorly, if I allow my temper to get away from me, if I berate this poor lady who just showed up to fill in for someone so they didn’t have to cancel class today, then I am the asshole. I can’t go out like that. If I make her feel uncomfortable for being herself, I am a hypocrite. I hate hypocrites, and I hate assholes. I don’t want to be either. But, mostly, I want to be in integrity with myself.
I want my thoughts, words, and actions to always be in alignment, as this is my personal definition of authenticity. So, I have no choice but to suck it up, let the music play in the background, and just do my workout.
But, Renee! If you’re not christian, and christian music offends you, are you being fake if you just sit there and don’t say anything? Is that really being authentic?
In my mind, staying in class and choosing to ignore the music was the most authentic choice. One of the things I hate most about religion is the arrogance it breeds. Everyone is so sure their religion is the best one, right one, true one, only one… This is why religion creates so much division around the world. Think about how many people have died in holy wars, in the name of someone’s god. And, think about how judgmental people can be where religion and the implied moral code therein is concerned. If you don’t practice the same religion, or call your god the same thing someone else calls their god, they are likely to turn their back on you, to write you off completely, or try to convince you that you’re wrong and you have to learn what they know if you want to be saved or whatever. Walking out of class or demanding she change the music today would have been equally arrogant and dismissive. Even if I was totally justified to request secular music, calling her out in front of the class would have been a dick move, and that is why I chose to let it be.
Being in integrity with myself today meant being kind and accepting of someone who unknowingly made me feel uncomfortable. In the end, the way we make people feel makes a greater impression than anything we say or do. Even though her insensitive music choice made me cringe, I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or judged. About halfway through class she switched to disco music- which felt like a huge upgrade. I thanked her at the end of class, and went about putting away equipment and getting set up for yoga.
When the next substitute teacher walked through the door, I was nervous. I adulted for 30 minutes of worship music already. Could I take another hour of it? Or worse, what if she was one of those white people who only teaches “christian yoga”. That’s an actual thing in the South, because the ancient art and science of yoga is considered “witchcraft” in many churches. So, they totally rape the ancient traditions, remove all the language and teachings that don’t align with their flavor of religion, and replace it with English words and junk from the christian bible. It’s completely insufferable, and I definitely didn’t want to end up stuck in there for an hour of that.
I half considered packing up and going home. But, I made a commitment to myself to get my two hour workout in today, to atone for the champagne and cheese plates in Montego Bay. I decided to stay and take care of my health- even if the soundtrack was not to my liking. Thankfully, the yoga teacher played quiet, secular music and the class was perfect. I sweat my butt off and left feeling fantastic.
Being in integrity with myself today meant honoring the commitment I made to my physical health. I know that staying active is important, and that I always feel better after I exercise. I could have used the early start time on a Saturday morning, the absence of my gym buddy, the christian music, the substitute teachers, or any number of other excuses to get out of my commitment. The only one I would have hurt by doing so is me. I could have ripped that teacher a new one for playing her worship music in my Barre class, but it would have made us both feel bad, and wouldn’t have changed either of our minds about the validity of religion.
Sometimes, we have to get pissed off and roar. Sometimes, we need to shout from the rooftops about this injustice and that tragedy. Sometimes, we have to say the hard things to people to help them do better, even if it hurts their feelings. But sometimes, it’s better to protest silently- to be offended without reacting- to choose our battles wisely, because being kind and open is the only way to start real conversations with people who don’t know what they don’t know.
Authenticity comes from being true to ourselves. Sometimes, that means standing up for what you believe in. Sometimes, it means behaving like the person you want to be. If you can do both of these things at the same time, that’s some next level shit.
Please, come join the discussion at You Are Important and help us navigate all kinds of topics. Let’s come together with purpose, to expand our minds, to learn and grow together, and change the world with love.