The Goddess Files: On Religion
Check out Domina Vontana’s column, The Goddess Files, every Wednesday at 2 p.m.
Some women are born Goddesses. I am one of those women. The first-born grandchild on my mother’s side and the first female grandchild on my father’s side, I was showered with gifts and affection from the moment I arrived on this planet. My kindergarten report card had all superior marks and one hand written comment from my teacher Ms. Rusk. It said: Shamaine needs to learn she cannot always come first.
At the tender age of five I took the hand of my father and was led into a dark sanctuary filled with grown men. The lecturer was a gentle, elderly man who showed us a series of astonishing slides using the ancient technology of a classroom projector. The images were of ghosts and demons – entities that pulled the ectoplasm right out of the human host next to them and shrouded themselves in this substance so they could manifest a physical, documented form. Yes, Ghostbusters the film was all the rage at that time.
Shortly after that I was instructed in the power of prayer. I was told I could slay demons and bind evil spirits with just the name of Jesus. I was taught to love everyone unconditionally the same way G-d loved me. At the age of seven I sat on my father’s knee in his upstairs study at the church and drew a diagram. Heaven was the top of the page. Hell was at the bottom. Jesus and the cross were in the middle.
“Where do you want to go after you die, daughter?” My father asked. I pointed to the word heaven and glanced into his face for reassurance.
“Yes,” he confirmed, nodding his head at me and smiling. “And what do you have to do if you want to get to heaven?”
I was a top student who excelled at facts and figures. I snatched the black marker from his hand and pointed at the cross grinning. “I have to accept Jesus as my savior.” I drew a circle and exclamation points next to the cross and then took the red marker from the desk and drew a giant “X” over the word “hell” at the bottom of the page.
Several days later, on a Sunday evening, my father donned rubber waders with suspenders and led me down the steps of the baptismal tank. I was wearing a white gown, he said a short prayer, addressed the crowd that was watching and then as he held my hand against my face so I couldn’t breath and wouldn’t swallow the water, he pulled me under.
As a teenager I attended fundamentalist Pentecostal congregations. I was a talented musician who sang solos for church services and led the local March for Jesus worship rally when I was 14. I abstained from drugs, made perfect grades and joined band and choir. I also wore knee-high boots to school the first day of my senior year and told a freshmen boy seated on the floor to kiss them for me. And he did.
Like most, later I wandered away from regular services. I moved to DC for work and college and took a position as a nanny for a Jewish family. I was 19. The house kept Kosher and so I did, too. I celebrated the high holidays with them. The kippah kept sliding off my head. I drove the children to Hebrew school every week and began to absorb the notions around me. These people didn’t go to a temple to get saved, because they didn’t believe there was anything inherently fractured in their spirit. They went to services and classes to stay informed and in touch with their heritage. That’s when things started to change for me.
After I graduated from the University of Maryland I took an apartment in Dupont. Most Sunday mornings I woke up with a different woman in my bed. The moment the church bells around the corner began to peel, I usually busied myself with carnal distractions. Having sex with someone of the same gender as the iconic sound of steeple bells fell all around me used to get this preacher’s kid off like a rocket. I was horny, feeling mean because of all the shame I was experiencing, and I just wanted to fucking get laid.
After the shine of my new gay lifestyle wore off, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. So one Sunday morning when I woke alone in my bed, I took myself around the corner and sat down in a church pew for the first time in a decade. For the next five years that’s where I sat, while I watched the world of modern religion unfold around me. Foundry United Methodist at 16th and P is truly one of the most consequential, passionate, committed congregations, at the moment. They recently approved full gay marriage forcing the issue into the spotlight on the national and international level.
I became a member, I tithed, I put on my Easter dress and went to holiday brunches with the other Christians. I attended meetings about social justice issues, such as fair labor wages for immigrants, and benefited from free instructional seminars presented by leading business and church life consultants. During my initial process, I attended lunch with my favorite pastor. I wanted to serve in truth so I hesitantly said, “I’m a member of the queer and kinky communities.” She said, “It’s not about what community you are a member of, it’s about how you embrace it and move through it.” Once I started this blog, I wanted to share my joy with her and so I did. And that meant telling her the whole truth. And I did. She hugged me and congratulated me on my new development.
Eventually, however, I kept coming back to the one item that even made it possible for me to get back in that church pew in the first place. When I decided to go back to church full time there was only one way I could see to do it. I told myself to worship like a Jew. I didn’t start back in Christianity to get saved, not even in a gay way. I went to connect with my family history as a preacher’s child. After a while, that can leave a little lacking in the faith, especially if you don’t believe you need Jesus to be saved, or if you don’t believe you need to be saved at all. Born a Goddess, I’ve always known God was within me; I’ve never been alone or forsaken by his presence and never will be. I didn’t do anything to gain his presence and I can’t do anything to lose it. It is a gift, not a sacrifice, and no one, not even myself, can take that from me.
Then I heard it. The woman said: it’s not about whom you’re attracted to, it’s about who is attracted to you. It was a time in my life I was wondering about my full direction in life. What path would I choose? There is only so much time in one life span, only so many sunsets and sunrises. I took a look around at my life. Everyone was Jewish — From my best friends to my favorite clients to my longest serving submissive, each and every one a Jew. I’d finally found my tribe. Recently I made my decision to convert publicly, which in my eyes makes it official. I’m in touch with a sponsoring Rabbi and trying to figure out where and how I want to study for my conversion.
My motivation for conversion is simple: I want to serve and worship SHAME FREE. I have come to the conclusion over the past five years that I will never be able to do that in a Christian congregation, even one as amazing as Foundry. This is not their shortcoming; it is my own. But nonetheless, I deserve a shame free spiritual existence and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to finally experience a type of religion that is not based on sin and redemption. Instead, I plan to invigorate my lagging spiritual life with a type of study that is focused on ethics, not individual shortcomings. From what I can tell at this point there is no hell in the Jewish faith, at least not a prominent one. So the little girl who wanted to please her father and follow her Savior to heaven is going to have to find a different way of being, because there is no hell. All we have is today, and one another.
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