Loosening the Bible Belt

From bubble to bubble.

In early March I left the Boulder bubble of people who mostly think like me (spiritual, but not religious, into greens and free-range eggs, yoga, the mind-body connection) and I drove a total of 1900 miles to and from another bubble of fringy thinking, Austin, TX.

In a city whose slogan is “keep Austin weird,” I pretty much felt right at home in the oasis of wackiness, just as I had felt immediately comfortable in Boulder amongst the yogis and green juicers.  What is more intriguing, however, is what’s going on in the 950 miles between these two bastions of liberalism.

I often forget that the vast majority of people in our country not only don’t think the way I do, they think completely opposite. I was raised in a household that believed in everything: God, Goddess, tree divas, mermaids, fairies, Santa, the Easter Bunny, Jesus, Allah, OM-ing, Mother Earth, and the Divine Mother were all fair game. The response of a friend of mine in college when I asked her what she believes in religion/spirituality-wise sums up my philosophy perfectly: “There’s so much magic. Why choose?!”

The world is flat.

About an hour south of Denver on my drive I began to get this distinct feeling that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Billboards shouting about the evils of abortion (sometimes including disturbingly graphic pictures) and the virtues of our savior, Jesus Christ, began interrupting the surprisingly flat land. (It turns out that just ever-so-slightly east of the Rockies, America is FLAT!)

Yep, I was making my way through The Bible Belt. Here’s what I saw: lots of grass and farmland, cows galore, tumbleweed, a great deal of beauty, and a whole boatload of religion. Call me naïve, but having stuck to the coasts most of my life and immersed myself in communities of either an agnostic or spiritual, rather than a religious, nature, I just never really got it about how much religion is a driving cultural force in large portions of our country.

A combination of serendipity and Facebook found me in Amarillo, TX having a delightful down-home meal with my friend Judith. That morning on the way from Austin to Amarillo I passed a covered wagon on the side of the highway being pulled by two Clydesdale horses. The side of the wagon read: “Jesus saves. Just ask him.” I immediately thought, “Saves us from what?”

Over dinner, Judith looks at me and says: “So, Kate, tell me about your spiritual life.” It was phrased so directly and simply that I was caught off-guard and I didn’t know what to say.

The first thing that popped into my head was, “What spiritual life?” Despite having started daily practices such as meditation, Morning Pages, Pranayama, yoga, dancing, and a gratitude journal, I’ve never really stuck with something that I do every day. I don’t pray in any sort of recognizable fashion and on Sunday mornings I’m usually at brunch with friends or sleeping in.

The whole enchilada.

But after a beat, I realized my whole life is my spiritual life. Just as there is little divide between work and play for me, every waking and non-waking moment is infused with the Divine. Smiling at babies is a spiritual practice. Flirting at a bar is a spiritual practice. Taking a deep breath is a spiritual practice. I commune with the Divine through chocolate, romantic comedies, sex, asparagus, a good novel, and a good cry.

As I wrote this post this morning at a Starbucks in a strip mall in Arvada, CO, a guy came up to me and asked what The Freedom Tour was. He saw the logo on my car and wanted to know more. I explained what I was up to: touring the country (and possibly the world) on an indefinite road trip to explore, teach, and inspire people to create financial, emotional, and spiritual freedom.

This guy teaches Christian teens how to share their faith in a non-creepy way. Pretty cool, I thought. He told me about a documentary he filmed with young people from different faiths coming together to have an open dialogue about their belief systems.

I noted that when you really drill down to the core of the world’s major religions, the heartbeat (and I choose this word purposefully) is essentially the same: it’s all about love. He completely disagreed and explained how the Christian view is all about faith in Jesus, and that faith in this one being is what it’s all about.

Bind me up.

He told me all about how each religion is actually completely different AND he informed me that the root of the word “religion” means “to bind.” Woah. As he spoke he took one of his hands and clasped it tightly around the other wrist to demonstrate just how strong of a bind he meant. I was more than a little surprised that this man teaching youth how to have dialogue between people of different belief systems fundamentally believes that there is only one way of looking at the world. And that it’s about being bound.

My skin started to crawl and I was grateful when he exited the Starbucks. Given my newfound knowledge of the etymology of the word “religion,” I understand The Bible Belt in a whole new way. To bind. It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Let me be clear and say that I have no judgment about anyone’s religious beliefs. To each his own. What I believe in is freedom and I’m grateful for the freedom I was given growing up to choose my own beliefs. Unbound and unfettered, I’ve always known that I’m a spiritual being having a human experience, and thus, life has been a far richer and more magical experience than if I didn’t believe in anything beyond what I can see, touch, feel, or understand.

My spiritual roots and believe-in-everything-ness have led me to be on the faculty of Reveal, an annual conference for the next generation of female spiritual leaders. It’s happening on May 7th at Urban Zen in NYC. It will be a gathering place for women of all ages to reveal their innermost soul callings, whatever those may be. In the spirit of true freedom we’ll come together to share the inklings, whispers, cries, screams, songs, and invitations that we’ve heard from within.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could loosen the Bible Belt a bit, unbind ourselves, and clear out the static enough to hear the truth once in a while? Simply believing in the Goddess and knowing that a spark of her lives within me as I drove route 285 in eastern Colorado and northern Texas felt like a loosening. I don’t feel the need to start a religious debate. I didn’t feel the need to get into an argument with the man at Starbucks or go around Archer, TX talking up the Divine Feminine. My spiritual life is my life, and my living it that way is a revolutionary act in and of itself.

Reveal with me.

Please join me and the other unbound, loose, spiritual souls for our spiritual throw down at Reveal, May 7th at Urban Zen in NYC. Register here.

***Editorial comment post-publication: I wanted to make it really clear here that I have NO judgment about people’s personal choice and religious beliefs. I was actually baptized Episcopalian! What I’m talking about here is freedom. The freedom for us all to tap into what’s right for us and what stirs our soul in the most beautiful way possible. I’ve had some comments over at crazysexylife.com that made me realize perhaps I hadn’t made my tolerance clear. Thanks!***


  • Jill

    Wow! I had no idea these were your beliefs. Do you ever wonder what happens after death? With all due respect….I would just like to say that I am so thankful I was raised in a Christian home. My prayer for you is that you will meet a nonjudgemental Christian. Someone unlike the man in Starbucks. I pray that they can explain the peace and hope that comes with being a Christain. Be safe in your travels.:)

  • Wildcherry

    Considering the fact that you have only received ONE comment so far, I am going to chime in with a supportive one as to how you have conquered The Bible Belt single-womanedly!
    The very fact that your quiet stance riled up both a ‘man of opinion’ in Starbucks and then a woman who WOW’d you with her prayer of due respect, tells its own poignant Tale of Whoa!
    Thank you for taking this whole issue into your lovely hands and coming out with a refreshingly honest reaction to a lifestyle choice which many live in and thus never take the time to journey out of.
    Many in the Bible Belt stay ignorant of what is usual for multitudes around the globe, through sheer terror that indeed there may be alternative realities which are just as viable as theirs and POSSIBLY a little more inclusive of differences.
    I applaud you for your stance and agree whole-heartedly with the way you reacted concerning your introduction to a real world for some but surreal lifestyle for others.

  • Jemstar

    I think we were separated at birth! You bring me so much joy and I am loving following your travels.

    All love and light to you.

  • I loved reading your blog. As someone who has similar spiritual beliefs, I can attest that it is difficult living in a very relgious bound area. The West Michigan area is a great place, but I feel very alone at times in my beliefs. I am only beginning at almost 50 to just put it out there what I believe. Almost everyone of my connections on facebook is very religious and this makes me feel uncomfortable. If they only knew that I listen to Hay House Radio, that I believe in reincarnation, that I don’t think that people who don’t believe in Jesus are doomed to hell and that he was only trying to guide us on our journey here on earth. And at lot of other things that I think woul shock them. I feel I should have the right to my own beliefs and not feel as if I will be cast out of my community for having them. I applaud you for your stance! Thank you for people like you.

  • Dele Haynes

    Wow,it sounds as if you had quite an adventure in the Bible Belt. Since I live in the Bible Belt, I know what you were up against. Many are generous loving people, but when it comes to religion they can be very short sighted.

    I am disappointed in Commenter Jill’s response. Where did she get the idea that you did not believe in an afterlife? That is a big part of the problem, “Christians” believe that have the only tract to “heaven”. If you aren’t a Christian, you are not going to heaven!

    Your coffee shop guy’s definition of religious “binding” as binding you together, sounded more like binding you so you can not escape. Maybe that is the hidden meaning to his example.

    • Kimber Mastatoulo

      @Dele Haynes, Indeed it is. Alice living in Wonderland leads to Alice in Chains. It kept Linda Blair tied to the bed and made her so mad, she spun her head around and threw up on “Anti-Pater.” Trust me, I know. Being free for the first time in 44 years is fabulous. Getting out of the “Hypocritical Bible Belt” is a must.

  • Denise

    I loved reading this, Kate. You are a wonderful writer and it was nice to find someone who has a belief structure so similar to my own. I am spiritual but feel that organized religion often leads to the negative side effects of judgement and hostility. If those in the Bible Belt could accept the fact that by giving a spiritual entity a human label they are creating a cause for division, I truly believe we could all live in peace with a common thread (or heartbeat)…love.

    As for the person above who asked if you ever wonder what happens after death, I had to laugh. The fact is we will never know what happens after death. We are challenged in this life to do unto others as we would have done to us. This simple principle will allow us all to coexist happily, and move into whatever may follow death with a clear conscience, ready to face any judgement on the other side.

    Stay happy and keep spreading the joy!

    • Kimber Mastatoulo

      @Denise, Etymology and Semantics prove that “Judgement (Character),” “Rapture (Joy)” and “Honor(to pay tribute to, NOT obey)” are formal metaphores for everday life issues, irrelevant after death of the body. The actual definitions “reveal” it is out of context. Where “Soul” means “Self,” they spend their lives only being concerned about the condition of their own “self’s” and no others. Not exactly “Christian” doctrine. Sad, one spending their entire lives living to die.

  • Thanks Kate for enlightening me on the word Religion. I had no idea it meant “to bind”. Now I know why I had to step away from that life and live my own spiritual life. I felt a hand around my throat being in a Religion and now I know why, I was bound.

    Keep up your awesome work here on Planet Earth and spreading your light. I love your posts and that of your Mother.

  • Bravo Sister!
    It sounds like your travels took you right through the plains of CO where I grew up . . . where gruesomely graphic anti-abortion billboards decorate the pastures not far from the lit-up “Jesus Saves” sign.

    The force feeding of “religion” I was required to swallow as a kid put me on a life long quest for my own truth. (Again, my truth.) It cost me my family . . . quite literally. They felt justified in disowning me – not for the person I am I don’t believe, but because I refused to join the herd . . . i chose to think for myself.

    I recently posted a quote on FB about world peace and my prayer to be a witness to it in my lifetime. That riled up an old classmate from the village where I lived, who is now a preacher. After several posts of him telling me the ONLY way to be saved and know peace was through Jesus and anything else was evil, I kindly asked him to refrain from making others feel wrong about their choices or beliefs of spirituality on my page and that I personally believed there were many paths to God. Most importantly was the fact that my FB page was one where I wanted people to feel welcomed, inspired and connected, not damned for their race, beliefs or culture and that I believed love was the basis for touching the Divine, no matter where you came from or who you did or didn’t pray to. When I told him I respected his opinions but I thought they were better suited for his own FB page, he became irate and in the end, unfriended me, which I found terribly ironic.

    Now I can see that what my blood family gave me was a tremendous gift. Being ostracized for my refusal to judge others based on their spiritual beliefs or practices has led me to open my heart and mind in a way that I have had the privilege of experiencing and being welcomed by people of other nations, lifestyles, and cultures. (I am a humanitarian, running my own nonprofit, where I create safe havens for women and children of violence in developing countries. I am returning to Africa this summer to build my second safe house.)

    Without the gift of being “thrown out” from my family of origin, (which at times I did not think I could bear the pain), I’m not sure I would’ve gone in search of and discovered this bigger family. It’s been an amazing journey, full of lessons, insights, and for me personally, a stronger connection to my own spirituality. I have touched the Divine and I found it by questioning, by going within, by taking what resonated for me and leaving what didn’t. I am so damn grateful that I can think for myself and yes, that is freedom, sweet freedom!

    Thank you for writing about this. I’m with you in spirit!
    Best . . .

  • Rebecca

    Hi Kate, I live in South Eastern Louisiana. I was raised Catholic, but had no problem separating from that faith at an early age. I didn’t like the second class status of women and was frankly bored with the services. I have no formal belief system today, but I do believe there are universal laws and I have had experiences that strongly suggest to me that I have lived before.

    This past Easter I went to a Local Methodist church because a friend who has a beautiful tenor voice was singing a solo. I “endured” the sermon which was all about “proving” that Jesus had risen from the dead. It had been years since I was in a church and I was struck by how important that “miracle” was to everyone’s faith.

    TO me “miracles” don’t prove anyting. Any civilization slightly more advanced that ours can create what appears to be a miracle. But regardless, I don’t require a God who does tricks. I need a God who makes sense and I would imagine you also embrace a God of reason. I was also struck by some of the songs that were sung that spoke of punishment and redemption. I can be a very good person and never say the words God or Jesus.

    It was all so foriegn to me. I don’t live under the threat of punishment and don’t seek to be “saved”. I don’t have that kind of fear and don’t believe in Hell or Heaven for that matter. Unfortunately some, if not many of the people in this region have literal beliefs and that is a bit scary.

    There are many emotions best managed by self-inventory and inner work that get projected outward here. Not the least of these is the idea that God is behind your “righteous” actions…and not ego, anger or control and power needs. Non-judgement is good, but there are a whole constellation of unmet needs and unexpressed emotions that get stirred into some of what passes for “religious belief” in parts of the deep South.

    Being non-judgemental is not always enough to keep you clear of some of the bigotry that pervades our small towns. Southern Lousisiana is mostly Catholic and Catholics, like your Episcopal roots are fairly liberal, but in some of the small towns in Mississippi and Alabama even the Methodists and the Baptists have conflicting beliefs that can leads to arguments. It gets crazy. Do enjoy your trip but keep in mind that many people in rural parts of this region may not have any interest in being reasonable or learning. As the old country song goes “know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to RUN! Good luck on your trip!

  • beverly Kocenko

    Loosening the blinds that will bold me. Very refreshing search and
    understanding. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kate,
    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and enjoyed reading this post! Earlier this week I had the same type of conversation with someone and was asked the same thing, and I have to say my skin was crawling too. She couldn’t even grasp what I was saying when I said I wasn’t religious, but spiritual. Thanks for the refreshing post!

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! I was SO delighted to run across your blog this morning, Kate. Thank you so much for posting this! You have expressed exactly what I have often felt, but generally kept my mouth shut out of fear – of offending, of retaliation? Who knows? It was buried deep for a long time!

    I grew up in the 1960s in a very liberal and tolerant home with religious roots that were both Christian and Jewish. Lots of discussions about Edgar Cayce, reincarnation, UFOs, the Pope, Jesus, Krishna, Allah, Buddha, faith healing…and a deep respect for all religious traditions. But I also learned it was important “not to rock the boat.” Not to call attention to myself. Essentially I needed to keep my innermost beliefs to myself because the outside world could not be trusted to understand, let alone accept me for myself. It has taken almost 60 years, but I am now finally finding my own voice.

    I think we are, as one saying goes, “spiritual beings having a human experience.” For me, that means I have chosen to be the (human) eyes, ears, mouth and hands through which Divine Consciousness in ALL its many forms flows. What better way to live than in the conscious awareness of our individual divine birthright to help bring joy and laughter, truth and beauty, healing and pure, unconditional love into physical manifestation?

    I feel so sad as I look at this great country of ours and feel the deep, deep, DEEP fear that binds (there’s that word again!) SO many people, locking families, friends, neighbors, whole communities into a state of separation and separateness, not realizing that they are literally sitting in the midst of paradise if they will only open their hearts to the true meaning of the most important teaching the Master Jesus brought to the West – “love thy neighbor (and thy enemy!) as thyself.” And as Denise (above) pointed out, “…do unto others…”

    How many thousands and thousands of years has this message been repeated, by every major spiritual teaching, both East and West that has manifested on this planet? It is not a “new” teaching, and it is not an easy teaching, but it really cannot get much simpler, can it?!!

    I also happen to believe we are in the midst of a major transition period here on Earth – a time of consciousness expansion and global self realization. Old systems and paradigms are falling away, being replaced by new ones. It is an uncomfortable process, causing many people to feel disconnected, dislocated and even devastated when life as they know it disappears, sometimes instantaneously.

    Whether we personally experience the devastation of an earthquake or tornado or flood, or the loss of a job or a loved one, or stand as witnesses to such events, I think we help (or hinder) this process of transformation depending on where we choose to place our focus and attention.

    I am not perfect by any means and so I am constantly reminding myself that no matter what my current circumstances are, the more I visualize the kind of reality I want to be living – for me it is a life that is first and foremost connected to Spirit, filled with a sense of peace and purpose and love for all living things – the more quickly I sense those qualities flowing through me, and out, embracing everyone with whom I interact. This is the job I came here to do, and when I am done, well, Joy! I will look forward to my next assignment!

    Kate, I honestly think that as you continue on your journey , you are carrying your own unique awareness of what is right and True. Whether you choose to engage in actual conversations with people along your route, or not, you are anchoring your own extraordinary perception of Truth and Joy. What a beautiful gift you are sharing with us all!

    So to you Kate, and all of you Divine Souls who are reading this blog, may you all be filled with Joy, Love, Compassion, and Light! And know that you are safe, you are protected, and you are guided in all things and in all circumstances.

  • wow great post. love this tour, your insight and your fun, funny, thought provoking voice. so nice to meet you at REVEAL! i really loved your break out-so much resonated so thank you. will see u in toronto.

  • Jane

    Being a Christian who lives on the East Coast, I have experiences similar to yours only in reverse. Zealots and kooks exist in all faiths and spiritual movements, “non-movements”. When considering a spiritual practice or faith, I believe it is important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater due to folks who are so entrenched that they cannot consider another faith. I hope while traveling through the bible belt that you stayed open enough to encounter the many wonderful (Christian and non-Christian) folks who would give you the shirt off their backs. Namaste.

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