Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The first part of this blog is here:  Swimming in the Uncertain Ocean (Part 1)

He enjoyed his solitude.  An existence of peace that he had only experienced as fleeting moments while driving in his car.

Or in the occasional evenings when he pretended to be working on a late-night project.  A fiction he’d told his wife so that he could take advantage of an angst-free and clean hotel room.  An oasis of sanity in a desert of whirling incessant drama.

His journey to self-awareness was a gradual thing.  It began with the helpful doctor-therapist he had been seeing, as she merely reflected his journey back at him.

His life took on a patina of gratefulness, as his mental chaos slowly subsided.

He grew to appreciate his now mostly-permanent peaceful home.  It began to be a place of joy, where he could still his racing heart.

For many years, he grew to enjoy his bachelor existence.  To be sure,  he liked being with people too.  But the prospect of that solitary nest always beckoned him at the end of the day, as a target – one that promised a whisper of studied silence, settledness wrapped in a certainty of cushioned peace.

He still experienced moments of panic.  Often, when he stayed out late he became aware of an unreasoning anxiety.  He hadn’t called anyone to let them know he would be late.

Then he realized: there was no one to call; no one to whom he need be accountable.  He was on his own.  His time was his own.  He found himself laughing out loud at the absurdity of his thoughts.

It would be a number of years before he truly grokked what his freedom entailed.

His life took on an examination of the variables that had put him in a position where he had almost committed suicide.

Religion played one of the largest factors.  Rules and dogmas to which he’d adhered; demands which had enslaved him to a life of torturous upset.  He couldn’t blame the preachers or his friends and companions of the religious fog.  He had walked into the scene, willingly, with his eyes wide open, as he knew many people do.

His ultimate rejection of religion was therefore singular.  He decided that he didn’t want to make it a grand thing. He wasn’t interested in loud proclamations of the futility of following man-made religious laws.  He only knew that he had to make peace with the fact he was walking away from it.

Though not from God.  His belief in the divine was too real.  But it was also much less defined than he had at first thought.

His solitude became routine.  Routine became boredom.  Boredom provoked dissatisfaction.

Dissatisfaction provoked realization.

Having divested himself of the limits of marriage, and of the laws of religion, he realized that he was bereft of a ton of limits.

Were there any, beyond the limits of the laws?

Not much, he found.

There were the limits of his character, and of his morals, of course.  Those he held as precious necessities.

Beyond those though, there wasn’t much in the way of limits.

He was subject to the whims of others.  His job was his, only as long as his employer required him.

His house and home was subject to the limits of his employment.

His health was subject to his behaviours (which he could change), to his genes as exhibited by his parents and ancestors (over which he had no control), and to the vagaries of fate (he could be hit by a bus at any time).

Ultimately, he realized, there were no guarantees and for all practical purposes, no limits on him.

This understanding was both negative, and positive.   The negative was obvious.

The positive, though.  That was new.

Put simply, there was nothing he could not do.  If he had a mind to do something, and the determination to do so, there really was nothing to stop him.

One day, not so long ago, he realized this.  Not just understood it conceptually.  He knew this.

He could do anything.

The only thing stopping him was…..himself.

He knew what that meant.

Routine, boredom and habits were no longer his friends, crutches on which he could depend.

That enlightenment blew him away.

Suddenly, he could  see the changing horizon, a distant place of shifting colours, full of the promise of possibility, absent of definition and finality.

He was undone.

In case you missed it, it seems that a large number of folk in France dislike the whole subject of gays and homosexuality.  They would prefer their children not be taught about the differences in people.

Isn’t it amazing how fast news goes around the world?

connected

We’ve come such a long way in just a few short years.  Seems that way anyway. 

After the first plane hit one of the twin towers back in 2001, most of the world tuned in to watch the second one hit, in real time.  Reactions were mixed: most folk were horrified.  Some actually shot their guns off into the air, rejoicing.

No wonder newspapers are having a hard time of it, and struggling to stay afloat.  In an instant-gratification, instant-access world, the fate of the traditional news rag is to stand as an anachronistic beacon; a signpost to another, calmer era.

Who knew that when the internet became available, the thoughts and trends of faraway countries would transmit to those of us in the U.S. and Canada, in the blink of an eye?  Who knew that libraries too would become dusty relics, at a time when Google provided access to all of the information you could possibly need or want?  About anything!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  All of this has been obvious for a while.  I’m just struck by the effects of the increased access to knowledge, to news, and now to culture.

Living in Toronto, I find I’m used to the presence of multiple cultures involving nationalities and sexualities.  Every summer we have food weekends, which celebrate Greece or Italy (and a host of others, I’m sure). 

Like many large cities, we also have Gay Pride week, which also involves at least two parades.

I’m used to a culture of tolerance here.  So it seems surprising when I read about what’s going on in France, and how gay marriage has been enshrined in law, despite the outrage of many of its citizens.

Not so surprising, given Russia’s autocratic supposedly he-man leader (the great, the wonderful, the amazing, the virile and often shirtless Vlad – the Vladimir – Putin) is the anti-gay culture enshrined in that society.  A culture which promotes a passive acknowledgement and appreciation of anti-gay violence, while hypocritically giving lip service to a decidedly tepid tolerance of gays.

Despite Toronto’s enshrined tolerance, there are a few conservative newspapers which (unwittingly? unintentionally?) provide a forum in that same city for those who find gays disgusting.

“I don’t want to hear about what they do with each other’s penises”.  Trust me – no one does.  Just as no one wants to know about how your grandfather services your grandmother.  But then again – that’s a red herring, isn’t it?  Of all of the gay people I know, not one of them has ever expressed any interest in vocalizing any details about their nightly romantic escapades.  (Not that I’ve asked, mind you). But then, I don’t ask my hetero friends about how much hot wax their girlfriends poured on their naughty bits either.

The intolerant in our society are barking about what gays do with each other, but this isn’t information based upon what gay folk are actually saying to straights.  It seems to be mostly based upon what they imagine gays are doing to each other beneath the sheets.

This aversion to the gay culture stems from religious intolerance.  Religion has always had a problem with sexuality in general though. Ask a preacher about masturbation and watch the sparks fly. 

When I was entering adolescence, I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked my Baptist preacher about it.  You never saw a face turn so quickly turn red.  After mumbling a few words about “the sin of Onan”, he shut the door.  He just couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

Back then, we didn’t have Google or the internet, so I had to search elsewhere to find out what he was talking about.  (You, on the other hand, had full access to Google, so have it. I won’t explain it here.  Search phrase: “sin of Onan” “spilling seed”).

I could lay all of the angst about sexuality at the feet of religion, and I supposed I’d probably be correct in doing so.  The sad fact though is that change and acceptance goes largely unappreciated, as part of the human condition.  It goes beyond mere religion.

We like things to stay the way they are.  We like our values to be static.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.   We cheerfully rejoice when a thief is jailed, and even more so when we learn that someone in a far away land has been hung for his crimes.  Some of us don’t even mind when we hear about a thief having his hand chopped off.  We’re not really interested in the sick child he had at home, or in any of the circumstances which precipitated his crime.

There was a time when it was acceptable to own slaves, or to treat people with different coloured skin differently.  It took a long time to change all of that – and it didn’t happen without a lot of blood being shed first. 

Seems almost crazy to think that there are still evolving cultures out there where people still have to stay in the closet, or hide their nationality.  You’d think that with the advent of the internet, we’d all come together and cast off our prejudices.

The Olympics has given us yet an opportunity to do so.  Putin’s announcements and laws about homosexuality has given him somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as he has opened the door to discussion, to debate, and to protest.

Cities around the world are raising the gay pride flag, in support of the Olympics and in support of the gays who participate, and in support of the gays who live in fear in Russia.  Those with entrenched hatred of gays are complaining loudly about it.  This includes our Toronto mayor, who is vehemently protesting, and trying to get the Pride flag removed. 

“I’ve done everything I can to ge the Canadian flag back up” he said.  What he didn’t say was that a Canadian flag had not actually been removed.

I have to admit that it’s fun to see genuine hypocrisy hard at work. One has to tweak logic pretty hard on the nose in order to get it to support one’s prejudice.

Someday, the brotherhood of man will be understood and embraced.  Until then, we’ll continue to have mobs, and lynchings and wars. 

Still, there’s a catharsis in knowing that the fight for tolerance is persistent.  No matter how badly folk want people to shut up about it, it’s just not going away.

“Spirituality has always confused me.  I see it as people making up whatever they want to believe and then believing that.  Can anyone who considers themselves spiritual shed some light on this?  Is it that you dream something is happening and therefore it is?”

So wrote a curious woman in the comment section of today’s “The Daily” newspaper app.

Of course the question presumes that spiritual people start off as blank slates, and then decide to build their belief system from the ground up.   I don’t think it’s an accurate premise, as none of our beliefs, or behaviour for that matter ever starts from a void.  We are all of us products of our environment, our upbringing.  Our worldview is further enhanced through education, observation and experience.

To suggest that one person who considers himself spiritual can adequately speak for all such “spiritual but not religious” people is equally inaccurate, as each spiritual man has a different set of experiences and observations.  However, this spiritual man can certainly speak for himself.

I think it’s fair to say that, absent an adequate explanation (solar eclipse, aurora borealis, earthquakes, rainbows and the horizon of an ocean), mankind has always allowed his mind space to invent “facts” which have then morphed into religion and beliefs.  I also think that the idea of religion provides for safe boundaries for those who would otherwise become overwhelmed with the seeming arbitrary randomness of life.  Religion provides structure, rules, authority, community….it even provides artificial enemies which in turn serves to strengthen the bonds of community.

In many cases, religion becomes the arbiter and judge for behaviour, thought, processes and direction – both personal and organizationally.

As time goes on, and mankind discovers more actual facts, the basis for religion begins to fail, and so we see the results today, where more and more people are leaving the religious community.    But why is their faith – why is MY faith – intact?  Why do we still believe in God?

One answer would be that we still haven’t arrived at an explanation for what’s behind the curtain.  We certainly have some educated guesses:  our discovery of theoretical physics, which include quantum physics, string theory and the like speaks to some likely probabilities.  Yet, that’s all they do.  Even the Higgs boson (or God particle) experiments, astounding as they are, do not yet account for the supreme engine.  The “why?” of existence.  The notion that everything is random doesn’t adequately explain the bizarre probability factors.  We still see some semblance of design.

Specifically though – in my own life – there is all kinds of evidence of a loving overseer who for some curious reason seems to prefer that I figure out a lot of this stuff on my own.   I can only see in retrospect some patterns which defy randomness.  Paths which only become clear when looked at historically, never future.

While religion and the Bible formed the basis for much of my younger self’s beliefs, I’ve found reason to put them away.   Religion was there when I needed it – particularly when growing up in a violent household – but now I find it limiting.  Religion, you understand, prefers that I don’t think for myself, or that I reach conclusions only in keeping with its constant drone of acceptable dogma.  It wants me to remain within the beehive of religious consciousness, where everything “not bee” is considered an enemy of the hive.  My belief in deity breaks out of that myopic thinking, preferring instead to encompass a world-wide acceptance and appreciation of humanity.

I still believe in God, therefore, because of personal ad hoc observations – something which can’t be qualified by others, as it is entirely subjective.  My belief however does not suffer from the ridicule of others:  it merely sits, content, with no need to defend.  It has no need to proselytize either.

In fact, my belief appreciates those who don’t think as I do.  More than appreciation, there is an active value of them.

Christopher Hitchens was, in my opinion, one of the greatest logical minds ever.  I felt sorrow at his passing, and I found resentment at not being able to attend a debate between himself and Tony Blair in Toronto during the last year of his life.   Christopher didn’t believe anything like I do – but now I find that it wasn’t necessary that he and I agree.  I approached a love of him mostly because of his honest querying and objections.   That’s the thing:  his honest intellectualism.  How can you fault a man for that?   And his intellect was absolutely amazing.

The God I believe in has liberally distributed His DNA to mankind at large.  The result is that He has created thinkers, architects, singers, scientists, Hindus, religious people, atheists, construction workers, mechanics and doctors, each with unique abilities and outlooks.  They are all, in my opinion, different facets of His mosaic.  Different sides to the diamond.   The studious mathematician, who is socially awkward and insistent upon boring details, performs a function that I could never in a million years emulate (or want to emulate).  His value is beyond measure.  As is the concert violinist with his Stradivarius, playing Mozart with enough passion to bring tears to the eyes.

I think the God I believe in loves it all.  The music, the passion, the intense attention to details, the math.  I think all of that is likely an extension of Him, in some way or another.

Someone said “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.   Just so.   For Christians (or any other religious folk) to try and qualify their beliefs through the application of perceived facts is an exercise in futility.   The moment verifiable facts come into play, faith takes an exit.  It must.  The two are as alike as apples and orgasms.

I rang the bell.  They keep the doors locked because of thieving opportunists: on more than one occasion the consultants have all been busy with clients, and someone has walked in, helping himself (or herself) to the contents of purses and shelved products.

I heard the buzzer and, just as I was going to open the door,  a smiling woman wearing a Mary Kay badge opened it and held it for me to enter.  I thanked her and we both sat down, while the receptionist said “your consultant will be with you in a moment.”

“Hi there!” said the Mary Kay lady.  “I’m here to showcase cosmetics to the ladies here.  But we have some products for men as well.”  She paused, smiling.  “Also, we’re giving out free hand treatments to everyone, including men.  Would you like one?”

I grinned.  “No, I don’t think so.  Thanks.”

Her eyes sparkled in amusement.  “Yeah, I know how it is with you guys.  Too tough for that kind of thing.”

I nodded.  “Yup.  Check out the freezer bags over there that this place is selling.  A little too flamboyant for guys.   A little too…..*fabulous* too.

She laughed.

She was delightfully unreadable.  And, as it turns out, married too.  Not so delightful, maybe.  Blue eyes, auburn hair, pretty much perfect.  I figured she was perhaps in her late forties.  An amazingly attractive woman.

“So what do you do?”

I answered and reciprocated the question, which she answered.  And then we got into it.

“I meet a lot of people who don’t work out the details of their financial grind.”  She thought for a second.  “Like, you know how it is when you spend all that money getting back and forth to the office and you spend all that money to make yourself presentable, and by the time you’re done, you’ve actually only made a few hundred dollars clear every month.”

I nodded.  She was speaking my language.

“I know what you mean.  You’re feeding The Machine.” The Machine is my favourite descriptor of the whole process.  “You spend money to buy a car and insurance so that you can get to your job so that you can afford the money to make car payments and insurance and gas so that you can get to the office….”

She agreed.  “It’s okay if you love what you’re doing but….you only go around once.”

“Exactly.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve regretted every moment doing something I have no interest in doing.  I know it’s a cliché but – damn it.  Life is too short.”

We sat in silence for a moment.  Then, I posed the question to her that I’d been asking a number of people.

“I’ve been thinking about starting something up.  It occurs to me that I’ll only do well if I create something of my own, which I control.  I’ve realized I can’t really be happy working for someone else.   It has to be something *I* do.

I want to create a place.  A forum.  Or an in-person group of some sort.  The attraction would be that this would be a place where self-aware people could gather, outside of The Machine.  Don’t know whether to call it ‘Missing Spokes’ or ‘Wayward Wheels’ or what.”

I felt the familiar frustration welling up in trying to explain it.  “I don’t even know what the thing looks like, and am hoping for some ideas here.”

Unexplained, because of lack of time, was the fact that in fact I hate most conversations.  I’m too easily bored.  And so, discussions about gossip or everyday stuff – what cute little thing Sally said today – make my eyes cross.   The easily distracted out there (present company included) are just too easily distracted, if you follow.

There are some conversations though which I find thrilling.  Discussions with people who see a little beyond the immediately apparent – like this Mary Kay woman, or like so many commenters on my blogs.  Folk who truly have a story to tell, or a truth to relate.  Meaty stuff that gets the blood boiling, and the thought processes pinging like pinball machines.    I know there’s an appetite for more of this, and there are people who are starving for this kind of compelling company.

Whenever I think of a vehicle to bring us together though – there’s a blank.  I’ve thought about creating a Facebook group, and I think that would be a good first step.  I don’t imagine it could end there though.  Maybe it could be a compilation of areas, like TheBloggess has:  she’s on Twitter, a number of other key sites, plus her own blog site. (P.S. If you haven’t already checked out her blog, do so. )

I believe there is a groundswell of thinkers and lovers of truth, many of whom have been disgusted by the pigeon-holing and demonization of the party politics in the U.S.  People who refuse to adopt common assumptions, preferring instead to examine each issue on its own.  They often refer to themselves as “independents”, and for good reason:  there is no one party which represents all of their values.

I see the same thing in the Christian religious community too: people who have abandoned settings which encourage traditionally immovable white/black dogma, preferring instead to examine thoughts about God on their own.  Seeking to reconcile what their hearts are saying with what logic tells them, and doing self-examination in an attempt to come to a conclusion that might not be church-sanctioned.

“We’re ready for you, sir.”  My consultant stood there, smiling.  I looked at the Mary Kay lady and smiled sadly, disappointed that we couldn’t finish our conversation.

“Nice to meet you”, I said, shaking her hand before turning to follow.   I meant it.

Should

Posted: May 8, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , ,

Don’t know about you but the next time someone in real life starts a sentence that starts “Wolf, you should…” I’m going to pay real close attention.  Probably the first thing out of my mouth will be “why?”

Followed by “why?”

And the answer would be followed by “yes, but why?”

Like some snot-nosed little kid who truly wants to know, but comes off looking like a little shit disturber.

I’m not talking about logical “shoulds” – they’re welcome.  “You shouldn’t touch the stove when it’s hot” is generally a good idea.  As is “you should save your money” and “you should be careful about what you eat”.  Those are all designed with your well-being in mind.  It’s the moral “shoulds” that interrupt me.  The “shoulds” that get blurted out from some long-held tradition which isn’t easily explained.

Like “you should go to church”.  Or “you should give to panhandlers”.

Or, “Wolf, you should stay married.”

“Why?”

“Cause God hates divorce.”

“Yeah, the Bible says that.  But why?”

“Well….”

“Is it because the culture of the time was pretty lenient towards marriage and divorce, and people had a propensity for taking almost-one-night-stands and using marriage as the moral tool to make that happen?  Is it because all one had to do once the deed was done was say ‘I divorce you I divorce you I divorce you.’?”

“Well the Bible doesn’t give parameters for God’s emotion.”

“Well, do you have emotion?”

“That’s a stupid question.  Of course I do.”

“And do you have reasons for your emotions?”

“Yes, but so what?”

“And are you made in the image of God?”

“Yes, but…”

“And so doesn’t it follow that if you’re made in His image, with emotions that came from Him, it’s likely He has reasons for His emotions?”

“I suppose, but…”

“So aren’t you trying to set yourself up as moral judge here?  Aren’t you trying to paint a multi-coloured situation as black and white?”

———–

Man, I wish I had all of the above handy when I was still going to church and believing that stuff.

But the thing is:  this kind of “should” nonsense happens inside circles of people who aren’t necessarily religious too.  People want to feel morally right about everything, so they deny their feelings, by putting a big old “SHOULD NOT” stamp across their emotions.

The thing that brought this my attention recently was the fortunate demise of Osama Bin Laden.   At first, when I saw updates on folks’ Facebook pages talking about how it’s good that he’s dead, but we shouldn’t be rejoicing, I thought “well, that’s typically a religious -wrongheaded- approach”.   I entered into some pretty heated conversations about it, to no avail.

But then I saw the same sentiment being uttered by non-religious people.  People who felt it was wrong to be happy about anyone’s death.  Even Noam Chomsky has a problem with his death; he tried to paint a comparison between troops going in and murdering Osama (which is clearly what they did, as he was unarmed), and terrorists coming in and murdering George Bush.

What I’m really hearing people say is this:

“I feel good, and maybe even joyful that the murdering terrorist tyrant Osama is dead, but I feel bad about feeling good.”

What nonsense.

Maybe the problem is one of distance from 9/11.  It seems likely that, had Osama been killed within a few weeks of 9/11, very few would have felt the least bit bad about feeling good that he was dead.  That swelling feeling of justified vengeance would have been too overwhelming.  Anyone who raised an objection would be viewed with high distaste; they would have been seen as hopelessly naïve and stupid.

It got me thinking about other things in our lives where “should” takes the place of honesty.  One of the pitfalls of growing out of childhood is that we become so socialized that we forget the joy of saying what we think.   Many old people have figured that out, and have reverted to blurting their honest thoughts, which is off-putting to so many of us.  Can you imagine a truly truthful conversation among your peers?

How many times has “should” ended up shutting your mouth?  I mean fine, you saved on an argument, but at what cost?

This is the kind of stuff I think about, at 2:30 in the morning when normal people are fast asleep.   When I *should* be asleep too.

I’ve tried to write about this before, and have never felt that I’ve been able to do it justice.  Now that it’s 3:00 a.m. and there’s a virus keeping me awake, maybe I can form the right thoughts a little better.  You can be the judge.

When you grow up in a fairly strict Roman Catholic household, you learn early on that every new minute is a new opportunity to sin.  As a child you learn to scramble and remember those multiple sins committed during the week so that you can vomit them all out to the priest at confession time on Saturday night.  As an adult, you wonder how the priest ever kept a straight face, as he listened to the tortured guilt of six, seven and eight year olds, as they detailed their nefarious deeds.  Those whispered confessions of stealing that cookie, or of sticking their tongues out at the teacher when her back was turned.

We learned guilt, and we learned it well.  I was of the opinion that, from the moment I left the confessional on Saturday night, absolved of all of my sins, I had only a short time before they began to accumulate again.  I did the math.  I knew that the most I could hope for, if I wanted to go directly to heaven at my death, was to be killed within ten minutes of my confession.  After that, there would be residual sin on my soul, and so, being baptized and confirmed, I could maybe expect to sit around, burning just a little bit in the cleansing fires of purgatory.  I hoped there would be loved ones who would continue to pray on my behalf so that I didn’t get too roasted for too long.   A few centuries maybe.

Death therefore had a more ominous meaning to me than merely the cessation of life.

Of course, the priest had a much harsher opinion of my destination, I think, when I became a Protestant.  He was angry and red-faced when I quoted scripture at him, refuting the idea that we need to go to confession at all.  “There is one mediator between man and God – Jesus Christ” I told him.  “It doesn’t say that we need to talk to a priest”.    Confident in my belief, I stared at him, daring him to contradict me.

“Who the hell are you to read the Bible?” he roared.  “You’re not qualified.  It takes years of seminary and study to understand it.”

The priest was not a nice man, often given over to rage, especially at the pulpit.  And now, at me.

I left his place that night, more confident than when I walked in, that I was right and he was a false teacher.

I learned, from that experience, and from many sermons from the Baptist pulpit of the church I attended, that there is only black and white.  Either you’re for truth, or you’re listening and believing lies.  There was no in-between.

It was comfortable.  Safe.

The Catholic Church taught me guilt.  The Baptist Church taught me intolerance.  To be fair, maybe neither of them intended it, but that’s what I learned.

Now that I knew I could confess my sins directly to God, I no longer had to wait for a week to get free of sins.  I just had to remember to confess right away.   It seemed to me that God barely tolerated me, sometimes.

And then……

I don’t know how it happened, but someone invited me to a night time youth gathering in a large Anglican cathedral in Toronto.   The architecture of this place was immense, almost overwhelming.   You could get lost, trying to see the ceiling.

The first thing I noticed, I think, were the dancers.  Girls who flitted up and down the aisle dancing with wide open smiles of joy.  The next thing I noticed was the music and singing.  There were stringed instruments: guitars, violins, and a bass.  There were trumpets, and a saxophone, and a few others.  There were drums.  There was a pipe organ with a thousand pipes.   And there were some singers, and an amazing pianist. Not all of the instrumentalists were up at the front dais;  many of them were scattered among the congregations in the dark stained oak pews.

From my first visit, I was intrigued.  Maybe “intrigued” isn’t the right word.  “Hooked” might be closer.  Better yet:  it was like I had been eating only peas and carrots and lettuce all my life, and all of a sudden someone introduced me to steak and chocolate and wine.

The music, the singing, the dancing was rich.

And then there was the preaching.

Once the music stopped, I expected the normal session of discussion from the pulpit, where I’d probably learn a few more rules for living.  There were so many, it seemed.  I wondered what this guy – his name was Jim McCallister – would have to say.  In a way, I almost resented the fact that there was a sermon at all.  The music – by the way, almost of all of it was created by the singers and musicians there – was so welcoming and so different.  There was hardly anything particularly religious about any of it.  The styles were all over the map, and included even jazz.  I frankly could not believe it – and to this day, I have yet to find a gathering that has such freedom.

Still, when Jim spoke, everyone quieted down to listen to him.  His voice was mellow and rich, and it resonated.  His message was nothing I’d heard before.  He spoke of acceptance, of not just tolerance from God, but joyful enthusiastic involvement.  His sermons planted a seed in me that took years to nurture before anything obvious became evident.

I learned that mankind was not an aberration; that I was not a mistake.  That, if we are created in His image, then that must mean that our basic nature comes from him.  The desire to love our families and each other is our natural birthright.  That our needs: to eat, to read, to have sex, to laugh, to party, to be irreverent sometimes – comes from Him.

As years went by, I took that a few steps further.  Our penchant for seeing God as a brutal dictator who holds very little tolerance for us seems to me to be a construct of mankind’s need to codify our behaviours.   It’s not real, and it’s not true.

I remember seeing a few people around that amazing youth gathering, who I was pretty sure were gay.  And I remember being confused at how welcoming everyone was to everyone – including the gay folk.  It bothered me, on the legalist level, because it conflicted with much of what I’d been taught thus far.  It’s only in hindsight that I see that it was merely behaviour that was consistent with how they truly felt about God and about mankind’s relationship to Him in general.

In particular, it became evident to me that there was no “us” versus “them” at all.  There was no need to pick sides, because we – meaning all people, not just church goers – were in this together.  It was a revolutionary thought for me, and at the time, it was too much to process.

In looking back, I’m still kind of amazed at how forward thinking this group was.

Escape

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , , ,

Imagine a thin little boy. Maybe he’s 60 pounds or so. And, as he hasn’t yet reached adolescence, he is still short.

Now, imagine a large black-haired man, who is roughly six feet tall. He usually walks around without a shirt on, so that you could see his massive belly stretched out over the belt of his pants. This mans weighs in at around 350 pounds.

Now…what if the little boy (being little) is naturally timid? It’s not that he’s fearful of life, exactly. It’s just that he hasn’t quite figured it all out yet. He still thinks that he is relatively safe and that life owes him a roof over his head and food. Most children think this way. It’s normal. It’s the way it should be.

And what if the big thick-waisted man happens to have a problem with anger? And what if this anger problem is augmented by a massive drinking problem?

Conflict.

The little boy (being little) has no where else to go, when the big guy loses his temper. Worse, the little boy (being little) has no idea what conditions need to be in place for the man to blow up. It could be a little thing: like a toy that wasn’t put away, that the man stepped on. It could be a glance that the little boy gave his father.

“Maybe” thinks the little boy “I’m just not good enough. Maybe I just need to try harder.”

At what, he has no idea. Still though – the nest is in an uproar, and it’s the responsibility of this little guy to take care of things. Make things right.

So he tries. He picks up his toys. He works hard at his schoolwork and brings home As and Bs.

Each weekend though, his father still drinks. And the boy watches, now in fear, as the ambience of the household grows dark with the imminent storm. Eventually, every weekend, the man lashes out in rage. Usually the boy finds a place to hide, while his mother, sometimes his grandmother, intervenes. Often, one or the other of them will be hit. Occasionally, the police are called. But they don’t take the man away. They just talk to him. Tell him to settle down.

The boy fails. He has no one to tell him that it’s impossible to win. There’s no counsellor who can point out that it doesn’t matter what he does, or doesn’t do – the man will get drunk and he will get angry. The boy is certain he has a part to play, and that if he just acts differently, maybe dad won’t bellow with rage.

The years go by. The weekend rage turns into daily storms. The man is drinking more.

The boy has grown into his teens. So he’s learned to stay away from home as much as possible. He hides out in the library, reading books.

Such wonderful books! It starts out with the Narnia series, and then moves to some of Mark Twain’s works. Then he discovers the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lord of the Rings.

The boy, now a teenager, is hooked. Fantasy and Science Fiction have wrapped their arms around him. For those few moments when he can enter those worlds, he can leave this one behind. The one with the anger, and chaos and the drinking. He doesn’t have to think about his behaviour and what’s going to set his father off.

He also discovers religion. Or it discovers him. He’s not sure. He only knows that once again, another world has opened up. One he wasn’t aware of, before. One that accepts him as he is; forgives him for his faults, unlike his dad. One that offers a Father who actually cares about him.

It’s all so wonderful. He has no inkling that any of it can be termed: “escape”.

Eventually the man stops drinking. He has to. His job was forfeit, otherwise.

The anger remains though. One of the things the man is angry about is why his oldest son doesn’t want to be around him. There comes a day when number one son cuts through his rage to tell him why he avoided him. “You were never a father to me”

It’s the one time when alcohol could not trump reality. That statement cuts through the man; stops him cold in his tracks. His rage seems to dwindle away as he stupidly stares at his son. Quizzical. Disappointed, perhaps with himself. The boy doesn’t know what his father thinks about what he said. He stands there, eyes wide, fully expecting to be beaten up for being so mouthy. He is surprised when his father looks down, turns away.

The years went by, and the father remains sober. There’s an awkwardness between them that remains, never to diminish.

The boy, now a man, continues with his escapism, not realizing that life is now better. He enjoys his books, and his religion, and adds to them, movies and TV. Anything that will give him a world different from the one he is in.

Eventually he adds prescription drugs. And wine. And other things.

It takes a while for him to realize some important things that the little boy was never told.

It wasn’t his fault that his dad was angry.

He could make his own decisions, and create his own reality. As much of it as he wanted.

Eventually, he sees what he is doing with the drugs, and the wine. And he stops. He stops drinking to escape, and now drinks for enjoyment only. He never gets drunk.

He still reads books, but now recognizes the difference between reality and the world of the book. He reads for enjoyment.

The hardest part was dropping religion. He still believes in God. He just doesn’t believe in the construct that religion put around Him. He holds his faith close to his heart, and doesn’t promote it to anyone. He believes in a Father who loves him. To believe anything less would be hurtful to himself. He knows this.

He wonders though.

How many other people are living lives of pure escape?

 

There would be dark moments, and each one seemed logical.  As far as he knew, everyone had moments like these.  Everyone.  So what if others managed those moments better than he did?  It just meant he had to try a little harder, that’s all.

Like the time he stood at the entrance of a shopping mall, frowning.  He watched the shoppers all scurrying to get their shopping done.  They seemed frantic, out of control.  There was little joy in their hungry demand for merchandise – or at least, that’s what he saw, perceived.  He felt a rage bubbling up deep inside.  He wanted to bellow at them in anger.  Tell them to stop and remember the reason for Christmas.  He was beyond frustrated.  Shaking his head, he turned around and left the mall.  He would do his shopping another day.  And from that point onward, for a period of five years, he decided he would not celebrate Christmas.  He wouldn’t put up lights or a tree.  He no longer believed in it.   His mind told him this was reasonable.  He couldn’t reconcile his distaste for commercialism with the celebration.  Not at all. He believed fully in his own cynicism.

The depths of darkness weren’t always as radical.  Sometimes, he sensed a slow slide into them, grateful that there seemed a limit.  Always, his mind found logical reasons for them.   He was bored with his job, so it seemed only right that he should interpret some of the darkness as depression over the job.

At other times – rare occasions – he couldn’t quite see a safe boundary.   Like the time he was driving home and felt a strong impulse to drive the car off of the road and into a tree.  He managed to curb the thought, but it scared him so much that he wisely sought out counselling.  This time, he was entirely convinced this destructive impulse stemmed from his faltering marriage.  They stayed together because of religion.  The bonds of dogma – specifically the stricture against divorce – felt more like emotional slavery.  So of course it was logical that he should feel such despair.  The thing that bothered him about it was that he hadn’t told anyone about it before having the impulse.  He knew, from everything he read, that this was dangerous.  People who talk about this sort of thing rarely do it – they talk because they want help.  He knew he wasn’t crying out for assistance.

So he sought out therapy, and in so doing, discovered much about himself that he never knew before.

Like the fact that, though he was so agreeable to people in general, and so pleasant to be around, in fact he was masking a great deal.  Hiding in plain sight.  He genuinely thought he enjoyed being around people, even though he knew there was a limit and he had on occasion just needed to be away from them.

This included his wife.  There were many days when he worked late into the night when he didn’t need to.  Long enough to miss the last train back to his home in the next town.  So many nights he called his wife and told her he needed to stay in a hotel in town.

“But why you?  Why can’t some of your employees take on some of the work?  Why do you have to work so late all the time?”

“I just do”, he said.   “It’s my job, and no one else can do it.”

He was lying through his teeth, and he didn’t care.  The idea of going home to her was so abhorrent that he felt physically repulsed by the thought.  He didn’t hate her; he just couldn’t be around her.  The constant questions ate him like slow burning acid.   “Do you love me?  Why don’t we do things together?  Why?  Why? Why?”

It was so weird.  There were times when he felt like he was on top of the world, and everything would be fine.  He was right with his God so what could hold him back?

And there were other times when he was adamant that it was all shit.  There was nothing that could be salvaged.

It was in those dark times when he knew he had to get away.  So he would take impromptu vacations.  He would book a cottage on a lake during the summer, and he would take off.  He determined to go there, rent a boat, and go row out in the lake to somewhere where he could have solitude, away from the maddening horde.  He did all that, and then was surprised when he got there, and realized he still wasn’t at peace.  He was almost shocked by that realization.  And disappointed.  He had brought the darkness with him.

It never occurred to him that the “maddening horde” might be his own thoughts.

One of those amazing light times happened when his marriage was finally over and he moved out.   He got the call from his new landlord, who said “your credit check passed.  You can move in on Monday.”

The day he got the keys and moved in, he looked around at his new oasis and wept in joy. He knew finally he had done the right thing with his marriage.  All of his life he had been the chameleon, changing emotional colour to make everyone, including his bride-to-be, happy.  He listened for clues to their desires, and then did his level best to match them.

It never occurred to him that he was damaging himself in the process.  He truly thought he had no real desires of his own.   Occasionally a slightly selfish thought would occur, which he discounted as un-Christian.  So he would mostly ignore them, and secretly chastised himself for having them.

One such thought happened six months before his marriage, when he suggested to his fiancé that they postpone the wedding for a little bit.

She, an eighteen-year-old girl, immediately (and correctly) interpreted this as rejection.   She burst into tears, and all of her insecurities rose to the surface.  She accused him:  “you don’t love me; you don’t want to get married.   No one loves me”.

He felt like the lowest rat.  Even though she was right about his feelings, the religious-shaped chameleon exerted itself.  He changed colour and assured her he did love her and wanted to get married.

So, despite some deep warning feelings in his gut, he bit the Christian bullet and got married.

It took him many years before he discovered the value and necessity of being true to one’s self.

He blamed almost all of his dark moments on this one rather major bad decision.  This farce of a marriage.  And those moments were exacerbated by his continual attempts to love her as she deserved to be loved.  A piece of his heart held back though.  It took him a long time to acknowledge it.  To be fair, she too had a lot of issues to deal with; reasons she latched onto him.  He was her emotional life raft.

But this story isn’t about her.  It’s about him.

It was only a few years after they had exited the marriage that he realized those intermittent dark occasions had nothing to do with her, or with his bad decision.  It had nothing to do with commercialism at Christmas.

Sometimes the darkness crowded him at almost predictable times.  So many times when he was flying high, he remembered saying to himself “I wonder when the dark time will come again”.  Because he knew it would.  That this high wasn’t sustainable.

There are times when he enjoys being around people and he becomes the life of the party.  He can joke and make people laugh, and they shine and open up to him.  He has learned not to be the chameleon anymore, and this is something that has liberated him; allowed him to be the person he truly is.  He has dropped the chains of religious dogma as well.  This helps, too.

There are other times though, dark times, when he can’t wait to get away from people.  Times when he feels ugly, when he truly wonders how anyone can stand to be around him.

He knows there’s hope though.  He’s counting on it, and is seeking it out.

And he knows there are others rowing their boats in the same waters as he is.

Which is why he’s talking about it, I suppose.

Ownership

Posted: April 21, 2010 in Life
Tags: , , ,

“Can I talk with you a minute?   Privately?”

The stout old church lady took my elbow and man-handled me into a corner.

“I’m just telling you this with the love of the Lord” she began.  She took her glasses off and pinched her nose.

My curiosity raised its snout, trying to sniff out what was going on.  “What?”

She blinked at me.  I noticed a multitude of pins in her gray hair, and I couldn’t help noticing how her print dress hung from her, right down to the ground, just above her sensible shoes.

Sensible shoes.  I shouldn’t be noticing those.  That’s too gay.

“You really need to be careful about what you wear, young man.”

I looked down at my clothing and took inventory.  Sports jacket, t-shirt, jeans, black shoes.   Puzzled, I looked back at her.

“I mean…”  and she sighed. “Oh this is so difficult.”

“Please don’t feel awkward, sister.  Just tell me.”

She couldn’t look me in the eye.  “It’s your jeans, young man.”

“My jeans?”

“They’re too tight.”

I looked down again.  Damn.  They were tight.  Just the way I like them.

“What do you mean?”

Her face started to turn red.  “I mean.  Young women can get carried astray by the tightness of your jeans.”

I started to laugh.  “What?”

“Well, they can see your, ah….”

I grinned in disbelief.  “They can see my junk?  Is that what you’re trying to say?”

She got all flustered.  “You don’t need to be so vulgar.”

“I’m vulgar?”  This was turning more ridiculous the more I thought about it. “Your observation is vulgar, lady.  If you don’t like what I’m wearing, I suggest you turn away and stop staring at my crotch.”  I waggled my hips at her.

“Oh I’m going to talk with Pastor Norman about this!”  She turned quickly, which dislodged one of her hair pins such that it was dangling by a hair down at her back. “Just you wait and see!”

I laughed and started to make my way to a pew in the church.   This time an elder grabbed my arm.  What is it with old people wanting to grab your arm all the time?  Why can’t they just jump up and down in front of you while waving their arms to get your attention?   Why do they have to put such a death grip on your elbow?  It hurts, damn it, and I just want to punch them in the face when they do it.

I can’t, of course, being Canadian, and Christian and Righteous and all.

Plus, I fight like a girl.

Anyway, as he pulled me close with his raptor’s claw, he hissed in my ear.  I think he thought he was being quiet and circumspect, but that hissing could be heard throughout the church.  I could tell, because people whipped their heads around to stare at us.

His stinky breath invaded the sanctity of my irreverent ambiance, totally messing up my Chi.   “Son, you need to pay attention to me.”

I tried to pull my arm away.  In vain as it turns out.   Last night’s hangover hadn’t worn off yet.  God.  That stinky breath was going to undo me.  I could tell.  My stomach started rumbling in protest and I had to swallow a few times just to make sure those late night nachos stayed down there, where they belonged.

“What?” I whispered back, hoping he would just say what he had to and leave me alone.

“Some of the saints are complaining that you’re too friendly with the women folk.”   By “saints” I guessed he meant the men.  I have no idea what that made women.  “Hussies” I suppose, if they’re that easily led astray.

I was going to just nod and agree with him.  My nose and my stomach demanded that much from me.   But my stupid conscience wouldn’t hear of it.  Of course not.  It wanted a knock-down drag-out fight.  So I burped instead.   “What do you mean?’

“We see the way you smile at them, saying ‘hello’ to them with that smarmy look on your face.”

“What.  You mean *this* face?”  And with that I smiled at him.  All teeth.  And as smarmily as I could.

He hissed louder.  “YES.  You need to stop that.”

“Why?”

He tightened his grip on my elbow and I swear to God, my left fist tightened as well.  I tried to relax it.

“Because you’re leading them astray.  We see how they crowd around you at the end of the service.  It’s unseemly.  And the Bible says…..”

“Oh here we go” I thought to myself.

“…the Bible says we have to avoid the very appearance of evil.”   With that, he shook my elbow and smiled knowingly.

I finally wrenched my elbow away.  “You know where the evil is, old man?  It’s in your mind.  You need to stop thinking that I want to fuck your wives” I said, “because I don’t.”

“In fact, I kind of want to fuck you, actually.”  And I gave him my gayest grin.   He actually stepped back a few feet.

“And I’ll tell you something else:   I will damned well talk to whoever I want and I’ll smile at whoever I want, too.   And if you ever grab my arm again I’ll drop you where you stand.”

I started to walk out of the church in disgust.  Then I turned around and looked at him again.  “Oh and I say that with all the love of the Lord.    Asshole.”

************

This never happened of course.  It would never happen.  And I don’t know why.

But put the shoe on the other foot, with men talking to women about what they wear, and how they socialize with men and you can *easily* see that it happens all the time.  Men – Christian, church going men – telling women about how they need to conduct themselves around men, and what they should and should not be wearing.

As a member of the male species I have to tell you: it’s embarrassing.

The women I know who’ve been subject to this bullshit (and let’s be clear:  I know many of them who’ve been through this) tend to suffer in silence, rather than call bullshit on it.  My own mother was subject to this crap actually.   It seems women generally (not always) want to keep the peace and not make a scene.  Plus, they’re given this advice by people they respect:  their pastor, their priest, or someone else in authority.  So it gets a bit confusing, because supposedly the priest or pastor should have “the mind of God” – at least that’s the case in evangelical church settings.  Some of the women in turn drink the same kool-aid and subject other women to the same fucked up nonsense.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this outside of church settings though.  I *have* seen it on a much worse scale, in Muslim settings and on Muslim chat boards.

I’m still scratching my head over the whole thing.  I guess ultimately it boils down to this:

Mankind will always look for excuses for their own behaviour.  They will always point the finger at someone else when they find themselves doing shitty things.

“I was brought up wrong.”

“I came from an abusive family.”

“I came from a poor household.”

“I came from a single parent household.”

“I got in with the wrong crowd (read: it’s the crowd’s fault, not mine)”

“He made me feel bad about myself, that’s why I stole/ate too much/got drunk.”

“She made me so angry.  That’s why I hit her.”

“She was wearing provocative clothing.”

“My little kid wouldn’t shut up.  So I made him shut up.”

The list is endless.

We need to own our own shit.  Bottom line.

The anti-religionist

Posted: March 16, 2010 in Life
Tags: , , ,

In the thirty-minute walk from my home to work, I had a blog idea all sketched out.  And then when I got here, and used WordPress.com’s Tag Surfer to skim interesting blogs, I came across one that kind of twisted my head halfway off.

It was written by a young woman who appears to be slowly turning jaded by the comments and actions of people  in her church.

Ever have an itch you just can’t scratch?  That was my feeling as I read through her heart-felt disenchantment on religion in general.  You are not supposed to say that you hate anyone.  Especially when you’re in church.

I suppose I sympathize with her to a degree – it’s tough when the carefully assembled collage of dogma, built upon the warmth of your fellow believers, starts to turn an unpleasant shade of yellow.

It’s not that it has changed colours, actually.  It’s that you have.

Man. I was *not* ready to talk about this.

A girl I was out with recently (no, not the Russian beauty – another one), remarked in frustration that it’s now fashionable to be atheist.  We talked about that a bit.  I agreed with her, and wondered out loud if people in general had just become more realistic, more sophisticated.   There are those who are so disgusted by “Christian” talk, that they want to throw the baby out with the bath water.   The equation goes something like this:  if these people represent what God is supposed to be like (including Fred Phelps of “God Hates Fags” fame), and they’re so frigging hypocritical, then maybe God doesn’t exist.

It’s a dumb equation, built more upon emotion.  Of course science comes along with incontrovertible truths, and some use that to bolster their argument.   But the core is still the same: I have yet to find an atheist (although I’m certain some exist) who at their core aren’t emotional about their atheism.   

Agnostics have more credibility, at least for me:  most that I’ve known will acknowledge that you can’t know whether there’s a God or not.  You can only guess or you can have faith.  I respect that, because I think it’s honest.

Getting back to our disenchanted woman:  I suppose if she and I were to chat I would tell her that I believe in God but absolutely have no belief or trust in religion.   I see religion as a social system, with built-in safeguards and fail-safes, much of which involves circular reasoning.   “The Bible is true. How do we know?  Because it says it is.”

You just can’t break into that “logic”.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m using this as a typical example.  I have no problem with the Bible, none whatsoever.  I arrived at my faith because of it.

The mindset that came up with that reasoning is – to use a Star Trek reference – kind of like the Borg:  it’s composed of multiple people over many centuries, is self-defining, entirely interlaced and hence unbreakable.  My experience leads me to conclude that to get some clear thinking, you need to break away from it. 

Breaking away from (what they call) “the church” is a scary experience.   Fear is a great motivator.  “You’ll be lost, without hope, if you go away from the church”.   What they don’t say, but what everyone understands is that you’ll be a backslider, to be avoided – unless to invite you back to the fold.

I stopped going, and began to realize that my love of God wasn’t threatened in the least.  It provided an opportunity to *think* – using the magical God-given organ – my brain.    I thought about what it means to be someone who was made “in the image of God”.   Logically, it doesn’t make sense that we’re talking the physical necessarily, and really – is our physicality the sum total of who we are?  

In my opinion, not likely:  the amazing amassing of intelligence and science, the industries built upon emotion (like the entertainment industry for example), the undeniable genius of our medical and space advances means that we are more than likely not just wandering meat-bags.  Anyway, it’s logical.

So.  What’s the relevance of the Bible and religion?   I would guess it’s a good starting point, particularly for those who need some sort of system to put every piece of the puzzle in place.   But grown men and women should probably think about acting as men and women and not children, who need to be told what to do every step of the way.  We like our religion, and our dogma and the company of other religionists:  it keeps us comfortable and more importantly – we feel safer with the safeguard of “the church” in place.

If God exists, and if we are built in His image, then our creativity, our ability to reason and think, all reflect Him.   And if that’s true, then we are obligated to remove our religious diapers and start walking on our own, making our own decisions, revelling in living life (and not just tolerating our existence until we get Our Reward in the afterlife).   Oh, and those who think sex is wrong:  well God made that too.  Time we stopped blushing at the idea of it.

Yes, I did not mean to talk about this today.  Our regularly scheduled program was preempted. It’s not my fault.  I wanted to talk about guilty pleasures.

Maybe tomorrow.