Paradigm Delight

Posted: March 20, 2011 in Life, religion
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

  1. Abe's Blog says:

    Wolf. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. As I move forward with a music ministry, I have been thinking about my “message”. This is it. Love. Hope. Faith. And joy!


    • wolfshades says:

      Funny how long it takes to process this new way of looking at things, isn’t it? I measure it in years. The closest non-religious expression of this mindset pretty much hit me in the face when I saw the Kevin Smith film “Dogma” – in which Alanis Morissette plays God. Or rather, she is just one of His incarnations – another one has Him as an old man. Once you get past the visual, and you see what Smith did with God’s character…..well, it’s just a pure pleasure to watch. You see Alanis admiring some flowers, and then doing a hand-stand. It sort of took my breath away. Despite the film’s messiness and distracting plot, I’d recommend it to anyone just for that scene alone.

      Saw it a second time with my daughter, and she was stunned. She was in joyful tears afterward and so we sat in the dark car in the parking lot after the show and talked about it for a couple of hours.


    • Dave says:

      Good thoughts Abe, but why does there have to be a “God” involved as an enabler? Music, love , hope ,faith, whatever. Does humankind think that little of itself? Certainly, plans and schematics for the Mars rover may have been clandestinely placed on the desk of a research scientist, by God, but rather unlikely.

      You’re simply being enticed by bait more to your liking. More comfortable and reassuring to you. Same crap with a sexier outfit.

      There is no God (but there is) incapable of being understood nor comprehended by the puny human mind. Our talent for self-efficacy ensures we’ll forever reside in the ‘Twilight Zone’ of ignorance which every world religion promotes and promises.

      Good writings, Wolf. But, try and get over the movie thingy. They’re not produced for the sole purpose of entertaining your family. I might be mad, but I’ve volumes of material which contradict anyone supporting that assumption.

      If your snow-shovel needs sharpening, I can’t help you, in the the least. Cheers, anyway. :-)


      • wolfshades says:

        I respect your opinion Dave even as I disagree with it. Neither you nor I (in my opinion) can give the definitive word on any of this. So, we offer our best guesses, or at least that’s what I do. In my opinion, there is a God, and I’ll go as far as saying that I agree we’re made in His image. Just as I will say too that most (all?) religions have misconstrued what this means. Especially the ones that try to lather on the guilt for what amounts to normal human requirements and behaviours.

        I reject the notion that I’m being enticed by a bigger and brighter placebo. These thoughts come after years of contemplation and consideration. The same thoughts that keep me away from church doors, and that keep me questing for more meaning. To let it sit at the resolution that it’s all unknowable sticks in my craw. I think one of the great aspects of mankind’s consciousness is the ability to quest into things that appear limitless. I think this is what drives the greater part of science.

        I use movies the same way I use every day life examples – as metaphors for what I’m trying to say. It’s a means to an end, Dave – not an end in itself. I’ve quoted family members, passages from books, and newspaper articles as well. Suggesting that I “get over the movie thingy” would mean ceasing the use of these other vehicles of thought as well: and we both know that’s not going to happen,.


  2. I had all this stuff I wanted to say, then I read Dave’s comments and I’m just left with “ugghhhh..”

    Religion has really done a number on us — on all of us. Believers or non-believers. Both extremes drive me absolutely insane — the know it alls of either argument.

    Wolfie, you’re right: none of us have the definitive answer — and both sides can show evidence of existence or non-existence and to me, it’s just such a boring discussion.

    But, what I did find absolutely wonderful about your piece, was growing up as a Catholic myself (and now in “recovery”, religious recovery that is) I too understand that kind of “guilt-ridden-you’re-a-sinner”, kind of feeling — and when you find a place that doesn’t make you feel like that it is quite FREE-ING! And it’s even beautiful! What I’ve learned in my “visiting” various spiritual places, that there are a lot more places I like than not — I’m still not a fan of religion by any means, but I do love the community of it all, I like the words of wisdom if it’s someone I agree with, the music, the togetherness and there is absolutely something about the social constructs of being in joy with other like minded individuals that just makes sense.

    Personally, the actual belief in God is almost irrelevent to this piece. Either that, or I completely missed the point. But if that’s the case, I like the way I read it better — in my simplicity, I think your bigger point was talking about going from a place of uncomfort, to finding comfort and joy and how amazing that was/is. Maybe I’m wrong. Oh well!

    On a side note, obviously I like your movie refences — so thank you Wolfie. I do ive in LALA land, so I could be a little biased…



    • wolfshades says:

      You might be, but then I have a natural bias for them too :) I love movies and books – heard to know which I like more. I guess the key is the writing: if there’s a good story teller at the heart of it all, then I’m on board.

      I think at the heart of it all: life is for living, not enduring. So many people I know have this martyr thing going on, where they put up with bad people and bad situations, while holding onto the thought that they’re building up points for the hereafter. Of course, I’m not speaking of those for whom there are no options and they’re stuck with a truly crap hand of cards. I mean those who have the wherewithal and potential to actually live, but don’t. I used to be there – it’s not fun, and it doesn’t make sense.

      I like your paragraph about liberty and community. This seems to be a natural fit, and “the way it should be”, in that I think we are social beings at heart. Put us together in an atmosphere of joy and it’s just amazing. I had that same experience with a bunch of actors one time, when we were told to close our eyes and do the “wall of sound” thing. Even though it was a warm up exercise, but I have to tell you: it was serendipitous.


  3. I just finished an epic type-erase. I can’t seem to find my voice, Wolf.

    So I’ll just say that I resonate deeply with what you’ve written here and written so well. I typed through tears before I erased. Then I typed with a wry smile. But the words just wouldn’t stick.

    Now I find myself suddenly struck by the impulse to say something inappropriate, so I’ll just say it. Quoted from the walls of girlhood toilet stalls:

    I was here but now I’m gone; I left my name to turn you on.

    ^^^ I think that came from my inner Catholic girl. She never learned to behave after all. Thank God.


    • wolfshades says:

      An unrepentant Catholic girl? Awesome! :)

      I know the lost voice feeling. Frustrating isn’t it? Yet, it’s that sense that keeps us from putting out stuff we’d really regret later. Maybe others wouldn’t notice anything wrong, but we would. I often read about actors who can’t watch themselves on screen because of this sense. I’ve often noted too how much I enjoy their work. There’s a cause-effect thing going on there. I’m certain of it.

      Speaking of inappropriate (and going almost completely off tangent here), I’m busy watching this season’s Californication. I think this is, hands down, the best written show ever to grace a TV screen. Funny, entirely irreverent, at times raw – there’s a sparkling energy to that show that just doesn’t know when to quit. Saw the same episode twice today – it’s that good. Don’t know if you’ve ever watched it but if you haven’t – be sure to watch the seasons in order. You can probably get away with not doing that, but there is a storyline that threads them all together that you’d otherwise miss.


      • I’m not nearly as unrepentant as I pretend to be. A lifetime in the church – only my childhood was spent in the Catholic Church – has left an indelible mark on me. But you know my story.

        Today, I was thinking again about the whole us vs. them thing. It doesn’t just happen in church, albeit it’s surely present. One need only look to the political arena. There’s so much hatred and division. One side looks at the other and fails to recognize the people with whom they disagree as human beings.

        Us vs. them happens in families too, as people take sides, aligning themselves against one another. I find myself on the periphery of that very thing in my life at present and I absolutely hate it. If only those involved could recognize that, like it or not, we are one, all sharing the human condition. There’s nothing new under the sun.

        I haven’t been in a space where I’ve been able to say much of anything in any forum, not at home or anywhere. I just feel… quiet. That being said, I agree with you about artistic people of every ilk. I love acting but I hate watching myself. There were times back in the day when I had to perform in front of a camera and watch myself back as part of a discipline. I was never able to do it without cringing. I suppose I feel somewhat the same as a writer. Sometimes I read myself back and it leaves me feeling naked, vulnerable. I don’t like that feeling at all.

        Californication! We’re all set to start watching it from the beginning. You mentioned it to me a couple of years ago and I’ve had it on my “to watch” list ever since. Irreverent and raw? Yep, I’m going to love it. :)


        • wolfshades says:

          Here in Canada we’re getting a bellyful of the “us versus them” dynamic, with the just announced federal election campaign just now starting. I have to admit that I’m not all that cognizant of the average take on political affairs mostly because I’m participating in online discussions. Online commentary is by nature comprised of heated participants who have strong opinions, most of whom are absolutely certain their arguments are the only logical ones, and it’s everyone else who’s out to lunch. I’m not convinced these are the majority however. It’s an interesting time anyway. Or at least it was, right up until the minority government fell and they had to announce an election. Now I find myself avoiding newspaper articles because I’m not sure I care – or maybe because the rhetoric is mostly predictable – and obviously entirely political. Hard to see any “common man” contributions.

          I’m grinning at the thought of you guys watching Californication. As much as I warned you of its irreverence, I’m pretty sure I understated it. You’ll see. I don’t know anyone like the main character – Hank Moody – although his walk through life is frankly quite appealing in some ways. It provokes my inner child for sure. I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts on it as you go through it. Have fun, BFG!


  4. Abe's Blog says:

    Interesting…I haven’t revisited this post until now and saw Dave’s comment.

    I have engaged in the arguments on both sides of belief and “non-belief” and have been annoyed by each. I did not arrive at my beliefs through brain-washing or stupidity, but by a long and deep process of research, soul-searching, self-examination, and observation of the natural world. These are my beliefs and do not have to belong to anyone else.

    It is interesting to me that some people think that those who do not believe the same way that they do are lessor humans. This is as ignorant and as bigoted as any other form. The mix of faith, belief, ideas, and viewpoints are what make us all so interesting!

    God as an enabler? Interesting…but it doesn’t work for me :)


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