Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

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.

An older heavy-set woman with a slight moustache stands at the bus stop arguing out loud, with a look of sheer frustration painted on her face.   You notice that there are sweat stains dropping down beneath the open arms of her flowered print dress, clearly visible every time she waves her freckled jiggly arms in the air punctuating every point she helplessly makes.

There are two possibilities that occur to you.  She might be loop-de-loop crazy, and she’s on the losing site of an argument with a ghost in her imagination.   Maybe it’s her mother, who never told her she was smart, or pretty.  Maybe it’s her brother, now dead for fourteen years, and she’s trying to resolve their last argument about her bad money management skills.

So you look a little closer (while maintaining your distance), just to see if you can spot a little flashing blue light near her earlobes, because you’d like to know if she’s safe.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s wearing large hoop earrings, which are just slightly peeking beneath her long hair.  Maybe she’s actually talking to a real person.  Maybe a bill collector, or maybe it’s her mother who is still alive, and still causing her no end of emotional pain.

Finally you decide she’s lost her grasp of reality.  So you wonder how she got there.  How does anyone get from “A” to “coo-coo-coo cocoa puffs”.   What was the insurmountable sorrow that broke the dam of her intelligence and awareness?

Maybe you don’t want to know.   Maybe the information would be too scary.  Maybe….if it happened to her, it could happen to anyone.    Knowing this would destroy your carefully wrought sense of emotional invincibility.   Gone are the days when nothing could hurt you physically.  You now know that a fall could cause a broken bone.  At least you have your sanity.  Right?

If you ever watch little kids playing – or if you remember what it was like when you were a kid – you’ll know that they don’t worry about too much.  They have a narcissistic knowledge that everything’s okay, and that they don’t have to worry about their next meal or the fact that their mom and dad love them.   Not having those burdens gives them a freedom to explore the limits of their imagination with each other.   They play and say the craziest things almost without thought.  

You remember what it was like.  You recall standing under a hot sun on your porch, and making the determination that you – no YOU – would be the captain of the spaceship and your friend would be the alien.  Hours would go by before you finished your scene with him, and when mom said “okay boys, it’s time for dinner.  Say goodbye to your friend”, you shrugged and knocked fists with him, the make-believe game now forgotten as your nostrils inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of roast beef.

As you grow older you realize a few things – in the moment – that excite you.  You notice, as a pre-teen, that lights – physical lights –  seem to draw you out.   City streetlights, the amber glow of the sanctuary candle, as it flickers and creates red shadows which labour to reach the vaulted church ceilings.   Or the neon glow of the computerized gizmos that capture your attention.   You don’t wonder at this fascination, because for you it’s normal.    It doesn’t even occur to you that your interest is not actually usual or the norm.  It just is.

Or you read poetry or hear a song, and you get transported on the resonant notes as they draw you further and further away from the present.  You exult in the ebb and swell of the violins or accordion, completely unaware that your friend has no appreciation for your experience.   At the same time, it never occurs to your autistic friend that his fascination for data, for numbers, for the accumulation and retention of historical knowledge – is in any way unusual.   He thinks everyone is the same.

We all do.

And where we see that we’re different, our instinct tells us we need to conform.   It’s too weird to be *too* different from our peers.   Our minds rationalize the difference, and we work hard at being the same, all the while expounding on our uniqueness, our coolness.

Some of us seek the conformity of a common mindset, in whatever form that takes.   For some, it’s a clique at high school, and we make sure everyone notices that we can drink the same amount of beer as anyone else, and that we can tell dirty jokes, or that we can laugh as we throw toilet paper on the trees at the nerd’s place.

Others of us are the nerds, and we take pleasure in our supposedly superior intellect, and in our ability to play chess and pursue intellectual accomplishments as evidenced by our good grades.   

Still others jump into the conformity of the church pews, secure in our salvation.

That little girl who can’t help thinking about her desire to help the underdog never realizes how unique she is.  How beautiful her heart is.

The little boy never understands that his need to act out is really an extension of his need to entertain and build imaginary characters.  He thinks he’s the same as everyone else.  He has no awareness of the shy kid, the kid who hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with the rest.

And so we get into these clubs and groups and find that we feel safe in them.   We defend them as valid – which for us at the time, they are.

But then there are the other unique groups that are too unusual for us.   Like the old lady with the flabby arms.   Or the group of boys who wear their baseball caps a little weirdly, and talk differently and have different coloured skin.

Or (worse!), those girls who hang out together and hold hands and make out with each other in the alley.  Or the buys who laugh a little too loudly, and have sparkling alive eyes, as they joke with each other with a familiarity that is *too* familiar.

It never occurs to us that the individuals in those groups also grew up, just like we did, thinking that their hopes and dreams and desires were all normal.  They in fact didn’t realize they were ABnormal at all – until someone told them.

But this isn’t about them.  Or about the old woman.  Or the actors or painters or the autistic guy.

It’s about you.  And me.  And the realization that ultimately we don’t fit into a singular mould or group.   We are created to be unique.   Some of the things we experience aren’t “usual”.   We aren’t defined by our love of music, or our unique acting abilities, or our penchant for crunching numbers and finding the myriad ways in which math defines existence.   We – each of us – are comprised of a million different characteristics.

If we could all just *see* each other exactly was we are, we’d know that we aren’t the same.  Maybe we’d appreciate our unique views more.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’d understand that not all fingerprints are exactly the same, or each snowflake.   Maybe we would be aware that total sameness would be boring and dull.  Uninteresting and flat.

Last week when having a heated debate about gays who wanted the right to marry, I thought about those who were opposed.   It startled me how easily I was able to compartmentalize those whose ideologies and religion boxed them into an intolerance of the ideal of treating all people the same.  Though it was so very tempting to dismiss my opponents as intellectual Neanderthals, incapable of original thought, the fact is, I appreciated the need not to lump everyone together but to value and respect each person for their unique take on this and other issues.   The more I read what they had to say, the more it seemed to me that opinions are rarely arrived at in a vacuum.  Some are parroting others’ opinions, while others have given it great thought, perhaps under the influence of religious leaders, or perhaps as a result of a logical internal debate.   Whatever the case, I found I could not paint everyone with the same brush.   Finally, without surrender of my beliefs on the issue, I arrived at the following point:

I don’t like to categorize or dismiss people too easily or often because I don’t want to get ripped off.  Even if I disagree with them and think they’re short-sighted, immature or ignorant, the fact is they might say something that will get me to think differently.  They might offer new wisdom or information to which I was previously unaware.  I don’t want to miss that.

 
Occasionally my first prejudiced judgement of them proves to be in error.  Those are the best surprises.  And sometimes I’m so wrong as to feel embarrassed.  That’s a good thing too because I get to learn.
 
Curiosity is the bane of prejudice.

But Why?

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Life, living, religion
Tags: , , , , ,

Why

Someone once asked me why I believe in God.   There was a slight tone of disbelief and maybe a hint of derision swirling around with the query as it sailed through the air to my ears.   Still, it was a honest curiosity from a guy who, while he didn’t believe in God, certainly believed enough in me to trust that I would answer without giving one of the usual predictable responses one usually receives:

“Because the Bible said so”

“Because none of this reality could exist without God”

I hesitated, trying to find the right imagery and logical links.

“Well I know you can’t prove His existence to anyone”.  I figured we should start out that way – it seemed important to begin where we both agree.   My daughter has taught me about the necessity of context and frankly, a by-product of my ADHD is that I often get excited when relating something, assuming that the hearer has already processed everything that I’ve done.

Anyway, he nodded.

“He has proven His existence to me.   You have to understand that what constitutes evidence to me is not easily transferable to anyone else.   I don’t even try to explain my faith to anyone else – and I certainly don’t feel the need to try and convince anyone.”  The irony of that statement waved its hands in my face, grinning with raised eyebrows, frantically trying to get my attention.  I ignored it.  Some call this obstinate ignorance.

“How so?” he asked.

I love honest questions.   Honest questions make the world go around.  Curiosity begets answers, and answers raise more questions, which feeds curiosity which in turn provokes even more questions.   This is how illumination happens.  This is how people struggle toward discussion, delight and understanding.  This is how wars end, how people eventually agree, how enemies learn to coexist.   This is how marriages are saved.

I told him.

“My sister was very little when she went into a coma.  It was spontaneous and we have no idea how it happened.  I remember my dad carrying her out to the car, limp in his arms.  She was about three years old.”

He listened, and watched as the canvas in my mind slowly brought that memory into focus.

“As the days went by, my parents talked openly about her.   They mentioned that the doctors said there was a few minutes when she had stopped breathing and so therefore she might not come out of it, and that even if she did, there was a high probability that she would have severe brain damage.  She wouldn’t be the same, they said.   I saw my parents’ eyes dim at this news.   Their worry thickened the air.”

I continued.  “I was fourteen and had recently begun attending a small church’s youth group.   My own mind reeling with worry and helplessness, I hopped on my bike and pedaled on down to a night time service.  It was the only thing I knew at the time to do. “

My mind completed the picture.  I recalled the warmth of that little church, with its wooden pews and big windows.   There was something comfortable about the place – enhanced by the handful of hanging light fixtures that sent a warm glow over the twenty or thirty people who were there.   I arrived, a little late as usual and made my way to one of the pews in the middle of the left side, and sat.

“When the spot in the service arrived where requests for prayer were invited, I stood up.   I explained her hopeless situation to them.  Their looks of sympathy almost undid me.   I asked ‘could you please pray for her?’   and the pastor smiled and said ‘let’s pray together’.  And we did.”

“I didn’t feel much different, you understand.   There were no bolts of lightening, no sudden intuition even that God heard us.   But….I did feel a warmth, like I’d done a good thing.”

I stopped, caught up in the memory.    “So what happened?” asked my friend.

“Well, it was about a day later when my parents told us that she woke up from the coma.   The hospital had called them, and so we all scrambled to get ready to head down to the hospital.   They wanted her to stay for observation for a few days.  I went up to see her every day.  We talked and I laughed and I gave her piggy-back rides on my shoulder.   It was good.”

“So….?”  he asked.

“So it turned out that she had no brain damage.   She was fine.   And today she’s holding down an intense job.  She’s one of the brightest people I know.”

He nodded.  “I respect that.  You believe in God because of that.”

I nodded.  “Yeah, but not just that.  That’s just the clearest memory I have – the one that stands out the most.   There have been so many instances in my life where it seemed glaringly evident – to me – that He exists and takes an interest in us.  In me.  One or more too many coincidences, over and over.”

“So what about those who suffer horrifically through life before dying a lonely death?  He doesn’t care for them?”

Another honest question.   “Although I believe in Him and love HIm, I can’t be His apologist.  I have no idea why such people go through such harshness.  Any attempts to offer up any kind of an explanation would be disingenuous.  It would be presumptuous to pretend that I know why He does and doesn’t do the things He does.  I can’t even say that He has His reasons, because once again that would be presuming knowledge that I don’t have.”

He liked that.   He didn’t stop being an atheist that day, and I had no expectation that he would.

But maybe, together, we shed a little light.  I like to think so.

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.