Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Surrounding

“Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.”
(Psalm 46:10, The Voice Bible)

            I find it strange when people claim not to believe in God but then profess their faith in Alien Conspiracy theories. We question whether Goliath actually existed during the time of the Bible but search for Bigfoot on a weekend retreat. We don’t have any issue with possession, or haunting, but the Devil is a myth. We rationalize this but we demonize that. We pick and choose based on what we think rather than what we experience. Instead of placing our trust in something Holy, we rub crystals or flash cards to reveal the future. We don’t consider that, perhaps, Jesus could really heal, but we have no problem believing some guru in Thailand can do just that. Creation Theory has become an archaic lie and the Big Bang Theory is now our gospel. God having a hand in anything is more foreign to us than some witch doctor from Zaire casting a spell. Miracles happen, but Jesus used trickery. We have turned from our outer knowledge of the Divine in the hope that something else will have the answers. We are convinced these things hold true when in fact we have simply abandoned one question for another. 
            It’s true that unless you stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Instead of angels, we now have aliens. Theresa Caputo is more revered than the Christ. There is a place in Mexico where you can phase through a wall into a wormhole, but only if you have the key to get in. Stonehenge is a portal to journey through time and Atlantis lies sleeping off the coast of Ireland. I had no idea that the earth was really hollow and that by flying into a giant crater at the top of the North Pole you could enter a second level of civilization, where dinosaurs roam and fairies dance on giant yellow flowers. God forbid the claim that someone was once raised from the dead but it’s just fine to embrace the idea of people having past lives. There are so many odd and contradictory things in which people invest their trust these days. We laugh at Tom Cruise, then steal off to our own little corner of the universe where dragons soar or the saviour is blue. People just don’t seem to realize what they are doing. They condemn religion for using myth and legend in parable, then heed claims of alien encounters or meeting the tooth fairy and that makes it more real for them. When we believe in anything, we end up with nothing.
            I don’t buy into most of the supernatural stories from the Bible. They seem improbable considering all we have come to know about how the world really works. They stand for me as that which they were created to be: metaphor. This is exactly what they were supposed to function as in the first place. I don’t believe that grey monsters from a distant planet travelled millions of light years to harvest the organs of your pet cow Herman any more than I believe in the virgin birth. I cannot conceive that your dear departed aunt visited you with some message from the other side regarding what colour shoes you should be wearing to her granddaughter’s wedding. The Loch Ness monster is as much of a fabrication as the Leviathan from the Book of Psalms. If something seems impossible, then it probably is.
            I don’t look for God in explanations. I find Him in revelation. I don’t need to know everything, I just know what I need. Century after century, mankind has sought out proof of the supernatural, a metaphysical confirmation of something beyond our human experience. The last time I checked, we have never gained even one iota of proof. All that time, with all those people searching, and observing, and all we have learned is that life is full of mystery. Just because the Egyptians thought cats were divine doesn’t make it so.  There is just as much speculation involving the abominable snowman as there is with fallen angels who rape our women. If there are demons from other dimensions, it is obvious that they must be invisible, so how could we possibly know? I would argue we are not supposed to know. We aren’t supposed to look outside the obvious because the answer lies within the obvious. No matter how we seek, we will never find it any place but there. You can go on the hunt for some esoteric justification all you want, but you already have everything you will ever need to find your answers. I may not be able to hand you Darth Vader, but I can reveal just how to find the Force.
            One day, I just stopped looking for God in the unexplained and started finding Him in the world around me. If you want proof that spacemen make circles in the middle of fields, I can take you to see. If you want to find God, start looking for yourself. There is no question. You have to be blind to miss it. It is all around us. So why then can no one see? The rocks, the trees, the stream through a meadow, these are the miracles that we can touch and see and understand. There is something supernatural in a spider’s web, in the cosmos and in loving someone so much that it hurts. I myself have spent a great deal of time trying to discover any evidence that there was something more to this life than mere existence. I just had to know for sure. I wanted to validate my faith, substantiate my upbringing and confirm my expectations. All the trying in the world won’t make something appear if there is nothing there.   

“There is so much here, O Eternal One, so much You have made.
By the wise way in which You create, riches and creatures fill the earth.
Of course, the sea is vast and stretches like the heavens beyond view,
and numberless creatures inhabit her.
From the tiny to the great, they swarm beneath her waves.
Our ships skim her surface while the monsters of the sea play beneath.”
(Psalm 104:24-26, The Voice Bible)

            If you have never gone scuba diving, the adventure may turn out to be quite an awakening if you take it. Submerging beneath the waves may reveal to you another world, but it can also unlock the incredible reality of God’s creation. There is beauty beyond beauty as you dive into the sea. Away from the surface you float on ripples, silently stroked by an ever moving ridge of water. The deeper you go, the further out you go, the more the vastness of the planet becomes your experience. You can feel lost in the size of it. On a clear day you can savour forever. Schools of fish dart and dance about without a care in the world. Jellyfish, without number, wait patiently off in the distance, dreaming of recess. It can be surreal when you realize you are alive in something so alive. A dense cloud, yet nothing at all, swallows you. 
            I grew up in the water. Early on I had a propensity for swimming. Into my late teens, I spent my summers taking lessons, learning to master the art. I constantly felt chalky from all of the chlorine my skin was exposed to. I climbed the ladder to Life Guard but never really fit into that scene. It didn’t matter anyway. I already knew how to save a life. I wanted to learn how to scuba dive. With my Instructor’s Certificate, I finally got my chance. While exploring the Great Lakes was an immediate gratification, I pined for blue waters, not the cloudy brown of Lake Ontario. Lake Erie was a wonder the first three times, but eventually there was little or no thrill to its deep. I had been to the oceans. I swam in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. I crashed through breakers at Big Sur and held my breath in the waters off Newfoundland, but I had not explored what lies beneath. In 1987, I took a voyage to the bottom to see.
            Southeast of Corpus Christi, along the Texas coast of the Gulf, looms Mustang Island State Park. Wedged between Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, this coastal barrier island flourishes thanks to sand dunes up and down its 5 mile beach front. Covering 3,954 acres, sandy hills protect the park from storms and the sea. We headed to the north of the island in our rental boat, to a spot just past the jetty at Fish Pass. These protective structures of stone (or concrete) protrude out from shore in an attempt to limit erosion. Without them, the island would literally be washed away. Some extend quite far out into the Gulf and allow easier access to the deeper waters beyond the sandbars and dunes of the coastline. I had seen the hue of these waters before, but television and the movies somehow failed to underscore just how spectacular they really are. We readied our equipment, did our safety check, then each one of us plunged backwards into the unusually warm and deep blue sea.
            Almost immediately, I felt like an astronaut spying from the Moon. There were fish everywhere and juts of coral trying hard to form a reef. Flounder, mackerel and jackfish flickered in and out of rhythm, feeding and speeding and breathing liquid air. Thirty feet down and anemones and urchins blended with rock and seaweeds. Small schools of colourful fish exercised out in a constant rain of shrimp and plant life. Although I did not get to see a shark, a large sea turtle swam off in the distance. There was great bounty all around me. I felt rather benign amidst the meaning of it all. From up above, occasionally a pelican or heron would dive into my new sky, stealing away with an afternoon snack. I could sense all of the life that surrounded me. I stopped and floated. I tried to take it all in. For the first time in my life, I realized how incredible nature really is. There was beauty to be found in all of the beauty. I know it sounds silly, but I actually thought, just for a second, that I had experienced God.

“From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people.” (Romans 1:20, The Voice Bible)

            Off the coast of Vancouver Island, I witnessed a sunset so beautiful that it made me cry. In Algonquin Park, Ontario, I explored forest so dense that I found myself lost in the grandeur of it all. Watching a Minke whale breach the waves along the St. Lawrence Seaway left me dumfounded. The dunes of Cape Cod and the rocky cliffs around Big Sur allowed me to flirt with Mother Nature. From the mountains in Colorado to the Badlands of North and South Dakota, I have found peace in the majesty of glacial retreats and tectonic plates. Niagara Falls always reminds me just how insignificant I am in the greater scheme of things. Whether attending the cherry blossom festival in Washington DC or picking elderberries along a dirt road near the town where I grew up, the simple pleasures of the natural world bring me comfort in moments of need. Everywhere I go, all the places I have been, only act to cement my faith that there is so much more to this world than mere coincidence. I see great design in the wonders of nature. I recognize there is far more to this reality than we know.    
            It matters little to me if I see the stars at night shine big and bright deep in the heart of Texas or my parents’ backyard. This universe is awe inspiring. When comets and asteroids dance in the darkness, I dance with them in my head. I see the differences between a newborn baby and a butterfly floating about some flowers, but both are evidence that there is a magic in all of this creation. The experience of watching my cat die, or the snow falling softly outside my window on Christmas morning, each stands as proof, for me, that there is purpose and reason in all this natural wonder. Whether I am soothed to sleep by the lullaby of a cricket or awoken by the rage of a storm, I am humbled by this world and all the life that comes with it. As I walk along a deserted dirt road on a hot summer’s day, I can feel it all around me. It is in the grace of growing older and the touch of a monkey through bars at the local zoo. If you want to understand the nature of God, just open up your eyes and see it. Like the wind, and the rain, and the sun, and snow, God can be found in the things we know.

“Think about those beautiful wild lilies growing over there. They don’t work up a sweat toiling for needs or wants—they don’t worry about clothing. Yet the great King Solomon never had an outfit that was half as glorious as theirs.”
(Luke 12:27, The Voice Bible)

            So few of us ever stop to really hear the birds or take pause during a busy day to recognize a fragrance in the air. We thrive to work and we work to thrive. You may have seen the Seven (natural) Wonders of the World, then climbed Mount Everest, but were you amazed or did you have a revelation? Does the thorn of the rose just draw blood from you or does it draw life into you? We can touch, we can feel, we can understand all this nature, but we do not take the time to think about what it really is. If you can believe that vampires exist, then is it so hard to imagine that there is a God and that He hides in His creation? If you can read the stars and the signs; if you believe that a deck of cards or a wooden board can actually talk to you; if you can find meaning in things so obscure, then why can’t you see the obvious? We are, after all, part of nature too.
            I am a rational person. I believe in the Big Bang and in Darwin’s theory of Evolution. In many ways, I am more a man of science than a man of theology. That being said, there exists a modern movement sweeping many scientific fields of study which claims that there is an underlying consciousness to all reality. On a subatomic level, we also find the “God Particle”,  known as Higgs boson. Researchers believe it caused the Big Bang and is “what joins everything and gives it matter." Astronauts, having returned to earth, claim to have changed as a result of their experience in space. While the heavenly view itself may have affected them deeply, an obscure phenomenon called the “Overview Effect” seems to convey a much more profound explanation. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, in February of 1971, experienced this surrounding. Mitchell “describes being completely engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. Without warning, he says, “a feeling of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming “instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe.” When asked about any resulting conclusions or ideas regarding God, he responded, “We do have great mystery about what is the origin of the universe, how it came to be. There's a great deal of question as to whether the Big Bang is the correct answer to the way the universe arose, and under what auspices and conditions. I don't think we have the full answers to that yet. Hopefully in due course we'll be able to find a much better way to describe all this.” 
            When we become familiar with something, it loses its uniqueness. We no longer view it as special because it has become the everyday. We don't take the time to see things that are in front of our faces so we don’t even bother to look. We cling to almost anything we think will help us get through, anything but the obvious. Whether scientific or supernatural, we convince ourselves that our theories are true, well knowing that if you give a man enough opportunity, he will believe anything. In an attempt to create our own answers, we have asked the same questions. The symphony of every living thing testifies of a higher power, but we do not listen. 
            As my day in the Gulf of Mexico floated into an evening of star shine and warm breezes, I found myself, at 22 years of age, taking my first step towards spiritual freedom. I had a long and horrific road ahead of me, but I was never able to escape what happened in the sea that day and the overwhelming emotional experience of it all. The time I spent submerged helped to shape my future thinking about life and the universe. It was like God had revealed Himself to me through nature. It wasn’t angels or ladders that ushered Him in. Not one piece of seaweed caught on fire and then communicated with me. Although I had much to learn and discover about God, science and nature, at least I finally knew where to start looking. On a cool autumn evening, sitting next to a bonfire, I can sense it. Windows down, radio up, as I am speeding down a road, I can feel it. During a sun shower on a sweltering summer afternoon, I can smell it. On a January morning, while scraping my car, I can touch it. The spring sings of it. I can discover it anytime I stop to listen. There is always something divine in the air. It is a silent voice that calls out to me, over and over. It whispers, “I am here.”







Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Will and Grace

“Do you look up at the sky
When the full moon’s burning bright
And wonder why the night won’t fade away?
Do you ever feel the rain
Like a thousand drops of pain
And wonder why the sun won’t shine today?
Do you walk?
Do you run?
Or do you fly if you have the chance?
When the music starts to play
Do you turn and walk away
Or do you dance?”

            It was an almost perfect June day for a wedding. With the exception of a grey sky, and the ever so slight chance of rain, the outdoor ceremony went off without a hitch. The clouds themselves seemed merciful, blocking out the late spring sun and allowing for cooler, much more reasonable temperatures. At times like this, it seems better to welcome the threat of a storm than to bake in the glare of a sunny day. With the choice of a quaint garden setting, next to a rippling stream and cobblestone mill, it was easy to see why the bride and her groom had decided on this place to exchange their vows. There was great beauty to be found in the simplicity of this tiny cove and the minimalistic approach made regarding décor. A few flowers on a few fold-out chairs and an arbour splashed by a veil of white were the only accents outside of the natural beauty. There was an elegance in the easiness of it, a charm in the choice to go green.
            When soft symphonies began to flow from an orchestra hidden in technology, all sat ready for the march of the bride and her entourage. As ceremony would have it, the mother comes first. She passed from behind me, her shuffle was silent but her presence immediate. The long black strapless gown was stunning. The short matching jacket danced in the same colour but it was lacy, each interstice woven together sweetly, resembling a web of ebony, close to her frame. The dark set fit her perfectly and she turned every head. Although the reason she chose this dress was clear (it was arresting), I could not discern her rationality to go black. I always thought black was for funerals and that the mother of the bride was “supposed” to match her daughter’s attire (or at least accent it). While the bride was breathtaking in her gown of white, her mother was almost as beautiful for a woman in black.
            I had to ask the bride and groom just who had decided on the colour scheme for the reception.  The newly married couple had the final say. Every table, every chair was garnished in dark midnight purple. It seemed black to me at first. I almost immediately realized how well the mother of the bride blended in. White flowers and clear glass accentuated circular tables iced with shadow. The groom’s party was charcoal grey and the bridesmaids a rich burgundy, the emphasis so much on the amalgam of colour and style. Everything matched up perfectly, a blend of slight winter and harvest moon. Right down to the napkins, there was great attention to detail. I could tell how much thought and preparation had gone into this event. Without exaggeration, it was one of the loveliest weddings I have ever had the privilege of attending.
            She floated out onto the dance floor like a free spirit. Her grace was not only in her moves. You could see her radiance, her happiness. I watched her on occasion throughout the night. She had ditched her jacket so that she could spread her wings to fly. Despite any lack of brightness in the colour choice of her dress, she was emblazoned. I had met her several times before this night, but I never realized just how exempt she had made herself. She was exempt from worrying what anybody thought or said. She didn’t wear that black dress because she was trying to punctuate a colour scheme. She never thought of any message it might convey. She wore that gown because she loved it. She wore it because she wanted to, and nothing else.

“When the radio is on
Do you sing your favourite song
Or do you change the station just to hear the news?
In the small hours of the night
Do you give in to the fright
Or do you let the sound of silent wings free you?
Do you follow your dreams?
Do you follow your bliss?
Do you hold out your heart for the ultimate kiss?
If you live your life in black and white
You can let go of your fear of flight
Surrender love”

            He was wild. He was turbulent. He just didn’t give a damn. He was reckless in his recklessness and as high as the highest high. We met in English 101, the year before I met his cousin. He may have been a string bean, but his delirium seemed to grow more each day.  His vehemence was met only by a surging anger. This rage seemed directed towards everything, but mostly towards himself. He did nothing against his own will. He didn’t care what kind of clothes he should have worn to school. Sometimes panamas were good enough for him. Bathing consistently was for pussies. A clean house a mere challenge, a race in tepid destruction. He refused to do what they said or act as they said, he even claimed not to think as they thought. It was his pleasure to go against the grain, to stand out against the norm. He was rebel and hobo all tied up in one.   
            For all his nonconformity, he was not carefree. Apparently, he just could not find it within himself to dance. The weight of the world was heavy on his shoulders, as frail as they were. In his attempt to repel society, he also repelled people. Friendless and separated from family, alone he stood . A lone wolf, one might say. He dropped out of school as an act of treason and started collecting the perfect solution when avoiding social interaction, guns. His manifesto was loud and clear: fuck the system, fuck the Jones’, fuck the world that they have made this out to be. In a quest to be an individual, his anger turned to hatred and his hatred turned to a couple of years in a mental institution. He had been trying to free himself, to stand up against “the man.” The end result was forced conformity on a ward, conformity to his new label, and most of all, a silent conformity within the cage he had built around himself. Instead of being different, he turned out like every other loser who loses their way, utterly human.
            One day, he just up and disappeared. I never got to see my friend again. His release only seemed to have released his propensity to hide even more. Inside his mind, he pushed away anything that might have saved him from himself. In trying to reject the world around him, he succeeded in rejecting the only things that might have helped him. When you shove away the people in your life, when you strive to stand alone, that’s exactly how you end up. He was left with little but the clothing on his back. While he must have imagined this was the best way for him to be, his actions and choices made him like everyone else. Those who believe they are special enough to demand the world treat them so are fodder for foolishness. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t a rebel. He wasn’t even good at being bad. He just turned out to be crazy.
            I didn’t hear from him when his cousin died. He sent no condolence, made no attempt to express the loss he might have felt. I am not sure that he even gave a shit. He spent most of his adulthood  trying to be unlike the rest of us. He wanted to be dissimilar, to not conform. The world was an awful place and anyone who rested in it was an asshole, controlled by society. He only managed to isolate himself from everything that matters in this life. For well over a decade he wandered this planet on a bender. In trying not to care, he gave up everything one could care about. His attempts at nonconformity led him straight into a hell from which he could not escape. A few years ago came the news. He had taken a rifle and removed himself completely. He said goodbye to no one, for he had no one to say goodbye to. Although his reality may have been simply in his mind, he ended up achieving the very thing he tried so hard to eliminate. In rejecting the world, he had only dejected himself. Unfortunately, he turned out like every other person who decides for once and for all to stop the noise and the pain. He was not unique at all. Just like his cousin, he ended up dead.

“Do you walk?
Do you run?
Or do you fly if you have the chance?
Do you breathe to live
Or do you live to breathe?
Do you feel the rhythm of romance?
Do you laugh until it hurts?
Or do you sing like no-ones listening?
When the music starts to play
Do you turn and walk away
Or do you dance?”
(Do You Dance? Amy Sky 2005)

            Its fashionable to try and be one of a kind. The world has become one giant competition to see who can out-martyr themselves. When did being unparalleled become the norm? Does that mean that not conforming has become conforming? Isn’t saying you don’t want attention a secret cry for just that? We accentuate our position. We punctuate the freedom that we think we own. Nonconformity has become an idiom, the hip thing to do as you get older. The property in being off the grid has become in itself an expectation.  Just because you are part of the group that doesn’t like groups doesn’t mean you’re not part of a group.  We have no choice in this life. We fit in the best we can and sometimes that means you have to conform. We do it at work. We do it while driving on the highway. We even do it at Christmastime gathered around a freshly cut tree.
            Conformity is all about influence. Whether internal pressures or external factors, we are constantly shaped by our environment and the people within it. When we change our behaviour, or what we believe in, in order to fit in with a group, we have conformed. We have changed. This change is usually in reaction to both real and imagined forces. We want to fit in, to be liked. We want unity because of our desire to be correct and to find comfort in our social role. Unfortunately for many people, conformity is more of an issue than a solution. Nonconformity can work exactly the same way. People try so hard to be an individual, to avoid societal averages, that they lose themselves in the emptiness of it all. Either way, there is always a strong chance that in our perceived ideas about our individuality, however it may be, we lose touch with what it really means to be free.    
            Freedom from conformity is not a state of action or denial, it is a state of living. When you walk out on a dance floor and don’t even stop to consider what others are thinking, that is being free. To invest in the beauty simply for the sake of beauty, that is integrity. When you give a damn, that’s obedience. The only true influence we ever meet is our own, but we are often too afraid to look in the mirror. The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even dead fish float upstream. The reward for your conformity is that everyone likes you except you. On the other hand, there are pathways to madness for every man. Many try to rebuke the world, to go it alone, but they forget that failure to comply may just as well jail your freedom. Such things tend to be the enemy of growth. We need to stop trying and just start being. Trip the light fantastic.

My late friend once told me, “I’d rather die than dance.”
Not me.








Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scars and Stripes


            Some people have great issue when they discover that I do not separate emotional responses involving death. The death of a loved one and the death of a pet can have the same effect on a person. My point is always, each pet is a loved one. Most of the animals I have “owned” throughout my lifetime meant as much, if not more, than most of the people I have known. I do not believe this attitude is exclusive to my state of being. I think deep down inside we all recognize that, in many cases, losing a pet hurts just as much as losing a person you love. Sometimes it hurts more. That initial emotion is the same in all of us, regardless of how much we try to tell ourselves it is not. Granted, the period of grieving is usually shorter with animals, the intensity is more confined, but the depth of conviction brought on by any loss can and will change a person, if they let it. 
            Not every bird that slams into your car while you drive at warp six merits a funeral. The hamburger you eat does not demand an act of contrition, no matter how much you enjoyed consuming the meat. We do not regard these examples in the same manner that we view our cat, or our dog, or even our horse. A hamster or a rat may be our very best friend and our pet pig may warm a cold and lonely bed each night. When an animal to which we have emotionally attached ourselves passes, or has to be put down, we go through withdrawal. This detachment has physical manifestations just like when we detox from drugs or alcohol. Each little life we lose leaves a tiny spiritual scar. Over time, all those tiny little scars can shred our spirit so that it becomes like a tatterdemalion. I will not argue that the long-term consequences from the loss of a pet and the loss of your spouse differ. These responses are primarily based on the magnitude of each relationship. When a pet dies, you bleed just the same. The dagger may not make as deep a hole, but the pain is identical.  When I look in the mirror, I often see many jagged marks on my soul, scars as visible as any great wound.
            We put down our cockapoo Skippy on July 4th 2005. We didn’t want to do it, but his worsening condition left us little choice. He had been mostly blind for over 5 years, but you could tell he had finally slipped into pure darkness. His teeth were falling out, he developed incontinence. He was leaving and we knew what was to come. Our decision was not an easy one to make. We mulled over our options but decided on mercy rather than suffering. It was the least we could do for such a good friend and companion. Almost nine years later and the razor blade still stings. We question ourselves, always wondering if we did the right thing. It is not a constant moaning that we hear. Each anniversary of his birth or death; each time we see his doppelganger in the elevator or on the street; each time we take the time, he haunts us quite silently. There are times we accuse ourselves of murder. Could he have had one more good day? Would he have lasted the summer? Every time, that jagged piece of mind reopens an old wound. I often wonder to myself if the decision to put him down, when we did, wasn’t a selfishly motivated act. Did we make our decision to euthanize so that we could spare him or did we kill our dog to spare us?  

 “I think we sometimes want the ones we love to be with us forever. It’s difficult to let go, whether it’s a teenager going to college, a parent who’s on their death bed, a spouse who we loved or a companion that’s beyond help. Death is never easy. I have a hard time with life support systems or keeping animals alive beyond what life would have otherwise provided in their natural environment. At the end of the day, I think we have to decide if we are keeping the person or pet alive for us or them and to realize we love the being so much that we are capable of accepting their choice to leave. Animals and humans both decide when they’re ready to go,, it’s the families and loved ones who usually have the difficult time with the decision. Be happy for your friend,, they served their purpose with you and now get to rest…  Remember,, in this animal’s natural environment,, it would have only lived a fraction of the life you provided it. When it was beyond its time, and living a life of misery and suffering, you provided a solution regardless of your own feelings. You sound like a hero to me.” (Facebook, Jason Smith, July 4th 2013)
            For most of the time that I have had Bi-Polar Effective Disorder (Manic Depression), I’ve rarely felt like I was mentally challenged. After all, there is a difference between a chemical imbalance and a psychological flaw. I have always viewed myself as dysfunctional, not crazy. Any behaviour, or medication I had to take, was the result of a physiological glitch in my genetic makeup. I will admit that all the years of jumping from hospital to hospital, from therapist to therapist, looking for a cure, left me feeling futile in the face of my storm. When I think back on all the experiences I have had because of my condition, I wonder why the resolution took so fucking long to find. Initially, they placed me on Lithium, 1200 mg a day, forever and forever. I stopped taking it almost right away. It was not only the nausea and vomiting that convinced me to stop poisoning myself, it was the mania which continued, unencumbered, whether I dropped my four salty friends or not. With my narcissism in charge, and the depression a constant struggle, I made the decision to go it alone. For over 17 years I roamed without my leash. Without any means of control, I lost myself in my own fury.
            The entire time I went untreated was like a very long and very bad episode of sleep paralysis. It was like being awake but unable to move, unable to influence any outer reality. I lived life, but it was not my own. Without treatment, I became a creature of instinct and impulse. Even during my depressive states, I lost touch with the person I wanted to be and turned into the person they all said I would be. The disease took charge, it always did. During any brief moment of clarity, I always felt myself punished from above. Although I often realized that I was only hurting myself, I also felt as if God Himself was casting the die and calling the shots. Each bad choice, each wayward action had a clear consequence. I believed these things were not only by my hand but Divine retribution, payback for my sins. Every time I did something that Christianity said was wrong, God tore me a new one.  
            I am a severe bi-polar. The worst type, I am told. With all my signals constantly crossed, it is no wonder I took on the heavy weight of condemnation from my birth religion. Even when I cast God away, swearing never to give Him my attention again, I still felt like the Christ was whipping me from behind so that I couldn’t see Him. Each incident of cause and effect was much more to me than a figurative wound that would heal me strong. Any scars I received were from constantly being beaten, lashed upon a wooden rail by life and sweet Jesus in the sky. Sometimes in the dark of night I can still see the marks against the shadows; they remind me of how unwanted I am. 30 stripes for being a homosexual. 15 for telling a lie. 20 for not believing in the Son up in the heavens and 5 for good measure. I remember each one as it cut into my neck or my side or my torso, welted deep like it was supposed to do. Each time I felt flogged, it was as if God did the whipping, striking me down, time and again, like a dictator demanding I obey His rules. The stripes I bore did nothing to convince me that I was required to follow.
            When my mind cleared, and the pills kicked in, I realized that God never does His own dirty work. He doesn’t need to, that’s what life is for. Of course, I never really believed I was being assaulted by something Holy. The idea of such a thing was only a reflection of how I felt inside myself. Actual lack of assistance from God only served to convince me I was unwanted, unloved. I felt like I was subject to spiritual condemnation as if it was corporal punishment. I am so glad that those days are long gone. I cannot even remember what it is like to live that way. I was looking through some pictures the other day, planning to organize them all from their safety in boxes and Tupperware. I came across a few snapshots from a time when I was at my worst. I tried desperately to see any hint of the flagellation I felt I was subjected to. I studied myself. I tried to remember what it felt like, what I was thinking in that pretty head of mine. I found no evidence, no indication that God had been there at all. 

“The clouds will part and the sky cracks open
And God himself will reach his fucking arm through
Just to push you down
Just to hold you down
Stuck in this hole with the shit and the piss
And it's hard to believe it could come down to this
Back at the beginning
(The Wretched, Nine Inch Nails 1999)

            It has always been a challenge for me to separate God’s hypothetic punishment from the struggles that life brings. The scars and stripes that are supposed to make us strong may prepare us for the journey we take, but I could never get past all the conjecture that they were planned, set down from above. I recognize that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8: 28a, NIV) but it is the declaration that God “disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son" (Hebrews 12:6, NIV) that I have a serious problem with.   
            Many might, or already do, argue that the experiences that this life has handed me are because I am no longer considered God’s “son”. My true nature defines me as something lesser, beyond redemption. Sheep go to heaven and all the goats go to hell. Perhaps they are correct and I am just climbing different mountains than those He considers for His “children”. All along, I may have been trying to get somewhere that I didn’t belong, and most certainly, wasn’t wanted. If I had truly met the conditions for my salvation, God would have extricated me from all the bad things and restored me into good things. While this concept might offend others deeply, I always take it like a warning, an indicator of what not to think and how not to be. It is true that the rain falls on the just and the unjust, that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) but this says far more about the way that life is for everyone than any lack of God’s Love and Mercy.  The deeper I dig in all this shit, the more I realize its just manure.
            To each life will come quandaries, doubts and questions on the purpose of it all. There is a constant war within each soul, a battle from each forward movement that we try so hard to make. We are all a heart in motion, always looking to be released from our snarled and tangled condition. From the slightest scar to the most penetrating flogging, it is life that gave me my wounds, not something Holy. No angels bested me. No saviour rejected me. God does not sit in His Holy Place and hand out punishment just for the sake of it. The very best we can do is to try and heal our way through each scar, to grin and bear the stripes we are dealt. This is what it means to be alive. They occur just from the act of being. I am convinced that God does not punish. In fact, it is the relationship we have with God that allows us to find purpose in our suffering, to recognize the hidden design in our ability to learn from living. We must have mercy on both ourselves and the other living things that surround us throughout our lives.
            So much damage, so much pain. So many scars piled up upon themselves. So many beatings, invisible lashings received for the pleasure of just being alive. We are so contrite in our suffering that we cannot see it has reason. When we suffer, the first thing we do is react as if we have done something wrong. When we do something wrong, when we sin, we automatically believe we are going to be punished. We take off our shirt, stretch out our arms and almost swallow the gag we use in resistance.  
 “As I inclined my head still more, I saw
that each, amazingly, appeared contorted
between the chin and where the chest begins;
they had their faces twisted towards their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them.”
(Divine Comedy: Inferno [XX, 10-15] Dante Alighieri, 14th century)






Jason Smith profile






Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Apples and Oranges

            On the corner of Clarence and Dundas Street, in London Ontario, pedestrians flow like wine at a wedding. It is one of the main intersections in the downtown core. Every day, thousands of people hustle and bustle, back and forth, heading somewhere or leaving from somewhere else. The city of London is located approximately halfway between Toronto and Detroit along the 401 corridor. According to the 2011 Canadian census, the population of London stands at 366,151. Known as “The Forest City”, urban sprawl efficiently blends dense residential and park areas with the more capitalistic requirements of a postmodern metropolis. Glass towers, heritage buildings and thousands of trees create a quaint possibility, but the ravages of recession and unemployment have turned the main thoroughfare into a recipe that looks like a disaster. I found myself this Monday morning waiting for the bus on the corner. Across the street he was sitting, waiting just like me. You could tell right away that he was heading in the wrong direction.     
            Like every urban centre, London has its share of street beggars and the homeless. The gentleman across the way was most definitely of the latter persuasion. He was raggedy, unkempt and without question in desperate need. I thought to myself, “This guy needs a Saviour and a sandwich.” With only my bus pass, and backsliding ways to take me home, I stood unable to assist him in either hour of need. I only assumed that at least one of the many people who passed him by might spare a dime, let alone grant this human being some acknowledgement. He barely moved, staring into the passing crowd. On occasion he would close his eyes, although I wasn’t sure if he was praying or begging for mercy. I thought to myself what it must be like to be so invisible, to be so damned dispensable. My heart went out to him, even though I held nothing in my hand to offer.
            He set the box down a mere 15 feet from the vagabond. Right on the corner, for the whole world to see, he grabbed his pamphlets and started praising Jesus. The Assembly of God logo was as clear as day on the side of that crate. I just assumed it was filled with salvation. What a contradiction in terms. Not only would the money used for copying and dispensing these tools of evangelization do more good for the man quite lost behind him, but this saver of souls didn’t even notice him, sitting there, so in need of the Kingdom. As a woman, dressed to the nines, shuffled alongside of him, he handed her the gift of Eternal Life. Although rejected, he did not miss the chance to at least try and win a few Goth kids to Jesus. Each person he addressed, rich beyond measure compared to the stranger across the street from me, took his pamphlet, then tossed it to the ground or dumped it in the garbage can located a few feet down the way. Most avoided taking it altogether. He had this urgency about him and he seemed so very defeated when even one passerby got away. In the corner of my eye I saw that my bus was coming so I took out my pass. I got ready to board.
            I went to the back of the bus, as I usually do, and flopped down in the window seat, facing the homeless man across the street. I took one last look and wondered if there wasn’t something I could have done for him. Just then, a second man approached that self-appointed saviour and handed him his morning coffee. When the light ahead of me finally turned green, the bus began to pull out into traffic and carried me onward. They just stood there drinking their coffee.
They must have been on a break.

“Apples and oranges aren't that different really. I mean they're both fruit. Their weight is extremely similar. They both contain acidic elements. They're both roughly spherical. They serve the same social purpose. With the possible exception of a tangerine I can't think of anything more similar to an orange than an apple. If I was having lunch with a man who was eating an apple and, while I was looking away, he replaced that apple with an orange I doubt I'd even notice. So how is this a metaphor for difference? I could understand if you said 'That's like comparing apples and uranium' or 'That's like comparing apples with baby wolverines' or 'That's like comparing apples with the early work of Raymond Carver' or 'That's like comparing apples with hermaphroditic ground sloths.' Those would all be valid examples of profound disparity.”
(Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, Chuck Klosterman 2003)

            We recently went to a restaurant that was a little outside of our regular routine. It was a nice enough place. It was classy without coming across condescending. The hostess was very pretty, and very young. I have underwear older than her. She seated us promptly and gave us our menus, as would be expected. When the water arrived, we ordered our drinks and sat back watching a news channel muted on the flat-screen. It rested on the wall just past our table. As Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons soothed our senses softly like background noise, we took our time and perused the menu. The fusion of classic French cuisine with Italian made each selection a very difficult choice indeed. Without fail, Ben took far too long to make up his mind. This time however, no waitress arrived to remind him it was time to finally decide. Having made our decisions, we waited and we waited, then we waited some more. It was far past winter when our waitress for the evening decided to show up.   
            Karen was a lovely thing. Her amber hair and delicate looks blended nicely with her toned physique and tight-fitting uniform. She was even younger than the hostess at the front entrance. Predictably, Ben ordered an appetizer with our meals, we argued about the price of it, then when our drinks came to the table, we settled in and tried to enjoy ourselves. Vivaldi had flowed into Mozart, then Mozart flowed into Bach, all the while we patiently waited for the overpriced starter. I spied around the place, looking for good ole Karen, trying to get her attention. I spotted her up near the bar where she had stopped and talked to another waitress. She then disappeared out back for at least the length of  Johann Sebastian’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor. I bet Ben $5.00 that she had gone outside for a smoke. When the organ music faded into Haydn’s oratorio masterpiece Die Schöpfung (The Creation), a different waitress brought forth our bounty. Unfortunately, she brought it all out at once.
            Our dinner grew cold as we consumed the hors d'oeuvres. With every bite I looked for Karen, but she was never anywhere to be found. With our drinks unfilled and no fresh napkins to be found, I started my traditional countdown. From that point on, each error or inappropriate behaviour on her part would result in a deduction of one dollar from the customary tip. I have known enough waitresses, waiters and busboys to realize this experience with Miss Karen was simply a reflection off one rotten apple. Ignoring your customers is just bad business. She must not have realized that a gratuity is not mandatory. It is a reward for good and professional service. By the time she finally showed up, we had finished and asked for the bill. The food was great and the atmosphere enchanting, but why would I pay her for a job she didn’t do?
            As Holst’s Saturn, from The Planets, played hauntingly in the background, Karen finally brought the damage. We both found it strange that after all that avoidance, all that laziness, that she returned immediately with it. Visa is handy, but cash is dandy when you want to make a point about service. When she returned and took the payment, I asked for the change back. When all was said and done, we stood up, stretched a little and headed out through the front entrance. On the way out the door, I leaned over to that very pretty, and very young, hostess who had greeted us when we entered and I said, “I spent so much time waiting for service that I memorized the playlist of that Classical station you use in your restaurant.” Her apology would do me no good. It was too late. I never left a penny for lacklustre Miss Karen because she had not earned one.








Still Life with Apples and Oranges
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1897


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winsome or Lose Some

“I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.” (David Foster Wallace, American novelist)
            Children are not supposed to have worries. We just assume their innocence is uncorrupted until later in their life. Unfortunately, there are far too many influences in this modern world, influences that denigrate a healthy childhood. Whether technology, lack of structure (family) or even horrific events at the hands of others, children, in many cases,  are no longer free to be children. We take something as simple as the idea of a God and turn it into confusion and legislation, brainwashing them, forcing them into thinking that our religious norms are the set of rules they should follow. Kids don’t get to discover the truth, it is handed down to them. From early on they are conditioned, trained until they no longer are free just to be. 

“When we are children we seldom think of the future.
This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can.
The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
(The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss 2007)

            Growing up while cultivated by Christianity, I often found myself at odds with the teachings placed before me. Many of the dogmas and doctrines that I was exposed to seemed inconsistent with the God I already believed in. I questioned almost everything, regardless of what I had been taught to have faith in. I drove my ministers and instructors crazy with constant inquiries. As a child, my attention span was so erratic that by the time I got home from Sunday School, I had little or no interest in pursuing those questions. By the time I became a teenager, it was clear to me that we aren’t supposed to ask those questions. I am not aware whether other kids have the same experiences. Do they question too? This internal discord corrupted my judgment and often sent me into sadness. I was playful, I had fun, but I was not free.
            We are told that only those who are like children can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:3), then in the same breath children are told to act their age, to grow up and to be a man (or a lady). The burden of adult ideas and required behaviour steals away any glimmer of childhood that a very young person may still have. Expectations become patterns and patterns become gospel. I don’t know why or how I formed my earliest conceptions of the Holy. From the beginning of any awareness, I presume, I took whatever good I saw in each lesson, leaving all the commentary to the older people. God had always been more of an ethereal being to me than a Father or Judge. Although I had conceived notions of God as a deity, any dialogue regarding such things was of little concern to me. Somewhere out in space was someone who loved me. I believed this until I learned that it was not so. 

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” (Agamemnon, Aeschylus 459 BCE)

            Compromising childlike faith and innocence has great penalty. We are warned by the Christ that for anyone doing so “it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2) Well meaning religious people baptize, confirm and institutionalize children like sheep led to slaughter. We control them with our own ideas as if they were the one and only truth. When an adult has childlike qualities, and a winsome nature, we chastise them, tell them to act their age or we just assume that they are simply a retard.

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.”
(The Quiet American, Graham Greene 1955)

            My first partner had a winsome nature when I met him. His childlike way was charming yet quite foreign to me. I had never encountered someone so normal yet so naive in their interpretation of what it means to be alive. It was not that he was immature or stupid. He was the most intelligent and capable man I had the privilege to experience up to that point. He viewed life differently than any other person I had known. He was an innocent, unaffected by the claims of a reality outside his upbringing. His internal version of life and God was unencumbered. He was free. All that seemed to come with him was unstained. It had not been tainted or tarnished regardless of his family, friends or the small town in which he grew up. When I first met Doug, it seemed to me that he had been living in a bubble. I quickly learned that he was, in fact, the bubble itself.
            Once he was exposed to the harsh reality of this world, he began to change. This change was not for the better. Instead of continuing to see without judgment, he took all that judgment upon himself. His concept of the Divine shifted from a God who loved him, no matter what, to a God who condemned him just for being the person that he was. The life he had led since his childhood turned out to be a lie. The environment that he was so swiftly exposed to stood in complete contradiction to what he had formulated in his own mind and spirit. With no formal religious training, no sense of Divine condemnation, he quickly was caught up in it, like a fish out of water. He floundered, he struggled to catch his breath. Eventually, all that pressure from within did just what they told us it would do in high school. Given enough time, the bubble burst.
            It is strange to me how we interfere. We take someone so pure, so unaffected and we make demands that they listen to us, learn from us and do what we tell them to do. We instruct each other to be like children, then attack when adults do that very thing. We endlessly lecture about God’s Grace and Unconditional Love, than steal it from each other until we submit to His Will. I find it interesting that the will of god usually lines up well with the needs and wishes of those evangelising to us. For some, the very purpose of their religion is to win souls. We become so concerned with salvation, and immortality, that we channel this concern to every person who we believe does not live up the standards expressed in our holy books and religion. We negate each other’s happiness here on earth believing the eternal soul matters more. Well meaning religious people take the innocence that childhood once offered without even asking. They demand we form a bubble, but the bubble is someone else’s creation, not our own. We all view the world through different lenses, but only this way or that way is the right prescription. Without their Rx, we are considered rather blind and in need of saving. 

“Of course, you will ask what proof do we have that retards today are the descendants of those filthy half-Demon hybrids that caused the destruction of mankind? That they have the same blood running through their twisted limbs as the Demons cast out of Heaven? Well let me remind you of your original question. If God is so perfect then why would he create a retard? I think the answer is in the question. He wouldn't. These creatures are the spawn of Hell, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not only insulting me, he is insulting God.”
(God Hates Retards, www.godhatesgoths.com)

            For the first year, I thought Matthew and Beth were brother and sister. Eventually, I discovered that the only thing common to both of them was Downs Syndrome. Matt was around 40 years old and Beth around 30 when they joined the congregation of the Strathroy United Church. Every Sunday morning, someone would pick them up from their group home and take them for Sunday service at my Church. Matthew was a stunted man, with streaks of grey in his dark hair. He possessed the emotional and intellectual maturity of a 10-year-old, or so we were told. He may have walked with two canes, balancing his feeble limbs on heavy sticks of wood, but he never seemed impeded.  Beth stood under 5 foot tall and her hair was cut close, for easy grooming I supposed. She was a small girl, but she was not tiny. Her limitations were not always visible from my vantage point. For someone with such a diminished IQ, she was truly capable, or so it seemed. Throughout the 1980s, they were both a mainstay in the congregation.  
            I never really felt sorry for either of these two. They appeared happier, and freer, than anyone I had yet to encounter. For all the restrictions, and all the assumptions people made regarding their disabilities, these physical restraints did little to hinder their joy. Both were charming in a childlike way. Unencumbered by their condition, their winsome qualities were rather pleasing to me. They were friendly, sweet and in many ways far more Christian than the hundreds of people who attended services every Sunday with them. Despite their actual age, they came across like overgrown children rather than mentally challenged. In fact, when discussing Jesus and God with either one, they expressed a base understanding of the deity they had been brought into the fold to worship. Quite often you could hear one or the other, often both, singing louder than the rest of the sheep. God was always Love for them, not words or actions required by the doctrines and principles set down for the rest of us. Without fail, you could always find someone attempting to capture that innocence and turn it into a prescription for salvation. In an attempt to “save” them, well meaning religious people only succeeded in confusing them. When approached for evangelization, you could tell by their expressions and demeanour that such compound and complicated concepts as sin and hell were lost on them. Going to heaven was a promise made, not a formula that required this step or that step. Although I am unaware of what eventually happened to Beth, Matthew passed away in the 1990s in his early 50s. 
            I have never understood the Christian need to save souls. I always assumed that this was God’s responsibility, not man’s. Scripture may tell us differently, but I don’t believe for one second that God needs our help. I am still unsure why so many religious people find it necessary to convert or engage salvation on those afflicted when it is quite clear they don’t need assistance. The entire process of converting or saving someone so innocent always seemed redundant to me. Generally speaking, these engaging and quite pleasing creatures don’t need our ignorance either. Their childlike charm and innocence speak to the very essence of Jesus’ teachings regarding those who will enter the Kingdom. In most cases, we try to fill their glass, assuming it is empty, when in reality it was already overflowing. We forget, you cannot save that which is already safe and sound. Religious people just have to interfere. Most worry more about other people’s salvation when they should worry about their own. In an attempt to better the life of an innocent, we steal their innocence away. We stand in the way. We take these special men and women and we try to cage them and take away their innate freedom, as if we are responsible for them knowing the Way. We forget that the weight we hang around the neck of something so winsome is the very milestone that will take us to the bottom of the sea. We think we are saving them but we are only dooming ourselves.

“Love is a hurricane in a blue sky,
I didn't see it coming, never knew why.
All the laughter and the dreams,
All the memories in between,
Washed away in a steady stream...
We could shake a fist in times like this
When we don't understand
Or we could just hold hands.”
(I’m With You, Nichole Nordeman 2001)

             I am not sure if my uncle Doug is a religious man or not. I know that I have no personal experience to rely on when making a concrete conclusion on the matter. It matters little in the long run anyway. Married to my Dad’s sister Mae for over 50 years, he now battles Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the limited contact I have with him, I have been witness to his declining health. It is easy to see despite glimpses of his old self that peek through the clouds in his mind on occasion. At times, you can still sense him inside of himself. It is both sad and inspiring to see him in this state. To watch him decay has done little to his survival instinct. He may not thrive, but you can tell he still fights, still wishes it wasn’t this way for him. Giving up might be the easy way, but going on indicates how truly strong and courageous he remains. His energy can still be so vibrant. There have been times when I was communicating with him that he seemed almost childlike. There is an innocence to this type of suffering. Repentance for anything they might have done in their life is lost, tossed out in the storm. For the most part, the mind and therefore the conscious have faded. They never function long enough for any victim of this disease to formulate clear thought. My uncle is no longer free.
            I’ve never been fond of media-based evangelism, but I partake just the same. I learn from each Pastor, from each sermon they make from their mount. For the most part, I indulge so that I know what not to do and how not to think. In recent years, I have regularly listened to a local Christian radio station here in Kitchener, Ontario. I turn it on in the car during rides I take about the town. The range of the broadcast is rather weak outside the city limits. Come afternoon, Christian music permeates from 93.9 Faith FM,  but the morning is filled with evangelical content. You can go to Church while you’re waiting at the drive-thru. Midmorning talk programs, Christian education series and speciality programs greet me on my way to the Wal-Mart and anger me in the Tim Horton’s parking lot. I find Through the Bible an informative journey into scripture and Walk in the Word a great insight into how Christian fundamentalists see the world.
            I had no idea that the In Touch program I frequently listen to at 11:30 AM was the audio version of the same show my Father and brother Alan watch on weekends. They have always spoke highly of these lectures and sermons. Earlier in the week, on my way to get groceries, I turned on Faith FM like I always do en route to spend more money. Dr. Charles F. Stanley was discussing people afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and the state of their salvation. “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley" is broadcast around the world on radio and  television. Based in the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, the founder Stanley is also a New York Times bestselling author. Both my Dad and brother have expressed deep respect for this proclaimed man of God, but I could never get past the look of him. Thank God for radio.   
            I listened angrily as the good doctor announced the will of god. Those who are struck down by illness, whether Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or anything that inhibits clear thinking, already had their chance to repent. It is not God’s fault when we don’t take advantage of His Grace and Forgiveness. It matters little to the Lord the reason you failed to claim your salvation. The one and only way to God is by accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour. If you haven’t done that then you blew your chance. Strangely enough, he ended his diatribe with the claim that God loves everyone, no matter your situation or circumstance. The gift of salvation is free for all who call on the Lord and His great Mercy.


“It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.”
(Zadig ou la Destinée, Voltaire 1747)

            Throughout the very human history of religion, malignant ideas have always risen from a very deep puddle of crap.  The notion that unbaptised babies are sent to Limbo, or Abraham’s Bosom, has persisted all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Church has been notorious in their condemnation and treatment of the mentally ill, those who successfully commit suicide and even the billions of people who exist outside the Christian faith.  Homosexuals, the afflicted and countless sheep who have strayed from His flock are cast into damnation at the very hands of those charged with not judging, loving each other and representing God’s Grace here on earth.
            We are instructed, for most of our lives, to put childish ways behind us and commit to the only true way to find happiness. Whether we are Christian, or Muslim, or a New Age guru, we believe we know the only legitimate course for everyone. If it works for us then it must be the only way. It becomes our mission to bring others the same righteousness and sense of salvation we ourselves have achieved. We rebuke a person’s circumstances and demand they follow our truth. We take those who once were free and we cage them in our own ignorance, thinking we will save them. Jesus himself tells us we should do so, that we must share our good news. 
            I am never surprised when I encounter such limited and selective thinking. My entire life I have been informed that unless I repent I am most certainly going to hell. It doesn’t matter your strength of mind. I still look in the mirror at times and wonder if their thinking is correct. When I feel this way, I have conditioned myself to remember a sermon I was once exposed to as a young man. The Pentecostal preacher, emoting hellfire and brimstone, commented on a girl from another Church in the area. At 15 years of age, she cut herself so deeply that she bled out on her bedroom floor.  “It’s easy to admit defeat when things like this happen,” he explained to the maddened crowd. “God wins some and He loses some.”  

 “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:41b-45, NIV)