Tuesday, September 16, 2014


"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."
(Richard Lovelace, English Poet)

            Growing up with rodents as pets has been a delight for me. Every hamster, every gerbil, every tiny little white mouse has meant as much to me as the most faithful of dogs or the most mischievous of cats. Over the years, one common behaviour exhibited by these tiny beasts was their insatiable need for escape. It mattered little how small or how furry, each one constantly made their attempts to break free. One gerbil disappeared into the floorboards, never to be seen again. Another managed to scale their wall, only to be met with doom at the paws of a looming predator. Such misery left little choice but to leave these smaller rodents behind me and I switched to keeping larger and more intelligent rats. My greatest concern upon their acquisition was how to properly keep them safe. Two cats waiting for a taste of these morsels made the choice in cage easy and the location of that cage isolated. The first time I discovered that I had left the enclosure door open, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. There sat both critters, content in their surroundings, immune to waiting freedom.  It was almost like they knew.
            It was hard to accept in the beginning. All those years of chasing vermin left me conditioned to security and safety and a high roost. By the act of not thinking, I have stumbled upon an open cage many times since my indoctrination. Every time, they sit contented, almost fearful of being removed. When I clean the shelter every Saturday, they scuffle about, persistent in a return to their nest. You can tell it is the only place they wish to be. You can tell that they already think they are free. To them, outside the cage is madness. On occasion, when I give them a treat they will check out the other side, but only in glimpses. First a nose, then a head, then suddenly they withdraw. You can see the trepidation in their fuzzy faces. You can recognize their fear by the sudden jump back. I can only assume that the greater intelligence of these surprisingly lovely gnawers has silenced any need to conquer the world that exists outside of their hiding place. They know they are far better off inside than out. For them, the bars and the shavings and the things that they know are home, not a cage.

“Most people would look at an animal in a cage and instinctively feel that it should be set free .... It's a dangerous world out there, filled with predators .... What would you prefer? A comfortable, safe, warm, cosy life in a cage, or an uncertain life of freedom.”
(Going Out, Scarlett Thomas 2002)

            It didn't take much time for the brainwashing. After only 3 months as a member of the Pentecostal Church, I was convinced they held the path to my salvation. I was indoctrinated, pacified and I believed this type of community would be the very best thing for me. This kind of Church could assist me in finding the God I had always strived to know better. The message conveyed held so many promises, promises I had come to rely on in my spiritual quest for freedom. My questioning heart, my sinful ways, and especially my homosexuality were only markings on a yet to be glorified body. In spite of my new found pseudo-lifestyle, I remained silent of it at school. I have no idea how religiosity is viewed in a more modern educational environment, but in 1981, in grade eleven, silence regarding such things was in one's best interest.
            When my friend Haydn Jensen asked me to go with him to a Great White Brotherhood meeting on the University of Western Ontario campus, I was somewhat befuddled. He assured me it was not a racist organization and alluded to his search for truth and answers. I decided to go. It wouldn't matter to me if it was a cult, I only had to rebuke its message. For a few hours we sat listening to the lines. We both were dead still, immune to any world but the new one before us. The slideshow, the lecture, it seemed like just another attempt at convincing me I had not found my way. Other than his glazed state of confusion, I had no idea what my friend was thinking. When it was all over, when all the questions had been asked, we wandered back to Haydn's car in a silent mode. He barely got two words out of his mouth when all my recently acquired training kicked in.
            The love of God is supposed to make a person kind and non-judgmental. Perhaps this explains why I never really felt The Great Commission of Christianity was anything but a scare tactic that played on the weak and vulnerable. At the time, I was just doing what I had been instructed was required of me to achieve salvation. Without hesitation, I attacked him for exposing us to this spiritual fabrication. I fully took the opportunity, like I was supposed to, and I condemned the evening as temptation brought on by the devil. I evangelized the very best way I knew how and tried to shove the Lord Jesus Christ down my friend's throat. To say the least, he was not impressed. Haydn never really spoke to me again after that night. He was distant, aloof and our friendship ended in the parking lot on that cool November evening.
            All the time that has passed since that ambush has only convinced me how wrong I was for trying to convince my one-time friend of my then Christian way of thinking. I myself left that faith structure many years ago. Other than through social networking, I have no real idea what happened to Haydn. I realize that the cage I tried to place upon him that night was the very same trap I later fled from in disgust. Haydn, it appears, took a different path. I can only assume through his involvement with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada, the Gentle Shepherd Christian Church, and other faith related organizations, that he did not join the Great White Brotherhood but chose Jesus instead. How ironic. It appears he has become a full-blown, Bible-clutching Christian in his own right. I am led to believe that I went one way and he found himself where I had been. It's strange to think of him as a Christian now, considering how angry he was that night so many years ago. He condemned me harshly for trying to convert him. He took away our friendship without even consulting me. I can only presume that left to his own volition, it was just fine for him to make that decision on his own. How uneasy rest all my questions, like a puzzle that just doesn't make sense. To trade one cage for the same cage just seems both hypocritical and repugnant to me.

“Those ignoramuses who think that birds are happy in their cages know not a single thing about freedom!” (Mehmet Murat ildan, Turkish author)

            She was just so scared of her own death. As the disease ate away at her, her fear grew. As her fear grew, she fought and fought to remain on this plane of existence. She would cry herself to sleep then cry herself awake, all the while she trembled at the injustice of it all. She refused to talk it over with anyone. The fact she was not long for this world was not a topic that was open to discussion. If it did happen to come up in conversation, she would wheel herself into another room or pull the sheets over her head. She even screamed at us, demanding that we all "just shut the fuck up about it." As she grew frailer, she withdrew further into herself. The only companion she would even recognize was a copy of the Bible that her mother had left next to her bed. She spent her last days frantically searching in it for anything that might save her. As the end approached, she resigned herself to the fate she had once laughed at with great cynicism. All the drugs, and the prostitution, have given her little but for a virus, a life of regret and the few belongings that were scattered around her room at the hospice. In the end, she did not go gently into the night. She raged, oh how she raged.
            They say that some birds are not meant to be caged. Other birds cannot escape their cage, no matter how hard they try. It keeps them, all of their lives, and they are never able to truly fly free. Samantha used to tell me that she didn't believe in hell because nothing could be worse than the life she had lived. She always figured she could approach anything holy when the time required her to do so. As her end quickly approached, I suppose she had much explaining to do, at least in her mind. On the last day of her life, the doctors came and the doctors went. They took one last poke and one last prod just for good measure. They told us that it would not be long. As she faded in and out of consciousness, as we all gathered closer to support each other, her mother opened the Bible she had previously left and she began to read from it. Just before her final breath, just before her demise, Sam smiled ever so softly then fell into sleep. After all those years of pain, and all the years she denied herself happiness, finally someone opened the cage door and she slipped away, never to be caged again.

"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom."
(Maya Angelou, American Poet)
            We all spend our lives searching for something to believe in. Once we find it, it rarely remains the same as when we found it. Faith grows. Faith evolves. Faith changes. Those who refuse to admit this is so stay huddled, never knowing what outside their cage might offer. Their freedom is relative and so is their Faith. Those who search for Faith, but on their own terms, usually end up in the same cage as everyone else. Faith can be our refuge, a safety we desperately try to maintain. Faith might be a choice that we make for ourselves, no matter how it inconveniences everyone else's plans for us. Regardless, when it all comes down, Faith should be our comfort when the unknown approaches. After all, that's what Faith is really for.    




I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou,  1969






Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eating Life


"Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget"

             Aristotle claimed that "we cannot learn without pain." I would argue one step further and pronounce that life is pain, whether you learn from it or not. Pain, of course, is a subjective matter. Each person suffers differently and each person experiences strife and injury in a completely unique fashion. We all suffer. Most of us survive. The residual effect of that suffering is the main source of our internal conflicts and one of our greatest challenges. On top of all the regret, the pain just doesn't stop coming. It goes on and on, more than most people would care to admit. Our lives are a constant drone of hurt and feelings and ruefulness. We cannot escape, no matter how we try. Deep inside there comes a haunting. It is a silence that will not leave you be. We can convince ourselves that we are happy. We can tell ourselves that this is so. Soon, the truth is clear. No matter where we run or how we deny and hide it, it always bites you in the ass. You cannot escape your experience, at least not without heavy medication or a lobotomy in good measure. We do not exist without pain.

 "Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
'Til you’ve lost all belief"

            A lot of people on this planet turn to God when they meet obstacles and negatives on their path. They truly believe that a supreme being will recognize them individually, out of seven billion souls, and save them from the reality of their life. Because of their religious association, they believe their faith in a god up in heaven will make them exempt from the trials and tribulations life brings all of us. No matter how powerful you think your god is, life will continue to attack you. Speaking from experience, when you put all your eggs in one basket, you tend to fall from grace rather completely. A lifetime of relying on a god to fix your problems only creates a greater issue, especially when all those promises fail to come to fruition. Just when you think you have it figured out and just as you regain your resolve, struggle meets you again. It can be enough to make you wonder if anyone is even listening.

"These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time"

            It's important to be happy, even if you are sad. If you are going to be happy, be happy for no reason at all. Be like a child would be. Children have no real past to misdirect them and they seldom even know what suffering is. If you are happy, for a reason, then that reason can be taken from you. Circumstance will eventually strip it clean. This world will do anything to keep you down. At times, it can even seem that life was meant to be a maze of confusion and grief. It will rape you and steal what is left of your innocence. It will regurgitate your faith. This is why you can't just look here or look there, you have to search for your happiness within. There is an unexpressed joy to the universe that we can all tap into. It doesn't hide itself among the clouds, it flows through everything, including you and me. Forget about all the voices telling you that you're not good enough. Embrace them as lies and have faith that all is well. We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves happy but the amount of energy required for both is exactly the same. You do not have to flounder all alone.

 "I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life"
            I continue growing and learning every single day of my life. In the past, you could not have convinced me, to any degree, that everything was going to be okay. I figured nothing would ever be okay again, but everything is okay. I was so wrong. I guess it's true, you don't know what you've got until it's gone, but you don't know what you have until you pay attention. If you don't pay attention, you are bound to find out a little too late. We may think we have the time, but we never do. It's already almost over for each of us and then the next. So how do you survive the chaos of it all? The good and the bad, you have to take it all in. Why would anyone settle for a needle when they could have the haystack? No matter the distance, no matter the state of the heart, love while you can and cherish each moment. Be kind, be kind, be kind. Live for the now and seize the day. You have to reach for the place you are going. Release what lies within. Overcoming apparent obstacles and distractions is a continual focus for the soul, but first you have to focus. The unexpressed joy of the universe can numb the pain. Life will never be easy, but you can live an easy life.

            You do not just pick at food, you eat it. Sometimes, you have to stop for a moment before the moment disappears. Once in awhile you may even decide to say a prayer. You may just have to slow right down and consider the meaning of it all. Life is overwhelming for the best of us. In the hardest times, you can still find it. It's okay to dig in. Wherever you go and whatever you do, embrace life and what it gives you. Have the wonder of a child. Be kind, be kind, be kind. There is a force all around us if we would only open up our eyes. I can find it in the promises of Jesus and in the Buddha's wisdom as well. I see it floating in the heavens so I know it must be true. It's in the clouds behind the thunder and in the breeze so cool and clear. So much Grace lies in waiting, you just have to place an order. You have to eat life, even if you think it tastes like crap.

"What love the Father has lavished upon us.
That we should be called His children"
(Hello My Name Is, Matthew West 2012)




June 6th, 2005











Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seig Heil

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:2-7, NIV)
             To my mind, grade three at Fenside Public School in Toronto was pretty much like grade two and grade four. It's not that I cannot recall any special times I had in my classes throughout the fall of 1973 to the start of summer 1974. There are far more positive experiences that I can remember than negative. I am not surprised, however, that the strongest memory I have of that school year occasionally plays over in my mind like almost any disco song from the 1970s. I recognize it then I cringe. I try to block it out but it seems endless like some reckless form of torture. I have flashes of Adolf Hitler and the library and the first time I discovered how much I like to write. The experience reveals to me just how spiritually alone I felt in this world. I had my family and friends, but it is through this misadventure that I ascertained God doesn't answer the prayers of bad little boys. Just before I turned eight years old, I was suddenly isolated and convinced I was doomed to hell for my ignorant behaviour.  
"Do you wonder why you have to
Feel the things that hurt you
If there's a God who loves you
Where is He now?
Maybe, there are things you can't see
And all those things are happening
To bring a better ending
Some day, some how
You'll see, you'll see"
(Before the Morning, Josh Wilson 2010)
             The assignment was a simple one. The class was instructed to head off to our school's book depository and create a fifty to one hundred word biography on any person from history. With only one afternoon to complete the deed, we were all herded into the library like lambs led into a slaughter. Unfortunately for me, superheroes and fantasy figures were not allowed with this assignment. The person on which we based the paper had to have existed in this reality and must have left a lasting mark on mankind and/or history. We could document anyone, without bias on their place in time or their gender. We were required to include basic facts about the person like birth information and physical appearance. With little else to go on, we had to outline how and why each choice made a difference in the past. No one even once said that that difference had to be a positive one. Our teacher, Mrs. Gizler, never drew a moral distinction.
             With no Spider-man or Green Lantern to rely on, I found myself in the biographical history section, vapidly searching for a person of interest. I saw books on Gandhi and Churchill. There were volumes on George Washington and John A. MacDonald (the first Canadian Prime Minister) but I quickly realized I felt no draw towards these great men and their story. There was so much to history, and so much to the people who defined it, that I became somewhat lost in the presence of them all. To be frank, I had never really paid attention to such things as historical figures. I was only eight years old. With the exemption of Jesus, the greatest men I knew were my Dad and Stan Lee. I am sure that the point of the essay was to not only introduce us to some of these extraordinary men and women but to inspire us enough to write about them. 
            I had heard of the villainous Adolf Hitler both on television and in movies. Looney Tunes and Walt Disney had mocked him and introduced me to his name. I always knew he was a villain. It was the comic books about Captain America during World War II that really cemented him as an evil and treacherous monster to me. Of course, you can't read every comic and these representations of Hitler contained little definition or detail. I was, at least, familiar with the man. I grabbed a copy of a few books and settled down to the hurdle before me. There was an awful lot of information so I piled on the Encyclopaedia Britannia to clarify things and make my approach easier. It was that damned volume H that changed everything for me. Reading on and on I experienced an epiphany, you could say. I had never understood something so clearly. I had never taken the time. Page after page, note taking all the while, I quickly realized exactly why people think of Hitler as they do.
            I had written before and I had read books before but I had never actually used the two together, to help prove what I think, at least not on paper. I had penned much from an early age, but suddenly I had found expression in it. It took some time to complete but I threw myself into my masterpiece. I remember succinctly the feeling of something overtaking me and the words flowing into my hand, carried out onto paper by my spirit and blue ink. I still experience this every time I create with words. The bridge I crossed that day has always stayed with me, no matter the path that might have tried to take me away. When the lesson neared completion and we were about to be set free, I put my papers on my desk with my books and turned to my friends as they chatted amongst themselves.  
            My pal Michael Kosloski had finished long before me and seemed happy to have someone to hang with as the end of our afternoon approached. It was innocent enough when he asked who I had chosen for my project. When I told him, he appeared shocked at my decision. Rather than fighting him on it, I started to tell him all about Hitler, about the death camps and about how he shot himself in the head at the end of WWII. I opened books so he could see for himself and eventually stood to demonstrate the Nazi pose. With my right hand I saluted and with my left hand I made a finger moustache, then proceeded to march about the aisle like a good Nazi solider would. At first, I thought some had died in the library, but this fury quickly found my place.
            Mrs. Gizler took me by the arm, clutched my assignment, and pulled me straight into the principal's office. It didn't matter the reason I had done what I had done. It was of little consequence to justice if I was simply demonstrating my points. My Jewish classmates cared little what had prompted this scene. The principal had even less encouraging words. I was given an automatic F on the paper, without them even reading it. They sent me home early and requested I stay there at least for a day. When my Mom arrived to pick me up, I feared for their safety. She had watched me imitate characters like Flip Wilson's Geraldine and re-enact comic book heroes like the Hulk since I was a smaller child. The first thing she did was read my essay.  
 "These are the places I was so sure I'd find Him
I looked in the pages and I looked down on my knees
I lifted my eyes in expectation
To see the sun still refusing to shine
But sometimes He comes in the clouds
Sometimes His face cannot be found
Sometimes the sky is dark and gray
But some things can only be known
And sometimes are faith can only grow
When we can't see
So sometimes He comes in the clouds"
(Sometimes He Comes in the Clouds, Stephen Curtis Chapman, 1995)
             My spirituality formed early. By the time I was five years old, I grew more and more curious about God, Jesus and the idea that He (They) punished us for our sins. Thanks to Christianity, and my maternal Grandmother, for all my yearning to know more, I feared God more than I embraced Him. It was bad enough you had to face indictments here on this planet but the spectre of eternal punishment loomed over me like a halo pulled from a dung heap. Although this event may not have been so dramatic to another student, for me I was crushed and defeated. The energy I had discovered that afternoon through writing was smothered by some 1970s version of political correctness. My Mother tried all she could to make them reverse their decision but it was to no avail. The F given would stand and the suspension would as well.
            Despite arriving home early for a change, regardless of all the extra TV shows I could watch in almost two days, I found no resolve. I fled to my room feeling evil and unrighteous and hated by my classmates, teachers, and even God. I didn't understand how He could let something so traumatic occur when I had done nothing wrong. My Mom had argued that if I had been demonstrating how to saw off another student's limb they might have had a point (so to speak). I felt condemned not so much by the charges but that God had found something to punish me for. I was condemned and found guilty in spite of my innocence. I cried out in silent prayer, occasionally spurting a violent mix of choking and tears. I was devastated despite all concern and support I was given by my family. I swore that I would never write anything again. 
            I wasn't just embarrassed. I wasn't just humiliated. I was incarcerated. It had been made very clear to me at this time of my life that bad things happen to people because God is punishing us for doing those very things. My Mother felt I did nothing wrong. My Dad didn't say an unkind word. I got tossed in the clink and it was God who held the key. No matter how I asked Him to help me, there was no answer. It was clear to me that there was just no one there. He seemed to be hiding and was nowhere to be found.
            When I returned to school, there was no fanfare. The other students couldn't have cared less what had happened. Most of my friends I had met up with the night before to play Blind Man's Bluff, and the only mention of the situation was in congratulations for getting a day off school. I was surprised when not even Mrs. Gizler acknowledged the problem. At the end of my first day back, they all had forgotten. I suppose it was my Mother's cursing them that might have silenced any residual mention. Still, that great big black F on my paper stared out at me every time I opened its hiding place. My comic book collection was the safest place that could mask my shame. Whether God had tried to silence me or not, I failed to follow through on my threat. I started keeping journals, writing short stories and I successfully dipped my fingers into poetry and prose. I took creative writing classes before high school and continue to hone my craft. That one little story that had done so much damage was my saviour in the worst of times. It inspired me to write, to create, to use the words that met me like a soft wind then to raging storm. They revealed the power that words can have. I am humble about my gifts and do not wish to come across conceited, but I have excelled in the art. It has been my livelihood and my luxury. From that one small moment of clarity has come my salvation and my direction. Writing has become a part of me.
            I have never forgotten the distance that night brought between God and I. I have never forgotten the lesson which has been revealed to me in hindsight. I would not be the person I am now had this event not occurred. I may be the same body, but my life would have followed an entirely different path. Faith is following even when you have nothing to follow. These words in themselves would never have come to be. When I was in the situation as a child, I thought God had abandoned me because of my actions. Little did I realize His silence was my catalyst.
"Sometimes all we have to hold on to
Is what we know is true of who You are
So when the heartache hits like a hurricane
That could never change who You are
And we trust in who You are
Even if the healing doesn't come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn't come"
(Even If, Kutless 2013)



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Variations on a Theme

"I am not a myth." (Marlene Dietrich, actress)

            There is an old saying that all myth and rumour have some basis in fact. From this ambiguous statement, I suppose we should be careful where we place our faith. After all, a myth is a "symbolic narrative," usually of an unknown origin and it is usually based on one form of tradition or another. For appearances alone, myth relates "actual events" and is primarily associated with religious belief. These legends usually revolve around a protagonist and involve issues "with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature." These un-provable tales often act as a "false collective belief" and are used by some groups to "justify a social institution." Plato used myth as "allegory or parable" throughout his writings. Most ancient cultures used myth as a method for the transfer of oral history. I would assume it was always easier to remember grand tales of glory and desperate tales of woe than mundane information.


             Mythology is both the study of myth and the body of those myths "belonging to a particular religious tradition." It is understood that each exists outside of "ordinary human experience." It is interesting how many cultures and civilizations have shared similarities within their myths. Gods, morality tales of good versus evil, this study of the duality of man are all aspects "common within most mythological stories." They tend to have parallels and come from the same "creational force."  Take the Hebrew account of the flood from the book of Genesis and the story of Noah. Many cultures, based in antiquity, from varying regions, share one version or another of this same event. Sumerian, Phoenician, and most notably Babylonian accounts have strikingly close details to the flood myth that is relayed in the Torah and the Bible. Fragments of the Babylonian account from the Epic of Gilgamesh have been found on tablets dating back to around 2,000 BCE. While there are obvious differences between the two versions, many details of the flood account are shared by both narratives.
            In the Babylonian myth, Utnapishtim, a righteous character like the biblical Noah, is instructed to build a ship that will save him from a coming deluge. The flood will overtake all of the land and destroy all of mankind. This divine punishment is the consequence of man's wickedness. Utnapishtim brings "all of his relatives and all species of animals" aboard the vessel in order to save them from the cataclysm. When the downpour stops, he sends birds out over the water to find land. Eventually, the boat settles on the top of a mountain and mankind begins again.
            Whether one culture borrowed from the other culture or not, there is an "obvious relationship" between the two versions. From an evidentiary and historical perspective, there have been "numerous flood stories identified from ancient sources." They are "scattered throughout the world," not only in the areas relevant to the Hebrew and Babylonian civilizations. These varying myths all seem to share a standard version of the occurrence. It is therefore erroneous to assume that fantastic events like the flood have no factual basis. The word 'myth' itself has become synonymous with falsehood and misconception but hidden within, this type of myth has a grain of truth waiting to go to seed. There is a common factor, a subsequent relevance to each origination. Through examination of these base factors, we can distinguish between myths which have evolved from some form of truth and myths which are merely fictional and therefore untrue.

"A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the shadows."
(Annie Besant, British socialist)

            Most myths tend to serve some purpose. They attempt to relay through story a lesson or application appropriate to the culture from which the myth originated. Other cultures then borrow these tales, twisting them into their own culturally balanced representation. Rather than simply conveying the point, myth is used to carry on each tradition through diligence. For example, "world mythology is full of religious figures who have undergone resurrection." Dionysus is the Ancient Greek god of wine and divine madness, who was eaten by Zeus and then born anew. Odin, the high god of Norse mythology, took his own life to gain knowledge of the dead, then returned "stronger than ever." From Finnish mythology, Lemminkainen is rebuilt after his death by his mother, sewing together all the pieces of him. An ancient epic from the Mahabharata tells how Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu, the Supreme God of Hinduism. Krishna is eventually killed, but because he is a God, "he does not decay and instead ascends to heaven." He is physically resurrected.
            One cannot help but to wonder of any purpose behind parallel stories that existed during, and well before, the legend of the resurrected God called Jesus. If similar incidents to the Gospel accounts exist hundreds, even thousands of years before the written record of "the Christ," what does that reveal about that record? The idea that so many risen and saviour gods exist in overall mythology seems to indicate there is a lesson to be learned. The Judeo-Christian version of Jesus is not the only tale "about god-like characters who worked miracles, conquered death, and were revered by their followers." Christian optimists might argue that God used prophets and shaman as far back as "the foundation of the world" (Luke 11:49-51, NIV) to "prepare the Way," but this does not explain the not-so-unique revelation of so many. One has to therefore question whether it is the similar traits or the differences contained within these myths that we should look to for clarity.

“According to Greek Mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate beings, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
(The Symposium, Plato c. 385–380 BCE)

            Comparative mythology is "the study of myths from different cultures in an attempt to identify shared themes and characteristics." The 'motif' of a dying/dying-rising god appears in many diverse cultures and mythologies. Numerous examples with variations on this theme predate Christianity.  In Greek mythology, we find Persephone and Adonis. Osiris and Horus are examples from Egyptian mythology. Later, Arabian mythology introduced us to the Phoenix and Akkadian mythology contains the tale of Ishtar. The fate of these protagonists is to eventually die, although the method of death can be rather diverse from culture to culture. Although claiming they would return, most of these "gods" did not resurrect "in a permanent sense as the same deity." Where Christian "mythology" is concerned, millions of followers are still waiting on Jesus to come back and save them from themselves. Entire segments of our modern culture revolve around such notions as the Second Coming and the End of Days. 
            The Egyptian god Osiris was not originally a god, although many of his followers believed he was, at least, "partially divine." Osiris would die and return to life at least twice, eventually becoming the Egyptian god of the afterlife. The cult of Osiris was centered on regeneration and rebirth and had a "particularly strong interest in the concept of immortality." Due to the rise of his cult a "democratization of religion" offered "even his humblest followers the prospect of eternal life, with moral fitness becoming the dominant factor in determining a person's suitability." Throughout the height of Egyptian civilization, "Osiris was the primary deity." His power was second only to his father, the supreme sun god Ra, "the leader of the gods on earth."
            According to the Egyptian calendar, Osiris was born on what would be our December the 25th, sometime in the 4th or 5th dynasty (2494 - 2345 BCE). It would appear that most of the lore surrounding Osiris "was appropriated by the Christian religion." Osiris "chose to become a man to guide his people." He was called 'the Good Shepherd' and he carried a shepherd's crook in most of his depictions. He was referred to as the 'Resurrection and the Life' and "his flesh was eaten in the form of wheaten cakes." His mother was "a virgin who brought forth a son who would be called 'the Savior of the World.'" Osiris himself would restore "order back into the universe." He acted as "the judge of souls," and in addition to the "judging of the heart" it was Osiris who "passes final judgment over the dead."  
            Considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt, the sacred city of Abydos was the location of many ancient sacred temples including the Great Osiris Temple. Abydos is one of the oldest cities from ancient Egypt. Osiris' "sufferings, his death and his resurrection were re-enacted each year at Abydos."  The ism of "eternal life and of the resurrection of a glorified or transformed body" was prevalent in the story of the resurrection of Osiris. Despite a horrible death and cruel torture "inflicted by the powers of evil, he rose again" and became the "true way." He was Son of the Almighty and the Savior of mankind.  He became a god. Osiris was "the god through whose sufferings and death the Egyptian hoped that his body might rise again in some transformed or glorified shape, and to him who had conquered death and had become the king of the other world the Egyptian appealed in prayer for eternal life through his victory and power."  
            One cannot help but notice the stark similarities between the myth of the Egyptian god Osiris and the Christian god Jesus. The narratives tend to speak for themselves. On the one hand, Osiris is rejected into history as imagination and art while the latter is considered gospel. One is a fabrication, a creation from superstition and ignorance, while on the other hand, Jesus is revered and worshipped and the Lord of our lives. I suppose had the cult of Osiris caught on in the same manner the Messiah called Jesus did, we would be culturally different but the god we worship would be roughly the same. Unable to truly prove either one of these protagonists ever lived, we are left asking if is there some lesson we can garnish out of all this speculation and mythology.

"For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious."
(Thomas Mann, German novelist)

            It seems clear to me. We need a god. We need a saviour. As far back as one can go in recorded history, it appears that we always have. It is what the myth offers us in itself that seems most important. We repeat these myths over and over, each new construct simply a variation of the theme. The setting is different, the names have all changed, but the essence is the same. The motif is always intact as if cemented into our culture, our lore and the way we view this reality. We, apparently, are not always aware of this psychological conditioning. Human beings have primarily lived superficial lives which temporally satisfy us. We are not cognizant of the creational force behind these stories. The similarities are not a coincidence.  They tell us more about the human being then they ever will about the real, true God, if there even is one.
            This is how religious faith works; it is a subjective experience. Two people can believe the exact same doctrine even though the culture in which the story manifests is a thousand years apart. Whether it is false or not is irrelevant, it is still a collective belief. Like with the story of the Great Flood, it doesn't matter what the details might be, it is the standard message conveyed within that is most important. These continuing, and often universal, myths are themselves a truth. There is an obvious relationship among them. Whether it is Romulus, the Roman state god, whose death and resurrection was celebrated in annual plays, or Zalmoxis, the Thracian god, whose death and resurrection assured his followers there was eternal life, or Jesus, the Christian God, who experienced the Passion and baptized followers into eternal life, there have been resurrection/saviour gods since myth began. Myth itself is the purpose, the instigator of faith. It does not have to prove itself. It simply must present itself. History will do the rest. All saviour-gods, all sons of god, they all must undergo their own passion. They all conquer death through resurrection in order to share eternal life with their followers. Each one is based in early human history with no conclusive evidence of their existence.

"The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations"
(Glimpses of the Great, George Viereck 1930).







Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Water Works

"I need you
And you need me
Left alone
We will never be who we could be
So take my hand
And don't forget that
We can do anything

             I will admit that I am not the most demonstrative person on the planet. Public displays of affection make me squirm and prattling on about 'love this' and 'love that' is just not my style. I am a deeply feeling person, don't get me wrong. Over fifteen years with my partner is the proof in the pudding. It is just that I have never been one to place my trust in expressions or terms of endearment. I tend to demonstrate how I feel through my actions rather than bantering on about the depth of my being. Whether through my writing, or my daily living, I am most comfortable in this safe place. I don't like appearing vulnerable or to give my state of mind away. I often feel like a lump of beautiful coal, at least from the outside looking inward. Some might even describe me as a cold and heartless prick. If that is what it takes to keep them away, then so be it.
            I have a secret that few people know. Most would never even have a clue. I can share it from this protected place. The truth is I truly am a happy man. Considering my past and all the pain and suffering I went through, one might imagine any joy I have discovered would come as little ponds rather than a constantly flowing stream. A river runs through me. I have been given a gift. It is not a blessing or a run of luck. I did not earn it nor have I ever done anything to deserve the life I have today. Deep inside me where I breathe is the giveaway. It overflows but does not drown me. It is silent yet it rushes with the pull of a million waves. It is tidal and it is as deep as it is wide. Like any body of water, it all started as just one drop.
            I am no longer defined by the chaos I left behind me. Just take a look at my life and all the love that has been lavished upon me. Every part of me is filled with hope and much joy, even if I hold it all within. All things have been made new. I've been changed.  I've been saved from myself. I may have wealth and I may have my health. I have been loved by many and am hated by few. There is family that I cherish more than anything and family, just like everyone else, that I would rather not discuss. I have had romance that has ended and romance that has lasted. Ultimately, they both have been the greatest of reward. In one way or another, everything I ever wished for, everything I ever tried to gain, I have received fully and then some. I am finally, for once and for all, touched by a Grace I can only identify based on the experiences from my life. It healed my wounds. It gives me resolve. Every spoken need and silent prayer have been answered. It is a Love that is far too great to give me lesser things. Who knew it would end up living in this room and turning a light on somewhere down inside? It gives me a reason that I've never known before. Yes, it was a long wait but now is the right time.   
            While I may not be the best person to convey this experience, I know it started many years ago but I did not understand. I was empty or at least it felt that way. One drip became a trickle and the trickle became a puddle then the puddle filled the body of a once all dried up lake. I am no longer defined by the mud I left behind. I am full but not by volume. The great weight has washed away. I am re-made. I still hear the many voices of regret and defeat. There are all the lies that just won't let me forget. I no longer heed them as I have finally been set free. My cup flows over and I am good to the last drop.

 "Come with me now
Look and see how
There's an ocean
Overflowing with our hope so
Let's jump in
And take a swim
It's you and me


            The best things in life are not things. No matter how much you accumulate from this world, it will never be enough to silence the inner part that whispers out to us. Whether people, relics and material possessions, or even memory, no matter what we surrender to there is always that still small voice, calling out for Love. It can haunt you. The atheist experiences it. The Christian feels it. The Muslim just knows it. It is often a secret thing that we try to hide. In many ways we don't want to share it. If we could we would keep it for ourselves. It is precious like a golden dream. Each night as mortal men dance with darkness, just before they fade to sleep, the vessel may hear it. It reminds us we are more than flesh and bone and feelings. We are more than certain love. We do not know why it stays with us or even how it got there. A great deal of the time, most of us are not even aware of it. It is that one small drop that can become an ocean but you have to have enough faith to jump in and try to swim.
            They say that when an egg is broken by an outer force, life ends. They also say that when an egg is broken by an inner force, life then begins. I had been fighting it far too long. I was holding it all in, thinking that it would make me strong. It's odd that the things we hide inside always come peeking out, looking for Love. A touch of faith the careful may seek, but it's hard to catch forever when you are broken, cold and weak. Although the New Testament tells me it will come after the water (Matthew 3:16-17), I would argue I have been wet all along. It was my special friend when I was a young boy. All my life I had thirsted for even one tiny hint of dew, begging like I was in the desert looking for rescue through condensation. All I needed was one drop.    

"Just one drop of your Love
A single ray of sun
Just one thing to change the world
It's just you and me
Starting with a dream
And giving it all we've got
Only takes one drop"

            You can beg, steal, and pray all you want, one very important step when trying to survive god is to recognize that the kingdom which you look for is within. Every single day of our lives it whispers inside us. You have to pay attention to hear it. It is an endless dripping bead plunging over and over again so you have no choice but to listen. Other voices will try to drag you down, leaving you only with your belief. Without trust, God cannot lavish upon us all that He gives to the seeking. After all, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20, NIV). We are more. We are more than this and more than that. The only thing that matters is the Love. All of the pain and all the disappointment, all of the languishing in this life was the very thing that revealed the presence from which we all have tried to hide. Don't be of little faith. It may not always be beautiful, but it sure is a beautiful ride.
            I had to take a leap of faith. I had to convince myself that God had found faith in me, but I just couldn't be sure. The best thing I could do was not to think, or to look, or to create or even to want. I had to believe everything would work out for the best. I had to trust and in trusting, I had to surrender. With one humble act of faith, I had to let it all go and commit. I had to ask the rain to come. Once I learned the way was faithful, all my pain faded to memory. When all the things I thought inside my head met all the things I've said and done, it is here I found balance, that I found happiness. I had to learn how to activate it from within and abandon all the waiting for something to drip on my head. I finally realized that if you don't have the faith that God is really with you, then you really are all alone. The still small little voice has always been there so you know you can trust it. Take another look at my life. It's not easy to face this world yet still love it. Leave all your cares behind, seek Him and you will find He always loved you so.
            I am not a very demonstrative person.  I don't enjoy sharing how I feel for the entire world to see. I am a private man. I am a somber soul. Occasionally, I just have to let it out. I have to stop leading and just follow. I am compelled to share. I have faith that it is the right thing to do but if anyone asks, we never had this conversation.

"I need you
And you need me
We can do anything
(One Drop, Plumb 2013)







Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tip of the Tongue

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. ” (1 Corinthians 13:1, NIV)

            Most religious people place a great deal of trust in their Holy Scriptures. More fundamentalist sects tend to place a lot more than trust in them. They seem to base their entire lives on the pages of books and texts written two thousand years ago or more. There is nothing wrong with placing your faith in something you deem sent from God, but when those words outweigh the love and compassion you’re supposed to have towards your fellow man, then there is a problem. I often wonder, in some warped way, whether these zealots have turned these “sacred” constructions themselves into a god. A god to whom they bow and pray and worship. They seem more concerned with what their scriptures say than what the legitimate God might think.   
            Sometimes they will fight for it. Sometimes they will kill for it. Some are even willing to die for it. Regardless of their fundamentalist claims, either Christian or Muslim or any other like-minded group, they will always stand by their truth. They claim to follow it completely, of course. They use its certainty as a weapon against those they deem unfit. If they have nothing else, at least they know that every letter of verse should be taken at face value. You cannot deviate from the word of a god.  It is here that books like the Bible or the Quran present a challenge for the literalist believer. Both contain vast volumes of literature almost impossible for an average intelligence to memorize, let alone follow completely. At the end of the day, these followers are forced to pick and choose the parts of these written cornerstones which apply to them. Occasionally, it seems to me that they just make things up along the way.
            Selective literalism becomes a convenient tool for the literal-minded. It allows for a focus on those things which apply to the belief structure of that group while dismissing, in many cases completely ignoring, any part that may contradict or undermine the teachings formed by each unique faction. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist to dissect and discriminate parts of your scriptures based on the appeal or aversion each selection may hold. Most schools of religious thought take what they will from their scriptures, all the while dismissing the rest. The Metropolitan Community Church, based in Toronto Canada, is a diverse and progressive faith community with a primary focus on gay rights and the inclusion of all homosexuals into the Christian family. Conveniently they disregard, or even ignore, key verses from the Bible, found in Leviticus and Romans, which condemn such “impurity” as vile affections (NIV).  
            Like attracts like. With each interpretation or embellishment, varying  denominations evolve, each centred on that version of the truth. Once you have a religious gathering, you need rituals and dogma to really validate your existence. Small alternate views may form within the overall group, but the basics of these highly  compartmentalized teachings tend to spread like wildfire. Jesus may have sat with His apostles for one last supper, but all these years later people still drink and eat from His body, transubstantiated through a form of consecrated cannibalism. He may have suggested we remember Him in such a vivid manner but He failed to inform us of the mystical journey that would occur on our tongue every time we kneel and produce our appendage to consume Him. Most Sunday mornings you can find over a billion people chewing on the Lord and gulping down the blood of Jesus.   

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues. ” (Mark 16:17, NIV)  

            I have been exposed to people speaking in tongues since I first entered a Pentecostal Church when I was a teenager. The display has always struck me as quite the spectacle. You can see it almost anytime you want these days. Whether on mainstream television programs like 2014's Big Brother, or in films like 1997's The Apostle,  the Spirit now moves in High Definition. Pick the right religious television station, or walk into the right Church, and you can watch a multitude of frenzied believers pour out the Holy Spirit with unintelligible bliss. Each receptacle of this Divine energy streams a message far too alien to comprehend. It can often seem, if you watch them, and care to listen, that they are possessed by some foreign magic. This is a Holy and special gift granted only to them (and a few million other Christians scattered all around the world). I often imagine the harmony of all those souls crying out, as if some immense chorus of this indwelling rises as a voice of the one true God. In unison, they chant and sing in babble. I want to understand the message contained in this outpouring, but I cannot. I try and I listen, but I cannot identify a single word they are trying to convey. This Holy Ghost, apparently, does not know English. 
            Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) is babbling in a nonexistent language. This repetitive and pseudo-meaningless speech pattern is primarily associated with Christianity and the day of Pentecost, but not exclusively. Other manifestations have been observed in other religious practices including Paganism, “the Voodoo religion of Haiti, ” as well as “in the Hindu Gurus and Fakirs of India.” The experience is usually accompanied by a trance-like state or religious fervour. The body of each carrier tends to dance, moved by the jargon only they get to understand. Possessed by a spirit that was not there before the event, the receptacle is overcome by a “profuse and often emotionally charged speech that mimics coherent speech but is usually unintelligible to the listener and that is uttered in some states of religious ecstasy.”
            Glossolalia should not be confused with Xenoglossy, that is “the putative speaking of a natural language previously unknown to the speaker.” In the Acts of the Apostles, this was the experience the disciples had on the day of Pentecost. Peter, John and the rest of the gang had gathered “all together in one place” when out of nowhere  “a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting”(Acts 2:1b-2, NASB). The reader can assume the Descent of the Holy Spirit occurred here in the Cenacle, better known as the Upper Room, first mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (22:12-13). The event eventually moves to the area of Herod’s Temple, where Judeans and Gentiles from all over the world gather. Thousands of local and foreign traders, merchants and worshippers moved about en masse. A tumult of different languages and different dialects must have risen far above the Holy Place like heat on a summer afternoon. So many voices calling in a muffle of each other, blended together like a banshee rather than one chorus. Each disciple, having been filled with the Holy Spirit, urges the crowd and then “they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. As they spoke, “a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language (Acts 2:3-6, NASB).
            The crowd was amazed at this wonder and asked, “How is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:8, NIV) Later in Caesarea, a group of people spoke in tongues (Acts 10:46) and “those present compared it to the speaking in tongues that occurred at Pentecost. Throughout 1 Corinthians (12,13,14), Paul discusses speaking in “various kinds of tongues but does not differentiate between our two modern types. We can only assume he refers to the xenoglossy experienced by the Apostles in Jerusalem. He reminds his audience that when speaking in tongues, “What good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? (14:6) He attempts to shed light on his own experiences as well as how this gift from the Holy Spirit should be used in the churches. He notes, “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air (14:9). For Paul, speaking in tongues is speaking to God, but God is not the only one listening. He compares the manifestation to lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? (14:7)
            Speaking in tongues requires an interpreter. How can anyone receive a message if they do not understand what is being said? So Paul teaches that, when in the church, I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue (14:19). Tongues are then to be a sign, not for those who believe but for those who do not believe (14:22). For Paul, if God is to summon you, you must understand the message; If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? (14:8) In fact, Paul warns what will happen when members of a congregation come together and everyone speaks in tongues. He urges that when “inquirers or unbelievers are present, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (14:23, NIV)
            For more contemporary people of faith, who adhere to the practice of glossolalia , it is considered a sacred language unto itself. Practiced prominently within Pentecostal and Charismatic communities, this fluid vocalizing has been deemed miraculous and a spiritual gift from Jesus. These well-meaning Christians believe their fundamentalist experience with tongues is the same experience described in the New Testament. Nothing could be further from the truth. Selective literalists claim that either form can be real, both the unlearned languages (xenoglossy) and the mysterious babble (glossolalia). They claim the later is the “language of the spirit, a “heavenly language, perhaps even “the language of the angels. This position has no scriptural foundation whatsoever.
Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.
(1 Corinthians 14:10-11, NIV)
             I sat with my mouth open. I did not utter a word. Almost the entire congregation, with few exemptions, prattled on in some state of frenzy, spewing forth words and phrases as if coded messages to one another. Some raised their hands in an apparent bliss while others bounced around like children desperate to find a bathroom. The minister was the loudest of them all, prattling on in a strong but distorted version of a language with which I was most certainly not familiar. I had always believed that speaking in tongues was a tool used by believers to deliver a message straight from God to the masses. I just assumed from the jubilation in the room that this gift had somehow found its way to each one of the people all around me. When the service was over, when the grand display finally ended, I asked the church deacon, the friend who had brought me, what language it was that they were speaking. When he inquired as to my meaning, I thought he would let me in on the joke. He softly touched my shoulder and sincerely expressed his faith in things unseen. “You are blessed, he confirmed to me. “You have been witness to the very voice of God, a gift from the Holy Spirit. I was dumbfounded, quite sure this was not the way I had been instructed in my church that the Spirit would move. I had no idea that God had a speech impediment. “But what does it mean? I inquired. “That is between each person and Jesus, he replied with much conviction.  
            Over the years, I have debated this spiritual issue many times. Most fundamentalist Christians I have challenged refused to admit that the nature of their tongues spoken (glossolalia) is not based in scripture and goes against the very teachings of Paul on the matter. It was often like pulling teeth just to get them to listen. With many, a rage seemed to swell and fester. It appeared to surge from the back of each head. How dare I question an act of God? I am not the only one. Purists ask where in any text such an interpretation finds validity and Cessationists claim “the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, prophetic utterances and faith healing, ceased being practiced early in Christian Church history. For many observers, the fundamentalist practice of glossolalia  is an artificial ritual and not a true rendering of the legitimate manifestation found in the Bible. What then is this experience?
            The truth is hard to hear when the lies sound so good. Just because you believe in something does not automatically make it so. Faith in a ritual or an interpretation is not really Faith. It is illusion. It is a subjective experience and is not real. I suppose if you get to pick and choose what scriptures you use, excluding those which serve you no good, then creating something for your own purposes is not that far of a stretch. I have to wonder, considering this reality, just what the hell all those people are spouting day after day, week after week until heaven? I ask myself, since this form of worship is not a valid scriptural expression, then where is it coming from and just who sent the message? Ten million Christians babbling together doesn't mean that God has spoken.
"Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
(Proverbs 30:6, NIV)
            It is irrelevant what fundamentalists do with their lives or believe in their minds. Anyone can have faith in something, even if the object of that faith is a figment of their imagination. If they want to howl at the moon, then more power to them. The issue for me is not what they believe but the claim they maintain that every word of the Bible, or other Holy books like the Quran, are true and then they shape each to suit themselves. All the while they babble in the aisles and urge the homosexuals, the liberals and the heathen flee from them with little or no exception. They do this very thing. Everyone who does not follow exactly what the “word of God says are destined for doom and hellfire, but somehow this ruling does not apply to them. The damage such expectations can cause to a searching soul, unable to adhere, is often crippling and even deadly. What options do you have spiritually when you are told God doesn’t want you?
            It is ironic, and seems quite hypocritical (Matthew 6:5), in light of the very non-scriptural glossolalia practiced without evidentiary support. Those who cannot tow the spiritual line that has been created are often excluded, shunned and even abandoned as non-believers. When the words of sacred texts outweigh our responsibility to love one another (John 13:34-35), we have discovered part of the problem with religion, false faith. The Words are the end all and the be all. Everyone else has to follow the rules except those making the rules. They forget that adding to scripture does not only include the addition of words, it can also mean changing words to mean what they do not. Just because you believe in something doesn't mean you won’t fall for anything. It’s like a taste of their own medicine on the tip of their tongues.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, KJV)