Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ungodly


"I went to see my sister
She was staying with a friend
Who had turned into a preacher
To save the world from sin
He said 'First deny your body,
Then learn to submit
Pray to be made worthy,
And tithe your ten percent'
I said 'Is this all there is,
Just the letter of the law?'
Something's wrong ..."

 
 
            I didn't just decide to come out of the closet. I really had no choice. At almost thirty years of age, I would no longer deny myself or the secret life I had been living. Just weeks after the suicide of my partner, I would not abnegate him or the relationship we had maintained privately over an almost seven year span. I sat with my parents in a small diner in Stratford, Ontario just having left the cemetery on a warm early March day. While I maintained it was privacy that had kept me silent for all those years, it was in fact a much more complicated matter. I had always felt great shame for being a homosexual. I was embarrassed and contrite. My sin was heavy on my shoulders and it, to my mind at least, was the primary reason such a devastating event had occurred. Coming out to my Mother and my Father was one of the most significant and challenging moments from my life. The rest just seemed to fall into its place.
             I spent my teen years bombarded with the idea that my hidden sin was greater than most. I was an abomination and should be stoned to death. I really thought I had given myself up to ungodly things and deserved everything that life had dealt to me. I was under punishment for not towing the line. My judgment was clear. Whether this was actually true or not never crossed my mind. My entire religious life I had been indoctrinated into believing in the infallible nature of Scripture, both Old and New Testament. Passages from Leviticus, Romans and 1st Corinthians chased me as if they were demons. I came out to my family because I would no longer deny the love I had with my late partner, but with him gone, I chose to allow God to take this weight from me. I no longer had a reason to rest in my sins.
            I swore to battle my shame and tried chemical castration. After all, Jesus expected me to be a eunuch, stating clearly that "there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:12b, NIV). I believed that if I could not control myself then this was demanded of me. Although the physical part of me that I felt was tied to my sin stopped its normal function, within me there was nowhere left for me to hide. I cried out, I begged, but God did not take it from me. This sin was of me and no saviour came to free me from it. I had given my all and that was the best I could do. If God didn't want me, regardless of any penance I made in atonement, then I didn't want God. It was bad enough being an outcast in society. The free thinking and moral moderation which flourish in our modern landscape did not when I first revealed my greatest sin.  As time passed, I learned to love myself despite the demons still running, still chasing me inside my head.  Along the way it got easier to be gay in our society. It matters little the social changes. Everywhere I look people still condemn gay men and women for the sin of being who they are. We know we can't change it no matter how we try; no matter what they claim. It is not that it sits there, quietly waiting to unleash some ungodly thing. It is just there, a part of what we are. Most gay people will tell you that it was there from their start. Regardless of our social evolution, gay people still heed the condemnations and gay people still jump off the sides of buildings because Jesus doesn't love them.

"Something's wrong in heaven tonight
You can almost hear them cry
Angels to the left and the right
Saying 'What about the love
What about the love
What about the love?'"
(What About the Love?, Amy Grant 1988)

            One of my teenage nephews once asked me, "Why don't you act like other gay people?" I had to explain to him that I am like most gay people. You can't tell who we are or recognize our sexuality from the shoes we wear. The most effeminate of men may well be heterosexual. The most masculine man may well be the most homosexual. You just can't guess, or assume, you have to hear it from the source. The stereotypes and attitudes he perceived as true (towards gay people) are not some foreign virus that trickled down from heaven. Gay people are still treated with the same underlying ignorance as when I first discovered my orientation in the early 1980s. Characters like Jack McFarland, from Will & Grace, may no longer be the homosexual norm on television and in movies, but mass media still allows itself to be an agent of shameless moral judgments and agendas. People still hate gay people and you can tell so from the nightly news.
            Countries like Nigeria and Russia have only self-validated this right to hate, the world press made sure of it. Their message of ignorance and intolerance only cements an already existing example of how the more things change, the more things stay the same. When Phil Robertson from A&E's Duck Dynasty compared homosexuality to bestiality in GQ magazine, claiming scripture backed him up, the outcry was not for the victims of his ignorance but rather viewers and supporters demanding he be un-suspended for stating his position. People cried foul over his right to free speech while my late partner turned over in his grave. I thought demonizing, slandering and preaching vile things was hatred, but I guess only for a Nazi. One man's ignorance is another man's manifesto. All the while, we still kill ourselves to silence our shame. Every day, homosexual men and women are murdered just for their inclinations. Many would see us removed. Most of the Arab world and fundamentalist Christians differ on little, especially if left unchecked. It is a slippery slope and I fear we have come upon it.
            There is good news. An enlightened state of empathy and understanding has crashed upon many shores across this planet. In safer lands, gay people are now free to be who they want to be, love who they want to love and live as they see fit. We too seem free at last. Freedom, unfortunately, comes with a price. There is still a danger for gay people who leave the confines of that freedom. In many states, provinces and other countries, hatred is tolerated as long as you suck cock or wear your hair in a mullet. For all the benefits of this enlightened age, we still have much to fear. Their fear is built on ignorance. When Evander Holyfield claimed that homosexuality could be fixed like a gimp leg would be, I took notice. When ABC's The Bachelor, Juan Pablo Galavis,  expressed that gay people are a bad influence on kids, I shuddered. Every Wednesday, I sit down to watch a couple of fruit-loops prance about with their Modern Family. I firmly believe this type of exaggeration, this newly defined but stereotypical gay lifestyle, may ultimately bring more harm than good, regardless of modernity. Backward, redneck, Muslims and Christians watch that crap and that crap defines us in their minds. It's bad enough that we have to overcome Hollywood but then we do ourselves no favour. Every year, city after city hosts their gay pride parade. It is not the mothers and fathers marching for their children that make the evening news. The "regular" homosexual is much too boring to capture in sound bites. Gyrating Speedos, colourful dildos and all the sequins and boas titillate the crowds just like those ancient pagan festivals worshipping Saturnalia two thousand years ago. Everyone has the right to be who they want to be but when you do so in a public forum, you have to prepare yourself to pay the price. People are unpredictable. Most cannot be trusted. Hatred is still a weapon and mass media seems to supply fuel for the firearms.
            I have, on occasion, considered whether my late partner's suicide would no longer be necessary for him had he lived in these modern times. The compassion of Pope Francis, and his mission to reshape the Vatican, strikes at the root source of most hatred. Celebrities like Matt Bomer (White Collar) demonstrate that not all gay men are queens. Unfortunately, his sexuality (most likely) cost him the role of Superman ,which went to Henry Cavill instead. When Robin Roberts, from Good Morning America, finally revealed her orientation, no one really seemed to care. It was a non-event, which is always a good thing. Ellen DeGeneres continues to raise the bar higher, her irrelevant sexuality a stark contrast to her coming out episode in 1997. We have even discovered that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was gay. History stands as a testament to those who suffered in silence. Even sports stars have peeked outside the closet door. Jason Collins, a former NBA star, was the first professional athlete to truly come out and say he was gay. Slowly, other athletes have followed his lead. It is a nicer place, at times, down here, now, but it is not really any safer.

"I make you uncomfortable
When I'm around
You always find a reason
To shut me out
You don't understand me
So you push me away
And you claim
Jesus lets you live that way"

            When I was growing up, I understood that homosexuality was frowned upon by God because it was not natural. Once I had grown up, I discovered how to use the dictionary. Something that is natural (adj.) is "present in or produced by nature." It relates to or concerns nature. To be natural is "conforming to the usual or ordinary course of nature." Homosexuality is not exclusive to homo sapiens. Researchers have found that "various forms of this [homosexuality] are found throughout the animal kingdom."  More than "1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, have been observed engaging in same-sex behaviours."  Homosexuality is a part of nature. It is a naturally occurring behaviour in animals, not the peccatum contra naturam (sin against nature) that thousands of years of religion would have us believe. There is great error in the assertion "that being a homosexual is not a commonly occurring event in humans." If nothing else, clearly that is not the case. Those things which manifest in nature are by definition natural.  Scripture would have us believe that any thing that doesn't occur in nature is an "abomination." If homosexuality wasn't apparent in nature then it would be abnormal, like getting a tattoo or speaking in unintelligible tongues.  
            Scripturally, even when homosexuality was not recognized there have been gay people. In biblical passages, there are ambiguous instances of same-sex love.  The relationship between King David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1) was "more wonderful that that of women" (2 Samuel 1:26, NIV). After Jonathan's death, David went on to become one of the greatest biblical heroes, flaws and all. In the book of Ruth, Ruth and Naomi share a regard for each other unseen in other biblical stories. From the story of Ruth (1:14, NIV), the word dabaq ("clung") is used to describe Ruth's feelings towards Naomi. The same word, dabaq ("clung"), is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe how Adam felt about Eve. In the case of Ruth, "her feelings are celebrated, not condemned." Ironically, the word dabaq, from the Hebrew, is primarily associated with "how spouses are supposed to feel toward each other." It has even been suggested that the relationship between Jesus and John, "the disciple Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7; 21:20), was more than a casual fondness. This interpretation seems highly suspect to me. Regardless of how we perceive biblical teachings about homosexuality, nowhere in the pages of the Bible are people condemned for having homosexual tendencies. Some homosexual relationships, it can be argued, were as valid as heterosexual relationships. 
            Sexual Orientation is not a sin. Certain actions, which are prohibited by specific teachings from the Bible, are considered abominable. When these unnatural acts are presented in varying scriptures, they are accompanied by some form of chastisement or punishment by god or his agent. It was not homosexuality that produced destruction for Sodom and Gomorrah. It was cruelty, lack of hospitality, and rape that sealed their doom. Both have become "synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God's wrath." God sent three angels, disguised as men, to inform Lot of this impending destruction (Genesis 18). The die had already been cast against the cities. When the people of Sodom attempted to rape the disguised entities, the clock was already ticking (Genesis 19:4-5). Divine judgment by God had already been passed upon Sodom and Gomorrah, along with several neighbouring cities.  
            Also from the book of Genesis comes a tale of woe upon the patriarch Noah. It is suggested that Ham, one of his three sons, raped his father while he was sleeping. Noah was apparently passed out from a drunken binge (9:20–27). There can be little question that a sexual transgression occurred for "when Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,  he said, 'Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.'” (9:24-25, NIV) For some reason, Noah cursed Ham's son Canaan, rather than his own. This curse may simply be a justification for slavery, demonizing the Canaanites and the later subjection to the Israelites, or it may condemn the unnatural act of incest and rape that occurred between the two characters. It should be noted that in antiquity, "one male sodomizing another man was often seen as an act of aggression and represented a power relationship." The sin here is not homosexuality yet the punishment quite heavy in its nature.

"Why me?
Why am I not welcome in your company?
Why do you treat me like an enemy?
If you believe the way you say you do
Then why am I unlovable to you?"
 (Unlovable, Plumb 2013)

            In both the Old and New Testament, acts of homosexuality were "strongly associated with the idolatrous practices of the pagan nations surrounding Israel." These pagan gods were worshipped using "vile" acts and therefore idolatrous. In Leviticus 18:22, God is not warning homosexuals of His judgment. Gay men and Lesbians are not even mentioned. Use of the word abomination, tow' ebah, "means something morally disgusting, but it also has a strong implication of idolatry." Bible scholars agree, "the condemnations in Leviticus are more a condemnation of the idolatry than of the homosexual acts themselves." In Leviticus 20:13, God is not addressing some San Francisco gay bar. God is in fact addressing heterosexual men (but not women). He doesn't even condemn one who should sleep with women, or is supposed to sleep with women, the wording is clear, "as one does with a woman" (NIV). In the Old Testament, there seems to be a difference between gay love and homosexual acts committed by heterosexual men. God's sentence is passed upon men with a natural inclination towards women; their actions go against their nature.
            In the New Testament, Paul clarifies the argument. The book of Romans addresses this idolatry: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25, NIV). Because they have worshipped other gods, "God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error." (1:27, NIV). This was not a "blanket condemnation of homosexual acts," but suggests "that the passage condemned heterosexuals who experimented with homosexual activity." We must remember that Paul was "relative to his own culture," and his culture did not understand homosexuality "as an orientation" but one "in which being penetrated was seen as shameful." Even in 1 Corinthians (6:9-11), it is "certain actions that are prohibited by Bible teachings, not tendencies or feelings."  Those who will not inherit the kingdom of god vary in their sin but each one (sexual immorality, idolaters, adulterers, "men who have sex with men," thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, swindlers) is seen as a physical, unnatural act against God's law.


            Jesus never mentions homosexuality or any sexual practice outside of  the general term "sexual immorality" (Mark 7:21, NIV) and the very heterosexual act of adultery (7:22). He is clear, it is “what comes out of a person" that "defiles them" (7:20, 7:23). He is also clear, throughout his ministry, that we are not to judge other people for what we see as their sin (Matthew 7:1-5).  He refused to cast the first stone (John 8:1-10). He promises to love us all despite our ungodliness. If in fact homosexuality is a sin, then it differs only from others in the manifestation. All people sin and all sin is equal in God's eyes (Romans 3:23). As Paul put it, "None is righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). Anyone who follows the Bible, "but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10-11, NIV). Something  like comparing homosexuality to bestiality may come from ignorance but it is also placing a judgment on other human beings with total disregard for their place in the kingdom. There is no reason to condemn gay men and women. If the observation of nature has taught us anything, homosexuality is as normal and natural as heterosexuality. Apparently, certain members of the heterosexual community should be paying more attention to where they lay their heads.
            People of faith, whether Christian or Muslim, or the pick of the litter, need to remember that when it comes to sin, they are in exactly the same boat as everyone else, including homosexuals. All these semantics regarding who gets to go to heaven are nothing but that. After all, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4, NIV). Although the tide seems to be turning in our favour, we have much reason for trepidation. It is not the heterosexuals who get hung from a tree for just being. Gay teens continue to slaughter themselves all the while thinking they are not worthy of God's love. When was the last time a hater bashed then stabbed a breeder simply for the act of kissing his girlfriend? It was not heterosexuals who were gassed in those concentration camps. It makes you wonder just who is ungodly? People who profess to follow Jesus, or Allah, or whatever monster they serve this week, tend to be hypocrites. They go against what their god has instructed. Perhaps they should leave all the condemnation to Him and mind their own damn business.  

"Let it go,
 Let it roll right off your shoulder
 Don't you know
 The hardest part is over
 Let it in,
 Let your clarity define you
 In the end
 We will only just remember how it feels"

            Our civilization is changing and with those changes people are recognizing that members of the overall gay community are really no different then the rest of mankind. We all make mistakes and we all sin, regardless of what sin it may be. Men of God beat their wives, rape children and they steal and make war, yet they condemn others because in their minds the Bible tells them that it is okay. In many parts of the world, gay people can marry, have equal rights and freedoms and are finally being recognized for their contributions to history and society. The message is clear for all the haters who remain defiant of the modern movement towards enlightenment. Clearly, homosexuality has been a normal occurrence in nature and throughout history. Finally, we seem to be winning the struggle. Those who cannot find it within themselves to allow others those same rights and freedoms they have are about to be left behind, all the while clutching to their holy books and crying out for justice. I say you get exactly what you give. The times are changing. People are evolving. Mankind is becoming better, although it is taking us an awful long time. All these twists and turns are leading us in the right direction. I am convinced that it is the heart that really matters in the end.
"All of my regret
 Will wash away some how
 But I can not forget
The way I feel right now"

            I suppose I have always been a fortunate son. While I worried what might happen  when I came out to my parents, considering their religious association and conservative views, this benchmark was nothing like what I had feared it would be. It was their unconditional love and support that helped me through the hardest period of my life. They never judged, they never condemned me. They never even told me that I needed to change my sinful ways. Every aspect of their relationship with me remained intact. Actually, the entire experience only made us that much closer. For me, their reaction and understanding reflected what a true person of God is supposed to be like.
            Regarding my sexuality, outside of God, I have only ever cared what my Mom and Dad thought of me; nothing else really mattered. It is the example and manifestation of this type of love from them that has left a lifelong impression on me. It represents just how a person of God is supposed to be. I stand firm that this is how God wants us to interact with and treat our fellow man. Most religious people seem to take pleasure in reminding me I am not good enough. Those voices can still haunt me from time to time. I am glad that time now falls away. I am grateful that my parents let their lives be a picture of Him. It is these tiny morsels of God's love that are reflected in how we treat each other. For me, they mean the most. This is how Jesus behaved. It is the landscape of the kingdom and the real nature of the Divine. No longer do I feel ungodly.
 "Our lives are made
 In these small hours
 These little wonders,
 These twists & turns of fate
 Time falls away,
 But these small hours,
 These small hours still remain."
(Little Wonders, Rob Thomas 2007)

 

 

 
Sources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals
http://mrpopo.hubpages.com/hub/Nature-Is-Gay-Is-It-Natural-to-Be-a-Homosexual
http://www.wouldjesusdiscriminate.org/biblical_evidence/ruth_naomi.html
http://www.christianbiblereference.org/faq_homosexuality.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom_and_Gomorrah
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_Ham

 
 

Photos

http://luisgranados.com/blog/?p=848

 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Happy Place


 
"You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful."
(Amy Bloom, American writer)



            I do not believe it is a stretch, by any means, to conclude that most people are not happy. They may claim to be, they may even act the part, but if you spend any amount of quality time with them you discover there is a pretense to their jovial disposition. Their joy is artificial, for the most part. People just don't seem able to preserve any semblance of peace in their lives, let alone maintain the elusive state of felicity we all seek at one point or another. We all have our reasons to flounder in our discontent. Our experience, our journey does not usually give us much reason to celebrate. The adage that life is hard is the gravest truth. It is difficult to be human.
            By no means does this restrict us in doing so. I believe we all really do want to be happy. Whether we just don't know how, or circumstance makes it almost impossible, I stand firm that we all chase this dragon. We all want things to be better and for life to have more meaning than it seems to have. Some of us turn to the material world hoping to fill the emptiness. Some turn to religion and its promise of a happy place where streets are paved with gold. Many give in to their heavy burden and just cannot find their way. I do not suggest that we never have moments where life seems worth living. The problem does not lie in not knowing how to be happy, we just can't seem to sustain the state of being happy.
            Happiness requires self-knowledge. Without it, our own feelings cannot guide us on a daily basis. We cannot maintain it. It is because we do not recognize our own behaviour that we treat ourselves so badly and the world around us then suffers as well. Our self-ignorance is reflected in how we treat others. When we do attempt to recognize our condition, we become so sure that external factors can bring us this great elusive state. We allow these extraneous components from our lives to dictate and define what our happiness should be. Everyone has heard the voices. We know what can and cannot buy our happiness. We have been told, over and over, what happiness really means. If we get this, or we do that, we are guaranteed to be. Unfortunately for people who buy into this thinking, they tend to end up even more in decay.
            I used to hold true that happiness was something to be achieved, that by trying I could find it and keep it. Happiness is a process one cannot capture, like the distant butterfly or the cold and flu. Happiness is not something that is easily made. Happiness just is. It comes to us through our actions. How we treat ourselves and how we treat others is a testament to its cause. It is our state of mind and our state of being, not our state of security or position or rank. It is not merely what we do but why we do it. It evolves as we travel down our never ending path. You take one step forward and then you keep on walking. Eventually, if the time is right and you look inside, it will come to you. The moment you first meet it, that second of enlightenment can last a lifetime if you let it. Through the darkness comes the light and you must make it all your own. This benchmark can change you, reshape you in that instant and it can always remain with you if you know well enough to claim it. Happiness does not mean you have a happy life. When one achieves true happiness, such things just don't matter.   

"Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product."
(Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady/activist)

            A few weeks ago, I sat down with a friend of mine I have known many years. He is a talented and rational person with little room for things such as religion or spiritualism. I had not seen him, or really gotten the chance to talk face to face, since my Mother died in 2010. We spent most of our time together that day catching up on the events and challenges we both have had to deal with since then. We had talked online and even Skyped a few times, but this type of social networking leaves little room for truly meaningful content. You catch up, you laugh a little, then you go back to the life you lead without them.  He was surprised how well I was doing.
            When someone knows you really well, they seem to base who you are on your circumstances and experiences. While it is true that most people linger in their misery, he was surprised at the degree to which I was coping with mine. He doubted me when I told him I had found my happy place. He could not see just how this could be so. He noted that I lost a partner to suicide, my Mother died, I am Bi-Polar, my life has been a hellish ride. He knew of all the places and faces that have passed before me. He remembers all of the pain and suffering I have met along my way. He knows my shame. He pointed out that every incident, every cataclysm that has been placed upon me was written all over my face. He injected out loud that he did not believe me.
            I have a pretty gruff exterior if you were to pass me on the street. My usual expression tends to evoke caution in many. I look like a son of a bitch, I would say. I have always maintained that I have no control over how my appearance comes across to others. I am never just walking around thinking this is how I want to appear. I suppose that years of scars and sorrow can show when we do not consider who is looking. I am, however, fully approachable despite how I may look. Looks can be deceiving. When someone takes the time to interact with me, I just cannot help it, the sun shines through. People who have contact with me on a daily basis do not always know my past yet they are still quite surprised at how nice of a person I can be. I take pride in being well-liked. I am considered polite and friendly, "a good guy" as one mate defined me. If you ask me how I got to be the man I now profess to be, I would answer you simply, "It just happened." I really have found my happy place.
            Happiness is not an exterior expression. It is an internal mechanism that becomes one's second nature. True happiness ceases suffering. There is a difference between this suffering and pain. Pain is "a physical or emotional sensation that we feel immediately, and then it passes."  Suffering, however, is "the subsequent story that follows the pain." Suffering comes from our thoughts and how we experience them. Pain is fleeting, but suffering we allow to go on and on. Sometimes our suffering is the only thing we have left to hold on to so we allow it to last for months or even years. True happiness occurs when we escape the thoughts inside our heads. They seem to become faint and intangible, some even disappear when we realize all the things that have happened to us are in fact already gone. Our experience may well be our story but when we see the past as such, a tale once told by the person we used to be, the past becomes history. When you rid yourself of the things which cause you suffering, they no longer have a hold over you. You still feel pain. You still experience both the good and the bad. The world will continue to be but it doesn't have to rule you.        

"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will." (Epictetus, ancient Greek philosopher)

            Happiness is not some theoretical dialogue. In most cases, the consequence of external events we experience are far beyond our control. This in no way means we are required to simply and calmly accept what happens to us. We are, however, responsible for our own actions which we can control through self-discipline. Pain is inevitable but suffering occurs when we try to control the uncontrollable or neglect situations that are in our power to change. It is our duty to not only care for ourselves but also our fellow man. When we achieve this state, happiness and peace of mind are available to us.
            For me, I have never been able to maintain any sense of peace or happiness without God in my life. God and happiness go hand in hand as far as I am concerned. You cannot discover God without a sense of happiness and you can never be truly happy without  God, whatever form your deity may take. Happiness is not unattainable nor is it elusive in its nature. Where our gods and happiness meet, we find joy. Our natural state, I would argue, is to be happy. When the past is still, when we are fully present in the now, when we settle god in the place it belongs, then we experience that peace which surpasses all understanding. When we learn to shut down all the commentary, both from our history and from religion, we move past the story that follows any actual event. This does not mean you no longer have memories, or doubts, or visions of yesterday running through your head. Living in the present, in the now, strips such things of their influence. The past will always be the past but when you move forward, you no longer have to travel that course. You are free to go your own way.
            You are the protagonist in your story and you always have the option of starting a new chapter. Life lies waiting on another page. Rewriting what has been, over and over, doesn't work. Concentration on your suffering only leaves room for more suffering. You have to let it go if you want to travel lighter and freer. Let go of the things you cannot change. We hold on to the ache, to the point where we can hardly breathe, and this has never been productive for anyone. You have to stop the past from defining you and start seeing yourself as God does. You are beautiful, despite what your story may have to say about it. In the end, most people are as happy as they allow themselves to be. It makes no sense to turn around and look back since you can only go forward.
            When a person overcomes suffering brought on through interaction with other people, we call them "strong." When someone overcomes themselves, we should call them "mighty" (Lao Tzu). Your happiness and your salvation you have to achieve for yourself. No one else can do it for  you. Every person on this planet is good enough, important, worthy, inspiring and quite beautiful. Unless you can convince yourself this also applies to you, you will never have the benefit that comes with this realization and you cannot make a difference if you do not have a joy to share.

"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content." (Helen Keller, American author/activist)

            Some benchmarks are concrete. When my Mother died, I started writing again and have yet to stop. The change that occurred within me is measurable. I can tell you when it happened. I have all the dates and names. Some benchmarks are cumulative. Multiple factors with similar symptoms may occur over a lifetime and all point to the same lesson. Obviously, there is a good chance we have yet to awaken to this instruction. Some benchmarks are intangible. We do not know when they occurred or how they happened. Some benchmarks just are. One day you wake up and things are different. You don't know what the date was or even the time. You can't hold it in a book to remember as an heirloom. Sometime, somehow it just was.

"Being happy is not the only happiness."
(Alice Walker, American author)

            I must have been to the cemetery a thousand times. This day was special in a slightly morbid sense. For the first time since the event, the anniversary of the day and date lined up. I even managed to arrive close to the time they told me it had happened. I felt kind of guilty standing all living and such, but I had felt that way too many times before. I would not let it take me. For a moment, I could see him and I smiled.     

 

 

 
Sources


 

 
Photo
 
http://www.BuddhaDoodles.com/


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Insidious




"An ache so deep
That I can hardly breathe
This pain can't be imagined
Will it ever heal?
Your hand so small
Held a strand of my hair
So strong
All I could do was keep believing
Was that enough?
Is anyone there?"

            Despite my young age, I knew I was in trouble. The car pulled up beside me as I headed home from school and abruptly stopped. The passenger door swung open and temptation met me like a piece of candy. I instinctively knew what I had to do. I didn't ask him what he wanted. I didn't wish him a happy day. My two little feet hit the sidewalk and I sped away, set ablaze by fear and an overwhelming sense of danger. I can still see his longing. His fangs and horns are etched into my mind like the memory of any horror would be. I started screaming in my head. I screamed for all to hear. I raced to the safety of a friend's home, right there in plain sight. I ushered myself through the back way, never once looking around me for the scoundrel.  
            The police came and the police went and their warnings faded like any admonition will. Eventually, all mention of the demon that day faded with the spring into summer then to fall. The monster drifted away, never to be spoke of again. In my head I often heard him calling, whispering to follow the doom. It could be terror if I played with it enough. It might haunt me until the screaming returned. At first, every car that slowed was the devil come to take me. Every stranger who seemed nice was imagined full evil. I was scared and defensive, I was afraid. Television and newspapers only made the matter worse for me. When the scope of what could have happened finally hit me, the nightmares started. They were quiet things, glazed with peppermint syrup and chocolate pudding. In the corner of each was a darkness, always waiting, always watching. I could sense him there. For years, whenever I closed my eyes he would grab me.   
            I dealt with the devil on my own terms. Everyone told me it was no longer real, but I had seen him. There were times he felt so near to me that I could have reached out to punch him. In the parts of my mind where the hellish reign, he lives still. I know from the age he seemed at that time that his mortal remains have suffered to bone by now, but his ghost can linger like a ghoulish laugh. I don't know how many times I asked God to take him from me. I didn't count the ways I would be in exchange for sweet freedom. After every plea, after every prayer, I could only hear his snicker.

"I wanna scream
Is this a dream?
How could this happen,
Happen to me?
This isn't fair
This nightmare
This kind of torture
I just can't bear
I want you here
I want you here"

            At first, I thought he had finally come for me. The crispness of aged snow gave notice of impending doom. When my face hit the brick wall, when my arms could not break free, I knew this unkind fate for me. I struggled, they finished and I grabbed it like it was a stick or flower stem. I felt no pain. I did not know it would cut so deep. The pull, the toss, sweet freedom, all at the laughing and the mocking and the scorn. Their horns and hooves sped quickly through the forest. In no time, it was as if they had not been there at all but for the blood, and the shame, and the empty dying part of me that had come to trust Him again. This horror, this pain, pressed at the hands of four horsemen, all tools of my very own antichrist. When I finally fell down on the icy soft I thought, somewhere in the distance, I could hear him laughing.
            The longest walk I have ever walked was from the place it had happened to the place I passed out. Through the deep of winter I trudged all alone, tattered and torn and quite worse for the wear. I was a zombie, exposed, and my bloodstained garments froze in the cold. When I found the road, my senses left me. I wandered forward only knowing to move on. He had claimed me. He had taken me as his own. All my cries, all my begging only rang clear in my head at the time. There would be no sense of reason in this cautionary tale. There would be no mercy. There would be no embrace, merely dances with the darkness I had met so long ago.
            Scars heal, time heals, so the story goes. Still, people look at you differently when they know just what has happened. Their eyes are a constant reminder of the way God sees you too. Unworthy, abandoned, discarded, these are just words. Deep inside one becomes broken, too weary to fix what snapped in two. You bury the pain. You hide the suffering. You strengthen the foil. Each day is another remnant of the one before and each cycle of repetition cuts exactly like the one before. You survive, you go on, but a part of you wonders why it happened and why it happened to me? People tell you God is with you, that He can lift this burden from your soul, but these claims are empty, empty words that do nothing but convince you that you have never been good enough, you've never been wanted. You deserve everything you get.

"I waited so long
For you to come
Then you were here
And now you're gone
I was not prepared
For you to leave me
Oh this is misery
Are you still there?"

            I knew I was awake but for the blackness. My body, my mind, my soul all were spinning, reaching, trying to understand where I was and what was happening to me. My friend had left me at the bar to pursue his interest and I accepted that drink from the bearded man beside me. Now I lay me down but not to sleep. I was bound. I was gagged. I was helpless, as helpless as could be. I could barely hear someone moving, as the clanging and the rhythm and the bindings met my fury. I was sick. Whatever had snuck deep into my being was making me so. It was violent, and I twisted with the unease of it.. It all seemed to come in echoes. Each touch, each tease did not pierce through the waves. For a moment, just for a moment, I could see him again. He was smiling, playing, taunting me like a puppet made from human hair. I saw layers of peppermint syrup and chocolate pudding pour over me. He smiled again from his darkness.
            I did not grin and bear it. All the while, the unknown met me afraid and confused. I called out in my mind for Him. I asked for forgiveness should this journey be my end. I prayed like I had never prayed before. The shadow of where I had been then returned to me and I fell into it, but not as quickly as one might imagine. I lingered on the edge of peace and despair. I was hunting for Jesus but He just wasn't there. Suddenly, I was gone again. The cool of that September night found my vomit flowing like blood from a rose. The ground was cold, colder than the air, and my body began to shake from it. Somewhere in this freedom sweet, I knew the ravage I experienced. I could feel it seeping from me, pouring on the asphalt like some wasted junk. I could not stand for the whirlwind. My body convulsed and my being ached to its very core. I even called for death to find me. Alone, I arose and met the breaking of the dawn.
            The water did not wash anything away. The stain was not something easily dispensed. As the poison left me and reality sunk in, I knew there were things I should not have done. I should not have taken a drink from someone in such a hedonistic place. I should have never been there to begin with. I should not have gotten in my car, I should not have pathologically made my way home. I should never have trusted that God would watch over me. I should have known I had always been on my own. When my attempts at washing the shame away found that ugly old man laughing at me from his car, I realized it was futile. I stood looking in the mirror, testing my resolve as I poked at this mark and that new scar. I climbed into bed hoping to find rest but in my dreaming I kept running, running from the real of it all. The darkness found me wanting no more.

"I wanna scream
Is this a dream?
How could this happen,
Happen to me?
This isn't fair
This nightmare
This kind of torture
I just can't bear
I want you here
I want you here"

            Not all the benchmarks from our lives are individual events. Many times they are cumulative, the sum of several like experiences. We are the totality of these. They should guide us, steer us away from monsters that hunt us down. When we fail to recognize them as such, we need that lesson all over again. While they tell me that if you don't learn from your history then you are bound to repeat it, quite often, in specific situations, there is little one could have done differently. Still, these experiences can hold great lessons if we heed them well. Through the pain and the shame we can build ourselves into a better person, stronger, wiser and much more empathetic. These experiences can act as cautionary tales, for both others and ourselves. They warn us of the danger. They act as an example of what might happen should we fail to recognize or disregard this warning. Our unpleasant fate is a result not so much of God or karma but the lack of awareness on our part. We do not see that God speaks to us through the things we know.
            I no longer believe that God enacted upon me all my pain and suffering. He does not do these things to mortal men, we do them to ourselves. The entire reason for a god is to help us through our experiences, not to send them or deliver us from them. God has a purpose in all the pain. There can be a reason for these struggles. There is always a lesson to be learned. Sometimes God isn't there because He cannot be. He is the comfort through the consequence, the sun after the rain. The reality is that not all scars heal and time may only make the agony familiar. Even God can't always chase away the monsters.

"An ache so deep
That I can hardly breathe."
(I Want You Here, Plumb 2013)
 

 

 

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reminiscence


            We all look back on our lives with great reverence but also with much disdain. The association placed on each of our memories determines just how we view them from our current vantage point. Each glimpse is continually shaped in our mind. Some things we recall fondly, others not so much. As more glimpses and more experiences get added to the pot of who we are, quite often our view of the past changes as well. A memory once so positive can reform into a negative, and it works the other way around as well. Sometimes the most chaotic and stressful of situations from our history become viewed in a different light. The things which we recall the most tend to bring us the greatest reward. The things we shun from ourselves, those things we try to block away, they can become ghosts from our past that still haunt us.
            We all remember significant points that have happened to us throughout our lives, benchmarks if you will. In the end, they have helped to determine how we see ourselves as a person, our character and even the way we view the world. Some experiences may assist us in determining how we view other factors such as God, our moral code and even humanity. We can choose to learn from them or abandon them and senselessly repeat the same lessons over and over again. Each experience still holds an example. Whether we learned from each lesson or not punctuates the moment for us, a fork in the road one might say. If and how we recall each crossroad defines the memory of the event as a distant thought or a benchmark. In the end, we are each the sum of our experiences or the totality of our mistakes, but only we get to decide. We choose our direction.
             We can rebuild us. Through the examination of our life we can choose to be better, we can take the time to truly see. Life is worth living. The road less travelled is prettier than most. All the shit we pile up on the side of the road can be a stinking eyesore or nutrients to grow all our scenery. The landscape is quite lovely if you know how to use the tools made available to you. All manure is merely shit, but not all shit is manure. The greatest instrument we have at our disposal is our room with a view. We cannot see where we are going until we know where we have been. I have always believed that our lives our not so much pre-determined, but rather our lessons are. We are here to learn them, to grow from them and I don't mean in just a physical or biological sense. Like the hourglass, we are all just sands of time. The vessel that carries us is limited to this material world but the essence of us remains intact. Time is a constant but our pain doesn't have to be. We learn how we choose to be.

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."  (Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist)

             It is a no-brainer that when I look back on my life I have much to cringe at. I think most people are in this same predicament. We have all made mistakes and no one, no matter their lot, can stop from doing the same. Like Dickens' Marley, we all bear the weight of the chains we have forged for ourselves. Our entire lives, from start to end, can be a great burden. We wonder, had we only taken a different path would our travels have been more productive, less destructive? Would a dissimilar way have made any difference at all? Would we have had an effect? When it comes down, if you don't like the path on which you are travelling, then it is time for a detour. Choose to find an alternate route and thrive through doing so. Only you can change you. No God from up above, no devil down below, can force you to be anything unless you are willing. You have to let in the light to let out the light. Our benchmarks are lessons, but we determine their impact.
            It's a peculiar thing to look back on one's life with the intent of picking out the most significant of events. Examination is not always a wonderful voyage to discovery. The journey can become rather strange when you realize that not all experiences must be grand in scale to matter or make a difference. Quite often, the smallest moment from your life so lived can bear more consequence than the most outstanding example or greatest turning point. It is not the event itself which determines its importance, rather it is the effect that experience had which determines its significance. By the time we become adults, our memories are a muddled mess of both the good and the bad. Sometimes they are even quite ugly. For the long or the short-term, who we become on the journey matters more than what we believe or where we think we may be going.

"Autobiographies are only useful as the lives you read about and analyze may suggest to you something that you may find useful in your own journey through life."
(Eleanor Roosevelt, American First Lady/activist)

            What good is love if it is not given? What good is a chance if you don't take it? What good is a lesson if you don't share it? I find myself repeating my own trinity, over and over like a mantra. I cannot escape the overwhelming need to have it all make sense, to find some purpose in the things I have known. Perhaps on a sundrenched day while sitting at the beach a peace will come to me. Perhaps among the water and the sand and the gulls lingering in the distance I will find a brand new way. Until then, I can only do what it is within me to do. I can only be who I believe myself to be. I can only share what I already know. Always hoping, always trusting, somehow just knowing.
            The benchmarks of our lives are like the lighthouse. It warns of peril and storm and surge, but it also points the way to safety, a beacon in the darkness. The things we have experienced and the person we have become are merely consequences of all that we have recognized. The rest dash to shore, beaten down into nothing but debris. The pinpoints of light that have shaped us most are so much brighter than the rest. For good or ill, they are why we are the way we are. They light the way.

 
 

 

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Port Burwell, Ontario
August 2013

Dune Beach, Ontario
August 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Benchmarks









Chapter Eight

Benchmarks

 

 





 
"There's a different sunrise
It's a different world
In a way I feel like
I have just begun
Like I don't remember
Waking up from a dream
All my chains are broken
And it feels so free
 
I can breathe for the first time
I can see for the first time
It's like you opened my eyes
I can feel my heart is coming alive
I feel alive
I can breathe for the first time
For the first time"
(For the First Time, The Afters 2010)







 

 

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no source available

 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Shackles and Chains


"Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last?
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me son
Stop fighting a fight
That's already been won"


            If your Faith doesn't set you free, it is nothing but a cage, a prison cell that confines you and the deity that you worship. Faith evolves, it outgrows its place and takes us in new directions. Faith is a journey, not a destination. It changes just as we change. Religion binds the seeking, twisting and turning great promises that we all know never find fruition. Even if they did, once we finally come to know the answers we are already dead. Our new knowledge does the living no good. You can tell from a person's behaviour that they have Faith. Most often it lies within. When we allow our Faith to lead us, we gain a sense of purpose, a balance towards living. This surety tends to make us more stable, more disciplined. Your Faith should make it so.  
            Having been quite wicked, I realize that if God can work through me, then it is obvious that He can work through anyone. After all, man is punished not for his sin but by that sin. It's important to remember, if you are trying to survive the god men have created, what human beings deem significant is rarely what the true God would hold as significant. The very idea of God is a metaphor. Anything good, anything right, anything that transcends beyond intellectual thought, this is the only form of divinity that we can possibly hope to understand while in the mortal coil. Faith reveals we cannot know so our Faith becomes based on semantics. No one can ever really be sure what the scriptures of his religion mean. We believe in what we think they say, and quite often what we think they should say, but we cannot know for sure their intention.    
            I would rather live my life not having any answers than to pretend that there are any answers. I stand firm in my treason. I don't believe for one second that a God who gave us the ability to reason, higher intelligence and built-in common sense then expects us not to use them. To have Faith is not to know but to wonder. We limit the things we cannot explain when we attempt to explain them. Allow your Faith to be less hypothesis and more practical application. When in doubt, understand that if God made everything out of nothing, then nothing must be everything. Like the ocean, or the river, or the puddle, all Faith comes from the same source, but It comes in one form or another. It resembles the unknown. It evolves from the same place, the same originator. We dilute it, pollute it and often piss in it along the way, but it is still all the same thing. 

"All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper
Child lift up your head
I remember, oh God
You're not done with me yet"

            Everyone is different. Each person is unique, with individual wants and needs. Life constantly reshapes us, changes us, although not always for the better. Human beings are in a constant flux, a mesh of what we hope for and what we cherish. Our Faith turns these untested beliefs into steadfast truth, truth that we assure ourselves we can hold onto and call our very own. What we experience and are exposed to throughout our lifetime determines how we think and how we feel and who we are. Our Faith is transformed in the same manner. What we once held in highest regard spiritually tends to fall away, replaced by an "almost deliberate confidence in the character of God" (Chambers). In the end, Faith is not the act of believing without proof but rather it is the act of trusting without reason and hoping without security.   
            If you walk through a prison, or a madhouse, or a retirement home, you quickly learn that Faith doesn't prove a damn thing. People are so sure that they know but Faith that relies on its own authorization is not Faith, it is foolishness. For someone who has true Faith, answers are not necessary. To someone without Faith, answers are not possible. Since God is without definition and beyond our mortal ability to comprehend, Faith then becomes a form of "spiritualized imagination" (Beecher). This is a useful tool when surveying the authority of those who believe they have all the answers. We often forget that "belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man" (Paine). Just as we strive, through religious practice, to be more like God, the application of this trying tends to make God more like us. Faith has to do with things unseen. When we believe that which we think we can see, God becomes our own reflection. Modern spiritual diversity is a testament to the notion that our ideas of God work just like a mirror. 
            Religion and Faith are two very different things. Religion confines man but Faith is supposed to set him free. Religion is supposed to nourish our Faith but it only traps it in a box so we can hold it, see it and in turn attempt to understand it. Faith does not offer the instant gratification that more organized systems of spiritual belief do. Faith is obscure, ambiguous and carries with it moments of doubt both great and small. We need those moments just like we need our Faith. The two work in juxtaposition. Having spiritual "doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith" (Tillich). It can even be said that knowledge breeds Faith, but I would argue that our Faith has influenced our knowledge. Sometimes we even make things up as we go along. Faith based on knowledge is nothing but a bigger mirror and a kinder lie.  

"I don't have to be the old man inside of me
Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I've got a new name
A new life
I'm not the same
And a hope that will carry me home"

            Recognizing you cannot know God does not necessarily take away your Faith. Despite moments of doubt and protestation, my Faith has only brought me closer for exactly those reasons. You don't have to believe what they tell you that you should believe. Nothing you are taught can define you nor can those lessons define God. You do not need churches or scriptures to find what you have been looking for. There is little need for any form of guesswork. Despite all earthly institutions, you will not find the answers in mortal constructs. We may pour out our misery but you cannot find anything but a reflection in your humanity. The place where He lies waiting lies within. Faith then becomes "that deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe" (Einstein). You are part of that fabric. God is incarnated as Mercy and Heaven can be "under our feet as well as over our heads" (Thoreau). Having Faith in yourself is always the safest and surest course. I stand firm that it will carry all of us home.
            We don't see things as they really are, we see things as we want them to be. It is not like we have much choice in the matter. Faith then is to believe when everything you have come to know tells you there is nothing there to believe in. Just because we can't see it, or touch it, or understand it, doesn't mean  there is nothing there. Like the soul, or happiness, or loving someone, you may not be able prove it exists but that does not negate its existence. Having Faith is like taking a first step without seeing where you are going. All our lives we go on searching for something, but that something can never be discovered and seeking rarely leads anywhere. We walk blindly, always reaching for the kingdom no one seems able to find .The very thing we have all been looking for has been here all along.  Sometimes it's not the truth that brings us solace but our idea of the truth that brings us comfort. We want to know how it all began and how it all will end, but Faith only gives us the strength to get through, it does not possess the answers.
            When all is lost and the world has left you stripped and barren, Faith is often the only thing that will carry a person through. Faith gives hope in the greatest despair and strength to keep going in spite of it all. Whether it is all in our mind, or an act of surrender, Faith shows us the things we cannot change. Sometimes the things we cannot change, change us instead. Unfortunately, Faith can cement a person in their beliefs, artificially giving them permission to condemn those who view God differently. You must respect other people's Faith. It matters little if a person believes in spaceships and human cloning or in old men and the sea, people who do not respect another person's spiritual vision tend to manipulate their own to create fear and attempt control. You cannot convince anyone of something they are unwilling to believe.

"I am redeemed
You set me free
So I'll shake off theses heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed"
(Redeemed, Big Daddy Weave 2012)
 
 
            All the words in the world don't really mean a thing. All the pages, all the stories, they carry little weight. Faith isn't about what you believe, it is about how those beliefs transform you. Th Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and achieving Nirvana both manifest the same qualities in a person. You experience another person's Faith through those qualities, it is in the way that they behave, in their actions. There is a discipline to Faith and "Discipline is an index to doctrine" (Tertullian). People of true Faith don't practice what they preach, they preach what they practice. Whether you pray in Temple, commune in Church, or discover the Source at a hillside retreat, we are all children of the one True God. People must have the right to live in freedom, to think as they please and to be who they really are. No book should ever define anyone. No path should ever be barred from travel. Every road should lead us home.
            I have come to a place where I don't want to know the truth. It doesn't matter anymore. Faith is "not wanting to know what is true" (Nietzsche). Ultimately, this form of blind Faith is really the only kind of Faith. Not one soul on this planet knows a thing for sure. There is no proof, that's why it's called belief. True Faith is intelligent faith. It is the application of a divine influence without a single fact to back it up. It is surrender to the unknown and a recognition that you were always free. Religious people spend a lot of their spiritual lives trying to convince people outside their Faith structure that they have all the answers. They rarely have any. What works for them may not work for me. Faith allows us to evolve our beliefs, to reveal our reflection as an indicator of our Faith until our Faith becomes our very reflection.  

 

 

 
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