Thursday, April 26, 2012

Comfort Creature

"Man is presumed to consist of body and soul, the 'creature' being the body, as opposed to the soul, which is the divine spark. Thus 'creature comforts' are those which nourish the body - food, liquor, warmth, etc - as opposed to those such as love, companionship, sympathy, and so on, which nourish the soul.” [1]

            I am a comfort creature. We all are. We take pleasure from luxuries and material things. They help to provide solace. They console us in an hour of  need. They can put us at ease. These basic physical things, so-called "creature comforts", make life a little more pleasant. They give us something to look forward to when the world becomes a little too much. With them we escape. They make us happy, if only in disguise. It is within our nature to lean on the things we know. They bring with them a sense of relief from worry or disappointment. They soothe us in our afflictions and may calm our weary mind. They lessen the strain of the world. They act as nourishment.
            They are like a friend to us. We call to them when we can’t go it alone. They are basic, elementary options we turn to when we need them the most. They can be anything from a type of food, to an old quilt we hold close through the storm, to a record one plays over and over again.  Each provides a simple thing. They make us feel better, if only for a moment. They help us forget, if only for a time. In the darkness that life often seems to be, they are a mere candle to get us past the dawn.
            Everybody has them. Most of us have more than one. When I need some comfort, I eat Minute Rice, covered in melted cheese. This consumption has been my friend since my teens. It fills me. I feel better when I have taken it all in. It is warmth and familiar and just so damn good. My first partner loved to watch baseball. He often expressed how comforting it was for him to escape into a game. For hours at a time he would disappear, leaving his place behind him, and journey to a land where all was well and the summer was always shining. Our creature comforts are varied and unique to each person.
            If you look around, and care to notice, our entire Western culture (civilization) is given to material comforts. We seem addicted to entertainment and things which bring instant gratification. These have become essential, a daily part of living we just will not do without. Our creature comforts have turned us into comfort creatures. Something that once was so simple has been morphed into a hindrance. They interfere with us being us.  The more we supply ourselves with comforts, the more we need and desire them. This does not promote moral or spiritual growth. It promotes escapism and greed. They nourish the body so well that we forget to nourish the soul.
            What we once turned to in adversity, we consume in our prosperity. Alas, it is a slippery slope. Never in human history have we had so much. Never have we taken so much more. Our appetites seem insatiable. We run about like vermin, our iPad or BlackBerry dangling behind us like some extension of our body. Life seems to have become primarily about our creature comforts; satisfaction of our hungers rather than hungering for satisfaction.  Somehow we have become so wrapped up in feeling better that we forget how to feel. Existence seems measured by our ability to supply ourselves with what we believe is necessary to live a happy life. We often miss life altogether.

 “Comfort is the only thing our civilization can give us.” (Oscar Wilde)

             Religion can be repugnant. It is, often, offensive to my mind. Sometimes, it seems no matter what you do, there is no winning. Everything, at least in the Christian tradition, seems to be labelled with one negative or another. It is almost as if everything is a sin. In fact, we are convinced it all goes back to the original. We are taught to fight against "the ways of man" and "the ways of the flesh" and find comfort in God.
            Sex is for procreation. If you dare to enjoy yourself, you're doing something wrong. You can't even masturbate without visions of the devil laughing at your foolish nature while you go blind from spilling your seed. Dance is bad; much too provocative for our sensibilities. It is a tool of the devil. We aren't supposed to be footloose and fancy free. Any delight or joy we find in something outside of “Him” is considered hedonistic or idolatrous or iniquitous. Most days, I have to check the news first thing in the morning to make sure my coffee hasn't been cast down with the Seven Deadly Sins.  
            It seems to me anything that gives pleasure must be scrutinized because it brings pleasure. It is like being told to look but never touch. Living a righteous life has become about denying oneself and suffering, even though Jesus taught, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV).  How does one live life to the fullest? Does that mean we should deny ourselves the very fundamental joys that life can bring? Is happiness only derived through things esoteric and ethereal? If I am placed here to learn and to develop spiritually, then the things I know are part of my journey. I should have life more abundant. Why can’t everyone just leave well enough alone and let us all watch our porn? Or play with butterflies? Or have a smoke? Or a toke? Or eat too much melted cheese?
            In the end, it is these creature comforts which bind us. When procuring the comfort rules you, those things that bind you trap you. Things such as physical comfort promise liberty, but they can be their own kind of prison. How we feel becomes our god and God is ignored, forgotten or given up to disbelief. Comfort, as a cure, becomes the disease. Whether to run away, to hide or to escape, it often claims ownership. You may even become its slave. We know that a slave can only serve one master.
            Although mankind is equipped with crude and basic tools with which to deal with our emotions, it is not the act of having comfort that creates a problem. When all we do is strive for such pleasures, over and over, we cannot think of anything else. We become quite addicted. All one has to do is look around at our society to recognize just how much we really are hooked on our own delights. Eventually, they start to get in the way. Our priorities shift and we may end up some prisoner of our own making. The act of comfort becomes the life of comfort, leaving little room for any form of nourishment but itself. These ties that bind us give us consolation, but when they stand in the way of nourishment for the soul, then you have a problem. We end up needing comfort from our comfort.
            Somewhere within, we know the truth. We build for ourselves a jail, even though we know it is better to be unhappy and free than comfortable and captive. We think by escaping real life we will become happy, but empty promises only bring lonely roads. We become consumed and unable to see past our own wants. Generally speaking, pathological narcissism has become a defining characteristic of the current generation. When there is nothing else but what you want, and damn anybody else, it is clear just who you serve.
            I see nothing wrong with pleasure, or a breath of fresh air, or procurement of comfort. Taking refuge, only in the material world, just seems to bring such chaos. As a people, we seem to be walking away from the needs of the soul. In exchange, we are offered addiction, distraction and, once gone unchecked, despair and even death. The path that leads to hell is paved with new inventions.
            We consist of body and soul. One without the other leaves you half a person. Even though it seems to be built within us to crave much comfort, it is also in our makeup to crave much more. The life of moderation seems the only answer. Try telling that to the heroin addict, or the john hunting for a trick. It appears we are not capable of anything more than “all or nothing”. In the end, we end up getting just that.  
“My salvation and my honour depend on God;
  He is my mighty rock, my refuge.”
 (Psalm 62:7, NIV)

             I don’t know why she was there, but you could not miss her. She was dirty from a distance. She was dishevelled, downtrodden and made me feel quite uneasy. From the look of her you knew, you knew the life she knew. Her pain was written in her empty eyes and the weight of her past was crushing her body. She looked weak and feeble. She mumbled to herself. Her little words heard only in her head. She sat down on the bench beside me and tried to rest.
            My coffee was hot and my cigarette tasty. This break from the day brought me much comfort until she showed up. I shuffled over a little on the bench, at first, to give her room. Eventually, I found myself sliding silently, bit by bit, as far away from her as I could. I put my pack of smokes back in my pocket. I hoped that in hiding them I would avoid her pleas to share one. I felt like you do on the bus when one of them sits beside  you. All you want to do is move.
            I tried not to look. She was ragged enough that I needed no close-up for details. I stood, drank the last bit of coffee right in front of her, then tossed the cup in the garbage can behind the bench. I flicked the half cigarette I had smoked onto the ground and snuffed it with the toe of my boot. I adjusted my jacket and simply walked away. For all my 28 years, I had learnt nothing. It was as if she wasn’t even there.

“Pray to God that your attachment to such transitory things as wealth, name, and creature comforts may become less and less every day.” (Ramakrishna, 19th Century Indian mystic)



Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What a Fool Believes

            When I was no bigger than a minute, I think I must have decided to just quit. I quit breathing. I quit moving. I quit everything. I have been told I fought back from the predicament all on my own. Apparently, I must have changed my mind. I suppose the fact I exist almost 47 years later is a testament to my resolve. This has done little to quell the part of me that still just wants to go back from whence I came. I have always felt that our first day on earth is like any first day of Kindergarten; once you get there, you just wanna go home.  I find it ironic that I had to fight, right from the get-go. It seems that is my lot in life, all this struggle and all this fortitude. Quite honestly, sometimes I wish that baby had just laid there and left this place as soon as he got here. It is hard enough to just move some days, let alone carry on and on and on.
            I am not generally a sad person. I used to be, but that is all behind me. I don’t dwell on the past because I have it with me in my pocket. I have made friends with it. Sure, some lonesome song can breach my walls and draw a tear or two, but I usually remain intact, unaffected by my senses and surroundings. It was not always this way. Inside, I never really felt whole. No matter how happy my day, something within me was always aware of how lamentable this life can be. I would sometimes feel such sorrow, moments when I was completely lost in the alone. I was never sure where this part of me came from, but I would have followed it back to its source, if I could.
            The depression I had while I went untreated for Bipolar Affective Disorder is not the sadness of which I speak. Neither is clinical depression. The three are very different creatures. One is a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects mood. Clinical depression is a cumulative illness that affects the way a person thinks and feels. The void to which I refer is like a yearning, a heartfelt requiem played for unknown angels and souls gone on before me. I have always had difficulty grasping this phantom. Still, it once moved with little hesitation when possessing me. 
            I most certainly agree with the clinical definition of Depression, that being, "a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person's thoughts, behaviour, feelings and physical well-being."[1] This type of depression normally accumulates, building within. It can be very dangerous. Suicidal ideation, or attempting, can be a result if gone unchecked. What may simply be an act of depression can quickly turn to an act of cessation. Depression kills. It is similar to the depression associated with Bipolar Disorder, but is a psychological rather than physiological condition. The effect may be the same, but the cause is different.
            Depression can make people feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, restless or even convicted. One may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable; there is no creature comfort. People experience loss of appetite or they may binge. Problems with concentrating, remembering details or making decisions all can be symptoms of an underlying issue. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, aches, pains, digestive problems or resistance to treatment, in combination or unto themselves, may be indicators of malfunction.
            We may think the spiritual state of melancholia is caused by physical, or psychological components, like with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the death of a loved one, but it has nothing to do with the mortal coil. No therapy can cure it. No pill can give it rest. Any remedy lies in the spirit, the God part that lingers in us all. The depressed mood is a totally normal reaction to events from life, but I believe that the hunger for "something more" can be as much a deterrent to a healthy psyche as any medical or emotional symptom of depression might be.  
            It has been my human experience to know this longing, longing without definition. It felt like a form of separation anxiety, a grasping for what is beyond reach. It was almost as if something was calling me, but the distance muted the sound. This melancholia is not a sickness or a curse. I believe it is built in, a part of all our makeup. I do not claim it is genetic; it is spiritual. Our mortal condition carries it like the soul. I believe most people feel this way, every day, no matter how they may deny it.

"Nothing hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God." (William Law, American theologian)   

            The list of people who have battled depression seems almost endless. Vincent Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, Hans Christian Andersen, Edgar Degas, John Denver, Diana (Princess of Wales), Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Abraham Lincoln, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Isaac Newton, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Trent Reznor, Anne Rice, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Uma Thurman, Leo Tolstoy, Walt Whitman, and even BeyoncĂ© Knowles are all known to have fought it, in one form or another. As have many, many other less recognized names.
            It is clear that these "depressed states" bring with them great social shame, both in the past and in our modern society. Since the 1970s, new methods for treatment, and a general acknowledgement within our culture, have pushed many of the reasons for that shame aside. Because of those successful treatments, long-term management and new  medications, I would suggest that anyone who manifests the symptoms listed above, feels like life is not worth living, or you cannot control yourself, or your emotions, run as fast as you can to an emergency room. If no one will help you, then you have been left no other choice. Take yourself to the reception area, stand in one spot and start screaming until someone listens. Your life may depend on it.

"The finding of God is the coming to one's own self."
(Meher Baba, Indian Mystic)

            You can fix a broken pipe all you want, but if the taps don't work you've accomplished nothing. In this life, everything is connected. Everything works as one. If something is not dealt with, cured or sanitized, it will affect the complete operation. You can pop all the pills you want, but if another root cause continues to go untreated, you will continue to struggle. You will continue to wane.
            I got tired of not feeling good enough. Despite the successful treatment of my chemical disorder, I still was left thinking that something was missing. I still had a yearning inside of me. All my searching, all the study, and somehow I still felt unacceptable to God. Perhaps my shame, my guilt, my standoffish nature kept Him from me. Perhaps it was me keeping myself from Him. It was never about the rules, the formulas or the condemnation from "soul winning Christians" throughout North America. I was responsible for keeping peace away.
            No one can save you but yourself. Anything ethereal comes from within, not from some outward force. Doctors can only treat the symptoms. Medication can only heal what it is meant to heal. The rest is up to us. We have to accept, and deal, with our negative aspects the same way we have to deal with our isolation from something greater than ourselves. We can cry out and beg God all we want, but we have to take a step forward and believe He is there. We have to call Him, then let him appear. 
            People whine and complain about how they feel. They bitch about how hard life is and how they have no control over their impulses, their feelings or even their actions. Yet they sit in their not-so-easy chair and lament over their lot in life. So do something about it. This is easier said than done for someone crippled by moods, out of their control, or possessed by madness. If you cannot shake the sadness, something is wrong. Go see a physician. If you want to die and are planning to do so, try to reach out. Call a hotline, make yourself heard. Try. Please try. It is only through trying to fix the problem that your possible salvation lies.
            Whether a chemical imbalance, the weight of life, or separation from something Holy, you are the only one with the power to change things. Again, no one can fix you but you. You have to want to get better, then try to get better, before you can get better. Sometimes it doesn't matter the solution, people die in their agony every day. It does not have to be this way. Someone else can try to help, but only you know if you need help. If you can change the channel on your TV set, or eat 30 Twinkies in 15 minutes, then you have the energy to pick up the phone. No other time in our history has there been such hope for those lost to themselves. Only through action can we access it.
            It's very frustrating for me to watch someone suffer when they have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament. Helping yourself is often the most difficult thing to do. I really understand: I've "been there, done that." Illness aside, if God seems at a distance, who moved? I believe it is the same with all forms of depression. If you're lost, who will find you home but you? After all, we really only ever have ourselves. You have to just stop all the pushing away and start embracing a new way.
            You have to take the first step. It is here you will find hope. Here you will see He was with you all the time. It's not that complicated. It's rather simple, if you ask me. It may not make you all better, but it’s a start. Only a fool believes that there is no other option but to suffer. Depression doesn't go away, you have to make it go away. God doesn't just go away either. Don't rely on what your head says, go with what your heart says. God is not a thinking thing, He is a feeling thing. It's up to you what to believe.

"What a fool believes he sees
No wise man has the power
To reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
There's nothing at all
But what a fool believes ..."
(What a Fool Believes, The Doobie Brothers 1979 )



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Home, Run Home

            The history of sport predates Ancient Greece. From hurling (field hockey) in ancient Ireland, 2500 years ago, to cujo (football) in ancient China,  the evolution of sport seems connected with social shifts. As people and culture change, so too the rules tend to change. Artifacts, and structural remains, tend to indicate the Chinese engaged in sport all the way back to 2000 BCE. Monuments from ancient Egypt reveal that wrestling, ball games and other athletics were social components of the civilization. From ancient Persia to the ancient Mayan culture, sport has always been part of humanity.
            The first Olympic Games, in 776 BCE, at Olympia, Greece were celebrated until 393 CE, then later revived in 1896 CE, at Athens, for a modern world. In the Middle-Ages, violent ballgames (Shrovetide) were played in England while in Italy, calcio, another form of football, was played exclusively by the aristocracy. In general, sport had always been primarily reserved for the wealthy and upper classes. With the advent of television, sport has become rapid entertainment, and easily available to the masses, yet it remains, as with live events like in the NHL or NFL, out of reach financially for many regular working fellows. From some distance, most of us still manage to share in the view and the exhilaration of sport.
            In 264 BCE, Gladiator games began in ancient Rome which, like Chariot races, promoted public entertainment and led to the building of amphitheatrum, stadiums for public spectacles staged by politicians and emperors. Like with television, they allowed the "common man" to experience the thrill of the game and even, to a small degree, involved the audience. In 80 CE, the Colosseum (Amphitheatrum Flavium) opened in  the centre of the city of Rome. With a seating capacity of 50,000, it was used for gladiatorial contests, races and public displays such as executions. Like with modern stadiums, such as Skydome or Wrigley Field, attractions like this allowed members of society to experience the rush of athletics.
            Modern sport is much more accessible. Media, amateur events and neighborhood play have inundated society with sporting forms beyond most historical standards. Sport is everywhere. No longer exclusive based on rank and privilege, sport is now everything from a street hockey game to the Super Bowl. In one form or another, mankind seems drawn to the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Whether we are cheering on our children at a soccer match or watching a cricket game take 3 days, there is something about sport that attracts us.
            What are the reasons we love sport? Is it just a complicated way to develop our basic physical skills? Do we join in to stay fit through regular exercise? Does it serve to build character or does it reveal it? Is it a social matter, a way of connecting with those like-minded people we would have no exposure to given any other situation? Do we partake for its usefulness or simply for its own sake? What component drives man to compete, battle and overcome the odds? Arguably, all these factors, in combination, with the lust for that victory and cheering for defeat, may explain our urges and push us to compete. I think it is for another, simpler reason.

 "You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those methods are only temporary. The only lasting thing is self motivation."
(Homer Rice, American Coach/Athletic Director)

             I was never much of a sports junkie. As I child, I preferred to be left to myself. I would escape into comic books, action figures and my imagination. It was these which caught my attention. I did participate, like my older brothers, on local baseball teams in Toronto. I usually was stuck out in right field, standing while sleeping, waiting to go home. I used to purposely miss catching a pop fly just so the game would end and I could escape the boredom which consumed me. During my high school years, I joined the swim team for a few summers. I was rather good, if I do say so myself. My strength was front crawl. I was the team's top male swimmer, most of the time, although Jamie Mascola, on occasion, would kick my butt in competition. Our rivalry was amusing, but even this failed to energize me or create great interest towards the sport. I have no idea what happened to all my medals and ribbons, but honestly I could care less.
            I used to think I lacked the drive for such things because I was gay, but in truth, I just didn't appreciate this art of "playing" with others. I tried football, badminton and volleyball but they never stuck. In college, I was a member of the B-52s, an indoor hockey team consisting of Radio Broadcast students. I was a little too violent for this game, so I was asked to turn my attention to other things. In fact, the only time I ever revelled or delighted in playing some form of sport was on a casual basis, with kids from the different neighbourhoods where I lived. Scrub was just too much fun to ignore.
            I have never really even liked watching sport. Whether live action, or on television, there is just no enjoyment for me. As a child I would catch Hockey Night in Canada with my siblings, and father, but it was really the Peter Puck cartoons during intermission that grabbed my sensibilities. My older brothers excelled at sport. Both of them seemed gifted and inspired by such things, but I didn't give a damn. My youngest brother was once "the fastest junior wheelchair athlete in the world", but for me, it all seemed pointless. Granted, it allowed him to excel, and feel enabled, but it only brought me bemusement. I guess, as with women, I could appreciate it, but I just could not find the part of me that actually enjoyed it or wanted to join in.
            My first partner Doug was a freak for baseball. He had collected baseball cards his whole life. He watched games on television with such fervour. His mind was a web of statistics, profiles and facts which he could access instantly. He, literally, lived for the game. He enjoyed hockey and football, as well, but nothing met his favour more than the American pastime. Back before he died, Jose Canseco was his hero. The boys of summer his passion. Although I was pleased he had something he held in such esteem, I was befuddled by the depth to which it resonated within him.
            In those days, we would travel about from stadium to stadium, catching game after game. His team was the then-successful Oakland Athletics. On July 8th, 1992, we crossed the border in our car at Sarnia, Ontario, and headed to Detroit Stadium to watch the Athletics take on the Tigers. I still have both ticket stubs. I recall how childlike he seemed, but I was just bewildered. All those people cheering and roaring at the play. I fell asleep in the bleachers, awoken by the seventh inning stretch and a perturbed partner. For him it was glory, despite his team's loss of 6-3 that day. For me it was an adventure, but an expensive adventure.
I just didn't get it.
            I do not know who invented the game of Scrub, but I am not sure that is relevant to my point. Two players are selected to start the game at home base. Some rules of baseball applied, but only the duo first selected could take initial turns at bat. When one was outed, the player who did so would exchange places and take to bat with the remaining player. There is no scoring. No innings, no umpires and no strikes or balls. You got three pitches and that was it. The game could stretch on for hours, the only form of competition was the thrill of making it to home base. We played in Toronto when I was a boy. We played in Strathroy when I was a teenager. We played with friends, with family and even my parents, on occasion.
            In the summer of 1993, my parents lived just down the street from John Calvin Christian School. Located across from my maternal grandparents' home, the school was torn down a few years ago to make room for progress. Before that, the basketball court, and double baseball diamonds, attracted players from around the neighbourhood. Come the days of summer, Doug and I often gathered for a few hours of Scrub with our extended family and a few friends from the area. In the entire history of playing in these fields, no one had damaged the school or homes in the vicinity.  I had managed to get to bat, then watched as my sister Tracey fouled out to Doug. He took her place with pride, and little sympathy. This was his game and he came to play. I stood as he approached the plate, smiling as he waved the bat like a professional set on a contract negotiation. The first pitch and he swung like a wild man.
            He connected with such grace and fury that you could hear the snap in the bat from blunt force. His 6'2" frame was chiselled beneath his grey Oakland Athletics t-shirt, and his body rippled as he rounded the bases. He took to the run like a champion, his face glowing with the ecstasy of that moment and that connection. He rounded first base like a spitfire and only slowed his pace for a moment when the ball smashed into a second floor window of the school. I dropped onto the ground, laughing and watching as he continued his winning pace around all the bases. He was in his element, his joy, so simple, was written all over his face. You could hear him thinking, "Home, run home."

"Jesus Christ said he had never been to a football match. So we took him to one, my friends and I. It was a ferocious battle between the Protestant Punchers and the Catholic Crusaders. The Crusaders scored first. Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. Then the Punchers scored. And Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. This seemed to puzzle the man behind us. He tapped Jesus on the shoulder and asked, “Which side are you rooting for, my good man?”
“Me?” replied Jesus, all excited, “I’m not rooting for either side. I’m just enjoying the game.”
(Jesus at the Football Match - The Song of the Bird, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            Nothing pisses me off more than when someone credits their prayers, and God's favour, for the winning of a game or a trophy. As if God has anything to do with receiving an Academy Award or taking the Stanley Cup. People really do believe that His hand was somehow in the event, shaping the outcome for someone considered blessed by this association. Tim Tebow is one such "thanker". An evangelical born-again Christian, Tebow was the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL) until March of this year, when he was traded to the New York Jets. Throughout his career, he has always garnered much attention regarding his very social exhibitions of the faith he professes to follow.
            While he credits hard work and teammates for much of his professional success, his displays of Christianity mock the very words spoken by the Christ he claims to follow. When he drops to one knee and proceeds to pray on the field, he seems to forget what Jesus said about public praise and praying in secret (Matthew 6:5-8). This act has become known as "tebowing". This neologism, or new term, comes from this act of taking to a knee in prayer with the head resting on one hand. "The Tebow Rule" was created in 2010 by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banning messages on eye paint. During his college football career, Tebow placed biblical verse (i.e., John 3:16) on his eye black to promote Christian ideals.
            Let's be honest. God has no more to do with someone winning a football game then he does when someone passes an examination or wins American Idol. If you  really believe that Jesus helped you to win, then you're probably as stupid as the football you're holding. Sport is not about God, it’s all about winning. In the simplest terms, in the most human of ways, it comes right down to this. It may build character. It may even present a lesson which mankind can learn from. At the heart of the matter, sport is merely entertainment. It should be a simple joy, visceral and cognitive, productive and just.
            Sport has little to do with fair play. Anger, jealousy, boasting, and disregard to your fellow man, and the rules, seem to indicate just how much "sadistic pleasure" men take from watching, or taking part in, violence. Sport is laden with such folly. It is like shooting someone without a gun or war without weapons. It is permission to be aggressive and validates a will to win at any cost. Sport is big business. It may have foundations in the object of playing for joy, but it has become warped in its own greed. Through "clever disguise", it has become "combat for profit".
            This has little effect on the base reason we are drawn to sport. Some may believe it is for money. Some may believe it has some social or spiritual significance. The very foundation of why we take part, whether playing a sport or watching a sport, is the way it makes us respond emotionally. There is a rush when we win that drives us to achieve it again and again and again. Perhaps the part of human nature that dictates survival has evolved into games that people play, but we are no longer cavemen fighting over a virgin who lies waiting in  some hollow. The adage, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," seems illogical from my view. It is about winning. It's about unexpected surprises and running for home. It's about the way it makes one feel.



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Pudding

            I would love to be an Atheist. To rid my life of the complication that comes with faith. It would be easier to take responsibility for my past, and my present, rather than using something divine as an easy go-to in deflection. To hold myself fully accountable for my actions. No fate, no predestination, and no angels or demons to sway me. There would merely be the path I have chosen and my feet to lead the way. Unfortunately, my experiences, my spirit, and most importantly, my mind, cannot abandon all I have come to understand. No matter what has come to be, I just can't shake Jesus.
            I am not a Christian. I do not believe Jesus was God incarnate. I do not believe in the tenets of the Faith, nor do I believe Christianity is an exclusive club of people elected to heaven because of their religious association with the Christ. I do not believe the Bible is an infallible transcript of the Word of God. I do believe that scripture contains something Holy. While not necessarily a map to our salvation, it guides us if we use it correctly. I suppose it is how one applies scripture that will determine whether the essence of its teachings are being followed. To coin a phrase, "Don’t practice what you preach, preach what you practice." Despite the truths I have acknowledged in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the security, the guarantees promised to the fold of the Christian Messiah never really took root in my adult sensibilities. Frankly, I've never really been sure what to believe.
            I know I believe in God. I have sensed Him in Spirit and I have tried to see Him in the Light. Despite everything I have learned, and all I realize I am unable to know, I cannot ignore my own witness. No matter how I have struggled to put such things as this behind me, they seem inescapable. The further I try to walk away, the louder they call out to me. I see no vision, no ghostly expression, it is all within my mind and soul. I know it is real, for me. There is a connection that, so far, has no end.
            I tend to view Jesus as an archetype, the original foundation which Christian history, and dogma, views as authoritative. He is a Divine reference point for those who were born in a certain place and a certain time. As with Buddha, or Mohammed, mankind seems to need a figurehead to look towards for guidance. We create this "image" to clarify, to validate and to moderate us. Mankind, of course, has never been afraid to follow something that holds promise, despite any realization of the damage it can and will do. There is something off-putting about it.
            I'm not much for religion. I believe that God hates religion. While I will concede it does good for many, I will also argue it does many no good. Often the very centre of religious thought can drive a person to insanity. Sometimes great men of God, born-again and bubbly, will take to arms, striking down their supposed enemy in some personal, or esoteric, pseudo-Jihad. So many people have fallen in the name of god that it can be hard to believe He is there at all, let alone listening, responding and interacting with the human race. I can't help but wonder if He ever cared at all, considering His "from a distance" approach to mankind. Historical proof of Jesus aside, is He with us at all?
            There have been times I have failed to understand my need to keep Jesus in my life. He is etched in my makeup, at least it would seem so. I do not believe I have a choice. I am His servant, having been born to a Christian experience rather than a Jewish one, or a Sikh one. It is almost as if I am supposed to trust that God placed me in my reality, versus another, and it is against this setting that my life is measured.
            How does one measure? How can one be sure there is something more? How can one confirm that God is working in the life they lead? Is there a way to affirm all this praying, and doing, means anything at all? Is this all just hyperbole?  Are we out of our minds? Why do we, as a people, continue to question and continue to ponder despite silence from heaven above? How can we be sure? For this labelled sinner, the answer is simple. The proof is in the pudding.

"Real life isn't always going to be perfect or go our way, but the recurring acknowledgement of what is working in our lives can help us not only to survive but surmount our difficulties.” (Sarah Ban Breathnach, American writer)

             In June of 1995, 5 months after my suicide attempt in the Stratford cemetery, I was contacted by the Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario regarding the event. From what I understood, one of the health care workers from my time of recuperation had contacted the Church in order to share my story of survival. A Priest contacted me and asked for an interview regarding what had happened. He was primarily interested in the phenomena I experienced and the lack of effect to my physical shell. I have to admit I was more than interested in this turn of events. I myself wished greater understanding, and clarity, and agreed to meet in the hopes I would finally have a few answers and some spiritual resolution. He was miracle hunting.
            There was never any question that something strange had happened to me that night. No matter how anyone tried to rationalize, or minimize, the event, I just could not find their conclusions acceptable. So much was unexplained. Not one person, in all these years, has been able to explicate the events, or lack thereof. While I have learned that there are some things we are not meant to understand, still, when science can tell us the age of a maggot on a corpse and therefore conclude time of death, one would assume it should be more than able to define my experience or, minimally, confirm what did or did not happen to me that night and into the next day.
            The Priest started with the physical evidence. I told him about the Valium and how I made sure to take them on an empty stomach. I explained how I dropped all 100 x 10 mg little blue buttons as if they were Tic Tacs. We discussed the 15 hours I spent in the cold. From 9 p.m. on Sunday, the 19th of February, until around noon the next day, I laid in the snow, exposed to the winter and -7 degrees Celsius. I noted the lack of covering I took with me into the dark. He questioned me with great interest, focusing on the absence of consequence to me physically. No frostbite, not even a little frost burn was found upon my body at its discovery, or later at the hospital. Although it took me two days to wake up, no evidence of any other side effect, from the Valium or the act, could be found. It was almost as if I had done nothing at all.
            We talked about the tunnel and we talked about the light. I explained the two figures cloaked in the bright. I explained how Doug, or something resembling Doug, had left his place, and the other frame, and took me to safety. He seemed unsurprised when I revealed Doug's words to me. He told me how common they were in these phenomena. I watched him write it down word for word: "You cannot come, it is not your time." At the time, I had no idea about the Near Death Experience, but I learned quickly that these types of occurrences happen with great frequency. He informed me that my experience, including what he called "interference healing", were not uncommon throughout history and our modern world.    
            Although I later decided not to continue with this exploration, the initial investigation did act as a catalyst for my critical study of Christianity. While that Priest passed away in 2007, and despite never seeing him again, that initial meeting changed my way of thinking. He revealed to me a great opportunity. He told me that my example could stand for others to gain strength from, and like with the second figure in my NDE, most often it is not about the who, or how, but rather, the why. Anything else would be up to me.
            He offered me not one single answer. He never led me to one place or another in my searching. The only thing he laid claim to was that if God was not a part of what had happened, then why did it seem He was? He made it clear to me that although I may never be sure, perhaps I was supposed to believe it was Jesus. Maybe all my questions had already been answered. Maybe it was Him.
"We believe in God
And we all need Jesus
'Cause life is hard
And it might not get easier
But don't be afraid
To know who you are
Don't be afraid to show it
If you believe in God
If you say you need Jesus
He'll be where you are
And He never will leave you
Sing to me now words that are true
So all in this place can know it ... "
(We Believe in God, Amy Grant 1993)

             Most days I feel like I'm swimming in pudding. For me, the only proof I need of something more is my continuing existence. I should have been dead years ago, but these days I not only live, I thrive. Although I may have not been led, through Divine intercession, to a specific faith structure, my surrender to God has never been greater and His peace never sweeter. My interaction is not mere words poorly spoken.
            I am painfully aware of my human imperfection. I am still all I have ever been, but I am not buried in who I am not. I still get angry, I still screw up. I still doubt and question and, many days, even curse God in heaven. Jesus, most often, pisses me off. I get incensed when He seems to ignore what His followers are saying and doing to those not included in His kingdom. In all my years, I have never witnessed any form of Divine Justice. I look around and see how Christianity, and almost all forms of religion, cause more conflicts than they solve.  I do not understand why something so powerful just doesn't simply fix the problem instead of letting it linger, century after century.
            For years, I went looking for answers in other directions. I tried to find my way by getting away from Jesus and all that Christianity entails. In the end, I did not need to. Jesus' example, His message, was underlying in almost every other faith or belief system. The universal truths were wrapped in cultural perspective, but they relayed the same substance. The Priest was correct. I did not need to go looking elsewhere when the answers were right in front of me. Why would anyone beg on a street corner if they have money in the bank? Why would anyone buy a dozen roses if they have 12 bushes blooming in their very own front yard?
            All the time, what I was looking for I had already found. It is this example and His true message I cannot escape. These simple ideas represent the epitome of grace and mercy. It is because of when and where I was born that He is my messenger, even though so many other faiths, at base, teach the same things. It is so simple, like God's love for us. It is not conditioned. It does not hold favour. It has nothing to do with religion.
            Jesus came to abolish religion. He came to set us free, not restrict us. Just because someone goes to Church, or they are born again, or even read the Bible, doesn’t make them a Christian. Just because someone believes they see does not mean they have seen the whole picture. Believing you have vision does not always make it so.  People should know you are a child of God by your actions, your "fruit of the spirit", not by your claims or labels or formulas. Just because you bought a leather jacket on the weekend does not automatically make you a member of the Hell's Angels.
            Religion can be destructive. Religion is often dubious. It tends to feed those it merits as saved, while the sinner goes hungry. It is exclusive. It does not preach what it practices. Religion is like trying to put makeup on someone who has been cremated;  there is not a lot to work with. Why wax a rotten apple? It is behaviour modification. An opiate for the masses. An invention.

 "Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge."
(Winston Churchill)

             Every day that I wake up, I recognize how fortunate I am to have this life, thorns and all. I still sin. I still hurt. I am still just some lost soul trying desperately to make his way. The manner, in my mind, through which I achieved a relationship with God was by letting go of religion, in all its forms, and embracing the only message that qualifies as legitimately from a loving, benevolent God. He is not a reward for the worthy, but rather He is hope for the unworthy. We all, most certainly, are that.
            I've come around full circle. I have quality and substance throughout my life. My relationship with Jesus may have changed, but it is more intact now than it ever has been. I don't give heed to all the commentary about Him any more than I do to the weight of a feather. I have a personal relationship, set in my reality and within my ability to understand. All I need to worry about, regardless of all the words, is to love God and others. For me, that is proof worth consumption. No mere words to live be.    

Still, I am not a Christian. Then again, neither was Jesus.