Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Watching the Waves


            Some choose to sit on the shoreline, resolved to merely watching the waves. I choose to chance the waters and I dare to dance the tides. I have never been one to settle in and make myself comfortable. I may rest this body on the sand for a time, drying out from the voyage I have taken, but I prefer to go with the flow and sail the seven seas. It would be easier, some would argue, at this stage of my life, to permanently take up fishing off a dock or a pier. Instead of collision with gale after gale, I should find a nice beach and retire my sails, they say. I cannot fathom a life on dry land, a life without knowing the wild, raging curls that lick at my hull and tickle my stern. I'm not even sure that I have an anchor left for to settle my boat in a cove or lagoon. I could caress them, but only then to drift away. The days I have left to travel the oceans will not find me stuck in some puddle of safety. I am at home on the deep and I travel so freely.
            The rougher waters I have known made my journeys less calm, less sure. The wind from the storm would not have ripped my sail had I not ventured out to face it once more. No safe harbour I have known; no escape from the relentless whispers of mist and breeze. Sometimes it seems like I have been sailing out on the waves forever, but I would not sacrifice this path even if it was to take me to the bottom of the sea. For all the riptides and every breaker, I go on. I could not float firm in anything less. Each shift, each commotion is like a lullaby, rocking me into sweet surrender. I am one with the journey; it takes me where it will. Past coast and lighthouse, beyond the most southern peak of a distant land, I challenge each tide and surf each flow always moving, always seeking some place I have never been before.
            I’m not one to stand on the shoreline, screaming at passing ships, begging them to take me for a ride. I do not sit in the sand hoping for some reason, some purpose to dive into the water. Truth is, my life has been a constant motion. I would rather be tossed and turned, to struggle with the crashing waves, to fear the hidden reef. I would rather be abundantly soaked by abandon than to live my life just watching.

"I'm sailing away,
Set an open course for the virgin sea,
'Cause I've got to be free,
Free to face the life that's ahead of me,
On board, I'm the captain, so climb aboard,
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore,
And I'll try, Oh Lord I'll try, to carry on"
(Come Sail Away, Styx 1977)

             The tickets were mucho expensive; especially considering the other two times we had seen her in concert. I picked up Ben at 4:15 pm as we had arranged. After a visit home for a quick change and our stuff, we headed out to see Madonna at the Air Canada Centre in the heart of downtown Toronto. It was a lovely day for mid-September and the 14th day of the 9th month held great promise, full of sunshine and an unseasonably warm temperature. I had lost a tooth earlier in the day; it cracked and found itself floating in a mouthful of coffee. I innocently assumed the day could not get any worse; so much for assumptions. We hit the 401 highway around 5 o'clock, stopped dead almost immediately by a harbinger of what was to come.
            The stress of making it by 8 pm started talking a toll the moment we crossed over to the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) in order to avoid congestion on the 401. The beautiful tour of the Guelph Line was of little salvation, journeying all the way up the Niagara Escarpment and down again into what seemed like hell. The ride turned to true ugly the moment we hit the freeway. Traffic was lined up all the way to Toronto and our position held little hope of making it in time. Madonna’s first concert the night before made headlines and it was the 2 ½ hour delay that stood out in my mind. It was bad enough I had to witness this spectacle for a third time, but to have to sit and wait that long for the privilege just pissed me off. It was pure road rage that overwhelmed me when the unreasonable countdown continued towards the 8 o'clock hour.
            The comments started subtly, each of us taking our turn and venting it off. As the sea of cars and trucks thickened, comments turned to insult, then insult into yelling, our contempt for karma and time simply muffled by the glass of the car. You could tell we were not the only frustrated drivers on this paved piece of damnation. Face after face, at 10 miles an hour, scoffed and scorned and ranted on in silence. I saw less traffic in Los Angeles, travelling out to Hollywood on a Greyhound bus. Mile after mile after mile crawled on into forever, an endless ocean of metal and rubber tires. I felt like turning around and sacrificing the cost of the concert for simple freedom and a direct way back home. Despite the storm, we pushed forward. 
            Frustration turned to escapism when I suddenly jumped into a different pool. I sped off the highway, so sure I knew a quicker way. I was wrong. I failed to take into consideration all the construction the summer of 2012 had brought to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Resolved to my suffering, Ben led us back to the QEW with hopes, at least, of resuming the quicker way. With less than half an hour until the advertised show time, we slowly made it to Lakeshore Blvd. and even more traffic. I am a confessed creature of habit, most comfortable with the familiar, particularly in the dense congestion of a large metropolitan city. So badly I wanted to park where I normally do, but I felt compelled by my travelling companion and the clock ticking inside of my head. I jumped into the first parking lot I came across and paid $25.00 for the not-so-exclusive rights of leaving my car in the hands of foreign caretakers. We fell out of the car like whales beaching on shore, not yet defeated but well on the way.
            I hid my wallet, foolishly thining that the promotional claim of "protected lot" would actually mean something for the price I paid. We hit the bank machine on the way into the arena, bought a few pricy souvenirs, and then headed to our reserved seating. As the stress of the journey withdrew like the tide, we sat waiting for her majesty. I left Ben glaring at the stage below us and headed out looking for the one thing that might calm my nerves, coffee. I wandered about, asking security guards and service clerks where I could find the Tim Horton's much promised on the marquee when we entered the building. Level after level, staircase after escalator, I was misdirected, misinformed and misled so many times I felt like Odysseus en route to Ithaca in Homer's The Odyssey. I finally found my Penelope, tucked far away on the ground floor, but refused to battle more than 200 Mnesteres for a mere cup of joe. I set sail back to where I had set out from, almost castrated and only worse for the $5.00 bottle of root beer in my hand.
            It's ironic when you rush and rush to get where you are going, turning moments of tranquility into cries of despair, only to sit waiting for over 2 hours for the favour. Just after 10 pm, the lights cascaded, the music roared and a tidal wave of senses hit me like a wall of wet. Having experienced her at the Air Canada Centre (ACC) once before, and having travelled to Montreal for the experience the first time, the jumping, bouncing and gyrating fans in front of me did little but to amuse. I sat for almost 2 more hours taking pictures and video for Ben. Upon completion, with a ringing in my ears, we floated back to the vessel by which we had come. Once the car door was opened, you could instantly tell we had been pirated.
            I was lucky enough to take my credit cards with me into the venue, but that did little to quell the raging sea within me. The lack of buried treasure did little to stop some intruder from ransacking through everything they could find. When it came down to it, nothing but my wallet had been taken, other than my pride and sense of fair play.  Resolved to defeat, and chancing a dangerous riptide, I headed out, back the 100 kilometres to Kitchener but without my license. Ben was unable to help with any steering as the motion of this ocean made him rather seasick. We crossed over, back onto the 401, believing that after midnight would have cleaned up the damage of the day; to no avail. Right near Pearson International Airport, we were diverted, forced to follow a secondary highway far past the direct route we wished to travel. Eventually, our persistence, and determination, landed us back into port and into some sense of safety.    
            Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, the water tried to come and carry me away. Although the next few days were spent productively restocking my new wallet, calm and peace were not long for my world. At first we thought that the water had turned on by itself, but withdrawing our black shower curtain revealed the soft and soggy truth. Throughout the day, older toilets had been replaced on the upper floors of the building. All seemed well with my crapper as the plumbers left and my coffee kicked in. Around 10 pm the floodgates opened, in the form of a giant inverted tit hanging from the ceiling over the tub. As it grew, we just knew that the roof was soon to cave in. I popped the paint udder like a bubble, not thinking of what might lie within. I guess I should not have assumed that it was my plumbing that was not working.
            Once the ceiling was cut out and the water drained from the crawl space, I washed my arms and hands a dozen times, trying to scrub off the invisible shit. As I lay in bed later that night, I felt like I was 12 years old again, wondering why God was punishing me for something I could not imagine I had done. I felt like if karma was a bitch, she had consummated over and over with my leg, perhaps even my soles. I know there are bound to be rough waters in life. I know that no sea is constantly calm and smooth for sailing. I am well aware that if this was the worst series of events that could happen, I was lucky, lucky to have made it through relatively unscathed. As I tried to drift into slumber, I wondered if it was over. Was it safe to go back out onto the sea yet?

 "Water turns cold and gets to freezing
Before you even know it the old girl's easing
Away from her berth round by the point and out of our view
Off in the mist her engines pounding
Back on the banks that old horn's sounding
A little good-bye
A little I'll do what I must do"
(River Lady, Roger Whittaker 1976)

             You can spend your entire life on the shore, as ships come and go, or you can ride the waves and travel past the very same ships that might well have passed you by. A life on the sea has something wonderful to offer those brave enough to face existence without solid ground. The ocean can be your friend if you let it be. We are built for travel, built for speed, but there is certainty on the rocks and hills, assurance no body of water can offer. I prefer to take this trip with a different view. There is no need for some vigil, as I won't be home soon. It is a foregone conclusion that a ship at sea will never stay in one place. It will always find movement, always reaching for the places that it wants to be. We must travel with caution as the deeper we get, the easier it is to sink. Not every vessel we pass has our best intentions on board. The rush of something tidal can sweep you away and the sting of a whirlpool might get in your way.  
            Out on the ocean the silence is heavy. The quieter the world becomes, the more you can hear. It is dark and it is empty yet there is light from the smallest pinprick of a star and music from the crashing waves. There is peace for those who long to have it. Those who refuse to sail, most people, are like a burning ship, quite brilliant but oh so useless. The voyage consumes them, they cannot handle the ride. They sit on the shore, oblivious to the ocean, the sky and the breeze. All they see are the waves. They sit watching and waiting for life to hand over the goods. They do not realize that it is the journey that is the reward.

“Morn on the waters, and purple and bright
Bursts on the billows the flushing of light
O'er the glad waves, like a child of the sun,
See the tall vessel goes gallantly on.”
(The Convict Ship, Thomas Kibble Hervey)



Port Burwell, Ontario
August 31st 2012


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jumping Ship


“What on earth are you doing?” said I to the monkey when I saw him lift a fish from the water and place it on a tree.
“I am saving it from drowning,” was the reply.

The sun that gives sight to the eagle blinds the owl.
(Monkey Salvation for a Fish, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            Belief in God, our particular faith, is not a collective experience. It is a personal experience. It is formed throughout an individual's lifetime, made up from a combination of participation, exposure and choice. Regardless of the make-up of one's faith structure, religious belief evolves throughout a lifespan; it never remains the same. For better or for worse, the search for God is a lengthy and cumulative endeavor, constantly shifting and reforming itself based primarily on experience and the acquisition of subjective information discovered along the way. Even a pattern of non-belief will develop and morph throughout the lifetime of the doubter. It is not a matter of what you believe but a question of when you believed it.
            A specific faith can become less plausible to a person, causing them to leave their birth religion. Simply put, it no longer meets their needs. Faith has never been only about the rituals and teaching within the group. It is based on individual belief, constantly adding one reason after another, all merging to create that subjective position. Instead of a "family value", it becomes an "individual value" that builds itself, a combination which creates a unique and personal self-religion. As we grow and learn, our particular spiritual attitude takes precedence over our denominational and genealogical traditions. We tend to stop believing in what we are told and start to believe in what we have come to know. We come to recognize not only is religion an extension of how we think, but it is an ebb and flow extension of our personality and intelligence.
            Personality type always influences the direction of spiritual growth, or any lack thereof.  Self-discovery does not always lead to enlightenment. There are many individuals who, based on their inability to think for themselves, throw themselves deeper into the authority more conservative forms of religion tend to offer. Rather than exploring the primordial soup of self-awareness, they cling to guarantees and fallacies, trading freedom for safety in assurances. By believing they have found the only truth, they invalidate any other way of thinking. Fundamentalist thought, regardless of the faith type, always demonizes free thinking and any resulting behaviour or choices. When the truth is limited, the person following that truth will most often be limited. Of course, there are exemptions to every rule.
            People give up their faith, or change it, because they experience a "gradual spiritual drift," rather than mere disillusionment over dogma or theology. This gradual drifting away occurs over a period of time, and encompasses “the teachings, scandals and internal disputes within the denomination” or sect. Rarely is one or the other the sole reason a person decides to move past where they once stood spiritually. Most people jump around from faith to faith, looking for what will suit them best. People simply put their religiosity on pause, until they find the right fit for them. More and more, the majority of faith institutions seem able to attract followers, but they are unable to keep them. The manner of faith presented has nothing to offer.

"Nasruddin was taking a load of salt to the market.
His donkey waded through the river and the salt dissolved.
When it reached the opposite bank the animal ran around in circles, overjoyed that its load had been lightened. Nasruddin was annoyed.
On the next market day he packed the panniers with cotton.
The ass nearly drowned with the increased weight of the cotton soaked in the river water.
“There” said Nasruddin gleefully, “that will teach you to think that each time you go through water you stand to gain."

Two persons walked into religion. One came alive, the other drowned.
(Salt and Cotton in the River, Anthony De Mello 1984)

             You set sail out on the water, following other ships believing they know the way. You have been instructed that the destination they strive to find is the most certain way to go. You chart your course and conform to their specifications, always following behind them. Along the way other boats go by, riding the same waves but in a different direction. You want to travel with them when you realize just how blind the way you have been travelling made your mind. Suddenly, the way you have always believed you should journey is no longer the way it must be. There are other options on the waterway, other ports you wish to visit and other things you wish to see.
            As you leave the security of your companions, you set out on the sea alone. The fleet you once faithfully followed evanesces on the horizon, never again to meet you in the same way. Port after port reveals wondrous things, new ideas, new places you would have never seen had you followed the path you were told to. Each new adventure is a lesson in being; you are not just another vessel serving some King or country or idea. As you follow the wind and the rain and the stars in the night sky, you start to yearn for the safety and security travelling with familiarity once brought. You don't want to go back to following, but you cannot help to miss the comfort of the other vessels you once knew. You want to go home, but it has quietly faded away. There really is no home. The fellow travellers you left behind you are themselves still searching on their course.
            As you sail into the sunset, as you ride the waves, you have only yourself to journey with. You must trust the way you have chosen to travel. It is the right way for you and you alone. No two ships that pass each other on the sea travel on the exact same course. There are variables within each navigation and factors which will determine each destination, each place you go. In the end, it's not where you started your voyage. It is not even how you got to where you are. The only thing that matters is your arrival and where you ended up in the long run. 

"A neighbour found Nasruddin on hands and knees.
“What are you searching for Mullah?”
“My key.”
Both men got on their knees to search.
After a while the neighbour says, “Where did you lose it?”
“At home.”
“Good Lord! Then why are you searching here?”
“Because it’s brighter here.”

Search for God where you lost Him.
(Searching in the Wrong Place, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            One day I realized that there were no answers to all of the questions racing inside my mind. So I stopped asking them. Instead of hunting and searching for the truth about God, I recognized I could never find it. I stopped all the expectations and started dealing with contemplation. Rather than relying on something else for revelation, I started looking within for confirmation. All I ever needed I had with me all along.
            When I was a child, my parents did their very best to lay a strong foundation regarding God. I was brought up Christian, but I could have easily been a Buddhist or Muslim. The label has always been rather irrelevant. As I grew and discovered differing spiritual paths, I left behind the confines of an organized faith structure and began to develop my own ideas on Jesus, God and religion in general. My quest introduced me to other ways of thinking. Instead of playing it safe, I took to chance and started looking for answers in other, less Christian places. I have yet to discover even one iota of relevant fact. Although the foundation of my ideas on God have remained intact, I am free now to recognize the limitations and confines of any man-made institution that claims to know all there is to know about God. I think for myself.
            I have peace in not knowing. God is greater to me now than He has ever been. I took the long way to get to where I am now, but my state of mind regarding religion has changed little from when I was a small boy. I see things clearly, unaffected by any conditioning I may have experienced from within my life. I am no longer laden with ideas that simply hold no place in my relationship with the Divine. I have never been freer or closer to God. Every person on this planet is capable of a relationship with something Holy, but not one relationship is ever the same. Instead of standing on deck, watching ships pass you by, start jumping ship and give thinking for yourself a try.

"Said the monk,
“All these mountains and rivers and earth and stars - where do they come from?”
Said the Master,
“Where does your question come from?”

Search within!
(The Question, Anthony De Mello 1984)






Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Epic Shit


“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5: 21-23, NIV)

            Christmas of 2011 was the last time my entire immediate family will ever sit down together and share anything. My three brothers were there, a few with their spouse and/or children. My sister and her family were there. Ben and I where there, alongside my Father. Never again will it be like this. No matter how much time passes, no matter words later spoken, my close family is, for lack of a better term, finished, at least as a whole. The greatest wish of my Mother was that we all stay together, one unit brought together by not only blood but by the love we shared for each other. It is a sad state of affairs but those days are long over, if they ever were at all. 

 "I guess than I am an ignorant fool and this ignorant fool will not be following your blog and will tell everyone the same. There is a word to describe what this blog is about but I must check what I say, so I will say goodbye Kelly..."

             When we first find the ocean and set our sail to move about the water, we have other voyagers beside us to make the sea a less lonely place. Each one is part of an armada, bound together by the same makers and the use of the same material by which we are built. We travel together initially, unaffected by the constant change in waves and tide. We are strong, led out into the storms by the constant pull we feel for each other. The fleet itself makes us stronger. Eventually, as time passes, and the ship that each of us will become finds its own course, we drift away, moving towards the destination we need to follow for ourselves. We may find each other at some distant port, but we journey alone, leading our own direction, going our own way.
            There are always those who believe that on their voyage the way they go is the only way with any validity and merit. They try to force others to follow them because it would give them the assurance that only someone else can give to their journey. They believe, by attacking the other ships that once travelled with them, they will find the approval they need so badly to carry on. They cannot continue forward unless there is a guarantee that they own the sea. They don't just condemn through their need for approval, they assault, firing cannonballs and flaming arrows in hopes that all the damage will give them the permission they so desperately need to believe and act as they do. Rather than appreciating each member of their fleet, they try to sink the ships that challenge not only their behaviour but the very actions they have taken to secure their position on the ocean we call life. For some reason, these craft always tend to sail alone.
            If the ocean is our life and the ship we travel our human vessel, then the truth is the compass we use to navigate the waves. Unfortunately, most people cannot handle the truth, at least not the truth that differs from what they believe. It leads the way, but is not the way they wish to follow. This dichotomy, for them, is disturbing. It interferes with their ability to cope because it would shatter their reality if they acknowledged it had even the slightest grain of substance. On their ship of fools they try to move forward, but they never seem to go anywhere. Since they do not recognize the truth, they have no direction. They try to catch the wind in the hope it will propel them on their journey, but they have no idea where they are going. The end of their voyage is empty and barren and they sink to the bottom of the murky depths alone, bitter and screaming out for the mercy they found so hard to grant others. The cry they wallow in meets no compassion and finds no echo for the horizon holds no friend.

"Kelly and Luke, sleep with one eye open, I am that shadow behind you both."

             In late February of 2012, my brother Philip took it upon himself to disown me. This was due to my religious and philosophical beliefs. He posted publicly on Facebook for the entire world to see his condemnation. My response to his lack of approval was to give him what he wanted. I have not had contact, nor made any attempt to contact him or communicate with him since then, in any capacity. When you tell someone you do not wish to have anything to do with them, claiming goodbye in a public forum, one usually gets exactly what they ask for. While the experience of parting company with a close family member (close being a relative word - so to speak) was a new experience, I made it clear to him that his absence, over the last 30 years or so, revealed this parting to be rather repugnant and quite moot.  After all, the only people who really get mad at you for speaking your truth are those people who continually live their own lie.   
            Personally, I could care less what anyone thinks of my belief system. Since each person's experience is relative, their truth will also be relative. I can only go through this life for me. I can only follow the commission set before me. There is no clause in some genetic offspring agreement that states we must believe the same things as our family members.  I have always believed that Philip was very limited in his capacity to see past himself, so his urging was of little consequence or concern to me. Facts are facts, one has to be part of something to be able leave it and no longer be that part. You cannot let go of something that was never there to begin with. I cannot be held accountable for anything I have decided in reply to him as I was not the one who wished me away. Since my initial and only reply, granting him his request, I have done nothing but to recognize that nothing much has changed in his absence.

"Kelly and Luke, when it's dark out, when you feel like someone is watching you, sleep with one eye open boys. I am coming for you both."

             When I sit down to write a blog, there is a process I follow. For the most part, each blog is carefully prepared months before it is actually posted. For example, this blog being read was written during the first week of September and late December 2012, with a publication date of mid-April 2013. Through writing in advance, I am later able to re-examine and edit the work under a more objective microscope. Any emotional connection I have to the subject at hand has usually found its place by the time of posting, so I am able to refine the piece in a much more appropriate manner. Once I have readjusted the blog, I have an editor who checks for final spelling and grammar corrections and acts to moderate each work for my target audience. I post on over 20 blog sites across the web, yet refuse to monetize my site out of the highest regard for the art itself. The process works for me.

"Kelly, you have no idea who your brother is
or what he is capable of you fucking little shit!!!!!" 

             When Philip expressed his "holier than thou" judgment upon me last winter, I sat down a few weeks later and wrote a blog about the experience. Since he made it clear on Facebook that he would never again read my blog, and since the publication date would not occur until August of that same year, I felt comfortable examining the occurrence and proceeded to create "Being Thoreau," an exegesis on how we should use our past experiences to navigate through any current situation that may spill over into our lives. I also clearly defined my position regarding his current and past behaviours. A position, whether confirmed to him or not, that is still shared by most other members of my immediate family. I believe that any failure to condemn this type of reaction would simply condone any future lack of intelligence and judgment on Philip's part. Of course, once he read the piece (so much for empty threats of never doing so), he went on a tirade, walking the line between pure idiocy and criminal behaviour,
            From February to August (when I posted the relevant blog), Philip complained to other family members that I had "ostracized" him, not the other way around. His presumed religious interpretation of my spiritual position, he claimed, would deny me any afterlife contact with my Mother in "heaven". He has even been banned from the family property by my brother-in-law Luke, for an unrelated matter. His reactions he once again posted on Facebook for the entire world to see. I did not respond. When "Being Thoreau" was published on August 8th 2012, Philip crawled out of the living hell that is his hand basket.  His obvious emotional trauma seemed irrelevant when he threatened to retaliate several times, implying violence and irrational behaviour.  His language, the medium he chose to use and his seeming attempt at direct communication with me through Facebook came to my attention and has only garnished him another blog, this blog in response. I was more than willing to write it.
            When you threaten to "get" someone, when these threats imply doing physical harm, one is left little choice but to contact the proper authorities. Initially, I was angry enough at his attempted intimidation to respond in kind. I actually laughed at the idea of him trying to cause distress, of any form, in my life. I joked with my Father that he should tell Philip that if he was going to physically attack me that he better have a gun and know how to use it. I digress. Posting after posting seemed to reveal his true madness, even more than anyone could have imagined. This madness has become a great concern for other, more prominent members of the family. While I will not condone their lack of condemnation over these threats made, I understand their right to not become involved, despite his clearly irrational state of mind. I assume for them it is a fine balance. For me, I suppose, crazy is as crazy does.
            Being informed that I should "watch my back" convinced me that I needed to become more informed of my legal rights involving this situation. I contacted not only Facebook but my lawyer as well. I spoke to a police officer about laying charges regarding his uttering threats. An advocacy group I work with in Toronto was more than willing to represent me should I care to follow though on this process. I was advised I could easily have had a restraining order placed upon him. With his behaviour being monitored and the option to proceed before me, I took a deep breath and decided to see what he would do next. After all, this turn of events was not just some irrelevant member of the family banging on a drum, it was epic shit, shit he even tried to involve non-related members of the family in.  

 "Ben, sorry for this but tell Kelly thanks for the blog posted on Aug 8th 2012. This will be the last he will ever have to deal with me, do not even show up when I am dead. The only person our Mom would be disappointed with is him, but since he does not believe in heaven, or God, he will not get to see her either. Tell him he can go f himself, or does he already do that?"

            If a non-member of my family, a good old friend, said to me what Philip has, I would not have hesitated to press charges as the authorities urged me to do. I cannot, however, simply push aside the other members of my family because of his actions. I cannot disregard my Father's health, as Philip has, and disregard caution, as he always has. Philip has never been a priority for me at any time in my adult life even though other members of my family continue to be. Unlike Philip, I have had long-term meaningful relationships with my parents and siblings and do not delight in this evildoing; this crap is not from God. I can take care of myself, and most certainly have for most of my life. The ranting of a madman means little in the greater scheme of things and I continue to recognize it for what it is.  It’s not hard to be the better man, the better brother and the better son. That's for damn sure. I do not plead with others to take a side nor do I require approval in some childish attempt to feel like my actions are justified. 
            I may not be a Christian but I certainly recognize spiritual hypocrisy. It can be rather amusing to watch how self-proclaimed "men of God" seem to flounder in their own excrement. It has always been easier for mankind to take claim of a label and then not be able to live up to the expectations and standards that come with that label. I know more non-Christians who, without trying, follow Jesus' teachings, and are closer to the definition of Christian, than those who profess election into His kingdom. These pseudo-Christian folk always seem to be able to talk the talk, but they never seem able to walk the walk. It's real easy to call yourself a Christian, but it's another thing to act like one.
            Philip matters no more or no less to me than he ever did. Nothing has changed in our relationship but the reason we don't associate with each other. He made this so, it was not my choice. I was more than happy to keep my Mother's wish and remain silent. I forgive him for what he has done, but that changes little for me. Just because I have let it go (unless it happens again) does not mean anything stops differing between us. I'm not interested in involving myself with someone who behaves so, whether a family member or a stranger off the street. Not charging him or pursuing a restraining order was my choice, but it was for my Father's wellbeing, not for his, in spite of the violence and threats that were involved. If he doesn’t like the way this all has played out, he has no one to blame but himself.
            This entire matter started with his pseudo-Christian rant. Perhaps if he had taken the time to look up the meaning of Agnosticism he would not have come across as an ignorant, uneducated imbecile. Perhaps if he actually followed the religion he has attempted to use as a weapon he might have found himself in a better position. I am not the only brother who will never have anything to do with him again. This is epic shit. It has changed everything, for all of us, for the rest of our lives. When someone destroys trust you must forgive them, but it doesn’t mean you have to hang round to let them do it again. You must turn the other cheek, but sometimes you must then walk away.
            Unlike Philip, who continued to pester family members with his need for validation, I will not add to any stress he has already brought into the lives of anyone who will listen to him. I would not, nor will I, sink to his level. When you sink to someone else's level, it usually means you have crashed to the bottom of the sea with them. You are not better for what you did; you are the same, especially if any retaliation comes from the same dark place. This makes one nothing but a hypocrite. Phillip’s actions indicate this exact issue; you can't have it both ways. It is dead on that you can tell a person of God from their actions, their "fruit of the spirit." Some ships carry rotten apples.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:13-20, NIV)

             The heart represents the inner person, their thoughts, attitudes, desires, loyalties, and motives. When the heart is filled with evil thoughts, murder, theft, false witness, slander, and other such godlessness (Matthew 15:9), these are the things which defile a person. When a person is defiled on the inside, what he does on the outside is also defiled. When a person is not pure in their heart, when they do not follow the expectations of the faith they claim to know, they are stained and cannot know God. Their actions speak louder than their words. They have corrupted themselves.

 "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV)

            If you give a man enough rope he is sure to hang himself. Christmastime 2012 found Phillip dangling from the rafters. When he discovered that I was attending the festive celebrations at my Father's home, as I always do, he flipped out on my sister and my Dad with the same insane ranting he had sprung on me earlier in the year. I wanted so badly to say "I told you so", but once it was clear how pissed off both family members were at his deliberate attacks, there was really no need. Even though he had planned a Christmas trip to Florida earlier in the fall, apparently no one he associates with is allowed to associate with me. He dropped from the ceiling with much fury and his legs did not reach the ground to save him. I would wish him well, but well is not a word that applies to him. I suppose I should be grateful that he has now shown his true colors to the rest of the clan, but I just feel sorry for him.

What it must be like to sink into your own epic shit.   









Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Concrete Sea

            Sometimes I like to sit on the beach and watch the ships that pass. There is no rhyme or reason to this exercise. It is a simple form of entertainment. It matters little if the day is sunny and clear or if the clouds bring rain and a limited view. Either way, I can always find some craft out on the water. Even in the dead of winter, there is something to watch sail across the horizon. I am not sure why I enjoy this pleasure so much. Perhaps it is the sense of freedom I manage to find among the silent and distant vessels out on the waves. It is escapism for me, a way to relieve myself of the complications that come with the daily grind. It allows me the opportunity to outwardly block forms of contact, through the perspective of aloofness and space. It also allows me the serenity one needs to look inward, to rest and recuperate, and to study myself as I sit alone in the sand.
            With no immediate access to an ocean from deep in the heart of this Canadian Province, I have had to find my own special places of refuge. I am fortunate to have so many options of beachfront to choose from. Where I live in Kitchener sits almost dead center in South-Western Ontario. There are three Great Lakes within my grasp. Lake Ontario lays northeast, Lake Huron looms to the west and Lake Erie lies in a south-easterly direction. All are within a reasonable distance from my home. On any given day, I can get into my car and disappear, no longer bound to my ordinary view. Any journey I decide to take is but a few shorts miles into tranquility.
            In the summer, I may have to occasionally share sanctuary with sunbathers and wet children, but the rest of the year finds little intrusion from this invasive world. When the snow has fallen, and the ice has drifted onto shore, I can head out to Grand Bend, on the lower tip of Lake Huron. Massive ice floes litter the beachfront, cold benches upon which I find myself sitting, gazing out onto the mostly frozen water, watching for barges or icebreakers. A stretch of beach along the west end of Toronto takes me back to New Jersey, and the time I spent there by the sea. The Sunnyside Boardwalk is reminiscent of my visit to Atlantic City, as well as the opening scenes of the film Beaches. Come autumn, you may find me mediating on some spot along the shore, peering into the coming chill and whispering to nature in gratitude. I gaze out into the horizon, eyeing freightliners carrying their goods along the shipping lanes. Lake Ontario is never as lovely as when the harsh wind starts to whip across the waves and colour dances behind me, sure signs that the season's death throe has begun.
            Come late spring, Ben and I make our way to our most favourite spot. Over the course of the summer heat, we revisit this place as if it was a long lost friend. We bid it farewell for another year when August is about to end and the sun seems to set much quicker in the sky. Port Burwell is this destination. The area was first surveyed in 1830 for Colonel Thomas Talbot. The town was incorporated as a village in 1949 and the community's name was maintained for its surveyor Mahlon Burwell, a member of the 6th Parliament of Upper Canada. It was "reamalgamated with Bayham and the Village of Vienna to form an expanded Township of Bayham in 1998." Port Burwell sits on the north shore of Lake Erie and is located at the mouth of Big Otter Creek. The beach I favour is located through the quaint little village, of approximately 1000 people, which lies 26km south of Tillsonburg, and an hour east of London Ontario. Greeted by the Port Burwell Lighthouse, built in 1840, the slight descent from town to beach allows one to almost see forever on a clear day.
            The north side of the beach bends down the way and the upper ridge above the water is littered with wind turbines, a modern addition that I find attractive mixed in with the scenery. Big Otter Creek empties into the lake here, clouding the warm shallow water with inland debris. The beach can often be dirty where the two flows of water meet, but eventually, up the beach, clean sand and scattered driftwood are all that stand between the blazing sun and liquid satisfaction. Having a fair complexion, I do not like to linger in the heat or the glare of direct light, so I often journey up past the lighthouse to explore. From this vantage point, the entire lake shimmers before you. Close to shore, or out in the blue, ships pass by with little knowledge of beachcombers wrestling with distance for a better view. Large ships and small boats mingle with the waves, and on some rare occasion they call out to the gulls and to sailors and the water.
            Down below, where the river ends, the East Pier sits in all its splendour. You can watch cruise vessels and fishing boats come and go with the flow of this miniature port. Jet-skiers and canoes sometimes venture into, and out of, the cove and use the river to find a secure and safe landing. The pier itself recently underwent a restoration process, completed in December of 2011. It follows the tip of the river, past a decorative and smaller lighthouse and blends into the lake. The shallow waters that caress the beachfront drop quickly as you approach this summit of concrete, which stretches over 395 meters in length. Many an afternoon has been spent easing along this monument to efficiency, fellow travellers dangling their feet during a leisurely break from strolling.  The benches that face the water, on both sides, reveal breakers lapping against the artificial slab of rock. Be careful, when the concrete meets the waves, the riptide can do much damage to careless vessels or wayward swimmers. The smallest boat can meet the changing current here and it may find itself overturned or damaged by the often wicked and dangerous flow.

            On July 13th of 2012, David Harder, 7, and his sister Lisa Harder, 10, drowned just out past the East Pier. It is strange now to stand at the end of the dock, peering into the waters I have frequented many times before. While the children have long been retrieved from the normally safe and mostly shallow waters, I cannot help but imagine that day, watching their inflatable raft tip over, casting the children into their doom. What a tragic reminder of the unpredictable nature of bodies of water. Children can easily drown in mere inches, "just enough water to cover your mouth and nose." There is a constant danger from any swimming hole. At Port Burwell, shifting sandbars disappear, leaving unknown depths to play havoc with unsuspecting victims. That Friday the 13th, superstition met reality when three kids drifted out into chaos. A family member rescued a nine-year-old sibling but lost sight of the other two children. They could not swim and were not wearing lifejackets. Some craft should not venture too far from shore.
            When swimming, they say that "a child should be within arm's length of the parent at all times, no matter their age." Everyone should be prepared around water, especially in larger bodies like lakes and oceans. It matters little if the area is busy, as it was around 4 p.m. on the day these children drowned. There were reports of people scrambling out of the water to escape the undertow at about the same time. The hot July sun, in my experience, has always attracted hundreds of fellow beach worshippers to this spot. The dense crowds mingle together in a weave of towels, lotion and floaty things. Children, including babies, are rampant both on the sand and in the water. There are countless people everywhere, all carefree in the sunshine and the waves. 
            Other members of the victim's family, all under 19 years of age, were on the beach when the three called out in distress. While the one girl was rescued, the two others slipped beneath the water, pulled into the dark by the current and undertow. Sixty fellow bathers, along with the fire department, formed a human chain hoping to rescue the kids.  All those people, in that one relatively small area, were unable to save them.

  Any ship can sink, even in a sea of people.

             Sometimes I like to sit on a bench and spy on the "ships" that pass. People watching can be a very interesting activity, even if there is no rhyme or reason in doing it. In a big city, it is the cheapest form of entertainment. No matter the season, there is always a guarantee that someone will walk by or sit down in plain sight. I have no idea why I find this art form so compelling. One can get lost in the tide of city dwellers, shuffling past as if hypnotized, skin soldiers marching onward together into some unseen battle. The process of looking outside of yourself, the conscious noticing of individuals in a crowd can stimulate both the imagination and one's own self-awareness. Through glimpsing beyond your own existence to another's, you can become aware of your place in the greater scheme of things. Watching so many people move about allows for the realization that you are part of something vivid and compelling. One might even recognize that it is necessary to occasionally drop out of the human boat race.  
            When I was in Los Angeles and New York, it was overwhelming the amount of people out and about at any given time. So many faces crossing paths when they did not even seem to realize it. Like schools of fish, strutting to and fro, men and women and children all seem to move together as if following some inner signal and pace. All those bodies, in constant motion, never seem to take the time to notice each other. Ship after ship passes one another on the concrete sea, without so much as a glance or first thought.  The more dense any crowd, the less the interaction. You can tell that for some it is like no one else is even there. I suppose that urban living tends to dull the sense of most city dwellers. Whether this survival mechanism is valid must then depend entirely on experience. Even a concrete sea has sharks, an undertow and unseen dangers. 
            For me, watching people is not some hobby or term used to define someone with nothing better to do with their time. The act of stopping and sitting, in order to study other people, is not something I regularly do. It is more an impulse or urge than an ongoing compulsion. Observing people, or crowds of people, can be like reading a book. There is pleasure in it for me. You become absorbed in behaviours, in eavesdropping or even in just letting other souls pass you by. More often than not, these observations occur without the other party's permission. This activity differs from voyeurism because it does not involve sex and has nothing to do with any form of sexual gratification. "Naturalistic observation" is the academic process of people watching. Used as a means of study for "sociological, anthropological or psychological research," this tool allows for the observation of a subject in their natural habitat and without any influence from the observer. Writers, like myself, use this surveying "as [a] means of reference or inspiration for things such as character construction and social interactions."
            On occasion, someone will come along that captivates and astonishes me. Their behaviour is so random, and so out of tune with everyone else's that I cannot help but stop and pay attention. Sometimes I will notice that across the way someone else is watching me in the very same manner. While observing the observer one becomes the observed. It is an odd experience when you realize you are being watched.  Then there are times when some fellow comes along, or a woman lingers past you, either one in obvious despair. I cannot help but want to help them; often, it is already too late. You can tell how lost they are in a sea of people. Even if we all tried, working together, I fear it would do no good. For many, it is impossible to swim in a concrete sea.  

"Then I looked into the ocean blue
It's so deep and it's so quiet too
There's just too many people everywhere
I wish that I was down there
No one was meant to be
Living here in this concrete sea
Everyone including me
Wishes that we could be set free"
(Concrete Sea, Terry Jacks 1972)







Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Better than Human

"I don't have the answers to all of the questions
Running inside of my mind
But I can't help believe that
Understanding comes in time"
(Love Has a Hold on Me, Amy Grant 1994)

            In terms of religion, the differences between schools of thought far outweigh the commonalities. There is no 'black or white' spiritual system through which we, as human beings, cohesively exist. While there are those who strongly believe in God, there are also those who strongly disagree with this position. These two groups do not hold the only perspective. There are as many different philosophies and theories on the eschatological, theological and the spiritual implications of God as, it would seem, there are lilies of the field. Significant variants not only occur in these groups but also individually. It is a human condition to form a subjective opinion. No one has the exact same relationship with their deity of choice and not every disbeliever doubts to the same degree. Each unique deviation is the result of each individual's unique experience. One thing is not like the other. Each person believes based on their interpretation, so their belief structure, the foundation of their personal faith, or lack thereof, differs from everyone else's. We are all distinct and so is our relationship with the divine.
            There are those who believe that the term agnostic means the same, or is similar, to the term atheist. To be an atheist is to deny, or disbelieve, in the existence of a supreme being(s). There is no God. An agnostic is someone who believes it is impossible to know anything about God and therefore does not commit to any specific religious doctrine. The common conception that "agnosticism is a more reasonable position while atheism is more dogmatic, ultimately indistinguishable from theism (faith in God) except in the details," represents the nature of belief itself. To be a sceptic does not automatically define the agnostic as a non-believer. Being agnostic implies doubt while theism/atheism imply that one has no doubt. Some maintain that agnosticism means you do not believe in God. It simply means the agonistic does not believe in your definition of God.
            The word agnostic was first used in 1869 by T.H. Huxley, a renowned English biologist, who fiercely argued for Darwin's Theory of Evolution. He was referred to as "Darwin's Bulldog," as his passionate advocacy was significant in widening the acceptance of the hypothesis. He coined the term agnostic as a response to the strongly held beliefs of his colleagues and to express his own views on theological issues. Huxley believed that "anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable." The term's primary use remains under religion and philosophy, but it has come to find broader consumption by the masses. The modern agnostic is not restricted to the more ethereal. One can be a political agnostic, a cultural agnostic and even a scientific agnostic. A computer code that can run on any operating system is known as a 'platform agnostic.' American President Obama, in 2010, called himself 'agnostic,' regarding tax cuts, at least until he explored every available option.
            The word itself is from the Ancient Greek, meaning 'without' (ἀ) and 'knowledge' (gnōsis or νῶσις). Whether called a heathen, infidel, pagan, secularist, sceptic, or even atheist, the agnostic, in religious terms, falls under the heading "none of the above." An agnostic holds that the existence and indispensible nature of all things are unknowable and unknown. Human knowledge is therefore limited to our experiences. It is not that an agnostic does not offer the possibility that there is a God, and all that entails, rather, there is no way for mankind to prove such a statement. The human being therefore is without any such knowledge and limited to the pseudo-revelations contained in this reality.     

"Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado
Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun"
(Shine All Your Light, Amy Grant 1999)

             Within Christianity, and other religions, there are different forms or sects among each faith structure. Agnosticism does not differ in this segmenting, having many variations. Agnostic atheists do not believe in the existence of any deity but remain agnostic because they cannot claim to know that a deity doesn't exist. An agnostic theist contends to have no knowledge regarding the existence of a supreme being but still believes that there is one. Permanent agnosticism maintains "the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience." No one can truly know whether God exists. Temporal agnosticism takes a wait and see attitude, withholding "final judgment" until further evidence is available. Spiritual agnosticism asserts the view that "universal ethics and love can guide actions more effectively than questioning the existence of deities." It does not matter what religion you practise or if you believe in God. The important thing is not what you believe but how you behave. Agnostic existentialism makes no contention regarding God and any 'bigger picture.' It avows that "the greatest truth is that which the individual chooses to act upon." To truly know any more than this is impossible and has "little value." The agnostic existentialist believes existence is immanent.
            As Christianity has the Christ, and Buddhism the Buddha, the common factor within agnosticism is the unknowable. The ancient Greeks called this indescribable concept Agnostos Theos (unknowable god). This god was not only unknown but impossible to know, belonging to outside this material plane of existence. For the modern agnostic, we function within a material body, despite having a soul, so we are limited, unable to comprehend the slightest idea regarding God. Any knowledge we do have is borrowed from each other and filtered through our humanity. In our current state, we are not able to imagine, let alone recognize such an entity. God is a mystery and no anthropomorphism placed upon It can define It. God is out of our reach, and manifests only through our very mortal and preconceived notions. 
            Since human knowledge is limited to the natural world, our minds are incapable of any real cognition involving the supernatural. Religion in itself is nothing but illusion and sophistry (subtle but unsound or deceitful reasoning). It is arguable that agnosticism is the only intellectually valid position to take regarding God and that theism and atheism are arrogant and self-indulgent assertions. To have certainty about something so intrinsically unknowable is enough of a reason to doubt one's reasons.  The more we learn about our history and the universe, the less reason to believe any idea mankind might have regarding a God. These ideals come from a subjective quest to understand, and an overactive imagination. We rely on our faith and religion rather than our own reason and intelligence. 

"The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears away."
(How Can We See That Far?, Amy Grant 1991)

            Although my faith structure may not fit perfectly into the general definition of agnosticism, it is the closest label that I feel comfortable placing upon myself. This evolution (or what some may consider devolution) away from Christianity, the religion of my parents, was not without challenges and struggle. It was a long process of elimination and not without strong convictions to the contrary. Most people never take the time to think about what and why they worship a deity, let alone question if that being is something that one should worship. The Abrahamic god of David, Jesus and Mohammed may appear benevolent and all-loving, but within the pages of His Holy Books there lies a creature very different than the one people rely on for salvation. 
            In almost all religions, the follower is unable "to know" God. From the pages of the Buddhavacana to the 114 suras of the Qur'an, the Divine is unimaginable. Even early Christians, such as Paul of Tarsus, recognized that "we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). This leaves most people no other option but to follow the mandates, rules and requirements conveyed through each particular dogma. These doctrines are extolled as true but without proof. Unfortunately for the human being, obeying rules and regulations does not necessarily mean one has a kinship with the Holy. Following commandments does not a relationship make.    
            Agnosticism is all about knowledge, and knowledge is an associated but separate issue from belief. Belief is the dwelling place of atheism and theism. To foreswear knowledge or even the possibility of knowledge regarding such matters is to be correctly labelled an agnostic. The agnostic not only suspends perspicacity, they withhold any judgment on the subject because it cannot be known and therefore judgment cannot be made. One can believe in the existence of a supreme being, a "force behind the universe," but any knowledge of that being cannot be obtained. The true agnostic holds to an "ethical duty" not to make such claims, claims which cannot be supported through evidence or logic. The unfathomable and mysterious cannot be understood. Agnosticism is a theory about knowledge, not about religion.
"So I'm here between the bookends
Of everything that was and
What will be
There's a wealth of information
But not so many answers
It seems to me
So I face the unfamiliar
And nothing is clear
Only blinding faith can carry me from here
'Cause I don't know why
I don't know how
And I don't know where  
Maybe all I know is now"
(I Don't Know Why, Amy Grant 2003)

            Out on the ocean called life, some ships carry ideas and ideologies and beliefs rather than just people. We leave port with these philosophies, hoping that they will help carry us to safety. For the traveller, these notions can become stagnant and lose their validity. They no longer can take us where we need to go. We have to find another way, a different solution, so we abandon ship and start swimming. Adrift on the sea, other boats come along. We are rescued, most often, by the vessel that heads in a more compatible direction. Not everyone is meant to sail the same ship.  
            I suppose it might be easier for me to believe in nothing than to maintain some ambiguous puddle on deck. I am, however, constantly reminded that just because I cannot see does not mean there is nothing there. Love is not a tangible thing, but it thrives. Dreams may well be mere illusions, but they occurred nonetheless. Gravity works but I cannot seize it. We cannot reach out and touch these things but that does not negate their existence. The problem is that what we think we see, or are told to see, is a limited interpretation, restricted by our mortal condition. God is so very humanlike because such expressions are from humanity. If one held up a mirror to the face of God, we are convinced that any reflection would be in our image. I assume God is better than human.
            As people change, so do their needs, and in turn so does their belief structure. We tend to tweak it to fit us better, as we ride the waves. No one can say with any certainty what the truth is; we can only hazard a guess and hope we are correct. Faith believes despite the mystery. After all, if there was a definitive answer, we would no longer have any reason to question. Life is about searching. I believe that is what we are sent here to do. We must question in order to understand. My position on the matter may not fit into someone else's, but that is irrelevant. God belongs to everyone.

"All I ever have to be is what You've made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As You daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be is what You've made me"
(All I Ever Have To Be, Amy Grant 1980)