Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bells and Whistles


             Life can be far more complicated than it needs to be. In those days gone by, everything seemed easier without all the bells and whistles. From what we eat, from what we think, even from what we believe, existence has become a variable checklist of what we should and should not do. The most simple of ideas has the most complex commentary. It has gotten so that almost everything is scrutinized to the hilt. Most days now, I can’t help but wonder if the radish I ate will one day give me cancer. Every spiritual exercise tells me I am on the wrong path. Every Arab with a backpack gives me pause. This condition may seem appropriate within our modern age, but occasionally all those bells and whistles hinder more than they help. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
            As a child, I don’t recall the concept of God being so confusing. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention? Perhaps I only heard what I wanted to hear? Regardless, the relationship most of us have with God when we are young is one without judgment. We understand in simple terms. We are not weighed down with formulas, requirements and expectations because we have not been exposed to that kind of thinking. We grow up, we try to find our path, but all the words get in the way. It takes so much time to figure out whether you are coming or going that any point is quite often lost on us. Some keep right on trying and some give in to the futility. No matter how you cut it, there is still just way too much noise.   

“Do you remember how the summers felt when we were kids?
Oh we didn't think much about it, we just lived
Taking our time, beautiful leisure
When did we start, trying to measure up?
And all this time, love has been trying to tell us
Don't try so hard”

            First I had to be baptised. Then I was confirmed into the Church. Eventually, I was instructed in the logic of communion and joined in the feeding. Then I was told I must accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour. I had to not only ask Him to come into my life, but I must surrender myself. Soon I was required to be born again. I had to ask Christ, once more, to come into my life. This time I had to welcome the Holy Sprit so that it could direct me and fill me with the love of God. If I followed all these Christian prerequisites, if I really meant each one, I would have the relationship that I longed to have with God. This all seemed like an awful lot of words to me.
            If I truly was a child of God, and a follower of Jesus, I would have to act and present myself in certain ways. There were set rules I had to follow to get where I assumed I had just come from. I was told that my works would determine God’s Grace for me. I was told that Faith was all I needed. I had to tithe. I had to go to Church. I had to walk in the light and sin no more. I had to believe what the Church believed. My political, social and spiritual positions had to conform with the ideologies of the sect that I currently found myself trying to wrestle within. I must hate the sin yet love the sinner. There were many times I felt like I was in a giant maze rather than a member of a congregation. It was all I could do to find my way through.
            I was rejected because I refused to believe like they believed. I was tossed out for who I was and for how I thought, but most of all for how I refused to think. My sexual orientation, I was informed, was a demon I would need to cast out. When the exorcism failed, it was not the laying of hands that had met defeat but my willingness to allow God to cure me. I was to blame, not Jesus. No matter where I went, or why I went there, one formula after another met me on the way. I half expected to be given a prescription with precise instruction on how to find salvation in the bottle.

 “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:15, NIV)

            The other day, I was heading down to the parking garage on the elevator. It’s a fairly brief ride considering the 18-floor drop to the subbasement and the car. On the 15th floor, the door opened and a young woman entered with a large, bulky stroller and her toddler son folded into its basket. She made no eye contact and said nothing as she entered. The door closed after she selected the 1st floor and the space fell silent. From beginning to end, she stared directly at the door and said nothing. Talk about awkward. The carriage was so quiet, too quiet, then I remembered there was also a baby on board.
            Out of the corner of my eye I could see him. He just laid there like a pile of flesh, no movement, no indication that he was even breathing. I caught a glimpse of rustling and turned my head to look. From his mother to me and back again, over and over, the entire time he just laid there studying us both. You could tell from the look of him and the way he gazed at us that he wasn’t sure what was going on. He might even have been saying to himself “what the hell?” It was a curious thing to watch him glance back and forth between the two adults. It almost seemed like he was learning.
            I will never be sure what was going on in that little head of his, but I am sure of what he wasn’t thinking. He did not assume the silence came from a bitter place. He did not assume that I failed to speak because his mother was a Latino and he did not think his mom was silent because she feared what I might do to her. All he knew was the quiet. All he cognized was what he experienced, not what someone had taught him to think. He was perusing the two of us, not presuming something that he had been conditioned to know. When the elevator opened at the ground floor, she shuffled around and began to push his safety out into the world. Suddenly, he started crying.  

 “Another Monday comes and I just wanna breathe
Cause it's a long, long week for someone wired to please
I keep taking my aim, pushing it higher
Wanna shine bright, even brighter now
Wish I would tell myself
Don't try so hard”

            God is easy. It’s all the crap that comes with Him that complicates the matter. Everyone has an opinion and everyone thinks their opinion is correct. There are countless volumes of exegesis and eisegesis and speculation that goes far beyond the written word. Every day it seems like there is some new spiritual revelation that claims to answer it all. Even if just one was correct in its presumptions, how could you find it among all the clutter? So many rules to follow. So many choices to make. It seems hard to imagine anyone finding their way among all the bells and whistles.
            I strive to be better. I want to please my partner, my Dad and my friends. It is important to me to discover and maintain both the aesthetical and spiritually rewarding aspects in my life. Most of all, I want to please God. The very purpose of my day-to-day existence is to walk closer to Him, to get to Him through all the dissonance. I find myself reaching, pushing, hoping that I am on the appropriate path and heading in the right direction. At the end of each day, despite my intentions, it is still just so hard to block out all the noise. I tend to find God when I find silence.
            Children know the way. Their wide-eyed and innocent demeanour masks great instinct. They do not need to be told what to do, or feel or think, especially when it comes to something Holy. We burden them with far too much criticism. We invade their silence. We should be learning from them and not the other way around. Well meaning adults simply help them to forget who they really are and that you just can’t learn God. 
            All those interpretations and demands, swirling around religion, only act to distract us. We try too hard. It is a difficult thing to know peace in such a noisy world. Quite often, you need to rest in the silence. If you don’t understand the silence, how can you ever understand all the words? God already loves you, despite what well-meaning noisemakers may claim. He accepts you just the way you are. We are saved by love. The rest is all commentary, cultural expectations, not Divine invitations. Those who think they are wise are fools making noise while playing with all those bells and whistles.

“Don't try so hard
God gives you grace and you can't earn it
Don't think that you're not worth it
Because you are
He gave you His love and He's not leaving
Gave you His Son so you'd believe it
You're lovely even with your scars
Don't try so hard”
(Don’t Try So Hard, Amy Grant 2013)



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Book of Kels


            I am a rock and I am an island. It’s true. This rock feels no pain and this island never cries. This is who I want you to see, but there is so much more to me than mere stone. There are beaches on these shores that no one has ever walked but me. I have built my walls. This fortress is strong and steady. You only get through if I let you. I know I seem to stand alone. Only I can protect me. Deep within there is something more. There are parts of me no one has ever seen before, other parts, softer parts. Parts that you may not recognize for all the brick and sand. I am the house that I rebuilt. There is beauty that lives here still. I do feel pain and I cry all the time.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
(The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne 1850)

            I was only going a few kilometres over the posted speed limit when that damn bouncing ball flew out from a driveway. I failed to recognize any need to stop, let alone slow down. I’d only ever murdered an animal out of mercy before. When I hit Luther, it was the end of him. I quickly braked and pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. By the time I got out of my car, Luther’s family had found him deceased at the side of the road. It was clear to us all that there was nothing to be done but bury the poor fellow. No one took the blame because we really were all at fault in our actions. I helped to carry him and to dig his grave. I stood stoic, unmoved, unaffected by the incident. I washed what was left of that freshly dead dog off my grill, and then continued on my way.
            It was the frailty, the fragility of it all that really got to me. It didn’t even take a minute for me to start crying. The more tears fell, the more my soul cried out. All the memories, all the animals that I had lost from my life flashed before in a mosaic of fur. The guilt for not slamming on my brakes ate at me. Although I really had no time from when that ball darted out and Luther arrived on the scene, I still felt like I had done a terrible thing that I could have avoided if I was paying closer attention. When I noticed the spot of blood on my windshield, I had to pull over. I sat down with a smudge of someone’s best friend on a tissue in my hand and then I cried some more.

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
(Saint Basil the Great, Greek bishop of Caesarea)

            I studied string bass from the age of eleven into my senior year of high school. Along the way, I played the trumpet in grade eleven and twelve. I enjoyed these instrumental expressions of myself, but from the time I was a boy, I preferred singing. I sang along to records, I sang in Church and I even sang in the proverbial shower. Music has always been the very best of friends to me. Over the years, I sang at funerals, I sang in contests and I sang at weddings. At my sister Tracey’s ceremony, I entertained at the front of the sanctuary from beginning to end. In all, I belted out nine songs that day. I felt just like Frank Sinatra. From regional talent competitions to local fundraisers, it was not merely the performance that mattered to me. When I was in theatrical productions in high school, I excelled because I knew how to execute. In front of an audience, all by myself, I was not about the show. I was about the song.
            One of my most favourites ways to sing was with my Mother beside me. Her autoharp in hand, we blended harmonies like crickets might do. All the moments that we shared a “stage” together linger for me these days. I can sometimes hear her echo in the corners of my mind. My strongest sense of happiness seems to have formed from times such as this. In 1980, on the occasion of my maternal Great-Grandmother Mabel’s 80th birthday party, we once again took to our places. I stood behind like I always did. She pulled up a chair, rested her instrument on her left knee, and we declared our intentions. Together, like it always was, we flowed like milk and honey (I was not always this sour). The theme to The Adventures of Grizzly Adams filled the auditorium. The song “Maybe” found us almost dancing with our voices. I remember it so clear from this place in my life. I have always had the happy to get through the sad. Music works that way. It can reveal glimpses of who you once were so you can realize who you should be now. The now is simpler for me. I still hum along. When it all gets complicated, when the noise won’t stop, I just start singing, mostly in secret. Sometimes I stand out on my balcony overlooking the city. They are my audience these days. I can only hope that out in the distance, she knows I am really singing just for her.

“It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”
(John Steinbeck, American writer)

            I didn’t like him when he was alive, that much was for sure. Almost every encounter we had met with conflict and even more disdain. He was not my father. It only took five years for him to follow his son. My Mom and I went to the funeral. It was hard to see his wife so crushed, so broken yet again. When we got inside, the Church was filled to the rafters. People got up at the altar and said such kind and generous things about the man. It was all so foreign to me. Nothing but the obvious was obvious. I did not fail to notice that not one person who got up to praise him really did. It was all matters of fact and anecdotal tales of his younger drinking days. I understood the lack thereof. I felt vindication in my unforgiving heart. My enemy was dead and I still could not let it go.
             The intersections between headstones grow heavy with grass and weeds throughout the summer. The remnants from weed-eaters cover garden patches and the base of monuments abandoned to time. It is a stark place in spite of all its beauty. Row after row of tales, carved into stone, contrast lovely gardens and rich tree lines. On the hottest of days, the dead just melt away. Even they have no wish to endure this hell. It is heaven for me to tend to the garden. Since the day he left me, I have done so with love and deepest respect. The Lily of the Valley now form the bulk of his area. Old lake stones sit so futile, all the while trying to edge them in. His father rests right beside him. Another tale in another row, testament to a life so lived. I care for it too now. Time has freed me from the bitter sting of pride. He is at peace and so am I. I grafted some Lily last fall and planted them deep in front of his stone. It will take some time before they can be shifted and shaped and made to cover the soil.  

“That best portion of a man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” (William Wordsworth, English poet)

            It was just too hot not to do something. She was just laying there, already she had thawed enough. On her bedside table was a small handheld fan. No other form of relief was in sight. I turned around and left immediately. The Home Hardware store down the street was the ticket to right. The fan didn’t even cost that much. I wondered to myself why no one else had thought to soothe this woman’s suffering, to answer any of her prayers? All the other social and health care providers were also charged with her care, but it was more than obvious that someone wasn’t doing their job. Yes, no one said we were required to assist in this manner, but I just could not leave her to the fury of this boiling point. I could not leave her to suffer so.
            I stayed a little extra time on this visit. I had to make sure she was okay. Despite all those years of medication, the disease had finally taken control and you could tell from the look of her face. She was fading fast and the daily logs confirmed this was so. When I had finished my duties, when I had completed my tasks, I sat with her, comforted as well by the wind she had just gained. She would be better now, I was sure of it. I gave her mercy like I was required to give. I could have easily made a claim for compensation, but I left my expense at the bottom of her kitchen trash can. I would never ask for quid pro quo. As I parted, she thanked me several times. I told her there was no need, that I was just doing my job. In fact, I was just doing what God expected me to do. I took the time to love somebody. Her requisite was my prerequisite. To be His hands, His feet, this is always my secret pleasure. You would never know it from my demeanour, I would never tell. I am sure that until this moment no one else ever knew but her. I could boast that I gave of my time and money to her, but I would never have had the chance to be the answer to her prayers unless I took the time. 

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (Henry James, American writer)

            I hide my true self. I soar in secret. I protect the gentle side of me with a tough and gruff exterior. I appear as a son of man, not a son of God. I’m not a cowardly lion, all run instead of roar, but I often can relate to how he felt roaming around in the land of Oz until Dorothy dropped in. I don’t want you to see, but somehow you always do. Although it is sad to say, I have to hide in order to stay safe. I’m not trying to trick anyone into thinking that I am something I am not, but most people are dangerous so I need a first responder to keep them away. We are all like this. We hide the truest parts of ourselves. We want to feel safe and we want to be secure. We do our best building these walls. We try to keep safe from our enemy. When the day is at its end, we close our eyes to rest and then it all begins again.
            The Son shines quite often on my face, but I would never want you to see Jesus like some form of moisturizer against my skin. Too many people make their relationship with God about a deity or about a format based on words. I prefer to act, not read. I am not interested in the labels that men make of all things Holy, I am interested in being holy. Our salvation does not come from any religious association, regardless of John 14:6. It already exists, in these moments. You don’t have to wait until you die to have the Kingdom here and now. I’m not on this earth, at this time, to act as a shining light on some god I worship. I am required to be that light, to let it move within me and for it to lead me in all I do. I’m interested in sharing this light, not standing in a spotlight.
            I don’t believe it is all about Jesus, any more than it is all about Mohammad or Buddha. It’s all about compassion and being kind. I’m a bitchy person. Sometimes I think it has become my nature to be sardonic, callous and somewhat detached emotionally. I don’t think I could function in this world without my defensive positioning. This in no way limits the greater grace that causes me to humbly serve others, to take the time with the living and the dead. To serve goodness and right. To see me, you might think you were in some form of ambiguous trouble. As I approach, you might well clutch your purse closer or take your child to hip. My rugged good looks blend well with the aura of anger all about me and I almost always appear formidable, mean and grumpy. People can never really be sure about me so they tend to wait for another elevator. Good, it’s working.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” (Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama)




I am a Rock, Simon and Garfunkel

I’m with You, Nichole Nordeman

Maybe, Thom Pace
theme from the Adventures of Grizzly Adams




Monday, January 13, 2014

Snakes and Ladders

“Take a breath
Take a moment
Take your time
Before you lie
'Cause once you do
Love is different
Everything changes
Between you and I
And it gets easier every time
Oh and you can still change your mind
Before you lie”
(Before You Lie, Chely Wright 1997)

            Every lie has a consequence. I do not mean to imply that all lying ends with a negative result. Sometimes we are left little choice but to lie. I do not believe for one second that God would rather us destroy another person’s life with the truth than to bear false witness against them. It all comes down to your intent. Not lying can be as destructive and “sinful” as speaking the truth, especially well knowing the damage it might do. Every lie has a circumstance and every circumstance will determine the consequence. Unfortunately, there are human beings who do nothing but lie.
            Morality is not a simple process. It does not always work well with religion. The two are like apples and oranges and either has little to do with God. If you cannot distinguish between what is right and what is wrong then you lack empathy, not religion. Religion itself tends to be immoral, from an anthropomorphic point of view. It is ironic that the commandments created by this god or that god are rarely followed by that very same deity of choice. So then it comes down to that innate sense of ethics. Life is not only about the path you follow, but how you follow the path. We have a responsibility to weigh our choices and follow through on our convictions, even if those choices are in conflict with the spiritual system we have adopted.
            Life becomes like a game of Snakes and Ladders. As we advance up the board, we are met with lessons in morality, “complicated  by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes).” With each roll of the dice, each forward motion that we take, we must hope to navigate correctly. From the bottom square to the top, we are helped or hindered by our progression and where we land in turn. It all comes down to chance and each roll of those dice. Like with life, the object of the game may be to win, but sometimes the best one can do is make it to the finish. 
            What happens to someone when they cross the line between choice and pathology? When all it appears that they know how to do is summon lie after lie? With no obvious rhythm or reason, every word they spew out of their mouth is another manipulation, aggression and deceit. Perhaps there is a medical condition, a psychiatric consideration we must take when dealing with each Chicken Little. Eventually, the sky fails to fall and people stop trusting what you have to say. No one believes you because you have demonstrated you are not to be believed.  
            There is a dramatic difference between protecting someone from the truth with a lie and lying just for the habit, the inclination to do so. There are consequences when you become associated only with falsehood. Initially, people shrug it off, making excuses for your behaviour. They end up no longer trusting you at your word. People stop wanting anything to do with you and the web that you constantly weave. Sooner or later, your lies become your truth and nothing is to be believed. Rather than trying to balance the risk of being caught with any benefit of all that lying, you have given in to abandon. It becomes impossible to be certain if you can even tell the truth from all the lies. 

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.”
(Exodus 20:16, NIV) 

            When most people consider the ninth commandment, “you shall not lie,” they think in concrete terms. There is so much more to this teaching. It is not all black and white. This directive demands that “not only false oaths, to deprive a man of his life or of his right, are here prohibited, but all whispering, tale-bearing, slander, and calumny; in a word, whatever is deposed as a truth, which is false in fact, and tends to injure another in his goods, person, or character, is against the spirit and letter of this law.”  Misdirecting or suppressing that truth to defraud or cause injury to your neighbour, which the truth may have prevented, is a crime under this Holy edict.
            Granted, the term ‘neighbour’ refers to anyone, and anything that tends to injure another is frowned upon in most spiritual disciplines and throughout most of their literature and teachings. False testimony, therefore, should be considered as if in a court of law and not in a temple. No false witness, who has been convicted, is admitted to give evidence. Any like transgressions, of the past, define their word and their oath. They cannot be trusted to speak the truth. What a known liar says should be given no weight or have no bearing. It should not be submitted into testimony. This is law with no exemption. This is the ninth commandment.   
            We all lie. We do it well. I can’t remember going a full day without having to white lie or fib or omit the truth. I need this “skill” to get through work, social interactions and sometimes I even lie to myself just to get through that moment. I am not sure, at least in these modern times, that anyone can get through a day without bearing false witness, at least to some degree or other. After all, human beings spend their entire lives lying to themselves, so then in what position does someone else merit the truth? Lying has become an accepted way of life.
            The issue must rest in our intent to injure. Since the greatest commandment, to love one another, covers the last six commandments, we can assume that this tenet is extremely important. It has always been our duty to follow this ‘Golden Rule’, both to ourselves and to others. Anything else, it's just all commentary. Then, why we lie becomes just as important as what we lie. If our intent is righteous, then is the action also righteous? It matters little what words or ideologies we use to evoke guilt. Every human being who ever lived (with perhaps one exception) was imperfect and a dirty rotten liar. 

“He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, NIV)

            There are many experiences from my life where I wish I had been lied to rather than told the truth. There are just as many incidents where I knew I was being told the truth primarily as a weapon to hurt me. Every person has a reason for each lie, regardless of any moral implication that can be made. I am sure I am not the only one who would rather be lied to than shattered or destroyed by the truth. I hope that I am not the only person who would rather risk Divine punishment for lying and bear false witness to spare another person. There is a fine line between virtue and allegiance. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Some snakes are more useful than ladders.
            I don’t believe that I have ever lied just for the sport of it. Anytime I have lied, I believed I had a good enough reason, at least to justify it in my own mind. The other day, a homeless guy asked me if I had any money so that he could buy his lunch. I shook my head to indicate no, all the while holding a $20 bill in my wallet. I just couldn't bear to part with it. Granted, 100 feet before him, down the sidewalk, I gave all my change to a fellow street dweller. In fact, anytime I walk through downtown Toronto I am barraged by beggar after beggar. I cannot give something to them all. I can only hope that God understands my mortal limitations. I can’t help them if I can’t help myself. It seems easier to lie than have to look at their faces. I just don’t have the resources or time to stop and help out the countless men and women who ask for assistance every day. Lying seems the more efficient way, a better way to spare them, for me at least.
            There is one person that I have known a very long time who seems unable to formulate anything but untruth. Despite years of lying and trying to lead people astray, they are not very good at the deception. While it may be that they lie so much I just assume it is so, I actually believe they believe what they are telling me, even though they know very well I am onto their sham. Every time I talk to or see them, there is another pile of crap to add to the compost that has become their honour. For years, I have not believed a word they have spouted from their cakehole. They do not just protrude this vile toxin in my face only. Our relationship is tied to many others, most or all of whom feel exactly the same way.  
            At first, and for a very long time, I just wrote this behaviour off to over-compensation. As the years went by, the complex web of prevarications interfered with my ability to have a productive relationship with them, but I still kept trying. Many times, they have been confronted on this and that related issues. Many times, they resumed the status quo the very next day, sometimes the very next hour. When I could bear it no more, when the truth became a lie, I ended any contact with them. It is not that I no longer care. It is not that I don’t understand the vexing ways to being human and how sometimes we take to snakes rather than ladders. It has become like befriending a Nazi, you will never really be able to trust them. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10, NIV)

            Religion and morality are not vague expressions from some distant being living in the third quadrant of a faraway place in space. They are both a vital manifestation of what it means to be human. Both are important vessels that have helped to create and evolve civilization. Many would argue that the two are civilization. They are constant and often in your face. Nevertheless, they should not be bound together. They are like apples and oranges or black and white. So then morality apart from religion relies on the individual to judge and take an ethical approach, to assume a moral position based on empathy, not simply using a code of conduct set down in the name of something Holy. These rules leave little room for us to be fully human. They were created to assist and guide men throughout their lifetime, not control them. No one can truly follow laws from the gods without giving away their true humanity and rarely even then.
            Religion has helped in its capacity. It has given us that guide, regardless of whether we believe it came from a god or not. Almost every civilization has offered one up to its people. In itself, it has a purpose. For each place in time and each culture, these codes of conduct protect the citizen, from others and themselves. They point us with a strong conviction. They teach us the importance of how we treat other people, but they should not be the final word. There are exemptions to every rule. We roll the die, always hoping, but more often than not we pick a direction by which we land on a snake. Had we steered another way we might have taken a ladder to a better place. You always have to choose which way you’re going or you are going the wrong way. There is no chance, regardless of those two little white cubes prancing about the game you play.
            We are taught that man was created not for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was created for man (Mark 2:27), so too any law, any commandment placed before us is subject to the same sensibility. There is always room for interpretation and consideration, particularly if it involves injury to another party. When two religions have like teachings on a moral issue, God is hiding in the similarities. As judge and jury, God must take everything under advisement. With any law, or rule, or commandment, it is about our intent to injure. It would be unfair if the law was all or nothing.   
            Lying is a prime example of this dichotomy. Why we lie is more important, for me, than whatever it is that we lied about. Whether we admit it or not, we all know we do it. We try not to lie, but although we may be willing, our flesh is far too weak. In the end, as with everything else, there are two sides to every story. If we aim to do harm in revealing the truth, we have broken no commandment. It looks real good on paper. If our intent was to protect, spare or detour pain, it matters little if at all. We have lied and are all accountable. The words we speak are to be the cell we dwell in. Still, I would rather suffer therein than to harm another well knowing that I would.
            Life is a simple game. All you really have to do is eat, drink and breathe. The rest comes whether you want it to or not. You get to build your reality into anything you want. Doing the right thing shouldn’t have a cost. We shouldn’t be afraid to be kind  because of a condemnation placed upon us 3000 years ago. Like in the game of Snakes and Ladders, the rules should be impartial. You try to do your best with the tools you are given. Sometimes it's not about this law or that law but what is ethical. You can spend your life trying to do the right thing, even if words condemn it as wrong, or you can live a lie and spend your life pretending it's true.

“Damn Liar
A Damn Liar
You're a Damn Liar
How'd you make it this far?
Damn Liar
You fuckin' Liar
You're a Damn Liar
That's what you are.”
(Damn Liar, Chely Wright 2010)









Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Thick and Thin

            Life is a complex and often complicated weave of destruction and growth, chaos and order. Life is, to say the least, difficult for the best of us. It seems it is always this or that or that and this. Granted, our time on this planet can be filled with great pleasure and illumination, but then without fail, along comes some matter which drives away the light and leaves us bound to darkness and even more trials and tribulations. Some days are enough to make one long for the inevitable and some much needed rest. Any sunshine we might find in the heavens is quickly lost to the clouds and an onslaught of heavy wind and rain. No matter who you are, or your lot in life, just living holds much burden. Life can be a wondrous adventure, filled with hope and joy and love. The glory of a new day can fill us with such determination that we believe no encumbrance will be able to get in our way. The human being tends to deny when life is easier. We become so enchanted by the ease with which our current state of existence seems to carry us that we lose sight and forget all about the coming storms. We would not last without these glimpses of sunshine. They, ironically, reenergize us, filling us with enough gumption to move forward and face another 24 hours. To float in the order of a good day; to feel the sweetness of being alive; for life to surround you and grant you but a moment’s mercy, these are the experiences that make life worth living. Without the sunshine, we could not recognize the storm as it forms or the approaching cloak of night.    
            It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how loved you are by your family. It doesn’t matter what your faith structure is, or what you do or do not believe. The weight of struggle falls on those who think they are just and on those that religion tells us are indeed unjust. Whether a firm Pentecostal, quite filled with the Spirit, or a high lama of Tibetan Buddhism, suffering and bedlam are in constant flux during everyone’s lifetime. Although it may not seem so, there is no safety when following the path. We are all bound to trauma and devastation throughout our lives. The constant drone of pain and heartache and sadness can seem unending and without a ray of hope.
            The most trying events of a lifetime might seem more manageable if each moment was not filled with the trivial design that summons discontent and defeat. One thing after another, no matter how small, can add up to greater discourse than the most horrific of experiences. The constant drumming of trial after trial, can make one question whether this life has any purpose at all besides thunder, lightning and the sting of rainfall. Ceaseless challenges always keep on coming, no matter how you learn or grow or become enlightened. You may have God Himself dangling from a keychain in your pocket, but in the end, shit happens. Shit happens to all of us.

“Why so blue?
Why do you start to break?
Under a misty moon
Under your skies of gray
In this life, you know
Storms are bound to come
Try not to worry about it
Sun's gonna shine again
Love won't leave you out in the rain”

            All those obstacles to our happiness, that life puts in the way, are mere confusion. Yes, our reality defines these experiences and the material world makes them important to deal with and resolve, but we cannot allow them to define us in the same capacity. We  permit the troubles of life to shape us, either for that which is productive or for that which is corrupted. We decide not so much the outcome, in the greater scheme of things, but rather the income that each event has on us individually. They can make us more substantial, sure to stand and fight. They can make us weaker, limited because of our fear and all the dissonance. We can abandon all hope or we can wait for the better day. We must decide not to give such negative things great power. After all, if they don’t kill us we are supposed to become stronger, wiser and more able to deal with the endless tyranny chance, luck and karma bring with them.
             Unfortunately, life gets harder as you go along. While some people appear to float through life on cloud 9, for others it is nowhere near that easy. It seems that there are those in this life who are destined to suffer more. It is not by their hand or through some warped sense of injustice that they meet their hard times. It seems to come with them. This is not to exclude any floater from the trouble that life brings. Every person has their own burden which they must bear. No one is exempt. Life is hard for everyone. One can’t help but notice for some it seems even harder.
            The best one can do is to make it through the bad times. There is always sun on the far side of the storm. Quite often, the storm itself reveals great mercy.  Deep behind the dank and billowing mass of wet and wind, there is always a brighter day. Given time, the raging front will pass and the world will have light again. You would not recognize that light if it was not for the darkness. Things may not be all better, the world may have changed, but the pain and the fear and the overwhelming mass of chaos will fade away like it never was. It is up to us to make it a lesson learned or a price we pay. You pick how you respond, how you deal with your new reality. The choice is yours. You can stand under the umbrella, afraid to get wet, or you can watch for clear skies and the warmth of all that shine.  

“So walk that road
Remembering you're not alone
You got someone to lean on
Something to call your own
Just have a little faith and then
When all the clouds roll in
You won't have to worry about it
Love's gonna shelter you
Love won't leave you out in the rain”

            A professor once instructed me that God was all in my head. Like any true atheist, he seemed intent on making me validate his point. I argued mine in turn. Years later and I am not convinced that he was wrong. After all, the direction we take when faced with adversity is determined by our reaction to that adversity. We can abandon ship or sail through it. It is the same process when dealing with the reality of God. When people commit to following a set faith structure, and worshipping a specific deity, they are indeed choosing to do so. Since the days of gods appearing to man as a catalyst for belief seem lost to the times of Moses and the Apostles, it only seems logical to conclude that we must construct our faith for ourselves. This procedure, generally, occurs all in our heads. We act on blind faith when we surrender to something greater and unknown.
            The mind is the most sacred temple. You can literally pick the god you follow. As we travel forward, we adapt this entity based on the experiences and circumstances in our lives. As we evolve, so too does the Master we serve. This outcome depends entirely on the traits we assign to our God. For many, He does not mature, He becomes quite despicable. So then a Christian becomes the Agnostic when his faith no longer serves his purpose. People do it all the time. I used to believe that the Abrahamic God, literally, punished me for any inappropriate or sinful action I took. His contempt was clear and visible. As I studied and applied my faith towards understanding, I recognized I could no longer follow an unjust god. It was the realization that I had other options which eventually set me free from a religion which did its best to cripple me.     
            Like so many that crash against our modern times, I did not sink my own ship. As I strove for wisdom and truth, the less palpable ideas I had maintained fell away like water in the wind. I came to see God, my God, as unique and less defined. The attitude I took determined the faith that I practice. My theology became knowledge based rather than one forced by submitting. I began to think for myself, to form my own ideas on what and who God was. I stopped allowing organized concepts to dictate what I was required to believe. Strangely enough, the God I now can relate with is strikingly similar to the God of my childhood. I have no preconceived notions regarding the state or nature of the Divine. Like a child, I do not view God with any judgment. It appears the peace that passes all understanding was with me all along, but I refused to see It. I had always let the storms block the sun. I was drowning in all the rain.

“And when life seems to lose all rhythm
Love will show you how to dance
Given half a chance
And given time, in love you'll find
A peaceful place, a friendly place
A harbour on the sea of lonely”

            Through thick and thin, God was always with me. For most of my life, this just never occurred to me. I suppose I had been brainwashed into thinking I wasn’t good enough. My sin brought nothing but spiritual isolation. I had been convinced that my days would be all clouds and thunder, not because I deserved it but because I was told I deserved it.  Slowly, with precision, I drew back the curtain and let the sunshine in. It is not that all my troubles disappeared. There are still many storms and much grey, and so many downpours, but they no longer define me and they do not dictate what I have come to believe. Convincing myself that God was better than human allowed for peaks of brightness until, eventually, I found a new view of the world and that which men claim as Holy. I realized He was here, regardless.
            Even though, for most of my adult life, the idea of an omnipresent deity hanging on my every word and action seemed trivial and pure nonsense, I discovered that, for me, things worked in a different way. God is with me because I make it so. I open myself to ideas and doctrines, to new horizons which do not rebirth a storm. Bidding God welcome turned out to be redundant. God was already all around and within me. How I feel and think now has shown me how to dance in both the sunshine and the rain. It didn’t matter what religion claimed, or commanded, especially the Christian faith in which I was brought up. The proof is all in the pudding. I know it is real because I can see it is real. I think it, I feel it, my world has shifted. Discovering that God was inspiration and much imagination allowed me to no longer have the compulsion that I must survive Him. Instead, I ended up back where I started and began the process of embracing Him.
             I don’t have a clue if I am right or wrong in my notions. All I know is that my life is different. Hardship and struggle may still flood my path, but they are no longer hurdles that stop me, during or after they materialize. I decide where I will go, despite the roadblocks and detours. The sky is always shiny, you just need to get past the clouds. In hindsight, I can see; my life is testament. Never once, no matter the trial or the tribulation, was I left out in the rain.

“Mark my words
Love's gonna cover you
And when you're stuck in the dead of night
Love's gonna pull you through
And I'll be the one you know
Sayin', 'I told you so'
Life will be easier livin'
Once you begin to learn
Love won't leave you out in the rain”
(Love Won't Leave You Out in the Rain, Michael English 1991)

             I had to adjust. To learn that God was always with me meant I did not need to be afraid of this or that. Through thick and through thin I have made it, completely convinced that all things shall pass and that it’s going to be okay, whatever comes. There is no need of a place to hide from the storm. The right mindset and a little faith allow for one to face any onslaught. This is strong and sure within me. I am sure enough to never want to be without it, even if it’s all in my head.