Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Winsome or Lose Some


“I never, even for a moment, doubted what they’d told me. This is why it is that adults and even parents can, unwittingly, be cruel: they cannot imagine doubt’s complete absence. They have forgotten.” (David Foster Wallace, American novelist)
 
            Children are not supposed to have worries. We just assume their innocence is uncorrupted until later in their life. Unfortunately, there are far too many influences in this modern world, influences that denigrate a healthy childhood. Whether technology, lack of structure (family) or even horrific events at the hands of others, children, in many cases,  are no longer free to be children. We take something as simple as the idea of a God and turn it into confusion and legislation, brainwashing them, forcing them into thinking that our religious norms are the set of rules they should follow. Kids don’t get to discover the truth, it is handed down to them. From early on they are conditioned, trained until they no longer are free just to be. 


 
 
“When we are children we seldom think of the future.
This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can.
The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
(The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss 2007)

            Growing up while cultivated by Christianity, I often found myself at odds with the teachings placed before me. Many of the dogmas and doctrines that I was exposed to seemed inconsistent with the God I already believed in. I questioned almost everything, regardless of what I had been taught to have faith in. I drove my ministers and instructors crazy with constant inquiries. As a child, my attention span was so erratic that by the time I got home from Sunday School, I had little or no interest in pursuing those questions. By the time I became a teenager, it was clear to me that we aren’t supposed to ask those questions. I am not aware whether other kids have the same experiences. Do they question too? This internal discord corrupted my judgment and often sent me into sadness. I was playful, I had fun, but I was not free.
            We are told that only those who are like children can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:3), then in the same breath children are told to act their age, to grow up and to be a man (or a lady). The burden of adult ideas and required behaviour steals away any glimmer of childhood that a very young person may still have. Expectations become patterns and patterns become gospel. I don’t know why or how I formed my earliest conceptions of the Holy. From the beginning of any awareness, I presume, I took whatever good I saw in each lesson, leaving all the commentary to the older people. God had always been more of an ethereal being to me than a Father or Judge. Although I had conceived notions of God as a deity, any dialogue regarding such things was of little concern to me. Somewhere out in space was someone who loved me. I believed this until I learned that it was not so. 

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” (Agamemnon, Aeschylus 459 BCE)

            Compromising childlike faith and innocence has great penalty. We are warned by the Christ that for anyone doing so “it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2) Well meaning religious people baptize, confirm and institutionalize children like sheep led to slaughter. We control them with our own ideas as if they were the one and only truth. When an adult has childlike qualities, and a winsome nature, we chastise them, tell them to act their age or we just assume that they are simply a retard.
 
 
 

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.”
(The Quiet American, Graham Greene 1955)

            My first partner had a winsome nature when I met him. His childlike way was charming yet quite foreign to me. I had never encountered someone so normal yet so naive in their interpretation of what it means to be alive. It was not that he was immature or stupid. He was the most intelligent and capable man I had the privilege to experience up to that point. He viewed life differently than any other person I had known. He was an innocent, unaffected by the claims of a reality outside his upbringing. His internal version of life and God was unencumbered. He was free. All that seemed to come with him was unstained. It had not been tainted or tarnished regardless of his family, friends or the small town in which he grew up. When I first met Doug, it seemed to me that he had been living in a bubble. I quickly learned that he was, in fact, the bubble itself.
            Once he was exposed to the harsh reality of this world, he began to change. This change was not for the better. Instead of continuing to see without judgment, he took all that judgment upon himself. His concept of the Divine shifted from a God who loved him, no matter what, to a God who condemned him just for being the person that he was. The life he had led since his childhood turned out to be a lie. The environment that he was so swiftly exposed to stood in complete contradiction to what he had formulated in his own mind and spirit. With no formal religious training, no sense of Divine condemnation, he quickly was caught up in it, like a fish out of water. He floundered, he struggled to catch his breath. Eventually, all that pressure from within did just what they told us it would do in high school. Given enough time, the bubble burst.
            It is strange to me how we interfere. We take someone so pure, so unaffected and we make demands that they listen to us, learn from us and do what we tell them to do. We instruct each other to be like children, then attack when adults do that very thing. We endlessly lecture about God’s Grace and Unconditional Love, than steal it from each other until we submit to His Will. I find it interesting that the will of god usually lines up well with the needs and wishes of those evangelising to us. For some, the very purpose of their religion is to win souls. We become so concerned with salvation, and immortality, that we channel this concern to every person who we believe does not live up the standards expressed in our holy books and religion. We negate each other’s happiness here on earth believing the eternal soul matters more. Well meaning religious people take the innocence that childhood once offered without even asking. They demand we form a bubble, but the bubble is someone else’s creation, not our own. We all view the world through different lenses, but only this way or that way is the right prescription. Without their Rx, we are considered rather blind and in need of saving. 

“Of course, you will ask what proof do we have that retards today are the descendants of those filthy half-Demon hybrids that caused the destruction of mankind? That they have the same blood running through their twisted limbs as the Demons cast out of Heaven? Well let me remind you of your original question. If God is so perfect then why would he create a retard? I think the answer is in the question. He wouldn't. These creatures are the spawn of Hell, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not only insulting me, he is insulting God.”
(God Hates Retards, www.godhatesgoths.com)

            For the first year, I thought Matthew and Beth were brother and sister. Eventually, I discovered that the only thing common to both of them was Downs Syndrome. Matt was around 40 years old and Beth around 30 when they joined the congregation of the Strathroy United Church. Every Sunday morning, someone would pick them up from their group home and take them for Sunday service at my Church. Matthew was a stunted man, with streaks of grey in his dark hair. He possessed the emotional and intellectual maturity of a 10-year-old, or so we were told. He may have walked with two canes, balancing his feeble limbs on heavy sticks of wood, but he never seemed impeded.  Beth stood under 5 foot tall and her hair was cut close, for easy grooming I supposed. She was a small girl, but she was not tiny. Her limitations were not always visible from my vantage point. For someone with such a diminished IQ, she was truly capable, or so it seemed. Throughout the 1980s, they were both a mainstay in the congregation.  
            I never really felt sorry for either of these two. They appeared happier, and freer, than anyone I had yet to encounter. For all the restrictions, and all the assumptions people made regarding their disabilities, these physical restraints did little to hinder their joy. Both were charming in a childlike way. Unencumbered by their condition, their winsome qualities were rather pleasing to me. They were friendly, sweet and in many ways far more Christian than the hundreds of people who attended services every Sunday with them. Despite their actual age, they came across like overgrown children rather than mentally challenged. In fact, when discussing Jesus and God with either one, they expressed a base understanding of the deity they had been brought into the fold to worship. Quite often you could hear one or the other, often both, singing louder than the rest of the sheep. God was always Love for them, not words or actions required by the doctrines and principles set down for the rest of us. Without fail, you could always find someone attempting to capture that innocence and turn it into a prescription for salvation. In an attempt to “save” them, well meaning religious people only succeeded in confusing them. When approached for evangelization, you could tell by their expressions and demeanour that such compound and complicated concepts as sin and hell were lost on them. Going to heaven was a promise made, not a formula that required this step or that step. Although I am unaware of what eventually happened to Beth, Matthew passed away in the 1990s in his early 50s. 
            I have never understood the Christian need to save souls. I always assumed that this was God’s responsibility, not man’s. Scripture may tell us differently, but I don’t believe for one second that God needs our help. I am still unsure why so many religious people find it necessary to convert or engage salvation on those afflicted when it is quite clear they don’t need assistance. The entire process of converting or saving someone so innocent always seemed redundant to me. Generally speaking, these engaging and quite pleasing creatures don’t need our ignorance either. Their childlike charm and innocence speak to the very essence of Jesus’ teachings regarding those who will enter the Kingdom. In most cases, we try to fill their glass, assuming it is empty, when in reality it was already overflowing. We forget, you cannot save that which is already safe and sound. Religious people just have to interfere. Most worry more about other people’s salvation when they should worry about their own. In an attempt to better the life of an innocent, we steal their innocence away. We stand in the way. We take these special men and women and we try to cage them and take away their innate freedom, as if we are responsible for them knowing the Way. We forget that the weight we hang around the neck of something so winsome is the very milestone that will take us to the bottom of the sea. We think we are saving them but we are only dooming ourselves.

“Love is a hurricane in a blue sky,
I didn't see it coming, never knew why.
All the laughter and the dreams,
All the memories in between,
Washed away in a steady stream...
We could shake a fist in times like this
When we don't understand
Or we could just hold hands.”
(I’m With You, Nichole Nordeman 2001)

             I am not sure if my uncle Doug is a religious man or not. I know that I have no personal experience to rely on when making a concrete conclusion on the matter. It matters little in the long run anyway. Married to my Dad’s sister Mae for over 50 years, he now battles Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the limited contact I have with him, I have been witness to his declining health. It is easy to see despite glimpses of his old self that peek through the clouds in his mind on occasion. At times, you can still sense him inside of himself. It is both sad and inspiring to see him in this state. To watch him decay has done little to his survival instinct. He may not thrive, but you can tell he still fights, still wishes it wasn’t this way for him. Giving up might be the easy way, but going on indicates how truly strong and courageous he remains. His energy can still be so vibrant. There have been times when I was communicating with him that he seemed almost childlike. There is an innocence to this type of suffering. Repentance for anything they might have done in their life is lost, tossed out in the storm. For the most part, the mind and therefore the conscious have faded. They never function long enough for any victim of this disease to formulate clear thought. My uncle is no longer free.
            I’ve never been fond of media-based evangelism, but I partake just the same. I learn from each Pastor, from each sermon they make from their mount. For the most part, I indulge so that I know what not to do and how not to think. In recent years, I have regularly listened to a local Christian radio station here in Kitchener, Ontario. I turn it on in the car during rides I take about the town. The range of the broadcast is rather weak outside the city limits. Come afternoon, Christian music permeates from 93.9 Faith FM,  but the morning is filled with evangelical content. You can go to Church while you’re waiting at the drive-thru. Midmorning talk programs, Christian education series and speciality programs greet me on my way to the Wal-Mart and anger me in the Tim Horton’s parking lot. I find Through the Bible an informative journey into scripture and Walk in the Word a great insight into how Christian fundamentalists see the world.
            I had no idea that the In Touch program I frequently listen to at 11:30 AM was the audio version of the same show my Father and brother Alan watch on weekends. They have always spoke highly of these lectures and sermons. Earlier in the week, on my way to get groceries, I turned on Faith FM like I always do en route to spend more money. Dr. Charles F. Stanley was discussing people afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and the state of their salvation. “In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley" is broadcast around the world on radio and  television. Based in the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, the founder Stanley is also a New York Times bestselling author. Both my Dad and brother have expressed deep respect for this proclaimed man of God, but I could never get past the look of him. Thank God for radio.   
            I listened angrily as the good doctor announced the will of god. Those who are struck down by illness, whether Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or anything that inhibits clear thinking, already had their chance to repent. It is not God’s fault when we don’t take advantage of His Grace and Forgiveness. It matters little to the Lord the reason you failed to claim your salvation. The one and only way to God is by accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and saviour. If you haven’t done that then you blew your chance. Strangely enough, he ended his diatribe with the claim that God loves everyone, no matter your situation or circumstance. The gift of salvation is free for all who call on the Lord and His great Mercy.


 

“It is better to risk saving a guilty person than to condemn an innocent one.”
(Zadig ou la Destinée, Voltaire 1747)

            Throughout the very human history of religion, malignant ideas have always risen from a very deep puddle of crap.  The notion that unbaptised babies are sent to Limbo, or Abraham’s Bosom, has persisted all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Church has been notorious in their condemnation and treatment of the mentally ill, those who successfully commit suicide and even the billions of people who exist outside the Christian faith.  Homosexuals, the afflicted and countless sheep who have strayed from His flock are cast into damnation at the very hands of those charged with not judging, loving each other and representing God’s Grace here on earth.
            We are instructed, for most of our lives, to put childish ways behind us and commit to the only true way to find happiness. Whether we are Christian, or Muslim, or a New Age guru, we believe we know the only legitimate course for everyone. If it works for us then it must be the only way. It becomes our mission to bring others the same righteousness and sense of salvation we ourselves have achieved. We rebuke a person’s circumstances and demand they follow our truth. We take those who once were free and we cage them in our own ignorance, thinking we will save them. Jesus himself tells us we should do so, that we must share our good news. 
            I am never surprised when I encounter such limited and selective thinking. My entire life I have been informed that unless I repent I am most certainly going to hell. It doesn’t matter your strength of mind. I still look in the mirror at times and wonder if their thinking is correct. When I feel this way, I have conditioned myself to remember a sermon I was once exposed to as a young man. The Pentecostal preacher, emoting hellfire and brimstone, commented on a girl from another Church in the area. At 15 years of age, she cut herself so deeply that she bled out on her bedroom floor.  “It’s easy to admit defeat when things like this happen,” he explained to the maddened crowd. “God wins some and He loses some.”  

 “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:41b-45, NIV)

 

 

 
Sources

http://canada.intouch.org/
http://www.intouch.org/about/about-dr.-charles-stanley?utm_source=ITM&utm_medium=Web&utm_canada_campaign=Home_top_slider
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbo


 

 
Photos

http://www.projectinspired.com/10-beautiful-depictions-of-jesus-with-his-children/

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Amusing Myself


            The simple things in life are no longer free. Not that they were to begin with. You can still find your thrill on Blueberry Hill but it’ll cost ya. The modern way is the profitable way. You have to pay for access to swim at the beach. It might take some change if you want to pee in a public facility. You pay a toll to drive on a highway, or to cross the border, and even air from a pump costs fifty cents. You need money to buy that diamond ring, an expression of your everlasting love and financial devotion. Everything has a monetary value and usually there are hidden charges to boot. Dreams are all we get for free. Sometimes even our dreams end up with a price, and quite often the price is more than we are willing to pay.
            I have always loved riding the roller coaster. The anticipation while towing up the steep, then the ecstasy of that first drop when your throat and your stomach almost become one was an experience I consistently longed to repeat. The rush was instant, terrifying and worth every penny. Now I am not so sure. Not only has the sheer size of these monoliths grown with every year, but the cost to get to ride one has turned from reasonable to ridiculous. If everything has a price, when do we finally reach it? When did our greatest pleasures go up for sale? Until recently, every year since the time I was a boy I have ventured to an amusement park of one size or another. Every summer from the age of 7, I took a nosedive into thin air and usually came out screaming. These days, I can’t even be bothered to take the time to watch, let alone indulge.
            Until I was a teenager, the only thing I ever really liked about Superman was his ability to fly. He was faster than a speeding bullet. Each roller coaster ride was my chance to join him. I would raise my arms and let loose into abandon. I could soar over parts unknown, all the while secured in my own little cab. What a thrill it was for me back then. Even those things that are associated with roller coasters I look back on with glee, rather than the disdain I originally held towards them. Standing in line for well over an hour just for the delight of riding the rails. Hundreds of strangers pressed in together, inching the way forward half a foot at a time; The Pavlovian announcement, recorded ten years earlier, repeating over and over that one must “wait for the ride to come completely to a stop”, children crying endlessly from waiting in the hot sun and the occasional wad of puke flying at your face in mid-air. All these things, in retrospect, merely added to the experience of a day spent amusing myself. All these things now come at quite a price.


           

            At the end of grade 2, in June of 1972, my class was rewarded with a day at an amusement park. Designed specifically for children, the Centreville Amusement Park is located on Centre Island, part of the Toronto Islands. Located offshore of the city of Toronto in Lake Ontario, the quaint setting is a summer tradition for Torontonians.  Built in 1967, the park is home to a carousel (made in 1907), miniature railway and the log ride. Currently, more than 30 other rides, all aimed at kids under 12, greet the fare. Until the age of 7, I had only ever passed by anything resembling such a place. Parking lots filled with rides and games was only a tease to me then. The ferry ride my class took to the island that day, from shore to shore, was an experience I have always remembered, but by the time the day was done, the last thing I wanted to do was ride anything. I remember, most of all, my first dive into the pool of thrilling. I was almost shaking with anticipation as I finally got my ticket to fly. 
            The log flume ride may be a water ride, but it is a roller coaster nonetheless. My Dad had informed me of just this fact the night before my adventure. Unfortunately, the drop itself was anticlimactic. I remember telling myself that I had been thrilled more at the neighbourhood park just by swinging far too high for my own good. The only thing I got out of it was wet. I craved something more but spent the rest of the day standing in line with the rest of my class, going from kiddie ride to kiddie ride searching for satisfaction which never came. Although, at the end of the trip I was exhausted from a day at play, my weariness more from wasted energy than tons of fun. I was glad I didn’t have to pay to get in.
            I never went back to the Centreville attraction, although I often see it at a distance from the shoreline, and on occasion from the Billy Bishop airport located right beside it. While I may still yawn from the memory of my first roller coaster ride, I am filled with youthful exuberance when I remember the way the entire day made me feel. Much jubilance, heightened anticipation and the need for speed I recall succinctly. It was the beginning of the chase for me, but disappointment was the cost. I had no idea the price everyone else had to pay. What would have been a few dollars for admission in the early 1970s is now 20-30 dollars per child (depending on your height). Still, disappointment did not leave me penniless. That one event sent me on a near 40 year journey in search of a greater and wilder roller coaster rush. The day itself turned out to be the biggest tease of all. While it may have been free, it was, at least, worth the price of admission. 

The Log Flume Ride
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-4VFw2BB3A

            I just could not get enough. Not enough was most certainly not due to a lack of trying. For the next few years, any chance I got to take a ride I took wholeheartedly. From school carnivals to fall fairs, every time I saw a challenge I just had to take it and I was an annoying little shit if I didn’t get my way. Some would argue that not much has changed, but I digress. The most cursed of manmade regulation always came in the form of the dreaded height requirement. Even as a kid I recognized the importance of secure seating. The idea of being flung into the air was one thing, but having to land on your face was an entirely different story. This made little difference to my disposition when refused entry to the bigger kids’ rides. Back then, I wanted on the adult rides and damn the regulation! Being little cost me a lot of fun. Always the price, never the payoff.
              My public school was kinda cool. Not only did each class get individual field trips throughout the year, but starting  at the end of my 4th grade, every student received free admission to the CNE with their final report card. My friends got one, my siblings got one and I got one. Finally, the satisfaction I had longed for would be quenched before the end of summer. I can see myself searching through The Toronto Star newspaper for weeks, trying to figure out the rides I could master. I spent my summer building momentum within, fixated by the anticipation such an event held for me as a child. Just a few days before the gates opened and there it was. On the inside page, just to the left, laid out in full colour sat The Mighty Flyer. I prayed immediately to God, begging He let them let me on the darned thing. A wooden roller coaster, the Flyer was added to the park in 1953. It was a permanent fixture until 1992.
            With five children to deal with, my Mom was not able to take us alone. We all had to wait until my Father got a full day off from work before we could explore Exhibition Place. After parking, we all sauntered together towards the front entrance. Almost instantly, the Princes’ Gate appeared before us in all its glory. Built to celebrate Canada’s 60th anniversary of Confederation, the monument was “officially opened by princes Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), and Prince George (later the Duke of Kent), on August 31, 1927, during that year's CNE.” To this day, many mistakenly call this architectural wonder “The Princess Gates”, but it was the Royal brother’s visit that defined it. Designed in the 18th century “Beaux-Arts style”, the gates are made from a mixture of concrete and stone. Resting on top, the “Goddess of Winged Victory (an oversized angel that I thought had been crafted by Michelangelo) peered out over the waterfront, a beacon called Nike, the ancient Greek archetype for victory.
            47 years later, to the day, on Saturday, August 31st 1974, we all passed under the main arch. All those free admission passes started my parents’ day just right. I almost peed myself with excitement. I had waited so long. The Canadian National Exhibition  (also called “The Ex”) first opened in 1879, “largely to promote agriculture and technology in Canada.” The annual event runs “during the 18 days leading up to and including Canadian Labour Day Monday.” Permanently located at Exhibition Place, a 192 acre lot near the harbourfront, just west of downtown Toronto, the CNE was originally known as the “Toronto Industrial Exhibition.” It was renamed in 1912 to the Canadian National Exhibition when the focus of the event shifted from mere agriculture and industry to a more carnival oriented theme. The late summer brings “pavilions, exhibits, shows, concerts, a working farm, horse show, petting zoo, casino, and a large carnival midway with rides, games and food.” Located on the south side of the park, parallel to Lake Shore Boulevard, sat the object of my attention, The Mighty Flyer.
            In my mind, I can see my family travelling from building to building, zone to zone, breathing in the scent of Lake Ontario, washed in the atmosphere of all those people on a hot summer’s day. The Pepsi serving tray we got in the Food Building has been a constant touchstone on the walls of my homes ever since. My Mom fought off the crowds while waiting in line for the offer of 1-cent drinks as we all sat crammed into a corner of the massive pavilion. The reward was that metal tray, 7 tiny tastes of Pepsi, and a memory etched deep into my being. Having arrived mid-morning, it was not until mid-afternoon that we finally made our way to the midway and all the things that came with it. Stuffed animals, games of chance and cotton candy are still framed like pictures in my mind. There was so much to do, and so much to see, that I forgot all about the adventure that waited for me on this side of the expo. Clanging bells, carnie cries and flashing lights greeted us all as we journeyed into the realm of sheer delight.
            The 4 foot height requirement was all that stood between me and that wooden beast. My brother Alan secured the tickets needed to mount the steed, while my sibling Phillip and I held his place in line. As we approached my possible doom, my oldest brother Al whispered, “Walk on your tiptoes.” With a sigh set in fear, I approached as instructed and soon found myself sitting, a safety bar my new best friend. Slowly it crept to the edge of terror, releasing itself like a rocket ship blasting off into space. I loved it. I wanted to ride it, over and over, but one more time and I had reached my imposed limit. The thrill, the rush, the satisfaction that met me, all had been denied me in the past. As the day turned to early evening, as we left by the gates from whence we had entered, I pranced like a little girl, all filled with joy. Under my arm was a Pepsi logo, painted on an oval piece of aluminum, free to cherish forever. The price was right. The summer evening eventually turned to darkness and we all made it home. Exhausted yet enthralled, I fought the need to sleep. I laid in bed consciously dreaming, wondering when next I would get the chance to fly.

A Mighty Flyer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFQzfs-rudU

            Canada’s Wonderland opened on May 23, 1981. The 330-acre theme park is located in Vaughan, Ontario, a suburb 40 km directly north of Toronto. At the time, it was “the first major theme park in Canada and remains the country's largest.” Currently, the park has 16 roller coasters, “more than any other park outside of the United States.” The park opens in early May and also features a 20-acre water park called Splash Works. It remains open into late fall for the Halloween Haunt, a ghoulish-themed event held during late evenings until the end of October. Wonderland has been “the most visited seasonal theme park in North America for several consecutive years.” With over 200 attractions and 60 thrill rides,  it remains a viable option for Canadians unable to afford trips to Cedar Point in Ohio, Six Flags parks throughout the US, and even Disneyland or Disney World. When the park first opened, so did a new world of possibilities for coaster aficionados north of the 49th parallel.
            Between 1981 and 1995, I amused myself at the park at least 7 times. Whether with my family, my partners or my friends, every visit found me soaring the skies.  From Wilde Beast, a wooden monster (built in 1981), to the Bat, a metal monolith (built in 1987), being an adult finally had full benefits. I never once had to worry about height requirements. Over the years, along with the mix of roller coasters, I also took to ride at Happy Landing, twice. The children’s ride, also called Swan Lake, moved at the speed of a slug. It was the perfect initiation, on different occasions, for my nephew Matthew and niece Jessica, both of whom talked me into taking them around and around a tiny lake on the back of a large white plastic bird. In August of 1991, Amy Grant played the Kingswood Music Theatre, an open air concert venue located deep within the park. Her tour promoted the very successful Heart in Motion,  released earlier in March of that year. My first partner Doug and I made sure that this grand occasion would not be missed. We spent a lot of money on tickets for ourselves, my Mom and Dad and several closer members of the family. For most of the concert, I left them all alone on the grass section and wandered down to the foot of the stage for an up close experience. At concert’s end, as we left the park, my Mom exclaimed, “She’s just like Janet Jackson!!”    
            In June of 1995, 5 months after Doug’s death, my brother Alan and a hoard of family members convinced me to “get away” for a day of fun and frolic at the park. It was a fine idea, but one I will admit I was not socially ready for. Lost in some esoteric la-la land, I followed everyone around like a zombie, but better dressed. I felt much guilt just from having fun. From one attraction to another, I questioned everything. Each  amusement only convinced me more that life was futile. All of that indulgence only made me more confident that the world was a waste of time and such pleasures are nothing but escapism from the reality of death and darkness. As the day progressed, my family eventually got their way. I started out small, on quieter rides like the Pirate Ship and White Water Canyon. No matter the despair I was experiencing inside, I could not ignore the temptation I was experiencing on the outside. Roller coasters like Dragon Fire, the Mighty Canadian Minebuster, and Skyrider (a standing roller coaster) were much too alluring, no matter how surreal the process seemed.
            Just inside the front gates, from the day the park opened, sits my favourite roller coaster of all. Other coasters far more grand in speed and size have thrilled me over the years, but nothing compares with the Wilde Beast. Since the debut of the park in 1981, it was always the very first and very last ride I escaped on each visit. As twilight falls over the park, crowds stand in line at the larger and more popular rides, leaving this wooden and best-loved fury almost empty of riders. With no waiting in line, it was easy to enjoy it over and over again until the park closed up for the day. I’ve always had a fancy for wooden roller coasters, but the Wilde Beast has always maintained my favour. It’s four minute duration, from start to finish, is a rattling, shaking, rickety explosion of thrust and velocity. Other thrill seekers may find it rather calm, considering the other options that now thrive throughout the park, but for me it stands as the very best tradition. Its metal cousins, which rise farther into the skyline, may be bigger and stronger and faster, but as far as I am concerned, there is nothing like the real deal, the original ride. 
            Once we got inside the park, we ventured past my aging preference and I didn’t even notice it. I dragged back behind my family, quite sober in my grief. The hot morning sun and high humidity only added to my misery, well knowing the temperatures the rest of the day would bring. As our visit progressed and I slowly came to life, I tried to concentrate on the children we had brought along with us. The least I could do was try to make their first day in Wonderland as much fun for them as mine had been for me. Somewhere between Timberwolf Falls and Jet Scream, I started to enjoy the day. I almost forgot about the outside world, and for a moment or two, I even laughed. Laughter turned to smiling and smiling turned to pleasure. I escaped. I had amused myself. As touches of the night to come fell like a giant soft shadow, I found my joy back where I had left it. Over and over, at least 10 times, I rode my old friend; it was still a wild beast.  
            The third go round on the Wilde Beast may have seemed exactly the same for someone else, but I had the strangest experience on the figure 8 design. The “double out-and-back coaster” flung me down its steep and into thrillville. As we approached the first loop, I journeyed away, pushed to a place I did not want to go. I saw death, the actual process of dying, like it was this roller coaster ride. Up you go and over the hump, where the greatest fear never leaves you hanging. Down you flow into the unknown of that moment. You can scream all you want, but once it starts, there is nothing you can do until it all ends. Maybe this is what dying is like? After all, life most certainly is one hell of a ride and all this living, like riding the rails, comes at quite a price.


             The last time I had been to the CNE was with my late partner Doug on Friday, September 2nd 1994. For the decade after, I had no wish to revisit this place ever again. I believed the experience would just hurt too much. Time, it appears, always manages to take away the pain. Since the mid-2000s, I had urged my current partner to explore it with me. It was not until August 27th 2012 that I finally took the journey back with my nephew Matt, now an adult. When I was a child, it cost 5 dollars to enter the fair (or a free pass). When Doug and I made the excursion in 1994, it cost 8 dollars (or a free pass) to enter “the Ex”. There would be no free pass on this August day. Including two 16 dollar entrance fees, and 35 dollars to park, just getting in cost more than the outfit I was wearing, including my suede work boots.
            For 2 hours we wandered in the heavy pouring rain. Most of the pavilions were closed and/or under repair. You could not see horses, or competitions, and all the livestock for viewing were crammed into small plastic mangers, unfit for any beast. It all seemed so tiny to me. Even the Food Building, so massive from my 9-year-old point of view, was now nothing more than an oversized food court, crammed with the same brands and the same venues around every corner. In the place my Mother had waited in line for 1-cent Pepsi now stood a falafel booth. We covered the entire grounds, well knowing we saw everything, not that there was anything worth seeing. Despite the rain, we skirted about the deserted midway, looking for the Mighty Flyer. It was nowhere to be found. I had no idea that it had been removed from the park all the way back in 1992. I must not have noticed when Doug and I were there just a few years later.
            Everything had changed and not much for the better. It was a futile attempt at rediscovering my youth. Even Matthew agreed there was nothing to it but “a buy this and buy that” mentality. The pavilions that once housed exhibits, and displayed historical documents and artefacts, were nowhere to be found.  It was more of a flea market than “the Ex” of my youth. Without question, it was in no way worth the price of admission. The waste of time experience had overcharged and we both wanted a refund.  I cannot imagine any reason I would ever want to go back. Weather or no weather, there was nothing left that the park could offer me. There wasn’t even a place for me to fly.
            In May of 2008, my partner Ben and I both purchased a season’s pass for Canada’s Wonderland. At over eighty dollars apiece ($84.70 including taxes), we felt we could save some cash rather than paying $58.99 per person per visit. We had been to the park several times in the years preceding this decision and felt confident that, with a new roller coaster and other thrill rides added that season, we would spend the summer here amusing ourselves. At that moment, we planned on returning many times. Although we covered the entire park that day, and took to most of the rides we normally indulged in (including 6 twilight turns on Wilde Beast), it was Behemoth that we came to witness and then conquer. Holy crap, that sucker is big!

Behemoth
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADkwC7dlRQk

             Behemoth is a massive steel roller coaster that premiered in the park on May 4th 2008. The newly built “Hyper Coaster” is a “continuous-circuit” model with a height or drop (lift hill/steep) measuring greater than 200 feet. With a height requirement of more than 54 inches (4.5 feet), I myself had no worry regarding this regulation. For just a minute, we questioned if Ben might reach the top. The bright yellow and orange facade called to us throughout the day, but the 2 hour wait in line was far less enticing. We explored the familiar grounds surrounding it until the crowds seemed to thin out a little. In the end, rather than having to wait in the sun for those 2 hours, we only had to melt away for 1 hour. Those 60 minutes were uneventful but nonetheless searing.    
            From the 70-meter peak (almost 230 feet), one can see the CN Tower in the distance. To the right, the entire park is visible and appears like some oversized board game. Slowly, methodically we were pulled to the hump, rising into the air and reaching a height I had only dreamed of as a boy. Then suddenly, “the train drops from the peak at a 75-degree angle to reach the maximum speed of 125 kilometres per hour (78 mph) in 3.9 seconds.” I almost tossed my lunch. Ben wanted to ride it again but it had been a little much for me. Believing it was the hot sun that weakened my resolve, and with a season’s pass in hand, we finished out the day and headed home, without any more flying.
            On August 22nd 2008, we finally got the chance to take advantage of the value in our season passes. We spent most of our time wandering in the summer heat, questioning what the hell we were doing. Convincing ourselves that coming to the park more than once a year was a good idea turned out to be a very expensive mistake. We just were not into it. I got to ride the Wilde Beast, but only once when we first entered the front gates. Even my old wooden friend was no longer a great thrill. All in all, we rode about 5 rides throughout the day, including our swan dive on Behemoth. This ride was my last ride. When I found solid ground, for the very first time since the Centreville log ride, I regretted taking to flight. We have not returned since. There is a good chance we never will. Not even the call of a bigger, faster and larger demon called Leviathan (opened May 6th 2012) has been able to lure me off the ground. 

Leviathan
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv9EBWjkpyY

             I am getting older. Paying for the privilege of having my liver come up through my throat at 100 mph is no longer appealing. I won’t even get on the swing set at the park down the street. I’ve learned enough about amusement. I’ll take a quiet day and go with that. It most certainly would be cheaper. They say you can’t go home again, I say who would want to? The privilege of paying for fun I leave to the youth of today. No more coasters for me. No more sense of speed. No more flying. Some pleasures in life may be up for sale, but I’m no longer buying. 

 

 

 
 

Sources

http://entertainmentdesigner.com/history-of-theme-parks/shoot-the-flume-the-origins-of-the-log-ride/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exhibition_Place
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaux-Arts_architecture
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nike_(mythology)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Beast_(roller_coaster)
https://www.canadaswonderland.com/rides/Thrill-Rides/Wild-Beast
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_(roller_coaster)

 

 


Photos
 
http://www.storiesfromschoolaz.org/2012/06/the-roller-coaster.html

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Unseenmingly



“Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”
(Cormac McCarthy, American novelist and playwright)

            There are rings around Uranus. There are even more around Neptune and Jupiter. These rings are not clearly visible. They are much “smaller, darker and fainter than the rings of Saturn.” It was not until the 1970s that they were first discovered. It was not until 2013 that I first learned of this fascinating fact. Apparently, they have been there all long. Each of these four giant gas planets, in our outer Solar System, “is orbited by rings of dust and small particles of matter.” All that debris floating in the heavens at a distance that no one can see. Secret things, at least it would seem.

 
            In 1610 CE, Galileo peered out into space and realized that rings surround the planet Saturn.  Over 400 years later and we have finally started to realize the invisible beauty of our celestial neighbourhood. We cannot “view” these rings, but astronomers know they are there. The fine material in them is “so diffuse they cannot be seen from Earth,” but modern technology has allowed us a glimpse into a new reality about our universe. Rings are common. They have always been there and we had no idea.
            There is great debate over the question of whether Pluto, and even Mars, may may also have a ring system. We should know more about the icy former in 2015, when New Horizons, a “NASA robotic spacecraft mission,”  finally reaches this newly coined dwarf planet. It is speculated that Earth itself, billions of years ago, was orbited by remnants of a “Mars sized object” which crashed into our planet and sent ring material into the outer atmosphere. It is believed that this debris was eventually fused together to form our Moon. Mankind has even created its own ring around this planet. Space debris and orbital junk drift forever high above terra firma.  No matter our good intentions, we tend to emulate nature in our own moronic ways.
            Every day, it seems, we are discovering even more wonders in the heavens. I cannot begin to imagine all that human beings have yet to learn. The possibilities seem endless, but I suppose that’s one thing this universe is good for. It keeps revealing to us its majesty. It calls out of the unknown. Things we could not have even imagined 500 years ago are now tangible, identifiable, but nonetheless brilliant. Perhaps that is what the cosmos is for. We keep asking for some answers when, just maybe, they have been in front of our faces all along.  

 “The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” (Anaïs Nin, French-American author)

            My childhood was filled with nature. The area where I grew up in Toronto was surrounded by ravines and forest. The Don River was just down the street. Outside of the city, both sets of my Grandparents had large sections of land, ripe with all different kinds of this and that. The maternal pair had an expansive lot, cultivated for gardens and farm stock. Across the street, tobacco fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Until I turned 6, I thought that green was the only colour. I was exposed to almost every kind of creature one could imagine. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects roamed the land as if humans were not even there. My paternal grandparents lived on a huge space, towering over the Wingham river. The steep but friendly incline always led to grand adventure. I learned how to fish on these riverbanks. I gutted my first victim here. The river made for scenic canoe rides, wild animal sightings alongside meadows that seemed to stretch out into forever. Come winter, we travelled along the frozen shore and into the hillsides, all deep with snowy white. One Christmas, I killed my first tree here and then took it home to die. No matter the length of time we spent in the city, my parents made sure we got the entire picture when it came to God’s Creation.
            Every year my family spent time at these places, escaping from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Eventually, we came to live on the very same land we all played on as children. I also spent many a summer with my cousin Lisa, roaming central Ontario in search of something outdoorsy to do. The chill of the Wingham river made for a refreshing dance with the fishes that nipped at your feet. In Strathroy, nature discovered you, while in Wingham, nature was everywhere to be found. From playing badminton with live toads to collecting dozens of snakes in the basement, learning about the ways of the world did not only come from observation. For me, growing up meant getting your hands dirty. Gardening and growing things were creative but nonetheless filthy endeavours. Somehow, among all the concrete and all the artificial green space that came with city dwelling, my parents managed to expose all of their children to the real world and the wonders of life on this planet.
            In the summer of my 6th year, I first stayed at my Grandparents’ place in my Mom’s hometown of Strathroy, Ontario. For the next few years, this became an annual tradition. My siblings and I spent a couple of weeks “roughing it” in what we considered the country. We took swimming lessons, played in the fields and discovered streams and jungles around the neighbourhood. Having just turned 6 years old in May of 1971, I was restricted in my exploration of the area circumferential to the York Street residence. Although confined to the immediate grounds, there was plenty to engage both my imagination and my curiosity regarding all the natural surroundings.  My Grandmother quickly grew tired of all the bugs I brought into her home so she gave me a jar, stabbed two holes in the lid, and sent me on a quest to find an elusive caterpillar.


            I had no idea what a caterpillar was, but she assured me I would know one when I saw it. Its long, hairy body and all those legs were dead giveaways once I had discovered one. Carefully I picked it up from the path it travelled, placed it in the jar, and ran back to Grandma Norah with my brand new friend. It is not often I think of this woman pleasantly, but at this moment she shined to me. Taking the lid off, placing leaves and grass inside for food, she took a small stick and wedged it within. I had to promise her not to disturb the creature for the fear that I might squish it. Her instruction was exquisite to this young boy’s ears. She told me that something wonderful would happen if I left my new pal alone. The magic found in Creation would, in the end, amaze me. I was captivated by what happened next. First the bug seemed to hang from a limb, then some type of casing formed around it. All I had to do was wait, then suddenly, just like the magic I had been promised, a butterfly appeared. I was astonished, dumbfounded and somewhat scared. This beautiful creature had stolen my friend. God had kidnapped him and he was nowhere to be found.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
(Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist)

            The distance from the spot where I had died to the spot I had been discovered alive is approximately 1000 metres. A bone yard path seems to have led the way. The Avondale cemetery in Stratford, Ontario is an expansive collection of tombstones dating back as far as the early 1800s. The mammoth size of the land is dwarfed by these seemingly endless rows of marker after marker, each section with an invisible but recognizable separation. When you enter the graveyard, ancient relics greet you in all their former glory. A huge mausoleum, at one of the entrances, is a testament to the money that people will spend on the dead. The centre flat is filled with Catholic and Military headstones. This mixture of angels, Mother Mary and  modest limestone monuments line up, some as if they were dominos. The Cenotaph is a striking epitaph to the price of greed and power. The modern era internments vary from traditional to cremation. A brand new Cremation Memorial now stands beside hundreds of graves that were not there 10 years ago. So many people, all dying to get in.    
            I arrived in town from the southwest. I popped all that Valium like it was candy. I entered the dark and abandoned cemetery around 9 PM on Sunday, February 19th 1995. It was bloody cold out. I do not recall anything once I got past the front gates. I was discovered near the train tracks around noon of the next day. For all the cold, for all the snow, in spite of the deep February winter, I was fine. Other than taking a day or two to wake up, not one side effect of my suicide attempt met me after the other side. Yes, I recall having a Near Death Experience, but in no way does it explain why there was no medical consequence to my actions. No frostbite was found anywhere on my body. Even frost burn failed to caress my exposed skin. My toes, my fingers, even my ears, were left intact and uncompromised by the event. Sub-zero degrees had barely lowered my core body temperature. By the time I awoke in hospital, even the Valium had faded from my system. I sat up startled and filled with resentment.
            In my mind, I had died. My NDE remains, almost 20 years later, the strongest memory I have from this life. My body, however, lives on with no clear explanation as to why. Of all the doctors I have questioned regarding this outcome, not one has been able to explain it away. Every time I speak of it to a Minister, or a Priest, they always reply, ”It wasn’t your time.” A Christian fundamentalist preacher even had the audacity to claim that “God doesn’t want you!” Regardless, I am still here against every odd. I truly understand the unpredictability of the human body. Many men and women, before and after this time, have experienced greater and stranger phenomenon. To be frank, I really don’t care about their metaphysical encounters. I want to comprehend mine first. I want to know what happened and why things didn’t happen. I long to know how this could be. I spent all these years wondering, questioning, looking and all I have come to understand is exactly what I knew before. 


“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” (Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese-American artist, poet and writer)

            With few exceptions, we cannot see the human soul. You cannot reach out and touch gravity or radio waves. It is impossible to physically hold on to love. These unseen forces are all around us but invisible to the mortal eye. They are beyond our grasp as we cannot touch them. This does not automatically negate their existence. Despite their intangible nature, we know that they are real. We have come to understand that they are. Of course, someone had to discover them to reveal them. Sometimes the truth hides from us and we have to search and search until we find it. Sometimes the truth is right in front of our faces, but we care not to see; we want things to be the way they have always been. Inevitably, there will always be unanswered questions, inquiries we can never hope to have answered The truth is you can’t always know the truth. 
            It is disappointing to learn that one cannot know everything. So much is still unseen. Some questions are better left unexamined, I suppose. Some things we can never know. Some things we must discover for ourselves. Some things we don’t want to know. Either way, you have to learn to live with the unknown. The truth might come to light at some point, affirming the answer was there all along. On occasion, coming face to face with the unknown might well scare the crap out of you. You may even resolve yourself  to not knowing. If you knew, after all, then gone would be the mystery. 
 
“Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”
 (King Henry VI - Part 2, Act 4, Sc 7 William Shakespeare)

 

 

 

Sources

http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=206
http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/Rings_Around_the_Planets.cfm
http://www.spacetoday.org/SolSys/ExploringSolarSystem/ExploringRings.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_debris

http://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/files/cem_glossary.pdf
http://www.cremationassociation.org/?page=CremationOptions

 

 


Photos
 
http://mail.colonial.net/~hkaiter/planetwebpages08/FOV1-000338E1/planet%20project.html
http://benthamshouse.blogspot.ca/2008/09/butterflies-of-barbados.html
http://www.photographersdirect.com/buyers/stockphoto.asp?imageid=2324512

 

 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More than Hello



 

“Life can change in the blink of an eye
You don't know when and you don't know why
Forever young is a big fat lie
For the one who lives and the one who dies.”
(Shovel in Hand, Amy Grant 2013)

             God is cruel. It is almost impossible to escape His hard, cold reality. To have created life, to allow us to evolve, to make us believe He surely lives, these are mere illusions to trick us into thinking that all is well and good in the world.. There is nothing friendly about this mortal existence. The disturbing truth is that by creating life, He also created death. By acting through nature, He allows nature to be in control. For God to live, and in so doing for Him to allow suffering and pain and decay, often makes Him seem more a villain than a friend. There is always a price to pay, a cost for all our living. God always has the last word and that word is always goodbye.
             It is all around me. It tortures my soul, leaving me quite helpless, heartbroken and burdened. Sometimes all I see is death. My family, my friends, my pets, all are leaving with little room left for me to catch my breath. Death stands as the most frequent invader within the life I have lived. While I recognize that nothing goes on forever, and that time is a curse, I do not understand the need for such things. Why can’t heaven be first? Why must living be the only lesson? I get it. I realize life is hard and then you die. They put you in a box, toss you in a hole and feed you to the worms. Sometimes they set you ablaze. I suppose we should be thankful that it doesn’t occur the other way around.
            I am not afraid of death, but dying scares the shit out of me. I don’t believe that anyone really wants to die. Even people who commit suicide just wish things would get better. Every creature held beneath the waves will struggle to survive. Others can have faith in heaven all they want, but who wants to croak to get there? The good news, for any believer, is that once you migrate from this place, you stop decaying altogether. First you have to get there (and you will). Religion would remind us that we are created to die, that since the day we are born, we are in fact dying. It can seem a long process, although mostly shorter than we’d like. Some pay it no heed. Some are so afraid to die that they never learn how to actually live. Most keep walking, destination unknown, all the while thinking that they “have been learning how to live” when really they “have been learning how to die” (Leonardo da Vinci).
            Death is the final destination we all share. It is the inevitable. It is the one common factor we have with all other living things. All the plants, all the critters, every single human being on the face of this planet must die. Only gods have ever escaped it. It’s so true that nothing ever really lasts and nothing ever remains the same. Death is, in fact, the greatest agent of this change. It makes way for new life and cleans out the old. In constant flux, we live, we grow, then we fade. Some have been convinced that life keeps going after you pass, that it simply takes another form. Some believe we are nothing but that food for those worms. To those who cannot embrace either position, it seems just a nasty, despicable thing to initiate.
            There are times when I would just like to punch God in the fucking face. Perhaps I’m not in on some celestial joke, but I don’t think any of this is funny. Maybe I am a heretic for thinking that God should be accountable. Why doesn’t He have to follow all the rules He set for us? If I am not to kill then why is it okay for Him to do so? If there is life after death, why would He put us all through this? Would it have been such a stretch for us to start out there rather than here? You can argue that life isn’t fair, but I say that death isn’t fair. What a shitty thing to do to someone you claim to love. I can only hope that He had no other choice in the matter. I can’t be sure, but I occasionally wonder if He is just lazy, a big benevolent slug with nothing better to do than peer at us all through His view to the kill. Thanks to the laws of nature, God does so without having to do anything but watch. Considering the whole suffering “Jesus thing”, I would have imagined a new vehicle for joining Him in heaven would have been in order. I guess watching Himself suffer, or His son (you pick the label), made for good entertainment. To allow, to manifest such a process indicates, to me at any rate, that God gets off on all this death.  
            So the price of living then is dying. For all joy there must be greater pain. There is no going back, each of us is on our way. “What will be, will be,” they say. I guess I am thankful for one thing. I don’t know when it’s going to happen even though I know it eventually will. Personally, I would rather not know who is going to stay and who is going to go, including myself. Still, I just can’t seem to stop asking, “Who’s next?” The time I have left I should simply leave alone, hoping the illusion called life is exactly that. Life is cruel. The best one can do is to have faith that everything will be okay in the long run. Considering, faith is often not enough to ease my mind.    

“Nothing ventured nothing gained
The risk of living is the pain
And what will be will be anyway
Oh, it's better not to know
The way it's gonna go
What will die and what will grow
Goodbye more than hello
It's better not to know”
(Better Not To Know, Amy Grant 2013)
 
            I seem to have misplaced my Faith. I must have put it down somewhere. It is nowhere to be found. I now have nothing to lean on in these troubled times. My trust has gone to sleep. There is no Blessed Assurance to comfort me, no personal relationship with something Holy to rely on. I must depend on me. I must find any hope in my head and the peace that passes all understanding only lives in my dreams. At some point, I think I got lost. In trying to find Him, I have misplaced it all. He is not where I have been looking. He is nowhere to be found.  
            One of the best by-products of religion is having something to trust in and something to lean on. My Agnosticism brings no spiritual comfort. It separates me from that personal relationship with God. I have lost a place to hide. I am starting to realize how important having it is to have something “tangible” to hold on to when trying to survive god. In a world not knowing, I end up knowing nothing. In a world made up of nothing, I end up all alone. I recognize that any lack of definition does not mean there is no God, but I cannot simply float out in the cosmos praying that I am right. My mortal limitations require the more tactile and emotional experiences I have within religion. I need to pray. I need to praise. Fellowship and communion I sorely miss. I often yearn to hear from Jesus in the way He always comforted me in the past.      
            How does one resolve the knowledge one has with the belief one needs? They do not always flow in juxtaposition. I guess you can’t have it both ways. You really do have to pick one side of the fence or the other. All sitting on a post gives you is a sore ass. When I was a boy and a death occurred, I used to know exactly where the dead would go. The idea of Heaven was the one thing that I really gained comfort from. By recognizing that God would take care of “them”, and I would see each one again, I could handle the grief and the sorrow. The foundation of my birth religion allowed me the freedom to Hope. In that Hope, I was always able to find some semblance of peace.
            Now that I no longer understand, I doubt. Doubt leads to fear. Because I cannot rationalize where we go after death, I am left reaching for something I can no longer locate. This is why religion works so well for so many. These spiritual institutions promote stability and offer guarantees in the face of such horrible factors. As a Christian, with Jesus you get the security that more intellectual schools of thought fail to offer. This is what religion is for. We are born into a particular faith structure for that purpose. Only it can offer our personality and Spirit what it requires on an esoteric level. The belief system we are born into is the foundation of all our ethereal needs.

“If I could see what the Angels see
Behind the walls
Beneath the sea
Under the avalanche
Through the trees
Gone would be the mystery
If I could see ...
 
If I could know what the Angels know
That death’s goodbye
Is love’s hello
And spirits come
And spirits go
I feel them but they never show
If I could know”
(If I Could See, Amy Grant 2013)

            How do you have a relationship with the unknown? How can anyone be so sure? When I imagine myself in a more “Christian” place, something within me still calls out for me to beware. I’ve thought of joining other groups of faith, but I feel the same way about them. Deep down, I realize that it is not God who makes me feel like this, but rather it is religion and most of the people who partake in the practice that give me great pause. I do not trust the gods they worship. I would rather be spiritually desolate than live such a blatant lie. The hardest time for me while living this life has been when someone I hold dear passes away. In my grief, I long to know if they are okay. The idea I could be with each one someday always managed to pull me through. These days, I feel like Dorothy, but my dog has died and I can’t find the yellow brick road. I want to make it in the end, but I have no idea in hell where I am going. There is no magic to direct me. I have been running around with munchkins, looking for a way home, even though I realized long ago that I was never in Kansas to begin with.   
            I am resolved to do the only thing I truly know how to do. I get up every day and I live that day the very best way that I know how. I always try to walk the good walk. To be His hands and feet. Each step makes me stronger. Each experience makes me more aware. I take pride in being the man I am despite often feeling like I walk the path alone. I suppose in my own silly way I still believe there is something far more valid to God than that which has been presented in the past. I’m still searching through all the information while trying to discern the truth. Unfortunately, the truth is never the same for anyone. I have to embrace the hope that religion has taught me. I have to remember that no matter how far He seems from me, He is always that much closer.
            It all comes down to trust. You open your eyes, jump out of bed and you carry on. You have to make your life worth living now because tomorrow will never come. This and that matter not, only the other thing is important. I cannot know, you cannot know, not really. We can guess, we can hope, but only by having Faith, whatever it may be, can we find something to hold to. God, at face value, will ease the fear. When someone dies, I often wonder if we have imagined this entire God issue. Are we really just food for the earth? Does heaven and hell and something beyond us really exist? How can I trust in something I cannot see, cannot hear, and most certainly, cannot touch?

 “Hello sunshine
Hello rain
Glad to see you,
Either way
Hey, hey
This is how I greet the day”
(Greet the Day, Amy Grant 2013)

 

 

 
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