Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Self-Indulgent Tripe

“There is nothing to writing.
All you do is sit at a typewriter & bleed.”
(Ernest Hemingway, American author)

            If the truth be told, I am often tempted to turn to atheism. The idea that there is no God is not foreign to me, nor is it unappealing. I have considered it many times in the past. The complexities of science, humanism and my faithlessness towards my God seem almost easy in comparison with theology, dogma and most religious people. I have looked outside of theism for the answers, well knowing no one else has them either. Examining other religious traditions has left the same bad taste in my mouth, only taken from a different cup. I find it difficult to understand how human beings can continue to justify their gods as they do. For all our convincing, for the struggle to know, we seem destined as a people to suffer greater in the realm of stupidity.
            It is our inability to understand or to profit from experience that defines us as a society. We do not learn from the past and we constantly repeat it. We claim to have Faith yet war over the one true God. We place “the bottom line” above humanity and the planet. Every day across the world, people pray to Divine Beings that would kill, ravage and threaten complete annihilation in the name of goodness and right. Everything we touch appears to warp, then melt into a puddle of narcissism and self-indulgent tripe.  Billions of well-intentioned people around the world claim to worship one God or another, yet we continue to ignore the very basic truths that the revelation of each deity holds. We seem blind to the true meaning behind words such as compassion, mercy and forgiveness yet have no problem bestowing them upon ourselves. If you pay close enough attention, even Love itself seems absent most of the time. It is not just unavailable, it is deficient.
            A friend of mine pointed out to me the other day that I already was an atheist. He assumed having no formal faith structure left meant that I had abandoned “the realm of make believe” altogether. He is not far from reality. I don’t believe that any of the world’s religious traditions and esoteric concepts fully represent the true nature and quality of God. It is not that they are wrong, I simply doubt, with much certainty, that we are ever able to truly know God while in this mortal coil. We think we know, but I believe that deep inside, we all ponder and question and scream.

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
 (Alfred Lord Tennyson, British poet)

            All kinds of people have Faith in something Holy. Unfortunately, most don’t act on this Faith. They do not follow the tenets of the very religion they claim to serve. I would rather be a man without Faith and help the sick, be kind to others, and live life with a regard for my fellow man than to claim a seat in heaven only to rest on my laurels. I would rather abandon God Himself than allow an institution to validate harm against anyone. Mankind has the propensity for such goodness but seems crippled by its own overwhelming ego and religious imaginations. We all make grand claims for peace and unity but expect others to come to our way of thinking for resolution. We fill the air with such sweet songs that turn bitter with our sting. It is more than enough to convince me that there is nothing else at all without, just me still sitting and collecting the dead.   
            Some claim that I am running away from God. Somehow my thinking, my new definition, no longer falls in line with the status quo. As if I am a lesser man for challenging, confronting and channelling new ideas about God and what He represents in the greater scheme of things.  Each are trapped inside themselves, unable to think, unable to evolve. They are so high and mighty that they have nowhere left to go but down, way down. To have no Faith is like searching and searching only to discover in the end there was nothing to find. I do not suggest that the religions of the world have no great purpose and do not reveal part of the nature behind the Divine. I suggest that each is tainted, spoiled by the very creature they are meant to save. When religion is corrupted, our vision of God is corrupted. Apparently, Faith can be quite blinding.

“No one really runs away from anything. It’s like a private trap that holds us in like a prison. You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”
(Psycho, Norman Bates 1960)

             The same friend who assumed I was atheist because I no longer professed faith in the Christian God also assumed I had abandoned any desire I once had to proceed with searching for answers on a spiritual level. He was surprised that in light of my experience, I continued to strive to understand God based on any Faith, particularly the Judeo-Christian platform.  I have explained over and over to him that lack of evidence does not negate existence. Just because a room is dark does not mean it is empty. I have attempted to make him understand that, on occasion, even the most intangible idea has great substance. Just because we can’t see or touch something does not mean it isn’t there. He occasionally mocks me for my blind faith. He just doesn’t understand. “Am I in or am I out?” he pleads for clarity. I often refer him to the story I have shared many times in  the past. I digress but for a paragraph. 
            Once upon a time, (I usually begin), men of God headed into the far north to evangelize the aboriginal communities. They were unenlightened and they did not know. Branding weapons of salvation against these heathens, each missionary struck out to save as many souls as possible. With translators, the Bible and Jesus at their side, they went forth with vigour and the Grace of God. Their great commission was bent on revealing the truth of Jesus Christ to every last ignorant one of them. Entire villages were saved from themselves and their falsehoods. Ancient cultures that had been preserved for hundreds of years were infected with the truth that only Jesus is the way to heaven. One shaman, secure in his own philosophies, seemed to question everything that these strangers had to say. He did not know. He would listen carefully, through a translator, then a completely new set of questions would spew from his toothless mouth. He dared to question the authority of a scripture of which he knew nothing. In frustration, one priest played the nastiest card in the deck. Hell has always been trump when heaven just won’t do. When the dangling had concluded and the brimstone was put away, the old man once again sought understanding amidst this chaos. He asked in his own tongue, “If you had not come here, if you had not revealed your God and sin to me, would I still go to this hell?” The priest, bewildered by the man and his inquiry, answered, “If you did not know, then you are not accountable.” Without hesitation, the witch doctor replied in proper English, “Then why in the hell did you tell me?”   

“Why are you scared to dream of god when it’s salvation that you want?”
(Conor Oberst, American singer-songwriter)

            I am a man without a Faith. I no longer believe the way I used to believe. I have witnessed, and experienced, the damage that a manmade god can do. I wish I had never listened to what I am supposed to believe, who I am required to worship. There was no screaming in my head before I was told the only Way. I find the irony almost more than I can stand. I am supposed to believe that by accepting Jesus, I will be saved from Jesus. No devil can cast me into hellfire. I am to rely on salvation from the very thing that might condemn me. There is much to this paradox. To threaten punishment unless one believes seems to me more like something Hitler or Stalin would do than a loving,  benevolent Creator of the universe. The missionary position has always been to save the sinner. In light of my conversion away, I wonder what we really need saving from?  

“The paradox is really the pathos of intellectual life and just as only great souls are exposed to passions it is only the great thinker who is exposed to what I call paradoxes, which are nothing else than grandiose thoughts in embryo.”
(Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher)

            I have experimented with the idea of abandoning it all and becoming an atheist. I have even left my obligation to Christ behind me. While I may no longer have a Faith to live by, I still have much faith. I am certain that everything will be okay in the long run. I have tried to turn off the voice inside my head but it still calls to me, urging me to keep on going, to keep trying, to attempt to understand. I can withdraw from Christian thinking, turn away from a systematic process like organized religion, but I cannot find it within myself to deny the existence of something out in the void, greater than myself. I may be laden with questions that have no answers, but I find it impossible to stop asking them. I want so much to believe despite having a Faith no more.
“A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”  
(C S Lewis, Irish novelist)




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Baa Baa Black Sheep


            Since the onset of textiles, black sheep were not the kind of sheep you wanted in your flock. Baa baa black sheep, we don’t want your wool. Black wool is almost worthless commercially because it cannot be dyed. It is difficult to sell. Even one strand of it can spoil the entire shear. It is no wonder that in antiquity, any sheep that happened to be black were a liability to the owner. Shepherds would remove each one from their flock to restrict inbreeding with white sheep and tainting the purity of the lot. The term “black sheep” evolved from a practical solution for an age-old problem. Along the way, the meaning shifted from simple differences in appearance to the state of one’s character.
            To be the black sheep is usually a negative connotation, one that is synonymous with moral deficiency and lapses in judgment. The black sheep tends to be rebuked and ostracized by their family, friends, people at work, even church members. Any person who is regarded as a disgrace or failure by that family, peer group or faith institution is considered a black sheep. Any member of any group that stands in contrast to the other members of those groups, usually by reason of undesirable character, is a black sheep. It just goes without saying that the group gets to define these unsuitable traits. There is always a black sheep to every flock. No one can be bothered to take their coat either.
            To be a black sheep does not always infer blackballing. It can refer to being special yet still different from the rest of us. Again, this will always depend on exactly who you are talking to and their own view of the person in question. You can choose to be the black sheep. Every rebel, each revolution found movement by breaking away from the norm. Some people take great effort in resisting. They try so hard to be different, so much so that being different becomes who they are. The modern age of information has set upon us all kinds of black sheep. From the Neo-Nazi ex-con calling for the rise of the Fifth Reich to the homosexual teenager who blogs about being bullied at school, it seems that being a black sheep is so much more in fashion these days. Being different gets you noticed and that appears to be all that matters.
            Psychologists now refer to the behaviour of not wanting someone to be part of a group or institution as the "Black Sheep Effect." This tendency to ostracize people that are undesirable is so prevalent the term itself has become the norm. I suppose that in some sense the world would be very different from what it is today had there been no black sheep. Throughout human history, it has been the dreamers, the great thinkers and even the rejects who have shaped our civilization, our culture. Without them and their cause, there would have been no effect.
            One of the greatest challenges in life is to be yourself. For some, it can seem so easy. For others, it is most difficult. This reality we exist within does its very best to ensure we are all like everyone else. Harmony really means conformity. To stand apart, to maintain your fortitude in the face of compliancy, these are not negative traits cast upon the outcast. To think for yourself, to challenge the status quo, to be unique among the obligingness of your fellow men, despite all the consequences, this is integrity. If nothing else, history has taught us to “be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind” (Dr. Seuss).

“He who places self-merit in goods, acknowledges and believes that all good is from himself; because in the goods he does he has regard to himself, and not to the Lord, and accordingly demands recompense on account of his merit. Such a one therefore despises others in comparison with himself, and even condemns them, and consequently in the same proportion recedes from heavenly order, that is, from good and truth.” (Arcana Caelestia, Emanuel Swedenborg c.1749-56)

            I always felt like a black sheep growing up. Sometimes I still feel this way. When I was young, the term was more of a social label that I placed upon myself because I did not always fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have my friends, or a place in the scheme of it all. I was different from other kids. I did not always play well with others. I never understood what my peers where thinking, or why they behaved the way they did. I was often angry. I was introspective, sensitive and felt isolated within my own little world. I preferred sitting with my comic books or playing with my action figures far more than street hockey in the parking lot or checking out girls at the swimming pool. I did those things but they held little interest for me. Books interested me. Adventure interested me. Thinking was my forte and everyone constantly talking seemed only to distract me. This occasionally gave way to resentment. I was a black sheep to a few of my extended family members as well. Telling your Grandmother to fuck off usually results in that sort of label.  I rarely ever bit my tongue or edited what I had to say. With the exception of my parents and a few siblings, I literally felt like I was very much alone.  
            For the most part, I was quite well liked within my immediate family. I got along with most, that is until I stopped being heterosexual. My internal dialogue, while in the closet, coupled with any fragmented rage I brought with me from my childhood, turned me into a force to be reckoned with. I grew up tough, strong and completely resilient. No one dared to say a thing to my face for fear of what I may say or do. I like it this way. Behind my back is a different story. Relatives I had been extremely close with allowed the idea of my homosexuality to dictate their contact. Some even allowed others to use my sexual orientation as a means of demanding they not have anything to do with me. Over and over again, there always seemed to be a reason people stopped calling or neglected any relationship I had built with them. People I had known almost my entire life walked away from me because of what I did under the covers. People can blame someone else for their decisions all they want, but only the individual has the power to stand up for what is right. The times may have changed, being gay may be in fashion and much more accepted, but the bigot never is. Coming out was an expensive decision on my part, despite no longer having to worry about the cost.

“What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?”
(Blessings, Laura Story 2011)

            The summer after my Mother died found me travelling with my Dad and my sister’s family up to Hanover, Ontario to see the remaining members of my maternal bloodline. I had always felt welcome when I visited these people in the past. As I stood discussing my charity work with my Great-Aunt Doreen, she noticed the wedding ring on my wedding finger. It was her inquiry that led me to reveal myself to her. In due course, she proceeded to ask why I had made such an immoral lifestyle choice. Not wanting to offend in return, I quietly said that I had not made such a choice. I had been this way all along. This was not the first or the last time I would be sentenced to hell by someone who had been given the authority to speak for their god. According to her, I was consciously choosing to dance in the flames. When we left, all pleasantries were bestowed upon me. I forwarded a list of family members and their bios to my Uncle Chuck for his Family Tree project as he had requested. We saw my Aunt Fran and my Aunt Vi and we visited the rest in the cemetery. Not one of them condemned me for my good looks.
            During the heat wave of July 2013, my Aunt Vi passed away at the age of 91. I have such fond memories of her shop full of treasures and of her rather brash use of the English language. I liked her very much. We sat halfway back from the coffin and portable pulpit, attempting not to presume anything. As people came and went, I noticed it was not like it used to be. Occasionally, someone would recognize my father or my sister, but I sat convinced I had chosen a good spot to avoid such meetings. At times, I forced myself into someone’s space but only to honour my Mother and what I know she would have wanted from me on this day. As the services ended, the room emptied out rather quickly considering the average age of those attending. I turned around and noticed her, dressed all in black and standing alone. No one had bothered with her. Not one person had thanked her for coming. It was as if she wasn’t there at all.
            My second cousin Faith and I hit it off almost immediately when we first met back in the 1980s. Her mother Elsye was my Mother’s favourite aunt and a delight for me. A few correspondences and the occasional visits only cemented my appreciation of both these ladies. Distance and time may have restricted any real closeness, but I have always thought highly of both. When Elsye passed away, her death left a large gaping hole in any reason I had to enjoy my visits to this central Ontario town. Over the years, my Mom told me horror stories of how neglected and rejected Faith was at the hands of my Christian relatives. Her appearance, the way she lived her life, gave them all plenty of reasons to shun her. Not being involved on a daily basis, I really had no grasp on just how cruel and uncaring these pious and ‘just’ followers of Jesus seemed to be towards certain members of their own flock. Having experienced my aunt Doreen a few years before, I should have known better. Still, I never felt sorry for Faith. She was better off without them. Certainly, I feel anger over the way she has been treated over the years, but I am not surprised. Regardless, you could assume from her demeanour and all the empty space about her that she was unwanted, even at a funeral.
            I could sense my Mother pushing me, begging me to notice who she was. I could almost feel her shove me from behind. It was a message I could not ignore. It had been twenty years but I knew it had to be her. She is the one person that no one else had really spoken to. She was pretty and looked younger than one might have expected after living in Hanover her entire life. We connected, we exchanged info, and I left with my family and headed straight home. I caught a glimpse of her walking away from the memorial. Her black dress, matching hat and pumps seemed  apropos. 

“If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you,
no humility, no compassion. ” (Eckhart Tolle, German author)

            Most of the people that I know who are considered “black sheep” are more successful, have greater internal fortitude, and are much more together than the rest of their flock. Having been ignored, shunned and rejected all your life tends to make you either a strong person or a dead person. For those who refuse to surrender, it is often a lonely path. The isolation can hurt but black sheep always seem to bounce right back. They have been stepped on and devalued so much that words no longer hold power over them. What others think of you becomes a moot point. You realize very young that most people are not going to be there for you so you learn how to deal with things all on your own. The truth is the only person you will ever truly be able to count on 100% is you. To survive, you must have faith in yourself.
            When it comes right down to it, you have to decide if you are the one with the problem or those condemning you are the ones with the problem. Perhaps all who have rejected you are themselves black sheep and your coat has been snow white all along. We have to remember that it is not always a bad thing to be excluded or left out. Being the black sheep may give someone permission not to associate with you, but this can be a helpful instrument in disguising your own disinterest in them. You never know what may be a blessing in disguise. People forget black wool is just as warm as any fashionable white fleece and it’s affordable to boot. Convince yourself, then you can forget about everyone else. There are no walls, no barriers, no restrictions on your forward motion unless you place them there yourself. Leave all that to the haters. Let them be your greatest teachers. Let them test your compassion, strength and most of all your faith in  yourself. These things shall not kill you.
            Religion infers the idea we cannot handle the trails of life without God. We should depend on Him, rely on Him and make His will our will as well. We are told that without God we can never do anything on our own. The truth is, God wants you to be able to handle this life, with or without Him. The lessons you take from living are supposed to give you the ability to stand on your own two feet. He wants us running through a meadow, not grazing on life like a sheep in a pasture would.  When left alone, when cast out from others, you are in a process. God has not abandoned you, He is training you, shaping you, believing in you.

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.  Then Jesus told them this parable:  Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:1-7, NIV)

            You cannot truly believe in God until you believe in yourself. You must have faith in who you are, before anyone else can believe in you. It is easier to have self-assurance and confidence when life has been easy. When you are number one, when you are a winner, you don’t really need God, at least not in the conventional ways. God wants us to “come” to Him, not because we need His help or we fear Him or want something from Him. God wants you to trust Him because you realize that you never have to go through anything on your own. That is what Faith is for. He is with us as comfort, not assurance. Life is hard and believing in yourself is a necessary tool for surviving it. It sucks, but while we exist in this reality, we really are on our own. The Christian tradition teaches us that God understands this isolation because He was here. We tend to forget that Jesus himself was a black sheep.











Tuesday, July 15, 2014

God Profusion

             I have changed a lot since I first walked away from Christianity. With my apostasy, I just assumed my life would become one unending divine punishment sent from somewhere up above. I was wrong. I have great conviction that my decision was the right thing to do for me. It still feels valid and the proof is in the pudding. I have never been happier, ever. No longer being Christian made it easy for me. Viewing  the teachings of Jesus as they were meant to be viewed, as parable and metaphor, made it simpler to follow what God asked of me. I am now guided rather than dictated to. I am free to think, free to hope, and most of all, finally free to receive a loving God just like I was supposed to. I spent so much time condemned by my Faith that I never took the time to really welcome true Faith and then apply that trust to daily living. My birth religion had only ever tied me down. I started to really live instead of just giving myself up.

            It was complicated to let go of all the things I felt were unjust and inane about my birth religion. They had consumed me for so long. It was more difficult to just abandon it altogether. I couldn’t do it. I never really felt like I needed to. Through finding the same truths in other religious groups and thinkers, I  realized there was no requirement for me to desert Jesus altogether. I didn’t need to look elsewhere, most belief systems said the same things about God, but in a different context. I could hold on to what I really identified with, without having to suffer for the pleasure. Suddenly, I found that I had evolved. I suppose that when love lets you in, the world is forever different. I am different. It doesn’t matter to me what they say, I know I am in a better place.   

“I gave up all my striving
I gave up living lies
I gave up analyzing
If I measure up or if I’ve arrived
I gave up criticizing
I gave up being right
I gave up always trying
To be good enough in some people’s eyes”

            Building a new Faith was not a piece of cake. When my two worlds collided, it was not a grand display. I had battled my religious conditioning for years, but with the teachings of Jesus and other philosophies to direct me, and with my past as assurance, I eventually learned to believe again, to truly have a little faith. I learned to place my trust in God, not theories or people or things. I quickly recognized no book could determine God for me, I had to do so for myself. There were so many questions and yet there never seemed to be one solution. It became clear in spite of the confusion. I gave up all the illusions and any need for an explanation and I surrendered to trust. I had to have faith, I had to decide He was there. My new experience suggested to me He wasn’t real, but the idea of God was the one thing I could not give up. The only thing keeping Him from me was me. I had to surrender to myself.
            At the end of the day, I came to realize that the truth is there is no truth. We all know nothing. There are no answers. Most of us make them up as we go along. I had been taught that through study of the Bible, I could know everything I would ever need to know. God was in the box. As I drifted away, I came to understand that we cannot know, it is impossible. There is no box. Any truths we discover on our journey are mere glimpses revealed through God in nature and the human response to that awareness. Finding God was like making a patchwork, pieces put together from everywhere I have been. I went looking in the unknown and discovered not everyone who wanders gets lost. When I finally embraced some form of communion, I self-realized. I recognized that religion is an artificial reality. Nothing outside of ourselves can influence us unless it exists in parallel with the inner part of us seeking redemption. We must convince ourselves that God has moved within us in order for this type of life-changing transformation to occur. No one can save you but you. Any Kingdom is within.
            So many years now and I still have no answers. It is abundantly clear that there really is nothing there to find. I am sure that we are not supposed to know. We are measured by our actions moved by our Faith, not the other way around. Everyone believes differently, even if they are part of the same group, the same sampling. God is unique within us all. It is the effect God has on you, how Love shapes us, which is the indicator you are walking the right way. It is easy to believe in something because you can read it or pray to it, but for those who see nothing, but still trust in God, there is clarity amidst the chaos. I still believe despite every notion in the world trying to convince me that I should not. It is meager behaviour to believe in something when you can speak for it, or when you think it has touched you. This is your proof. I still believe in spite of there being no proof. Even Jesus noted that those who do not see yet still believe are “blessed” (John 20:29). Most Christians would argue He was talking only to them in this verse, but I would argue Love’s not like that. Love is abundant and has given me everything I could ever need or ask for from this life.
“I don’t need a house on top of the world
I like the car I’m driving
Everything I got ain’t what I’m worth
That’s not the reason I’m living
I don’t need to see my name in lights
Or leave any grand impression
I’ve got everything I need in life
‘Cause love’s all we’re taking to heaven”

            I would rather be a spiritual fruit than some religious nut. It turns out that things are much more secure spiritually when you live not knowing than to have answers given when they might be wrong. I was so convinced there would be punishment. I was told how to fear. I was warned that life without religion would lead to my destruction. It only led me to a fuller comprehension of how little we really know. I had told myself that if God did not find me and pull me back to Him, then I had to believe I was going the right way. I knew I would never really know for sure but I had to trust, so I started walking. Once again, He whispers in my ears like He did when I was a child. In discovering nothing, I discovered everything. In my life, there is a God profusion. There is a spiritual richness in the day-to-day that did not exist when I worshipped Jesus Christ as a deity. Life is easy for me now. It is a cornucopia of what more religious men might call blessings, but it has not been a smooth quest for Home. The road is still bumpy, just like every one else’s. The main difference for me, as I continue to travel, lies in recognizing that without those ups and downs, chances are that you’re dead.
            As I grow older, my mind has become wiser, more enlightened to the mass delusion we call mortality. My heart is softer now and I find my soul preparing for what is to come. I have even grown out of the agnostic label I had given myself. I am still agnostic, but I still believe in God. According to most religious circles, not even an agnostic theist is welcomed into the Kingdom. This condemnation is not exclusive to my journey. After all, throughout history all great truths began as blasphemy. I constantly have to remind myself who I am is not who they told me I would be. Most of my problems arose because I believed what other people think. I was trapped in a prison of their creation. Since I don’t believe in hell, and Divine judgment is a human fabrication, what is the worst that they can do to me now, threaten me with heaven?
            Sometimes you have to walk away from the things that no longer serve you or make you happy. There are still days when I still feel condemned, but I recognize that religious conditioning dies a long hard death. I have to remember that just as I am seeking God, God has been seeking me. When you truly pay attention, everything is His voice. I have had to forgive myself for not realizing that which I did not know even before I learned it. In fact, I had everything I needed all along. I was never lost. There had always been a profuseness to my existence. I had to change how I viewed God to receive all He had given me. I had to turn anger to understanding and fear to forgiving. I had to recognize the futility of the physical world and embrace the spiritual world. I had to surrender to trust and make up my own faith as I went along.

            I used to want for proof of God, and for a rich life filled with the things I thought would bring me contentment and joy. I never realized that God wasn’t trying to keep me from the places I needed to go or the things I accumulated materialistically. When I was ready, He revealed to me that my attachment to them was in vain, not in sin. There was more to life than the world around me, but I had the right to enjoy that world around me. There was more to God than the human construct called religion. My Faith is not the end all and be all of my existence. Serving God isn’t about the great things we do and how much we believe. It is about the small things we do in great ways, regardless of what we believe. I don’t need to have faith in Jesus to be kind, or merciful, or touched by Grace. Our Faith should be the catalyst within us which puts people first, puts each other first. God up in heaven can look after Himself. The only requirement He has ever placed on us is to Love one another. Nothing else must be our reason for living.

“Always working
Never stopping
Talking on the cell phone
Never find the time to get away
Leave the work load
Run around in circles
Just to keep up with the Joneses
Even in the 9 to 5 all I really know is
I don’t need a house on top of the world
I like the car I’m driving
Everything I got ain’t what I’m worth
That’s not the reason I’m living”
(I Gave Up, Mark Shultz 2012)







Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Rub


“A buzzard took a monkey for a ride in the air
The monkey thought that everything was on the square
The buzzard tried to throw the monkey off of his back
But the monkey grabbed his neck and said: "Now listen, Jack
Straighten up and fly right
Straighten up and fly right
Straighten up and fly right
Cool down, papa, don't you blow your top.”

            There are many reasons that people abandon their birth faith. For some, religion in general may no longer serve any purpose in their life. For others, experience and wisdom lead them to a different place. Often, the actions of other 'like-believers’ may cause them to run, then run faster. For me, my apostasy is a little more complicated. I have rejected Christianity, but I have not rejected Jesus or God. I have defected, but not in favour of any other opposing movement or belief. I have not completely deserted the faith of my parents. There has been no departure from Jesus’ teachings. I just don’t believe. I don’t believe a god would act the way that the god of the Bible does. Blood sacrifice, eternal punishment and good requiring power to defeat evil, have all proven to me that there has to be more to the story. I don’t understand why what I believe matters as long I follow. Why should my salvation rest on whether Mary was a virgin? Or even that Jesus was God? My renunciation lies with the anthropomorphisms and like imagery that are found within the pages of the Bible rather than the universal teachings contained therein. The myths, legends and the cultural restrictions and expressions contained in scripture are not to be taken literally, if taken at all.
            Apostasy is the “formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person.” An apostate holds to the “renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person's former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation.” The label is not one adopted easily by former believers due to the “dyslogistic implications of the term. There is an automatic association with evil or immorality for those who leave their traditional faith behind them. Apostates are often shunned by family and friends and rejected within their social group for what they no longer believe. In some cases, Christian churches excommunicate “wrongdoers” while in some Islamic states, clergy inflict the death penalty.
            Not only is apostasy prohibited around the world (mostly in Islamic nations), in these places “it is a criminal offense to abandon one’s faith to become atheist, or convert to another religion.” Followers of the Sunni tradition are instructed, urged that “whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him” (Bukhari 9.84.57). This is not only an Islamic concept by any means. The Christian Inquisition, specifically the Spanish judicature, was quick to burn or behead those who had “revolted against the Faith.” The good news is that in modern times, “no country with Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, agnostic or atheist majority ha[s] any criminal or civil laws forbidding or encouraging apostasy, or ha[s] laws restricting an individual’s right to convert from one religion to another.”  I suppose it is a good thing that I was born into Christianity. Had I started out a Muslim, I probably would have lost my head by now.
            The Christian understanding of apostasy is “a willful falling away from, or rebellion against Christian truth. Apostasy is the rejection of Christ by one who has been a Christian.” To disregard the revelation contained in the Gospel is considered a grievous sin, “of the highest guilt.” If you have been enlightened to the path of Christ, and received the Holy Spirit, only to reject them, you are “without faith.” Those without faith are “wicked and evil people” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Those who have “fallen away” are in fact, “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NIV). Christians cannot imagine why anyone would desert Jesus let alone abandon the rapturous union one can have with the Holy Ghost. Rejecting the third deity of the Trinity may not bring a literal death here on earth but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:29, NIV). When the Spirit comes, you must accept it. Therein lies the rub. You can surrender to Jesus all you want, but if in turn He does not embrace you, does not bestow upon you the gifts of the Spirit, then you are unwanted, predestined to a fiery place. If you dare walk away because of your dismissal, you are unwanted, doomed to separation from God. I guess you really are damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

The buzzard told the monkey 'You are chokin' me
Release your hold and I will set you free.'
The monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye and said
'Your story's so touching but it sounds just like a lie.
Straighten up and fly right
Straighten up and stay right
Straighten up and fly right
Cool down, papa, don't you blow your top.'
(Straighten Up and Fly Right, The King Cole Trio 1943)

            When I was in my late teens, I tried so hard to embrace the fundamentalist teachings easily taken from Christianity. I constantly prayed for renewal and freedom from my flesh-bound compulsions. I answered altar call after altar call, waiting for the Spirit to come into me and release me from the ways of the world. I begged for It to lead me, to guide me, to help make me into the kind of person Jesus wanted in His Kingdom. The more sincere and complete my surrender, the more I was left empty, believing I had done something to keep me separate from the one thing I wanted more than anything. In the end, I realized just how abandoned I really was. Not only did my sin limit my interaction with something Holy, but in fact, I was convinced that I was predestined to my own destruction (Romans 9:22, NIV) as a result.
            One day I awoke from the bad dream. Unfortunately, I discovered that most religious people are still asleep. I re-examined everything I had learned, everything I had been told and I left behind anything that continued to vilify the experiences I did have with the Divine. I did not abandon God, I simply abandoned their god. Christianity itself held no place for me. Of course, this meant that I had “exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” The consequence was that God gave me “over to shameful lusts” and I would receive “the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:25-27, NIV). So, I spent years begging God to remove the stain on my righteousness, to free me from the burdens of my unnatural selection, only to have it left with me despite my earnest attempts at freedom. The reason I was not wanted was the very thing from which I had pleaded salvation. Because God did not find it in His Mercy to release me, I was doomed. I suppose had I neutered myself, at least I might have found some form of Divine consideration (Matthew 19:12). Accordingly,  I was given up to my baser flaws. It hurt to finally realize that no matter the claim, not everyone is welcome to believe. 
            Christians possess a well-cured enmity towards those who have abandoned their cause. It matters little if their teachings have done most of the damage, giving one a primary reason for turning away. I should have chosen to no longer be immoral. I could have controlled myself. As any gay person well knows, we are not a water tap. You just can’t turn off the flow and reason that there is no longer anything in the pipes. Despite being taught that all sin is equal, that is not the way the Christian faith works. It matters little all the sin we each possess. What matters is selective administration of the faith. The Christian, despite continuing in error themselves, is covered by the Blood of Christ so they are exempt, regardless of any secret avarice or unspoken wickedness.    
            Like children, they run around calling names when they themselves refuse to play fairly. They spite their feet in favour of their shoes. The entire process in their minds can come across rather inane. Take for example the heavily tattooed Christian man who raged so against the homosexual agenda which he saw in our modern society. He prayed for them but nothing happened. He picketed their events, holding signs claiming that “God hates fags.” Nothing he did seemed to make any difference. No one paid attention to him so he turned to himself. In a bold move, he placed his position for all the world to see. Along his right arm, from shoulder to elbow, in a dark black heavy font, he had transcribed in ink: “Ye shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman. It is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22.” I assume it is a paraphrase of the same verse. While I cannot prove any deductions one might make regarding his sexual identity, I will ask the question “deflect much?” There are always reasons that people act the way they do and if you give a man enough mirror, he will always reveal himself.. Unfortunately, this good Christian fellow forgot to turn the page in his Bible. Of course, the hatemonger doesn’t read anything but his own agenda. This does not negate Leviticus 19:28, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you” (KJV).
            Religion is supposed to be a positive encounter with a Divine being. When the encounter, whether brief or lifelong, is no longer positive, it is time to look for a different Faith. The idea that my sin separates me from God but your sins do not is offensive and quite repugnant to me. You cannot have it both ways. If you take one part of Christianity, you take all of Christianity. The notion that people, occasionally, selectively literalize their faith is an understatement indeed. People do the wrong things every day. It is human nature.  For thousands of years we have been told that Christianity will place us above that nature. We sin in secret. Everyone is guilty. Since my sins and your sins, like all sins, are equal, then my sins are no more an offense to God than yours are or anyone else’s for that matter. We all have a monkey on our back.

“Say it is only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me.
Yes It is only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me...
It's a Barnum and Bailey world,
Just as phony as it can be,
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me.”
(It’s Only a Paper Moon, The King Cole Trio 1943)

            I don’t have much Faith left these days. From this point of view, I am grateful that circumstance led me away from such a judgmental and inhumane way of thinking. I tend to trust God more now, but I still do not believe. I suppose it is during the worst of times that a person experiences the true nature of such a human institution as religion. It cannot, however, be a coincidence that every religion on this planet contains the same universal truths. From the Golden Rule to “love one another”, if you dig past the cultural influence and the anthropomorphic interpretations, at base all religions say the very same thing. I find just as much Jesus in the Baha’i faith as I do in the Christian. The words used may all be different but they mean the same thing.
            With over 7 billion people on this planet, I have encountered only a few dozen I can tolerate. I remain steadfast in my attempt to “love” everyone. I suppose being rejected from Christianity allowed me the freedom to do just that. It’s hard to put your faith in a religion that puts a deity above people. We needed a Saviour and all we got was more war and more judgment and more doctrine and less love. It was my mistake. I assumed that Jesus came for all of us, that we didn’t come for Him (Mark 2:27).
            To love is something. To be loved is something better. To be loved by that which you love is everything. It’s hard to imagine the Christian god loving everyone, regardless of any illusion 2000 years of Triune history might reinforce. I don’t expect any of them to follow along. Religious folk think you’re crazy if you talk about things they don’t understand. They know words like benevolent, Omniscient and all-loving but they seem lost to their meaning.  They say they comprehend, but it’s as phony as it can be.    

“There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me
'The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return'”
(Nature Boy, Nat King Cole 1948)








Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jesus Christ Pose

            Faith is a complicated matter. By mere definition it is both a noun and a verb, a state and an action. It can mean to place confidence in something or someone. It can refer to the belief in God and the philosophies of any associated religion. We have faith in our system of religious beliefs. Faith can be the belief in almost anything. You can have faith in your troubled friend that they will do the right thing. You can have faith that, in the end, everything will be okay for you. You have faith that the subway will get you to work on time. You can believe that blowing yourself up will result in a multitude of virgins waiting for you in heaven. Most of our faith is not based on proof. It is blindly placed, without evidence and often without merit. We substitute various forms of assurance for faith when actually we really are just hoping, and trusting and believing.  
            We trust in our neighbour. We place hope in our government. We believe in our God. Some argue that faith is opposed to reason. Some argue that faith concerns those things which cannot be determined by any form of evidence. Faith involves accepting. It relies on us to admit that the possibility is real and any claims that may come along with this act of compliance. We become reliant on faith to do our thinking for us. We surrender to it regardless of any lack of substantiation. When we take a blind leap, our faith becomes greater. Our faith is tested. When we take that leap, despite all evidence to the contrary, the more irrational our trust, the greater our faith. When we believe because it just makes sense and the evidence supports our position, it is still faith. Tactile faith is surety in those things that we hope for. Ethereal faith is certainty in those things that we cannot see. Religious faith is all about following. It is about being directed by something that you trust to lead the way. Faith in religion is mortal; Faith in God is divine.
            I use scriptures and lessons from the Bible because I was born and raised a Christian and it remains familiar to me. It is my faith structure. I speak of Jesus and the Holy Spirit because they represent the essence of what I have come to know about God. They are based on the lifelong function of my objective reality. I cannot speak in terms of Buddha, or Allah, or even Zoroaster, because I do not relate to those philosophies and the expression of their cultural and anthropomorphic degrees. I may relate similar knowledge but I cannot always embrace their truths. I have to believe that I was born into a Christian “reality” for a reason. I cannot just jump ship and abandon everything I know about God. This does not, by no means, confine me to any agreement on any Christian position. I may use scripture to prove a point. I may sing hymns of praise. I may even call on the Holy Spirit from time to time, but that does not make me a Christian, at least not in the modern literal sense.  This is my faith cognition, how I choose to see things. My position has formed regardless of what I have been instructed or told I should follow. In the end it is what I have come to believe, not what I am supposed to believe. It is my Faith because it works for me.    
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 2:12-14, NIV)

            The Biblical faith of most Christians centers on Jesus of Nazareth and His teachings and Divine purpose. They have decided that in order to have “true faith” one must have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as well as belief in their Risen Lord. The Spirit should release us from the slavery of our own will and the narration and teachings from Jesus’ life should guide us, restore us and bring us closer to God. His suffering was for our transgressions and His sacrifice for our salvation. He is, after all, “The Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). No matter what you believe, no one gets to God without going through Jesus first. For most Christians, their faith is the only faith. There is no other way to find Grace and Immortality. There is no other path to God.   
           In order to harness the Christian truth, we must adhere to the “faith” expressed in the Bible. It is not enough to follow only the teachings contained within it, we must interact with the Holy Spirit, allowing it to move within us and free us from the ways of the world. Scriptural faith is an essential component in Christian living. Without it, one cannot know God nor can they please Him. Anyone who wants to discover God must believe in the scriptural revelation of Jesus. There are rewards for those who strive to know Him through the “Word.” First, one must believe that He exists and that there are benefits for those who “earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV). The Christian is rescued through their faith. Only through His Grace can one be saved, but salvation cannot be earned; “it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV) and so is entrance into the exclusive club known as eternal life. So then a doctrinal faith will lead the believer. If you are truly a child of God, there is no other way. One must “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, NIV). When we separate our life from this faith we will eventually experience the state of unrighteousness or guilt before God. What we consume in our lives will shape us and “whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith” (Romans 14:23, NIV).

“What miraculous sign then will You give
That we may see it and believe
What will You do
What will You do
Our forefathers ate manna in the desert
As it is written
He gave them bread to eat
Bread from Heaven it’s true
By faith believe in Me
By faith believe
Jesus said, “I’m gonna tell you the truth
It was not Moses who has given you bread from Heaven
It was my Father who has given you true bread from Heaven
The bread of God is He who gives life to the world
Believe, believe in Me
Believe, believe"
Faith is being sure of what we hope for
And certain of what we do not see
Faith is being sure of what we hope for
And anyone is welcome to believe”
(Faith, Amy Grant  2013)

            The storm hit just before twilight on July 19th, 2013. It was a gale. I had never seen the rain move that way before; it flowed sideways. It reminded me of watching CNN, when they cover hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the American coastlines. I was not foolish enough to attempt any form of live reporting.  At the height of the event, wind speeds were recorded near 100 kilometres an hour. It looked like a hurricane, it sounded like a hurricane, and it felt like a hurricane. As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. It was a burst of thunder, heavy rain and lightning, then it just disappeared. The next day, the damage had been done. 100 year old trees, broken or uprooted, lined the neighbourhood surrounding where I live. Tree branches, in every shape and size, laid  scattered across roadways and over lawns and backyards. Houses were compromised, cars were destroyed and the power remained out for days in some cases. The experience of observing it all made me marvel at the true power of nature.         
            The park I occasionally use for reading was in the eye of the downpour. Just the next block over from my apartment, the small triangular patch of grass, gardens and benches had suddenly lost a few tree branches. The largest oak trees were intact, and ironically, most of the smaller new trees had little or no sign of wear. All in all, Hibner Park seemed to escape most of the wrath of the storm. The same could not be said for the rest of the neighbourhood. Power utility trucks and wood chippers were regular visitors for at least a week. Weekend after weekend, the air was filled with the raw noise of chainsaws and chopping. Eventually, despite a few missing elms or maples, everything went right back to normal. The piles of debris that overran Hibner Park disappeared with July and the streets returned to their vacant lot appeal. It seemed okay again to wander over and have me a visit with the bench I love to read on.
            I took my book, The Dead Seas Scrolls Deception, and found my place at the west corner of the park. The grand oak tree, loaming 10 feet to my left, had survived the nasty weather of the weekend before. Still, it crackled with the slightest breeze and pieces continued to fall ever so softly throughout my visit. Halfway through my spontaneous exercise, a large grey squirrel appeared just down from me near the other bench off Maynard Avenue. He hopped and he bounced, sniffing the ground on occasion in case some object might be food. It was not until he passed that great big oak that he realized I was watching him. With one leap, he went straight up the side of that tree. He didn’t stop to have a second look. I chuckled to myself for I had startled him and you sure could tell. When I laughed out loud, with a “Ha! Ha!” like Nelson Muntz would, he froze in his tracks. I went back to my project ever so slightly amused.
            You could hear him moving about on the bark. Little pieces of it fell just out of my reach, the occasional stick or twig in their company. I spotted him coming around from the back and I swear we met eye to eye. To spite me, or perhaps for sheer entertainment value, he climbed out onto a dead branch to check me out. Several aged and damaged trees throughout the park remained as testament to the horrendous storm. He sat himself down on it, then down he went. With nothing to rest himself against, that silly squirrel and that dead wood fell 20 feet from his sanctuary. The rodent won the race to the ground. When he hit the grass beneath him, he didn’t even stop to confirm his health. He shot out onto Young Street and down into the gardens of a house across the way.  I couldn’t help but giggle at that oversized rat. I have witnessed my rats fly against their ceiling in the same manner, usually when I turn on the vacuum. The poor bugger must have forgotten all the damage from that storm. He did not stop and check that things were sturdy. He relied on a broken limb.
            I got up from my spot and adjusted my shirt. I tucked my feet back into the black leather sandals I came with, picked up my pleasure and headed back across the park towards Ahrens Street West and then for home. What a glorious day it had been. The cool August days had done me just fine. Southern Ontario can get so sticky come the summer winds. There is nothing so compelling in nature as a sunny day with only moderate temperatures. It was a bright and blue day indeed. I thought about staying longer to enjoy this weather but I had much work to do at home. Just above my direct line of sight, a vibrant Red Cardinal started flitting about, playing with the breeze. He skirted up then down and back again, zooming and floating at the same time. He darted out, then landed on a very wounded and shaky branch. The tree itself was taken down just a few days later. Unlike with the squirrel, our feathered friend had not placed trust in the branch and it fell to the ground, alone. This simple thing, this bird had trusted his own wings.   

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
Or my praise to idols.”
(Isaiah 42:8, NIV)

            I have real issues with Christianity. I believe it places Jesus before God; it is idolatry and condones mass idol worship. It defines the term graven image (Exodus 20:4). It doesn’t matter if Jesus was God, He isn’t on this planet anymore. He is Himself now and should be addressed accordingly. From what I can remember, He once preferred to go with the label “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). I am not cynical about Jesus. Of all the religions and philosophies that I have studied over the last 30 years, it is Jesus’ that has most enabled me to have a relationship with God. His teachings, His parables have reinforced within me an idea of what the Kingdom of God should be and that it is here on earth, now, not someday. Jesus may no longer be here, but I can be His hands and His feet. I can do what He commanded of me. We all must love one another. This is the obligation and the responsibility of any true follower of Jesus.
            I hate what they have done to my surety. They have stripped Him naked and thrown Him above themselves. They sell Him, all gold, on tables in their temple. They exchange salvation on DVD for a love donation to their ministry. They speak in tongues with no one to listen. They prophesize yet cannot hear. They claim the End of Days when Jesus Himself could not (Matthew 24:36). So many voices from so many people, all so sure in their Jesus idolatry. It’s a shame the damage they have done in His name. Why couldn’t their Jesus bring peace instead of the sword (Matthew 10:34)? Why does He not offer a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-4) instead of all this judgment and punishment and the war with what is evil? How can one worship such a Lord?
            My Faith has changed throughout my lifetime. It has grown and matured. I no longer need intersession to have a relationship with God. The words of Jesus still carry weight for me but so do the songs of Amy Grant and the visions of Emmanuel Swedenborg. I can find God almost everywhere I look. I no longer need to be led in one direction or another. Most certainly, I do not believe that Christianity is the one true faith and the only way to have communion with God, and eventually heaven.  Any biblical foundation I once tried to stand firm on has been demolished by the very people charged with bringing me Home. Christianity has destroyed my Faith but it has not left me barren and crippled. Instead of leaning on scripture, and doctrine and semantics, I rest in my experiences with the Divine. I rely on my own wings to fly.
            I don’t require a doctrinal faith to save me with the Bible. I don’t rely on a saving faith, for Jesus to rescue me from myself with promises of peace someday. Any justifying faith I may still possess seems redundant to me now. I have always been forgiven and I never needed to beg. I have communion with God but it is realistic and not so steadfast. My indwelling faith is far more healthy and not so consuming. My daily faith is a struggle, a constant ebb and flow of fear, confusion and a sense of wonder. God still meets my needs even when it is not evident. After all, it was not Moses who gave bread from heaven, any more than it was Jesus.

            Around my neck is a testament. It is not the normal Jesus Christ pose one may find at a Cathedral or the Christian bookstore. It is not a simple cross of gold meant to symbolize my beliefs. This abstract silver crucifixion scene is not even a depiction of only one man to me.  It represents all men. I wear it around my neck to remember we all suffer. I wear it well knowing Jesus did too.  

“I am here to serve.
I am here to inspire.
I am here to love.
I am here to live my truth.”
(Deepak Chopra)



The Dead Seas Scrolls Deception
Michael Baigent – Richard Leigh
Arrow Books, 1991




Summer 2013
Kitchener Ontario