Monday, September 29, 2014

Shackles and Chains

"Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last?
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me son
Stop fighting a fight
That's already been won"

            If your Faith doesn't set you free, it is nothing but a cage, a prison cell that confines you and the deity that you worship. Faith evolves, it outgrows its place and takes us in new directions. Faith is a journey, not a destination. It changes just as we change. Religion binds the seeking, twisting and turning great promises that we all know never find fruition. Even if they did, once we finally come to know the answers we are already dead. Our new knowledge does the living no good. You can tell from a person's behaviour that they have Faith. Most often it lies within. When we allow our Faith to lead us, we gain a sense of purpose, a balance towards living. This surety tends to make us more stable, more disciplined. Your Faith should make it so.  
            Having been quite wicked, I realize that if God can work through me, then it is obvious that He can work through anyone. After all, man is punished not for his sin but by that sin. It's important to remember, if you are trying to survive the god men have created, what human beings deem significant is rarely what the true God would hold as significant. The very idea of God is a metaphor. Anything good, anything right, anything that transcends beyond intellectual thought, this is the only form of divinity that we can possibly hope to understand while in the mortal coil. Faith reveals we cannot know so our Faith becomes based on semantics. No one can ever really be sure what the scriptures of his religion mean. We believe in what we think they say, and quite often what we think they should say, but we cannot know for sure their intention.    
            I would rather live my life not having any answers than to pretend that there are any answers. I stand firm in my treason. I don't believe for one second that a God who gave us the ability to reason, higher intelligence and built-in common sense then expects us not to use them. To have Faith is not to know but to wonder. We limit the things we cannot explain when we attempt to explain them. Allow your Faith to be less hypothesis and more practical application. When in doubt, understand that if God made everything out of nothing, then nothing must be everything. Like the ocean, or the river, or the puddle, all Faith comes from the same source, but It comes in one form or another. It resembles the unknown. It evolves from the same place, the same originator. We dilute it, pollute it and often piss in it along the way, but it is still all the same thing. 

"All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper
Child lift up your head
I remember, oh God
You're not done with me yet"

            Everyone is different. Each person is unique, with individual wants and needs. Life constantly reshapes us, changes us, although not always for the better. Human beings are in a constant flux, a mesh of what we hope for and what we cherish. Our Faith turns these untested beliefs into steadfast truth, truth that we assure ourselves we can hold onto and call our very own. What we experience and are exposed to throughout our lifetime determines how we think and how we feel and who we are. Our Faith is transformed in the same manner. What we once held in highest regard spiritually tends to fall away, replaced by an "almost deliberate confidence in the character of God" (Chambers). In the end, Faith is not the act of believing without proof but rather it is the act of trusting without reason and hoping without security.   
            If you walk through a prison, or a madhouse, or a retirement home, you quickly learn that Faith doesn't prove a damn thing. People are so sure that they know but Faith that relies on its own authorization is not Faith, it is foolishness. For someone who has true Faith, answers are not necessary. To someone without Faith, answers are not possible. Since God is without definition and beyond our mortal ability to comprehend, Faith then becomes a form of "spiritualized imagination" (Beecher). This is a useful tool when surveying the authority of those who believe they have all the answers. We often forget that "belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man" (Paine). Just as we strive, through religious practice, to be more like God, the application of this trying tends to make God more like us. Faith has to do with things unseen. When we believe that which we think we can see, God becomes our own reflection. Modern spiritual diversity is a testament to the notion that our ideas of God work just like a mirror. 
            Religion and Faith are two very different things. Religion confines man but Faith is supposed to set him free. Religion is supposed to nourish our Faith but it only traps it in a box so we can hold it, see it and in turn attempt to understand it. Faith does not offer the instant gratification that more organized systems of spiritual belief do. Faith is obscure, ambiguous and carries with it moments of doubt both great and small. We need those moments just like we need our Faith. The two work in juxtaposition. Having spiritual "doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith" (Tillich). It can even be said that knowledge breeds Faith, but I would argue that our Faith has influenced our knowledge. Sometimes we even make things up as we go along. Faith based on knowledge is nothing but a bigger mirror and a kinder lie.  

"I don't have to be the old man inside of me
Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I've got a new name
A new life
I'm not the same
And a hope that will carry me home"

            Recognizing you cannot know God does not necessarily take away your Faith. Despite moments of doubt and protestation, my Faith has only brought me closer for exactly those reasons. You don't have to believe what they tell you that you should believe. Nothing you are taught can define you nor can those lessons define God. You do not need churches or scriptures to find what you have been looking for. There is little need for any form of guesswork. Despite all earthly institutions, you will not find the answers in mortal constructs. We may pour out our misery but you cannot find anything but a reflection in your humanity. The place where He lies waiting lies within. Faith then becomes "that deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe" (Einstein). You are part of that fabric. God is incarnated as Mercy and Heaven can be "under our feet as well as over our heads" (Thoreau). Having Faith in yourself is always the safest and surest course. I stand firm that it will carry all of us home.
            We don't see things as they really are, we see things as we want them to be. It is not like we have much choice in the matter. Faith then is to believe when everything you have come to know tells you there is nothing there to believe in. Just because we can't see it, or touch it, or understand it, doesn't mean  there is nothing there. Like the soul, or happiness, or loving someone, you may not be able prove it exists but that does not negate its existence. Having Faith is like taking a first step without seeing where you are going. All our lives we go on searching for something, but that something can never be discovered and seeking rarely leads anywhere. We walk blindly, always reaching for the kingdom no one seems able to find .The very thing we have all been looking for has been here all along.  Sometimes it's not the truth that brings us solace but our idea of the truth that brings us comfort. We want to know how it all began and how it all will end, but Faith only gives us the strength to get through, it does not possess the answers.
            When all is lost and the world has left you stripped and barren, Faith is often the only thing that will carry a person through. Faith gives hope in the greatest despair and strength to keep going in spite of it all. Whether it is all in our mind, or an act of surrender, Faith shows us the things we cannot change. Sometimes the things we cannot change, change us instead. Unfortunately, Faith can cement a person in their beliefs, artificially giving them permission to condemn those who view God differently. You must respect other people's Faith. It matters little if a person believes in spaceships and human cloning or in old men and the sea, people who do not respect another person's spiritual vision tend to manipulate their own to create fear and attempt control. You cannot convince anyone of something they are unwilling to believe.

"I am redeemed
You set me free
So I'll shake off theses heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Now I'm not who I used to be
I am redeemed"
(Redeemed, Big Daddy Weave 2012)
            All the words in the world don't really mean a thing. All the pages, all the stories, they carry little weight. Faith isn't about what you believe, it is about how those beliefs transform you. Th Indwelling of the Holy Spirit and achieving Nirvana both manifest the same qualities in a person. You experience another person's Faith through those qualities, it is in the way that they behave, in their actions. There is a discipline to Faith and "Discipline is an index to doctrine" (Tertullian). People of true Faith don't practice what they preach, they preach what they practice. Whether you pray in Temple, commune in Church, or discover the Source at a hillside retreat, we are all children of the one True God. People must have the right to live in freedom, to think as they please and to be who they really are. No book should ever define anyone. No path should ever be barred from travel. Every road should lead us home.
            I have come to a place where I don't want to know the truth. It doesn't matter anymore. Faith is "not wanting to know what is true" (Nietzsche). Ultimately, this form of blind Faith is really the only kind of Faith. Not one soul on this planet knows a thing for sure. There is no proof, that's why it's called belief. True Faith is intelligent faith. It is the application of a divine influence without a single fact to back it up. It is surrender to the unknown and a recognition that you were always free. Religious people spend a lot of their spiritual lives trying to convince people outside their Faith structure that they have all the answers. They rarely have any. What works for them may not work for me. Faith allows us to evolve our beliefs, to reveal our reflection as an indicator of our Faith until our Faith becomes our very reflection.  




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stranger than Fiction

"Trapped in a prism, in a prism of light
Alone in the darkness, darkness of white
We fell in love, alone on a stage
In the reflective age
Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore
Entre le royaume, des vivants et des morts
If this is heaven
I don't know what it’s for
If I can’t find you there
I don't care
I thought I found a way to enter
 It’s just a Reflektor
 I thought I found the connector
 It’s just a Reflektor"


            For the most part, our Faith is stranger than fiction. It matters little what religion, philosophy or discipline we follow, if we humbly stop to look at what we believe, as objectively as possible, one cannot help but ask, "Really?" How odd and peculiar it all seems to me. Whether cult, sect or organized institution, such matters are better suited to fairy tales and other works of fabrication. It can appear that human beings, in all our hubris, will believe in almost anything that suits our purposes. I often wonder if we don't search out the most ridiculous of things only to justify the way we think and how we view the universe. Faith is supposed to bring us comfort but mankind has turned it into a cesspool filled with the sublime. We grant reverence and we place adoration yet we can't even be sure what we pay homage to, or rely on, is even there to begin with. Faith, it would seem, is simply a reflector.   
            In the Abrahamic tradition, their god started out as a creator, confined by man's ideas regarding time and space. He quickly donned his mighty armour and slaughtered, by flood and by plague and by sword, anyone who might come against him. He even favoured one group of people above all others and consistently validated their attacks on mankind. When they failed to meet his standards, he tossed them to the wind to suffer and long for reconciliation. As he ignored the cries of his chosen, for no other reason than to return to where he started from, he came to dwell among us. Somewhere either before he got here, or while he was visiting, he decided the only way to settle things once and for all was through a final sacrifice. His human form was just the ticket. Like a lamb led to slaughter he died, was resurrected and returned to himself but to sit on his own right hand side. Eventually, this divinity came into question. An entire race of men cast any hope they might have followed into the exact same being but with a different name. Again, this deity would validate destruction. He gave them a prophet and a means to survive and they also took to war and conquest and separation.
            All the while, each group assumes, well-knowing, that their revelation was the right one to follow. Flying horses, all-powerful demons and an onslaught of angels that rape human women seem to only convince them that how they see the world is the one true perspective. For those outside this Faith structure, looking in, the entire Abrahamic legacy can seem rather human in its vulgarity. The monster in the sky they have created seems an awful lot like them to anyone who cares to notice. After all, the very foundation of this belief system begins with their god creating mankind in God's own image. It's no wonder the state of religion. It's no wonder the moral decay. This explains why their god can seem so human, because he is. It's a reflection.
"Now, the signals we send, are deflected again
We're still connected, but are we even friends?
We fell in love when I was nineteen
And now we're staring at a screen
Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore
Entre les voyants, les vivants et les morts
If this is heaven
I need something more
Just a place to be alone
Because you're my home
I thought I found a way to enter
It’s just a Reflektor
I thought I found the connector
It’s just a Reflektor"

            Not all religions are as violent, warlike and presumptive as the Abrahamic tradition. The  Baha'i Faith is a monotheistic religion which emphasizes the spiritual integrity of all mankind. They believe in the "unity of God," in "one source of all creation," and the integration of all religions into one. They understand that all major Faith structures are derived from the same spiritual author, from the one true God.  They emphasize the wholeness of humanity, that all men are created equal, and the "diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance." The purpose of existence is to "learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection, and being of service to humanity." Monotheistic history has progressed "through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and the capacity of the people." These messengers include Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh, their own prophet. "Humanity is understood to be in a process of collective evolution," and religion is simply a reflector, a projection of our needs and spiritual desires.
 "It’s just a reflection of a reflection
Of a reflection of a reflection
Will I see you on the other side?
We all got things to hide"

            Not all religions are so ecumenical. Many are rather unusual and often quite bizarre. The Church of Euthanasia  has but one commandment, "Thou shalt not procreate." Suicide, abortion, cannibalism ("limited to consumption of those already dead"), and sodomy (or any sexual act not intended for procreation) are the four main principles of this organization. This "church" stresses "population reduction by voluntary means." They believe that in order to survive, mankind should "Save the Planet, Kill Yourself." The Nation of Yahweh professes that "black people are the true Jews." Generally speaking, they are considered a "black supremacist cult."  Since blacks are "the true Jews," that makes Caucasians "white devils." The White Aryan Resistance even claims them as their "black counterpart." Their leader, Yahweh ben Yahweh, is considered the "Grand Master of All, the God of the Universe, the Grand Potentate, the Everlasting Father and the persecuted Messiah." The Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide so their souls could rendezvous with a spacecraft hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Their leaders claimed to have come from "another dimension" via UFO. They professed to hold great knowledge and convinced their followers they too could travel to this "level above human." As Hale-Bopp sped past our planet, thirty-eight souls perished hoping to find Jesus in the stardust. Each of their black uniforms remained behind, and on each member's sleeve an epitaph, "Heaven's gate away team."
            Wicca is a "modern pagan, witchcraft religion." It is a diverse faith structure "with no central authority or figure defining it." Each sect is divided into "lineages and denominations," known as traditions. Each tradition comes with its own "organisational structure and level of centralisation." The practice of Wicca "draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and ritual practice." Wiccans are generally duotheistic as they worship both god and goddess. Their  spiritual traditions usually involve "the ritual practice of magic." Raëlism is the belief in "scientifically advanced humanoid extraterrestrials" known in antiquity as the Elohim or "those who came from the sky." The Elohim (from the book of Genesis) are believed to have "synthesized life on Earth through mastery of genetic engineering, and that human cloning and mind transfer are mechanisms by which eternal life may be achieved." They claim that Yahweh (the Hebrew god) was actually a "25,000-year-old extraterrestrial" who visited our ancestors in a spacecraft and proceeded to create a Scientifically advanced humanoid extraterrestrial race known as humans. They claim the world's religious texts, like the book of Revelation, foretell of their return.
            The Universe people (or Cosmic people of light powers) believe in the "existence of extraterrestrial civilizations" which have been communicating with various members since 1997. Contact was initially telepathic but the organization claims to have now experienced "direct personal contact." They also claim that a "fleet of spaceships" continues to orbit around Earth. These observers "closely watch and help the good and are waiting to transport their followers into another dimension." Nuwaubianism is an extrapolated label "used to refer to the doctrines and teachings of the followers of Dwight York." York is currently in prison, convicted on "money laundering and child molestation charges." They believe that white humans were "created as a race of killers to serve blacks as a slave army." They are convinced that reproductive traces (afterbirth) must be buried so that "Satan does not use it to make a duplicate of the recently-born child." Terminated foetus are believed to "survive their abortion to live in the sewers, where they are being gathered and organized to take over the world." Each person is said to have seven different clones living throughout the planet, a result of "cloning experiments that were done on Mars using Homo erectus."

"All right, let's go back
Our song escapes on little silver discs
Our love is plastic, we'll break it to bits
I want to break free, but will they break me?
Down, down, down
Don't mess around
I thought I found a way to enter
It’s just a Reflektor
I thought I found the connector
It’s just a Reflektor"
            More often than not, a person's Faith will tell you more about the believer than that which they believe in. People are attracted to those things which they readily identify with or appreciate. Faith tends to reflect our own personal wants and needs. Each personality type is drawn to the essence of the message conveyed through the religion, as with carnival games on a midway. You play the game because you think you can win. It seems whatever is most familiar, whatever appeals to our baser instincts, whatever suits my way of thinking, this is the spiritual structure where one's comfort can be found. For the few years I was a member of the Pentecostal Church of Canada, every part of me screamed out in protest. I left in disgust, not because of any extreme teachings or attitudes towards our fellow man, but because I was not at ease in the practices and prerequisites of the group. It in no way suited who I was.
            Regardless of any specific contemporary conditions, like usually attracts like. There appears to be a "strong link between someone's personality type and religious belief."  Personality type "influences religious belief," and it is very possible that this "belief influences personality type." There is an intrinsic connection between who we see ourselves to be and how we view the objects of our spiritual attention. There are fundamental differences in the way human beings think and feel and these are reflected in how we choose to worship our gods and the gods we choose to worship. All the things that we learn and experience, our identity (both cultural and religious), is merely a reflection of ourselves.  Those who hate find hate. Those who hope find hope. For those who love, it is more than enough.
"Thought you were praying to the resurrector
Turns out it was just a Reflektor
Thought you were praying to the resurrector
Turns out it was just a Reflektor
Thought you were praying to the resurrector
Turns out it was just a Reflektor
It’s just a Reflektor
Will I see you on the other side?
We all got things to hide
It’s just a Reflektor
Will I see you on the other side?"
(Reflektor, Arcade Fire 2013)






Tuesday, September 16, 2014


"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."
(Richard Lovelace, English Poet)

            Growing up with rodents as pets has been a delight for me. Every hamster, every gerbil, every tiny little white mouse has meant as much to me as the most faithful of dogs or the most mischievous of cats. Over the years, one common behaviour exhibited by these tiny beasts was their insatiable need for escape. It mattered little how small or how furry, each one constantly made their attempts to break free. One gerbil disappeared into the floorboards, never to be seen again. Another managed to scale their wall, only to be met with doom at the paws of a looming predator. Such misery left little choice but to leave these smaller rodents behind me and I switched to keeping larger and more intelligent rats. My greatest concern upon their acquisition was how to properly keep them safe. Two cats waiting for a taste of these morsels made the choice in cage easy and the location of that cage isolated. The first time I discovered that I had left the enclosure door open, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. There sat both critters, content in their surroundings, immune to waiting freedom.  It was almost like they knew.
            It was hard to accept in the beginning. All those years of chasing vermin left me conditioned to security and safety and a high roost. By the act of not thinking, I have stumbled upon an open cage many times since my indoctrination. Every time, they sit contented, almost fearful of being removed. When I clean the shelter every Saturday, they scuffle about, persistent in a return to their nest. You can tell it is the only place they wish to be. You can tell that they already think they are free. To them, outside the cage is madness. On occasion, when I give them a treat they will check out the other side, but only in glimpses. First a nose, then a head, then suddenly they withdraw. You can see the trepidation in their fuzzy faces. You can recognize their fear by the sudden jump back. I can only assume that the greater intelligence of these surprisingly lovely gnawers has silenced any need to conquer the world that exists outside of their hiding place. They know they are far better off inside than out. For them, the bars and the shavings and the things that they know are home, not a cage.

“Most people would look at an animal in a cage and instinctively feel that it should be set free .... It's a dangerous world out there, filled with predators .... What would you prefer? A comfortable, safe, warm, cosy life in a cage, or an uncertain life of freedom.”
(Going Out, Scarlett Thomas 2002)

            It didn't take much time for the brainwashing. After only 3 months as a member of the Pentecostal Church, I was convinced they held the path to my salvation. I was indoctrinated, pacified and I believed this type of community would be the very best thing for me. This kind of Church could assist me in finding the God I had always strived to know better. The message conveyed held so many promises, promises I had come to rely on in my spiritual quest for freedom. My questioning heart, my sinful ways, and especially my homosexuality were only markings on a yet to be glorified body. In spite of my new found pseudo-lifestyle, I remained silent of it at school. I have no idea how religiosity is viewed in a more modern educational environment, but in 1981, in grade eleven, silence regarding such things was in one's best interest.
            When my friend Haydn Jensen asked me to go with him to a Great White Brotherhood meeting on the University of Western Ontario campus, I was somewhat befuddled. He assured me it was not a racist organization and alluded to his search for truth and answers. I decided to go. It wouldn't matter to me if it was a cult, I only had to rebuke its message. For a few hours we sat listening to the lines. We both were dead still, immune to any world but the new one before us. The slideshow, the lecture, it seemed like just another attempt at convincing me I had not found my way. Other than his glazed state of confusion, I had no idea what my friend was thinking. When it was all over, when all the questions had been asked, we wandered back to Haydn's car in a silent mode. He barely got two words out of his mouth when all my recently acquired training kicked in.
            The love of God is supposed to make a person kind and non-judgmental. Perhaps this explains why I never really felt The Great Commission of Christianity was anything but a scare tactic that played on the weak and vulnerable. At the time, I was just doing what I had been instructed was required of me to achieve salvation. Without hesitation, I attacked him for exposing us to this spiritual fabrication. I fully took the opportunity, like I was supposed to, and I condemned the evening as temptation brought on by the devil. I evangelized the very best way I knew how and tried to shove the Lord Jesus Christ down my friend's throat. To say the least, he was not impressed. Haydn never really spoke to me again after that night. He was distant, aloof and our friendship ended in the parking lot on that cool November evening.
            All the time that has passed since that ambush has only convinced me how wrong I was for trying to convince my one-time friend of my then Christian way of thinking. I myself left that faith structure many years ago. Other than through social networking, I have no real idea what happened to Haydn. I realize that the cage I tried to place upon him that night was the very same trap I later fled from in disgust. Haydn, it appears, took a different path. I can only assume through his involvement with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship of Canada, the Gentle Shepherd Christian Church, and other faith related organizations, that he did not join the Great White Brotherhood but chose Jesus instead. How ironic. It appears he has become a full-blown, Bible-clutching Christian in his own right. I am led to believe that I went one way and he found himself where I had been. It's strange to think of him as a Christian now, considering how angry he was that night so many years ago. He condemned me harshly for trying to convert him. He took away our friendship without even consulting me. I can only presume that left to his own volition, it was just fine for him to make that decision on his own. How uneasy rest all my questions, like a puzzle that just doesn't make sense. To trade one cage for the same cage just seems both hypocritical and repugnant to me.

“Those ignoramuses who think that birds are happy in their cages know not a single thing about freedom!” (Mehmet Murat ildan, Turkish author)

            She was just so scared of her own death. As the disease ate away at her, her fear grew. As her fear grew, she fought and fought to remain on this plane of existence. She would cry herself to sleep then cry herself awake, all the while she trembled at the injustice of it all. She refused to talk it over with anyone. The fact she was not long for this world was not a topic that was open to discussion. If it did happen to come up in conversation, she would wheel herself into another room or pull the sheets over her head. She even screamed at us, demanding that we all "just shut the fuck up about it." As she grew frailer, she withdrew further into herself. The only companion she would even recognize was a copy of the Bible that her mother had left next to her bed. She spent her last days frantically searching in it for anything that might save her. As the end approached, she resigned herself to the fate she had once laughed at with great cynicism. All the drugs, and the prostitution, have given her little but for a virus, a life of regret and the few belongings that were scattered around her room at the hospice. In the end, she did not go gently into the night. She raged, oh how she raged.
            They say that some birds are not meant to be caged. Other birds cannot escape their cage, no matter how hard they try. It keeps them, all of their lives, and they are never able to truly fly free. Samantha used to tell me that she didn't believe in hell because nothing could be worse than the life she had lived. She always figured she could approach anything holy when the time required her to do so. As her end quickly approached, I suppose she had much explaining to do, at least in her mind. On the last day of her life, the doctors came and the doctors went. They took one last poke and one last prod just for good measure. They told us that it would not be long. As she faded in and out of consciousness, as we all gathered closer to support each other, her mother opened the Bible she had previously left and she began to read from it. Just before her final breath, just before her demise, Sam smiled ever so softly then fell into sleep. After all those years of pain, and all the years she denied herself happiness, finally someone opened the cage door and she slipped away, never to be caged again.

"The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom."
(Maya Angelou, American Poet)
            We all spend our lives searching for something to believe in. Once we find it, it rarely remains the same as when we found it. Faith grows. Faith evolves. Faith changes. Those who refuse to admit this is so stay huddled, never knowing what outside their cage might offer. Their freedom is relative and so is their Faith. Those who search for Faith, but on their own terms, usually end up in the same cage as everyone else. Faith can be our refuge, a safety we desperately try to maintain. Faith might be a choice that we make for ourselves, no matter how it inconveniences everyone else's plans for us. Regardless, when it all comes down, Faith should be our comfort when the unknown approaches. After all, that's what Faith is really for.    




I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou,  1969






Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eating Life


"Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget"

             Aristotle claimed that "we cannot learn without pain." I would argue one step further and pronounce that life is pain, whether you learn from it or not. Pain, of course, is a subjective matter. Each person suffers differently and each person experiences strife and injury in a completely unique fashion. We all suffer. Most of us survive. The residual effect of that suffering is the main source of our internal conflicts and one of our greatest challenges. On top of all the regret, the pain just doesn't stop coming. It goes on and on, more than most people would care to admit. Our lives are a constant drone of hurt and feelings and ruefulness. We cannot escape, no matter how we try. Deep inside there comes a haunting. It is a silence that will not leave you be. We can convince ourselves that we are happy. We can tell ourselves that this is so. Soon, the truth is clear. No matter where we run or how we deny and hide it, it always bites you in the ass. You cannot escape your experience, at least not without heavy medication or a lobotomy in good measure. We do not exist without pain.

 "Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
'Til you’ve lost all belief"

            A lot of people on this planet turn to God when they meet obstacles and negatives on their path. They truly believe that a supreme being will recognize them individually, out of seven billion souls, and save them from the reality of their life. Because of their religious association, they believe their faith in a god up in heaven will make them exempt from the trials and tribulations life brings all of us. No matter how powerful you think your god is, life will continue to attack you. Speaking from experience, when you put all your eggs in one basket, you tend to fall from grace rather completely. A lifetime of relying on a god to fix your problems only creates a greater issue, especially when all those promises fail to come to fruition. Just when you think you have it figured out and just as you regain your resolve, struggle meets you again. It can be enough to make you wonder if anyone is even listening.

"These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time"

            It's important to be happy, even if you are sad. If you are going to be happy, be happy for no reason at all. Be like a child would be. Children have no real past to misdirect them and they seldom even know what suffering is. If you are happy, for a reason, then that reason can be taken from you. Circumstance will eventually strip it clean. This world will do anything to keep you down. At times, it can even seem that life was meant to be a maze of confusion and grief. It will rape you and steal what is left of your innocence. It will regurgitate your faith. This is why you can't just look here or look there, you have to search for your happiness within. There is an unexpressed joy to the universe that we can all tap into. It doesn't hide itself among the clouds, it flows through everything, including you and me. Forget about all the voices telling you that you're not good enough. Embrace them as lies and have faith that all is well. We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves happy but the amount of energy required for both is exactly the same. You do not have to flounder all alone.

 "I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life"
            I continue growing and learning every single day of my life. In the past, you could not have convinced me, to any degree, that everything was going to be okay. I figured nothing would ever be okay again, but everything is okay. I was so wrong. I guess it's true, you don't know what you've got until it's gone, but you don't know what you have until you pay attention. If you don't pay attention, you are bound to find out a little too late. We may think we have the time, but we never do. It's already almost over for each of us and then the next. So how do you survive the chaos of it all? The good and the bad, you have to take it all in. Why would anyone settle for a needle when they could have the haystack? No matter the distance, no matter the state of the heart, love while you can and cherish each moment. Be kind, be kind, be kind. Live for the now and seize the day. You have to reach for the place you are going. Release what lies within. Overcoming apparent obstacles and distractions is a continual focus for the soul, but first you have to focus. The unexpressed joy of the universe can numb the pain. Life will never be easy, but you can live an easy life.

            You do not just pick at food, you eat it. Sometimes, you have to stop for a moment before the moment disappears. Once in awhile you may even decide to say a prayer. You may just have to slow right down and consider the meaning of it all. Life is overwhelming for the best of us. In the hardest times, you can still find it. It's okay to dig in. Wherever you go and whatever you do, embrace life and what it gives you. Have the wonder of a child. Be kind, be kind, be kind. There is a force all around us if we would only open up our eyes. I can find it in the promises of Jesus and in the Buddha's wisdom as well. I see it floating in the heavens so I know it must be true. It's in the clouds behind the thunder and in the breeze so cool and clear. So much Grace lies in waiting, you just have to place an order. You have to eat life, even if you think it tastes like crap.

"What love the Father has lavished upon us.
That we should be called His children"
(Hello My Name Is, Matthew West 2012)




June 6th, 2005











Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seig Heil

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." (James 1:2-7, NIV)
             To my mind, grade three at Fenside Public School in Toronto was pretty much like grade two and grade four. It's not that I cannot recall any special times I had in my classes throughout the fall of 1973 to the start of summer 1974. There are far more positive experiences that I can remember than negative. I am not surprised, however, that the strongest memory I have of that school year occasionally plays over in my mind like almost any disco song from the 1970s. I recognize it then I cringe. I try to block it out but it seems endless like some reckless form of torture. I have flashes of Adolf Hitler and the library and the first time I discovered how much I like to write. The experience reveals to me just how spiritually alone I felt in this world. I had my family and friends, but it is through this misadventure that I ascertained God doesn't answer the prayers of bad little boys. Just before I turned eight years old, I was suddenly isolated and convinced I was doomed to hell for my ignorant behaviour.  
"Do you wonder why you have to
Feel the things that hurt you
If there's a God who loves you
Where is He now?
Maybe, there are things you can't see
And all those things are happening
To bring a better ending
Some day, some how
You'll see, you'll see"
(Before the Morning, Josh Wilson 2010)
             The assignment was a simple one. The class was instructed to head off to our school's book depository and create a fifty to one hundred word biography on any person from history. With only one afternoon to complete the deed, we were all herded into the library like lambs led into a slaughter. Unfortunately for me, superheroes and fantasy figures were not allowed with this assignment. The person on which we based the paper had to have existed in this reality and must have left a lasting mark on mankind and/or history. We could document anyone, without bias on their place in time or their gender. We were required to include basic facts about the person like birth information and physical appearance. With little else to go on, we had to outline how and why each choice made a difference in the past. No one even once said that that difference had to be a positive one. Our teacher, Mrs. Gizler, never drew a moral distinction.
             With no Spider-man or Green Lantern to rely on, I found myself in the biographical history section, vapidly searching for a person of interest. I saw books on Gandhi and Churchill. There were volumes on George Washington and John A. MacDonald (the first Canadian Prime Minister) but I quickly realized I felt no draw towards these great men and their story. There was so much to history, and so much to the people who defined it, that I became somewhat lost in the presence of them all. To be frank, I had never really paid attention to such things as historical figures. I was only eight years old. With the exemption of Jesus, the greatest men I knew were my Dad and Stan Lee. I am sure that the point of the essay was to not only introduce us to some of these extraordinary men and women but to inspire us enough to write about them. 
            I had heard of the villainous Adolf Hitler both on television and in movies. Looney Tunes and Walt Disney had mocked him and introduced me to his name. I always knew he was a villain. It was the comic books about Captain America during World War II that really cemented him as an evil and treacherous monster to me. Of course, you can't read every comic and these representations of Hitler contained little definition or detail. I was, at least, familiar with the man. I grabbed a copy of a few books and settled down to the hurdle before me. There was an awful lot of information so I piled on the Encyclopaedia Britannia to clarify things and make my approach easier. It was that damned volume H that changed everything for me. Reading on and on I experienced an epiphany, you could say. I had never understood something so clearly. I had never taken the time. Page after page, note taking all the while, I quickly realized exactly why people think of Hitler as they do.
            I had written before and I had read books before but I had never actually used the two together, to help prove what I think, at least not on paper. I had penned much from an early age, but suddenly I had found expression in it. It took some time to complete but I threw myself into my masterpiece. I remember succinctly the feeling of something overtaking me and the words flowing into my hand, carried out onto paper by my spirit and blue ink. I still experience this every time I create with words. The bridge I crossed that day has always stayed with me, no matter the path that might have tried to take me away. When the lesson neared completion and we were about to be set free, I put my papers on my desk with my books and turned to my friends as they chatted amongst themselves.  
            My pal Michael Kosloski had finished long before me and seemed happy to have someone to hang with as the end of our afternoon approached. It was innocent enough when he asked who I had chosen for my project. When I told him, he appeared shocked at my decision. Rather than fighting him on it, I started to tell him all about Hitler, about the death camps and about how he shot himself in the head at the end of WWII. I opened books so he could see for himself and eventually stood to demonstrate the Nazi pose. With my right hand I saluted and with my left hand I made a finger moustache, then proceeded to march about the aisle like a good Nazi solider would. At first, I thought some had died in the library, but this fury quickly found my place.
            Mrs. Gizler took me by the arm, clutched my assignment, and pulled me straight into the principal's office. It didn't matter the reason I had done what I had done. It was of little consequence to justice if I was simply demonstrating my points. My Jewish classmates cared little what had prompted this scene. The principal had even less encouraging words. I was given an automatic F on the paper, without them even reading it. They sent me home early and requested I stay there at least for a day. When my Mom arrived to pick me up, I feared for their safety. She had watched me imitate characters like Flip Wilson's Geraldine and re-enact comic book heroes like the Hulk since I was a smaller child. The first thing she did was read my essay.  
 "These are the places I was so sure I'd find Him
I looked in the pages and I looked down on my knees
I lifted my eyes in expectation
To see the sun still refusing to shine
But sometimes He comes in the clouds
Sometimes His face cannot be found
Sometimes the sky is dark and gray
But some things can only be known
And sometimes are faith can only grow
When we can't see
So sometimes He comes in the clouds"
(Sometimes He Comes in the Clouds, Stephen Curtis Chapman, 1995)
             My spirituality formed early. By the time I was five years old, I grew more and more curious about God, Jesus and the idea that He (They) punished us for our sins. Thanks to Christianity, and my maternal Grandmother, for all my yearning to know more, I feared God more than I embraced Him. It was bad enough you had to face indictments here on this planet but the spectre of eternal punishment loomed over me like a halo pulled from a dung heap. Although this event may not have been so dramatic to another student, for me I was crushed and defeated. The energy I had discovered that afternoon through writing was smothered by some 1970s version of political correctness. My Mother tried all she could to make them reverse their decision but it was to no avail. The F given would stand and the suspension would as well.
            Despite arriving home early for a change, regardless of all the extra TV shows I could watch in almost two days, I found no resolve. I fled to my room feeling evil and unrighteous and hated by my classmates, teachers, and even God. I didn't understand how He could let something so traumatic occur when I had done nothing wrong. My Mom had argued that if I had been demonstrating how to saw off another student's limb they might have had a point (so to speak). I felt condemned not so much by the charges but that God had found something to punish me for. I was condemned and found guilty in spite of my innocence. I cried out in silent prayer, occasionally spurting a violent mix of choking and tears. I was devastated despite all concern and support I was given by my family. I swore that I would never write anything again. 
            I wasn't just embarrassed. I wasn't just humiliated. I was incarcerated. It had been made very clear to me at this time of my life that bad things happen to people because God is punishing us for doing those very things. My Mother felt I did nothing wrong. My Dad didn't say an unkind word. I got tossed in the clink and it was God who held the key. No matter how I asked Him to help me, there was no answer. It was clear to me that there was just no one there. He seemed to be hiding and was nowhere to be found.
            When I returned to school, there was no fanfare. The other students couldn't have cared less what had happened. Most of my friends I had met up with the night before to play Blind Man's Bluff, and the only mention of the situation was in congratulations for getting a day off school. I was surprised when not even Mrs. Gizler acknowledged the problem. At the end of my first day back, they all had forgotten. I suppose it was my Mother's cursing them that might have silenced any residual mention. Still, that great big black F on my paper stared out at me every time I opened its hiding place. My comic book collection was the safest place that could mask my shame. Whether God had tried to silence me or not, I failed to follow through on my threat. I started keeping journals, writing short stories and I successfully dipped my fingers into poetry and prose. I took creative writing classes before high school and continue to hone my craft. That one little story that had done so much damage was my saviour in the worst of times. It inspired me to write, to create, to use the words that met me like a soft wind then to raging storm. They revealed the power that words can have. I am humble about my gifts and do not wish to come across conceited, but I have excelled in the art. It has been my livelihood and my luxury. From that one small moment of clarity has come my salvation and my direction. Writing has become a part of me.
            I have never forgotten the distance that night brought between God and I. I have never forgotten the lesson which has been revealed to me in hindsight. I would not be the person I am now had this event not occurred. I may be the same body, but my life would have followed an entirely different path. Faith is following even when you have nothing to follow. These words in themselves would never have come to be. When I was in the situation as a child, I thought God had abandoned me because of my actions. Little did I realize His silence was my catalyst.
"Sometimes all we have to hold on to
Is what we know is true of who You are
So when the heartache hits like a hurricane
That could never change who You are
And we trust in who You are
Even if the healing doesn't come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn't come"
(Even If, Kutless 2013)