Saturday, 28 April 2007

Religious Stuff, Sacrifice and getting Gratuitously Philosophical

When reading Johnny Cash's autobiography (his second one) I was struck by how much of a heritage of old hymns were behind his whole life, and how I grew up with the same heritage. It was like having a culture again, and not one that I felt 100% ashamed of and resentful toward, for once.
     I noticed which hymns he mentioned, and I (never going to church, or listening to religious music anymore) have been for years mentally running through the hymns we grew up with, and seeing if there was any juice left in any of them. Most of them are pretty quaint, tired, dusty now. Most are part of a definite style, a tradition of expression or of musical and lyrical workmanship that is pretty inaccessible to most people today. Most of it is part of a mindset that exists in a reality in which so many questions have not been asked, ideas not pondered and experiences not imagined.
     Sadly, when I hear hymns with modern music, they seem exactly the same as that, except laminated, instead of dust-covered. A friend calls them "7-11" hymns. Seven words sung eleven times. Even so, I've been putting together a list of some old hymns with a bit of bounce and verve, or else with some melancholy majesty. I don't relate to almost any of the lyrics, which are all about greatly looking forward to being dead and not having to live this life anymore, or of how horrible we feel we really are, deep down, both of which are part of a phase I trust I have largely worked through and moved beyond.
     This morning I was approaching my first attempt at recording an old hymn from my heritage, but with a bit of new life breathed into it (without breaking it apart, like what happens when they put new wine in old wineskins). I eventually settled into working fairly casually on "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder." As happens when things work out well in my musical endeavours, I got sucked into the project as an intellectual and emotional exercise, and kept on trying to edit together bits of drum samples from that "Bun E. In A Box" set of drum samples I'd bought (Cheap Trick's drummer) and then just went simple and used drum sounds cued to the metronome, in 2/4 time at 120 bpm.
     What was supposed to be a version heavily based on "I Would Walk 500 Miles" by The Proclaimers rapidly turned into an Irish/pirate drinking song style like I have done before, but a little more beat-y and soaring than I've yet done. It is short and has punch. A bit like a children's song, in some ways. I did lots of choiry backing vocals, and didn't stop at doing things that sounded ridiculous and silly until mixed in tastefully. To add to the Irishness of the thing,
    I recorded a 4-part recorder part (well, two different parts done twice each, with only about two notes per part) despite having never really played the recorder before. I just knew that a wash of flutey stuff hiding in the background would add Celtic Cred to the thing. It's a whole lot of fun. Watched Bill Bailey: Part Troll again, and shared with Paula by MSN some more of the stuff I don't believe, especially since reading Martin Zender's "An Intelligent Guide To Prayer."

Growing up, it was a deeply bitter thing to sacrifice 80s television, music, comic books, dances, video games and girls. It was my sacrifice to make the whole "religion" thing work. It was me buying my way to a sanctified, holy, workable, blessed life. Anything else would bring what they called "shipwreck" of my life. Thing is, my life shrank and shrivelled and proved incapable of flight or even escape. I'd sacrificed everything, and not to God, but to a Religious Movement. I served, not Him, but keeping the illusion of the Movement's "life" going.
     All religions (and countries) eventually demand the sacrificing of the lives of young people to them. This movement didn't live anymore, and it didn't work, but we had to try to make it seem like it did, and we had to never entertain the notion that it didn't. We sacrificed anything that might give us joy, that might awaken excitement or passion of any kind, and we were taught, "That stuff isn't good. It isn't worth anything, so you aren't sacrificing anything to shut it out, you are just keeping your priorities straight." Wrong. We were sacrificing. We sacrificed anything that would tie us to our own generation and culture. We sacrificed the very vocabulary and shared experiences that would have enabled us to connect to others. We were taught that God never demanded any real sacrifices from us, not anything that mattered. It was always merely a matter of trading Something That Seemed Nice But Wasn't Worth It, for Something Better. There was never any doubt that we'd get to enjoy the Something Better, personally, and in a timely fashion.
     We asked God for things, and if we didn't get them, we assumed He Had Something Better In Store. Something imminent, something specific, something for us personally, rather than for others, or people in general. We asked for things and doubted ourselves or the worth of the things themselves, if we didn't get them. We never considered that maybe we were just asking for something we weren't going to get, and that it might be a good thing, but that sacrifice means not getting good things, and that sometimes we sacrifice for the good of other people besides ourselves.
You see, like most religions, our religion was all about US (and just us) getting more religious, more holy, getting better than everyone else, being special, being part of an elite group, being right, being God's Favourites. It never occurred to us that this isn't a spiritual, holy, or even upright human attitude or motivation to have. Tell the average religious person to stop shutting everyone out, and to pursue spirituality for reasons other than being righter, being better, being more spiritual than other people, and s/he will think you're nuts. You see, that's what they're in it for.

My Current, Best View of Prayer 
 My current, best view of what prayer is like (and what it is for) is influenced in equal parts by Zender, and by my daily classroom routine. I come in with an essay to assign, a test to supervise, a funny video to watch, a story to read, a sheet to fill out or whatever, and the kids leap in with "Can we watch volleyball instead of doing class?" and "Can we just leave? It's sunny" or "Can we watch Borat?" Sometimes they say "Can we do that thing we did last week? That was fun."
    I always have a plan, and a reason why and how what we do will help us get where we're going. My favourite is when a kid says "You should show us Borat" and I have actually edited a scene from it to show them, as it illustrates anti-Semitism, useful in learning about the Nazis, and I can give them their wish. I love to give them their wishes when I can, but usually their wishes aren't useful. I am actually far better at giving them things they don't know they'll like, or that they like, but had no idea I'd put to educational use, like Dave Chapelle, or The Family Guy. You see, they have no idea how my head works or what I'm up to, most of them, most of the time. They should share their thoughts, though they are often uninformed, poorly argued and naive. They should also listen to me a great deal, as I'm trying to give them good stuff.
     I think prayer is like that. God loves to accommodate our preferences, but He's kinda awfully busy doing much bigger things. Our pleasure is not His first priority. Our personal well-being isn't either. All things do not work together for my good or even the good of my community or of people I know or care about. They work together for the greater good. They work together for Good, not merely what suits me to the ground, or is beneficial to my current lot in life. I believe in sacrifice, both in it being required of us, and in personally choosing or needing to make sacrifices for the Good, or even just for the good of others. I believe people have to sacrifice happiness, comfort, money, health, and even things like their lives, sometimes, for a Good they will not understand, enjoy nor see. [and, of course, it doesn't take long for me to get around to the subject of sex, or of not having sex, as the case may be]

Not Having Sex A Whole Lot
It took me quite some mental, spiritual and emotional gymnastics and maturity to come to the epiphany that God might very well have good reasons and might purposely, unmaliciously expect me to be single my whole life, and to also have to turn down easy sex with easy women. Turning down offers of sex from women I've liked the looks of but didn't know well has been one of the bitterest sacrifices I've had to make on an ongoing basis. It wasn't hard to do. It wasn't like I agonized over whether or not to give in and drop trou. It didn't take much willpower or inner strength at all. After all, I'm programmed from birth upward to say "no" to everything nice, and to assume that nice things are for other people, and that God doesn't like us enjoying nice things. This is automatic and very hard to leave behind.
     The actually hard part wasn't rebuffing the advances of these women (and as a man, it is easy. All I have to do in the case of persistent women is sarcastically say "What, are you going to rape me?" and the woman climbs right off soon enough), it was not hating God for allowing my life to be like this, and for putting me in or allowing me to put myself in situations where clearly the only good choice was to miss out, and not have any reward or better things waiting that made the whole sacrifice seem worthwhile. To have nothing, instead of something fun. To say "no" just to have said "no," not to get something else, in particular, or nothing that& seems imminent and worthwhile. We all do this. 
       As far as I've been told, heroin is wonderful as an experience. I am resolved to go to the grave without knowing what it's like. This makes sense. I don't regret not experiencing heroin. I regret the decades of solitude. Don't get me wrong, , I do not regret for a moment that I now can truthfully say, unlike Bill Clinton, "I did not have sex with that particular woman," because in every case, having sex would have been nice at the time but bad to have done after the fact. For many non-scriptural, mundane reasons it would have been bad. Reasons like "being connected to her in any way, for any length of time" kind of reasons, or "she was still connected to him and was going to start dating him again the next week anyway" reasons.
       I know it's an unpopular view, but who you have sex with definitely reflects somewhat upon you. The women I have kissed, I have still kissed. I will always have kissed them. I do not regret having kissed any of them. I do not regret refusing them sex. I did what I thought best and didn't do what I thought not a good idea. I am growing out of resenting God (and Reality, for you atheists out there) for putting me in positions where Nothing was better than the sex, so I had to choose the nothing if I was to be as wise as I wanted to be, and as (very relatively) free of headaches and guilt and entanglements as possible. I always seem to need to choose the nothing to get anywhere. So, recorded a song and it sounds interesting.
    A kid I see every day tried to kill herself, and a kid I teach every day almost tried to kill another girl. I finished the yearbook and tonight I am to go to Troy's and introduce him to the zany wonders that comprise Green Wing. That's something, I guess, right? (life is a mingled yarn, good and bad together, and pretty damned tangled at times)