Sunday, 25 April 2010

Comfort Reading

  It always confused me when people told me they read the bible like they were taking little sips of tea, and that it always, without fail, comforted them.  I always wondered "How come when I read the bible it's all eviscerated people, corpses being burned or strewn in the streets and gnawed on by dogs, whoredoms, beds of impurity, cups of blood, pits of death and wrath, wrath, wrath?  How come it's about not being good enough, and about what people don't do right?  How the hell is that comforting anyone?"
  I have slowly come to suspect that people who say that reading the bible and praying "always comforts" them  might not be doing what I'm doing.  I'm taking entire books of the bible, and not skipping bits, and reading them.  Stupid, I know.
  I believe what my comforted, opium-of-the-people colleagues are doing is amassing a "safe" set of go-to passages to read, and carefully outlined "bits to skip 'cause that stuff's just depressing and makes no sense to me."  In other words, while they're reading, if they aren't going "Ahhhhhhh!  How nice.  and David loved Jonathan!" or "Ahhhhhhh! Jesus wept.  He sure loved Lazarus!" or "Ahhhhhh! I'll be saved!" but are instead saying "What?! 'Peter said Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.'?  Jesus cursed a fig tree for not bearing figs when it wasn't even the season to bear figs and it dried up?!" or "'Ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.'?  This is really all getting a bit emo.  Like half of the Psalms are.  Why's that in here anyway?  I came to be comforted," a decision is often made to either ignore it, "not dwell on it" or just skip it.
  That's what I think's happening, anyway.  Once I decided that we tend to read the bible and skip anything that's "not working" for us, that doesn't feel good, that isn't comforting,  I resolved to do a little experiment:  I took online versions of the four gospels, so that it would be Jesus talking, and cut out all the go-to comfort bits and left in, well, everything else he said and did.  "Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow" and "wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together" and "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" (Jesus speaking to his mother) and "for the hour is coming, In the which all that are in the graves shall hear [my] voice, And shall come forth" and so on and so on.  It's not so much that we've never heard that stuff before, it's that we're mentally negating it by kinda pasting the stuff we connect with, that we like, right overtop of it.  Remove that, and the effect is quite striking. 

 If you would like to see what I came up with, comment and I'll send you a .pdf of it.  Obviously, if you think it's blasphemous, perverse or wrong to do that sort of thing, don't ask for a copy.

  I wrote an intro to the thing.  It said this:

  Imagine if a careful censor went through the bible with a black marker, editing out anything that seemed a bit odd, hard to explain and apply, troubling or just plain not nice.  Imagine if we ended up with a bible in which Jesus’ more venomous pronouncements against the Pharisees, his occasionally brusque responses to people, the times he insulted people or called them names, and the generally status-quo-upsetting, revolutionary tenor of his preaching was omitted entirely.  Would it be a good thing if we did this?  I believe this is pretty much what we have done. 
  Let me explain: The bible is sort of used as a tool to maintain our Christianity, it seems.  Exactly how do we “use” the bible?  We seldom read aloud (or together) entire books of it, but instead, we go through it and cherry-pick out all the comforting bits, the bits we like, the bits that help us feel good about doing what we’re already doing, and believing what we’re already believing.  We end up carrying in our heads (and presenting to others) a careful edit of the bible, a version which is convenient and reshaped to fit our needs, our concerns, our focus. 
  We feel quite ok about snipping bits out to decorate t-shirts, bumper stickers and our own writing and daily conversation, though every time we do that, we’re snipping off bits of content that was originally there. And we make it all about us.  And we present Jesus as some kind of kindly, stoned hippie figure, part Ghandi and part Jim Morrison.  The Jesus we quote would never have to worry about anyone trying to kill him, ever. 
  I felt, recently, compelled to take this subtle mental censoring in the very opposite direction, and that not subtly, just to see what that would look like.  This was in aid of casting a more vivid light on what we’re doing.  I then, using the King James Version (as it’s the most commonly quoted one in secular culture) went through and did the opposite thing to the four gospels.  I edited out a whole lot of Jesus being human and nice, most of the words of comfort, the healing, the life-affirming passages and generally all the stuff that makes us feel good[1]. 
   It all ended up really deepening my understanding of why the Pharisees and Scribes wanted Jesus dead.  It also, oddly, made Jesus far more real to me than I’ve ever seen him be before, somehow.  I saw him in a very different light.  More of his passion, his frustration was shining out.  I could believe he was a human guy a whole lot more, suddenly.
  Although I have to admit it gave me a bit of an absurdist chuckle to simply leave out the part where the Good Samaritan actually rescues the wounded man, or where Jesus eventually heals people who have come to him and been turned away or ignored by him at first, that really wasn’t my main intent.  This is not, to me, making a joke of the bible.
  With all the self-servingly comforting stuff left on the webpages from where I copied what I kept, I was suddenly able to read those gospel passages without that chronic DVD commentary track of past church sermons playing in my head louder than the words on the page.  That’s a real problem with me, most of the time.  The explanation was ingrained into my head far more deeply than the actual text explained, and it is nigh impossible to look at the text itself in a fresh way.  This little copy and paste exercise made that suddenly, happily possible. 
You see, most of the DVD commentary track from church is connected with the other stuff, the stuff I was leaving out.  This was different stuff.  Stuff that wasn’t so easy to use as a tool.  Stuff that spoke for itself and didn’t really work as an opiate.  Stuff that would never be Hallmark Card material.  I meant no disrespect.  I’m sure that many who heard Jesus speak heard mainly the stuff I’ve left in, and had much the same perspective on what was said as this edited version gives.
  The “nice” stuff is still there, in the real bible, and in my head and heart.  The process of trying to stitch together the four gospels and two snippets of Acts into one continuous story was extremely educational for me.  It all went a little like this:

[1] The crucifixion part was weird, because, as I realized, we don’t use that part for comfort so much as try to feel guilty about it as hard as we can.


Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Monday Recording

Didn't feel like a very good Christian yesterday.  On Easter Sunday, instead of going to a church and singing about how Jesus raised from the dead, I lay on the futon and watched illegally downloaded Doctor Who from England, with a newly raised from the dead Doctor running around having adventures and being silly.  And then the Facebook Farisees looked for special consideration for "knowing the true meaning of Easter" and tut tutted about people calling it "Easter" instead of  "Resurrection Sunday" (without complaining about the "sun" in Sunday) and this bugged me, so the next day I wrote and recorded this song about that.

But what I really wanted to do was have a fresh go at this song that I have been adding loud guitars and drums and harmonicas and five-string bass guitars and pianos and stuff to in an attempt to make it less draggy and quiet.  I abandoned all that work and just recorded an even slower, stripped down version and tried to make it sad.  I even stole the silly "sad trombone" sound from to be a bit tongue-in-cheek about how sad I was trying to make it.  I made the snare backwards to sound a bit like Johnny Cash's new song "Ain't No Grave Gonna Keep Me Down," though they're probably doing something unbackwards to get that scraping sound.

Being and Doing

I'm a teacher because I teach, not because I'm certified by the Ontario College of Teachers and fully qualified to teach.  I want to teach people stuff, I can teach people stuff, and so I do.  Thing is, when I look at the teachers who aren't any good (or me when I'm having a bad day), I see that they are thought of as teachers, not because they actually teach stuff and make sure learning is happening, but because they say they are teachers, because they are accredited (certified).  
  For their part, the kids are used to being asked merely to pretend to learn.  "What did you do at school today?"  "Nothing," they say.  Actually they 'pretended they were people who were going to learn stuff at some point.'  What would happen if they showed up and wanted to know a few things?  What if they demanded we tell them some stuff, or made sure they could actually do certain things instead of just waiting until we left them alone, because we were satisfied that they showed up and sat there and so have done all that could be asked?
  A friend and I were talking about why we can't seem to "get into" church activities and the bible discussions they purport to have.  It's like enough of the Christians are thought of and claim to be Christians because they want to be seen as Christians because being a Christian is a good thing, not because they want to be anything particularly Christian, and certainly not to actually need to be able to do anything Christian.  It's kind of an identity thing.  They need to feel superior to, as said below, the people who "don't know the real meaning of Christmas."  They seem to worship so they can claim to have worshipped, preached so they can say preaching took place and so on. 
  When they have what they describe as "bible discussions," there doesn't seem to be much discussion at all, and if there is, it doesn't go anywhere or result in anything.  It's like they know that a bible discussion is supposed to have talking at it, and that if there isn't any talking, then it won't have happened properly, so they talk so talking will have occurred (most meetings I have had to attend for various jobs seem to involve first pointing out the fact that we have met, and then explaining why we have met, then outlining what we will be discussing, now that we have met (and that we are now at step 3 of the schedule, having 1. pointed out the fact that we have met, and 2. covered why we are meeting, so have moved on to 3. outlining what we will be discussing, which will be followed by 4. wrapping up the discussion and 5. planning when the next discussion will take place).  What was missing?  The part (it should have fallen at 3b) where we actually discussed any stuff, perhaps followed by 3c, where we'd actually decide things.  The meetings seem to me to be place-holder activities.  Quite often actual discussion is not welcome and we don't get actual say, and things are already decided (or, it has been decided, are not going to be decided) but we are required to have a meeting nonetheless, pretty much to show we care to some degree and are willing to participate by sitting in the chairs and all.
  I badly want to be part of real stuff that matters.  I want it in every aspect of daily life.  Instead, we are policed by police forces staffed with people who became police officers so they could be police officers, rather than so they could police, and the like.  Doctors, nurses, parents, husbands, wives and priests, mostly filling the places so they can be place-holders, and not really doing the stuff.  We're surrounded by people holding the positions described in the jobs they applied for, the gaining of said position having been so challenging that they are now resting on their laurels, having arrived, and putting in effort which does little more than go through the motions most of the time.Whenever we encounter someone who is actually doing the stuff, it's like they're magic.  
  What would happen if we really did the stuff to get it done well, rather than just so we could say we kinda worked away at kinda doing it?  What if we engaged?

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Apparently holidays are for Christians to go on Facebook and put statuses which basically say "I'm a Christian, so I understand properly about Easter/Christmas/Thanksgiving, unlike most people, with their commercialized pagan nonsense."  Guess I didn't get that memo.  Once again, I want to reiterate: "I'm not with those guys."  (like when they're getting together to openly hate and deplore homosexuality/abortion/"communism"/democratic-ness (they wouldn't say democracy) rather than doing anything good and unbigoted about stuff they can actually fix.  I'll be standing over here, away from them, trying to think of good stuff I can do/enjoy/help.)

And the annoyance fuelled the writing and sloppy recording of this song about that.