Sunday, 20 November 2011

Why Would Anyone Want To Kill Someone Like Jesus?

Because He basically kept standing up in church and in the middle of town (they didn't have TV or YouTube or newspapers) and saying this kind of thing (paraphrased into modern cultural references so people might feel it more deeply):

  Beware of the kind of Christians which love to go around wearing pointedly modest clothing, and love being recognized in public and sitting in the front rows in church and standing up and speaking at various events: which make long prayers for show and preach and post inspiring things on Facebook with pictures of the sun bursting through the clouds. These shall receive greater condemnation.
  When they tell you to do something that is from the bible, do that, but don't act anything like them, because they say one thing and then don't actually do it once they've said how important it is to agree that it is important. They paint unattainable images of supposedly ideal Christian life, though they themselves are making no real effort to live that way. Everything they do is to be seen as Christian by others: they dress in carefully understated business casual outfits (khaki and golf or rugby shirts) so as to seem affluent but classy. They love to sit in the seats of power and influence at church and at Christian gatherings. They like to be called "pastor," "reverend," "Father," "Sister" or "Brother."
  Do not let anyone call you by these titles, for one is pastor and reverend, and that is Christ, and you are all brothers and sisters. And don't call anyone on earth "Father Geoff" because you have a Father in heaven already, and neither be called pastors, for you already have a shepherd, and that is Christ.
  Do not be like the Christians who post things they are supposedly praying on Facebook or Twitter, showing off their contrite spirits and prayerful eloquence to a global audience.  They have their audience and God's not in it.  Do not be like the Christians who announce in person and on YouTube, their websites and the very t-shirts they wear that they support various charities.  They have gotten the recognition they seek from the group of people they have reached with their posters, bumperstickers and brochures.  And God's not part of that group.  If you make a donation to a charity, let not your Visa card know what your PayPal account is doing.
  And don't pray long, wordy prayers, superstitiously repeating the same supposedly magic phrases over and over again, hoping God will give you what you want if you throw enough words, repeated enough times, at Him.  Pray privately in your room where no one can see, and be brief and to the point. 
  But woe unto you, Catholics and Protestants, Evangelicals, Charismatics, Mennonites, Plymouth Brethren, Quakers and Emergents! You are all play-acting. You are locking the doors of Heaven, and are neither going in yourselves, nor allowing anyone else to go in, inviting them instead to vow to remember to commit to think about remembering to rededicate their lives to remembering to consider going in and then watching a PowerPoint slideshow and singing a song about it without having ever done it.
  Woe unto you, Catholics and Protestants, play-actors! For you travel to the other side of the planet to make one Christian convert, and when he is made, you make him twice as much the child of hell as you are yourselves.
   Woe unto you, blind pastors, which say "We place no real emphasis, and waste little time talking about our church building, because churches are made of people and not bricks, but let's talk for two hours about the money we've spent, the money we've raised and the further money we want to collect and spend on multimedia extravaganzas to pull in more converts, while people are sitting at home thinking of killing themselves or wondering how they're going to raise a baby, or if they're gay or not!"
   You fools and clueless: what's more important? The church as a corporation with money which is wholly invested in marketing itself, or the church as a group of people, many of whom need you not being afraid to "get real" with them?
   Woe unto you, Catholics and Protestants, empty infomercials for church living! You raise charity money but have omitted the weightier matters of Christianity: fair judgment, mercy, forgiveness, grace and faith. You think forgiveness is nothing more than a promise not to bother someone about a given shortcoming until the next time they annoy you!
   You blind people in important positions of church oversight, which gag at the idea of swallowing a mosquito, and swallow a moose whole.  Woe unto you, Baptists and Free Methodists, you piles of garishly coloured Jesus junk mail cluttering the doors of the nation! For you make clean the outside of the cup and the undersides of the plates, but inside they are full of moneygrabbing avarice, pride, trite self importance and insincere personal indulgence.  You blind church-goer, cleanse first that which is inside the cup and on the plate, that the outside of them may be clean also.
   Woe unto you, Vineyard people, Harvest House and River of Life Ministries, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed burial crypts, which indeed appear beautiful outside, but are within full of dead men's bones, stench and rot.
   You also outwardly appear to be good churchgoing people to your neighbors, but within you are full of fakeness, insanity, rage, jealousy, competitive piety, deceit, self-delusion and corruption.
   Woe unto you, Presbyterians and Pentecostals, you actors in B movies! because you quote C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton and say "If we had been around when they were alive, we would not have gone on YouTube and made shrill, shrieking videos decrying ALL IN CAPS how they DENY THE TRUTH OF THE TRINITY!!! or ARE NOT CLEAR ON ETERNAL SONSHIP!!! DONT LISSEN TO HIM OR YULL END UP IN A LOST ETERNITY!!!  We would certainly not have stood up on our pulpits and at the dinner table and warned people not to read the past equivalents of The Shack or Blue Like Jazz because we were claiming, without reading them, that they were full of lies about God."
  Consider: You are the children of them which defamed and censored, called "commies" and sanctioned anyone who wasn't blindly supportive of the churches and their leaders and traditions, and of conserving your own error and of Republican politicians in general.  Go ahead and fill the blood-stained jackboots of your fathers. Conserve their legacy and the tradition of doing things their way in the name of being right, no matter the cost to others.
  You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? In light of this, look: I send unto you malcontents, objectors, authors, poets, songwriters, social workers and therapists. I send unto you earnest teenage girls who were molested by their pastors who then told them not to read Harry Potter. They are people and they have stories to tell. I send unto you bitter choirboys who were molested by their priests, who then told them not to play Call of Duty. They are people and they have stories to tell. I send unto you angry gay Christians who are ostracized and alienated by married church members who have committed adultery and paid prostitutes for blowjobs in the back of their SUVs and then "spoke out" against gay marriage because they felt it demeaned the institution of marriage. God has sent homosexuality upon your culture, as said the scriptures, and gay Christians are people and they have stories to tell, if they are not shoved into a dusty shoebox in the back of a closet in a church basement.
   You have brothers and sisters with you.  And some of them you will kill the careers of; and some of them you will publicly humiliate and defame in your churches and homes, and hound and badger and vilify on the Internet: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from
Mahondas Ghandi to Martin Luther King.

(That's why people wanted him killed.  Because he sounded like that to them, a whole lot of the time.)

Friday, 11 November 2011


  When I worked at Nortel, I had just come from working for government agencies with the developmentally handicapped.  I had already got a snootfull of euphemisms and indirect talk.  Now, my own heritage is that I come from unPC, blunt, socially awkward stock, people who don't know how to say things gently.  That being said, I resented what was being done to language (and, by proxy, thinking) in those kinds of jobs.
  All of my managers were women.  And the sorts of women who got positions of power were women who cared more how things looked or seemed than how they were.  It was important to them that they seemed successful and in control at all times.  This meant that noticing any problem or inconsistency was a way to get unpopular fast.  Even if you were drawing attention to it only by starting to fix it.  Well I have a bit of a knack for seeing just those things.  It's built into my basic design.  It certainly can be useful, especially to people in groups, where things can get missed so easily, but that stuff's seldom welcomed.
  In these jobs, I'd say something like "This has been going on.  It is a problem. I think we should fix it."  Right away, the women (they were not only always women, they were always of a very specific type) would get pained expressions on their faces liked I'd sworn or farted or something, and they'd say things like "Well, I'm sure you feel that there's an issue, but..." and then they'd make it go away, with language.  It wouldn't be a fact anymore. It would become merely something I felt, because I was whacky, and that they in turn felt they weren't going to discuss, and in fact felt resentful about having any attention drawn to. And I realized "My language is being corrected.  These ladies with very little education, or a bit of training in accounting or management or business administration are correcting my language.  And I just got a degree in English Literature.  The word "problem" isn't allowed.  They want me to say 'issue' and they don't want me leaping on 'issues' to point them out and fix them.  They want them to disappear without being fixed, because each one makes them feel less successful.  There aren't any problems.  There aren't even any issues.  If I speak of any, or try to fix any, they will have concerns, and nobody wants concerns."
  Also, you didn't say things like "embarrassing, bad, wrong, mistake, screwup, ineffective, broken, damaged, layoffs, disappointing, unworkable," or "silly." No, all of those words, those intellectual and emotional labels, those judgments or reactions, had to simply be replaced with the term "negative."  (If you were talking about plural nouns, they could be called "negatives.")  In fact, if you were really on your game, you'd say something more like "not the most positive."  So, you wouldn't say "Bob got laid off.  That sucks."  You'd say "Bob was surplussed.  That's not the most positive, I guess."  It was about abstraction.  I was simply not made for that.  I was all about using language to accurately convey problematic stuff so we could look at improving it. I wasn't ready for a place where, if one person said something that wasn't true, and another person said something true, but unwelcome (because it didn't help the Success Story we were all required to be telling) nothing would be said at all, ever about the untrue statement, so long as it was "positive."  Immediately, however, the unwelcome, off-point commenter would be reprimanded with a "That's actually pretty negative." I realized I was part of a big game of Let's Pretend.  That stuff actually scares me.  When you're dealing with people's lives and time and money, there is no room for anything but dealing in reality and truth.
  If I as an individual screwed up, I'd get a talking to alright, with a bunch of "feelings" talk tossed in, all of which always made me feel worse rather than better.  It often didn't matter what had happened, we were to take extremely seriously people's impression of what happened, with whatever had actually happened being completely irrelevant, and there was no focus on fixing anything, only on deciding whose feelings were to be focused on and dwelling in those feelings.  Invariably, the person with the upset feelings.  The more abstracted, vague, uprooted from facts, and euphemistic the talk got, the more I felt uncomfortable with it.  And frequently, I got in trouble for seeing problems, mentioning them, and then having them happen.  It was like they thought if I'd simply not thought about them, they wouldn't have happened.  Nortel was run on blind optimism.  (well, all optimism is blind, just like all pessimism is.  I tried to explain that to a girl recently but she killed herself before we could pick that conversation back up again.)
  I work in schools now.  The corporate crap-talk is catching up to me here too.  Increasingly, the people with any power in education are not educators or even behaviourists, but rather management, marketing, accounting, planning and public relations people.  Principals become less educators and more those other things.  The principals become less and less concerned with (and competent to discuss) what sorts of things are teaching kids stuff, and what sorts of things actually prove kids have learned stuff, and become more and more concerned only with whether parents and the community are all clearly getting the message that our school is providing world class educational opportunities in a variety of flexible learning environments for the broad cross-section of society represented in all of our diverse learners, each with their own attributes, aptitudes and attitudes, which we, as a school, value, foster, model, facilitate, scaffold and nurture daily with design-down, forward-focussed, centre-motivated, upwardly-aspiring, rollout methodology, pedagogy and ideation.  Policy and decision-making are driven by what can be claimed (and neat acronyms made), not what needs to actually be workable, actually achieved.
  Teachers have to sit through interminable meetings in which Mission Statements and new Vision Initiatives are unrolled, ramped up, rolled out, tabled, implemented, launched and spoken to.  (I'm surprised, given the passion which which they are often presented, that they are not simply ejaculated.)  Normally we are pulled in to admire these rhetorical, semantic trainwrecks when we've got report cards waiting for us to complete.  I've seen this stuff before, too.  All of this shit comes from the contrived corporate crapfactories that are seeking government bailouts because they are such houses of cards.  Why are economies and corporations alike foundering so much lately?  Because of what is at the heart and the foundation of them.  You can't build a kingdom on optimism and greed.  (if it's a church you're thinking of, rather than a corporation or other empire, instead of greed for sales, think greed for converts.  Instead of greed for as many facilities and buildings, think the same thing, but in terms of church buildings.  Instead of greed for as many new employees as possible, to meet the need of how much work they're getting, think greed for new members, and committees, initiatives, projects and missions. The blind need to simply be doing big things, not to achieve great good, but to be the big people who are doing the big things.)
  My principals have performed well to varying degrees whenever I've fallen afoul of the usual "one or two parents in every year's worth of kids" who is going to come in and raise as much shit in the school as they can if their completely helpless, surly, coddled juvenile delinquent isn't being given solid passing grades and being made to feel special despite how many classes they've skipped, assignments they've not attempted, and teachers they've called fags and then told to fuck off.  Many administrators just start with "You've got a parent pissed off?  Why'd you do that?  I don't really care what they did, or what the kid did or didn't do, nor even what you did or didn't do, nor indeed what happened here, but the fact is, they're pissed off.  I certainly do not have the time to get into the details with you.  They accused you of all sorts of things.  How are you going to do your job here and not get accused of these things?  We can't have this sort of thing as a school.  We have to make sure that parents are all getting the right message.  And by "we" I mean you.  Fix this for me and make sure it doesn't happen again."  Often it's more of the "The facts don't matter. What you said doesn't matter. What happened?  Irrelevant.  This is about what impression Mrs. Surly says she took away from the conversation I made you have with her, once she'd had a couple of days to think about it and rewrite most of it."
  Some are a bit better.  But each one has increasingly felt the pull to be more of a marketing agency for the school, with "the customer is always right" approach to parents who are very angry that in high school, suddenly real failure starts to become possible in certain classrooms, of which mine is a proud example.  I do not believe success means anything if it was impossible to fail.  I don't believe you can teach kids to take risks if you make sure there aren't any.  I don't believe that the less the kids do, the more the teacher should do.
  The language gets farther and farther from talking about anything that's actually happening or not happening.  The people who write policy for our school board, who show up with glossy pamphlets and booklets and even glossier patter and smiles get farther and farther removed from being recognizable as knowing anything about how to handle a classroom.
  The other day I thought to myself "I am going to imagine that, for some reason, some day, a specific administrator who I'm imagining, for some reason had to come in and teach my classes.  The ones she normally interrupts continually, using phone, intercom and knocking on my door when I'm teaching.  I sat in a staff meeting and just imagined that she had to make them treat her with respect.  That she had to make them leave each other alone.  That she had to make them believe she knew what she was talking about, knew what was going on, knew what she was doing.  That once she'd taken attendance to her own satisfaction, she'd have to actually get them to understand and do things and that she'd have to deal with one half to a third of them trying like hell not to do them and claiming ignorance of and surly disinterest in those things."
  Well I simply couldn't imagine her being able to even start doing my job.  The very thought was amusing.  I can't imagine she was ever able to do my job.  Because she clearly can't deal with more than one kid at a time on the best of days.  That's why she has the job she does.  She can't make twenty kids shut and listen to her with any seriousness. She just wouldn't be able to do the job she constantly interrupts my doing.  Couldn't.  Not even without her interrupting by classroom phone and in person, as often as three times in one hour, to pester herself with questions or information about kids who aren't there, haven't been there and aren't going to be there, who haven't done work, aren't doing work and aren't going to do work, but for some reason need me to stop doing my job in that room right now, all to provide information to all and sundry regarding what they haven't done and what they will, in future, also be choosing not to do, and which I will then have recorded in great detail their not doing and not having been there to do, but must then justify how I failed to engage and promote their success through student-centred pedagogy while working in an administration-centered school board.
  Because you don't get kids to do things they don't feel like doing because you're a good manager of people, a good administrator, a good scheduler. You get them to do those things because you build a relationship with them based upon being convincingly genuine as a human being they can relate to.
  This week two people I cared about died.  Also, there was a Remembrance Day Assembly today.  (Outside of Canada, Remembrance Day is called things like Veteran's Day or ANZAC Day.)  So one person died of old age, and the other committed suicide, though no one's really told me about it. (The "remembered" soldiers from the wars, of course, were killed and died.)  But do you want to see a partial list of words which were never used in any of the talking and electronic communications regarding all of this death?  Here it is: death, dead, killed, died, grave, suicide, funeral, loss, sad, alone, miss, never.  How do you even have a conversation about those things without mentioning those words?  Well, you say things like:
-gone to be with her Lord, now she's finally in the Loving Arms of her Dear Savior, on the Other Side
-these men paid the highest price, making the ultimate sacrifice
-she succumbed after a long, brave struggle with depression
-passed away, passed on, is no longer with us
-the celebration of life/visitation will be on Sunday
   I asked a class "Why did we read those men's names?"  The answer was "Because they passed away."  I have to tell you: death is tough to deal with emotionally. For me.  This week.  And for me, when we're not allowed to say what happened, it is that much harder.  At high school Remembrance Day Assemblies, kids have to be forcibly made to go sit in the chairs, because the favourite place of many of them is to stand at the back of the room, leaning on something, wearing their hats, watching the more compliant kids sitting in chairs watching a young soldier put up happily posed pictures of various whacky shenanigans by other soldiers when he was stationed in Afghanistan, without really mentioning the fact that Remembrance Day is anything to do with death in any form. Death was not mentioned.  Call of Duty was.  And some of the kids texted what was happening to other people who weren't in the room.  Telecommunications is a technology used to put as many buffers between us and real-life experience as we can. Kids watching kids watch a soldier putting up pictures of other soldiers playing military shooting games on XBOX360 in which they play idealized soldier characters who get shot and "go hide in bushes and their life comes back" to quote the inarguably highly-trained, intelligent, charming young man who spoke to us.  He at least said "It doesn't work like that."  But he was so charming and funny and "Aw shuck!" that no one got a sense of loss or risk or death or anything unpleasant for a moment.
  A girl in my class scoffed afterward that "this other girl" didn't even know what a poppy means.  I asked her what it meant.  She said it was a peace symbol.  It was an anti-war thing. When I told her it meant blood, death and a way of easing the pain of the wounded and dying, it flew so counter to her expectations, to the message she'd been getting, that she couldn't really believe me.  Couldn't believe the simple facts.  Poppies mean peace.  They represent there being no war.
  It is my birthday this weekend.  I don't know if I'll see any friends or relatives.  I have two funerals to go to, neither of which is really being called a funeral, and I don't want to go to both.  In fact, I don't feel able to handle both.  At all.  I might cry or something.  I think I'll skip the "old lady who stopped writing to me once I really wasn't coming back to church again" one.  It will be a big party with people being Christian at each other, and people who are shunning me for life asking me how I'm doing. I don't think I could keep from punching Christians there.
  The other is the girl I was hoping to hang out with last weekend but who is dead.  No doubt there will be many Christians acting punchworthy at her "celebration of life."  Fact is, she's dead.  No one celebrated her life until she ended it.
  I found out from a Facebook status saying "Katie I will always love you."  I knew that this wouldn't be the status if things were ok. If things were ok, the status would be more mundane, or only kinda roughly affectionate.  I sort of knew right then.
  When I checked her Facebook page and people had posted "too many" pictures of her at different ages, I had to "just know" but not really know.  I've been stuck like that all week.  I have chatted with the bereaved, dealing boyfriend about it, on Facebook, though he's a couple of blocks away.  None of it was really directly about her.  It was about "arrangements."  It was about "dealing."  It was about feeling numb, which is to say being in shock.  There were pretty much no facts of any kind in the mix.  No real mention of her.  I have no idea what happened.  And no voices. No faces.  He LOLed occasionally.  This is all a little too surreal for me.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


  When I first met Katie a couple of years ago, she was a cute, perky little thing working at the pet store.  She had a big smile and she spoke warmly to everyone, eyes quickly moving from person's eyes to person's eyes.  She was immediately recognizable as one of those people who light up a room.  I saw a jar on the store counter which said she was raising money to go to Guatemala to help build stuff.  The word "missions" was on it, so I knew it was church-based.
  "What a typical cheery church girl!" I thought.  "I can never relate to those people.  Too sunshiney and out of touch with stuff they think is too dark.  One day she will likely get disillusioned with all of it when she gets a taste of the real world.  The one over here, where you have to live in the grey mundane bureaucratically-bounded tedium, rather than the one where you get to be a magic white person who helps brown people.  Then we'll talk."
  As I went to the pet store for cat food every few months over the next year or so, I saw the jar gone, and her gone too.  "Katie in Guatemala?" I asked, and was told that she was.
  She came back eventually.  We both knew Dave, who'd been her manager at the coffee shop which had been her second job.  I couldn't quite tell how old she was.  Too young for me to date, though, I was sure.  Maybe 20?
  But then one time I went to the pet store and she looked different. She was wearing a lot of black. No makeup.  A wool hat over her hair.  She was a bit more sober-faced.  "Church Girl is finally going through that process of getting disillusioned with church stuff and being a bit wild," I suspected.  I tried to talk to her about her trip and she said she was "giving all that a rest for a while."  It was clear that she was doing some heavy thinking.  It looked like it could have been a deep, meaningful conversation, but she kept saying "I...can't think right now."  She was clearly overcome with her introspection.  Was trying to make sense of many things.
  Months after that, and maybe two years after first seeing her working there, I went in to buy cat food and she was standing outside smoking.  She had a new facial piercing (a "Monroe") and a wrist tattoo which said  "This too shall pass."  
  "Church girl gone all the way rebel" I thought.  We chatted.  It was lively and sparkling and mostly about music and she wanted to talk more.  I mentioned I'd written my second book and she wanted a copy.  I said I'd leave her one.  I went back a few days later and did that.
  We talked a bit on Facebook, though she didn't "do Facebook" much, and she was full of questions about my book.  She mentioned that she had trouble with depression.  She asked if it would be weird to hang out.  I said it would be fine.  She'd told me that she had a boyfriend, so that made things simple, though as my friend Mark says, nothing a man and a woman do together is ever completely innocent.
  I met her at the coffee shop which was her second job, and bought an organic soda, as I don't drink coffee.  Her boss was a Christian who was connected by church and marriage to every Christian person I knew locally.  She shared her experience of local churches, and seemed to see everything I saw.  She said church was something she tried, but it didn't work for her.  "They decided I was unsaveable" she joked.  Turned out she was actually 24, having just had her birthday.  Still too young to date, but not so embarrassing for a high school teacher in his forties to be seen having coffee with.
  She'd asked if I wanted to sit inside or out front in the sun.  I knew she liked the sun, so I said outside was better.  She sat down on the grass instead of at the little tables, so I creakily sat on the grass with her and she showed me some things she was learning on guitar, and smoked and played me songs on her phone that she wanted to learn, and she had me play and sing on her guitar.  Her boyfriend showed up from work (he had too many jobs) and seemed cool with us hanging out, eager to meet another person trying to come to terms with having Christian beliefs and upbringing, but problems with church Christianity.
  We adjourned to the pub around the corner, where Katie knew everyone, and we sat on the back patio and she smoked cigarettes and we drank beers and talked and talked as the sun set.  We laughed a lot.
  The next weekend she offered to meet me "for coffee" at the coffee shop just down from where I live.  We sat outside as everyone in town walked by.  Between the two of us, we knew everyone.  She had a coffee and I had an organic soda.
  Then we walked down to a park.  In the autumn sun we sat on a picnic table and talked about our plans to get in better shape.  She claimed to be able to do ten pushups.  Not bad for a girl.  I wasn't sure how many I had left in me, but we got down in the leaves and she did ten and I did twenty without much trouble, and we got up, her with a big orange maple leaf stuck to one boob.  (She had great boobs.)
  We walked around the area, and through the park and down the big hill behind the arena, and then we came upon the pile of snow behind the arena from the Zamboni grooming the ice.  She decided we had to hit a big tree with snowballs.  We threw snowballs at it for a while until we were hitting it well, and then came back to where her bike was.  We climbed out onto a concrete abutment by the waterfalls and talked about our apartments and rent and neighbors and stuff.  It got cold and the sun had set, so we agreed we'd hang out the next weekend too.
  "My place or yours?" she wanted to know.  Mine is messy, so I said hers would be better.  "Mine's messy too!" she protested, but agreed to clean it.  "You bring a pizza and we'll watch Suckerpunch."  She really wanted me to see it, though I was unenthusiastic.  She said she liked movies about people in emotional distress, dealing with their problems.
  The next weekend, after the usual Facebook messages saying "Do you still want to hang out?  You know shit and are wicked smart and know about depression and everything.  Are you sick of me yet?" I went to her place.  She'd bought Suckerpunch so we could watch it.
  The doorbell was broken so I went up and knocked.  No answer.  I decided she might be late getting home from work, and didn't see her red bicycle, so I decided to walk around the block and see if she'd get home during that time.  I was halfway around when she leaned out of her window and said "How does someone miss the whole building?!"  It turned out she'd had her washing machine on and hadn't heard the door.
  I came in, met her pet bird and we watched Suckerpunch.  I was perhaps a little MST3K, and a little jokey about it, but she didn't seem to mind.  Then she put on Equilibrium with the sound low and we talked.  She hadn't read George Orwell's 1984, nor seen V For Vendetta, so I told her about those and Gattaca and other movies of that type.  She seemed interested.  Then we got a bit deep.  She sketched out her situation, which was that all summer long she'd play guitar and hang with her boyfriend and work two jobs, and bicycle, but she'd be haunted by the feeling that she was wasting her life, that she needed to get an education, get an important job, probably in the third world, making a difference.  What was the point of anything?  There had to be one, and she thought there wasn't.  God was supposed to provide one and He wasn't real.  In wintertime, when the sun left us, all this would really catch up with her.  "I almost died last year," she told me.  
  I told her she was being a bad mum to herself, shoving herself in a direction she wasn't too clear about, telling her that what she was doing wasn't good enough.  I tried to talk to her (as I'd been for weeks) about black and white thinking, about all or nothing approaches not being the best ones. I talked about how accepting "what is" can be kind of essential before changing it and moving on to making other things be.  I talked about finding small "points" rather than one large one, about how she clearly felt that to be happy, one had to pretend, because all the real stuff was really awful.  I talked about how pessimism is just as blind as optimism.  I likened both of them to kids given a box filled with red and green Easter eggs, with one kid scrambling for a handful of green ones to prove Easter eggs are really green, and discarding the red ones because they didn't help make that point, while the other kid was doing the opposite.  I explained that our tendency to think only bad things were real wasn't accurate.  She seemed to like that.  She always listened with rapt attention, knees drawn up to her chest, big eyes, following my face and gestures. She always claimed that what I said made sense and sounded good, but that she wasn't sure she could quite look at things that way.  I was presenting the idea that she needed to give herself some middle ground, some room to breathe, some peace.
  Her boyfriend came home, and quite unjealously plopped himself between us where we'd been sitting on the couch while the sun set.  We chatted and talked more as Equilibrium finished.  He talked about church stuff and his favourite bands, and how he and Katie had been working together in Guatemala and the Christian folk had wanted them to not be alone together.  He talked about music and his church experiences.  He talked about trying to get along with Christian parents while being sexually active.  We talked about how Christians over-emphasize the biblical image of us being sheep, focussing upon herd movement, following the flock, and pastors (shepherds).  Not as much mention of the soldiering, race-running, wrestling, "tree-planted-immovable-unshakeable-by-the-water" imagery as of the sheep stuff.
    She said  "But it says 'the Lord is my shepherd', right?  So you're supposed to be sheep, according to that."
  I said, "No, it's just a description.  Because people are sheep.  Often foolishly so.  It's not something we have to try for.  It is reality, mostly.  And David wrote that, presumably, when he actually was a shepherd. Picture him sitting at 4:20 on a hillside looking at all his sheep, smoking a joint.  He says to himself 'So, I'm like....(inhale) a shepherd, right?  And the Lord...(exhale) is like MY shepherd... (cough) Yeah.  That's so trippy.'  So not an instruction.  An observation."  We had a great time and I went home, with that feeling like I wasn't the only one, for once, who wanted the talking to continue. I walked home in the chilly autumn darkness.
  The next week I wondered what she'd made of our "getting deep."  I wondered what she was thinking about it.  I sent her a Facebook message and "gave her time" when she didn't answer immediately.  The next Sunday (two days ago) I went to the pet store to see how things were.  She wasn't working.  So I left her a phone message.
  Then today, I checked Facebook and saw her wall was now a tribute to her.  Because she's dead.
  No one's saying what happened, but I think I know.  I remember hearing a lot of sirens Sunday evening now.  Just after the sun set.  Not long after I'd phoned.
  My blood feels hot and fizzy.  I feel like I can't breathe.  I feel like I got stabbed.  I feel like I felt those other times, like when I heard Doug had put a revolver in his mouth and pulled the trigger while talking on the phone to Michael, like when I heard Danny had hung himself from a rafter in his dad's barn, like when I heard Brian had overdosed, like when I heard that Paul the bartender had fallen in the bathroom and broken his neck, like when I heard that Rose had died in a car accident, like when I heard Bruce had put a shotgun to his chest and pulled the trigger, like when I heard Brett had stabbed his sister Dawn so many times in the belly in their parents' kitchen and now she was dead and he was in prison.
  "When I talk to girls," I'd told her, sitting on the grass in the sun, holding her guitar, "Things go spectacularly wrong.  First that one I just told you about, and look... now I decide to 'talk to the Christian girl who works in the pet store,' and look what happened there!"  She laughed.
  Look what happened.  It's dark outside, and terribly, horribly silent.

Slap-Together Video For "Pomises (God's Country)"

Literally "playing God."

Sunday, 6 November 2011

What Is The Message?

  As a Christian child, I was brought up with the idea that the main function of a Christian human being on this earth was to "spread the gospel." (The use of the word "spread" made me think of Cheez Whiz, or possibly of a woman's legs. Or of AIDS.)
  Of course the actual bible doesn't use that word. It uses words like "tell," "announce" or "preach." (think about how the behaviour of Christians has made the word "preachy" have a very specific connotation, mostly involving selfishly soapboxing, not listening or comprehending, not having a conversation, not building any personal connection, just yet another person selfishly selling an idea for their own reasons with no thought of what their hapless listener might be going through. Very different from what Jesus did.) The actual bible seems focussed on people hearing more than on all the ways that superpreachers would try to make that happen (the opposite of the multimedia megachurch mentality, seems to me).
  Interestingly, no one seems to be able to agree anymore about what exactly "the gospel" or "the Word," or "God's Final Message To His Creation" really is anymore these days.
  The gospel message I was raised with is lampooned with painful accuracy by the late standup comedian George Carlin:

...there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!
But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!

  Considering that the word 'gospel' means 'good news,' this story always seemed ironically like bad news. People were so focussed on convincing potential converts that they were (despite their best self-images, efforts and intentions) horrible, hopelessly depraved, lust-mongering sinners, and of how horrible and excitingly Heavy Metal Album Cover Hell no doubt was, that they actually did a downright shoddy job of painting any kind of appealing view of Heaven. Heaven didn't sound like anywhere I wanted to be, anyway. I was supposed to loathe the wicked, evil, corrupt world which we were to forswear (filled as it was with corrupting, soul-destroying things like The A-Team, Pac-man, Pink Floyd and Star Wars) and I was supposed to eagerly await the rapture, to take me away to Heaven. Heaven, where one couldn't sneak comics or TV, because there just wouldn't be any. 
  Everything would be a blank white sheet of paper you weren't allowed to colour on (and there weren't any colours, let alone crayons) forever and ever and ever. And you had to sing. Church songs. For ever. So, a lot like church, but you'd never be allowed to leave. And just like with gyms, I have never in my life sat in church without wanting to leave shortly after I arrive.  This "heaven is like never-ending church" imagery sounded very like Christian Kid Hell.  For a Christian kid, paradise would involve not having to go to church or do church stuff anymore. (Not that any of that blank white, colourless, passionless, singing eternally imagery came from the actual bible, of course.)
  And in the actual bible Jesus never made any attempt to draw away from and not associate with the world and the people and activities in it the way I was taught I must.  He walked around in it and ate with people of all sorts.  Talked to the slutty girls and the drunk guys. He didn't preach 24/7. Was that ok?  "Well, He was God," everyone would tell me.  "You aren't supposed to try to be like Him.  You're supposed to live like a Christian."  Apparently that was a kind of opposite thing.  So, they'd taken away Jesus Christ as the head of the Christian faith, as the example or inspiration or forerunner for us, and replaced him tidily with joy-crushing, suburban, business-casual-wearing bureaucratic church folk with no balls nor guts.  Where Jesus had been abrasive, challenging and revolutionary, they were insipid and nice.  (To your face. Kinda. Sometimes)  Where Jesus was confident and assertive, they were timid and were always bringing forward lists of concerns and possible offense taken in the past, present or future; in actuality or in theory only.

  And then I encountered modern church Christians of a much less dour bent. And their gospel was "Jesus came! He's so awesome! He loves you! Come to our church and watch us sing about him! Maybe you'll catch it too!" It was all very Invasion of the Body Snatchers, very Pod People. It was like those Saturn commercials in the 90s which lampooned how cult-like they hoped their buyership could be induced to become.  Because advertising to nonchurch folk how cuckoo for Jesuspuffs you are was somehow expected to attract them in droves.  Terrifying thought, that a normal, rational person could go into that building, and then simply have their humanity and personality rent from them, leaving an empty husk, with a smiling church-mask, singing horrible, horrible songs and being bracingly cheerful and painfully earnest. And, I found, this was something that many people who'd never set foot in a church themselves feared would happen, should they ever do that.  So many new converts to Jesus-following have expressed what huge delight they have taken in knowing that they didn't now need to become church sheep.  And the church sheep bleat frantically "Well, but you have to go to church!  You just have to!  Or else you're disobeying God and the bible!"  Bullshit, I say, with confidence, having read that book, and having seen that their one "forsaking not the assembling of yourselves together" verse is one which they need to disallow all non-church forms of Christian connecting in order to smack us all with.

  Writers like N.T. Wright reject outright this idea that the message from God is all about how the world is horrible and hopeless and that we will therefore, thankfully, get airlifted out of it, as God has scrapped it, and that we'd best hide in a church community in the meantime. They feel that there is much in the bible about Christianity sanctifying (or redeeming or Jesusforming) our planet. They would point to the end of slavery in America, to the victory over Hitler during the second world war, to the growth of tolerance in our culture, and say that this is the work of Jesus coming to fruition, with Christians seen in every chapter of that story, helping bring it about.
  Very new thoughts to me. Not sure it's the whole story. They seem uncomfortable with the actual faces of evil in our world, particularly those among them, and even the actual ugliness of Christ's death, when worshiping.
  We are, largely, what we were raised to be. I realized today that I was raised to be sober, serious, blankfaced, solemn and respectfully reverent. I was to have a pained face handy, ready for things I wouldn't or couldn't get involved in ("dirty" jokes, partying, celebration), so I could opt out of those, tut tutting quietly, and then use the serious, solemn one the rest of the time.
  I may have grown a bit over the years, but when I decide I "need to get serious" about anything (some talking to God, my job, my diet, exercise, whatever), there is a proud, satisfied feeling that I'm doing something immensely worthwhile and proper. All because I was brought up with so much approval earned for somber, serious reverence on Sunday morning, which was meant to be the very center of our lives.  This feeling of proud, satisfied pride and virtue that I'm doing something good just because I'm "getting serious" is seldom warranted, if the end results are any indication at least.  I end up doing far more interesting and important stuff when I follow a mischievous whim, rather than when I "get serious."
  Conversely, whenever I'm being glib, sarcastic, flip, mocking, witty, clever, light-hearted, devil-may-care and the like, there is an intoxicating feeling like I'm snorting the Devil's Own Cocaine, and having far more fun than I "should." Because I'm not being sober, serious or reverent. And it's SO fun. My upbringing is still making that fun to this very day (and frantically telling me not to have that sort of fun.)
  Equally, my upbringing taught that truly good things were Heaven-like in nature: empty, quiet, sober, pure, insipid, dry, dull, passionless. Modern music was all thought to be very bad of course, but I soon recognized what kinds of it immediately made my parents deeply uncomfortable, made them afraid it would rub off on me and transform my attitude.  It was anything primal, energetic, edgy or anything with attitude. Anything with snarl. Anything with a deep glee to it. Anything with a depth or height of emotional expression not normally achieved by white people.  That was all seen as marked with Satan's thumbprint, and the response to it can only be described as superstitious. So that stuff is still my favourite stuff, and the hardest thing for me to achieve in my own videos and music.
  What's the easiest for me to successfully achieve in my own music? Quiet, serious, haunting, reverent, solemn sorrow and regret. Dirgey, hymnic stuff.  I practiced that mood every Sunday of my adolescent life. I've got it down. It's a comfortable mood for me. Seems virtuous just feeling it.  Every time I set foot inside a church and the music is joyful and peppy, my solemn mood fights it without me even trying. "That's not how it goes!" snarls my deepest, primal heart. "It's about death and darkness, fire and punishment, dark and light, pain and relief! It's an opera painted in bold strokes!  It's not supposed to be a reassuring peppy thing by the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber!  It's not supposed to be safe and reassuring!" And as much as church folk encourage me to "get over myself for one hour and just enjoy Jesus with us," I really can't do that. (And it's not just me I'm getting over.  It's everything, including them.) And they and their music really don't seem worth it to me.  Couldn't be bothered to pirate that music.  If someone lent me a CD of it, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to endure it.  Hardly seems worth trying to rewire my whole psyche so it responds favourably to what now seems like pablum.
  Because nothing they are doing rings true to me. It still seems like it would almost belong in the "heaven" of my upbringing. It is still passionless, bland, empty, dry, dull, naively sincere and boring. It makes Justin Bieber seem like an angry young man with important feelings to express and deep roots in the very crotch of music. It makes Selena Gomez and Katy Perry seem insightful, edgy and heart-felt. It makes everything Disney wants to sell us seem palatable.
  Because it's still about the children, apparently. They can watch Disney channel and Disney movies (so long as they don't get too edgy or passionate or dark.) We set no upper limits on schmaltz, on triteness, or plastic cheesy crap when it comes to our kids. Because that stuff's nothing to worry about, right? God likes it? Full House is, as far as we're concerned, as edgy as we need ever get with kids, providing the deep, heart-felt lessons and hysterically funny life moments we can only wish to experience in our real lives.
  Last night three atheist friends took me to see Slim Cessna's Auto Club perform at the Dominion Tavern.  I saw cowboy/hipster-looking dudes play manically to a room full of Ottawa's oldest hipsters, goths, punks, hippies, and whatevers. I saw the atheist son of a Baptist minister sing songs filled with half-ironic bible content, continually using stage moves taken from revival meetings.  It was all hands held high in the air, wobbling fingers jazz-hands style.  He wasn't quite slaying people in the spirit, but pretty much.  And I saw the roomful of mostly atheist people unironically doing exactly what people would do in a Pentecostal or lively southern Baptist church, feeling the same way, filled with joy, hands in the air.  And it was, to say the least, a tiny bit odd for me.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Maybe Someday: Memories of Nortel and Loss

Once I had gathered and edited together all of the video from the weekend, I decided I needed some footage of my playing and singing the song too.  Walking a fine line between wearing a wig and old glasses to hark back to that era, and ruining the video by looking too silly.  I drove to a remote Park 'N Ride, put on the car headlights and shot the "playing the guitar and singing" sillouette, keeping it barely visible.