Friday, 30 May 2014


Every day Facebook fills up with statuses like this: "I can't wait to get out of this town."  "If I have to spend another year in this town, I swear I'll die."  
    I bought a hamburger from a former student of mine today.  "Two more weeks.  Two more weeks," he told me.  Because then he's going to move from his town to a city.  And everything will be better.
    But slipping by, almost unnoticed are Facebook statuses which seem like bookends to those: "I don't know what I was doing, moving here.  Can't wait to get back home where I belong."  "So glad to be back in my hometown!"
    My friend, growing up, kept planning big.  To move to America.  To move Out West, as one does, in Canada.  And my sister had that bug too.  She moved to Japan for a couple of years.  Moved to the west coast once she got married.  She came right back, never having really been able to put roots down there like she can here.  My friend moved out west, reinvented himself rather extensively, and did not.
   I never understood that need to leave.  I grew up living in the farm country (with trees and rivers and lakes and stars and wildlife and things) right outside a town, which had almost everything you'd need, with a city less than an hour's drive away, for things like NHL teams, multiplexes, clubs, big box stores and concerts.  And that's what seems normal to me.  When I was at university, I lived right in a city.  Couldn't get anywhere where there was real nature.  Could go look down at a river from the back of Parliament Hill.  So I did that sometimes.  But I can't really think at all in a city. 
   When I was moving out from my parents' after University, I didn't want to move out and get a place in exactly the same town my parents lived outside of, where I'd grown up (that seemed a bit pointless), but I moved to another bit of countryside just outside a near, smaller village, but a bit closer to the city.  And when I moved next, I moved into the city, but on the edge of it.  And when I really needed to think, I walked out of the city, into farm country.  Almost stepped on a porcupine in the thick darkness one time, on a nature trail, trying to work out my thoughts and feelings about a girl who didn't care enough, as one does.  And when I was at my folks', I often made a point to take walks in the night.
    And then I moved into a small town I could walk out of, into farm country, with stars and moon and forest and cows and things.  And that worked, too.  It's quite close to the city, but you can't tell if you're here.
    I'm into roots. I teach kids, and having connections to the parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents of an assortment of them (even being distantly related to a few of them) makes me feel like I'm a local, who knows stuff, and who can handle things.  No one ever feels like he knows exactly how much stuff and exactly how many people I might end up knowing something about, or having a connection to.  It's magic.
    And the roots can go pretty far.  A number of cities in both Canada and the U.S. have places that I've been, or lived, or visited so many times, that they are "my" places.  I have favourite restaurants, clubs and convenience stores and movie theatres in Toronto, Montreal and towns in Pennsylvania and New York state.  And I like that.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Doctor What?

I'm helping out a prospective Theology PhD guy by proof-reading his doctoral thesis.  In chunks.  As he writes them and sends them to me.  It's tough going.  He says things like:

   Premillennial dispensationalism gained a notable surge in popularity precisely because it made sense of the opposition from society that conservative evangelicals felt whenever they asserted their fundamental beliefs.  Until the neo-evangelicals challenged the legitimacy of the resulting withdrawal from society — of which Henry represented an important initial voice — efforts to preserve evangelical orthodoxy overrode the fundamentalists’ concern for orthopraxy.

  ...and uses a lot of words that Microsoft Word doesn't know, like "soteriology" and "salvific" and "eschatology."  (and "orthopraxy.") Reading all this scholarly stuff reminds me of all the things I once was (and in some cases, still am) scared to think about too much.  I was afraid I would somehow "lose my faith" when I had an honest look at how complicated things might really be, beyond my comfort zone.
   As a kid, I was scared to think much about anything in our faith culture, because to do so seemed very much at odds with 'just believing, you know, what we all believe...'  I was absolutely on board with devoting all brain-space to memorizing and delivering prepared little arguments for "Why what we believe is the only correct way to believe."
   I was subconsciously, but carefully, avoiding hearing any opposing views.  I didn't think my faith could take it.  Because I saw my faith in God as my ability to, through fleshly effort and culturally-trained mental techniques, carefully not jettison a belief package, in a box we weren't to open.  No matter how ridiculous some of it might seem to other Christians, or how little sense some it made to me, if I let my brain click into "on" for too long.
   It was such a cohesive package that many people, upon deciding one small feature of the belief system didn't quite hold water, threw it all out entirely. It was like Jenga. Would all come tumbling down if you didn't keep very, very still.
   I have a very clear memory of the time, at about age 20, when I finally decided "Enough with 'helping' God exist. If He exists (and I think that He does) then He doesn't need me to believe properly, in order for Him to be healthy.  He doesn't subsist on my faith, like the gods in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods.  That's not what's going on.  What's going on, and all that's going on, is if I believe wrongly about Him, then I'm being silly.  I'm wrong about something.  And that's happened before, and things are fine.  Better get used to getting stuff wrong occasionally, instead of pretending to have it all figured out.  It's life. And my beliefs seem to be growing and developing and expanding. They seem to be a seeking after and wrestling match with truth and reality, rather than, as I was raised, a clinging to other people's prepackaged, unopened doctrine boxes."
   It was freeing, really.  To let God be God.  All by Himself.  To try to get to know a bit about who and how and what He was, without feeling the need to create Him, nor to be fully schooled on what human beings had created Him to be.  If He was Himself, then it wasn't about my belief at all.  It was more about understanding who and what He was.  And if He simply "wasn't," if He lacked reality, all on His own merits, then He could just bugger off.  (He hasn't, so far.)

The Inerrancy/Magical Qualities of the Bible
But proof-reading through Dr. What's writing, with all of its allusions to all kinds of writers, reminds me of what I have felt troubled by taking too close a look at.  I mean, when I read a book of the bible, and I check the page on Wikipedia, Wikipedia always says pretty much exactly the same thing.  Something along the lines of: 

While traditionally the book of Hezekiah had been simply attributed to an actual living person literally named Hezekiah, in the twentieth century, a bunch of wankers from Germany have decided that in fact the book was most likely written by seventeen (or, Hertzberg speculates, twenty-three) separate writers, over a period of three hundred years, with extensive editing, additions, redaction and deletions from the original, and bits from Beowulf added in for flavour.  In a basement in Seattle.  So this is obviously all true and is now generally held by modern scholarship.

   I remember the first time I got a chill at University when my professor pointed out that, though we'd always been taught that the guy whose name was on the book of the bible had actually written it, that if we looked carefully, we saw that his death was reported on in the same book.  (This kind of thing had us fundamentalists scrambling to argue that God had certainly shown this writer his own death, and so he'd written it.  In advance.  For the sake of completism.  I mean, we believed God was capable of anything, right?  Especially stuff we imagined Him doing, to make sure the bible ended up being precisely what we imagined it to be?) 
   You see, we had a lot of pressure on us regarding the bible.  We believed that if one sentence was  added or removed from a book of the bible, if one word was wrong, then this somehow invalidated the magic of the whole book, making it not perfect and divinely inspired anymore, and we might as well toss our bibles on the trash heap and head out to sports bars immediately, looking for love and pitchers of cheap beer.
   But there are all kinds of things that bothered me to think about, as to the bible.  The four gospels not seeming to quite exactly line up (four guys in Germany to begin with thought that Matthew was written first, with the other gospel writers copying it and making mistakes, and that Mark was a brief summary of Matthew.  But then Hanz, Fritz, Wilhelm and Franz decided that no, Mark was written first, and then an imaginary, lost gospel by Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation followed, and that Matthew was composed by adding Q stuff to the stuff Mark already said, clearly resulting in the Frankengospel we now clearly understand Matthew to be.
   So, like with so many things, Christians divide as to the bible.  On the one side are people who think it's a rough edit together of stuff that mostly helps us know Jesus, but that every word isn't magic, and that it, like the Church is tainted by mistaken human effort.  On the other are people who believe that not a thought or word is lost in translation in any way, and if one were, then the whole book were bunk.
   So what do I do?  Well, I decide that the bible is a message.  From and about God Himself.  And that we get, if we pay attention, the message, basically.  Imperfectly.  Over our lives.  And I note that going too far in terms of:

a) spending 110% of one's brainspace insisting upon the bible being mostly a cobbled-together hodgepodge,

or the opposite

b)"The bible's 100% true because the bible says it is, and that's good enough for me!"

...all seems to seriously detract from letting the book speak.  Takes time and focus away from letting an actual message get through.  I don't think we're content to see through a glass darkly.  I don't think we're realistic about how much of our own ideas we can't seem to help projecting all over the text, obscuring it from view.   I don't think we like mystery.  I don't think we like the idea that God reveals:

a) only what He wants to,
b) and only what we can handle

...rather than:

c) pretty much everything, if you read hard enough.

   And there are those uncomfortable things.  Like how, long ago, people decided which of many books to include in our bible, and which ones to omit.  Many were omitted.  Even Jewish and Catholic bibles contain books missing from Protestant ones.  Yet the books we have in our bible (and Jesus himself) actually quote many of those books that aren't in our bible.  Because people like Jesus considered them worth reading.  Ecclesiasticus.  Wisdom.  The Maccabees.   Stuff like that.  For example, the book of Enoch is omitted from our bible (because it's weird.)  But Jude quotes it in our bible. And we leave Jude in.
  Also, those little teeny letters at the bottom of the pages (or in the margin down the middle, depending on your bible) reveal that the bible says people are quoting, for example, Isaiah, but the quote they're saying is actually from Malachi or somewhere else (for example Mark 1:2 says in all possible manuscripts "As is written in Isaiah the prophet" and then quotes Malachi.  Despite what the book of Mark says, this is corrected in the King James by altering that bit to say "the prophets." This is to fix or hide the simple fact that Malachi is the one who actually wrote that part, despite what Mark almost certainly wrote. All our oldest manuscripts have Mark citing the wrong book of the bible.)
  And stuff gets quoted in our bible, attributed to people whose writings are in our bible, but which actual quotes don't seem to actually be anywhere in our bible at all.
  And then there are translators' notes, showing that bits here and there are missing from most copies of the bible, calling into question whether they should be included in ours or not, and making one wonder how they got there.  And there are the translators' notes marking the translated word "large" and adding "or perhaps 'small.'"  Or notes affixed to the word "peacocks," which read "or perhaps apes."  Or "tree" which read "or perhaps cave."

   So, I could decide that all of that is a test of my faith, and that rather than being little errors, that it is a purposeful Godpuzzle that actually reveals important secret doctrinal matters, hidden knowledge and prophetic stuff.  Code, if you will.  And I could then do cryptic charts and make acronyms and I could feel like a wizard.
   Or conversely I could conclude that the message of the bible is, as a result of some clear mistakes in the editing/translation/copying process, therefore, somehow lost.  And I could kinda toss the bible out.
  But I guess I don't do neither of these. It's hard.  It's taking time to unlearn how I was raised to read it.  But I read the bible.  Because it's important to me.  I believe the message in it is magic.   The magic that fixes not only me, but the world.  And that it's getting through millennial and cultures and miles and copyings and translations just fine, no matter what maybe occasionally actually happens on the paper.  In 1611.
  And I let it be weird. I let it say stuff that's clearly nothing to do specifically or primarily with me.  I don't pretend, or even believe I can, fully understand absolutely any bit I want to, just because I want to.  I don't force it all into dispensations and charts and Words With Capitals.  I try to let it speak, and see what it says, if it's willing to say anything that I can get.  I believe that without God the Holy Spirit working with me, I'm going to see absolute crap when I'm reading the bible, just any old nonsense, and that I'll use it like someone doing tea leaves or goat entrails.  That it will be more about me projecting my own emotional and spiritual baggage than about anything God is trying to say.
   It's not just about if I know what the words in the bible say.  And the majority of the bible isn't written as rules to be obeyed.  It's also about what my spirit/attitude is.  And hardcore bible reading isn't guaranteed to "loosen" people who are too tightly wound, and who know nothing of grace, ease, peace, kindness, forgiveness and mercy.  We know this because we know avid, lifelong bible readers who are so tightly wound they squeak, and whose bible reading seems to make them merciless and judgmental.
   But I read it.  Carefully.  I try not to make this ritualistic or superstitious.  I try not to do it each morning so I'll have good luck/blessing. I try to turn off that Brethren DVD commentary that tends to play, drowning the bible passages out when I'm reading.  I try to read books of the bible (or failing that, ten chapter sections) in one "go" to avoid self-indulgently slicing and dicing it up into little quotable bits, with no clue about, no vision of, what the whole book is trying to talk about. Mostly, I'm interested in what the ancient people who heard it would likely have heard.  And I'm interested, not just to laugh about how little they understood, compared to us, now.
  I'm wary of how much I might be tempted to warp what I'm reading, just so it's supposedly to, about and for me and me alone.
  And when I'm trying to add my ideas to someone else's discussion, and I want to be convincing?  I do not try to hand puppet the bible, and make it say I'm 'right,' out of a puppet mouth I'm flapping and saying "Oh, look! The BIBLE says I'm right!"
  I do not like to slice and dice and quote tiny scripture scraps out of context, so I can look right.  I think that's blasphemy.  I can't feel right about doing it.  I refer to the bible overall, in themes and writers and events.  I don't quote little phrases and annotate them, chapter and verse, just as if Jeremiah was writing to help me make my points, or that I am making exactly the same speeches as Jeremiah was, and for much the same reasons.
   Dr. What points out that the connections between the points made by evangelicals, and the messages originally intended in the scraps they quote, are often completely indecipherable.  Not unless one is already "sold" on seeing things exactly their way, in which case, the verses all say the same thing to all the like-minded people.  But their interpretations make no sense to everyone else. "This verse is telling us to sell the current church building.  Isaiah is very clear on what we must do." It's like they're trying to build a tower of doctrine to heaven, and God confuses their languages so most people can't even agree on what the terminology should be.

The Divinity of Christ
This one always scared me a bit.  Some people decide Jesus Christ became God (eventually), or was adopted and became God's Son, and others feel he was part of an Eternal Trinity, with him somehow being the Son, but having never not existed, or being created or born, or added in to the Trinity, the word "Son" not meaning what we tend to think it does.
     People have all kinds of stupid arguments about this one.  And like all of these stupid arguments, you can't simply turn to the chapter in the bible with the charts, that explains everything and lays it all out clearly, and answers all of our questions so we understand it completely.  No.  We create those things ourselves and often, really don't see how much trimming and folding and cutting and pasting we've been doing to the bible in order to make them.
   We're not listening to the bible. We're making paper dolls of it.  Making it talk for us, to say we're right.  We're trying to make it serve us and our needs and arguments and views.  Not facing how much of it we can't really, honestly claim to make head nor tail of.  We're making up conspiracy theories like hillbillies in the swamp, imagining they can figure out everything about how the space shuttle works, just by watching a YouTube video of one taking off.  And after a few pulls on the bottle of white lightnin', everyone agrees that Cecil's interpretation "just makes sense."  They were all there.  They saw it make sense.  And that's good enough for them.  YouTube was quite clear.
   I've heard people read the gospels as tales of Jesus walking around doing magic tricks for no purpose other than to say "Tadaah!  I'm God, see?!" Others see it as him showing how, when one works for and with God, even an ordinary human being should be able to do what he did (and in fact, he promised, to do more than what he did, once he was gone).  Hence all his chiding of the disciples for not believing.  Apart from dying for the sins of mankind, Jesus seems to be expecting his followers to do anything he does.  And further books of the bible report that they did.  But I don't hear that people routinely do that stuff today.  So what do you do with all of that?
   In Mark, Jesus says that the Son doesn't know when his return will happen.  He says only the Father knows that.  He's saying that the Son is God, but that the Son doesn't know something God the Father knows.
  IS God omniscient and omnipotent?  I find this kind of thinking troubling to pursue.  In our modern minds, we have taken "almighty" and decided it means the same things as "infinitely powerful/can do absolutely anything at all," even though the writers of the bible had no symbols for or concepts of zero or infinity.  "Powerful enough to deal with absolutely anything He needs to" isn't the same as "infinitely powerful to do absolutely anything I can imagine more.  Infinitely."
  And we decide that God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are what we call "omniscient," knowing all things there are.  Yet Jesus says he doesn't know something specific. And God speaks of forgetting things (like transgressions).  What do we do with that?  Get our chart paper out and start proving the bible is right and defending it?  Or do we embrace mystery?
  I cannot pretend to have that all figured out.  Oh, I know there's doctrine that people are lining up to try to force me to "take a clear position" on.  But I am not leaping to prop up the bible by explaining away this apparent contradiction.  I don't need to.  The bible is.  I read it. It doesn't need me to justify it.  I don't need to have a chart with my doctrinal "fors" and "againsts" so the right people know to shun me and the right people embrace me.
   One of the things Dr. What wrote about was that evangelicals, the writers he's studying claim, engage with strangers primarily by presenting theories and arguments and trying to get them to feel certain ways about those things.  That does sound like an odd way to make a connection and start a dialogue.  Seems like something that people would meet as a bit of a non sequitur.  How about seeing a physical need or situation and appreciating or bettering it? Like Jesus did?  Even without resorting to miraculous means of doing it?

The One Correct Christian Group
I've gone into this plenty already.  I've decided that this doctrine is what makes Brethren divisions possible/inevitable.  It's the "stakes" people are fighting over.  Claiming the Name.
   But there was a time when I couldn't bear to think about it very squarely, because I feared I'd lose my belief in our church and the lifestyle I'd invested in carrying out my whole life.  Well, God forced my hand on that one.  All in aid of knowing Him and the Church better.  Breaking out of that stained glass house/box.  And knowing Him, unfiltered by that stained glass.  We already see through a glass darkly.  To add an extra layer of (stained) glass?  Didn't make any sense to Him, apparently. It seemed an impediment to my spiritual growth, so He rent it from me/me from it.

Dr. What Talks Funny
He uses these kinds of words:

crucicentrism: this relates to evangelicals focusing on the death of Christ at the cross, to the detriment of pretty much everything else in the bible at all.  He argues that they focus on personal experiences of Christ, on conversion stories that are extremely melodramatic, so they can bear telling and retelling for the rest of that person's life.  He says this means evangelicals are, essentially, focused only on what Christ can do for them personally.  After death.  Says this makes them disinterested in helping others (except to gain more like-thinking followers) or being a positive force in their communities.  He quotes authors who argue that the cross wasn't just about Jesus saving me.  It was about him taking the next step in setting the whole world right, which will culminate in him ruling it one day.  Argues that our gospel has shrunk.  And many evangelicals shut out the real world and enjoy imagining a near-romantic, current, fantasized over, sentimentalized, fanciful personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that they personally are having, right now, and which they feel is Jesus Christ's only concern.  Not shrinking from "feeding him" his lines, just as they imagine they'd want said lines to be delivered, either.  Like a fifteen year old girl kissing her pillow and pretending Justin Bieber is right there in the room with her, incarnate in that foam-filled Ikea soft furnishing.

apologeticism: this relates to a mindset that doesn't spend as much time listening to the bible as it does in arguing that the bible is right and "defending" it against unbelief or differing belief, mostly when it supports their own lifestyle choices.  Turning poetry and lyrics and impassioned pleas to be faithful, into doctrinal "positions."  This means that, upon meeting a Christian who's been reading the bible and has a different focus or interpretation, the usual response is to shut up (or shut out) that person, rather than work things out and learn from each other, both being Christian brothers.

ahistoricism: this relates to a mindset that is closed to and threatened by archaeology and history. 'Nuff said.

social pessimism: this relates to an odd joy taken in the idea that God will burn the world, all the while claiming it's "sad."  To the mindset that isn't open to the idea that the Kingdom of God is the world ruled by God, and that if we listen, we become ruled by God, not in terms of lifestyle limits only, but also in terms of active, positive concerns and ideas and endeavours.
   An argument is made that an overfocus on The World's Problem as being My Personal Sin narrows the focus of the evangelical from Jesus saving the World, and moves their minds utterly away from taking social ills and transgressions of entire cultures and nations as seriously as one's own petty thoughts and desires.  (And then not wishing to make amends for said cultural and national, ongoing iniquities.)
  He argues that this view is worsened by an "us vs. them" attitude about the World, which they exaggerate the hostility of, toward them, innocuous Western Christians as they are, with guaranteed rights.  He argues that this imagined level of hostility toward them can be not only exaggerated, but also self-fulfilling, or self-concocted. Makes them want to fight and hate the World, rather than be agents of God wanting to love and help, rather than merely correct and judge it.

ethicism: this relates to the idea that many evangelicals view the bible as if it were nothing more than an ethics manual, dealing only with right and wrong choices, despite the clear fact that it covers a lot more ground than merely that one area.  Any part of the bible (see: Song of Solomon) which doesn't help enforce "correct Christian living" ends up getting glossed over, more often than not.  Very little of the bible remains, after this exercise.  Because very little of the bible is about ethics only.  But that's what many want to use it for.

conversionism: this relates to the sole focus on "that moment I took my first step of faith" and trying to endlessly retard one's Christian growth and spiritual preoccupation with solely that, and nothing that might happen next.  It is anti-growth and anti-depth.  Keeping folks happily, forever, "in Sunday School."  Slapping down any discussions which involve more than one perspective or consideration or interpretation, and purging out all nuance, insisting that everything be presented as a finished black and white belief decision/position, rather than any kind of ongoing learning experience.

Stuff like that.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Instructions For Dealing With Legalistically Raised People

We're not all the same.  But people like us, who grew up a little bit differently from you, may be a bit hard to connect to.  Here are some things:

-we may be unforthcoming about ourselves and our pasts.  Even secretive. Some of us will say "I don't like to be analyzed" or "I don't like to talk about myself."  We grew up when the self-help books of the 70s and 80s were out there alright, but we weren't raised to believe that any good would come of introspection, of knowing ourselves.  We were told that our selves were horrible, and to simply not be them.  The expression "to thine own self be true" could not have been more alien to our approach to life.
   Collect what we are willing to share about our past carefully.  Speak of it respectfully. Do not ask us to repeat ourselves.  It was hard enough for us to talk about it once.

-We may be a bit "locked in" emotionally.  A lot of us don't do facial expressions as openly, naturally and immediately as most people.  A lot of us speak quietly, sometimes in oddly stilted voices.  A lot of us mumble.  A lot of us speak in a bit of a monotone.  Many of us carefully do not use our voices to express much of our emotional landscape.  We are making sure very little of "us" leaks out into where everyone else can hear it.
   You will need to learn to "read" us.  You will find we reveal more in what we do not say, or do not do, than in what we positively say and do.  Don't try to "draw us out" emotionally.  We will retreat.  Just make us feel safe and unjudged, and show concern and interest, rather than morbid curiosity, and we may open up a little bit in time.

-We may be hypersensitive to being disrespected, neglected or pushed around.  For many of us, our upbringing did not reward being assertive or looking after ourselves. We were to be sheep.  There wasn't a lot of talk of "going after what [we] want[ed]."  Just say no, rather than just do it.  So we often do a lot of things to make others happy and comfortable, and then get incredibly angry inside when no one notices or bothers to do the same kind of stuff for us in return, not that we've let anyone know what we need.  And being angry's "not okay," so many of us don't admit, even to ourselves, how angry we often are.  And the degree to which we admit we are angry, instead of trying to unfeel it, is the degree to which we have to feel special, additional shame.
   Be very careful to make us feel like our needs and boundaries matter.  Make sure to take our anger very seriously, especially if we can't admit to having any.

-We are, more than most people, apt to be filled with shame and depths of self-loathing that you may not be familiar with or accustomed to.  We will routinely, habitually and unthinkingly say the most horrible, self-limiting and self-disparaging things without any clue how that might sound to someone else. Even if we're good-looking, or smart or good at something, we will speak about ourselves and it in terms that would result in actual blows to the face, were they spoken to another person, instead of being directed inward.  We will especially do this when faced with praise.  We, like anyone else, crave praise, but once we get some, we shut down and can't deal with it, so we argue against the praise, or at best, mutely remain unresponsive to it, and change the subject.
   Praise us anyway.  Don't stop, just because we handle it awkwardly.  We need it.

-We tend to need structure and control. We tend to need to feel like we see clear limits and know what can and cannot happen.  In fact, we need to know what will and will not be happening, far more than typical people.
   When possible, include us in plans, and help us be able to picture what's likely to happen, in advance, so we won't be tempted to withdraw/retreat, due to all of the uncertainly and randomness.  We can imagine truly appalling things happening.  And we do.  Moment by moment.  We have a deep-seated expectation of calamity.

-We are marked with an overfocus upon rules being part of our lives.  Where most people see the rules as suggestions, or a positive vision of how things, ideally, might be, we were raised to actually follow any and all rules.  Our relationship with and to them, is different, therefore.  Very black and white.  If there's a rule that's not being enforced, we tend to either need it to be enforced, or need it removed so the shame we feel it is to see the rules on paper, but not being real things, can be erased.  When we define rules for others, we expect a level of compliance with them that is far over and above what typical people might expect.
   If you make a rule for us, consider the fact that we will feel the need to follow it to the letter, and will feel like criminals if we need to break it.  We will not readily embrace grey areas, and knowing when to bend the rules.  If you work for or under our authority, expect our view of rules to be quite black and white when compared to your own.

-Many of us were raised that the government and all human systems were corrupt, flawed and evil, and therefore may be unable to get behind any efforts designed to improve things.  Improve things?  We were raised to see such attempts as "painting the lifeboats on the Titanic."  Our whole demeanour is often one of battening down the hatches and waiting for everything to go to crap.  We live our entire lives waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And our lives end up being like that.  When we are asked to get enthusiastic and excited about a new committee, group or initiative that's going to be amazing and bring much-needed improvements, we tend to feel like someone is trying to trick us.
   Remember this when asking us to believe in world-fixing stuff.  Often we just can't.

-Many of us were raised to be completely out of touch with our own generation.  As a result, either we have self-consciously immersed ourselves in the movies, music and slang of our own generation, or in some cases, we seem old-fashioned and quaint, as if from a previous generation.  Some of us are more at home talking to old folks than people are own age, it seems.

-We can be very sarcastic.  Often, this is what we do when asked to believe in something positive, or get enthusiastic, or support something.  We can't, so we mock, criticize, judge or otherwise buy out of it.
   Try not to take this too seriously.  See it for what it is: an inability to participate or engage more directly and bluntly.

-We also tend to be passive-aggressive.  We do not tend to yell, or swear or insult and oppose directly.  Many of us, most of the time, are far more indirect and underhanded in how we oppose or respond negatively to someone we're taking a dislike to.  We aren't content to simply dislike the person and say we find them annoying and stupid.  We're quite likely to insist that, no, we actually really care about them, but just really, really think they need to consider... etc.  We don't say they're idiots.  We say their whole situation is "so sad."
   Keep this in mind. This is how we roll.  You can't really make us be more direct. 

-We tend to need a lot of personal space.  We tend to not be comfortable with sudden, unannounced touch.  We tend to need quiet and places to go off alone.  Even when invisibly part of huge crowds, we feel like there's a spotlight on us, like we're "on" at all times until we can escape the situation.
   Expect us to need, and facilitate for us, exits and escapes, planned in advance, waiting, should we feel we need them.

-We tend not to be vain in the sense of being preening peacocks.  We embrace individuality gingerly, and often get it through quaintness, outmodedness or even a plainness that is so plain as to be attention-getting.  We were raised in an environment which disapproved of people being strongly individualistic.  We very much want to be seen as individuals, despite this "muted individuality" we grew up with.
   See past our quaintness.  See us a individuals, despite the relative uniformity of our families and culture.  And if we wear an item of clothing that is individualistic, keep in mind what a bold, heart-felt manifestation of self this really is.  To you, we may all seem pretty similar in a lot of ways.  To us, we're wholly unique and we don't feel like we fit.

-We tend to not be able to remember much of our childhoods and adolescences.  We tend to not have many stories from then, and if we do, to have stories with bad stuff in them that we're carefully not thinking about.  Stuff we haven't ever really properly thought about.  Stuff we're trying to avoid ever thinking about.  Certainly with others. We already have enough shame.
   If we are in a rare mood in which we share things, make the conversation laid back and safe.  Respect privacy.  Do not expect to be able to remove the shame, or see things the way we do.  Just listen and feel with us.

-We tend to have a fair bit of trouble connecting deeply, openly and naturally with others, and maintaining lasting connections with them throughout our lives.  Our relationships tend to "die on the vine."  Often through us being closed, or actively fleeing them.
   Try to keep dealing with us through the years, even if it seems like we're growing apart.

-We tend not to divorce.  When we are in particularly unhappy marriages, we tend to feel like we need to do our duty.  Sacrifice our own needs for those of our children.  The phrases "The thrill is gone" and "I'm just not happy" do not come to bear.  They aren't considered anything but a sad reality that must be endured.
   Do not assume, when talking to us about our marriages, that we're about to leave the marriage, should we get sufficiently unhappy.  And don't try to make us plan our lives that way.  It's now how we are.

There's more.  A lot more.  But there's a start.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Closed Down

When writing my book, I had that epiphany that I seemed, even in my teens, to be full of spite and venom and blackness, and that this wasn't after all, as I'd suspected, anger not getting out, but all the fond, loving happy and good feelings rotting in there, because I didn't know how to let them out.
   I don't cry.  I don't touch people.  I don't smile at people very readily or quickly.  I'm kind of closed off.  I can report any emotions to you, that you could want to hear reported, but that's not the same, is it?
   Today there was a huge performance by a visiting high school music program which involves making a huge rock concert which tours the province. The kids plan the tour, rehearse for it, and do all the lighting and sound and everything.  So I'm standing in the gym with half the gym full of teenagers singing and playing their little hearts out to badass rock songs, and I realize that I'm crying inside.
   What?  Why?  It's like when I watch Lord of the Rings and Eowyn says "I am no man" and kills the witch king.  Or when Ralph Maccio does a jump kick and wins the karate tournament despite a badly injured leg in Karate Kid.   It's like every cathartic moment when the hero gets up again.  I'm automatically holding in a torrent of tears.  They never do get out.  I don't cry.
   I think it's about beauty.  It's about the underdog winning.  It's about good panning out.  And today, it was about "When I was a suicidal kid staying home from high school, just barely managing to drag myself in Wednesday evening after missing the day of school, to do band practice and play TV and movie theme songs, what would it have done for me to have been part of this giant, loud, primal, incredible screaming performance?"  (rhetorical question)
   When I was a teen, I wasn't even able to listen to and enjoy those songs without shame and a judgmental spirit.  AC/DC. The Rolling Stones. Couldn't have felt anything but awkwardness and critical judgment of the artists and their wicked ways.  I was frantically fleeing pleasure and honest, frank, primal emotional expression.  That was all deeply trained into me.  Wielded stubbornly by me.  Unthinkingly.  Defensively.  On autopilot.  Making me judge the songs and artists instead of feeling and knowing them. Instead of seeing their humanity and their truth.
   But not today.  Today I was standing there in the dark, loud, vibrant gym with the lasers reflecting off trombones, drum kits, guitars and microphones, and when I talked about it after, my voice was wobbly.  There was a sob caught in my chest for about twenty minutes afterward.  It was caused by all those kids throwing themselves powerfully into loud, expressive music without shyness or hesitancy.  I could never have done that.  Would have felt guilty if I even liked the music.  Because it was loud, and fun and "of Satan," after all.  Abandon rather than control.  Open and outpouring of emotion rather than closed and denying it.
   But not today.  The tears were streaming down my cheeks.  Inside my skull where no one could see.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Comic Con 2014

This isn't the first time I've been to a comic convention, and I keep expecting to be bored of it.    The first one I went to was in Montreal, the second was the world's largest in San Diego, and nowadays, they've started having them in Ottawa.  And it's true, the novelty has very much worn off.  But still, I found the more I slogged through my marking and did my weeks, the more the idea of going to the third Ottawa Comic Con was consistently a bright light on the horizon.
  In fact, though the Ottawa convention only starts in a small way on the Friday evening, I decided I wanted to go to that anyway, rather than resting up from my week and waiting for the hugely-packed Saturday.  And I've been paying attention to "happy" lately, and "You know?  For some reason I really want..." as well.  So I went with that.  Put in the energy to supplement what was pouring into my brain through my eyes and ears this week.
   Tyler and Danielle went with me last year, and though they've been working a lot of hours, they were into going this year, too.  And Danielle was into hitting up Friday, so Tyler decided to come too.  We took our time, having a leisurely fishy supper at a faux-Nova Scotia restaurant with pretty good food, and then went.
  We had to wait in line for a fair while.  Then we went in, and it was like being let into some magic land or other.  I said I was going to see exactly how long it took before I met some kid or other from my school.
  It took about five minutes.  She was dressed as Harley Quinn and wanted her dad to take her picture with me.  I managed to smile without looking ghastly.
   Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) had cancelled her appearance for Friday.  Actors often do.  They get job offers and schedule changes, and can't come at the last minute.
  Charisma "Cordelia from Buffy and Angel" Carpenter came in place of Eliza Dushku.  I didn't see her either, though, as she had a panel earlyish on Friday and we were dogging it.
  I like Charisma Carpenter better anyway, but never laid eyes on her.  She was even around later in the autograph-signing area, but I don't really "do" autographs and photo opportunities that you have to pay for.  Missed her out of sheer laziness, which is how I was rolling, that weekend.

Gus Fring Is A Meth-od Actor
We walked around, looked at the costumes, tried not to buy things (I made it the whole weekend without buying things.  T and D bought cool t-shirts and patches and pins and things) and ended it off by going to a panel to hear Giancarlo Esposito speak for an hour.  He's the scary druglord from Breaking Bad.  (The really scary one.  With the boxcutter.)
  Just as I suspected, in person he was all smiles and exuberance and funny stories.  He had a lot to say about his long career, and about how we're using technology instead of connecting to people, eye to eye.
  In every photo op picture I saw of him, he suddenly did the Gus Fring "dead face" for the fans, (and even posed with some, holding a box cutter to their necks, like in the show) but on the stage, he never stopped laughing and smiling and telling stories of his long career in the business.
  One cosplayer was walking around being continually photographed due to being so scantily clad I was vaguely uncomfortable and prudish about it.  She was dressed like Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi but her costume seemed even more precarious. And was, you know?  A bit too into being photographed? Made me feel prudish.  The picture the "pro" booth put online looks far more tasteful than she actually did.
   Bit of a scary ride home in torrential, road-burying rain, then back in the next day.  Saturday is the big one.  Unprecedented attendance this year, too.

In Costume
   I'd been toying with the idea of one day dressing up for a Comic Con for some time without ever doing it.  The nerdiest thing I think I have ever wanted to do.  And this idea gave me the excuse to spend money, over the past couple of years, getting stuff for a Rorschach from Watchmen costume, scavenged mainly from thrift stores.
  Last year I didn't have a good coat, or the hat, so I didn't.  This year I got everything.  So I dressed up.  First time ever.  As a kid, I didn't get to dress up for Halloween, so I guess I'm not quite done enjoying dressing up, despite my advanced years.  It sure was an experience.
  Normally at conventions I'm going around stealing admiring glances at people's costumes, but today I was getting all of this attention, without anyone having any idea who I was behind the mask.  They gave me compliments and couldn't see me smile back at them.  I had to say something or bob my head to be polite.
  Dressed as Rorschach, I was almost totally unable to see.  Still, fun.  There's a fair bit of waiting in line at events like this, and it's actually kind of cool, if you're going to have to just stand there anyway, to stand intensely immobile, and have person after person sidle up like they're asking you out, and say "Ummm... I noticed your costume earlier.  You look awesome.  Do you think I could get a picture?"  It was like being a cute girl for the day.

I couldn't count how many people smiled and pointed and yelled out "Hey, Rorschach!" at me and took pictures.  Of course, it meant that walking around, I couldn't see the other costumes terribly well all day.  I took the mask off while sitting in the dark hall during panels, though.  That's what I'm really there for.  To hear people talk about movies and TV shows that I want to know more about.
   Tyler and Danielle had been wanting to dress like characters from Mel Gibson's post-apocalyptic car battle film Mad Max/The Road Warrior.  Their costumes weren't ready for the first or second day, so I helped Danielle talk Tyler into committing to going home Saturday night and completing his costume for the third day.  The third day of what is, for me, pretty much a weekend bible conference, but with people from television and Lord of the Rings speaking about story and art, instead of tired old dead-inside people telling us of the dangers and total lack of worth in things like television and movies.  But still, it was like a bible conference.  Only with less funny outfits.

Serene Summer
First panel of the day was Summer Glau of Firefly, Serenity and various other shows (including Arrow lately).  She was tiny, pretty,  shy, and slow-spoken, trying to hide a Texan accent, which came out slightly when she spoke of doing things with her momma.
   She'd missed coming last year when her Firefly cast-mates were there, due to misplacing her passport at the last minute.  She told us it turned out she'd put it in the pocket of her bathrobe so as not to lose it, and then didn't think to look there, finding it weeks later.
  She was very proper and spoke slowly and quietly and seriously about her first career in ballet, and then working on scifi and sometimes getting to do action scenes which involved some of the same skills.  She spoke of, rather than enjoying sometimes getting to be paid to dance again in scenes, years later, of finding it a blow to her ego to not be able to dance like she used to.  A quiet, homeschooled perfectionist.  Her character on Firefly had, amusingly, gone on an insane fit of going through the preacher character's bible, tearing out pages with anything she felt was incorrect on them.  She was asked what stuff her character would like in the bible, and she said she didn't know, but that her own favourite is Psalms.
  I'd resolved not to go around taking pictures the whole time.  Normally that's what I do.  Making a video or something. But I'm already making a bunch of videos lately, so I decided to just soak in everything and not take pictures.  To "be in the moment" instead of capturing it to share.  And to steal images from the Internet later, which is what I'm doing here, mainly.
   I couldn't really see my iPhone screen if I had my mask on anyway, and I couldn't operate it with my gloves on either.  The washroom was a funny experience each time.  Keeping the ascot out of the urinal, for example.  Washing hands and then putting on tight gloves.

Who Is The Biggest Ash?
 Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead/Army of Darkness put on a real show at his panel.  Not a single thing about himself.  Got members of the audience up on stage and had the audience ask them questions, and was generally an amusing, vaguely insulting, glib and sarcastic master of ceremonies.  Someone brought him a (half drank) bottle of whisky.
  Bruce had everyone who had come dressed as his chainsaw-for-a-hand character Ash go up on the stage and had the audience vote by applause, as to which costume was best, while teasing them the whole time.  Kept us entertained.
   Revealed not a thing about himself and never broke character once.  Said he's trying to get on Trailer Park Boys, which news had everyone over the moon.  Most of these celebrity guests had their Canadian references totally down-pat, often from working here.  And that is appreciated.

Sean "Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings" Astin was my favourite.  I kind of forget he's my age.  He looked very fatherly, in his sweater and glasses, and he did talk about his three kids a bit.  He also sang the theme songs from both of his parents' TV shows, with the whole crowd clapping along to The Addams Family theme.  He made everyone who wanted to, swear the Goonies oath and pronounced them all goonies.  He did his Raphael voice from the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kids cartoon.  He spoke of how the list of forbidden activities in New Zealand while filming The Lord of the Rings (motorcycle riding, bungee jumping, skydiving, para-sailing etc.) became a bit of a to-do list for the cast.  He was relentlessly generous and giving.  There to entertain. Would do any voice or song or story anyone wanted, instantly.
   He took many questions and was very warm and kind to each person he spoke to.  He got a roomful of "aw!"s when someone asked:
   "In Lord of the Rings you are there every step of the way for Frodo. In real life, who is your Samwise Gamgee?"
...and he said
   "My wife of 22 years, Christine."
   Then he said "Of course, I can never get her to make me sausages and poe-tay-toes" in Sam's voice. Which then got laughs.
   When someone asked about the ferocity he showed in the action scene with the giant spider Shelob, he turned it into explaining how he delivered the heart-breaking lines "Mr. Frodo! No!  Don't go where I can't follow..." in the part where Sam thinks Frodo's died.  Oddly, just him doing that line in the Sam voice brought a sob to the chest.  It really did.  Sean explained how the forlornness of the "o's" in that line is what he's using to make it so sad. And it was.  A class act.
  I came home and Wikipedia'ed him, and found that his past with his family has got to have had some speedbumps, but he was all grace and gratitude.  His mother is bi-polar, for instance, and both he and she crusade against the stigma that can go with that.
   Astin went a fair bit over his time, insisted upon answering more and more questions, joking away the warnings that his time was up, and taking more and more and more questions, especially from children. Showed a little girl his Fellowship of the Ring tattoo on his foot when she asked about it, and teased her for looking up at the big screen the encounter was being projected on, rather than looking at his foot, which was right there in front of her.

So Said We All
Edward James Olmos from Battlestar Galactica (right) was gruff, passionate and amusing.  Tyler and Danielle don't watch BSG, so I was there by myself, a former student and his girlfriend sitting a few rows behind, and me sitting there with a bunch of the Rorschach costume stuck inside the hat on the chair beside me.
   Olmos spoke about "How important is it that a human being who happens to be Latino ends up on a show like that?" He said he heard that a Hispanic kid had seen him in the show and had said to his aunt, "It's about the future, and we're IN the future!"  Made me think that every all-white scifi show kind of seems to suggest that maybe there was some kind of 'more successful Hitler' at work between now and then.  Only white people left, by the future.  Kinda scary.
  Olmos shouted "So say we all!" (important line from the show) at the audience and had them shout it back at him repeatedly, just like we were all in a scene from the show.  A real crowd-pleaser.  He spoke about how his love of ancient Celtic mantras led to the music in Battlestar Galactica incorporating them and giving it that ancient, mysterious, "spiritual" sound, which he took the credit for thinking of and suggesting to the makers of the show, and music guy Bear McCreary, who he spoke very highly of. He spoke of how Battlestar Galactica's writing benefited hugely from the writers following fans' chattings about the show online and adjusting what they were about to write accordingly.
   He broke actor professionalism protocol and revealed that, when the actors thought Battlestar was cancelled, at the end of the season where they think they've found Earth, and it's all destroyed, Aaron Douglas, the actor who played Chief Tyrell, knocked back too much liquor in his trailer, and didn't even make it to the set the last day.  Big laughs.
   Like, Giancarlo Esposito, Olmos spoke with a great deal of passion about how human beings of all kinds need to connect, and not use technology to keep separate from each other.

Virtual Spock
Last year Star Trek captain Patrick "Jean-Luc Picard" Stewart cancelled, and they replaced him with William "Captain James T. Kirk" Shatner, which for me was even better.  I've always been a Spock fan, though, and as Leonard Nimoy is old and not well, I didn't really expect to ever see him.  And when I heard that he was only "coming" to Ottawa this weekend by Skype, I was disappointed, but still into it.  Until Skype kept crashing.  A giant room full of people hanging on Nimoy's every cut-off syllable, the screen buffering, freezing, crashing and hanging up entirely numerous times, to groans from all over the room.  So bad.
   It settled down after a bit, though, and Karl "Eomer: Rider of Rohan from Lord of the Rings and Dr. "Bones" McCoy in the new Star Trek" Urban unexpectedly walked onstage and kinda saved the day/appeased the crowd by asking Nimoy some funny questions once Internet connections were sorted back out.
   Nimoy was sitting in his living room in his t-shirt, looking very relaxed and smiling and laughing a lot, and joking with the parade of oddly-dressed Star Trek fans, and little children and odd people asking non-Star Trek questions.  Did the "live long and prosper" Vulcan salute to a little boy, who returned it.  Almost like he was there with us.
   What the very best of these celebrities seemed to have was the knowledge of how to live life well.  Like, they didn't only know about work, but they knew about that.  They didn't only know about being lucky, and getting success others perhaps just as deserving as they will never know, but they knew about that.  They didn't only know about relationship and family,  but they knew that too.  And they knew about fun and what matters and following passions and making a life that they can look back on and be relatively happy with, accepting the embarrassing and troubled bits, and the bragging-rights bits alike.  I think the most important part is they seemed to have the wisdom to know what didn't matter, and to not worry about it. 

Bible Conference Flashbacks
It all brought me right back to bible conferences.  In the best possible way.  Lost in a sea of people you felt were kinda like you, unlike the people around you all week, leaving you filled with hope and hearing stuff that touched your heart, and having a "mountaintop experience."
  Samwise Gamgee, Admiral Adama and Mr. Spock sharing heart-warming messages about being good to yourself and connecting with other people and pursuing your passions and so on. (well, that part was the opposite of a bible conference message, but the feeling was the same)
  It was quite a thing.  Laughing and feeling moved, all at once.
  There were vehicles there, for instance the cars from Back to the Future and Ghostbusters, and a TARDIS, and daleks and various robots and characters to be photographed with, for a fee.  Much of it was for charity.
  Last year I caught on video a cute girl dressed as Silk Spectre from Watchmen, who broke her pose while I was filming to say she and I had the same iPhone case. I thought it would be great this year to be photographed in my Watchmen costume, with another character from the same movie.  And that transpired.
  The same girl was there Saturday, dressed as Silk Spectre again this year.  And I had a good chat with her, through my mask.  She explained that she would be dressed as Wonder Woman the next day, and that she was the image used in the Convention's brochures and the various promotional videos.  Apologized for sounding narcissistic in sharing that.
  Tyler got Tony Moore, the artist who drew The Walking Dead, to autograph his graphic novel, and eventually, sated, we went home.

Urbane Karl
The next day was Tyler and Danielle's turn to dress up, and my turn to be able to see, but be invisible, and to stand aside while people photographed them all day. Tyler took the trouble of dying his hair to have a blond patch on each side like Mel Gibson in the Mad Max films.  People wanted pictures of them all day, and each time I leapt out of frame, as I wasn't in my costume and no one needed a picture of me.
  First up was Karl Urban, who was Eomer, the lead rider of Rohan in Lord of the Rings, Dr. McCoy in the new Star Trek, and Judge Dredd in the movie Dredd.  A geeky triple-threat.  I've been hearing women swoon over this guy for years and never really got what it is that they're oohing and ahhing over.  Man did the women who got up to ask him questions simply melt while talking to him!  He sat in his chair, leather jacketed, dirty white jeans and scruff, all rakish charm and sarcasm and smooth.  One woman said "I have to read the question I have for you off my phone, because if I look at you I'm going to forget my own name."
  He was charming and glib and amusingly sarcastic, but revealed almost nothing about himself, though he told some fun stories.
Oddly, while leaving the room Karl Urban had spoken in, I saw the girl who'd been Silk Spectre the day before, go by all dressed as Wonder Woman.  I said "hi" and she looked at me oddly and walked past.  It took me until a few seconds later to realize that she didn't recognize me not dressed up at Rorschach, and had no idea why I was saying "hi" to her.
  Later she was waiting in line with us, and I cleared things up.  We chatted, but mainly I got to hear her pretend to be the real Wonder Woman while talking to an adorable little girl in line with us.  It was so cool to hear her making up stuff about her friends Batman, Superman, and yes, Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

Freddy's Moment On The Stage
 What Tyler really was there for that day was to hear Robert "Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street" Englund speak. Englund was an odd and nice mix of grandfatherly, experienced, world-travelled wisdom and kind advice, with shouted, menacing Freddy nastiness. Playing what he called "the cruel clown character."  Like the Joker.
   Interestingly, Englund first came out on stage with a bunch of fans dressed as aliens from his 80s miniseries V, which some of us remember, and he also had the actress who played Freddy's first ever slashed up victim come out on stage later as well.
  He kindly answered fan questions such as "How would Freddy kill the Ghostbusters, if they came to bust him?"  (He would wait until they fell asleep, then cram their proton pack nozzles up their butts and fry them.)  He told story after story about Italy and Spain and working all over the world, and how shows get made, and get cancelled, and his time in the theatre, and so on.  Spoke passionately about living in Vancouver once.

After three days, we didn't exactly want things to be over, but we'd been eating bad food and shuffling through uncomfortably large crowds (almost forty thousand people attended this weekend) enough that it was time to go.
  Tyler wanted to cruise by and see if Tony Moore, the artist who drew The Walking Dead, was still around. He was, and after Tyler spoke to him, I talked to him about how I have the graphic novels in my classroom, and how the most reluctant readers are always sneaking them and reading them under their desks, and how I usually let them.  It was cool to be able to have that chat.
  One wonderful, but surreal moment was the guy with the remote-controlled R2D2, driving it all around the clearing convention floor, blasting "Staying Alive" out the speakers in it, while two cute little girls clung to a leg each as R2 drove around the crowd.
   We went home, tired out, poorly nourished, and in my case, feeling depressingly grown up about not wasting a lot of money on all the cool stuff that I really didn't need.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

One Email

I remember this one time I spoke, a few years later, to the people who had been the "in crowd" in our church youth group.  I was sitting in a living room with most of them.  And I felt unusually free to speak and not get shut down, for some reason.  So I spoke of not fitting in.  Feeling like a freak.  Feeling like what went on wasn't for me.  And they replied honestly and openly.  They told me, with a lot of feeling, that they'd felt exactly the same way I had. They'd all felt like freaks.  Like they didn't fit in.  They'd felt incredibly lonely.  Left out.  Even though they were running everything.  They'd strongly felt like people disapproved and didn't think they were good people.  They'd felt the sting of gossip.  And they felt like imposters, who, if people found out what they were really like, would fit even less.
    Nowadays, I often talk to people who are "out" of a Brethren group, either in terms of official membership, or just in terms of having moved on from it all a bit, in terms of thinking and feeling.  Getting free.  And these people too talk of the loneliness, the inability to connect to people, the not being able to find people to talk to who really get it.  How negatively others view them.  The gossip.  All of that.  And how there's no one around to really help out with that.  How they feel alone in being so alone.
   Today, I asked an "in" person what was hard for him about being "in."  And he answered honestly.  He didn't intend it, but his answer really broke my heart.  That one email did, all by itself.  It seemed so familiar.  It made no difference that he was "in" and I was "out."  His email was exactly the same as any heart-breaking one from someone who is "out" and feels discarded and abandoned.  He didn't feel discarded or abandoned, but there was, in the dogged determination to make the sacrifices to "stay," but keenly feel the cost of it, something terribly sad.  It was all there.  Not fitting in.  Loneliness. No one to talk to who really gets it.  No one "left."  Difficulty connecting with the "in" people and difficulty connecting with "outsiders" too.  People judging and thinking badly of him and his. The dry, sterile emptiness there.  Pat answers and dismissals from people who were supposed to be helpful.  The gossip.  It just sounded the same as everyone else.  Apparently everyone's feeling alone and disconnected. 
   It's so dumb that all of this "in" and "out" and "left" and "stayed" actually works to keep us apart.  Why are we apart?  Why do we feel awkward about talking to each other?  None of the dividedness is real.  It's all a trick.  Designed to keep us believing we're divided; to keep us alone.
   We're not.  Not alone. There aren't real, insurmountable, genuine walls of division between us.  We are one.  And why is it so important to Evil that we be kept separate?  If we connected, if we related, if we understood people, and in turn felt related to and understood ourselves, love would win.  It would work.  Would be the order of the day.
   Evil can't cope with that idea.
  So undivide, everyone.  Phone people.  Ignore those pretend distinctions.  Reconnect.  Reach out.  To people you used to know.  To nearby people who we are to think of as "gone."  Stop sitting around feeling alone. You aren't.  We're easier to keep down, one at a time.  In pairs and trios and larger, we'll be unstoppable.

(note: this blog is intended to draw us together, and not to declare that staying "in" is bad, or not worth it, or that kind of thing. I am not seeking to crow and say "See?  People who stay "in" aren't happy!"  I'm not trying to leap upon what was shared and tell everyone all about it and declare the Brethren a sham, a horrible waste.  I'm trying to say it's hard either way and we should all talk.  That's all.)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

We're All Wireless Now...

In many ways, we Christians are very typical human beings, and we do well, and we screw up, more or less exactly like everyone else does.  But there's something a bit odd, that certain of us Christians do, that I'm going to address here, while talking about various things that occur to me as I go.
   There's nothing much in the bible that tells readers to hug their mothers.  Or encourages couples to enjoy sex, really.  Or teaches people how to enjoy eating, or how to have a fun, safe, and enjoyable time with alcohol.  No articles talking about how important a good night's sleep is, and how satisfying one can be.  Nothing much about the benefits of regular exercise.  Not a lot about the value of a sense of humour and laughter.  You know?  The good stuff.  The bible touches kind of tangentially and incidentally on these topics very occasionally, if you really look, but really, its main message is something quite other.  I think the bible assumes that we can recognize what we need, and what's good.  Like we can be trusted with that much, at least.  Hm.
   What we actually find in the bible are a bunch of guidelines as to what it looks like, and what the consequences can be for, taking fun and pleasure too far.  After all, the ancient writings were read by kings and emperors and rich folk, as well as any poor folk who were, for some reason, able to read.  Or had the words read aloud to them. There are warnings about excesses, and about perverting what would otherwise be innocent, healthy pleasures.  Assuming, all the while, that we have a relatively natural relationship with pleasure in general.

 Dylan Moran: You have to have a good relationship with pleasure, Australians seem to, on the whole your approach seems to be to go, "What's that? Ahh, yeah, it's one of those" which is a lot healthier than the Irish one, which is to go, "What's that? That looks nice. I'll wait till everyone's asleep, then I'll steal it, so nobody will see me enjoy myself and then I won't have to feel ashamed. I can just let the guilt fester for the rest of my life and spend all my remaining years drunk."

   There's nothing in the bible about Jesus telling jokes or laughing at something Peter said.  Nothing about how much Thomas enjoyed the wine and food at Simon's house.  Not a peep about how to spice up a Christian sex life.  Nothing about if Philip thought Mary Magdalene was pretty.  Why?
  Well, for one thing, these are holy writings, and not Cosmo.  For another, I really think that fallen human beings are messed up of course, but one presumes that they'd not actually lose sight of how to enjoy things like food, sex, sleep, laughter, song and dance.   One presumes that human beings would never get so messed up that they'd begin to fear things like bread, alcohol in moderation, the sun, the air, drinking water, and sex.  One would presume this.  That pleasure isn't something we need help with. That we'd not embrace fear instead, in one of the safest societies that's ever existed.  A society so safe, we pay money for virtual or controlled danger, in the form of video games, movies, television, books, bungee jumping and para-sailing.  Danger with a hardhat and safety harness on.
   So I think pleasure just goes without saying, in the bible.  When Adam meets Eve (neither of them wearing their pants), despite the fact that they maybe didn't understand the idea of clothes vs. nakedness, I have trouble believing that Adam didn't appreciate or take pleasure in how this nude lady looked.  Him having never seen a woman before.  And being the only man on earth. And both being naked.  God's first woman.  Created just for him.  After Adam checking out wildebeests and aardvarks, looking to see if there was a mate for him anywhere. But there's no mention of how she looked or much clue as to precisely how Adam felt about it.  There is no song of Adam upon seeing Eve, recorded in Genesis.  Just one pithy and terribly understated phrase.
   And I don't think Man was evicted from The Garden because of Eve having an excessive delight in wanting to try exotic fruit.  "Ah, we can see here, Brethren, that this modern urge to always be trying Something New led Eve into trouble!"  It wasn't because of gluttony.  Or sexual passion.  The whole story isn't in there to teach us to mistrust women and their ability to keep men whipped, and manipulate and lead them astray.  (The words we tend to skip over are "gave also to the man, there with her."  We pretend the serpent takes off cackling evilly, and Eve summons Adam and feeds him fruit without telling him what tree it's from or who she's been talking to.  The real story seems to involve Adam being there the whole time.)

Something Unforeseen
I think we've managed something almost unforeseen by many of the writers of the bible: I think we've managed to take our children, who come to us fallen, immature, with budding future baggage, perhaps not being good at restraint and duty and truthfulness and things, and I think we break something else: their ability to enjoy things in an innocent, open, simple way. I think we damage their joy responses.  I think we scramble their connections to pleasure.  I think a lot of us Christians do not have sane, normal responses to things, the only sane response to which is joy.  I think God puts things into the world and into our lives, the only appropriate response to which is the aforementioned joy, and we're just no longer wired that way.
   And it's almost supernatural how children can be taught shame and guilt.  To function as self-starting shame machines.  Not a word needing to be said to them, eventually.  I mean, I know that no one told me to go through my Louis L'amour westerns when I was twelve, and scribble over every "damn" and "hell" with a pen.  I loved those books.  And scribbling out the emphatic words didn't take the emphatic cowboy colour out of the sentences. That blue squiggle lent more colour and strength to the sentence than the censored words had, just like a censorship beep is more attention-getting than the censored word itself.  But I still scribbled.
   And I knew that if a woman looked too good on a TV show or movie that I was watching somewhere, if my mom or an aunt came into the room, they'd exude disapproval, even if the woman was fairly fully clothed.  My mother had a way of saying "well!" that positively filled us with shame over our budding joy responses to the sight of Lynda Carter, Catherine Bach or Valerie Bertinelli, purposely chosen to be in TV shows to be stunning, to try vainly to recreate what Adam might have felt upon seeing Eve step toward him, though these lovlies were only on TV, and had pants on. But the fact that we were male, and an image of a beautiful woman spoke to us deeply, became something somehow consistently clouded in shame and confusion.
   And somehow, I also grew up learning lessons about the dubious nature of being emphatic, speaking colourfully and passionately, and generally getting too far into anything that was primarily about fun.  Bland was Christ-like.  It wasn't only sin we were taught to be suspicious and wary of.  It was fun.  Pleasure.  Passion.  Colour.  Full-on engagement.  As teens, if we laughed and got loud, we were told we were perhaps having too much fun and to settle down.  When the youth group got "too into hockey," some neo-Pharisee among them would inevitably suggest that he just knew God was displeased and would really be touched by their sacrificing that hockey idol to Him.  More time spent over the bible. Less enjoying His people.
  What was idolatry, in the modern world, did we think?  Anything we loved.  If a song (even a Christian one) got too danceable or hooky, parents gave the side-eye.  Music wasn't supposed to tempt you to move your body. If you spoke passionately about anything at all, people shifted uncomfortably.  Or sneered.

Too Much "Not Enough"
Of course, it ought to be said that there's definitely such thing as too much, well, anything.  Alcohol, giddiness, sugar, whatever.  But what we had was too much moderation.  Immoderate levels of it.  And no upper limit at all on shame and awkwardness.
  So this is why when we found ourselves lost in something, like a football game, a cartoon, a book, a song or anything of that nature, we were pulled back to ourselves by grownups, our peers and our cultural setting, and reminded that it wasn't honouring to the Lord to "go too far" as to pleasure.  God wasn't a fan.  He hated pleasure.  Passion.  Engagement.  God, as presented to us, was anti-life. He made chocolate and wine and boobs and laughter and hand-eye-coordination, and then got testy if we had too much fun with any of that.  We weren't placed on Earth to have fun.  We were placed on Earth to say no to fun.
   We looked at partiers (and what more degenerate person could walk God's green earth than someone engaged in riotous living, getting loud and maybe drinking and eating a little bit too much?) with what in retrospect looks to me like resentful jealousy.  Like the prodigal son's elder brother.  Pleasure...  Bah!
  We were getting a thin, sour pleasure of our own, though, out of judging partiers and gossiping about them.  Made us feel superior.  We were waiting for Heaven to enjoy things.  Right now, we were banking pleasure in Heaven by sacrificing it on the altar of the Anti-Fun god.  We were fun-misers.  Saved it.  Didn't spend time having any of it.  Didn't give it or share it.  We had our cake and didn't eat it. Eventually it was moldy.  But we still had it, and more importantly, hadn't eaten it.  We would have fun in Heaven.
   Which always made me think: exactly how fun would these Christians be, and how much fun would they be able to have, in Heaven, or anywhere?  They seemed like a pretty sour bunch.  Prodigal son's elder brothers to a man.  And that guy didn't even get told there was a party, let alone get invited.  They knew better.
   I picture these kinds of Christians saying, at the marriage supper of the Lamb "Oh, no. I don't drink alcohol.  Are there any lost sinners I can give tracts to up here?"
  But they claimed they'd have fun in Heaven, alright.  Sober, pious, quiet, devout fun.  Sombre fun. Reverent, respectful, God-honouring fun.  Kind of detached fun.  I mean, was being in Heaven like being on heroin?  We were just going to get high and sing absently for all Eternity?  The scripture was remarkably unclear.

No Facial Expressions In The Bible?
I don't think Jesus died, hoping we'd all honour his sacrifice by intentionally leading pleasure-free lives in his honour.  In the movie Dogma, amid a lot of juvenile silliness, Chris Rock as the Apostle Rufus, describes Jesus sitting, just listening to the disciples talk, smiling and enjoying being with them.  Enjoying being with them? Hard to imagine, given my upbringing.  If Jesus were here today, he'd not be smiling, now would he?  There'd be nothing but stern lectures about hellfire.  If thy hand reacheth for the remote control, cut it off.  So we felt lucky Jesus wasn't here with us right now.  'Cause if he were, we'd be in trouble.  So if we wanted any fun, we were glad he wasn't around.
   (When people do bible paintings, there are pretty much no facial expressions.  Obedient faithbots. Killing people, wooing people, posing with lions, meeting angels, healing people, doing miracles, all without really doing any facial expressions.  Would be irreverent.)

Remembering The Good Past
My sister told me something yesterday about memory: she said that the brain carefully remembers "danger/alert/worry" stuff because it thinks it needs to, but doesn't generally bother to do much of a job of remembering the pleasant stuff.  This made me think.  I remember my past to a pretty deep degree.  But I do remember the bad stuff more.
   I've been making videos about past places I used to go to school or work or live, and I've been trying to 'redeem' that past.  Revisit what I enjoyed.  Remembering that there was a bunch of crap, of course, but what was fun?  What did I love?  Did I find people and things to enjoy? Yes, of course it all ended, eventually, often sadly or stupidly and horribly, but still... what was good at the time?  So when making my videos, I'm not missing, and I hope no one watching them is missing, the fact that I'm enjoying remembering a lot of the stuff.
   Because there's something a lot of us Christians don't do a terribly good job at: celebration.  Parties. You know?  Heaven practice.  Some of us are better at it, and the rest of us don't "get" or are suspicious of those peppy, energetic people who take to it like a duck to water.

Stuff I Love
I'm not an energetic, peppy, party person.  Can't imagine I'll be very good at Heaven.  I don't like crowds or a lot of noise.  But I sure do love a concert by a group whose songs I know and can sing along with.  I have sang along with Stephen Page and Ed Robertson, The Arrogant Worms, Steven Tyler, Roger Waters, Ozzy Osbourne, John Gorka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young and many, many others.  Sat in the same room and sang with those guys, along with hundreds or thousands of others.
  I sure do love to sit around with a few good friends, maybe outside, with food and drink and music and talk.  Because I sure do love talk.  When I'm talking to someone, and we're connecting, even if we're talking about painful or bad past stuff, I love that.  Maybe more than anything.  When I'm arguing with someone, and it's like fencing, and no one's getting hurt and we're both tossing out volleys of opinion, I'm happy.  I love that.  The best arguments happen, I think, with brick or stone in the walls, and a fire, and beer and munchies.  And maybe some geography.  A river or lake, or if I'm extremely lucky, the ocean. I seem to get to see the ocean only every five or ten years.
   I love cats and dogs.  I love gymnastics, dance, figure skating, martial arts or anything else that involves people convincing you that no, gravity doesn't apply to them.  I love when people are expressing themselves in words, images or sounds.  Even if they're talking about painful stuff.  Healing is awesome.  I love it.  I love funny, witty people.  Love them.
   I love looking at women.  Not simply to lust after them, and inevitably scheme how I might gain sexual favours from them.  I actually genuinely like how they look, and talking to them and so on.  Looking at them just to see them.  Talking to them and wondering "How can you even walk around and live your life like an ordinary person when you look like you're not from this world?"  If you make me want to write poems and songs, do paintings of you, you have my respect.  I do not wish to use you and move on.  I feel lucky to be around you.  I don't need to "claim" you.  Of course I'm a man and you are precisely what lights up all my man circuits, but it's also like when I see the moon reflecting on a lake, or a sunset silhouetting an evergreen forest with the wind through it.
   I love so many people and things.  And I don't usually say a word.  Because it's not a problem and I don't need to worry about it or fix it.  So I don't take it seriously enough.

Touched Only By Sorrow and Shame
I'm reading the bible lately.  Today I read the crucifixion story in Matthew.  And it touched me like it always does.  Because it's a horror story.  I feel like at church, when our culture was working fully, it had almost entirely shut down our inner capacity for anything much but horror, sympathy and shamed, guilty gratitude.  And so on Sunday, they only put forward stuff that would appeal to that in us.  The remaining circuits.  And it did.  Every time.  And nothing else would.  If one smiling guy with cool glasses had gotten up with a guitar and sang us a song about loving singing songs about loving singing songs about God being awesome, we'd have crucified him right then and there to show him what Sunday morning was REALLY about.  The true spirit of Sunday.  Putting blood, sweat and pain back into church.  Certainly nothing about pleasure.
   So yeah, I've been reading the bible lately.  There's nothing to remind me to laugh.  Very few parts telling me when to celebrate with people.  Nothing that says "That woman, in that dress, with that hair, in the wind, with that colour of sky above her?  *I* the Lord your God made all of that."  Nothing that says I should eat some chocolate.  Really good chocolate.  Nothing that says a glass of wine would be good now.  Nothing that says watching Star Wars on May the 4th (be with you) might be a good thing.

The State of Today
So I don't think the bible is clueless about pleasure.  I think God gets good stuff, to put it mildly.  I just think, as with our state of alienated, texting solitude, our broken homes and our splintered church groups, our old folks in homes with no one talking to them for months, our children shipped off to innumerable lessons, that the bible didn't need to address any of that, because it wasn't an issue when it was written.  Not like now.  I'm sure Paul would be ap-Pauled at the myriad church groups all not dealing with one another, and mainly only doing stuff for an hour on Sundays.  I'm sure Rahab and the writer of the Songs of Solomon alike would be astounded at all of the folks who live alone, and gain weight and don't shower and sit surfing the most mechanical, shame or pain-focused, circus-act,  body-function obsessed, sex-acts-divorced-from-affection, no kissing porn all the time.  Lacking the "story" of Game of Thrones, True Detective, Orphan Black, or any of those other shows that put a certain amount of filmed passion and sex into their stories. Because it works.  Adds pizzazz to the sex to have story around it.
   I don't know that at any point during the writing of the bible, the people got so out of touch with human connection, celebration, intimacy, honesty, openness, fun, levity, spontaneity and warmth, that prophets would have been needed to warn people about where all that was headed.  But I think we can see where this is all headed.  Fun prescribed in pill form.  In recommended doses, twice daily.  Scheduled on triplicate forms.  Intimacy, connection and openness downloaded from wifi, in high definition, to be enjoyed in solitude.  Honesty censored and edited to ensure no one could imagine anyone else being offended by it.
   Is this a rant in favour of pleasure, of fun, of the "positive"? Of "more" rather than less?  Of "and" rather than "minus"?  It might just be.

And the stories.  The stories need to be important, when we're doing second-hand experiences.  The funny ones.  The horrible ones.  The heart-rending ones.  We're all trained to sit and go "wow" at the explosions and computer crap "falling toward the camera," to sit toward the edge of our seat when the three characters scream in a perfectly pitched chord of musical momentary anxiety, to feel our hearts ache and wipe a tear when the music and the editing slow right down at the nadir point.  But that's just icing on the cake. What about the cake?  Is there any cake? Does it have eggs and all of its rightful gluten?
   It worries me when I teach all those kids who don't read stories, who don't want to listen to someone read them a story, whose parents didn't hook them on stories at bed-time, who don't get the appeal of television or movies, and who simply want to mindlessly race, wreck, kill and screw things, either outside, or simulated with gaming consoles.  Like professionals. 
   I think there should be a story of some kind inside, behind or standing beside every song.  I think a guitar solo should probably follow story structure, incited at the beginning, rising in action which sounds like something might be putting the whole thing in danger, like maybe it's reaching almost too far to land safely, and reaching a soaring climax, then falling away, leaving the experience with you.
   I think good stuff is important.  "Whatsoever is good" doesn't just mean safe stuff.  Church stuff. Bible stuff.  Stuff that's vanilla and lacking any guts.  The bible doesn't lack for guts.  People try and fail and rally and succeed in there.  Horrible and wonderful things happen.  God fails to do what He really wants to do with His people, over and over and over.  And loses His temper.  And is sad.  And it's a tragedy every time.  And His efforts are beautiful.  Because effort and passion and giving are beautiful.  All by themselves. Even losing your temper because of how much you care is gorgeous.  Making a fool of yourself because you can't stop caring is perfect.
   Connection isn't safe.  I know that texting's not the worst thing in the world.  But I think we need to look more people in the eye more than we do. Which we can't do when they're texting.  Easier to use technology as a buffer.  But better to use it to arrange encounters in which it won't be needed at all.
   Stories are buffers, too, of course.  Same as technology.  You can enjoy someone nearly getting killed, or dying of cancer, or robbing a bank, all without having to look them in the eye.  But you can also connect to others in person, using technology and because of a mutual love of stories.  Bible stories.  Love stories.  Real life tragedy stories.  Any stories. I think we should do that. On purpose.  Not choose the buffered over the face-to-face, just because it's easier.
   Like this blog.  I can write it and you can read it, and we never need to look each other in the eye.  Which is cheating and missing out.  Most of you don't even comment or reach out to toss in your end of things, or enrich my understanding.  We choose the textual over the voice-to-voice, and the voice-to-voice over the face-to-face.  Technology has made voyeurs of us all.
   Most of us aren't telegenic enough to compete with what's on screens anyway.   All the faces we look at are in hi def and are carefully made up, immaculately lit, colour-timed and are on a screen.
   Our phones and computers "connect" now without even needing to touch what they're connecting to.  We're the same.  But why not try a bit of eye contact this week?  Some face-to-face?  Some touch?  Not safe.  Intense.  Unbuffered.  Uncomfortable at first.  "Weird."  But let's do it anyway.