Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of "Clean Water for Elirose", by Ariah Finz

What I loved so much about this children's book was that it didn't just speak of ideas (and educate through its teachings), but that it offered a very real way for children - who are often times very aware and interested in problems of the world - a direction to actually do something about it.

Two lessons struck me the most. (And I hope, as an adult, I'm not missing its point)
The first was to make children aware of things we take for granted. Like Maria first starts off by saying, "Do you like it if your drink is dirty and yucky? Me neither", only later to be introducted to Elirose who,  "Has to walk a long way every day to get water for her family. And the water isn't even clean, it's yucky and dirty."

The second are some very practical activities children can do to raise money to help, but more importantly, to learn that they have the ability within their own hands, to change to world. They aren't helpless.

The book ends with questions for discussion along with ideas and activities to participate in!

What a beautifully simple yet profound book.
I plan to have my children read it and hear their take on it.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from SpeakEasy Blog Network. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

XXX-mas: Porn for the Soul

I can remember my dad saying every Christmas time how he was upset that the commercial industry would abbreviate Christmas to Xmas. He thought it took the spirit out of it. I can remember thinking this same thing for years myself. It wasn't until I was in St. Pius X Catholic High School that I learned what the X in Xmas stood for. Khris-tos in Greek, meaning the anointed. I would have never guessed that the Greek letter “X” was often used as the abbreviation for the “Christ”, or the Messiah. It made sense after learning this, and I couldn't really fault my father for not reading Greek. I don't read it either; I guess few do. So, in this case, it wasn't so commercial.

Christmas is never the same until you have children of your own. Christmas this year will be the 16th year we, as a family with children, celebrate Christmas. But this year, like last year and the year before, I'm not looking forward to it at all.

I know why that is. Ultimately, I'm teaching my children the value of porn. Yes, that's right, porn, as in pornography. Not the culture of porn, and definitely not the imagery of porn, but the philosophy of it. The philosophy of porn teaches us the quick fix. It teaches us near instant gratification. It offers us something we all legitimately desire and crave, and hope and long for. But offers something shallow and hollow in its place. I like what society thinks porn should be. It's supposed to be fun and exciting, and alive and pleasurable. It supposed to simply be sexuality. Sexuality is a normal aspect of being human and we enjoy it within our relationships – it is supposed to be harmless. No one really gets hurt. But why does porn leave me empty? What's missing? Porn is really a bait-and-switch sales tactic, isn't it? Porn's selling you one thing, but delivering you something else.

One kind of Christmas teaches our children and us materialism. And the fat ol' jolly elf named Santa Claus – who Coca-Cola Ltd. played a big hand in creating and establishing – only adds to this frenzy. But, I say to myself, that's only one kind of Xmas – that is only the secular, commercial driven materialistic kind of Xmas. This kind of Xmas is so akin to porn that I have to start teaching my children otherwise!

Another kind of Xmas is attempting to connect with the religious facet of it. "The real meaning of Xmas", as some say. "Jesus: He's the reason for the season", and cute catchphrases like that. Of course it's all true, but sometimes it sounds like a formulated marketing scheme, and I'm beginning to wonder if it really is.

So how do you connect with a spiritual part of it? I guess you go to church. We attend church. We sit and watch the spectacle and entertaining shows and hope to have our emptiness filled. Like porn, a different aspect of society (Christianity) tells us what Xmas should be like. Like porn, we're still searching for gratification - not physical pleasure, but spiritual gratification. Attending church, especially at Xmas, is supposed to be exciting and alive! It's supposed to be a celebration of our liberty and salvation! Not only is it supposed to be harmless, but's supposed to be just the opposite! We're expecting - somehow - to be healed, to be made full and whole again. This kind of Xmas is still nothing more than the bait-and-switch sales tactic. This kind of Xmas is selling you one thing, but delivering you something else.

But is this even true? It's been historically established that Yeshua of Nazereth wasn't born on December 25th - or for that matter anytime in December. 
Like far too many Christian holidays or celebrations, previous pagan celebrations had been paved-over in Christianity's attempt to erase or snuff them out. If this really is "the reason for the season" then we're really celebrating anything but tolerance, love, or good-will.

I can't speak for anybody but myself, but Xmas celebration in church leaves me feeling empty. Maybe because Xmas - and I mean the religious aspect of it - has really become XXXmas. The religious Christmas today has become, for many people, porn for the soul. They're showing up looking for their "fix". They're searching for the quick fix - whatever that may be. They're looking for the permanent "feel-good" pleasure of the spirit, but are left with something that very quicly fades, and often times leaves feelings of guilt.

The true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with church. And it doesn't have to do with giving to the poor. Giving to the poor is about charity, not about Christmas day. If you honestly believe Chrimstas is about giving to the poor, then you're trying to fulfill some sort of checklist the easy way. And I know this is a cliche, but Christmas is about giving. But it's not about giving gifts and presents. It's not about volunteering at the soup-kitchen once a year and serving the poor. It's about giving ourselves, our time, our relationship, our friendship. And not for just one season of the year! Strangers make the worst people to give these gifts to, because it makes these strangers little more than "projects" or receptive object of our "obligatory" dues. These "gifts" do not come from the heart, they come from some sort of installed sense of obligation. We are attempting to appease our own sense of hollowness - our own sense of guilt. Because deep down inside, these people know how miserable, wretched, and empty they truly are. Deep down inside they know that no one single day has that kind of magic to cure what ails them. They are fallen and they damned well know it. To hope and search for this kind magical cure at XXXmas is looking for love in porn. We will never succeed.

I cannot find the meaning of Christmas in the materialism of this commerical "Holiday Season".
I cannot find the meaning of Christmas in the pews of churches and in the holy quest of porn for the soul.

The meaning of Christmas must lie beyond the churches and beyond the shopping malls. There must be another kind of Christmas.

(Notice: This is a significantly older piece, rewritten from 2006 and reposted. Some of you may be familiar with it).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hook-Line-and-Sinker, or Through-the-Looking-Glass?

Old Highway 17

I have a vague memory of the first time I encountered God. I shouldn't say “God” for at that time in my life I held absolutely no concept of the divine.

“God's” a funny word. We should really be careful when we use that word. It means so many things to so many people. To a child it's an old man with white hair and beard sitting on a cloud. To some it's an impersonal entity or force running or guiding the universe. To others it's a universal-mind itself. To many God has been imbued with a personality - “personhood”. I suppose this is necessary for our very finite minds to wrap themselves around a very infinite being – the Being. The problem with this is that we also tend to pass on all too human traits. Jealousy, anger, Tribalism, Nationalism, Hatred, let alone using God as a tool to further our own agendas and ends.

Allow me to just say that I can remember the first time I encountered something other.

My mom and dad and I were on a car ride. It was long before my sister was born – during that long chapter in my life as the only child.

I can remember that I had absolutely no sense of time-reference. Not days of the week, not actual dates (numbers), not even larger time-frames, like Grade-1, or Grade-2. It must have been pre-kindergarten so I'll put myself as being under 4 years old; probably 3.

I can remember the car traveling what felt like west-bound (not from my childhood memory, but from how I remember it as an adult), but towards to main-city of Ottawa with a body of water (river?) on my right and rocky fields to my left. (For any locals, I figure it was Old Highway 17 between Ottawa and Wendover).

We stopped at what I can only remember as a sort of rocky quarry. I can't remember any machinery or equipment so it probably was more of a outcrop of rocks than a quarry proper, but there was definitely what appeared to be a sharp (cut stone) wall behind, with a litter of stones and rocks everywhere.

I remember my goal was to find and collect rocks! (Not any sort of special rocks. Just rocks!) It felt like I must have been miles away from where my parents were. I was busy 'exploring', but in all likelihood, I'm sure I wasn't far from them.

And then, suddenly, I became aware of a presence. Like someone or something accompanying me. Friendly, warm, caring. I never questioned whether it might have been my imagination or not, I think I was simply too young. But that memory has always stuck with me.

Ultimately, it was the genesis of my searching out God.

However, simple and powerful that one 'encounter' with the unknown was, it wasn't my any means the only one.

I have had several paradigm-shattering encounters and experiences in my life. This earliest one in the quarry was the first. Then there was my dream of The Storm in '83. My mother's death in '87. My precognitive dreams the led to my wife and marriage in '90; the end of a 10-year exile from God in '97. The birth of my autistic son and an experience 20 years later at my mother's grave.

All of these experiences have feed this quest and journey and search.


Allow me to switch gears – change topics. I think I might go at this from a different perspective.

I have never been one for institutional religions and I know by some people, I have been accused of taking the easy path; the path of least resistance.

I have been told by some that being an adherent to a particular church or temple (or religion or even community) requires a commitment not unlike a relationship, or even a marriage. By these same people I have also been told that I fail to make this sort of commitment. I should actually be insulted (most specifically because of the comment to failing to commit to a community) because – really – what I am being accused of is a lack of loyalty, and loyalty is something I do not lack.

I have recently reflected upon, not so much my experiences themselves, but upon my attempts to search out the truth behind them, and what I discovered.

Often times, I so wanted the truth to be enlightening, to lift all worry and anxiety and give me an overwhelming sense of peace, that I would be more than willing to suspend my disbelieve, to suspend my cold analytical eye. And sometimes, briefly, it would work.

As my searching brought me into more and more contact with more and more people and others' experiences my understanding of God, my belief of God, grew and changed. Ideas and images that I struggled with died and newer, better ones came into existence. Certain problems with the idea of God ceased to be issues once viewed from a different point of view. Spiritual maturity? Possibly.

I have often wondered whether I subject myself to believing something hook-line-and-sinker. (Because when I think back to numerous experiences and involvements with various groups it's kind of embarrassing. My, how I've changed). Am I just lost soul, floating from one to another faith, desperately embracing everything or anything like a drowning man clings to anything thrown to him? Maybe my naysayers are right.

I came to realize something that I eventually called -ologies.

You know, as in Archeology. Biology. The science of, or the study of any said topic.

However, it was with Theology that this method fell apart in my opinion.

As a biologist studying a paramecium under a microscope this same analogy absolutely could not work – or at least would fail miserably – in the realm of theology.

You could not objectively observe and study God from a distance. (And on a side note, I think that is what's wrong with so many churches, religions, and theologists today).

In this particular “science” you must go through the looking glass. The biologist would need to use his microscope as a slide to sit side-by-side with the paramecium he is studying (and hope it doesn't mistaken him as a food source!)

You cannot 'study' God. You experience it. The act of “studying” God is to change you. It doesn't work any other way. Or so I thought.

I don't think I take the path of least resistance. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that 'how' I pursue my searching for this encounter I had as a 3-year old puts me in danger.

I think what I 'do' is not so much like a lost soul adrift, nor like a drowning man desperately clinging to absolutely anything thrown to him, but more honest and more akin to traveling through the looking glass. Putting myself 'out-there' and allowing myself to be affected and changed by my encounters. Not objective and distant.

But the more and more I've practiced this, the more and more I realized that it wasn't God that I was encountering and experiencing, but people. It was people's hopes and dreams and ideas, and projections that shaped what we hope God is. (And even what God isn't in the case of Atheists).

Broken China

I've realized that I am a potter.

I've spend most of my life inadvertently making theological pottery. Beautiful China if you will.

I've also realized that God has spend most of his life breaking it.

So, my question is really, do I, as a spiritual sojourner, indiscriminately swallow numerous 'truths' hook-line-and-sinker, or do I practice going-through-the-looking-glass? I have found precious few brave enough to travel down this path. Allowing oneself to be changed is a scary thing.

Path of least resistance? I think not.