Tag Archives: faith

Why I’m Not Religious

This article from Scientific American frustrates me a little because it’s about interesting topics, but they only skate the surface and it sounds more like conjecture than a supportable argument.

But it raises an interesting point.

There is a lot of judgment out there against atheists. There’s this deluded impression, I’ve found, that being religious somehow means you have a moral code that others do not.

What? Because I don’t go to church, I’d steal from your grandmother, hit-and-run your car, and cheat on my taxes? Bullshit.

Sorry, kids, morality’s just a little bit more complicated than where I park my ass for an hour or two on Sunday mornings. God’s got nothing to do with how ethically I choose to live my life.

Here’s the thing.

I’m not religious today BECAUSE I was raised religious. I was so Catholic I’d go to church as much as 6 days a week. Used to tell the non-believer kids in the ‘hood about the sermons, and they’d listen, too.

I loved me some Jesus when I was a kid.

When I was in high school, I had a priest who told us a classmate was going to hell because she committed suicide. And then we had a teacher, who I thankfully never had classes with, who was discovered to be sexually abusing boys. He went to jail. But around the school we were talking and it seems the Arch Diocese knew for as much as five years about the teacher’s abuse.

The details on the story are hazy for me now and searching the web proves futile as I only know remember him by “Mr. [redacted].”

It’d be some years before I came to believe what Ken Kesey preached, that if you weren’t able to worship what you call God in your backyard, he wasn’t gonna be in no church, either.

I learned at the age of 13 that men are corrupt, so all religions are corrupt. And I fell hard from my pedestal of faith. We found out shortly after the child molesting thing that our elementary school Monsignor had been in a relationship with a woman for more than 2 decades. He had to leave the church.

I decided, if God needs me to join a club to prove I believe, then he’s got really, really low self-esteem, because look at some of the members! Let’s not even talk about Creationism, which is a slap in the face at everything God’s capable of, if you’re to believe the book of Genesis in the first place. If God’s so omnipotent, the idea of the Big Bang and millions of years of evolution speak far louder about a God’s powers than this dumbed-down “The Earth is 6,000 years old” bullshit practiced by people too blind to see science is a faith too.

Anyhoo. I was raised Catholic. I was raised to respect others, be kind, be honest, and all that ethicky jazz. I maintain those values. I just don’t figure God anywhere in the picture.

I live my life with virtue because I need to respect myself in the morning. I may not have money, fame, and everything I dream of, but I do have self-respect, and it comes from living up to how I was raised. Ain’t any church that’s gonna change that about me. My ethics guide my life and always will.

Ethics and the Vatican aren’t exactly in bed together, though. Look at the Catholic Church: With properties and assets, it’s about the most powerful and richest organization in the world. But we don’t know that for sure, because the books are kept pretty tight. The Vatican is literally its own nation-state, remember. For insurance purposes, its incredibly vast collection of artwork is valued at about an euro each, according to some reports. This MSNBC report states the Catholic Church received more than $8 billion in donations in 2003 alone. Never mind tax write-offs, present-day property values, or any of that.

And look at the Evangelical movement in the USA, where preachers are VERY well-paid rockstars ministering to the thousands. Yeah. And Jesus, Mohammad, and Buddha lived as paupers. No disconnect there at all.

If you really believe in Jesus and Christianity, then you believe Jesus threw the merchants from the temple. He didn’t believe money and faith went hand-in-hand.

It’s a mockery, what we have today for religion. It’s everything Christ never wanted. Churches hold the riches today, and look at the average person. Not so rich.

Yet I’m morally bankrupt because I don’t practice and celebrate that mockery of everything Christ stood for?

Don’t tell me religion today is moral when it shouts down the search for human rights for gays. Don’t tell me the Catholic Church has the high ground when it had as its Pope for the last decade or so a Holocaust apologist. Don’t tell me faiths that take in more money than they give back to the poor are doing what God wants of them.

Religion today is nothing of what it has been written as in the Bible. It’s sanctimony and judgment. Church is where the dollar talks and transparency walks.

Unfortunately, there are good people caught up in that sanctimony and judgment. There are fine Christians in the world, and admirable Muslims, and wonderful Jews. While I rail against religion, I do not rail against the believers, not if they are moral, kind people. But being a believer in religion does not mean one is indeed moral or kind, and that’s why I state there’s that prerequisite.

I will not hold your religion against you if you do not hold my lack thereof against me.

Seems a fair trade.

It is absolutely my moral code which keeps me from practicing religion. Until faiths are led by men and women I can admire and respect, I will turn instead to worshipping nature and the world around me, and living my life as I would have had I found a church worthy of my faith.

I would put my ethics against anyone’s. I absolutely know who I am at heart, and if there were more of me, and less pious sanctimony, this would be a really nice world to live in.

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A Sly Smile Kinda Morning

The sky is an iridescent grey, at once inspiring and eerie.

My day is stretched before me with a loose idea of all the things I have to do, mostly of the meetings-and-appointments sort. A murky mess sits at the bottom of a mug I wish was filled with fresh black coffee. I just shrug at its emptiness and type on.

Inside, calmness has settled in. A calmness I probably haven’t felt in a number of years.

It began yesterday morning with a kind of prescient feeling about how much I could or would get done during the day. I blew that out of the water and settled my to-do list with great authority, meeting and beating all aspirations for the day.

At the end, I decided I’d finally take a look at my finances. For the first month of my unemployment I’ve applied the Ostirich Approach to my situation — only after I’d taken a hard look at the bottom line of what I would need to live on each month, and had the vague notion I might be okay until June. Then, I buried my head, spent as little as possible, and just did my shit, with the assumption that Spending Almost Nothing was all I needed to do.

Much of what I did spend was covered by “found” money — gifts from a couple kind people. (You fucking rock.)

I knew when the month started it would be tight and was 95% sure I would either be deferring my loan payment or telling my landlord I needed an extra week to pay the rent. I mean, the reality is, the first month of unemployment is ALWAYS the hardest.

I was in the situation of having had a bad-spending winter, followed by the Olympics crushing my savings, and had NO idea that a complete lay-off loomed. I thought I’d lose a day of work a week — I was praying for it — as we’d applied for the Workshare program (spreading a lay-off throughout the company, with the government paying 55% of the one day a week each employee gives up).

I never thought I’d be laid off entirely this year. And after a year spent rehabbing a back injury and two years of having to replace entire wardrobes with every season due to weight-loss, and that I’ve been making lower-middle-class income in one of the world’s most expensive cities… well, yeah, no savings either.

But…

But I managed to get enough ducks in a row as soon as the “OMG, lay-offs might be coming” fear that hit around March 24th, before finding out on the 25th that I would be entirely laid off, likely the next day, that I sort of had a fighting chance.

I was also insistent with my employer that the additional 3 days of work at the end of March would make the difference between me surviving until June at least.

And it did.

I finally scrounged up everything I had last night — not including a little emergency money I’ve set aside or what’s on my Visa — and know I can pay rent AND groceries until the middle of the month, without even receiving my government employment insurance benefit. AND I keep what little safety net I have intact.

That changes everything.

I feel like it’s the stamp of approval. “Go forth, Steff,” it says. “All will be well.”

I know, I’m supposed to be all embarrassed that my money’s this tight.

I’m supposed to be ashamed.

Wealth is a sign of success and position and talent and brains, isn’t it?

Fuck you.

Fuck ANYONE who thinks I need to be ashamed that things have been so close.

I’ve NEVER been irresponsible with money. All I’ve been guilty of is being average with money. At my income, spending an additional 10% every month cripples you in a hurry.

I am NOT my adversity. FUCK that.

Try losing 70 pounds and having to buy new wardrobes every three months, or getting so severely injured you spend a month laying on a floor and for months have to take cabs and pay 20% more in groceries  just for the convenience, because you’re in too much pain to bus from a further, cheaper store.

That I’m even paying rent tomorrow without any interceding forces makes me more proud than you’ll ever fucking know.

Fuck anyone who thinks money and whether someone gets through a jam financially is a reflection at all of that person’s intelligence, ability, talent, or resilience. Money is as much about luck and selective adversity as it is savings abilities.

Some people just have more things to overcome. In my life, money was always the villain. That line between getting by and barely surviving is thinner than most people might realize.

For once, money doesn’t feel like my villain anymore.

I’ve got rent, baby. And food. And I’m gonna buy me some wine and a steak tonight to celebrate.

[shaking head]

Yeah. I don’t know… I feel like I have to say more:

So many of you need to feel what kissing poverty is like. You need to feel how much it hurts inside when you’re terrified about paying the rent or you’re sure you’ve got to resort to drastic measures to get by. You need to know what it’s like to think hope is too expensive a luxury for your position. You need to imagine what that fear’s like when it’s not just you it affects.

You need to know how hard it is when money’s not within your grasp. Everyone needs to feel that.

I hope I never feel it again. And I hope I always remember that pain. I hope I always have the empathy I wish more people had shown me earlier — but so many are showing me, even showering me with, now.

Today is a day of gratitude, goodness, and calm. For me, at least. You? You can choose that, too.

Take a minute to think about what you really have, and pray you never come close to losing it.

Some fears aren’t fit for anyone. But gratitude is one-size-fits-all.

Beyond the talk of money? My future’s looking great. What a ride this summer will be. Stay tuned.

PS: Methinks unemployment might’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me. Wait’ll you get a load of me, baby.

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Bracing Myself For What May Come

Throbbing pain behind my eyes makes writing sort of the last thing I should be doing right now. I can hear the blood coursing in my head in between the droning waves of traffic grinding up the main streets by home.

I close my eyes and nausea swims on top of my belly. Nerves, or just general dis-ease after two days with this headache.

So much got done yesterday — most of my floors, organizing, rearranging, decluttering. Much more needs to occur in the coming weeks for me to have the perfect little home I’ve always wanted but… I’ve never been this close out of the gate, y’know? Feels good. Even as my head pounds and pulses.

I dropped a line to my Mystery Mentor today, all the while going “Gee, what crazy antics in my life. Zoinks! I should write a book about it or something.”

After all this home-fixing-up stuff is done, it’s onto the book in earnest, but not in a “I’m gonna siddown and write eighty-umptillion-schmillion words today!” kind of way — instead, I’m writing me a book proposal.

It’s kinda assbackwardy, truth be told.

You figure out kinda an outline for your book. You pitch it. You go “Holy smokes, this is brilliance, buy my book!” in a way that doesn’t actually say that. Then you send that to agents and hope one goes “Holy smokes, this is brilliance, I must buy this book!” One does, they sign you, you’re hard at work on the book you’ve proposed, and meanwhile the agent goes to publishers and says, “LOOK. BRILLIANCE. Buy this! Publish it!” One does, you get a fat advance, you finish the book, everyone lives happily ever after.

Uh-huh. Or so I wanna believe.

I wrote last week about the Patti Labelle advice for her 30-year-old self, “Believe the hype, baby.” Honestly, I believe that’s been the biggest struggle for me in recent years. Learning to see myself on the inside as other people perceive me to be — and I still ain’t there by a long shot.

And that’s the interesting dilemma I’ll face in the Book Proposal Project: I need to believe.

I need to believe the story I’ve got to tell and sell is better than one that anyone at a party has behind them.

I’ve got to believe my story’s compelling enough to make someone stop in the middle of filling their glass at the office watercooler and say to their coworker, “So this book I’m reading, you should totally go there!”

THAT’S the game you need to believe you bring BEFORE you write a book. If you don’t THINK you’re that compelling, if you don’t BELIEVE your story has that much gravitas, then what the fuck are you doing? Don’t waste MY time, but sure as shit don’t waste yours. A book’s a one, two, five-year commitment, man. It’s not frivolity.

Believing this is where being raised as a Catholic Canadian really hoodwinks a (not as) fat-girl.

  • Who’s better at feeling guilty than a Catholic?
  • Who’s better at being sorry than a Canadian?
  • Who’s better at being insecure than a fat girl?

Oh, hey, now… have I got a book for you!

So, as I sit here with my pounding head in my ever-simplifying home, I realize next week is game on and I start this book proposal. My awareness of its psycho-emotional implications, though, are new.

My understanding that the book proposal itself may turn into a therapy exercise is probably the most important realization I can have. Therapy’s great, but then you gotta stand back like a comedian and point and laugh.

But this is the week the foundation is laid. By removing all my distractions — this pile of papers there, the clutter over here, the floors that need to be cleaned or the crap that needs to be donated — I’m creating a landscape or work environment in which my focus can only be pulled so far away at any given time.

The focus next week is to start the book proposal — but deliberately doing a therapeutic version. I’ll get the bullshit out, then blast it away with my irreverence and self-deprecation. What’s left will probably be a very good fascimile of who I am as a writer.

But I won’t get there if I don’t go through who I am as a person first.

The reality is, my book is about me. Between now and the end of this, I need to believe I — me, myself, girlie-o, chickadee, moi, yours truly – am worth plunking down some $30–40 on in hardcover form. I need to believe I can see YOU sitting in an armchair with a blanket around your legs and a glass of wine in hand, flipping page over page as you can’t wait to read how I got out of that NEXT jam, while ignoring your phonecalls and promising you’ll get to those emails come dawn.

I need to believe that.

And if you want to write a book? You need to believe that, too.

There’s a strange dichotomy in the mind of anyone who needs to have YOU buy a piece of themselves for their livelihood. There’s the legend-in-one’s-own-mind syndrome that butts heads against the reality of almost all of us getting taunted, mocked, or just plain failing at one point or another in our lives.

Insecurities aren’t rare. They don’t all cripple their owners, though.

My insecurities were bigger because I was bigger. I couldn’t fucking hide. I was 277 pounds and size 24. Where the fuck am I gonna go, right? That was only the beginning of the end of where it all came from, the beginning of what I needed to get past in order to tell the story I now think you’ll one day be okay with dropping $29.95 on.

In the meantime, minions?

Unemployment’s giving me the chance to get back into a life I somehow lost for a while — cycling, writing, enjoying my home, living simply, and, yes, even dating. I’m dusting myself off and getting back into dating** after a long time of just being completely disinterested. Do I want “love” right now? [shrug] I dunno. Whatcha got? Right?

We’ll see what the world unfolds. I feel like anything can happen right now, and despite the seemingly negative turn of events losing my job would appear to unleash, I feel very much the opposite — that opportunity is everywhere.

I feel like it’s my time, but the only thing holding me back is finding the path from here to there, and dialing up the courage and resilience it’ll take to keep walking that path long after the bloodied sores and blisters emerge.

Ever read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist? No? You should. Right now, no matter what I do, there’s a very quiet little air of Maktub* in the back of my mind.

But I still need to do the writing.

*In the book, Coelho explains MAKTUB as meaning “it is written” in Arabic, a sort of idea of fate and determination.

**I’m taking applications. No. Really.

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What to Learn from Unemployment

I woke up with a smile this morning. I woke up unemployed.

It’s not permanent… yet. They have three months to hire me back. If they can’t, I get severance then. If they do, tickety-boo.  Just not for a while, please.

I’m so fuckin’ tired from runnin’ so fuckin’ long.

I need to stop. I need to breathe. I need to be.  I need to remember small things, simple moments, big dreams, little lessons, and good times. I need this.

Can’t afford this. But I need this.

I used to find stillness often. I’m that person who has literally sat still and watched light change on a landscape (during some midnight summer sun in the Yukon, a religious experience if you’re into that kinda thing). I used to know I could stop, just stand somewhere, just stare, just be.

Be someone doing nothing someplace for some time. Sometimes, it’s everything.

Then I got on a hamster wheel and just started running.

In the last year, I’ve finally forced myself to pull back — a lot. But my downtime has been nothing but fraud. Downtime? Not so much. Just… distraction. I was doing THIS, not that.

Years ago, I was hanging by the window on a ferry ride home, dreading that moment when I stepped off that boat and transcended island time right back into my rat race. This guy, I guess, saw something of that in me, and we got into this conversation. He commented that cities were built to distract us — “Hey, look at the shiny toy! You’re not unhappy at all! You don’t hate your job! Your boss isn’t a fucking prick! Your commute doesn’t suck balls! Hey, there’s a new nightclub — let’s go drink and pretend we’re anywhere but here!”

The city life, we’re all so busy rushing from the job to this to that and fitting him in while squeezing that in, and saving the date in case that other thing falls through, which depends on her contract panning out and –

Oh, Jesus. There are days I just want to stand on the sidewalk and shout at everyone “FUCKING STOP! Doesn’t it get TIRED? Aren’t you SICK of this endless shit? NOTHING EVER CHANGES. It just comes with new toys!”

But then I wonder if it’s just me, and I’m tired of checking into the same plastic neighbourhood and seeing all the same people with their shiny toys and lives of distraction, where nothing real gets said and everything’s all wink-and-nod.

Yeah. I woke up with a smile this morning. Yes, it’ll be hard.

But I’ve been wise to that distraction for so long. I see the veneer of happiness so many people wear every day, the air of lies and fakery that exude as people try to convince themselves that, YES, when they were six and daydreaming before Saturday morning cartoons, that THIS was a life they’d be happy to live — tied to a smart phone and plugging in detail of every single day, microprocessing life and yet never really ever stopping to remember what simply sitting still in a moment feels like. It’s all there in the subtle sighs and sunken shoulders, the trancelike moments where they fall away for just a — and then snap right back into this.

I think we’re all sucked into a “Is this all there is?” moment every now and then. Sure, we convince ourselves this is a pretty good gig, but sometimes the bigness of the world just magnifies the smallness of our lives, emphasizing how stupid it is that our daily grind should seem so immensely important when we know that 15 years from now all these stupid fucking appointments this week will mean jack shit.

I’m unemployed.

It’s time to recalibrate.

It’s time to break the hamster wheel.

There’s a gift, you know, in poverty.

Desperation can be a beautiful thing if you know how to channel it. Being forced to enjoy the simple and the free can remind one just how little it takes to enjoy a moment.

Yes, you might love the chef’s tasting menu at West and the flight of wine you had, but I imagine some sunsets with beer and buck-slice pizza, spent on a log at the beach, would blow your fancy-ass meal out of the water. The laughter, the comfort, the trust, the beauty… True ease.

You can’t buy that. You can trick yourself that it is up for grabs, but… you can’t buy that. It’s not for sale. Only the appearance of it is for sale.

I’ve had simple barbecues, a few good friends, an afternoon with no end pin-pointed, that have left every person there thinking “Yeah, no one’s enjoying their place or moment more than I am right here, right now. It’s this beer, that hot dog, this place, those people, and this feeling of weightlessness and grounding that comes with.”

I wrote once that I want the trappings of success but not the trap. You can keep your microscheduled, nanoprogrammed life of pace and panic. If it means you get the $80 meals and the lights and pizzazz, so be it.

I’m fuckin’ done, Martha.

I need me some time. I need me some mornings when I can roll over with a dopey grin and grumble into my pillow as I try to decide if I get up now and nap later, or sleep another hour, knowing the only other pressing conundrum is when to brew some coffee or start to write.

Other people have money, get to leave town, leave the country, find their fuckin’ selves. Well, some of us are stuck here, broke, hangin’ on a dime and a prayer, clasping at any five minutes we get without obligation.

I’m fine with that. I’m stuck here, broke, nothing but a vague sense I can get by and a will to write the best hardcover memoir you’ll read in 2012.

It’s like Ken Kesey once commented, something to the effect that, if you can’t find God in your backyard in Kansas, he ain’t gonna be found at the Egyptian pyramids, either.

In fact, I think “soul-searching” done abroad in fancy healing retreats may not be as beneficial as tackling those mysteries while trapped in your life. I think you have to earn it harder, you have to want it more, you have to dig for greater meaning. I think it’s too easy when you’re off at some yoga retreat. When you’re here, in your life, you need to make other people understand your search, you have to value yourself to do the work, and you have to balance the life you lead with the life you want.

It’s not easy and it ain’t for chumps.

Find your soul at home and you won’t have to worry about it falling away from you when you “return” to life.

This summer, I find my soul. I catch up with it. I figure out what the beginning after this end is supposed to be. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it better this time.

My life is a gift, man. My adversity is my opportunity.

It’s times like these I call upon this much-loved Bruce Chatwin quote I’ve posted on so many occasions:

A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise.

They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

Yeah. That’s right. I woke up with a smile. And you?

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In Case of My Death, Read

I’m familiar with fear. Oh, am I familiar with fear.

In fact, I’m not actually a person. I’m a giant ‘fraidy-cat. Yup. A pussy, wimp, gutless turd.

I do it well. Continue reading

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Unraveling the Headfuck

All these insecurities
That have held me down for so long
I can’t say I’ve found a cure for these
But at least I know them
So they’re not so strong

–George Michael

In my mind, there are two lives. The life I’ve lived, and the life I might’ve lived if all my insecurities hadn’t held me back for as long as they have.

For someone who doesn’t give a fuck what others think, I sure let it prevent me from living out loud. Continue reading

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