Losing My Religion

broken-crossI remember it well. I had been a Christian since Oct 13, 1984. Billy Graham came to Vancouver and I was one of the last people that went down to the floor and “gave my heart to Jesus”. (BTW, I always hated that term, as, over the following years, I never found any theological basis for it.) I poured my heart and soul, and a hell of a lot of tears into the church over the next 24 years. Went to Bible college. Found who I thought was the woman God had given me to marry. Did the Pastor thing for a few years. Struggled with some things and was forced to leave ministry. (BTW… That marriage should have ended after six months. We slugged it out over 15 years because, you know, being ‘good Christians’ and all that… )

Once the marriage ended in a very messy divorce, my home church really supported me.

I did well spiritually for a while. Then things got ugly. I never thought donating a church library would cause such a shit storm!

I made the decision to move back to the West Coast. I wasn’t even going to go to the church my last Sunday in that prairie city, but someone called and said that people really wanted to say goodbye since I had been there from the start of it and had contributed much. I agreed to go. It was “nice”, in the sense that whatever nice in quotation marks means.

As I left that morning, a “leader” that had happened to be my “best friend”, that had apparently had major issues with me over the past few months of my time there came running out to me as I was set to drive off. His parting words went something like, “Well, it’s been good hasn’t it?”

My parting words, “You were supposed to be my best friend and you put me through hell fr two months because of your own insecurities! Fuck You!” Or words to that effect. Once I left there, I knew my life would never be the same.

I moved back to the small West Coast town near Vancouver where I grew up. Where I first started my Christian journey. But, as they say, you can never come home. I tried to do the church thing when I got here. I found a church as close to the Vineyard as I could, because I really did love, and believe in that style and concept. I found my heart wasn’t in it. I had nothing in common with these people. I spoke with a good friend, who happened to be a former pastor of mine’s wife. I said, “I have really tried for 24 years to do this Christian thing. It hasn’t worked.”

Her response was so amazing and gracious. “Then you need to try something else.”

That moment was so freeing. That was the point I left. I left the Church. I left Christianity behind. I can’t say it was easy. My oldest daughter has decided she wants nothing to do with me. There have been guilt induced thoughts of, “What if I am wrong? What if THEY are right? What if HELL is real and awaits me when I die?” Then I read the news about what is going on in the world, and realize, war, terrorism, and all that, is done in the name of one religion or another. Religion. God. Bullshit.

The social aspect was the hardest. Losing friends that I can no longer relate with. But that’s all church is when I think about it. A social club. A bar for religious folk. A bar where the Jesus Juice flows. I have had my fill of Jesus Juice, thank you.

 

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Morning Serenity

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There are some special places that many of us go to recharge, reconnect with self, relax, commune with nature, call it what you want. This is one such place for me. This is the beach at the head of Howe Sound, in British Columbia. This is where I live. This was taken at around 7AM one day. The wind was calm. The place was empty of people and dogs. As I sat on one of the wooden benches, I just sensed an amazing peace flow through me. I knew then that this was a place of significance for me. A place to come and connect with self and meditate. The past ten years have been incredibly tumultuous for me. Messy divorce. Loss of religious faith and a belief in God. Leaving a church community and support network. It was nice to sit and listen. Waves lapping the shore. Birds singing and calling to other birds. A Light breeze rustling through the trees. For the first time in many months, I felt at peace.

We all need places like this. Places that we can just sit and be still. I hope you find yours.

Peace

Ten Years Ago…

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Ten years ago today, what would go on to become one of the best shows ever on television aired its first episode, ’33’. It was the reboot of the late 1970’s ABC show, “Battlestar Galactica”. The original BSG was a cheese-fest and guilty pleasure as I look back. Jump ahead almost 30 years to 2003, and the world had changed dramatically. Two years after 9/11 the world faced far more sinister threats from people who would seek to undermine our way of life. Along comes a rebooted, re-imagined show based on a cheesy 70’s TV show, with stories and episodes that might have been ripped from the headlines of the day. Terrorism. Political intrigue. Betrayal. Military honor.

“33” showed an enemy that relentlessly pursued the survivors of a genocidal attack. Every 33 minutes, this enemy would show up. I won’t go any further. Watch the show. Buy the DVD’s! You will not regret it! The story is probably more relevant today than it was ten years ago!

How To Defeat Extremism

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Yesterday, something amazing happened in Paris, France. In response to the senseless slaughter of twelve employees of Charlie Hebdo, three million people gathered together to show the extremists that freedom cannot be defeated by those that would seek to impose their narrow views upon the rest of us through the barrel of a gun. What is notable about these three million people is that they were Muslim, Jew, Christian, those of many other faiths and those of no faith. Most notable among those three million gathered? The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas putting aside their differences in a show of solidarity against these extremists. While this was not without controversy, and some political motivations, at least it’s a start.

Whatever motivations these three gunmen had – ultimately to spread terror and fear – has backfired. Hopefully this represents a shift in the collective consciousness of humanity. You see, those three million people were not standing as individuals, but as one. For one moment in history, there were no Muslims, no Jews, no Christians, no atheists. They human beings standing together as one.

Defeating extremists and extremism in all its ugly forms will take more than one rally. I believe education is one of the keys. Religious leaders of all faiths educating their followers of the pitfalls and dangers of extremism. Those of us who profess no religious faith are not immune to our own brand of extremism. Atheist writers have become known for ‘stirring up the pot’ when writing about religious faith. This type of rhetoric from all sides does nothing to solve the issues.

Hopefully, the Paris rally, and similar rallies held around the world have sent a clear message to those that would attack freedom loving people everywhere! You are neither acting on behalf of your God, nor are you acting like civilized human beings.

Peace!

If I can’t See It, It Isn’t Real (Living With a Hidden Disability)

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I was born in 1965, in an small industrial city in the Northwest UK. I was born with a condition known as Spina Bifida. Fortunately, as my mother states it, I was born blue, meaning I was not getting enough oxygen. Fortunate because the doctors immediately saw the tell tale sign of Spina Bifida in the form of a Meningocele at the base of my spine. They were able to drain the fluid on the spinal cord. Apart from some bladder issues, I was able to live a relatively normal, and active lifestyle, enjoying running, playing hockey and working. That all changed in 1997.

In 1997, while working, I was standing about 15 feet up a ladder. The ladder collapsed, and I went crashing towards the hardwood floor beneath me head first. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how one looks at it), a solid oak post cap on a stair railing broke my fall and flipped me over. This probably saved me from breaking my neck. Unfortunately, the impact was directly where that meningocele was located. Surprisingly, I was able to return to work a few days later, seemingly with no ill effects.

Three months later, I bent down to pick something up off the floor at work. That was the last day I was able to work. I was at a rehab clinic, being treated for a ‘strained back.’ While there, my family doctor thought that it was more than a strained back and ordered an MRI. I will never forget the day my occupational therapist came to me at the rehab clinic, white as a ghost and told me to immediately stop what I was doing and go home. He told me that I would not be coming back as the rehab I was doing could in fact cause me to become paralyzed.

Next day, I saw my doctor and was told I had something called “Tethered Cord Syndrome”. My spinal cord was tethered to fatty tissue, and when I fell, it triggered a whole series of neurological issues. Chronic pain. Numbness in my legs and collapsing. Tremors. Sleepless nights. Symptoms that mimic MS. I was referred to a Neurosurgeon and was told I would need to have my spinal cord de-tethered. Chance of success (not re-tethering – 50/50). If I did not have the surgery, paralysis was a very real possibility. The cord did re-tether, leading to a second surgery, where it re-tethered again. I was given the news that this would be the way it would be. Further surgery would be too risky.

Jump ahead to today, 2015, eighteen years to the day of the collapse of the ladder. Chronic pain has been my daily companion. Some days are great – you could say, normal. Some days it takes everything in me to get out of bed. I have battled narcotic prescription drug addiction – at one point I was up to 45 percocet/day. I would eat percocet like candy. There are entire months that I cannot remember. I lost my marriage. I came close to losing my life.

In all of this, the one thing that bugs me most is this – ignorance. You see, in spite of all that has happened, I have a hidden disability. This hit home when, about fifteen years ago, I pulled into a handicapped spot (with the tag displayed) at a grocery store. Someone looked at me and said, “Oh, you look disabled!” Then he cursed me out. He wasn’t interested in hearing why I had to park in that spot. I even offered to drop my pants so he could see the five-inch scar from the then recent surgery. As far as he was concerned, if you are not in a wheelchair (which I have been), you are not disabled.

I still have a difficult time explaining why I cannot work and why Workers Compensation is providing my income. This is what living with a hidden disability is like. People simply do not understand it. People suffering from hidden disabilities can have many faces. Mental Illness is a huge one. Psychiatric wards in hospitals have been closed down. Where do these folks end up? You guessed it. On the street. This leads to addiction. Drugs. Alcohol. The Downtown East-side of Vancouver is the poorest neighborhood in Canada. If you drive down East Hastings near Main Street, you will definitely be confronted with dozens of people living on the street. Get out of your car, and the smell of piss is overwhelming. A good many of these men and women, including children are there because of mental illness. One of the most misunderstood hidden disabilities.

When you see someone like me, or someone living on the street, never assume. You simply do not know what other people are going through and dealing with every day. Fortunately, my WCB disability income allows me to at least get by. Unfortunately, many living with hidden disabilities do not have that luxury. If you know someone who cannot work, don’t judge them. If you see a homeless person on the street, don’t just pass them by. Buy them a coffee. Buy them a sandwich. Whatever you do – do not assume!

Peace!

Yoda You Seek

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A few years ago, I was out by Vancouver International Airport (YVR) taking pictures of aircraft landing. I happened to look to the mountains to the East, and thought I would get a couple of shots of the rather impressive thunderheads against the mountains. When I got home and uploaded the pictures to my laptop, a certain fictional character made an appearance!

Peace!

Je Suis Charlie

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Today, Islamic terrorists gunned down 12 editorial cartoonists at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Their only ‘crime’? Drawing satirical cartoons of Islamic prophet Mohammed. This cowardly act, by three gunmen acting in the name of their religion, is nothing more than cold blooded murder – for DRAWING A CARTOON! Think about that for a moment. The magazine they worked for ran a political cartoon and these 12 people died for it. These people were not soldiers on the front lines, they were simply exercising their right to free speech. Period. Yes, religious freedom must be respected, but, freedom of speech deserves to be held sacred. It is freedom of speech that helps to keep government in check, that allows for the expression and sharing of thoughts and ideas. It is what makes a blog such as this, such as yours possible. To give in to the fear the of the gun over the freedom that the pen brings, means we are one step closer to relinquishing those freedoms we enjoy. No religion, Christian, Muslim, Judaism or any other trumps our freedom of speech. Ironically, it is that freedom of speech that enables the freedom of religion. You cannot have freedom of religion without freedom of speech. Stand with those that value this freedom. Ultimately, the power of free speech will triumph over the evil of terrorism and religious fanaticism.

Peace,

Je suis Charlie

Red, White, and Gold!

If there is an official religion in Canada, it’s Hockey! Nothing else comes close to bringing this country to a stop, especially when Team Canada plays for Gold. Last night, Canada’s Junior Team played the Russians for the Gold Medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Toronto. I was only able to catch the Third Period, but what a finish! As I was watching the final minutes tick away, it took me back to those days in the ’70’s and ’80’s, before the Iron Curtain fell, and the Russians were a complete mystery to us. I remember the Canada Cup series’ between 1976-1991 (my family had not emigrated to Canada in 1972 – the year of the famous Summit Series). For the most part, European teams were a complete mystery to us in North America – especially the Soviets and Czechs. Today, those players are no longer a mystery. Most of them live and play here in North America. The magic of those years is gone. Still, when Team Canada plays for Gold, the country stops. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics or World Juniors.

Most of the young men playing in this tournament will never make it to the NHL. For many of them, this tournament, and winning Gold will be the pinnacle of their hockey careers. It took a tremendous amount of dedication, practice, combined with skill to get there. Those are things that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives as they move on. That kind of dedication can only bring success in whatever they move on to in life – be it hockey, or some other career. Congratulations, Team Canada!

Peace.

One Of Those Days

As I look out of my window, yesterday’s snow has turned to a steady, heavy rain. The sky is grey, the clouds hang low, and my little town is socked in. A typical Canadian West Coast winter’s day. One of those days. My mood is a reflection of what it is like outside today. Actually, not so much my mood as how my physical body is feeling. Those who live with depression understand the feeling. There is an ad that runs on Canadian Television that talks about mental health and depression. It says, “Depression hurts”. It’s also physically exhausting. Combine that with a years long affliction with chronic pain and a not too healthy relationship with the bottle, and, well you get the picture. Some days it all adds up the perfect emotional storm. Today, it’s not so much an emotional downer as it is just a tiredness. It has taken everything I have just to write these few sentences. But, I did it. That’s a small victory. Actually, for me, it’s a big victory. Normally, I would throw up my hands and say, “Screw this!”, and give up defeated.

Small victories like this add up.

Peace.

May You Find What You Are Looking For

I love taking the dog for walks, whether it’s just a short walk around the neighborhood, or a trip to the local beach, or letting him loose on a field so he can chase his ball. One thing I especially like to do when we go walking is to look around on the ground. I am always hoping to find something unusual. Or, like a friend of mine did in a local store, as he approached me to say ‘Hello’, find money. (My friend saw me and came over to say ‘Hi’. As he got closer, he looked under the stand that was holding the cards I was looking at, and said, “Hey! What’s that?” THAT was a crisp $50 Bill!)

One day, I was with another friend at the local beach, again, looking for unusual stuff – I am hoping to find a glass float ball that often break loose from Japanese fishing boats across the Pacific. This particular day, I thought I had hit pay dirt as I caught the sun reflecting off glass. As I went to investigate, it turned out to be a bottle half buried in the sand. As I pulled it out, I could see that the bottle definitely contained something unusual! There was a message stuffed inside! Was it a love note from some long since forgotten lover? Was is a message for help from someone stranded on some desert island in some far-flung corner of the ocean? Turns out it was something more mundane. Someone had stuffed the label from the bottle into the bottle, but I will never forget that initial rush of excitement that came when I was fishing it out!

This new year, I want to continue looking. But I want to look inside myself and find the beauty that lies within. Sometimes we become disconnected and lost. We lose a part of ourselves. I have spent too many years in that state – lost and disconnected. This year is going to be a journey of rediscovering myself. I hope that whatever you are looking for, you will find it this year!

Peace