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My Life As A Christian Fraudster

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Square peg in a round hole.

Am I a fraud? Am I usurping a zone where I don’t belong?

Or … am I merely a sign of the times… a modern zeitgeist where anyone is welcome anywhere so long as they don’t try to upend and smash the belief cart?

Like a reticent homosexual, I’ve climbed out of the closet in recent years, only my “reveal” is that I’m an atheist.

To be fair, I won’t pretend that the fears I felt in the past when people become aware of my non-belief, in any way compares to the traumas of others who’ve encountered much greater rejection related to their sexuality.

But fears and unease they were still.

For the past couple of centuries, Canada has been a “Christian” country. When I was born in 1957, more than 90% of the Canadian populace was Christian.

Of course today it’s a pastiche of religions, pseudo-religions, and non-religion. Barely 60% identify as Christian today.

I grew up in the United Church of Canada.

I hated the unending “preachy” sermons, but I really loved the hymns, the grape juice that I pretended was real wine (even while knowing that St. Eugene’s Catholic Church a few blocks away had the real stuff), the stained-glass windows.

I loved the warmth of the people always shaking hands and smiling. The warmth may have been put on temporarily like wearing your best Sunday suit, but it felt good nonetheless.

I’m comfortable now in my non-believing skin, but I can’t seem to shake a churchly connection to my past. Even though I proclaim myself an atheist, I’m in no hurry to cut the ties of my heritage.

We’re at the end of the first week of December in the Okanagan Valley, and I’m awaiting that true harbinger of Christmas, the first beautiful snowfall of the season. Nonetheless, the Christmas celebration is rushing headlong at us and Christmas says Christian, right?

Yet here I am, many years removed from my days of religious faith, and many thousands of kilometres away from my family’s church.

It’s music’s fault and I’m unapologetic. In fact, I’m thankful.

And on 4 occasions now, I’ve been asked to play my guitar and sing at the local United Church at their Monday night Community Dinners. When I told the vivacious woman in charge of these functions about my own belief system, she happily laughed it off and said, “so what?“…. WTH? … were they welcoming the Grinch into their little village?

 

Also, this year I’ve been asked to stand by the Salvation Army “kettles” to croon my John Denver version of Christmas for Cowboys and collect alms for the Christmas cheer of the less-favoured in the local area. I reflect back to the time when the folks standing by the kettles ringing the bells were outfitted in their authoritative “Army” uniforms, looking the well-starched Christian soldier part. Even their clunky black shoes looked God-fearing to me.

That was then. The volunteers I encounter standing by the Sally Ann kettles now come in jeans and wear Santa hats. That’s pretty inclusive.

In tutoring my Syrian Muslim friend, I’m acting as his interpreter of the Christmas season, just as he does the same for me during Ramadan. We enjoy learning about each other’s worlds. I’m just a non-Christian playing a small part in a world of Christians and Jews and Muslims and Atheists and on and on.

But I hope the feeling that I get by being around and enjoying others with different belief systems is a trend that continues to spread as our uneasy, uncomfortable world slowly… inexorably melds itself into a sphere of tolerance and acceptance.

If only I were a Christian… then I might suggest that “tolerance and acceptance” would be an excellent 11th Commandment… nobody needs religion to buy into that, right? Thank you… Thank you very much …

Sally Ann Elvis

 

 

Christmas Old and New

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That was then. This is now.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a Christian believer.

Maybe it’s because Don Draper and all the advertising Mad Men crawled inside me and wouldn’t stop ringing Christmas bells and playing the jingle-script of Kris Kringle perfection.

Maybe the Charlie Browns and Grinches and Rudolphs and Ebenezer Scrooges were like multiple-personality Sybil’s speaking at me in an unstoppable constant repeat.

Xmas TV

Yes Virginia, I like the modern tradition of Christmas gift-giving.

I love to spend hours watching others  – one by one – open a beautifully-wrapped present. A personal gift given to a loved and/or admired one is as close to my definition of “Christmas spirit” as the other “meanings” of Christmas.

But in days long gone, I’ve been panic-struck while Christmas shopping. If I was migraine-prone, I would have OD’d on opioids from the tension I layered over me like a searing winter duvet.

I can remember years where I drove the streets of my birth-city like a crazy man, battling snowstorms, madly seeking out some sense of Yuletide perfection that could never be possible. Always dangling but never attainable.

Ho Ho How will I ever send everyone – friends, relatives (large families are wonderful until you count up your two dozen nieces and nephews on December 1st) – to the pinnacle of joy unless I have the perfect gift?

Cheery-fluff snowflakes laughed at my misery as they drifted by my face beneath the streetlights.

Anxiety and anguish were my shopping companions. All to the accompaniment of joy and peace and good tidings shared with a thousand (hmmm… felt like a million) other crowded shoppers.

I was captive to my consumer culture.

That’s one hand. And as my good Fiddler friend Tevye says: “On the other hand…

… this old dog has found a new trick.

My culture, my time, has provided me with the greatest shopper’s gift called … the INTERNET.

BUY, BUY, BUY

Yes, I’m still a captive to the consumer culture. I buy. I buy more than my initial budget tells me to. I still agonize over what my peeps will tear open and beam at with delight.

But the anxious hours I used to spend uneasily traipsing the mobbed aisles of department stores and scented boutiques (I really do love the sweet scent in small boutique shops) are pared down to minutes now that I do my window shopping gazing through the windows of the menagerie of online stores.

Once I find the treasure I’m seeking in the “Internet Mall”, I’ll call or visit my local merchants. If they offer the same or similar item at a similar price (I’m always willing to pay a few dollars more to support the local), we have a sale!

Otherwise, Amazon or Hudson’s Bay or LL Bean or TicketMaster suck in my conspicuous consumption $$.

Either way… it’s… Relaxed … Easy … Anxiety-Free.

I love Christmas morning. It’s the same as every other morning, except it isn’t. Does that make sense?

Christmas awakening is a release of all the merry tautness, all of the mental and physical effort that pours out over a month of anticipation and sugar and alcohol.

Even for us non-believers, there’s a sense of spiritual awareness and warmth and a magical aura that comes with the harmony of hymns and cheerful “Merry Christmas“es. Joy to The World feels more real on Christmas Day.

When I was a child, Merry Christmas was all we had.

Today I can share the pleasures of the many cultures that surround me. There’s no need to toss aside the calling out of Merry Christmas, or Happy Hannukah, or Gung Hay Fat Choy or Happy Kwanzaa. And sure, even Happy Holidays…

We can all participate in the joy of each other’s celebrations.

That’s the gladness I find in this “new” Christmas that I want to share with my friends of all beliefs.

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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep… My PRAYER?

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GOD… Shmod…

I’m sorry if my words and irreverence are hurtful or disdainful to you.

I don’t want my blog posts to cause anyone pain … truthful (from my perspective) but not painful.

As a child, I was taught to kneel next to my bed, hands pressed together beneath my little chin, and pray to God…

And now I lay me down to sleep…

… before climbing under the covers for the night.

For the next hour, I’d anxiously lie there, blankets pulled up over my nose, hoping that no Where The Wild Things Are monster would crawl out from under the bed or burst through the doorway and cut me into pieces and eat me.

I was an anxious child. I had my own Calvin and Hobbes world.

Sleep would eventually descend over me like a drifting parachute and I was safe from the imaginary devils inside my head for another day.

Whew! Prayer answered.

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Happily, I made it through the omnipresent – artificial – dangers and survived into adulthood where the only – real – monsters that exist show up on CNN routinely.

I’ve told you before that I’m not a believer in an omnipotent deity… male, female or any other non-binary choice.

It’s not a big deal and I don’t want to write evangelically atheistic rants like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.

I respect the desire and need for religion…the salve of poverty, war, disease,  interpersonal hell… I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I understand its basis and the comfort it gives to millions.

I don’t want to judge others and their beliefs just as I don’t need or want someone hovering overhead judging me… we all have reasons for our weaknesses and faults. I judge myself pretty harshly and that’s all I can handle.

If I was a devout believer I’d probably be a better person.

I’d probably be more like Lauraine the head lady that I work with when I volunteer to chop and slice and dishwash at the Penticton soup kitchen.

Lauraine is a pious Catholic with a lively sense of humour and a Mother Teresa-like aura of warmth. She treats every person with dignity and respect and sees the inner good that so often doesn’t show on the outside of troubled people, which is everyone.

Lauraine knows I’m a non-believer but if I ever have a difficulty in any area of my life she assures me that she’ll pray for me or my loved ones. And even though I don’t believe it will have any direct impact, I feel good inside knowing that she’s sending some positive vibes.

I don’t believe in a God, but I do believe in the power of individuals to make a god-like difference for those in their circle of influence. Lauraine is real and affects my world.

Also, my inspiration doesn’t flow through the Bible, the Sutra, the Vedas, the Quran or the Torah, though each carries a wealth of wisdom.

Wisdom and understanding is cached away in a multitude of places other than religious texts. Hopefully wisdom informs beliefs.

Sometimes we come to believe in something as an accepted fact even though there’s no rational or sensible underpinning to that belief.

I was reminded of this natural human tendency when I saw a replay of perhaps my most favourite segment of television ever, of course written by one of my very favourite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, in the HBO series The Newsroom.

It’s a Shakespeare-style soliloquy spoken by a fictional TV news anchorman (Will McAvoy aka Jeff Daniels) during a university debate.

A young female sophomore student asks a seemingly simple question that everyone in the room takes for granted has an obvious underlying truth.

 

There’s a humungous lump in my throat right now.

Now you might ask where am I going with this whole ramble about prayer and I guess the answer is a simple… I’m not sure.

McAvoy’s monologue is filled with observable facts that would have us examine our belief in the “apparently obvious”. My biases align with his rant. His words are my prayer.

Powerful words delivered with eloquence.

I get it. Prayer is powerful. Prayer makes us weak and strong at the same time.

I love the sense of reverence and historic wonder I feel when I stand or sit in a church, a cathedral, a synagogue, a temple, a mosque.

I love the sound of the archaic words, thou and whence and messiah, and the swell of pipe-organ music reverberating off high arched ceilings.

So, even though I miss the halcyon days of kneeling next to my bed and talking to something or someone greater than my tiny mortal being, I can’t truly recapture those moments of prayer with the same innocence and sense of awe.

The only prayer that exists for me now is the active voice in my head that observes and confers and sifts and debates like crazy.

It’s the godless prayer of observation and wonder, confusion and fear, respect and admiration, love and desire, hope and optimism.

If I should die before I wake… well, I guess the monster under my bed finally got me.

Monster under bed