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My Life As A Christian Fraudster

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closet atheist.jpg

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

 

 

Boney M Must Die …

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Boney M

I’m such a fascist.

I know it’s the season of goodwill and peace but all I want to do is smash and burn Boney M Christmas music CD’s.

Christmas. The splendour and fears, the joys and heartbreak mix together like a multi-hued fruit cake … loved to the heavens by some, loathed to the devil’s armchair by others. Strong, strong gut-felt sensations from heart to head to toe.

Smells of pine or fir needles waft softly through the warm rooms of our hearts and homes, scents of gingerbread and vanilla and shortbread, voices of grandparents, Mommies and Daddies, the thp thp thp of excited pyjama-clad feet over wooden floors.

Laughter at turkey-festooned tables, where long simmering bitternesses are subsumed by best behaviours… the notion that no ill words will be laid on the Christmas table; not this hour, not this day, at least.

Modern Family Christmas

And in the background of all this joy and tension lies music. Seasonal tunes emanating from vinyl record and CD players, cellphones, MP3 players, songs springing from the living room’s polished piano keys or the silken strings of Aunt June’s guitar.

I love so many carols and hymns played over the Christmas season, don’t you? And if a chanteuse sings one song I don’t enjoy so much, there’s usually another they perform that lifts me skywards to nirvana.

Holly_Wreath

Years ago I lived for a time in Canada’s arctic town of Yellowknife.

As Christmas approached, I’d sit crammed with a bunch of other revellers in the cheek-numbing open-air box of a friend’s pickup truck and drive through the dark at -40C under the warm, green-tinged swirl of northern lights to co-workers’ homes for carol singing and rum drinking. Staid old Dr. Igoe was always the most generous with the spirit bottle, so we unfailingly sang our best festive tunes in the warmth of his living room.

Our Arctic choir didn’t have one, but just about every artist in the recording universe has a Christmas album or two. I can enjoy a carol, a hymn from just about anyone … exceptBONEY M.

The gritty, irritating sand of the synthetic Boney M Jamaican/Disco sounds wear at me like fingernails screeching down the blackboard.  Every verse, every chorus, every song.

I want to scream and run over sole-searing hot coals until there’s more pain in my feet than in my ears.

When I tell my family and friends of my Anti-Boney slant, they look at me like I have two heads, as if there’s something terribly wrong with me, a sickness that needs a cure.

Maybe I have an aural allergy, is this possible?

But enough. I won’t spend my Christmas season in a funk because of one musical group who, for me, massacres the sounds I love so dear.

Each of us has a selection of festive melodies that find a way into our hearts, giving rise to joy, melancholy, desire, cheer, sorrow. Our range of human emotions is brought rolling to the surface in a huge wave when the annual litany of music hits the tidal sands of Christmas.

Christmas FaMILY AT PIANO

Today, I have a question or challenge to make you exercise your mind and hold the Alzheimer demons at bay. Are you ready?

If I were to send you away Tom-Hanks-Castaway-style for the next month and your iPod or iPhone or Galaxy S would hold ONLY 3 Christmas (substitute SEASONAL if you prefer) songs/ carols/hymns … what would your choices be?

To jog your thinking, I’ve gone to the wintry streets and canvassed a few folks nearby and received a few suggestions like:

Also, just as an FYI, a recent Nielsen Company survey of most popular Christmas song downloads are as follows:

All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late) (Alvin and the Chipmunks)

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

Christmas Canon  (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

Rockin Around the Christmas tree (Brenda Lee)

The Chanukah Song (Adam Sandler)

Where Are You Christmas (Faith Hill)

Feliz Navidad (Jose Feliciano)

Jingle Bell Rock (Bobby Helms)

White Christmas (Bing Crosby)

My own musical tastes at this time of year gravitate towards the melancholy end of the spectrum, maybe because I like to plumb the depths of my emotional heart. So, restricted to just 3 pieces, I would go with:

  • Holly_WreathTom Jackson (Huron Carol) … the wonderful Canadian Christmas carol (likely written in 1642 by Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons) by deep-voiced Tom Jackson. The tremelo of his “In excelsis gloria” sends shivers down my spine.
  • Holly_WreathJohnny Mathis (The Christmas Song) … a favourite from my childhood that was always heard on the record player while we decorated the tree.

Released in 1958 by Columbia Records, Percy Faith provided the album’s musical direction. The Christmas album containing this song by Mathis peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart in 1959.

  • Holly_WreathVince Guaraldi (Christmas Time Is Here)… another childhood favourite… the swish swish swish of the brushes on the snare drum just makes me feel the snowflakes falling.

This song was written for the 1965 Christmas cartoon Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. In the weeks preceding the premiere, TV producer Lee Mendelson encountered trouble finding a lyricist for Guaraldi’s instrumental intro, and penned Christmas Time is Here in “about 15 minutes” on the backside of an envelope.

The recording sessions of the childrens’ choir were conducted in late autumn 1965, and were cut in three separate sessions over two weeks. They often ran late into the night, resulting in angry parents, some who forbid their children from returning – therefore, numerous new children were present at each session.

The children were directed by Barry Mineah, who demanded perfection from the choir. Mendelson and Guaraldi disagreed, desiring the “kids to sound like kids”. Each child was paid five dollars for their participation. In addition, the children recorded dialogue for the special’s final scene, in which the crowd of kids shout “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”.

                    charlie-brown

So, as you sit sipping an egg nog latte snuggled under a warm blanket, sugar plum fairies dancing in your head, snowflakes sowing themselves gently on your window frames, take a moment to ponder over your three finalists.

If you’re brave you can share them with me and I won’t laugh … or decry you … even if … a Boney M tune is among your selections. How’s that for Christmas Spirit? HOHOHO…