Home

I Love The Church But I Hate Religion

2 Comments

christmas-basilica.jpg

Sometimes I wake up surprised by a long forgotten memory that hasn’t passed my way in years, like a hazy ship coming into sight over the horizon. My mind is a mysterious maze.

The clock had just stroked past midnight ushering in Christmas Day, 1970, and my friend Renato and I were snickering – sacrilegiously so – as the Bishop, dressed in his flowing robes and ornate finery slowly made his way, like a blushing bride, down the aisle of sacred St. Eugene’s Church.

Slowly swinging a heavy gold thurible bubbling over with the sweet smoke of heady incense, the Bishop’s voluminous robes and the thurible’s hypnotic oscillating motion brought a vision to my head of him tossing sugary Christmas candies – Santa-like – to the children in the pews.

When I whispered this to Renato, he burst out laughing which made me crack up as well. Disapproving eyes turned our way.

A firestorm of lightning and hail should have rained down upon us.

That was my very first and to this day, only, visit to a Midnight Mass.

I sometimes wonder now if perhaps my photo has been placed in all Catholic Churches worldwide as a “Wanted Dead or Alive” reminder to those who might laugh out loud in the presence of God.

Wanted Dead or Alive

The mass was mystically ephemeral and awe-inspiring, the cavernous hall filled with deep-bassed bone-rattling organ music reverberating off the rock solid walls and high ceiling of the church.

The genuflecting, recitations, prayers and hymns filled me with a mix of reverential wonderment, and even a tiny bit of fear that I would somehow be exposed, singled out to the large congregation as a blasphemous outsider, and stoned to death as a sacrificial Protestant offering.

We were young teenagers and Renato had invited me to the special annual event to join with his Italian family: Mom, Dad, older sister and brother.

Just a couple of blocks away from my own family’s St. David’s Church, St. Eugene’s Catholic Church was all “Paris high-couture” compared to my United Church’s “dressed-down Levi jeans”…

Catholics took Holy Communion with real drunk-inducing wine, we United’s merely sipped on wussy Welch’s grape juice. OMG, we were amateurs at this religion stuff.

Compared to the much more casual, laissez-faire services at St. David’s, it was like going to the Queen’s Coronation in London. It reeked of splendour and religious gravitas.

Religions are like bird species… they all fly about in pretty much the same manner but their plumage and songs can look incredibly different.

Bird church

I’m not a religious guy but I love going into churches, all churches: tiny, mammoth, simple, ornate.

I’ve been in Cathedrals and Basilicas and Chapels.

I’ve entered Mosques and Synagogues.

I’ve stood in a Rain Forest Cathedral.

Without exception, they all impart to me a sense of grandeur, an inner feeling of the greatness of all that exists in a world that none of us can explain with any certainty.

And yet I call myself an atheist, a heretic, a heathen, a non-believer of a God.

But in fact, I have to admit that I’m really a nothing because I have no belief or knowledge or wisdom that allows me to say with 100% confidence that I know an answer… THE ANSWER.

And I hesitate to say it, but really, does any human know the answer? I don’t think so.

Not me, not you, not the Pope, not the Dalai Lama (actually, the Dalai Lama puts it this way: “God exists or God does not exist. Leave it for us. Your task is to learn how to live peacefully.”) or any other religious figure that we use as a conduit to a God.

I trust my eyes and ears and science more than I trust biblical texts written thousands of years back by fallible, earthly men. I tend to throw back most of the faith and religious fish outside of those caught that instruct us in morality and good-living.

For many years, I felt bashfully nervous about releasing my inner beliefs.

My views were contrary to the God-steeped teachings I was raised with and I felt insecure running against the non-secular crowd. It came down to that pee-my-pants insecurity that people would think less of me if they knew I was a non-believer.

Well so be it. Not any more. I don’t mind the smell of my own shit.

I’ve grown older and more confident in my beliefs. Hallelujah!

confident.jpg

And… I think those around me who do believe in an omnipotent deity are today more flexibly tolerant and understanding of others’ beliefs (Donald Trump aside), much in the same way that many, maybe most of us, accept gay love as just one more normal way of loving another person (OK, the whole American Republican Party aside).

Religion, like Communism, holds out for utopian ideals that are heartwarming and based on love and caring for our fellow travellers. When these visionary ideals are taken to heart and observed, which they often are… then… I love religion.

But when those teachings are twisted and malformed into a monstrous means of shutting out and rejecting and hurting others, when horrific wars and jihads and death squads are unleashed, when innocent women and children are shamefully abused, when obfuscation and lies are used to protect and hide those bastard transgressors, THAT is when I hate religion.

Religion can be a wonderful, rich philosophy of living a life, just like many other non-deity based philosophies that teach and promote love and humility and kindness.

Religion supports the needs of those in pain and suffering of which there is no shortage in this world.

Religion offers shelter where disease and poverty and injustice strike mercilessly upon the weakest.

There have been numerous times in my life that I wished I could embrace an inner belief that someone was looking out for me, protecting me. What warmth that blanket holds in the chill of the night.

Be religious. Don’t be religious. Be caring. Be thoughtful. Say thank you.

And be prepared to catch sweet candies tossed your way when you least expect it.

Christmas candy

 

Advertisements

Did God Create Cream Cheese ?

2 Comments

cream cheese mug

I don’t personally believe there is a God

…………

but if I did, it would have to be because of cream cheese.

 

I was raised in a household like a million other Canadian households.

We kids went to church on Sunday because … just because. My family worshipped in the United Church of Canada.

And being United was sort of Christianity Light.

You could pretty much be any kind of devil-worshipping witch and the church elders would smile and hand you the tiny glass of non-fermented purple grape juice (I secretly wanted to be Catholic so I could drink real alcohol-laced blood-red wine… c’mon, did Jesus offer Welch’s grape juice at the Last Supper?) and tell you you’re just fine.

Tolerance R Us should be the United Church motto …

Salt and Pepper-haired Reverend Buchanan at my family’s St. David’s United Church in Hamilton spoke in a tenor Scottish brogue that was fascinating to watch and listen to during his tedious sermons – he had a divine way of making an hour feel like a whole day – not because of any amazingly insightful wisdom he brought to the congregation, but it was his teeth.

Words hissed through his teeth that gleamed with gold fillings, front tooth fillings that glimmered in the pastoral sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows of the church.

gold-teeth1

If I found myself dropping off during his sermon, which I invariably did … sorry Reverend… BORING!!!! … a shaft of sharp sunlight would reflect off his golden teeth. Piercing through my eyelids, it was like a blast of tropical sunshine on a Mexican or Hawaiian beach, minus the ready availability of a cold, fluffy drink on my right and the mesmerizing sounds of lapping waves beyond my feet.

At the age of twelve my folks gave me – or more probably I insisted (as the youngest of five kids born to worn-down old parents) – the opportunity to choose not to attend Sunday church.

I jumped at the chance. No more Reverend Buchanan.

I rejoiced when I could park my shiny Sunday hand-me-down leather shoes and stay in my Montreal Canadiens’ wool jersey. I could go play hockey on the outdoor ice rink across the street in the park. I loved the cannonading sound of hockey pucks ricocheting off the wood boards set up by city workers far more than the dull, sonorous tones of Reverend Buchanan.

Unlike myself, many folks find reassuring comfort with a God presence in their lives and I respect and understand that. There is a score of reasons and explanations for believing in a God.

Life can be filled with difficulties and trials where the sense of a loving, helpful, understanding deity is too great to not believe for many.

I’ve wished a dozen times in my life from the days of my mother’s death, to my young son suffering a terrible illness that threatened his life, to crushing romantic relationship break-ups that there was someone, something … anyone or anything that could help ease the pain.

NOW.

But for me, that something, that anything, has always been time.

Well … Time and cream cheese.

Pain doesn’t ever really disappear, it just dissipates… which brings me to the raison d’être of this blog.

My point here is that like a law of physics, pain must always have a corresponding rebound or response in joy … yin and yang …  balancing opposites. Can a meaningful life exist without both?

And what brings the world more joy than, you guessed it … cream cheese. Especially cream cheese icing.

mini-cinnamon-bun

You might think me disrespectful and trite to make a comparison and case for a simple thing such as cream cheese relating to something as soulful and complex as God.  But, as I grow older, I find that simple things are ones that often bring me the greatest joy.

For example:

  • I’ve come to realize just how much I love to sit outside on a mild spring day, eyes closed, absorbing the heady scent of the spring flowers – lilac, daphne, daffodils – and the early warmth of March or April sunlight playing through my closed eyelids.
  • In summer, I thrill to the hugging caress of cool Okanagan Lake water swishing over my torso as I dive beneath its surface.
  • I sense an exhilaration when I read a book chapter where the writing leaves me breathless with its originality of word use and creativity. I had this feeling a number of times reading Stephen King’s 11/23/63, strangely never while reading 50 Shades of Grey!
  • When I munch my way into a gooey cinnamon bun thickly swirled with cream cheese icing, or feel the delicate smoothness on my tongue of tangy key-lime pie, or bite into a crunchy toasted bagel with a swish of cream cheese, or taste a square of carrot cake lushly layered with cream cheese icing.

These are all simple things in today’s complex world filled with luxury cars, Rolexes, and high tech gadgets.

Depending on your belief system, you may tell me that these are all reflections of an omniscient being, a God.

And, you may also say to me that it was the devious work of the devil and that cream cheese icing was the culprit in Reverend Buchanan’s gold-shiny teeth in the era before top-notch dentistry.

But that doesn’t matter to me because I inhabit a world where cream cheese, a perfect blend of nature and man-made wonder – gives me a spiritual lift that lights my days.

You and I and our 7 billion human neighbours will never know the true answer …

… but if anyone would like to convert me, I can’t conceive of a better reason that God just might exist than cream cheese.

carrot-cake

What Happens in Vegas … is it Spiritual?

2 Comments

Spirituality …

Spiritual

… it’s powerful, it’s all-embracing.

I used to hate, maybe even fear the word and now I hold it close to my bosom (do guys have bosoms … anyone?).

So you ask: “Larry, why would you fear a simple word like spirituality?”

In a nutshell, I’ve shied away from writing or talking about spirituality because it has a way of sounding like a synonym for RELIGION.

And, as you probably know by now, I’m not much of a player on the game field of religion.

Spirituality – 1 … Religion – 0.

A greater omnipotent DEITY just isn’t in the cards for me.

Hang on … just as an ADHD aside: Even though I’m not devout or God-fearing, I like hanging out with people who are religious in the traditional (but NOT Evangelical) sense. There’s a warmth and genuineness and often an atmosphere of “all will be OK” that floats in the mist surrounding a true believer. It’s comforting to be in their company.

But today I’m going to drag up the courage to voice some thoughts –  you may agree somewhat … or you may just hate my perspective.

I’ve spent most of my life refraining from this discussion because I care what you and everyone else thinks about me and so it’s easier to avoid the topic than to offend you.

Today, the water looks inviting and I’m boldly plunging in.

In my mind, Spirituality is the NEWS HEADLINE,

everything else is the Subtitle.

Religion is just one of the subtitles along with

  • nature
  • music
  • dance
  • pets
  • children
  • visual art
  • love

You might have others to add to this list.

What I’m saying is that spirituality is the overarching feeling that plunges deepest into the heart of our personal earth.

There’s an aura or ambient meaning that accompanies something that we describe as spiritual. It’s otherwordly, even though it may or may not be religious.

We all have our outer crust that protects us from the dangers of life, great and small. But way down below there is the molten core that is warm and liquid and exudes the inner strength that rejoices in the beauty and wonder we encounter, and supports us in our darkest troubling times.

I suppose sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling might be considered as spiritual subtitles too but they’re loaded with downside potential, so I can’t include them. I don’t think that Las Vegas will soon be changing its motto to:

What Happens in Vegas is Spiritually Healing and Good in Vegas

Jesus in Vegas

We all have monsters inside us needing some spiritual calming.

Calm is a good word. I used to think that spirituality and religion were the same thing. But now I’ve discovered, for me, the synonym for spirituality isn’t RELIGION, it’s CALM.

Religion and the other items I’ve listed above are where we find the soothing calm that carries us over the mud puddles that are the bad days, the hard times that inevitably seek us out and try to suck us into the muck.

Doesn’t matter where it comes from, we all need spirituality. When we don’t have it, we cease functioning properly.

As an illustration, the other day I finished reading a book by Jodi Picoult entitled Nineteen Minutes. It’s a wonderfully crafted book about a young teenaged boy, Peter Houghton, who is bullied his entire life before he finally snaps in late high school.

Over the course of 19 minutes, this distraught soul wanders the halls of his school shooting the dozen or so classmates who have made his life a misery, catastrophically changing his life and the entire town’s future. It’s as sad as it is telling.

It tells of his inability to find a source of spirituality to carry him over his miseries, leaving, in his mind, only one way to find calm inside his head, even though it means spending the remainder of his life in a jail cell.

Calm

Here are a few examples of where I find my spiritual base – that impression of heaven-on-earth (I’d be pleased if you shared some of yours too!):

  • I awake at 6 am on an early summer’s day and step outside into my yard. Immediately, I inhale the light sweetness of Lily-of-the-Valley in the air, hear the notes of robins chirping and mourning doves cooing. Then I feel the glow of the just-risen sun striking my eyes and cheeks while a dewy dampness in the air cools me from behind.
  • I’m standing still on my cross-country skis in the frigid mountain airs of January. There’s an unearthly calming quiet as I gaze out on the the sun reflecting brilliant off the snowy banks of the side of a frozen lake scraped clean for skating or sliding.
  • I’m perched in the momentarily-hushed darkness of a movie theatre with the intoxicatingly warm, salty scent of popcorn rising. My mind is floating backwards to my childhood as I sit in the same darkness of the Palace or Capitol Theatre in my Hamilton boyhood where I’m mesmerized by the colourful brilliance of … movie classics of the time like Bonnie and Clyde, Bullitt, Sound of Music, Mary Poppins.
  • The sands of Sunoka Beach are hot beneath my beach towel, my torso is absorbing the heat from beneath as the blazing sun burns decorative red lines through my closed eyelids. I feel the sand sift between my toes while children’s screams of delight zoom left to right by the water’s edge. There’s a mixed aroma of french fries and coconut suntan oils drifting over me like the little wiggly heat lines on a scorched highway.
  • It’s 11 pm and the living room is quiet at the end of the day. I pick up my acoustic guitar and stroke the first few chords of Fire and Rain or Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band and I drift away on a cloud where time is meaningless and my mind is still like the morning surface of Lake Okanagan.
  • Shavasana … the end of a yoga session. It’s the only time I feel comfortable lying prone on a cool, hard surface. The room is semi-dark, filled only with Marsha’s soothing voice telling me to release, relax and let go. It’s also the only time in my life where I get to lay down beside 20 women in the dark and not feel guilty – every man’s dream …

Pets-At-The-Movies

 

CALM … SPIRITUAL …

I’ve finally lost the hate, the fear, the confusion over spirituality … SHHH, please pass the popcorn – real butter, of course –  I can’t wait to see how the rest of this story plays out …

 

Do Something …

2 Comments

Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who bought a Volvo.”

-> Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

 

From time to time I feel a rant coming on and that time is now.

I want to stand on the pulpit like Jerry Falwell or Oral Roberts, my welcoming arms spread wide, and preach to you about how to live your life.

I can sense a warming Pastor’ish aura descend over me, like a rich multi-coloured woollen cloak.

And the really wonderful thing is I won’t make a pitch for you to send money… hmmm, hold on a minute … if you want to send me a few dollars I won’t object.

So, friend … Join me today in the esteemed CHURCH of LAWRENCE.

Church Sign

Do you want to be the one who left this earth and they said at your funeral:

he read a lot of books.” (although that’s good too!)

 

I want to be the one who reached his final breath, where they said :

there were a lot of books written by and about him.”

 

In other words, I DID something.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Lose the passive, lose the inertia … become the active. Physical. Mental. Spiritual.

It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, really important stuff to anyone other than yourself or the small world around you. If you want to be Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou… go for it. But it’s good enough to be a better Joe Schmidlap.

In Grade 13 Physics class at Sir Wilfrid Laurier school in Hamilton, Mr. Miedema tried to teach me all about the various forms of energy. I was bored stiff other than when I was ogling sweet-faced brunette Charlene, dreaming of what she looked like naked, but this much I absorbed:

It isn’t enough to have potential energy… you can store up all the energy in the world but unless it’s released, there ain’t nothing happening.

I need my energy to become kinetic … active energy that makes things happen.

potentialkinetic energy

 

Because I’m preaching and ranting today, you might think I’m claiming to be perfect.

I wish.

I know people who brag to me about not watching any television. BULLSHIT…

Not me …

If you don’t watch “television” you’re most likely watching your iPhone or Netflix or downloading movies and TV series from the internet … it’s all semantics. I love good TV and there is some very good TV available, just like there are great books, great movies and great music.

Like the food I eat, I try to limit the junk TV (did someone say Reality TV) and seek out the quality screenwriters and performers that nourish my mind and inspire my funny gene or my idea machine after I click the box off.

I even like to watch nighttime soap operas like The Good Wife, House of Cards, and Nashville (of course the music negates the “soap” component here).

But if I sit in my La-Z-Boy hour after hour, day after day, after sitting at an office desk 9 to 5, my muscles atrophy and I slowly dwindle. My strength shrinks and fades as surely as my gut swells and my chin clones multiply.

If I think and do … build chicken coops, write books, ride bikes up mountains, play some piano, cook a gourmet meal … my kinetic energy builds and multiplies.

growth mindset

We have to measure our time carefully so we don’t become strict observers of life.

The kinetic energy that makes us grow smarter and better needs to be used over and over again and then it grows like a voraciously hungry trumpet vine or a wisteria, wild plants that once started, sprout new tendrils at an astounding pace.

It takes sweat and effort. It’s hard work to think and grow and generate ideas and make things.

Just like in the gym though, the muscle won’t grow until the effort creates heat and rivers of sweat.

And sometimes it’s not what we do, it’s what we don’t do that makes the difference.

For example, I’ve stopped buying the Globe and Mail newspaper every day. I can spend a couple of hours easily each day, reading news that means nothing to my life.

By cutting this back, I can use that time to do and create, or maybe just think. I still buy the Saturday Globe, it has the Books section and lots of pretty pictures of models wearing swell clothes, so I won’t give that up.

Our electronic world is filled with wonderful time consumers, little bastard time-wasters that vacuum up precious moments of our lives.

Time waster

I’m learning not to waste my time with negative people or those that are draining … I want positive interactions with those who plan to live life in an uplifting fashion.

I have a friend Henny who seeks out newness in her life to the tune of her birthdays. For each year of her age, she finds something that she’s never done or seen, or even eaten, to accomplish in the year between birthdays. So, for example, at age 35, she finds 35 new things to be a part of her life.

They’re not all big items – most aren’t actually –  just something unique and different to her.

It keeps her fresh and excited about her life.

Things like a trip down a zipline, a bottle of wine from a country never tried before, reading a book about something totally foreign to her, riding her bike down every street in her small town at least once in the year.

These are little exploits that take a touch of effort but reward her with an ongoing profusion of experiences and enthusiasm.

So, my friend, dive in … I’ll cheer you on.

Do something that makes you catch your breath, even if just a little.

We can all become minor Superheroes. No cape required.

Maybe your earthbound days will roll to the finish line and the immortality of your name will live on as an eponymous adjective.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have the newest “IT” thing described by the masses as … not Kafkaesque, Orwellian, Wagnerian or Napoleonic or Shakespearean, but … maybe Fergusonian or Fisherite or Swidzinskian … or perhaps  best of all… Greenesque.

There you have it good friend, this concludes today’s sermon.

Go forth and be kinetic. You have the potential.

Ordinary superheroes are just like you and me ...

Ordinary superheroes are just like you and me …

Do We REALLY Have to Work?

2 Comments

I have a strong tendency towards laziness.

I love to just sit and think or allow my mind to wander in whatever direction it desires.

I’m so lazy that I don’t even give my brain directions about what it should think about. It decides and I just watch and follow. It’s a stream that meanders in all directions with no riverbanks to restrict its flow.

laziness

The other day my brain decided that I’m going to stop working for a living.

Just like that, no job.

I’m not retiring, I’m quitting. And it’s not because I don’t like my job or my boss. My boss is great, and most days my job is pretty good.

So … What’s Up, you ask?

Jesus didn’t have a job.

Well, some say he was a carpenter, but I can’t find any pictures, descriptions, or drawings of his work, and I did a full Google search.

jesus_carpenter

Unlike Muhammad, he didn’t become a Dad, so he wasn’t a stay-at-home working parent while his wife was out making the bacon (she wouldn’t be Jewish I guess). Some suggest he was a bootlegger who turned water into wine and then sold it to his followers who grew in numbers because they liked his stuff, but that’s just idle rumour.

Jesus had a dream job of being a saviour. How many kids tell their Grade 2 class they want to grow up to be a Saviour? None in my school certainly.

But truthfully, I don’t want to be a saviour… too many liability issues and guilt. And then you end up crucified.

I’m seeking out a sunny field of tranquillity. It’s a kind of mid-life crisis of form and understanding, a nighttime retreat into the womb of safety and comfort.  To be childlike and carefree with only the smell of green grass and sand between my toes, swing sets in the park, ice cream on the beach. A job implies responsibility and worry over bills and leaks in the roof.

Engagement and enjoyment of life is defined both by what we do for a paycheque and what we do as passion. Sometimes they coincide and often they run separate roads.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. After all, millions have read the 4 Hour Work Week and The Joy of Not Working . How many of the thousands of people working at WalMart are there because they love to work? –Damn, ANOTHER clean up in Aisle 7. Hell, even the CEO is only really there because he gets a HUGE paycheque that lets him do the things he really wants to do.

Money-spewing lotteries are over-the-top popular because the multitudes hope and pray that a few lucky numbers will give them their dream job of a life of no work. It’s an ubiquitous feeling that work is a penance we pay so that we can eat and have a boat to fish from off a sunny Caribbean beach for 2 weeks every winter.

4-hour-workweek

I’ll admit that jobs have their place. A job is an important source of social capital, it provides daily structure for many, a place to meet friends and kindle romances, a detouring path away from crime and prison for young men, an example of industriousness and duty to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

But really, nobody has a born purpose in life to buy and sell stocks. Or create an ad agency. Or ride a dusty tractor all day long. Or work in a cubicle. Those are tiny side effects of being alive. We’re conditioned in western society from Day 1 to build ourselves into a work machine that produces something of value that others are willing to pay something for.

No matter how much talent and ability and know-how we possess and want the world to beat a path to our personal toll booth, dropping gold coins into our pocket of wealth, unless what we have to offer is desirable at a reasonable price, we starve.

People start up businesses by the hundreds and thousands every week, and then a short year later they shutter the front door forever because their incredible (to them) idea for sponging up currency that couldn’t go wrong, didn’t connect. Dreams are shattered and bankruptcies are born.

The real purpose is to do the things you enjoy, with the people you enjoy and who inspire you, as much as possible. If this happens in a job setting, great. But for the majority in this world of billions of souls, work life is lived as Bob Cratchit under the heavy thumb of their own Scrooge.  Work is a necessity, undertaken as a servitude for a turkey on the table at Christmas and some coal in the winter stove.

So we’ll continue working to survive like we always have. Maybe someday we’ll devise a way to put a million dollars in each baby’s bank account at birth and the work week will become a relic of an ancient era. Robots and technology will run our factories and our supermarkets and our transit and sewage systems.

Robot in home

I wish I could live to see such a day, but I consider myself lucky to see this moment in history when I can push a switch and my house is instantly made cozy warm, or refreshingly cool. In winter, I can fly like a bird to an exotic beach with loads of fresh, juicy fruit and cold bottles of beer laid out for my picking. If I want to read any magazine or book, I can open an electronic gizmo and have it sent instantaneously through the electronic ether to my lap. While I sit in front of a huge entertainment centre in my living room with 1000’s of movies and other media delights at my fingertips.

Most of my weekly blog posts are about 1,000 words long.  It’s a good length that doesn’t usually tax you, the reader, too much.  I was going to quit at 800 words today and just relax on my sunny, warm deck.

But this luxuriously wandering, creating mind that wants me to quit my job just wouldn’t listen and take direction from me.

I guess I’ll go on being lazy, starting tomorrow…

Lazy cat

It was a smooth funeral as these things go…

4 Comments

The rear swing door of the black hearse sitting in the horseshoe-shaped driveway was already gaping open like a Domino’s pizza oven, impatiently waiting for the deceased’s delivery.

hearse door ajar

Sun rays were prying their way between the clouds, trying desperately to make this final day bright. Alone, I hesitated a second at the tall, heavy oak door of the generic staid but stolid funeral home – I pulled it open. Within seconds, a tall, dark-suited bespectacled man approached.

Did you know the deceased well?

He was dignified and compassionate in his well-honed professional approach to terminal matters.

Very, I said, grinning in a sheepish, modest sort of fashion.

In fact, I AM the deceased.

I spoke this in a breathy whisper, hoping he would pick up on the discretion I wanted for such an unusual occurrence. He barely blinked when I said it though…How often does this happen? This guy was a pro. He slide-stepped a quarter turn sideways and gestured with a sweep of his arm that I might like to enter the chapel.

I was worried that I would be noticed when I passed into the dimly-lit open hall so I sat down quickly on one of the empty long wooden pews at the back of the room.

Funeral chapel

Fortunately, in churches and funeral homes, people don’t turn around to look behind them. You only look left, right, or forwards. I think it’s some religious rule, maybe even a commandment–  that you don’t turn around unless they start to play “Here Comes The Bride“, and then it’s rude NOT to turn around.

Music … I love music. Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” was just ending and the distinctive guitar picking of James Taylor began softly echoing off the high wood-panelled ceiling of the chapel – “You’ve Got a Friend”… I closed my eyes and absorbed one of my favourite songs.

I was adjusting my pant leg when a woman’s voice coming from my right whispered, “Are you the dead fellow?

My eyes were just adapting to the low lights of the room. Surprised, I turned to see an elderly woman scrinching her way, sliding gently towards me on the bench. She looked familiar, but only in the way that any woman of her age might remind you of your grandmother. She was squinting at me through her thick eyeglasses.

How did you know that?

– Well, you might think its a bit strange, but I come to a funeral here every week. IF there’s a funeral on a Friday. I have bridge club on Thursday and my daughter comes to help me out on Wednesdays. The other days just don’t feel like funeral days to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m Catholic. Fridays feel like a funeral day.

She slid her hands slowly over the knees of her dark dress to straighten the pleats that had been disrupted on her slide towards me.

– I never know the dead person, but I enjoy a good funeral. I get to see and hear the sum of a person’s life in about a half hour. I learn a lot about what’s important to different people. Sometimes it’s all just religious rigamarole – sandwich without a filling – almost like the dead person never existed. But sometimes, there’s a whole gourmet dinner laid out of a person’s soul. It makes me see my own life better somehow. I like those ones.

She fell quiet when she spotted the man in the dark suit, the same one that greeted me at the front door, approach the podium at the front of the room.

man speaking at funeral

He paused at the metal-faced lectern, looked down quietly at his notes, then slowly looked back up, and began:

One of the great benefits of living for a number of years, is that we absorb and observe and enjoy the things that make our time as humans on earth special and memorable. We experience the multitude of stages that constitute a life. Birth, childhood, teen years, first loves, fast cars and vehicles, first jobs, the stresses and great joys of family life and interacting with people that surround us. We see beauty, and pain, in so many forms, often those things that we glance past in early years become the treasures of our later lives.

-If Larry was with us here today, if he was sitting right here in this chapel at this moment…

He glanced with a small ironic smile towards the back of the room where I was sitting.

– if he was here, he would want us to reflect on the things that mattered greatly to him and at least take them into consideration in the living of our everyday lives. 

Hallelujah brother, I wanted to yell out.

But I didn’t want to distract the modest crowd of mourners and well-wishers who had broken away from their daily existences to say a final farewell to a small piece, a fragment really, for most of them, of their lives. Aside from close family, a funeral, at its most basic level isn’t really about the person who has passed. A funeral is about how each of us reacts in the moment, decides our own personal life course, and editorializes how we’re doing so far.

– Highly spiritual but not a typically religious man, Larry suggested in his final requests that I put in a good word about 5 things that stood out for him and that made his own existence special and noteworthy.

spiritual path

  • Love of creativity. Creativity surrounds and envelops us every day. Almost everything we touch from simple kitchen gadgets to fancy cars is there because another human conceived and made it. Our medicines, our clothes, chocolate bars. You name it, simple or complex, it needed creativity. Music, sculpture, yes even Fifty Shades of Grey…they all originated in the amazing mind. We need to observe and appreciate the good and great we’ve created and be mindful of the not so good. But more importantly, we need to be an active participant and create within our own sphere too. Create a garden, create a meal to be remembered, create a poem, create a pair of socks. Perform some idea sex and create something totally unexpected. Absorb others’ creations but take the time to make your own little masterpiece too.
  • Love of at least one other who loves you back. The warmth of another’s love and respect is what makes humans human. It grounds us, it gives us purpose. Giving love to someone else lifts up the poorest beggar to the richest monarch. It can’t be bought, it can’t be sold, but it’s more valuable than the Crown Jewels.
  • Love of health and activity. Our bodies are striated top to bottom with muscle. Bone and blood and muscle thrive on movement, active movement. Our mind muscles and our body muscles all feel better when they’re exercised and strengthened. An internal global sense of health and well-being starts with active movement.
  • Love of the unknown…fearlessness. Stepping to the edge of the metaphorical ledge makes our heart race and our soul sing. Horror movies are so popular because thay take us to the edge of our comfort zones, creating a sense of exhilaration, but pulling back and leaving us drained from a cathartic high. Taking ourselves to the limit or into an area that intrigues but intimidates us at the same time is a fantastic journey that puts LIFE into life. I’m told that Larry confided once that running marathons or learning another language in a strange, exotic locale filled him with fear. But, living and pushing forward into that fear is exhilaration exemplified.
  • Love of the senses. This is a world replete with sights, sounds, smells that can overfill our senses, and yet we often downplay or ignore them. We need to learn to slow our breathing and absorb the plethora of beauty in all its forms that surround us. The smoothness of pine needles, the scent of seafood in a crowded marketplace, the roar of a jet piercing the sky overhead, the glitter of the setting sun rays caressing the lake surface at sunset. Our lives can be so much richer when we take the time to appreciate the exquisiteness around us.

– So, Larry asked that we all retreat within ourselves today and reflect on those things we feel an affinity, a love, a respect, a passion for in our days and years living this amazing miracle that brought us to this place, this time, this world that evolved from no one yet knows what or where.

Oh, and one more thing. Larry wanted me to add –  eat some chocolate … always eat some chocolate!

Life can be as simple as that sometimes.

coffin crisp

The time felt right for me to leave.

The old lady next to me turned and nodded knowingly with a small smile. Leaning in slowly, she bussed her lips against my cheek and whispered, “Thank you for the lovely soulful meal you made for me today. I’m going to think about the things that were important to you. I’m glad we had this chance to meet.

I stood and took one last look over the group of my friends, my relatives, my life. Some were smiling, some were gently wiping beneath their eyes with white handkerchiefs. The ladies dressed in mixtures of short and long skirts, with sweet floral smells and red lips. Men in dark suits, some in clean blue jeans and open necked shirts, a disjointed harmony of style and generation that spoke of honour and fashion.

To my own surprise, I felt good. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that my own few eternal seconds had come and passed so quickly.

I turned and pushed my way through the door of the chapel. Instantly, a brilliant white light shone through the upper windows of the funeral home, the sun had won its skirmish with the clouds.

I wasn’t sure where the white light led but I felt a robust attraction to first one exit door on my left and then an equally strong pull towards an exit door on the right. On each door a sign was posted prominently on its surface. The one to the left stated:

Buddha awaits your reincarnation

The sign on the door to my right said:

Chocolate Eternity

I hesitated and thought deeply.

SERIOUSLY? All of life’s philosophies come down to this?

Maybe death can be as simple as that.

I paused for a moment longer then smiled a little smile and stepped confidently forward. I’d made my choice.

With all my strength I threw open the door.

2 more doors

Do You Really Need the Ten Commandments?

Leave a comment

I am the Anti-Christ!

Many Americans think that Barack Obama has already filled the job, but it’s a big world so I think there’s room for a few of us out here.

Barack-Obama-The-Antichrist

Lionel, a jet-black man from Guyana said to me,

How can you be a good person and not a Christian?”

He looked at me as forthright and innocently as anyone has ever done.

Home for me at the time (1982) was a small basement suite in a little house in the bucolic, fruit-growing countryside of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Lionel, the ebony-skinned Guyanan, lived next door with his wife and 6 kids in a tiny wooden rental house that was more like a poor southern bayou shack than a true house. They were poor but happy people, and their little kids were the absolute cutest things going.

Lionel and I would get together a couple of times a week and lift weights and chat in the basement laundry room beside our suite. He and his burgeoning family had moved to Canada so that he could study theology at Acadia University in Wolfville. He wanted to be a man of Christ and God. He wanted to share his beliefs and his love of Christ. He wanted me to be like him.

I was the antithesis of his belief that to be a good person, one had to believe in Christ. He’d been taught this all of his life, and though he knew he should dislike or reject me, he couldn’t dig up a reason to hate or at least pity me. It was frustrating for the poor guy. I needed (and need) lots of help, just not the kind that Lionel was offering. I liked Lionel a lot.

To Lionel, you couldn’t NOT believe in a God and still live a moral life. A moral person must read and follow the scriptures laid out in the Book of Exodus.

Charleton Heston knew it too in the movie. A moral person needed: mosesheston

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

  1.  You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. 

Commandment numbers 1 through 4 are really just protection for the benefit of the Creator and don’t hold a lot of sway in the life of the average person. But any business or operation out there needs some rules to protect their property, and God is no exception. God, in today’s multicultural and technological world, is a brand like Coca-Cola or McDonalds and we don’t want anyone mucking up that value. Competition from outside could sully or detract from the brand, and so some rules are necessary to keep the religion lawyers in litigation heaven. These rules all make sense when you consider the outside forces that would attempt to corrupt or steal the product. Just like Steve Jobs protecting the iPhone specs, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” doesn’t want or need someone stealing His flock.

         5. Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

If the land the Lord has given you happens to be your parents’ home, then I think that today’s generation of young MAN-BOYS have taken this commandment to heart. The modern concept of “Failure to Launch” is buried within this commandment. Large numbers of 20’s to 30’s males, hands clenched to their joysticks, are camped on the basement sofas of their parents, some drawn in by the siren call of computer and TV screens, others too paralyzed by the nervous fear of real world responsibilities. I don’t think this is the land the Lord intended to give young folk to live long in, but how could He have anticipated the rise of X-Box and internet porn 2,000 years ago?
       

         6. You shall not murder.

This is a great commandment. From early childhood, it’s pretty clear that most of us have an innate desire to bludgeon and kill our friends and neighbours, right? This command is probably the only thing that has held us back from wanton bloodbaths. Alright, you know this isn’t true. The really neat thing about having a brain is that it helps us realize that if we choose to go about killing others, there is a very clear and present danger that we are going to come under the same threat ourselves VERY VERY soon. Humans may not have a long list of instinctive characteristics, but I’m pretty sure that self-preservation is at the mountain peak of the list. The expression Live and Let Live is as good a commandment as the one provided in Exodus. It’s called a Basic Truth.

         7. You shall not commit adultery.

Our intimate relationships are enormously complex and varied. A commitment between two adults of whatever gender involves a great deal of trust and emotion. The core structure of our society rests on a bed of family stability that works best in the presence of a pair of parents. Screwing around with another hottie could be great fun and pleasureful, but knocks a leg out of the tribal chair that we sit upon. This one can cause a lot of bruising. “Look but don’t touch” might do the job here except it kinda messes with commandment #10.

        8. You shall not steal.

This is really just a copycat version of the You shall not murder commandment. It comes down to the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? Every religious and philosophical organization out there believes in the concept, “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”. Civilized groups know logically that a society that indulges in theft can’t move forward and think about anything other than guarding their refrigerators and Big-Screen TV’s. When I go to work in the morning, do I want the nagging thought to be, “I hope that chicken leg is still waiting for me when I get home”? Reminder to Self: Pay for the next Justin Bieber download!

thou_shalt_not_steal
        9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

Simply put, “DON’T LIE”. This commandment needs a touch of interpretation, in my view. Many lies are hurtful or injurious to those we love, and just as often to those we have no use for. Our court systems are jammed to the rafters dealing with this commandment. When I tell the National Enquirer that I had amazing hot sex with Britney Spears (this may or may not be a lie!) and they spread the good news to the world at large, Britney has a right to be pissed off with me. Apparently her latest boyfriend or husband thought he was her one-and-only. He gets mad and sues her for millions of bucks for hurt feelings and loss of reputation. MY LIE…MY BAD!

But, when Britney asks me if I think her ass looks good in those jeans, I’m going to be the first (and for sure not the last) to break this commandment. Break this commandment judiciously or DIE young, I’m afraid! God didn’t think the consequences through fully here or hasn’t had ANY lasting relationships.

I absolutely love your new hairstyle Britney...

I absolutely love your new hairstyle Britney…

       10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Most of us are pretty susceptible to this covetness stuff, and all the advertisers know it. Billions of bucks are spent every year on Super Bowl and World Cup advertising to play into our weaknesses on wanting what our neighbour has. Is the Apple iPhone so much better than all of its competitors (well, probably yes) that we’re willing to pay a big ransom…OR….could it just be that maybe we want to be cool like Candace or John at work? I’m not sure about wanting someone else’s ox or donkey, I can make a big enough Ass of myself without taking someone else’s.

10 Commandments

The Ten Commandments are not a bad basic set of rules to govern human existence. It could probably use some updating and bits of revision, but all in all, not too shabby.

My old friend Lionel was a good man with a heart of gold and a list of commandments to keep him on the straight and narrow. But do we really need a list of rights and wrongs from on high? The list IS valuable, but these are values we humans could figure out, accept, and follow for ourselves. Still, even when we know the good from the bad, we get our fingers caught in the cookie jar over and over again.

We’re human.

We try our best.

Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail.

Even if Moses came down from Mount Sinai to give ME the hows and whys of being a good person, I like to think I could figure it out all by myself!