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I Love The Church But I Hate Religion

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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!

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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

 

Did God Create Cream Cheese ?

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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.

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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