This post is touchy, but it is something that I don’t want to gloss over because I would be doing a disservice to myself.
I just ask one thing, if you are going to read this post, please read it all the way through before passing final judgment. I am going to say some things that some people may not like, but they will seem much worse if they are taken out of context, so please… let me finish.
CONTEXT: December, 2011
It was about year between writing this and slamming it. I performed it once in between, at a feature set for LiPS in Carleton Place and that passed without incident (other than making fun of the name of the poem… which is deserved. It is very cheesy).
This poem – or more accurately, the concept of this poem – has rattled around in my head for years, but I never wrote it. I touched on it a little bit here and there, but I never wrote the whole thing.
Why? Because I didn’t want to offend anyone… and the version of the poem I would have written at one time would have been much more abrasive than the poem I eventually wrote, so I am glad I left it for so long.
I used to believe in God, more or less. We were not a very actively religious family. We didn’t go to church but neither was the concept taboo. My father went to Catholic school growing up and I knew that my maternal grandmother was active in her church (and my maternal grandmother was a pretty awesome woman, so who wouldn’t want to emulate her?)
As I got into my teenage years, the father of a family friend was a minister at a place called The Truth Center. This was a one-off church that was kind of an all-encompassing, non-denominational house of… worship? Kind of?
The motto of the place was Live Life Lovingly. Who could argue against that?
My sister and I started going to the ‘young people’s church’ that was part of the Truth Center. (As an illustration of the kind of place it was, they used bible parables as teaching tools, but left it completely up to the individual as to whether those parables were based in fact or just useful examples to inspire good behaviour.
I noticed that some of the other kinds in my class at the Young People’s Church ‘believed’ more than I did. It was no big deal, but it was noticeable. I was drifting away… I just didn’t realize it yet.
Turning point #1: We were asked to write a paragraph about a time we were facing an obstacle and used the teachings from the bible to help us get through it. I had a momentary quandary. They were asking for a REAL time we had done this and, quite frankly, I never had. Church stuff was left to Sundays and never really crossed-over into the rest of my life. I am not saying I never learned anything useful or important there – far from it – but I wasn’t a very… active believer.
Simple answer to a simple problem: I made something up. The creative process was something that interested me anyway so I invented a little story that fit the assignment. It was something to do with an exam at school and believing in yourself, I think. It was also a complete fabrication.
The next week I was informed by our teacher that he was so impressed by my assignment that they were going to take it and read it in ‘big people’s church’ – to the main congregation.
Uh, yeah. About that…
Did it bother me that my words were going to be presented to the whole church as if they were truth when it fact it was a straight up lie? Not really. I figured that if we could read bible parables and not care whether they were real, then why did it matter if what I said was true or not?
My attitude got me thinking about the ‘whole thing’. Why didn’t it bother me? Why didn’t I care more about lying in church?
Turning point #2: I asked my Sunday teacher one of those questions that I figured would have been asked a million times before. “If God is everywhere, why do we have to come to church?”
I was quickly reminded of the difference between myself and the ‘lifer’ kids in the class. They thought the question was funny, but didn’t get that I actually meant it. The teacher answered. I don’t remember what he said, just that I didn’t find the answer satisfactory.
Turning point #3: My soccer games changed from Saturday to Sunday. I stopped going to church.
That was it for me. The only service I have sat through since the age of around 14 was at other people’s weddings.
As I went through my teenage years, my belief system started evolving. I told people that if there was a god, it was probably just an advanced life form from elsewhere in the universe that was so far past us as to seem like a god.
Later I discovered the word agnostic and wore it like a badge, even though I didn’t REALLY understand it as well as I thought I did. (I told people I was a ‘practicing Agnostic’ just to see if they would get the joke. Only one person ever called me on it – take a bow Avery Gietz…)
Bit by bit, though, my attitude towards the church (as monolithic entity) changed for the worse. I came to believe that organized religion (as opposed to personal beliefs) was a form of mind control. Actually, behaviour control was a probably a better way to put it. The religious right were a destructive power that seemed to be about keeping power in the hands of those that held it, allowing no wavering.
I grew to think that anyone who willingly put themselves in the hands of such power was other glaringly naive or pathetically desperate to believe in anything, no matter how ridiculous.
(This is where my request for you to hear me out is tested. Please hang on and not judge me simply from this comment.)
The thing is, this belief would put my firmly in the arms of atheism, but that doesn’t really work for me either. Most atheists I encountered (most, not all), if they spoke about god were incredibly arrogant. The smug satisfaction of KNOWING you are right and everyone else is wrong never worked for me, whether it was a god proselytizer or a strict atheist.
I kept using the term agnostic, though I had grown to understand it better. What I really believed in was a lack of certainty. I have come to understand that the universe is a fascinating and intricate place that is so beyond our scope of knowledge that it beggars description. I believe in science… but I believe in the far borders of science. It would be wrong to say that I believe in everything, but I believe in the POSSIBILITY of everything. I believe in the possibility of ghosts and faeries and magic. I believe in the possibility of time travel and alien races. So why couldn’t I believe in the possibility of God?
The real answer is that I don’t believe in any god that comes from any book or scripture because I don’t trust why that book or scripture was written. I do not have faith, in god or man. While positive things can come out of belief, positive things don’t come out of ‘organized’ religion. When I hear or read someone use ‘the bible’ as an excuse to hate, I see red. (Hate and exclusion sure weren’t part of the ‘Live Life Lovingly’ I learned as a kid.)
Someone asked me if saying I was agnostic meant that I thought it equally likely that there is or is not a god. The answer was no. I do not think there is a god. I just refuse the certainty of saying that I understand how the universe works and everything in it, so I will not claim that I KNOW there is no god.
I was also asked by someone that if I will not say one way or the other, do I live as if there is a god or not. I live as if there is not. I will not speak for that person but I think that HE thinks that means living without morals or ethics, but I strongly disagree. I would argue that my morals are high and my ethics are VERY high, and I don’t see how believing in a god would change that… unless you define what is right and wrong on a book that was written by men with the express purpose of controlling people.
But let’s get back to where I said some very judgmental things about people who DO believe.
My opinion has changed. Why? Because I have spent some quality time with people who I respect very highly that DO believe. I was forced to challenge myself. I found myself saying things like, “If I think anyone who believes in God is naïve, do I think THIS person is naïve?” and “If believing means you are stupid or foolish, do I think THIS person is stupid and foolish?” and the answer was invariably no.
I have grown. Just as I reject certainty, I have to reject my own insistence that uncertainty is the right way to think. If ‘your’ insistence in a god is an affront to non-believers and ‘your’ insistence that there is no god is an affront to those are uncertain, why should I feel that holding on to uncertainty is the right way to be?
So, while I do follow my personal ‘church of uncertainty’ (I just made that up. It is not really a thing), I no longer have strong general beliefs about people who are ‘believers’. (I reserve the right to ‘judge’ individuals. There are plenty of religious wing-nuts, but I don’t assume that anyone who is religious is one of them.) That is not to say I don’t still have opinions about religion that some may STRONGLY disagree with. For example, I have a strong feeling that the Pope doesn’t believe in God… take that as you will.
Side note: I don’t like going in churches or other places of worship. The reason is that I feel like my very presence is an affront to whom that place is holy. I stay away out of respect.
That brings us to the poem…
Earlier version so the poem would have been more scathing, in a way that doesn’t really match the depth and complexity of my true feelings. I also didn’t write it because I knew that there was a segment… possibly a large segment… of our audience who would have a problem with what I would have said.
Time passed. I heard over and over poems that dealt with belief in god. I generally didn’t like them, not due to the quality of the poetry but because they didn’t ‘speak’ to me. I never complained. Everyone has a voice and a right to be heard. (I shouldn’t say never. I do have quite an issue with anti-abortion poems, but that might be a topic for another time…)
But, wait a minute. I said that everyone has a right to be heard and I would sit back and listen to topics I didn’t agree with. Yet I also said that I didn’t write MY poem because it would bother people whose beliefs were different than mine. Isn’t that being a little hypocritical? Was I assuming that the audience would not accept opinions that were different than my own? Wasn’t I selling the audience a little short?
I wrote the poem.
It sat in my book for a little while and then I read it out in Carleton Place. If anyone was offended by the content, they sure didn’t let me know about it. I am not saying they raved over the piece either.
The poem sat in my book a little longer, as they tend to do.
Eventually I decided to memorize it and perform it at CapSlam. I went on stage and did my thing. By the time I got up there, I was firm in my belief that I had been silly to think the worst. Any nerves I had going up to do it were my usual show nerves. The topic wasn’t going to be a problem at all. I told some people that it likely wouldn’t score well, but that was simply because it isn’t a very strong ‘slam’ poem.
I looked at the audience as I spoke. What I saw was… not good. I saw anger. I mean real anger. Some of it was on faces of people who I consider friends. The poem didn’t score well, but that didn’t bother me. I knew that would happen (though I think the scores were pushed even lower by the content). It was the faces that bothered me. I was shaken.
I came away from the show thinking that maybe I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. Here I was doing my part to encourage people to get on stage and share their deepest feelings in their art, even when those feelings didn’t always work for me. Why? Because the show isn’t about me. There is room for… most… thoughts and ideas. (I draw the line in places, but those places are fairly extreme. I have real problems with overt racism, sexism, homophobia, violence…)
Yet that same allowance didn’t seem to be given back. I saw looks that said to me, “How DARE you say that you don’t believe in the things I believe in!” I once stood on a stage where a fellow poet commandeered the microphone to make a statement not about his own belief, but about how those who didn’t believe were wrong. That made me very angry. But I was doing nothing of the sort, here. All I was saying is, this is what I believe.
I left for Victoria the very next day. It was probably good that I was removed from the scene immediately following the show so that I could vent to my friends without it festering as I prepared for the next show. I had lots of opportunity to calm down. Since then we have had another slam and I found I was able to put it behind me and move on. I have to remember the times I have needed support from the people around me in our community and have received it. I have to remember the times I needed support from the community WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT and have received it. This incident does not tip the balance from all that. I love this community, even when it doesn’t always love me back.
This will remain a sore spot for me. That is just the way it is.
The Temple of the Infinite
My body is a temple
But I have never been very religious.
Besides, a little desecration
Is good for the soul
And my attempts to turn
This temple into a cathedral
Have been completely secular,
I can assure you.
There is no worship,
Or lighting of candles.
The only midnight mass
Comes after an eleven o’clock
Attack of the munchies.
I remember when I realized
That I didn’t believe in god.
There was no arc of lightning
Or halogen floodlight blinking
Into existence above my head.
There was a bigger sense of loss over
Santa Claus than the Holy Ghost
Though neither changed
My view of self.
We were the modern protestants,
Sunday was just the weekend
And the biggest sermon I ever heard
Came at the end of
A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I read the bible as an
But never thought of it as
More than classic literature.
I couldn’t convince myself
That there was some divine
Hand guiding and providing.
When I see a rainbow
Or sunlight slipping through a
Canopy of leaves
It isn’t the glory of god
That leaves me gasping
But the universal amazement
That can deliver such moments
Out of the vastness of infinity.
I respect beliefs
As the need to understand
And I hope for miracles every day –
There is even one more thing
Left to remind us that we
Have not reached even the
Center point on the continuum
There was a time when
The sun was a divine chariot
And lightning meant more than
I know that many things
Unimagined will be the
But just like comparing
Gravity to oranges
We quest for the meaning
Or even just A meaning
To justify the path of
A reason to rise and
A reason to create or
But I have found my reason.
It is you. It is me.
It is a note of music,
Played in a suburban garage.
It is spring sunshine
And a single piece of
Nova-blasted moon rock
Spinning through the
Farthest reaches of space.
Call it faith.
Call it destiny.
I call it random chance.
Because every second of every day
Since the first atom said,
“This place is boring.
Time to split.”
Has unconsciously conspired
To bring us right here.
Fractioning off into billions
Of worlds that saw me become
A plumber, prime minister,
Or a never-missed, never-was.
For I believe in chaos
And freedom of choice.
And a temple, crumbling around
The edges as my failures are
Left on display.
And a universe of people
Trying to find answers
Day after day,
White knuckling the
Ride of change and
And to tell you the truth,
I wouldn’t want it
Any other way.