There have been a number of occasions where I’ve felt a little hesitant to post things on my blog, but I usually go ahead and do it anyway. Most of you know that sometimes have a tendency to become the definition of all sorts of cliché: heart on sleeve, to thine own self be true… but I think that despite overuse, there’s a reason those words stick in our collective memories. They stick because they’re words to live by. I know that by speaking out on certain topics, I may risk alienation, attack or judgment. But I also know that the moment I choose to keep quiet, I cease to be real, and allow fear to control my actions. As an amazing man once said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We all have opinions, voices, and feelings, and if our intent is simply to leave our mark on the world by saying “this is who I am,” or put something out there in hopes of bettering it, then I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of. In the blogosphere, so many shy away and play it safe. We forget sometimes that we’re all behind computer screens and unlike in day to day living, we are in total control of the image we project to the world. It can reflect the best fifty percent of a person’s real life, yet if it’s all that’s written about, an audience will believe it to be a hundred. But my words are my footprint, and it’s important to me that they don’t just reflect a toe.
With that caveat, I feel the time has come for me to write about one of the most personal things to each and every one of us. It’s impossible I think for anyone to agree absolutely entirely with another person’s belief system, but I don’t think anyone should be judged for what they accept to be true. Religion, faith, and spirituality are such a taboo topic that it’s sometimes difficult to know where to start, but over the last few years, I’ve been searching for my own spirituality, and trying to find what makes the most sense to me. I must admit how difficult it is to make this public, because it’s not something I’ve really talked about with anyone at all. I suppose I should start with a little bit of a back story.
Growing up, religion wasn’t something that was ever really a big part of my life. My parents were on their own spiritual journeys and hadn’t really arrived at anything concrete, and though they visited temples and read books and filled the house with bronze statues of Hindu goddesses, spirituality seemed more of an ongoing quest than an established belief system. We never went to church, even at Christmas – we’d usually escape to a cottage up in the mountains, where the holiday season would be spent watching BBC specials, visiting country towns with cobblestone streets, and throwing ourselves down hills on two-man toboggans in utter glee at the sight of real snow. Christmas, as a child, wasn’t about going to church or visiting ten different family functions – it was about escaping with mum and dad, and celebrating our togetherness on our own. The funny thing is that growing up in our house, it seems Christianity was almost condemned.
Soon after we arrived in Canada, one parent’s religious life took a sharp turn from spiritually curious to full on born again Christian. It came suddenly, and along with it, sadly, a noticeable divide in our family – but that’s another story for another time. Suffice to say, the course of events at the time furthered my initial belief that organised religion only drove people apart, and it was something I wanted nothing to do with. Fast-forward through my early twenties, and after a series of pretty damaging relationships, I hit rock bottom. It’s not something I’m proud of nor something I’m ready to fully share with the world. But it was a wake-up call that I needed something else in my life because my own coping mechanisms were inoperational. I needed to know why these things happened, why people came into my life to leave such destruction in their wake, why I kept getting in too deep with the wrong people. I needed to know the purpose of it all, and for the first time I found myself praying. To whom or what, I had no idea. I just sat alone in my apartment, looking out of the window in the middle of the night, and praying for change and understanding.
In walked my then ex-boyfriend of about five years. Someone I hadn’t seen for years, and someone who also seemed to be the most religious person I knew. Something about him was different – he brought a calmness and a spirit of composure I hadn’t seen before. It seemed that no matter what life could throw at him, he would be okay, and the biggest reason for his comfort, steadfastness and assurance seemed to be his faith. I didn’t understand what it could be like to think of everything in life happening according to the reasons and schedule of some higher power, but I was curious. So I started asking questions, somehow landed myself at a job that happened to be a faith-based organisation, and started going to church with my new boyfriend.
Now, it did happen to be a Catholic church, and though I went on many occasions, I never felt truly connected. But I wanted to. I kept trying, kept going through the motions, but that’s all it ever felt like. So I stopped. As the months turned into years and my relationship with this man grew more serious, I started to worry. How would we possibly fully unite as a couple when our core belief systems were different? If we ever got married, how would we raise children – would we give them his religious upbringing, knowing I was pretty set against parts of it and couldn’t believe them, let alone teach them, or would we raise them more like my own experience, giving them the freedom to grow into the faith of their choosing based on an openness to everything? I think this freedom is a good thing, but I also wonder how different some of my more challenging years may have been if faith was something that had been introduced to me at an earlier age. It was a big worry, and probably the catalyst that launched me into focusing on finding a belief system I could get behind. When I look at other inter-faith marriages, I can’t help but wonder how they do it. People convert to foreign religions for the sake of their partners, but how do they suddenly fully support this new set of beliefs that are sometimes the polar opposite of their entire upbringing? People also get married and keep their own individual belief systems, knowing they differ from their spouse, and manage to make it work too. I wonder if they also struggle with the thought of how to integrate this divide into the raising of a child someday. But that’s a bridge to cross further down the line.
Over the last few years, I definitely think I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve visited different churches, read different books, and found things I can believe in, as well as things I simply can’t. And that’s okay. The biggest thing I’ve learned personally is that labels don’t work. There are so many denominations under the umbrella of Christianity that I can’t help but feel are self-defeating; to me, what’s important in the religion you choose to follow is that you live your life in accordance with who you believe your God would want you to be. By sticking a label of “Catholic”, “Anglican”, “Seventh Day Adventist” or whatever onto yourself, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of Christianity (such as faith, belief in a higher power, forgiveness, service toward others, etc.), people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that simply doesn’t work for me. The album cover of one of my favourite bands seems to capture it perfectly:
It’s okay to be different and to believe different things; our differences are what make us such a diverse and interesting race! But when those differences are seen more as factually right than a personal belief system, we breed intolerance, division and judgment. I acknowledge that there are lots of different belief systems out there. I fully support ideas and teachings and ways of living from many spiritual and religious sectors – most of the fundamendal principles of Christianity make sense to me, as does a lot of Taoism and Buddhism. I believe in God; a creator. I believe that the figure of Jesus probably was historically here and brought an amazing message to the human race, and aimed for those teachings to carry on in the hopes of people of this world living by that example. By living with love and compassion to all, by refusing to living according to the opinions of others, and by loving everyone unconditionally. Even the haters. But I also believe that people today have allowed secular distortions and personal opinions intertangle with history for their own personal agendas. I believe that the ego has a lot to do with a lot of people’s “religious actions” and that truly, the God I believe in is separate from that. I believe in souls. I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe the universe is big enough, vast enough, amazing enough and delivers enough to be called God. But it doesn’t matter; ultimately I believe in a higher power who sometimes has a hand in orchestrating our life’s events in the hopes of messages being heard and lessons being learned, with the aim always being to somehow better the human race and make this a planet of love, not hate. I also believe in science. As the same brilliant man I mentioned earlier once said, “science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” Popular scientist Carl Sagan had a further reflection, which sums up my feelings perfectly: “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
I think it’s a shame that sometimes people get so caught up with the secular politics that they forget what’s really important. When asked if I “practice my faith”, I’ve been met with scorn when I say “define ‘practice’”. To me, practising my faith isn’t going to a building and listening to someone else speak for an hour if it doesn’t evoke some sort of intrinsic meaning. The God I believe in doesn’t judge if you practice and believe in your own way. To me, I practice my faith by educating myself, by praying on my own terms, and by living the life I believe I was meant to. I practice by pushing myself beyond what’s comfortable and seeing just how far I can go with what was bestowed upon me, because if everyone boxed themselves into what’s comfortable and never challenged themselves to reach their potential, the rest of the world could be deprived of some wonderful gifts. I practice by spending my Christmas Eves driving around the scariest area of the city trying to help those without warm homes or families. I practice by never actively causing pain or suffering or hurt to another. I practice by working in a position that pays peanuts but ultimately allows me to help society’s less fortunate become something more. I don’t believe in a judging God who sends people to Hell if they don’t go to church, or sends them to heaven if they dress up in nice clothes every Sunday, drive by the homeless shelters, spend an hour in a flashy church with its own TV channel yet perpetuate intolerance of others. I believe in open-mindedness and respect of all, regardless of sex, religion, orientation or race. It positively broke my heart once reading a post by a friend of mine:
Overwhelmed, I broke down into tears as the Father stood up to speak. I swear the lady beside me with the Gucci Purse and Dolce glasses must have thought I was either crazy or just really touched by the homily. What struck me as fascinating however, not to mention psychologically revealing, was the fact that I was crying not because I was sad, happy or finally at peace; but because I was furious. Feeling the anger rise inside of me, I became enraged at the fact a person could ever think to say “Peace be with you, but not with you.” Inflamed, I felt like standing up and screaming as loud as I could into the heavens, “SCREW YOU GOD FOR TURNING YOUR BACK ON ME WHEN I NEEDED YOU THE MOST.” But instead, I knelt down like everyone else and prayed until I got distracted by the fact that I needed to cut my nails.
I remember the day in grade twelve when I went to see my counselor for the first time to tell her I thought I was bisexual. (Missing story detail: my high school was all-boys and Catholic). The second I took the seat across from her, my eyes zeroed in on a pamphlet pinned up against her wall that read “So you think you might be gay?” Relieved by the sight, I felt hope that all my life’s questions might be answered within the three folds of that photocopied paper. A week later when I arrived for my next appointment the pamphlet was gone. Not able to help myself, I asked her where it went. “Father Director came in the other day and once he flipped through it, decided it did not accord with Catholic principles and took it down.”
Reconciling one’s Catholic identity with their gay identity is more often than not, a losing battle. I mean, you try getting off with another man while thinking about eternal damnation and tell me that you don’t throw in the towel. But it is in my belief that faith is a dark mystery that one should not be born into, but rather fight their entire lives to shed light upon. Because ultimately, the one thing I had in common with everyone else standing beside me (other than a nice outfit and knack for repression) was that I believed I could be a better person, and hopefully make the world a better place in the process.
On the subject of homosexuality and religion, over the weekend I came across an excellent short video. Representative Steve Simon (DFL Hopkins/St. Louis Park) says a proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment is largely about religion. He says if sexual orientation is innate as science is showing us, and not a lifestyle choice, then God created gay people. He asks how many gay people must God create before we accept that he wants them around. A commenter on the YouTube channel said it brilliantly: “Believing in something and actively degrading an entire subset of a population are two entirely different things. Go ahead and believe homosexuality is wrong, I could care less. But when you try and take away rights, and make homosexuals inferior by law, that is when we fight back.” Earlier, I mentioned Ghandi, and he doesn’t simply inspire the words on my e-mail signature, but said it perfectly when he uttered the words “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” There are a lot of absolutely wonderful and inspiring Christians who do incredible things, who truly embody and live out the values that will make this world a better place. But I think there are also a lot who have it all wrong. To me, labels don’t work. I can’t stick one on myself if I am not 100% certain that I can be behind absolutely everything in a denomination’s mandate. There’s a lot from lots of belief systems that makes sense to me, and there’s a bit that doesn’t. So, when Facebook asks me what my religious beliefs are? The box is a little too small. I’ll say spirituality. Equality. Kindness. Non-judgment. Servanthood. Faith in a higher power. Faith in fact. But above everything, respect, interconnectedness, unconditional love, harmony and open-mindedness. Because without that, I don’t think the world can ever move forward.
I lay out my beliefs today not to convert or to challenge, simply to state that this is who I am. If you’re comfortable, I’m interested to hear about your beliefs and how you arrived at where you are today. If not, then all I can say is thank you, for your time and understanding. I promise never to write such a long post again. 🙂