Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Atheist Goes to Church

I went to Church today. Which is not a big thing, except that I am pretty comfortably atheist, so going to Church is always an interesting adventure for me. It was actually pretty wonderful. My church isn't a Christian church per se, it's Unitarian Universalist, which is sort of like if the United Nations had a church... Or as someone else put it, a church that believes that all religions have value, that we should all be nice to each other, and that we should recycle.

The sermon today was entitled 'To Transform Lives in a Profound Way' and our minister began by asking the congregation if our church has a soul.

The sermon itself had a lot to do with the soul of a community and how we create, nurture and help that soul to thrive. Oddly enough, it also reminded me a lot of some of the things Rick Warren talks about his book "The Purpose Driven Life" (#58 on the 2010 Books Read List) about how one of the purposes of life is giving back to your church instead of simply trying to get what you need from it, and how the act of giving back to a place (or a group, or a person, or a university class ;P) enriches the experience. Despite all this, Jesus or no Jesus, the act of true fellowship seems to be a universal challenge in churches around the world. True fellowship is unselfish and (to use my favourite Mahatma Gandhi quotation wildly out of context) requires us to be the change we wish to see in our church.

I've been asked why I go to church if I don't believe in God. I go because I believe in the world, and in the people in it, and in helping others, and in face-to-face communities where you know peoples' stories and care about their problems, and your being present and able to offer a smile or a hug or a hand to hold is more important than if you're getting points on a cosmic score card for doing it. I don't need to know I'm pleasing any greater power to know that offering sympathy or encouragement to someone in need of it is worthwhile. I know it's worthwhile when someone smiles back at me or thanks me. That's all the validation I need. (Sometimes, I don't even need that.)

I've been missing that kind of community (and that kind of validation) a lot lately, and it took meeting a number of very lovely Christian friends and living with a very lovely Christian room-mate for almost two years for me to admit that maybe what was missing from my life was Church. Church; not religion, not faith, Church. The actual community. I have my own kind of beliefs that aren't quite religious (unless worshiping at the alter of reason and decency is now a recognized religion), and I have faith (although it's more in people and the world as a whole than in a God of any kind), but I didn't have Church. And I missed Church. I missed the community and the diversity of people and having the opportunity to discuss interesting issues with people of different backgrounds and generations.

I went last week. To the same church. The bus ride there took forever, and it was raining, and the service was a bit too long, and a bit pointless to me, and, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit disappointed by the whole experience. But on my way home, I thought about what Warren had written about not being so picky and perfectionistic about our churches and how sometimes they aren't what we think we want or need, but how we have to give back to them to get what we truly need -what's most valuable- out of them. I was on the fence about going back to church again this weekend. And then last night, I remembered something my mother told me in ninth grade when I was whining about the high school (Lisgar) I was forced to attend. I wanted to go to a different school, where all my friends from eighth grade had gone. She turned to me and said, "Maybe you don't need Lisgar, but maybe Lisgar needs you."

Turns out, she was wrong on that one. I needed Lisgar, and I stayed and graduated from Lisgar five years later, (in Ontario at the time we had grade 13) but I think that maybe she was right too; maybe Lisgar needed me, too. And the same goes for church. My new church may not be the perfect church, I realized as I went to bed last night, but I got up this morning and I got dressed and caught the bus to church and I gave it a second chance. I am really glad I did.

There probably isn't a perfect church, not even my old church in Ottawa, which I love and miss and may have idealized a bit in my heart... but there are good churches with soul. And I think I've found one. And so, I'm in. I'm going back next week, despite the hour-plus on the bus, and the rain, and the temptation to get a few more hours of sleep on one of the few days I truly have OFF. And I'm pretty happy about it. I'm happy to buy in, whatever the cost, because I have the feeling that the payout to everyone who buys in to the community is the sum of what everyone else is putting in the pot: unlike a hockey pool where you give your 40$ and only one person in the pool wins it all at the end of the season, we all win here, and we don't have to wait nearly as long to see the return on our investment.

I hope I can contribute to the soul of my chosen church, to make it mine, and to give back to it, not because God would want me to, but because it's what you need to do to build a healthy community and to be a part of that community it has to have a part of you. You have to give it some of your self. We are so used to wanting everything to provide us with what we need, to give us something. I think a lot of times people forget how amazing it feels to give, to contribute, to donate your time and your energy, to volunteer, to give a little piece of your soul to something greater.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Mother Mother, Said The Whale and other inspiration

I spent the weekend working guest services -- over 24 hours of work in two days after working full-time all week -- for the Live at Squamish music festival. My job was to help all the VIPs and media whosits (and a few bands) find their respective wranglers and parking if they needed it. Pretty dope job, frankly. Essentially I was paid to stand around and tell people where to park, who to talk to to get their media/VIP/artist passes and, in a couple of unfortunate cases, where they could shove their VIP-attitude.

Mostly, though, people were awesome, especially the people I worked with and a few of the bands who I met, most of whom are small and indie and have ghetto camper vans with their name scrawled in spray paint on the side of their trailer. (The guys from Said The Whale were sooooo funny and nice! Plus they're talented. They may be my new favourite band. A+!!!)

Them, or Mother Mother...

In any case, the bands weren't the best part of the weekend, the best part of the weekend was the half-hour or so I spent in the medical tent chatting with the head of the festival medical team who I worked for a couple of years ago when I did this advanced first aid training and briefly debated becoming a paramedic. The head doc, who is one of the amazing people who can't help but put a smile on my face, told me all about his research and how his hobby of doing medical for big events (his team does marathons, charity runs, music festivals, and even did a whole bunch of the medical for the Olympics!) has become something WAY more serious than he'd originally imagined. He doesn't seem too unhappy about that though. It made me miss being on his team. He is one of the easiest people to work for, and I really love being useful at big events like the music festival I worked this weekend. I may just have to re-certify so I can work for him next summer :)

School starts today, but my first class isn't until tomorrow. I'm beyond excited. I may be narrowing in on something resembling a direction (or maybe I should call it a mission?) in my studies. For now, I'm going to ride my great mood and listen to some more Mother Mother and Said The Whale.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Okay, so... The Great Big Summer Reading List, discovering Anderson Cooper, and re-discovering Star Trek

I've been absent for MONTHS. I wish I had a good excuse, but really the biggest reason is that I've had nothing much to say. I'm not saying that I have anything particularly interesting to say NOW, just that so many things have been swimming through my head lately, and I need to get a few of them out somewhere, so I may be turning to this blog again.

Mostly I've been reading a lot, which is fantastic (since I've had no luck doing any writing). In any case, a few words on my recent favourite.

One day a few weeks ago, I was walking home from the grocery store when I saw a box of books outside my local charity shop: paperbacks 25 cents each. I am not sure how anyone can resist 25 cent anything, let alone 25 cent BOOKS. And what was right on top? A book called 'Dispatches from the Edge' with Anderson Cooper's ever-handsome photo. It's as though it was right there waiting for me, specifically, to walk by and make it mine. Sometimes, kismet happens.

I have this thing for war correspondents, and the books they write. They're generally pretty amazing books, and they invariably make me want to catch the next flight to the worst war-zone I can find... (My all-time favourite is a book by Chris Hedges called 'War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning'. EXCELLENT BOOK.) I know that Anderson Cooper isn't technically a war correspondent, but his book is no different than those other memoirs I find so compelling.

The book was a heck of a lot more personal than I thought it would be, and then not in the ways I thought it might be. If you can find it, please read it. It's an easy read, and well worth the couple of hours it will take.

It's funny though, because I've never been much of a Anderson Cooper fan. In fact, when I bought the book, I'd never actually watched his show. I've long known who he is, obviously, since I've seen him on CNN during American election coverage ever since I started watching US election coverage on CNN (turns out he was hired right around the time Bush started bombing Iraq and I started watching CNN out of sheer morbid curiosity and because, being in New York in March of 2003, CNN was the sane alternative to Fox 5's Right-Wing-Terror-Apocalypse-Fear-Mongering-Bullshit). The fact that I don't watch ANY of CNN's programming is probably somewhat more indicative of why I've never watched Anderson Cooper 360, but Anderson's book got me curious.

I hit up the CNN website a few days ago and found the podcasts of his show. I've got to admit, I'm kind of a fan. Ever since I re-enrolled in classes for the fall, I've been trying to find a way to make myself watch 'the news' again. Most of the time, news programming makes me alternately shut down or verbally assault the television... and yet now it seems I have found a show I can watch without tuning out or lashing out. Yay!

'Dispatches' is not the only book I read this summer. The top ten list includes Peter Gzowski's book 'The Game of Our Lives' (about the Oilers and Gretzky in the VERY early 80s, before they won the Cup); 'A Problem From Hell', Samantha Powers' incredible book on genocide as well as her biography of Sergio Vieira De Mello which is called, simply, 'Sergio'; 'This Side of Paradise' by F. Scott Fitzgerald; 'Erewhon' by Samuel Butler; and Leonard Nimoy's memoir, 'I Am Spock.'

The last one I blame on my lovely friend Ali, whose unexpected love of last summer's Star Trek movie finally convinced me to rent it, and then brought back memories of being 12 and wracked with insomnia and curling up a foot and a half from my family's 13" television at 3 a.m. with the sound really low when they played the original Star Trek series. I watched them all out of order, and I can't, for the life of me, remember a single plot. My main memories were thinking that Spock was a lot like my math teacher and the production value of the show was SO sixties. But seeing Leonard Nimoy in the newest Star Trek moved me (COMPLETELY UNEXPECTEDLY) to nostalgic tears. Two days later, I saw 'I Am Spock' at a charity shop for 6$. Again with the kismet...

Overall, this summer can be summarized thus: 60 days off, 13 days of work, 33 books read, one news anchor discovered, and one old show re-discovered. Not too shabby...

Hopefully, this semester will be as good (albeit with a LOT less days off!).