“Stripping truth down to its original lie”

stripping truth down to its original lie.

My friend Keeley is one of my favourite people to talk with for hours. We sit in cafés and talk about the things we are learning, and we connect new ideas with old ones as we help each other round out our understanding of the world.

Keeley is a writer, too, but of a different kind. She is a poet, able to capture unique glimpses of humanity in lines and stanzas.

Recently, Keeley wrote this beautiful and thought-provoking poem that really resonates with me:

reaching-poem

I have often felt like I am broken. Like what I really am is only a reflection of what I present to the world. Like I need to lie to continue to breathe, to cope.

I often felt like this in the months before and after my mom died in 2008.

Feelings like the ones “Reaching” evokes are also similar to the ones that led to my leaving the church several years ago. Falsity. A sense of shallowness. “Masquerading honesty”. “Skewed perception”. (Disclaimer: I don’t believe all church communities are like this. Mine was. Too many are.)

Go back and read Keeley’s poem again, if you can. It’s so nuanced and insightful.

I want to say more about this poem, but I am afraid of not doing Keeley’s words justice.

So I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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Death of an Idealist

University changes people.

Or, at $7,000 per year for tuition, it had freaking well better!

I remember when I was a naive teenager in youth group, talking about former members of the group that had gone to university, and thinking that that was where they lost their faith.

At the time, I was active in my church. All of my friends were from church. All of my family, immediate and extended, went to church. It was a pervasive aspect of my life, and I didn’t foresee anything different for myself.

In my past life (before university, before my mom died), I had another blog that I called MuSiNgS, where I talked about faith-based topics. One such post in 2007 discussed an idea I took from a book called Velvet Elvis, written by Rob Bell, a controversial figure in the North American church. At the beginning of his book (okay, I’ve only read the beginning), he introduces two conceptions of faith: springs and bricks.

This is from my MuSiNgS post in 2007:

Rob starts the first chapter, titled Movement One: Jump, by comparing faith to the image of a trampoline, then goes on to parallel the necessary springs with the statements people make about their beliefs. Springs are the doctrines that, when working together with other springs, hold up the mat we jump on, or the structure of our faith. In order to make that trampoline work, the springs should stretch and flex, expand and retract according to how the trampoline is being used. Likewise should our doctrines, the truths that give depth and content to our faith.

By comparison, Rob points out that there are those whose faith more closely resembles a wall of bricks that are laid on top of each other. If one gets knocked loose, several more tumble. Brickians aren’t comfortable with questions being asked of their faith, because they haven’t been introduced to the trampoline. They aren’t familiar with the flexing of the springs. Rob cites the case of one Brickian who was adamant that, “if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross.” Pull out one brick, the whole wall collapses.

When I was in youth group looking upwards at the people who had gone off to university, I was a Brickian. I couldn’t be flexible. Brickians are afraid of change, of new ideas, of anything that will challenge their worldview. I was afraid that my wall would fall down. I didn’t see that there was a trampoline on the other side of it. I probably would have been afraid of the trampoline if I had seen it.

Since those days, my bricks have slowly been falling down, one after the other, and sometimes two or three at a time. I have crossed lines I never would have dreamed possible for me. I have been introduced to the trampoline, and while I know that I am not pushing that trampoline to its limits, it is sometimes hard for me to remember those left behind behind their own brick walls, that may never discover the springs of a flexible faith. trampoline

Brickians are idealists. They have to be.

~~~

This year in university, I feel like I’m finally getting down to what really matters, things that are world-defining, like democracy and racism. I’m learning that there is very little place for idealism in the real world. Things are very rarely black and white, if ever. There are very few things that you can really know for sure.

Yes, I believe faith can help you be sure about some things. But it can help you hide from others. It can encourage ignorance and complacency. It doesn’t have to. But it can. For me, it did.

What I am learning about the world, my world, is knocking down the rest of those bricks. It’s opening up my mind. It’s causing me to re-assess those issues that I had been too scared to consider before, those things that I had deemed too controversial or too sacred to open up.

It’s a good thing. I may be losing my idealism, which I had thought a good thing, but I am not losing my optimism. Yet, anyway.

I am losing a tendency to hide behind crumbling pillars erected by fearful people, and gaining an ability to see critically. I’m not there yet… but I have another year and a half of university, and then hopefully many more years of life to continue to learn.

To continue to let idealism die, in exchange for wisdom.

 

Limbo: A Return to Transparency

I’ve been on a journey. We’re all on a journey, I guess, but my journey took me into territory I couldn’t have foreseen. It could also be said that it took me out of territory that I DID foresee myself living in forever. If you had asked me when I was 25 what I would be doing in 4 years, I would not have said, “Going to university in Canada after living there for 4 years”! I would not have guessed I’d become a server (and a good one, I daresay), join a local band (or two), fall in love with a local guy, have my own apartment in a tiny hamlet without even a general store or gas station… the story goes on. Key to this blog is the fact that I definitely wouldn’t have predicted leaving my church, growing disgusted with the institution that is the Church, and setting my whole “Christian” life on a little-used shelf in the back of a dingy basement.

Looking back, I can sort of trace my progress out of the “Christian” culture, step by tiny step, all the way to where I am today (which is a sort of limbo, I think). Did I turn the wrong way at those decision-markers? I couldn’t tell you for sure. All I’ve got is where I am today, and a hope that all will be well.

Back to this idea of limbo: I’m definitely not in a faith world right now, nor do I have any desire to be. “Christian” culture and lingo and attitudes continue to creep me out. Worship songs do not stir me; I don’t want to sing along even if I know the words by heart. Churches that I know are working hard at casting out hypocrisy and shallowness still don’t appeal to me.

Privately, there are times I cast up a prayer; I know God is listening. Every now and then I yearn to be discovering ancient and earth-shaking truths about the divine. Once in a while I think, “God is the only being that knows EVERY. SINGLE. BIT. about me”, a fact which is sometimes comforting, sometimes intimidating (but I wouldn’t want to believe in a God that a; didn’t know me, b; was never comforting, c; was never intimidating). I occasionally miss a certain depth that I was once working on, “down in my heart”, but then I think about how I’m working on balance and knowledge, and, therefore, depth in other areas that were too shallow before this exodus of mine. At university, I find myself interested in the history of the church and the changing trends that led to the traditions accumulated and passed down through the generations.

It’s limbo because I feel as if I’m going somewhere; I’m on a winding path that is nowhere close to being finished. Along the way I’m discovering more about who I really am, what the world is like, where my moral boundaries are, and what I can actually believe in and why. If/when I return to faith, it will be because my path has led me there, because the time is right and things have lined up; it won’t be because of a feeling of guilt over not going to church or praying or speaking churchese or reading my Bible.

So. Limbo… sometimes an uncomfortable place to be, but for me it means that the place I am going is not the place I’ve come from. It also means there IS a forward motion in effect. I’m liking limbo, and I’ll like it until I don’t, and then I’ll move on.

Springtime Ramblings

Today was supposed to be a study-and-do-laundry day, but it’s turned into a be-emotional-and-cry-too-much day, so I’m taking advantage of the inspiration accrued from heightened feelings to share some thoughts with my blog-o-sphere.

Lately, I’ve been sharing most of my great ideas, my daily happenings, my rants, my inspirations, and my emotions with my stellar boyfriend Johnathan, and dividing my time between him, school, and work, plus

A Transparent Truth

The more observant of my readers may have noticed that all of my recent posts (notice I didn’t use the words frequent or regular), recent being over the last year or so, have been either about grief, ranting, or something superficial.

The reason? Fear, mostly. Fear of what others may think of me, of how those who have known me as The Good Little Missionary Girl might regard me if I delve back into the topic of faith, or get as truly

A Day in My Life, June 2008

I had a sudden desire today to chronicle and compare the different stages of my life, as I look back and notice that my life in June 2008 is remarkable different from that of June 2007, June 2006, June 2005, and so on.

I invite you to be a witness on this journey.

June 2008 finds me 27 years old, living in a two-bedroom second-floor apartment in the only apartment building in a tiny town in East Huron County called Brucefield. This town is known for it’s flashing light, yellow if you’re driving between Clinton and Exeter on Highway 4, or red if you’re coming from either Seaforth or Bayfield. There is one elementary school, one church, one drive-in restaurant, two mechanic shops, one Asian/Home Decor/B&B/Lunch Room location, and one fire station.

My apartment overlooks a cornfield, the view of which is mostly obstructed by a lovely birch tree. Said tree helps me feel more confident walking around in my apartment in less-than-decent clothing on summer nights. After all, who would be driving by slowly enough whose gaze could penetrate the birch branches in the split second I happen to be passing through my dining room, several feet from my beautiful picture window?

I enjoy living alone, though sometimes I do wish someone was there to care whether I came in or not, or to wonder where I was, or to motivate me to do dishes, finally! My neighbours are understanding and quiet, the area is safe, and I actually have a place to call home. MY home. I’ve immensely enjoyed painting and decorating my apartment, putting all of my good taste to good use in a place where I’m the boss, now and forever.

Another addition to my life is that of Trixie the Toyota, a pretty, dark-green 1997 4Runner who goes with me everywhere I go. She hauls the accoutrements of my life and hobbies without complaint. She has survived being rolled over in the ditch after skidding out on an icy country road, being hit-and-run by some unknown person, a not-so-successful attempt at backing up a trailer, and carrying some of my more treasured furniture.

Not so enjoyable are the bills that go with being established and mobile, namely cell phone, rent, insurance, hydro, phone/internet, groceries, gas, repairs, etc. I can’t say as I ever yearned for that part of nesting, but I take it in stride, usually. I’ll be much happier when I can finally get my tax returns done (for the past 2 years), pay off my credit card, and have money set aside for winter tires.

I have spent more than a year at the same job, as a server at The Brew’n Arms English pub and restaurant in Bayfield, Ontario. Earlier this year, I graduated to keyholder and Dining Room Manager, as well as Kitchen Painter and Orchid-Caretaker extraordinaire. My bosses are wonderful people who have become friends and family, as well as the most understanding and flexible supervisors anyone could ask for. They make me want to stay and do my best for them, for their business, for their town.

Last year at this time, I was also working as a drywaller, and, shocker! I don’t miss it a tiny bit. I do enjoy my refined house-painting skills, which I have recently put to good use in a “cottage” in Bayfield, and hope to expand as a second job. If you hear of someone looking to hire a house painter, give them my number!

I’m not attending church because I couldn’t handle the one I had called “home” for years. I’m generally fed up with the institution that is what church has become, with all its expectations and traditions and legalism. I would enjoy a faith-based community of believers that is honest and open, a group that can laugh and be reverent in an informal way. I really could expand this paragraph to a whole essay, but suffice it to say that I have not encountered such a community, but I still seek to hold onto my beliefs. I am discovering more of what life is like on “the other side” (outside the Christian bubble), and it’s very educational, despite occasionally dangerous.

If it were possible to live on coffee, I’d do it.

I’ve joined the wonderful realm of BlackBerry, as I once dreamed of doing. And I’m paying for it, too.

Writing is still my best communication method.

I rarely see earlier than 10 AM, or close my eyes earlier than 1 or 2 AM. I’d like to change that.

The music in my life has developed over the past year as well. I am the youngest voice of the all-female cover band, Cactus Jam, and I love it, despite playing mostly Legions. I was also privileged enough to be part of Noted!, a project sponsored by the United Way in my county, which is helping to boost the music careers of the 17 women chosen to participate. We got to record 14 tracks in a professional studio, and a great-sounding CD is the result. This past winter I also ventured out to sing a few times at Open Mic nights at a local pub, and have been the featured soloist at two church events.

This year finds me recently motherless, a drastic blight on anyone’s life, and definitely on mine. It has changed so many things and finally propelled me into nesting in the first place. It also made my brother and I guardians of our youngest brother and launched me further into the land of disabled children in Ontario. I now have a lawyer, communicate regularly with several case workers, get all kinds of official mail, and have to return junk mail still addressed to Mom.

June 2008 also finds me blonde, and with an even greater fashion sense. I love that about growing older! I predict I’ll still be stylish in my 80s. If I’m not, remind me of now.

I’ve discovered I love flowers and plants, doing the Toronto Saturday Star crossword, Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, premium beer, CBC Radio, brie on melba rounds with semi-dried tomatoes in duck confit, Dollarama’s plain candles, serving dessert, mom’s old couch and armchair (with my apartment’s decor built around them), C&E used furniture in Goderich, Americanos from The Bean, and living in Huron County!!! (Sorry, but that deserved more than three exclamation points)
Being Sarah Elizabeth takes different shapes all the time, and I’m enjoying the process. Here’s to another year!

P.S. I Love You

She’s all around me. Everywhere I look in my apartment, I see something that reminds me of her. The curtains she made hang on my big dining room window, the matching throw pillows on the couch that was hers, which sits behind the coffee table I bought her at Ikea, on which rests one of the sea grass baskets we bought together. She read most of the books on the shelf, I made the ottoman for her, the vase with lilacs on the coffee table was hers. Even the fact that I love flowers came from her.

I was shocked when she died because I wasn’t ready. Now I’m stunned that it’s been almost six months. Where could all that time have possibly gone? Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we were in her hospital room, shaking her body, hoping it was all a terrible mistake? How could time have simply carried on as usual when we have been left motherless?

Mostly I’m appalled at the thought that I didn’t love her well, not nearly well enough. That’s a fact, don’t try to comfort me out of it. I didn’t. You thought I’d have regrets, and I do. I don’t think I could’ve done anything about them, then, even knowing it might come to this. I didn’t value her enough, didn’t see enough of who she really was, who others saw, the ones who tell me over and over again what an amazing woman she was. Even strangers do that, when they find out I’m the oldest of that family.

I’m six months too late, Mom, and I’m sorry.

P.S. I Love You.

Semi-Prude

I once was a prude. There are people (my little sister, perhaps), who still think I am. But I’ve come a long way in the last ten years. No, I don’t feel inclined to spill the beans here (at this time) about all of my indiscretions and anti-prudish behaviour, but suffiice it to say that I am no longer a prude.

prude |pro?d|
noun
a person who is or claims to be easily shocked by matters relating to sex or nudity.

The Grief Train Marches On

I’ve often had very vivid REM dreams that stick with me all day. Sometimes I wonder whether they are meant to remind me of something, or to reflect something that I don’t realize I truly feel. This morning is the second time since my mom died that those dreams were dedicated to her.

She was alive, but dying, and we knew it. She was weak and losing weight, but not enough for one of us to carry her by ourselves. She was happy even though she must have been in pain. There were so many people around, that knew her but didn’t necessarily know us. Still, we all formed a family there, circling in her orbit.

I wanted to get her outside, so that her feet could touch grass and she could soak up the sunshine, but I couldn’t carry her by myself. My sister helped me. We then tried to hold her up but neither one of us could do it alone. My sister tried to carry Mom on her back, but she was still solid enough to weigh my sister down, bent almost to the ground! That was funny.

Then, in the way dreams go, I found myself tightly hugging an opaque jar. I kept peeking in, to make sure its contents were alright. Mom had transitioned from a bed to a jar, and I had to keep her safe. All that was left was a beating heart, immersed in some kind of liquid, in a pretty jar. As long as it was still beating, I had to keep it company, hold it, protect it, keep it warm.

I woke up before her heart stopped beating…

This. Life. Now.

Since winter returned to our town, an outdoor rink has been set up in the park across from my mother’s house. This afternoon, two weeks after my mother died, I’m watching the skaters glide effortlessly and gleefully over the ice and realizing that I’m used to my life feeling more like that than this.

Not even sure I want to dig around the murky depths of my brain to imagine a word picture for “this”, I can at least say it’s not effortless or gleeful. Picture the opposite of effortless and gleeful and you might have a bit of an idea what these days and weeks have been like and what the near future promises to hold.

“This” involves a lot of tension and stress, worry and hard work, sickness and grieving, loneliness and depression, deadlines and expectations. “This” is something you only expect to see in the movies, never in your own life. And things don’t turn out in real life as well as they do in the movies, in case you were still living in that unrealistic bubble. Sorry for breaking it.

“This” means feeling as if you may never land gently, as if you will never again be whole, and sometimes as if everyone depended on you and everyone will let you down. “This” is knowing that you desperately need the strength and peace of your faith and at the same time seeing that your life and emotions are so much like a tenuous high-wire that one wrong circumstance could send you grasping in another direction, any direction.

“This” is so unlike skating.