Monday, May 24, 2010


On occasion, I visit a website dedicated to news from my hometown that often includes articles about things happening on a larger scale. Today, they featured a set of videos consisting of statements from the Pope. I was stupid enough to watch them; let me tell you, watching or reading just about anything he says is generally an unhealthy influence on my blood pressure.

To be fair, he did make a number of good points, but as far as I'm concerned, he's as bad as the man in one of Jesus' parables who insisted on removing a speck from another man's eye while ignoring the log stuck in his own. This is the same man who not only permitted the covering up of numerous cases of priests' sexual abuse of children, but who outright condoned it. This is a man who, as his predecessors, is steadfastly against the use of condoms and other forms of birth control, and is therefore encouraging the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy (served up with a healthy dose of victim-blaming, of course).

In one video, he spoke of justice and a "revolution of love". In another, taken from his homily during a mass at Pentecost this year, he spoke of the (Roman Catholic) Church as the home of the human family, and the Holy Spirit as a flame which consumes the waste that corrupts humans' relationship with God. In the third, he says that without the Holy Spirit, the Church would exhaust itself, like a sailboat when the wind dies down.

I say he's a hypocrite. I don't care that he's the Pope—he has no business holding himself up as a moral authority. He lost all credibility on that score when he decided that it was OK for priests to rape children. Much of what the Roman Catholic Church does these days is not in line with the love and compassion that Jesus taught. All this feel-good talk about love and justice is all very well, but when you don't bloody well act on it, that's all it is—useless talk. The Roman Catholic Church will remain a damaged, corrupt and often harmful influence on the world until that day when its leaders decide that there are more important things in the world than power, that allowing people the means to protect themselves from sexually transmitted disease and decide when (if ever) they have children is not a sin, that when pregnancy endagers a woman's physical or mental health it is perfectly fine for her to have an abortion, and that it is most emphatically NOT OK for priests to take advantage of children in one of the worst, most horrifying ways in which one person can harm another. Until they realize these things and act upon them in a positive manner, they will—at least in my eyes—have no credibility as a moral authority.

I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


What I'm about to write now is probably eventually going to give rise to a lengthy, rambling post about nostalgia and the fear of change, but for now, what I'm going to say is not particularly eloquent. Namely:

Ugh, special vestry meeting. Ugh, people who hold on to nostalgia and fear, rather than opening their minds to the fact that a decision has to be made, or in ten years or less, our church will probably have to close. Ugh, obstructionists who believe that the past (especially the nineteenth century and good old Queen Victoria) is more valuable and relevant than the future of the community that they claim to love so much. Ugh, people who try to derail the meeting so that they can try to push an agenda of their own, even when it means trying to keep a building open that probably won't be structurally sound anymore in five years because it's been basically neglected for the past decade. Ugh, people who have their heads so far up their arses that they don't understand that the point they're drawing out has not only been clarified three or four times already in this particular meeting, but it's been discussed to within an inch of its life at other vestry meetings, and it was in fact resolved at the most recent of those other meetings.

And...hooray, 90% of the people present, who actually managed to make what I think is the right decision for the future of our church, in spite of all the arguments, headaches and nostalgists! :)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Minor Breakthrough

I had an interesting personal revelation last night.

For the past several months, I've been deeply afraid that I was developing inappropriate feelings for a married friend. The idea perplexed me, because I actually don't feel drawn to him as anything but a friend; anything non-platonic would, quite frankly, seem incestuous even if it wouldn't be completely against my sense of ethics, and it most definitely is against it—my parents' marriage fell apart rather spectacularly when I was a teenager, but that does not by any means diminish the respect I have for people who've been able to stay together for as long as he and his wife (who I've also lately come to think of as a friend, albeit a slightly more distant one) have. If anything, it increases that respect. Even so, every once in awhile I'd catch myself feeling a bit of some depressing emotion that seemed to be triggered by him.

And then, finally, last night I realized that the emotion actually was a kind of despair, but it's not because of any unseemly form of affection I may have developed for him. I haven't. It's because I've gradually been coming to terms with the fact that I'll never have anything even remotely like that kind of relationship myself; my love life has been very awful in general, and it's been practically nonexistent for the past two and a half years, largely thanks to a particularly awful heartbreak that I'm still not quite over yet, despite the fact that it happened in late 2007.

I know that a relationship like theirs takes a lot of work and a lot of trust, and I realize that even among people who have married, what they have is rare. I've even started to look forward to a quiet existence filled with music, cats, writing, faith, and a job that I hope will allow me the time to keep doing the things that have kept me from becoming suicidal in the past few years. If anyone is less suitable for marriage than me, I haven't met them; I'm a slightly socially-inept person who's fat and whose face is rather unremarkable, and who has suffered from depression for a very long time. I've got a nasty temper when it's riled and I find it very difficult to trust most people unconditionally (largely, I admit, because my trust has been betrayed so many times that I just can't give it to most people anymore). I need more time to myself than most people seem to and I don't want kids—I like them very much, which is why I wouldn't want to subject them to me as a mother. Besides which, although I haven't shown any sign of any of them yet, there are some nasty genetic surprises lurking on both sides of my family, ranging in severity from red-green colour-blindness to serious congenital heart defects. I may be a carrier for a few, and it would be much better if I didn't pass them on.

Still, I look at my friends and see how good they've been for each other for the last twenty-one years. It sends a pang straight to my heart when I think that I'll never have anything like that. Jealousy isn't a great thing to feel, but at least that particular Deadly Sin is its own punishment, especially when paired with the depression I've been fighting since I was very young. So if I feel a twinge of despair every once in awhile when I look at him or her, it isn't because I'm developing a crush on him (or anything worse, for that matter). It's because they have a relationship with each other that has greatly enriched their lives, and the knowledge that I'll never have anything even remotely like it has made me slightly, if somewhat justifiably, bitter.

Honestly, I don't know whether to feel relieved or disgusted with myself. For now, I'm choosing relief. Given how melancholy I've been feeling lately, that may be the best option. *sigh*

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Musical Musings

Right now, I'm listening to a recording of Rachmaninoff's second symphony. This symphony is a piece I wasn't well acquainted with until fairly recently; I'd heard bits and pieces of it over the years, but I'd never heard it in its entirety until late last month, when I was lucky enough to have a ticket to hear it performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (As I mentioned in a previous entry, I spent about five days in Chicago last month. I was there with my community choir; we were there to perform a piece with two other choirs and an orchestra in a comparatively small community close to Chicago, and because it's so far away from where we live, we decided we'd make a trip of it.) Even from my seat way up in the gallery, the sound was spectacular.

The evening I heard this symphony, I happened to be sitting beside my choir director. We've always gotten along well, and during the intermission we got to talking a bit, and the conversation naturally turned to music. While even my infamously good memory has lost track of much of what we said, I remember one part of the conversation quite well—I remarked that I couldn't believe that anyone could possibly think of classical music as boring, and he replied that he suspected that an appreciation of classical music might at least partially depend on whether the person hearing it knew something about actually playing it. I had to admit that maybe he had a point; hearing music takes very little effort, but how much one gets from listening to it, actually paying attention to it, can sometimes depend on knowing exactly what to listen for. And yet, I know at least one person who doesn't play any musical instruments, but who has a keen appreciation for classical music, even though she was really only introduced to it when she was in her early twenties.

Perhaps it's got something to do with the image that classical music has gradually developed in the last hundred years or so. The performers of it are usually dressed in formal attire, and even if the audience isn't always dressed as formally as the performers are, their clothing is usually a bit nicer than what they'd choose to wear if they were just going to a movie with some friends. It's a form of music associated with grandparents, the intellectual elite (or those who only pretend to be) and rich people—not, perhaps, as accessible to most younger people as the manufactured marketing tool that we know as pop music.*

I suppose that it irritates me a bit that one of my favourite forms of music—one that's got such a range of emotion, one that I find so fascinating to listen to and that I even like to play once in awhile, even if I'm not very good at it—is widely dismissed as the kind of music that only people who are over-privileged, hopeless sticks in the mud or geniuses or pseudo-intellectuals could possibly find any value in. People forget that it's still used in most movie soundtracks. (Who could say that John Williams' "Imperial March" or "Hedwig's Theme", Howard Shore's theme for the Lord of the Rings films, or Alan Silvestri's theme for "Back to the Future" are boring, forgettable or inaccessible?) They forget that despite its reputation as a tedious artefact of the past that simply has no relevance today, many people of all ages are learning to play it—and love it—and that if they really want to listen to it, they don't need a ticket to the symphony, they can just flip to the appropriate station on the radio or look up a performance on YouTube.

Perhaps this is another kind of damage that's wrought by privilege, or at least, by the perception of it. It turns a great kind of music into something that many people won't even consider listening to because they think you have to be old or snobby to have any interest in it at all, and that anyone who isn't old or elitist is only pretending to like it. Food for thought, anyway.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

*I think that at this point, it may be best—purely in the interests of honesty and perhaps for bit of comic relief—to acknowledge that despite my lifelong love of classical music (and many other kinds of music, of course), when I was a teenager I was as likely as most other girls my age to listen to the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys, that I've recently developed an almost worrying appreciation for the work of Lady Gaga, and that I still listen to *NSYNC when I need a good laugh.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Memory of Pain

Nine years ago today, something happened that hurt me terribly; I felt the sting of it for years afterward, even after I'd long since lost contact with everyone else involved. Even now, when what happened no longer actually has the power to hurt me, I can't help but think of the time I wasted in moping over it and wishing that the people who had hurt me had suffered for what they did. I won't go into any real detail about what happened to cause me all that pain because it isn't really relevant. Suffice it to say that it was rotten.

I still remember some almost impossibly small details of that day. The weather was beautiful; there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was so bright, so warm, that I could hardly believe I was actually feeling so cold inside. I remember the tea I drank—Earl Grey, which has always been one of my favourites—and the pattern on the mug I was drinking it from. I remember the card game that some of my acquaintances were playing at the time, and a discussion about runes and tarot cards I had with one of them. ("The only cards I know anything about come 78 to a deck," I grinned.) After my chance discovery, I remember getting up from the table I'd been sitting at and nearly tripping over the ridiculously tall shoes I was wearing; the soles were about three inches thick, and I really only bought the damn shoes in the first place because they were the only ones I could find in my size that had decent arch support. I remember going to my locker early—this happened in my final year of high school—and digging around for a book I needed for my homework. A couple of hours after I got home, I took a long walk. Unfortunately, part of that walk took me to the place where one of the other people worked (I hadn't known about their job until I got there), and it all came crashing down on me again.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted both physically and emotionally, but I did my damndest to pretend that everything was normal. I suspect that I was successful; my parents didn't ask me what was bothering me, and at the time, neither of them really understood that I need to work things out in my mind before I'll talk about them. I'm sure they thought they were doing me a favour in encouraging me to talk about my feelings, but quite frankly, every time it happened, I felt more like I was being hounded to share things I wasn't ready to share, like my privacy didn't matter and my inner thoughts weren't really mine to keep. Any acting talent I currently possess can probably be attributed to that.

I remember what I ate for supper, hours later; it was pasta with white sauce and various kinds of seafood. I remember getting through my homework somehow and then flopping on my bed, staring at the ceiling. And I remember writing about the incident in typical teenage histrionics, but perhaps I can be forgiven for that, because I'd just discovered something that meant that someone I thought was a friend really wasn't, and I had a feeling—one that actually proved to be right a couple of weeks later—that things were going to get worse for me before the end of it.

Nine years later, although the pain of betrayal has long since faded, I still feel the mental echo of it once in awhile. Certain songs will remind me of it. Earl Grey tea, while still one of my favourites, is not necessarily a beverage I will consume quite as often as I used to nine years ago. Clear and sunny weather on the ninth of May is an obvious trigger. But the remembered pain doesn't rule me anymore as it did back then when it was real; now, I look at it as a reminder of a lesson learned rather harshly when (I suppose) I really, really needed a smack upside the head. DON'T TRUST THE UNTRUSTWORTHY.

Even that day, though, I knew that the pain wouldn't last. The next morning, though I wore darker clothes than usual and was a bit withdrawn even around my friends, I started to work drafting a ritual that would help me to distance myself from the hurt a bit. For whatever reason, it worked. Actually, it worked so well that the day after, I actually capered around my room singing the refrain to Britney Spears' "Stronger"! (Hey, I was eighteen, and that was actually the most appropriate song I could think of at the time.) And over the years, I've actually used that very same ritual to help me to get over similar—or worse—moments of pain in my life, only altering it to make it appropriate for the new painful circumstances.

That's not to say that everything was sunshine and roses, of course. As I said before, things actually got a great deal worse for me about two weeks later. May 9 was only the start of it, but of all the dates when things that happened that were related to this initial incident, this is still the day that reminds me of it the most. It's the day when I found out that all was not as it seemed, and when I realized that Something Really Bad was on its way.

In the end, I suppose I ought to be grateful for that unexpected revelation. It helped me to prepare myself for what was coming at me, and because I wrote that ritual I gained a tool for helping myself to clear my mind and step away from the distraction of mental and emotional pain. And it taught me a valuable lesson, which I believe I've already outlined.

Through the years, I've found that sometimes suffering makes me stronger, but only under certain conditions—namely, when I have the resources to deal with it. Sometimes I don't even know that I have those resources until I have to put them to use, as I did on May 9, 10, and 11, 2001. And so it seems that the ninth of May, while still the anniversary of a tremendously painful event in my life, has gradually become an almost triumphant reminder that pain doesn't have to be forever—and that if I can find a way to reinvent myself, even just partially, then maybe I'll be OK and even manage to pull out a useful lesson from the wreckage.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When God Made Me

Neil Young isn't really one of my favourite musicians, but I love this song (skip ahead to about 5:27). All of its questions, in one way or another, hint at something very close to my view of religion and spirituality—and a few other things, come to that.

You see, as heretical as it may be, my beliefs go so much further than the words of the Apostles' Creed or even the slightly more-detailed Nicene Creed. I believe that the countries we come from, our racial backgrounds, even our religious beliefs (or not, as the case may be) do not matter to the Divine. I do not believe that only humanity was created in the image of the Divine; to say so, especially since God is most frequently visualized as male, particularly by the adherents of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), to say that only humanity was crafted in God's image is the exact sort of arrogance and disregard for the rest of Creation that pushed me away from my original spiritual path. I believe that not only "True Believers" are God's beloved children. I believe that God does not approve of the wars that people use Her/Him/It/Them as an excuse for fighting. I do most emphatically NOT believe that there is only one way to know the Divine. (All things considered, if I did believe that, I'd be a terrible hypocrite.) I do not believe that we were given the capacity to love only to be told that we must love only certain people in certain ways. Our voices were not made to be silenced, no matter who we are. Vision isn't to be disregarded when it shows something of which we do not approve or which we do not understand. And compassion—perhaps the greatest gift of all—should not be shoved aside, but used to help people (and animals, and the environment) that need help in the way that best suits their needs—and, if applicable, what they want as well.

I don't understand the exclusivity argument from anyone anymore. If this makes me even more of a heretic than I already was, so be it. I'd rather be a compassionate heretic than a "One Way—MINE!!!" Bible thumper any day.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

When God made Me - Neil Young

Was he thinkin' about my country or the colour of my skin?
Was he thinkin' 'bout my religion and the way I worshipped him?
Did he create just me in his image, 0r every living thing?

When God made me, when God made me

Was he planning only for believers, or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars that were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way to be close to him?

When God made me, when God made me

Did he give me the gift of love to say who I could choose?

When God made me, when God made me
When God made me, when God made me

Did he give me the gift of voice so some could silence me?
Did he give me the gift of vision not knowing what I might see?
Did he give me the gift of compassion to help my fellow man?

When God made me, when God made me
When God made me, when God made me