Saturday, December 31, 2011

Some Year-End Thoughts

By some measures, this has been a significantly more interesting year than I'd expected it to be.  In the past year, I've made some headway in conquering my depression and my eating-disordered behaviour, mustered the courage to let several new people into my life, become friends with most of them, started working (if only on a volunteer basis) in my chosen field, come to a slightly better understanding of my sexuality and sexual orientation, travelled to Scotland and Ireland, bought a guitar, read a lot of great books, learned how to make bannock, finished my first major crochet project, did some of my best writing so far, both here and under my other internet pseudonym as a fanfic writer, and found myself with something approaching a love life that confuses me a little, partly because of the nature of it and partly because (as I've said before) for a very long time, my love life has consisted of little but a series of rejections and other emotional disasters.

(I also, at this point in time, have thirty-five posts that are only in draft form at the moment; most of them were started this year, though there are also a few from 2009 and 2010.  Perhaps I'll be a bit better at finishing what I've started in 2012.)

So, whatever else I might say about 2011, one thing I doubt I'll ever call it is boring.

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On a not-so-personal note, this was also the year in which Stephen Harper unfortunately got that majority government he'd been salivating over since he first became our Prime Minister, the NDP became the Opposition party in a rather surprising twist of political history, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia even though seven of nine witnesses recanted or significantly changed their testimony against him and there was never any actual evidence that linked him to the scene of the murder he was convicted of committing, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement grabbed headlines and met with unreasonable obstruction and aggression on the part of law enforcement, and a lot of white feminists did a lot of offensive and embarrassing things.  It's been a difficult year, but (as cynical as I can get sometimes) I do hold some hope that it's at least laid some groundwork for better things in the future.  A lot of people who needed to learn some hard lessons learned them, and a lot of other people were inspired to act, and to speak up, in ways that they might not have otherwise done.  And perhaps we'll eventually get the chance to build a better world because of it.

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A few days ago, a friend of mine wrote about a few things about the Western celebration of Christmas that bother him.  Among other things, he said that he wished that we wouldn't give so much money to stores that sell goods that were produced in third-world sweatshops, and that we'd give more generously to charitable organizations that help those in need, or actually reach out ourselves and give our time and energy to more good causes.

Which made me think of something that bothered me quite a bit while I was travelling, actually.

When I was in Scotland and Ireland with my church choir this summer, I was struck by the sheer amount of poverty I saw in both places.  So many people begging on the streets in Edinburgh and in Dublin, obviously needing help...and every time I didn't have a pound or a Euro to spare (I never carry much cash, just as much as I think I'm going to need, especially when I'm in a foreign country), my conscience picked at me.  How could I possibly think of myself as a decent person when I'd just refused help to someone who was obviously in need?  And inevitably, this quote from the Bible, which I've quoted here before, would come to mind:
How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
—1 John 3: 17-18
Obviously, I failed the test.

It's too easy to say that a single coin couldn't possibly have helped that much.  It's too easy to say that I was just being smart, avoiding being pickpocketed in a foreign country while distracted by the opportunity to do good.  It's certainly being too easy on myself to say that I was just being careful with my money, as I only brought with me what I thought I'd need.  The fact is, I saw people who needed help, and I didn't give it, even though I was only able to make the trip in the first place because I'd had help.  It didn't matter that the little that I could give would hardly lift them out of poverty, or even feed them for a night.  I know damn well that when you're in desperate circumstances, every little bit does help.

And yet, I know very well that kicking myself for it will do absolutely nothing to put things right.  I can only resolve to do better next time, and then actually do it.

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In some ways, I can hardly believe that we've made it to the year 2012 already.  When I was a child, even the year 2000 seemed like a far-away futuristic time, even when I knew objectively that it was actually not that far ahead of us.  2012 sounded positively magical, especially since at around the time we got our first dial-up internet connection, around 1997 or so, I started hearing about the Mayans' so-called dire prediction about the end of the world.  Never one to just sit back and accept the doom and gloom, I did a little research (it helped that I'd already started to develop an interest in Mayan culture and civilization), and soon realized that it wasn't so much that they'd decided the world would end in December 2012, as their calendar was set to enter a new cycle then.

But there are some people who just aren't capable of letting the facts get in the way of a good panic-inducing scenario, I suppose.

In any case, I shrugged it off.  I haven't changed my mind, but I do get the feeling that we're in for an interesting year on a lot of fronts.

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One last thought, and then I'll conclude this slightly disjointed ramble.  Of all the things I learned this year, there are two that I think are the most valuable: first, don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.  Even if it doesn't go well, the experience will be worth having anyway.  And second, it's OK to ask for help if and when you need it.

So that's it.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you a wonderful and blessed new year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Slight Clarification

It occurs to me that there's something else that I should've made a bit clearer in my previous post: I don't just consider myself pro-choice because I believe that the option of abortion should be available if it is necessary, for whatever reason a pregnant person might want or need it.

I am also pro-choice because I believe that it should be easier for those who want to continue the pregnancy, and to give birth, to do so.  I believe that parental leave should be longer, and that there should be a system in place that will help people to raise their children: better and more accessible daycare, for example, and easier access to services and assistive devices for children (and adults, for that matter) who are physically, mentally, or emotionally disabled, and a health care system that doesn't treat pregnancy like a disease unless there's actually a real complication and not just "oh, you might get this because you're not a Hypothetical Perfect Patient."  And I believe that children should not be punished if their parents are poor; poor children often get the worst of everything, including food, health care, and education.  Those who are pro-life might want to consider fighting for the rights of those children who have actually been born and who are vulnerable to the intrinsic unfairness of a world in which there are haves and have-nots.  Unless you care, not just with your emotions but also with your actions, for the children who have been born into less-than-wonderful circumstances, I would argue that you're not really pro-life, just pro-birth.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Reply to a Pro-Life Comment

(The following post started out as a response to a comment on my post Why I Am Pro-Choice.  However, my usual verbosity got the better of me, and I decided that it would be better in the end if I made an actual post of it.)

Hello Anonymous,

I wish I could be sure that you would see my reply to your comment, because just as you felt called to comment, I feel called to respond.  You say that you believe that every person, even an unborn child, has a right to life, and on that point, we actually agree; although I am pro-choice, I am not necessarily pro-abortion.  I simply acknowledge that there are times when people who are pregnant may wish to have an abortion, for reasons that are extremely important to them.  I would never condone the use of abortion as birth control (which happens far less frequently than you may have been led to believe).  And I would never insist that any woman experiencing an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy absolutely had to go through an abortion.  But I would never want to remove the option, either, from any person who wanted to exercise it.

The thing is, sometimes pregnancies go wrong.  Sometimes the pregnancy is ectopic—that is, implantation takes place somewhere other than in the uterus itself—and this puts the life of the pregnant person in danger.  A ruptured fallopian tube is a very painful way to die.  Sometimes the fetus has developmental defects that are incompatible with the ability to sustain life, such as severely underdeveloped lungs or missing internal organs, and it would be by far more compassionate not to force the eventual child to suffer the death to which these defects would inevitably lead.  Sometimes the woman has medical problems of her own that make pregnancy and childbirth a particularly life-threatening prospect, and even if you take the callous route here and say that she should've used birth control of some kind, I must remind you that sometimes birth control of any type fails, no matter how careful people are about using it.  And suggesting that such women should avoid having sex at all is just plain cruel.  Physical intimacy may not be as basic a need as food, water, air, or shelter, but many people find that it is necessary nonetheless.

And there are other considerations.  Although it's rare, sometimes pregnancy is the result of rape, and it is manifestly unjust to re-victimize a victim of rape by forcing her to bear her rapist's child if she doesn't want to.  Sometimes women literally cannot afford to be pregnant, whether or not they want to have children; even if someone would be willing to adopt the baby immediately, during the pregnancy there would still be necessary doctor's appointments, sometimes medications which insurance (even here in Canada) may or may not cover, and usually maternity leave, which women (especially single women working low-paying jobs) may not be able to afford to take.  If she can't afford to actually take maternity leave, then that would be an additional layer of hardship for a pregnant woman, even if she was going to immediately give the child up for adoption after it was born.  And pregnancy and childbirth are not things that a woman should be forced to go through if she doesn't want to.  They take a serious toll on women's bodies, and even when they go well, recuperation can be difficult afterward.  C-sections, episiotomies, and even the wear and tear of a totally natural birth, can all be very hard to heal from.

In a perfect world, abortion would never be necessary or desirable.  But we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in a messy world where things go wrong and the right choice will not necessarily be the same thing for everyone.  And while you believe that God doesn't make mistakes, your belief does not, and should not, trump any person's right to determine what happens to their body.

So I stand firmly on the side of the person who is pregnant.  The person who already exists, who lives in the world, who loves people and who has people who love her, and who should not have to go through pregnancy and childbirth unless she actually wants to.  And if she doesn't want to, for whatever reason she has, you, and people like you, should not be able to have veto power over what she does in response to what is happening to her own body.

Although I don't know if you'll ever see this, or if you'll listen to me if you do see this, I would like very much if you would visit the following web pages.  I don't expect any of them to change your mind; I simply hope that reading these things will help you to understand why I, with my deep belief in the necessity of love, compassion, and respect for life, support the right to choose.

Pregnant 10-Year-Old Refused Abortion By Mexican State: Pregnancy can be dangerous for full-grown women, but even more so for children who have been raped and who have become pregnant as a result.  Children under 14 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than adult women.

A Heartbreaking choice: The stories of women who didn't want to have abortions, but who found them necessary anyway.

Every Saturday Morning: A blog written by escorts at a clinic which provides abortions in Louisville, Kentucky.

Abortions just as common in countries that ban it as in ones that don't: study: Whether or not it's legal, women who want abortions will find ways to have them...even at the risk of their own lives.

Abortion in America: A three-minute video by the Guttmacher Institute about women who have abortions, and the reasons why they have them.

As I said, I do not seek to change your mind.  If your mind changes at all, you're the one who has to change it.  But I do hope that you are willing to at least look at these resources and do your best to understand why I, and why others like me, believe in the necessity of choice, even if you don't believe in it yourself.


Monday, December 5, 2011


Look, I know that it's extremely important to a lot of people that they buy the perfect Christmas gift for everybody on their gift list.  (Incidentally, I find the idea of compulsory gifts somewhat ridiculous—yes, even when I'm the one receiving them—but that's a whole other rant.)  And I know that the task can be rather frustrating.  But those articles that list gift suggestions for people based on whether they're women or men are...well, quite frankly, they're getting a little tiresome.

Instead of reducing complex human beings to ridiculous gender stereotypes (women like frilly pink makeup with diamonds, men like computerized power tools with boobs), why not think about the individual to whom you're giving the gift?  What do they like?  What are their interests?  What really matters to them?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Memory Of A Friend

I apologize for the fact that my most recent posts here haven't been particularly uplifting.  This, I'm afraid, will be more of the same.  I wish it didn't have to be.  But unfortunately, I woke up to some sad news today.  One of the altos from my church choir died sometime yesterday.  It wasn't really surprising—she had been suffering from heart problems for years, and they'd gotten worse in the past year, even leading up to a lengthy hospital stay not long before our church choir's trip to Scotland and Ireland this August—but it was unwelcome news nonetheless.

I first remember meeting Ruth about ten years ago, when she joined my community choir for the first of our two trips to England.  I was nineteen at the time, and at that point my spiritual life was as Pagan as it could possibly be, considering that I had only graduated from my Catholic high school at the end of the previous school year, and I don't think that I had fully realized yet the real meaning of preparing Anglican church music to sing in a very large, very old Anglican church that used to be a very large, very old Catholic church.  Because she sings alto, and I'm a soprano, we didn't really speak much before the trip; it's not that there's any kind of snobbery inherent in that statement, but my community choir is fairly large, and even at the time there were close to fifty singers, especially since we had several people who our director had asked to join us for the trip.  There wasn't much of a chance for us all to socialize with each other at rehearsal, either.  But then, when the trip itself got underway in August 2002, Ruth and I did end up talking several times.  Over the years, as another trip to England took place and I joined the church choir, I gradually came to think of her as a friend, though not a close one.

Ruth was raised Baptist, though she eventually converted to Anglicanism.  In the time that I knew her, her faith and her belief in God were absolutely unshakeable.  They were her favourite topic of conversation, in fact; rarely would a chat with her not end up touching on at least one or two theological points.  She didn't get preachy, exactly, or particularly self-righteous; it was more that her faith was the most important thing in her life, and she gave it a lot of credit for sustaining her in some of her most difficult times, both in her personal life and with her health.  Suffice it to say that she and I didn't always see eye-to-eye.  But anyone could see the tremendous love that she had for other people as well as for God; for as long as I knew her, she was never one to act as if her faith made her better than anyone who didn't believe as she did, and her kindness and generosity were always freely given.

She did have a tendency to speak about non-Christians as if they were slightly recalcitrant but still somewhat amusing children who would come to their senses eventually.  It wasn't out of malice, so I never took offense as I might have if almost anyone else had expressed those sentiments; rather, she believed that it was just common sense to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that it was more than a little silly to ignore the God whose presence she felt so strongly in her life.  In fact, at a time in my life when I was more than a little lost in regards to what to do about my spirituality, she gave me some very valuable advice.  Though I know that it led me down a path that she wouldn't really have approved of, I have never regretted listening.  And I know she was happy when she found out that I had joined the church choir three years ago.

Speaking of the choir, her dedication was admirable; she rarely missed a regular service, or an extra one, for that matter, unless she genuinely couldn't help it.  We will miss the strength of her voice as much as we will miss the woman herself.

She went into the hospital for the last time a few weeks ago, and then checked herself out against medical advice as soon as she was strong enough to do so.  I couldn't say for sure, but I think she knew this time that she was on her way out.  I'm thankful to have known her, and I'm glad that she was able to go on to whatever comes next in the comfortable surroundings of her own home, a place I know that she loved.

May she rest in peace.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Spiritual Side of a Sad Anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of my grandfather's death.  As much as I feel tempted to write about that at some length, and I'll probably do so in the pen-and-paper journal that I still keep, I find that my thoughts are turning every bit as much to my family's reactions to that terribly difficult time, not least because of the role that religion played, particularly in the last week and a half of Grandpa's life.

I was almost surprised, actually, though I suppose that I probably shouldn't have been.  While I was raised Roman Catholic, since my mother's family is/was Catholic, most of my relatives on my dad's side are Anglican, at least in name; most don't go to church very often, except for my aunt and uncle who live in Manitoba and my cousin who was living in England at the time.  But when Grandpa was in the hospital, and particularly when it became clear that he was dying, suddenly prayer became extremely important to my family.  I lost count of the number of times we said the Lord's Prayer.  Psalms 23 and 121 each made a couple of appearances.  Particularly in the last few days of his life, we'd gather around his bed and one of my aunts would lead us in prayer at least once a day, and often twice.  I've often wondered since then exactly what was going through his head at the time.  (He was still demonstrably conscious, and did his best to communicate with us, but he'd lost the power of speech by then, so it was, at best, difficult.)  I know that he had his faith, so there's hope that this was at least marginally comforting to him, but there's really no way of knowing for sure.

As for what I thought...even a year later, I'm still trying to sort it out, really.  Because of the rather unique nature of my spiritual life, I have to admit that I felt a little uneasy.  Just to be clear: it had nothing to do with this sudden explosion of devotion among my relatives; I believe that everyone has the right to believe—or not believe, for that matter—as they choose, and to act upon that as they wish, provided that it doesn't hurt them or anyone else.  (All things considered, it would be highly hypocritical of me to believe otherwise.)  It's more that every time we gathered around Grandpa's bed to pray, I couldn't help but wonder: was I part of those prayer sessions to help comfort my family, or was I just there because I was expected to be?

I did pray.  I spent a lot of time during those long days and nights at the hospital praying that his suffering would be over soon.  But my prayers were silent.  Sometimes they happened while I was crocheting; then, I'd often revert to some of the prayers I learned when I was still Catholic.  ("Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..."  "Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope..."  "Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided..."  I could probably write an entire other post on the possible reasons why I chose these prayers, and will probably do so at some point in the future.)  Other times, especially late in the night when I sat holding my grandfather's hand, the room as quiet as a place in a hospital could possibly be, I simply felt what I wanted to say, and for all that I didn't direct those prayers in any specific direction, they were no less prayers than the ones I thought, or whispered, as I crocheted, or the ones I actually said along with my family.

It was never going to be anything but a thoroughly difficult time for all of us.  I have no idea how helpful all that praying may have been for Grandpa or for anyone else in my family, but if it brought any comfort whatsoever, then I find that I can't be upset about having participated in it, personal reservations about the prayer sessions quite aside.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yarn Therapy

It's no secret that I like to crochet.  Wherever I go, I generally have my current project with me, and I pick it up and work on it every chance I get.  And it took over a year, but I finally finished my first lap blanket tonight. I could've finished it a long time ago, but I held off, though I wasn't quite sure why.

The thing is, this particular project was one that I started shortly before my grandfather developed pneumonia while he was in the hospital last year. I eventually came to call it my "comfort yarn," since crocheting became a sort of escape for me when I was spending so much time down at the hospital with my family, after we were told that the best that could be done for him was to keep him as comfortable as possible, considering the circumstances. (I might've tried reading, but I learned long ago that to open a book in the presence of my relatives is to invite a lot of questions: "What are you reading?" "Who wrote it?" "How is it so far?" etc.) When I started to crochet at the hospital, I noticed that my family was far less likely to distract me while I was doing that, and I could still be part of the conversation if I chose to be. And to this day, when I look at some of the sections of the lap blanket that I completed during that time and shortly after, I can still remember what was going on around me while I was working on them.

When Grandpa died, crocheting became a central part of my grieving process; I don't like to cry anyway (just as well, because I rarely get the chance; practically every time I feel like I need a good cry, it turns out that something else needs my attention, so I don't have the time and I have to release that energy some other way), so whenever I felt particularly awful I'd pick up my yarn and start working again for a few minutes. Whenever I was interrupted at that, I was able to deal with the interruption and get back to my yarn immediately after; there was no need to get back into any particular mood. Whether I was working on that lap blanket or something else (including the inevitable scarf—it seems I can't entirely get away from making those things), my time spent with my yarn became almost therapeutic.

These days, I don't crochet out of grief anymore. I find it's a good way to occupy my hands while my mind goes off and does other things, and it also has the advantage of being something I can do while I'm talking to someone else without being rude. I often find that my mood and my concentration are better after I've been crocheting for awhile. So at least that's one good thing that came from an otherwise awful time.

So when I finished the blanket tonight, in a way I was also moving on from a stage of grief that I don't really need to experience anymore.  When I visited Grandpa's grave last month, I cried for a bit (one of the few times I didn't get interrupted, thank goodness, though I'd have been shocked if I had been as I was the only person at the cemetery at the time) and then sat beside the grave and crocheted for awhile.  After all that time spent with my yarn beside his hospital bed, it seemed right.

It's amazing, and downright wonderful, what can be accomplished simply by pulling loops of yarn through other loops of yarn, really.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"You're taking this too seriously, dear."

"You're taking this too seriously, dear."

It's a common criticism of feminists—that we have no sense of humour, that we take things way too seriously.  In this case, some months ago my mother was telling me about a distant cousin of ours who had male-to-female sex-change surgery.  She still refers to that distant cousin as "he," and even laughed at me when I corrected the pronoun to "she," telling me I was taking it too seriously.

Um, no.  Because this is someone's life, and it is something that should be respected and taken seriously.

It's not like trans people suddenly wake up and decide that they don't want to be the gender their bodies are shaped like/were shaped like at birth.  It's not like it's a silly little game of dress-up, or like they'll eventually "come to their senses" and decide that their bodies are the right shape after all!  Whatever the reason for it is, these people feel that the usual means of determining gender have failed them, and they're doing what they can to be the people they feel they really are inside.  Given the importance that gender has for most people's identities, this is absolutely important.  And it shouldn't depend on whether we cis people think they have (or have always had) the right genitalia for their gender presentation.

Unfortunately, to avoid ruining the rest of the evening I had to just shut up.  But inside, I was furious.  One does not refer to a trans woman as "him", nor does one refer to a trans man as "her".  It's as incredibly hurtful as mocking fat people for our size.  Maybe even more so.  And those of us who are not trans do not have the right to define trans people's lives for them.  Referring to people with gender pronouns that they feel do not adequately describe them is crossing a line of indecency that nobody should cross.

And saying so does not mean I'm "taking this too seriously."  These are people's lives we're talking about here.  This is an issue that's caused a lot of pain—an issue that has cost many trans people their lives. And if we who are cisgendered don't recognize this, or if we downplay it like it's some kind of joke, then we're actively harming a lot of people who don't need any more of this garbage thrown at them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11, or It's Never "Over By Christmas"

The last time there was an 11/11/11, so many things hadn't happened yet.

The RMS Titanic was still being fitted out for what was then assumed would be a long and safe career at sea as a luxury liner. Lester B. Pearson, the Canadian Prime Minister whose government (among other things) would introduce such things as universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and the current Canadian flag, was fourteen years old. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. weren't born yet. Neither was María Eva Duarte de Perón, who is still better known as "Evita." The stock market crash of 1929 was still eighteen years away.

And the war which officially ended on this day in 1918, and which was settled in 1919 under terms which set up the conditions which made the Second World War possible, was still a bit over two and a half years away.

It seems almost unthinkable that a political assassination led directly to one war and indirectly to another. Indeed, the First World War largely broke out because a number of powerful empires who were already chronically angry with each other threatened each other, called each other names, refused to back down no matter what, and, invoking various alliances, dragged other countries into the fight. Eventually, there were very few nations anywhere that weren't involved somehow. The assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, may have been the spark that set the fire, so to speak, but it would never have happened if there hadn't been the political kindling and fuel for the fire in the first place. And for all that the propaganda said that the soldiers on "our side" were fighting for what was right, the truth is that more than nine million people died because Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire refused to learn to play nice with each other. Or anyone else, either, really, especially when it came to the issue of territory in the Balkans.

Colonialism sucks. In this case, it turned out to be deadly for over nine million combatants and who knows how many civilians.

And so, November 11 has been known variously as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veteran's Day, and Poppy Day since King George V officially dedicated the day to such observances in 1919. But what do we remember? What are we glorifying with this day? What are we telling kids with these military-inspired services, both religious and not, and with all these repetitions of Col. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields," which tells the reader to "take up our quarrel with the foe"? What are we telling ourselves?

And what have we allowed ourselves to forget?

We say "Lest We Forget" and "we will remember them," but in glorifying the lives of those who died in battle, neglecting those who came home changed or even broken, and those who were not soldiers but who suffered anyway, we've forgotten what the observance of this day was supposed to accomplish in the first place: to remind us never to let such a senseless tragedy happen again.

But it did happen again, and it will keep happening until humans, especially our leaders, learn to settle disputes without destroying lives and land in the process.

Friday, November 4, 2011

On "The Church"

When talking about Christianity, people inevitably end up talking about "the Church," as if all the denominations were still (if they were ever really) all the very same.  But the thing is, despite the fact that all of them talk about this dude named Jesus who said some pretty awesome and radical things about 2000 years ago—and I'm not just using the words "awesome" and "radical" in their 90's slang sense, though those meanings could certainly apply as well—they all have their own different ways of creating and maintaining their communities of faith.  Don't believe me?  Check out Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches and attend their worship services, and you'll see precisely what I mean.

In spite of the many similarities between them, these denominations are not all one.  If they were, there'd be no need to give them different names.  So really, when talking about Christianity, one might more accurately talk about "The Churches" than about "The Church."

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Genesis of Disorder

I've written before about the problems that I've had with my starvation-type eating-disordered behaviour.  I've talked about the health problems it's caused me; if I've been restricting again, I even experience rumination syndrome for a few days afterwards, no matter how little I eat, though I find that it does subside after awhile.  I've talked about the possible reasons behind my tendency to ignore my body's hunger cues.  I've been an advocate, as much as a small-time blogger possibly can be, of the concepts that fat bodies are not necessarily diseased, that health is not a moral imperative, that fat people don't deserve to be treated badly, and that eating disorders, even if they're cleverly disguised as diets, are as harmful to us as they are to thinner people.  But I don't think I've talked much about what kept me dieting long enough for it to become an actual problem for me.

The thing is, as awful as I felt, for the first week and a half or so of my doctor-induced state of starvation I felt as if I was accomplishing something.  I was acting grown-up; after all, adults go on diets all the time, don't they?  (I was about 21 years old at the time, and I'd already developed my distaste for alcohol—remember, the drinking age in Ontario is 19, so I'd been legal to drink alcohol for two years by then—and was unfortunately somewhat offended by anything to do with sex at the time, particularly after a not-exactly-stellar experience a couple of years before, so it may not be very surprising that I felt that dieting was a Very Grown Up Adult Thing To Do; it was practically the only Special Adult Thing that I could allow myself to experience without offending my tastebuds or my prudery.)  I was Taking Control Of My Health.  So as awful as I felt physically, and as afraid as I was to eat anything at all, there was still something activating the reward centre of my brain.  My doctor had constructed a doom-and-gloom picture of my future as it would inevitably be if I didn't drop approximately half my body weight as soon as possible, but she'd also promised redemption of a sort if I did my damndest to force my body into a thinner shape.

Dieting became, as much as anything I'd learned about in my Catholic school, an absolution of mortal sin, which in this case was, of course, fatness.  And as resolute as I was at the time that I'd never be swayed by organized religion again, I was completely taken in by the Cult of Dieting and Thinness.  And as short as my "conversion" lasted, it was years before I really realized how truly dangerous and harmful it had been to me.  Somehow that three weeks managed to rewire my mind to the point where my default behaviour, unless I continually remind myself of the necessity of good, nutritious fuel for my body, is to avoid ingesting anything but water or tea, which has led to a number of problems over the years.  And I suspect that the initial feeling of control and purpose that I had in that first week and a half was a major reason why this happened.

Dieting, restriction, and self-starvation can be awfully alluring because of what's promised to you if you faithfully keep on with them.  But in reality, their results seldom, if ever, include better physical or mental health.  Don't let what happened to me, what's still happening to me, happen to you.  I'm still discovering what the long-term consequences of these behaviours are for me, and so far none of them have been pleasant.

No matter what you look like, no matter what your size and shape are, you are worth more than this.  So am I...but even as I've acknowledged this on the conscious level, it has been, and it continues to be, ridiculously difficult to break the old starvation pattern that was set up for me seven years ago.

Blog Note

Just a heads-up: I'm not planning on abandoning or deleting this blog, but I did decide that it might be a good idea to back it up elsewhere, just in case, so from now on everything will be posted both here and at the WordPress version of Meditations of a Surprised Christo-Pagan.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is not respect for life.

Talk about a lack of compassion.

According to this article at Firedoglake, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has banned Catholic nursing homes and hospitals from "removing feeding tubes or ending palliative procedures of any kind, even when the individual has an advance directive to guide their end-of-life care."  Where there used to be some leeway for judgement about whether it would be more compassionate to let the patient go in individual cases for patients in Catholic hospitals who were terminally ill whose lives were being extended by some form of medical intervention, that leeway is now gone.  And as if it weren't already plainly obvious that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is very keen on maintaining people's suffering rather than alleviating it, "The Bishops' directive even notes that patient suffering is redemptive and brings the individual closer to Christ."

This is why the preserve-life-at-all-costs crowd infuriates me.  This sort of thing isn't even the preservation of life.  It's the prolonging of existence.  When my grandfather died last year, he went slowly and painfully, and he'd suffered a lot in the months leading up to his death already.  But what he went through, particularly in the last week and a half of his life, was truly horrifying.  He was constantly in pain, though sometimes it was worse than others, and even when he was comfortable enough to sleep, hearing him struggle for breath was absolutely heartbreaking.  The best anyone could do for him was give him pain medication and just enough water, transmitted via a small sponge, to keep his mouth from being uncomfortably dry; anything more would have added substantially to his distress because he had gradually lost the ability to swallow.

And every moment I sat there by his bedside, I prayed that the end would come soon.  It wasn't out of hate or disrespect.  It wasn't because I was in any hurry to say goodbye to him.  It was because I loved him and I couldn't bear to see him suffering like that.  He was dying; any fool could see it.  Even I saw it before his care officially became palliative rather than curative, and I'm a teacher, not a doctor or nurse.  Nothing on Earth was going to restore his health.  It was bad enough that we had to watch him die so slowly as it was.  If the hospital had insisted on prolonging his pain on the basis that life must be preserved no matter what, or because of that bullshit idea that suffering brings people closer to God, it would have been even more unbearable than it already was.  Extending life in circumstances like that isn't compassion.  It's cruelty of a most brutal and sadistic sort.  I would even call it evil.

If there was anything at all that I learned when my grandfather was dying, it was that sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for a person who's dying is to let them go.  It's not creating or embracing a "culture of death" to do so.  It's acknowledging that because their life has worth, the person deserves better than the slow and torturous death that extending their days will give them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Day For Purple

In some ways, I was lucky.

I grew up without any real concept of sexual orientation.  When I was in Grade 2, it was briefly mentioned that some kids had two moms or two dads, and I believe it was in the context of remarriage after a divorce, but it was easy enough for my mind to come to the conclusion that some kids had two moms or two dads who lived in the same house.  It seemed like a strange concept to me, but nothing particularly bad, just different.  Everywhere I looked, the concept of the type of love that leads to marriage as only possible between pairs consisting of one woman and one man was being upheld, and yet even when I was seven years old, there was something in my mind that, however subconsciously, told me that this wasn't necessarily the case.  So maybe that's why it wasn't as big of a shock to me as it could have been when I developed a brief crush on another girl when I was thirteen—while I couldn't help wondering if something was wrong with me at the time, I recall that it was more shocking to me that I was having these feelings when I was already crushing pretty badly on a boy who had become a pretty good friend of mine several years earlier.  Nonetheless, as strong as my memories are of what was to me a fairly confusing time, the crush on that girl never actually made it into my journal.  I'd already internalized the idea of same-sex attractions being somehow wrong, though I couldn't have said why, and I thought of it as some kind of phase that would end at some point.  And although I'd long since changed my mind about same-sex relationships by the time I'd left high school, I was well into my twenties before I was able to admit to myself that although I wasn't a lesbian, I wasn't entirely heterosexual either.  I hesitate to use the phrase "coming to terms with my sexuality" to describe the process, because that implies that I thought that there was something wrong with it, but the fact is, it wasn't easy.  And even now, in my day-to-day life I'm only "out" to a few close friends who I trust not to hurt me because of the knowledge that I'm bisexual.

In retrospect, I was lucky because I was able to pass for straight at a time and place when it wasn't just unwise, but actually occasionally dangerous, to be anything that wasn't strictly heterosexual.  Although it was infrequent, guys at my (very Catholic) school who were rumoured to be gay were sometimes shoved around a bit or even beaten up; girls weren't subject to the same sort of violence, but teenage girls' capacity for cruelty to other teenage girls is legendary, and physical acts of bullying aren't necessary for bullies to make their victims' lives hell.  When the culprits were caught, the teachers and principal punished them as harshly as they could, but it could rarely be proven that they'd done it because of their victim's supposed or real sexual orientation.  Bullying for any reason wasn't tolerated, but that didn't stop the bullies; it only inspired them to be sneakier about what they were doing, especially when their attacks were motivated by homophobia.

Mind, I never really thought the term "homophobia" was strictly appropriate; whether or not fear is behind this hatred of same-sex couples, the expression of what we call "homophobia" is in the end a manifestation of hate.  Which brings me to the reason I've called this post "A Day For Purple."

Today, October 20, is known as Spirit Day.  On the LGBTQ (etc.) Rainbow Flag, purple stands for spirit, and we are encouraged to wear purple to honour the people, especially the young, who have been made to feel that their lives weren't worth living because of their sexual orientation.  If I'd been a little less straight-leaning, or a little less able to pass for straight, I might have been one of them.

I'm wearing purple today.  Are you?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Those WWJD Bracelets

I was in high school when those "WWJD" bracelets really became a trend. "WWJD" is, of course, "What Would Jesus Do?"

I have to admit that I never liked them. At first, it was because I thought they were too self-consciously pious, too self-righteous. They didn't seem, to me, to be asking; they proclaimed that the wearer was religious and they implied something holier-than-thou about them, that they knew all the answers and would preach at the slightest provocation.

I still don't like those bracelets, though I'm not as judgmental about them these days. Rather, I dislike them because even when the reminder is given with the best intentions, it's all too often much too easy to justify our own biases with Jesus' name as an excuse. "What would Jesus do?" becomes "What do I think Jesus would do?" Eventually, that can become, "Jesus would do what I'm doing, because I'm right," and that way lies the self-righteousness that turned me off of organized religion for so long.

The fact is, though we can guess what Jesus might have done in any given situation, we don't really know.  So, whether or not it works, in order to avoid that sort of self-righteousness, I prefer to take my cue from one of my favourite anthems, composed by Maurice Durflé:

"Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est."

Where there is charity and love, there is God.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I just realized something.

Just now, I was re-reading the post that I wrote on the day of Troy Davis' funeral, and I realized something.  In that post, I refer to "the state of Georgia," but (I hope) it is implicitly understood that I meant its institutions; its government, its legal and judicial systems, etc. rather than its people as a whole.  It seems to me that in general, we tend to refer to provinces, states, entire countries in this way; we talk about "the country of Canada" or "the province of Prince Edward Island" or "the state of North Carolina" and don't actually mean the general population, just the people and systems that run everything.  It is a tendency, I must admit, that I don't particularly like.

I'm not quite sure where I could take this thought, but I thought it was somewhat interesting.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When All Else Fails...

It seems to me that the phrase "when all else fails, read the directions" isn't always a great piece of advice.  Sometimes the directions don't work, or are too vaguely outlined, or, in the worst cases, are set up so that only some people will ever really get the full benefits of whatever we're supposed to be reading the directions for.  Sometimes the best advice can be "when all else fails, completely disregard the directions" or even "when all else fails, forget that there were directions in the first place."

Today's semi-deep thought brought about, of all things, by my tendency to experiment when I'm cooking (or, it seems, deciding on a spiritual path).  Hey, I haven't ever blown up the kitchen, poisoned anybody, or caused a church or sacred grove to spontaneously implode, so I guess that's an optimistic sign. ;)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections on the Death of Troy Davis

As I write this, there's a funeral going on that should not have been necessary.  I have the live stream of the celebration of Troy Davis' life on in the background, and this is what is going through my mind.

Since Davis was put to death on September 21, two other men have been executed in the USA, not counting Lawrence Brewer of Texas, who was also executed on September 21, a few hours before Davis' death.  Other executions were scheduled for this period of time, but most of them have been stayed.

I keep thinking that maybe the great amount of attention paid to Davis' case may have helped to send him to his death this time; it seems to me like the state of Georgia didn't want to be seen to be bowing to public pressure.  Certainly the people involved in the decision not to issue a stay of execution wanted to be seen as being "tough on crime" and if I had been a gambling woman, I'd have bet that at least some of them reasoned that he'd had twenty-two years to prove his innocence, and if any of them had any feelings of guilt about their decision to allow the state of Georgia to take this man's life, the fact that he was unable to prove his innocence in court must have assuaged them.  Never mind that the odds were stacked so overwhelmingly against him.  Never mind that he was a black man accused of murdering a white man, a situation which more often ends with capital punishment than white men accused of murdering black men.  (Though somewhat ironically, on the same night in which Davis died, Lawrence Brewer of Texas actually was executed a few hours earlier for having brutally murdered James Byrd, Jr., a black man.)  Never mind the fact that seven of the nine eyewitnesses whose testimony convicted Davis have since recanted or significantly changed their version of the events of that terrible night.  Never mind the allegations of police misconduct during the investigation of the case, in which some officers allegedly coerced some of these witnesses into identifying Davis as the perpetrator, including one person who signed a statement that he hadn't read because he is functionally illiterate.  Never mind that there was never any evidence found that actually linked Troy Davis to the scene of the murder.  Never mind that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.  And never mind that one of the people who didn't recant their testimony, Sylvester Coles, was also a suspect in the murder investigation and is alleged to have issued death threats to a person who claims to have heard him confess to murdering Mark MacPhail.

This has been a terrible injustice for so many reasons.  I believe that nobody has the right to take another human's life, except in cases of self-defence; the premeditated death of any other human being is a terrible thing, whether it's a murderer or a judicial system who's planning to kill someone.  A horrific crime, no matter how appalling, is not an excuse to perpetrate an equally horrific crime.  Capital punishment isn't justice.  It's vengeance thinly disguised as justice.  Justice will never be served by committing injustice.  All this can do is unleash yet another evil on the world.

I will always be in great awe of Martina Correia, Troy Davis' sister who so courageously and tirelessly fought for his life even while fighting cancer.  Her strength and her determination are so far beyond inspirational...that she was able to keep her brother alive for so long is a miracle, and a testament to what can be done with enough determination.

On the night of the execution, when word came that Davis was dead, two hymns came to mind, both of which my church choir often sings when we've been asked to provide music for funerals.  One is actually a prayer known as the Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen."  And the other, an Easter hymn, called "All Shall Be Well":

All shall be well!  For on our Easter skies,
See Christ the sun of righteousness arise.

All shall be well!  The sacrifice is made,
The sinner freed, the price of pardon paid.

All shall be well!  The cross and passion past,
Dark night is done, bright morning come at last.

All shall be well!  Lift every voice on high;
"Death has no more dominion, but shall die."

Jesus alive!  Rejoice and sing again:
All shall be well for evermore, Amen!

I suspect that "All Shall Be Well" will always remind me of Troy Davis from now on.  I pray for those who knew and loved him, that they may be comforted in this difficult time.  And I hope and pray for the day when the death penalty will be abolished once and for all across the world.  We should so be beyond this brutality by now.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"You must have a widescreen navel!"

The other day, I was looking for my brother's passport.  He doesn't live here at present, and he forgot it here the last time he came to visit, and he needed the information in it for some reason.  In the process of sifting through the ridiculous amount of stuff on his desk (and finding out more about my brother than I really needed to know), I found a little book of affirmations and meditations that apparently belonged to our mother first.

It's exactly the sort of thing that I would've been drawn to like iron filings to a magnet in my "Wicca 101" days.  Some of the meditations and affirmations are something I'd still consider worth thinking about, but from what I've seen so far, these are few and far between indeed.  Most of them are the sort of smug and lofty-sounding thing that you might expect from someone who thinks they're an enlightened and all-knowing master of the spiritual realm, but who comes across as pompous at best, things like "my wisdom creates that which I need" and "I rest today knowing that all my physical needs are met."  I find statements like these to be deeply offensive and intellectually lazy, because there's an implication that those who do not have everything they need are simply not wise enough.  Thoughts like these are not wisdom; they come from a place of privilege and there's a certain selfish egotism, a refusal to look beyond one's own life and circumstances, that is both shaming the people to whom these things do not apply, and deeply incompatible with actual enlightenment.

But then, who needs a real spiritual awakening when you can feel superior to unenlightened folk who don't believe that "my awakened mind is all knowing" and "my all knowing mind is all wise"?

Possible differences of interpretation aside, I opened this book looking for some possible deep thoughts to ponder and found little but smug spiritual junk food that left a bad aftertaste in my mind.  Perhaps there was a time in my life when these meditations could have uplifted me, but not for a long time; now, I find them trite and spiritually offensive at best.  They're about as enlightening as that "contemplation of the navel" in a third-season episode of Get Smart called The Groovy Guru.  (Incidentally, this post's title comes from this part of that episode, and the relevant part of the linked video is from about 2:16 to 3:45.)  I realize that my experience of the spiritual is hardly representative of most or even very many other people's, but I suspect that it's not a mark of true enlightenment to be wandering around all mysterious-like and spouting off odd-sounding statements like "Love awakens my mind to love.  I am the basis of love. So be it."  There's so much more out there than your own wonderfulness and your own thoughts, and to concentrate so much on yourself to the exclusion of everything seems deeply wrong to me in a way that I can't quite articulate.

I'm not saying that I know what enlightenment really is; that would be ridiculous.  I'm so far away from being enlightened that it's not even funny.  But I do know that focusing on yourself and how wonderful you are is not really a great eye-opener.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I think I've been slut-shamed.

So the other day I had dinner with a friend.

This wouldn't be particularly noteworthy if it weren't for the fact that for the moment, at least, this friend of mine lives in Michigan.  He's there as a result of some circumstances I don't feel free to divulge because although there's nothing criminal involved, it's a situation that has been very hurtful to two people of whom I am very fond, and I wouldn't want to add to that.  All you really need to know, for the purposes of understanding this rant, is that I live within an hour of a border crossing between Canada and the United States, that I have a friend who is currently living in Michigan through no real choice of his own, and that his wife still lives on the Canadian side of the border.

And that the border guard who questioned me on the American side of the border seemed to have appointed himself a member of the Morality Police.

I realize that they have the right to ask any question, and to do practically anything, to anyone seeking to cross the border as long as they can justify it as a matter of national security.  I understand the importance of making sure that anyone entering the country is not planning to do anything illegal or dangerous while there.  But once I'd revealed that I was planning to visit a friend, and that my friend was male, there was suddenly a level of hostility in this man's questioning of me that I have rarely encountered elsewhere for any other reason.

The line of questioning went something like this:

*Where do you live?
*What do you do for a living?
*How long do you expect to be in the United States?
*What are you here for?
*Where does your friend live?
*What is your friend's name?
*How do you know him?
*But you're only here to visit him, not his wife?
*Why doesn't his wife live with him?
*Are you here to bring him something from her?
*Does she visit him often?
*I want to know why a you would be visiting a married man in the United States when his wife isn't here.

It kind of went downhill from there, though (thank goodness) he did eventually let me into the country.  As the questioning went on, I could see a sneer developing on the border guard's face.  Even as I outwardly remained calm and polite, internally I was seething.  If my friend had been female, or if I'd been a man, or if I'd been travelling with a boyfriend or husband I don't have, my intention to spend a few hours with a friend who happened to live in Michigan wouldn't have been at all suspect.  Even if I hadn't had to reveal that my friend is married (which I unfortunately had to do, as I can't lie to save my life under most circumstances, and I met him because his wife has been a good friend of mine for six or seven years), it might not have seemed overly suspicious to this guy.  But suddenly, as soon as he found out that my friend is married and that his wife lives on my side of the border, he started speaking to me like I was some kind of slut who was out to wreck a marriage, just because I had the temerity to visit a married man without the presence of his wife.

Quite frankly, because she usually only gets to see him once or twice a week, I wouldn't dream of asking if I could intrude on their time together, but that's entirely beside the question anyway because I had the distinct impression that the border guard was going to deny me entry into the country until I repeatedly assured him that I had no intention of interfering with a marriage.

It's like he thought that I shouldn't want to see my married male friend simply because he currently has to reside in a country that is not my own and because I am a woman who is not his wife.  Like he thought that a single woman who is friends with a married man can be nothing but a homewrecker.  In fact, I'm almost certain that this is what was running through his mind; it showed in his questioning and in the sneer on his face.

I've never understood this idea that people can't be friends if they have different sorts of genitalia. Maybe it's just because when I was growing up, the vast majority of the people I associated with were male; being the only female player in a competitive pipe and drum band was no cakewalk much of the time (though it did have its perks; for example, unless my family was travelling with us, I always had a room to myself when we went to the various competitions in which we played), but at least it taught me that the idea that women and men can't be friends is total bullshit.  These guys, until my depression kicked in and I started to withdraw and become more sarcastic, were my friends and I valued their friendship.  (I still miss them, but I suspect that in the worst of my depression, we all burned those bridges just a bit too thoroughly to really be friends again.)  Sure, I did develop a couple of crushes along the way, and at least one of them apparently developed a brief crush on me, but that was always secondary to what was really important: these guys were my bandmates, my friends, and an odd type of extended family.  And as we got older, I think we all benefitted from this demonstration of the fact that not everybody who's friends with a member of the opposite sex will automatically want to jump each other's bones, and that it's not necessarily a disaster even if there is an attraction, requited or not.

It's no secret that I think that Western society in general tends to put too much emphasis on the shape of our bodies, regardless of whether it's the amount of fat we've got under our skin or what reproductive organs we've got.  I don't hold any hope that this border guard had any particular moment of enlightenment resulting from our conversation; I'm sure that even though he did eventually allow me to remain in the USA, he probably remained convinced that I was just some evil Canadian slut who was hell-bent on corrupting the morals of an innocent American man and destroying his marriage.  Mind, I can't bring myself to care; people can be ridiculously judgemental about things that don't match their particular view of the world, but my concern about his opinion of me ended the moment he permitted my entry into his country.  I just wish that my intent to visit a friend wasn't automatically considered suspicious just because of our respective sexes and marital statuses.

Friday, September 23, 2011

So I've Been Tweeting...

I'll admit up front that I'm not much of an activist.  I've walked picket lines a time or two in support of causes which I felt deserved my time and attention.  I've donated money to various causes when I could afford to do so.   (Hint: even when you can't afford to do so, sometimes there'll be a way to manage a donation of some kind.  See the "Free Rice" and "FreePoverty" links on my left sidebar for details.)  And I suppose that some of my blog posts here could be seen as activist in nature, though they only reach a fairly limited audience.  But other than that, I really don't tend towards activism in general; I prefer gentle subversion.  It's more in tune with the rest of my personality.

But when I saw that #OnlyFatPeople was trending on Twitter this morning, I decided to mess around with it a little, via my recently-acquired account there.

I tweeted things like, "#OnlyFatPeople are used as visual shorthand for laziness, stupidity, greed, and incompetence. How lazy of the people who use them that way!" and "When #OnlyFatPeople are blamed for the world's problems, it makes me wonder what the people doing the blaming are hiding."  I know that my use of the tag probably did no good in the long run; most of the tweets on that tag are of a disgustingly abusive and overall bullshit nature, but it felt good to do it anyway.  And I noticed that quite a few other people were expressing their distaste for the popularity of the tag as well.

All in all, a good start to the day, I think.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"An eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind."

For what is probably an extremely obvious reason, I've been thinking a lot about capital punishment today.

I've never lived in a country where there is a death penalty; the last execution in Canada was carried out twenty years before I was born, and the practice was entirely abolished here six years before I was born.  But according to a relatively recent poll, a fair number of Canadians support capital punishment in theory, though less than half of us would actually like to see the measure reinstated here.  Personally, I hope I never see it reinstated.

There is no true justice in taking a life for a life.  There is nothing but bloodthirst and a hunger for revenge that is only thinly disguised as justice, using excuses that have not stood up to true scrutiny.  It is not an effective deterrent to crime.  (The idea of it being so is utterly ludicrous; after all, how many criminals actually plan to get caught?)  And there is still too great a possibility of executing people who aren't guilty of the crimes for which they've been convicted.  And at the most basic level, this is nothing more than state-sanctioned murder using justice as a flimsy excuse.  It is as grave an injustice as the crimes for which these people have been convicted.  Taking another life rights no wrongs.  All it does is turn other people into murderers.

I don't know whether Davis is guilty or innocent of this murder.  I know that the evidence that convicted him is by no means solid, and I know that it's very reasonable to doubt that he did it.  With no DNA evidence, no murder weapon, and seven of the nine witnesses who identified him later recanting or casting significant doubt on their testimonies, and as I hear that another man has actually confessed to the murder, I know that it's highly likely that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice in this case.  And I also know that even if he truly is guilty of the murder, the death penalty is too goes too far.  And to have dangled four execution dates over his head now, and to have granted three stays of execution and now a delay of execution (allegedly while the Supreme Court decides whether or not to grant a stay of execution) within minutes of the time at which he was supposed to die is tantamount to psychological torture.

This is wrong.  On every possible level, this is wrong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, Ten Years Later

You should know that I wasn't going to write this post.  Believe it or not, I'd said pretty much everything that I'd meant to say in the post I wrote a year ago today.  There are already so many perspectives out there on the September 11 terrorist attacks, and many of them are far deeper and far more powerful than I suspect that this is going to be.  And yet, I find myself compelled to write something.

Maybe it's the weather.  Today looks surprisingly like September 11 did a decade ago; then, as today, the weather where I live was clear and beautiful, a little cool but not actually cold, as we usually get during this time of transition between summer and autumn.  I didn't tend to pay much attention to the news in the morning in those days; I seldom had time to do more than wake up, get dressed, make sure I'd done my homework, grab an orange or a pomegranate from the fruit bowl, and zip out the door, since the university was a half-hour's drive away from home and we usually stopped at a Tim Horton's somewhere to pick up coffee, since someone had misplaced the power cord for our coffee pot.  That day was no different.  Until I got to school that morning and saw so many people packed into the student lounge and paying so much attention to the TVs, I had no idea that anything unusual was happening.

Or perhaps "unusual" isn't the right word...

I was eighteen years old when the attacks took place; my nineteenth birthday was still just a bit under two months away.  As such, I only knew the pre-9/11 world as a child and a teenager; the entirety of my adulthood, such as it is, has been spent in a post-9/11 world.  But I remember all too well the new kind of fear that I'd never seen any of the adults in my life (and there were lots of them) exhibit before, and I'd been following politics for several years by that point anyway, and I knew that the fallout of the September 11 terrorist attacks would inevitably lead to military retaliation and legislation that would take away the very freedom(s) that politicians would claim that it was supposed to protect; governments have tended to be very predictable in these matters.  And we saw it happen, from the war in Iraq (I still think it's utterly fascinating how "Get Osama!" turned into "Get Saddam!" so quickly) to the laughably-named PATRIOT Act in the USA to armed guards at the border to not being able to carry more than 100 ml of water with you on a plane to body-scan machines that can cause cancer but that even in Canada we're supposed to believe are a harmless and effective method of detecting weapons.  Paranoia is still high and we're still paying the price, even with Osama bin Laden now known to be dead.

I can't help but think even now, months after the military operation in which he died, that when he was killed, those who still supported him now have another reason to hate the Western Hemisphere; he's just as dangerous dead as he was alive.  His supporters have been given a martyr.

Even in Canada, you know, we still get a lot of "9/11!  9/11! 9/11!  Freedom isn't free!  Support the troops!  Support the war!  If you've got nothing to hide, you've got no need for privacy!  GIVE UP YOUR FREEDOM AND PRIVACY SO THE TERRORISTS WON'T WIN!!!" rhetoric.  I've never approved of it.  It's almost like we're still trying to discredit the already thoroughly-discredited rumour (and extremely ridiculous concept) that Canada let the terrorists into the USA.  (Among other things, even if they had come from here, it would have been the American border guards who let them into the country.)  It's always seemed to me that whatever goals the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks had in mind, they had to have known, at least, that governments around the world would react as they ultimately did, by feeling and embracing fear and using it for their own ends.  So we've seen essential freedoms and liberties eroded, more racism and racial profiling, encouragement of fear, and even Canada's been locked into at least one war that we had nothing to do with starting.  (And by the by, even though we haven't officially been involved in the Iraq war, I hear that we've sent some troops and resources there nonetheless, though we're mostly just still tied up in that mess in Afghanistan.)  And because of this fear, and all of these resources that could have been put to better use than being dedicated to killing brown people in the Middle East, and all of these policies and people treating all travellers as if they're criminals for simply wanting to visit another country (I remember border security and airline security before 2001, and while they could sometimes be invasive, I never got the feeling of hostility that I get whenever I travel to other countries now), I can't help but think that this "war on terrorism" has actually been a victory for those terrorists.  As Dana Scully said in the first X-Files movie, "the rational object of terrorism is to promote terror."  And that's exactly what happened.  The terrorists inspired terror, and politicians kept it going.

We live in a terrified world.  We've gotten used to it over the past decade, but it's no less true now than it was on that terrible day with the beautiful weather.  And now, ten years later, when we remember the violence of the day, I hope that there will be no (or at least very little) glamourisation of the day and of its fallout, including this "war on terror" that has no possible end and very little at all to recommend it.

As a personal observance, I've scheduled this post to appear at 9:30 AM, which is roughly the time when I walked into the student lounge and realized that the world was about to change in a terrible, dramatic way.  Delaying this post for a mere half hour seems a little strange, but at this time ten years ago I didn't know that anything was happening.  It seems right, if only for the same sort of reasoning that goes along with celebrating Remembrance Day at 11:00 AM.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Before I get on with this post, I should warn you that my depression has been kicking in again lately.  Right now, I just need to vent...


I started keeping a diary when I was eleven years old.  There were a couple of years when I would reserve the very last page in each book for a letter to myself at some future age; it was fun to imagine the type of life I might have back then.  I got the idea from a book by L.M. Montgomery (yes, the woman who wrote Anne of Green Gables); I think it was Emily's Quest.  When Emily was 14, she had written a letter to herself at age 24, asking herself about what her life was like now, and signed it:

Your Foolish,
Old Self

I did pretty much the same thing in my letters, right down to the signature.  And in case you're wondering what this has to do with anything, I should probably mention that one of the letters that I wrote to myself when I was fifteen was addressed to myself on a day that I'm now quite certain will never come: my wedding day.

I find it interesting, now, to think of the assumptions that I was still capable of making when I was fifteen.  I was so confident that eventually I'd have a job I loved, or liked at the very least, by some time earlier in my 20's.  (I'm 28 now, due to turn 29 in November.)  I thought that even though I wasn't exactly the prettiest girl in my grade at school, I would eventually start dating and find someone with whom I had enough mutual love, respect, and trust to marry them, and that they'd want to marry me.  Before I realized that for various reasons I'd be a terrible mother, and before I found out that there were a number of unpleasant genetic surprises in my family history, I did want children, though not very many; two at most.

The reality?  In spite of all the work that I put in at school, and continue to put into building up a résumé that might lead to a decent career, I have been unable to find a job since I graduated from teacher's college.  I have decided that I don't want children because I couldn't imagine it being even remotely ethical to have kids when I know that there's a good chance that they'll inherit something unpleasant from me, like a congenital heart defect (which I don't have, but because heart trouble runs in my family on both sides I am probably a carrier for it), and when I know that I couldn't possibly be a good mother: to put it bluntly, I'm too screwed up in the head.*  As for anything related to my love life, I dated a few times, but nothing ever really came of it.  I haven't had a date in ten years, actually, because in the past decade nobody I've been attracted to has been attracted to me.  I've been single so long that I don't really know how to be anything else.  Given my age and relative lack of experience, and given that every year that passes means that there's a greater likelihood that anyone who I could meet and be attracted to who was even remotely age-appropriate for me and not disgusted by the size of my body would already have formed a long-lasting relationship with someone else, I suspect that it's highly unlikely that I'll ever be anything else now.

All things considered, I feel somewhat inadequate and (since I haven't been able to find a job) totally useless and unworthy of that kind of relationship anyway.  Unemployed people, especially the chronically unemployed, like me, have a reputation for being worthless and lazy slackers who just sponge off of everyone else.  I wonder if the degree to which I have internalized that stereotype has anything to do with my feelings of inadequacy.  Goodness knows I've spent enough time berating myself for my lack of work.  As it is, and as much as I'm trying my hardest to make good changes in my life, there are just some times when I feel extremely lonely and a little powerless because in the past ten years, my personal failures and some outside circumstances have tended to combine in just such a way that I almost get what I want, but in the end, I don't because somebody else who deserves it more gets it instead.  Or, in the case of certain jobs that would have been perfect for me, not even being able to apply for what I want because they're only open to people on Employment Insurance or who are under 29 and have recently graduated from college or university (and this second one is a type of stipulation I don't remember seeing until I'd been out of school for about three years).  Or because even though they're entry-level positions, the employers are asking only for people with at least six months' worth of relevant job experience.

I am thoroughly tired of this.  Tired of not being good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or worthy enough.  For all the promise that I showed as a younger person, I have turned out to be a complete disappointment and I am ashamed of it.  There are some days when I feel like because of all of this, I'm a waste of time, space, and resources.  This is one of them.

And those letters I wrote to myself?  I've re-read them.  I'd laugh if it wasn't so overwhelmingly frustrating that practically nothing I hoped for when I wrote those letters has come to pass.

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*Edit for a slight clarification, Oct. 23 2011: it's not that I think it's my depression that makes it a bad idea for me to reproduce, or any other mental issues I may or may not have; I like kids and I generally tend to get along with them very well, which is particularly good because I am a teacher who is currently doing volunteer work in a primary-level classroom.  However, over the years my ability to trust other people has been severely hampered because of multiple extremely bad experiences with people I thought I could trust.  And as I know from experience, having had one parent whose inability to trust not only wrecked my parents' marriage but destroyed my ability to even trust myself for a very long time, a parent who cannot learn to trust their child's good judgement, no matter how well said child has demonstrated good judgement in the past, does a hell of a lot of damage to that child's self-esteem and ability to deal with the world.  I've struggled with the repercussions of that enough for myself; I would never want to inflict that kind of damage on another human being.  But because of that, and because of my serious doubts about whether I'd be even halfway competent as a mother, I believe that it would be a very bad idea indeed for me to have children.

Friday, August 26, 2011

On Coming Home

So I've been home for a few days now.  I wanted to blog several times when I was in Dublin, but my access to the internet was somewhat erratic; the hotel where we stayed wanted to charge an outrageous amount even just for a couple of days' worth of access, and we were there slightly over a week, so that didn't really work out that well; the few times I managed to hop online, it was generally to check my e-mail and it was with the not-strictly-legal use of an unprotected wireless network provided for the patrons of a café around the corner from the hotel.  So I do have a few ideas for posts that came from my time abroad, but for now I'd like to meditate a bit on coming home.

I looked forward to it while I was away, of course, but I was travelling with a great group of people who I see fairly often at home anyway, so I have to admit that while I missed my mother and my cats and my friends who weren't with us, I was far from being homesick.  I've always had a knack for getting settled in to most new places like they were home anyway, and because of all my walking and careful map research, within a couple of days I knew the immediate area close to where we stayed in Edinburgh and Dublin very nearly as well as I know most of my own city, and actually blended in so well that I got asked for directions several times.  But coming home after being away for so long is always a bit of a shock, and this time it contained a few more actual surprises than usual...

The first big one was finding out that Jack Layton, who had been leader of the federal branch of Canada's New Democratic Party (which, along with the Green Party, is the most progressive political party we've got at the moment), had died of his cancer.  I wasn't terribly shocked; I'd wondered if things were progressing in that direction when he resigned so soon after his party became Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.  But it was an unpleasant surprise nonetheless.  I didn't always agree with his policies, but I had a tremendous amount of respect for the man, and I hope that his successor as the head of the NDP is capable of continuing the work that he began; the NDP have been my country's conscience for eight years thanks to him, and with Stephen Harper enjoying the power that his majority government gives him, we are dearly going to need a very strong voice to say, "Hey, this isn't right!" when the Tories inevitably do something else that will not only weaken our social safety net, but hand even more money and power to those who need it the least.

The second was that my brother has rather suddenly broken up with his girlfriend of nearly six years (not a surprise because out of necessity she moved to another city last year, though they tried to keep their relationship together) and moved in with his new girlfriend.  Furthermore, he and one of his friends are hitchhiking from Thunder Bay to Toronto.  So I'm a little worried about him, but at least he's with a friend and there's some safety in numbers there, and I'm glad of that.

There are a few other personal surprises that I ran into, and I'm still recovering from a slight cold that I seem to have picked up in Ireland, and my sleep schedule is still kind of messed up, so coming home has been a little less pleasant than I had hoped that it would be.  But if that's the worst that I can say, then I suppose I'm doing all right.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Another Conversation With Another Evangelist

So I'm walking down Princes Street today when this tall older gentleman (I'd place him in his late 60's at the youngest) offers me a Gospel pamphlet.  I politely decline and he goes on his way, offering other people his pamphlets as he goes along.  And then I stop for awhile to look down at some of the gardens, which are really very beautiful, and he (apparently forgetting that he'd already spoken to me) offers me a pamphlet again.  I still decline, but this time, we talk.  I'm not entirely sure that my point (that most people are looking for wisdom in whatever way makes the most sense to them, and that people have to reach their own conclusions about what to believe or it just won't sit well with them) really gets through, but it is a pleasant and interesting chat nonetheless.  We part ways again, wishing each other a good day.

I have a habit of attracting people who want to talk about God, for some reason.  I'm not sure why.  (Maybe it's just a logical extension of my tendency to get drawn into conversations with random people.)  I know that a lot of these people tend to talk to anyone they can get near enough to say "Have you heard the word of the Lord lately?" to, but in general I seem to get more of these people talking to me than most people do.  Even though my own perspective on spiritual matters is inevitably different from theirs, and although I usually feel that I have to be quietly subversive rather than totally open about what I actually believe, I've always come away from these conversations with some form of  insight, and hoping that I've been able to give the other person the same thing.  

Actually, this tendency of mine used to drive my mother absolutely nuts before the JWs stopped coming 'round our place; I'd talk to them, but I'd always steer the conversation in whatever direction I wanted to go in, not following the JWs' planned spiel.  I have a feeling that it drove them a little nuts, too, which I have to admit was the main reason I did it...but then, since JWs tend to be the sort of proselytizers who really annoy me to begin with, I figure that the sheer entertainment value of de-railing their conversion attempts was a fair exchange for the annoyance of having them there in the first place.  Besides, even in those conversations, I usually came away with some new understanding, even if it was only a further understanding of the sort of belief that leads one person to arrogantly assume that their beliefs are the only Truth, and that anyone who doesn't believe what they do is wrong and should be converted and/or shunned.

Today, though, the insight, more of a gentle reminder, really, was that sooner or later, those of us who look for wisdom in the spiritual realm are generally looking for the same thing.  It doesn't matter what path we're walking, whether we're following an established one or blazing our own trail; as long as we hold on to the concepts of compassion, respect, and love for each other and the world, then what we're looking for is a way to build a better world altogether, and I'm not talking about the possibility of life after death, but this world, but with less poverty, corruption, and greed.

I know it's not going to happen in my lifetime, but as far as I'm concerned, that's no reason not to work for it anyway.  If humanity is to survive what's coming at us, we'll need that kind of a world, and people who are willing to work for it.  My conversation with that gentleman today reminded me of that, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Walking in Edinburgh...

This will probably be a fairly scattered collection of thoughts; a kind of mental potpourri, so to speak, so there won't be much structure...

The last time I was here, I was seventeen years old and not nearly as streetwise or as confident as I am now.  I wasn't quite a nervous wreck, but I did tend to stay close to my mother, and I spent most of our day in Edinburgh trying to assure her that, contrary to all expectation, we actually would be OK and we wouldn't be completely lost in a strange city without finding anyone else from our group ever again, or having a way to get back to where we were staying in Glasgow.  With that kind of memory to deal with, I'm not surprised that my experience with Edinburgh so far has been much more positive this time around.

I did a lot of walking yesterday.  So much, in fact, that when I traced the route I'd taken on Google Earth when I got back to the hotel, it told me that I'd very nearly walked ten kilometres.  I'd had a definite destination in mind, but my walk took me to some unexpected places (including Calton Hill, which I'd intended to see anyway), and I started thinking about how much had changed in my life since I'd last seen a number of the places that I saw yesterday.

When I was seventeen, I hadn't yet come to terms with the idea that one could be both Pagan and Christian; I was still very much an either/or type of person, and I'd chosen Paganism, even looking down on what I thought of as my Christian past, even as it still existed in my present.  I had self-defence skills, thanks to my years of judo class, but not the observation skills that are so valuable when you're in a big place with a lot of other people.

I was silly enough to forget my umbrella yesterday.  Naturally, the rain was absolutely pouring down.  A total stranger offered to lend me her umbrella for a few minutes; I declined, because there was no point in pretending that I wasn't already completely soaked, but I appreciated the gesture anyway.  We had a nice little chat, though, before we each went our separate ways.

This is my fourth trip to the UK, and my third trip here to sing Evensong, though it's my first with my church choir (the other two were with my community choir, which is directed by the same person as my church choir), and the first time we've sung in Scotland.  I know that it might seem that I should feel more casual about it; after all, I've done similar things before.  I've even been here, in Edinburgh, before, though it was only for a few hours and I didn't get to see much more of it than a tiny bit of Princes Street and the Royal Mile.  But every day I've been here so far has been full of new experiences and things to wonder at; in such a short time, I've come to know at least this small-ish section of the city very well, and I love it.  It's such a different type of big city than what we have at home; I have yet to see a single skyscraper, and there are trees everywhere.  I can't ignore the existence of poverty and inequality here, of course; as much as I've loved being here in Edinburgh, I have not deceived myself into thinking that this is some magical faerie city where nothing ever goes wrong and where nothing bad ever happens to anybody.  (I'm pretty sure that even a real magical faerie city probably wouldn't be like that, anyway.)  Even I'm not that naïve.  But I am very glad to be here, and the past few days have been wonderful.  I fully expect that when we return home after our time in Dublin next week, we'll be jet-lagged but mentally and spiritually refreshed, and we'll be better musicians for having spent so much time singing in unfamiliar spaces.

You know, I absolutely love Evensong.  There's very little preaching and a lot of singing.  But Evensong last night was particularly wonderful; there's a lot of room for enthusiastic and powerful singing in the Sumsion Mag and Nunc* in A, and our choirmaster was evidently having a lot of fun with it, signalling a lot of crescendos (crescendi?) and sudden bursts of high volume by mouthing "Come on!" at us. :D  I'm not sure about some of the other singers, but the Gloria from that particular Mag and Nunc (Sumsion used the same one for both, but many Mags and Nuncs have two different settings for the Gloria) was so much fun to sing that I almost felt like dancing for joy...which would not have been appropriate behaviour for a singer in an Anglican choir, alas.

And that's where my thoughts have been leading me today.  It's only a little after 10:00 AM over here, though, so there's plenty of time for more unusual lines of thought. :)

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*Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.  In brief, the "Magnificat" is that "My soul doth magnify the Lord" bit that Mary is supposed to have said after Gabriel told her that she was going to have God's baby, and the "Nunc Dimittis" is a prayer that starts with "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word."  They're both followed by the Gloria: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost..." etc.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Meditations of a Travelling Christo-Pagan

So, here I am, sitting in a surprisingly comfortable chair at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.  If all goes well, in a few hours, I'm going to be boarding a flight bound for Heathrow Airport, and then travelling to Scotland (Edinburgh, to be precise) for a week, with a week in Dublin, Ireland, to follow.  It's the first time I've gone on such a long trip to such far-away places since 2005, and while i've noticed that there have been a few changes in the way that air travel is conducted here, for the most part I still feel as nervous-comfortable with it (if that makes any sort of sense) as I ever did.  Nervous, because there is always so much that can go wrong with any given trip, but comfortable because I'm something of a gypsy at heart (apparently some of my ancestors a long way back actually were Gypsies, by the way); I love to travel.

But then, I'm a white person travelling with a group of other white people, so that's bound to make a few things a little bit easier.

This isn't going to turn into another one of my long rambles about privilege, by the way; I know you're probably getting a little tired of those by now!  It was just an observation that I felt was worth making.

Anyway, the reason why I'm travelling is that my church choir is going "on the road," so to speak; we'll be singing at churches in Scotland and Ireland while we're away.  I anticipate, as I have experienced on other, similar trips, a good experience overall, spiritually and otherwise.  I love singing in old churches like the ones where we'll be; somehow it helps me to put so much into perspective.  In the next couple of weeks, I'll probably be blogging about this in rather more depth than I am now  But I'd like to note, at the beginning of the journey (sort of, anyway; I flew to Pearson from the airport near my hometown this morning), that although I am understandably nervous about being away from my own country for so long, and about having decided to bring my laptop with me, I'm also very much looking forward to seeing Scotland again, and to seeing Ireland for the first time.  I have roots in both countries, after all, and besides, I'm with a great group of people.

This is going to be fun. :)