Friday, December 28, 2012

Some belated reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

This may or may not make me a terrible person, but it actually took a few days for the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT to sink in.  Nonetheless, seven women and twenty children died two weeks ago today.  By rights, they should still be alive.

I didn't hear about it on the day when it happened; after a fairly busy morning, I spent the bulk of the afternoon and evening with a close friend that day, and since checking the news isn't generally one of our priorities when we spend time together, I didn't hear about it until at all until the day after.  And then it seemed that it was almost all I heard about; as I understand it, more detailed stories were then beginning to emerge, both true and untrue, about the shooter, about his actions, and about the women (none of the people he killed were men) and children whose lives he so cruelly took.  And in all honesty, it didn't really sink in until a few days later, when the principal at the school where I'm doing my volunteer work handed me a bulletin that was put together by the school board about dealing with questions that the students may ask about dealing with this tragedy, as well as our own reactions to the news.

You know, I was sixteen years old when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on their killing spree at Columbine High School in Colorado.  I still remember the shock that I felt, still remember the backlash against people who dressed predominantly in black, or who happened to wear long black coats.  (And this was in a school whose official "colours" were black and grey; we wore uniforms in the school's colours, for goodness' sake, and a good many of the more comfortable shirts happened to be black!)  I remember the rumours that went around, both about the Columbine tragedy and possible copycats at our own school.  Most of all, though, I remember being completely unable to understand just why anyone would do anything that horrible, why they would take lives that weren't theirs to take.

It may be a mark of the cynicism that I developed for a few years, but although I'd never do such a thing myself (I'm fundamentally a non-violent person), I think I understand a bit better.  There is such a glorification of guns and violence in Western culture; it's not as prevalent in Canada as it is elsewhere, but it exists nonetheless.  To have a gun is to have a kind of power that it seems many people find to be intoxicating.  Shoot someone, and you can utterly change their life, or even end it entirely.  This doesn't excuse the crime.  It doesn't even really explain it.  But it certainly makes it easier for tragedies like the shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook to happen in the first place.  Until this stops, until people stop celebrating guns and violence as a mark of power and masculinity, these things will keep happening.  And despite anything that the NRA might say about the matter, arming teachers is not the solution.  If anything, it would only open the door to further violence.

Because I'm a teacher myself, and because I'm currently working with children who are very close to the age of the kids who were killed in Newtown two weeks ago, I can't avoid the fact that this tragedy hits very close to home.  Shootings like this are rare.  They happen even less frequently in Canada than they do in the USA.  (That said, we passed the 23rd anniversary of the massacre at the École Polytechnique de Montréal at the beginning of this month, and there were a number of bomb scares at schools in my city in 1995, though no explosives were ever actually found.)  But we have procedures to be followed in the event that something like this does happen, and I work with at least two students who are, even at their young age, enthusiastic about first-person-shooter video games.  One of these students has anger management issues, though he's getting better at handling them, and because he is at present a fundamentally good person, I do not ever want to hear that he has turned out like Klebold, Harris, Marc Lepine, or Adam Lanza.

It's sobering to think that, as rare as these things are, they could conceivably happen to me, or to any of my friends or acquaintances who are teachers.  It's heartbreaking to know that they still happen at all.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Quick PSA

If one's sexual orientation were a choice, it would still be wrong to condemn people for not being heterosexual.

If one's gender identity were a choice, it would still be wrong to threaten and assault people who feel that they were born with the wrong type of body.

If one's race were a choice, it would still be wrong to hate non-white people for not being white.

If having a disability were a choice, it would still be wrong to pick on people whose bodies don't work the way that we're told that they're supposed to.

If poverty were a choice, it would still be wrong to make the lives of poor people even harder than they already are by gutting the social assistance programs that make it possible for them to survive and sometimes even give them a chance to escape poverty.

If body size were a choice, it would still be wrong to bully people whose body size falls outside of the relatively narrow range of sizes that is currently considered to be "normal," whether their body is thinner or fatter than the current ideal.

Do you see the pattern here?

All of these characteristics are things that are not necessarily under the control of the people who possess them.  All of these things are things that people use as excuses to harass, bully, intimidate, and abuse other people.  None of them are good enough.  There is no justification for such behaviour.  Not even if you think that they chose these conditions.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Aliens are found, and known, and named...

Somewhat ironically, there are few times when I feel more Pagan than when the minister at my church says something that reminds me that views that I hold are fundamentally non-Christian in nature.  In a recent homily, he spoke of cycles: the seasons, the great cycle of life, and the concept of the turning of the wheels of fate and the saying that "what goes around comes around."  And he reminded us that this is fundamentally not a Christian way of thinking, and spoke (in a way that I'm sure he meant to be comforting, because I know him well enough to know that he is a kind person who means well) of God's plan not depending on the arbitrary turning of the wheels of Fate.

Of course, I found that to be, er, less than comforting.

After all, to me, as a Pagan who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, the Wheel of the Year as it's traditionally presented makes sense more often than not, and even the Christian calendar has a great deal in common with it, even if the end of the Christian year (I'm talking about the beginning of Advent, not the beginning of a new numbered year) comes about a month late by our reckoning.  I've seen demonstrations of "what goes around comes around," and even the Christians have sayings that come from their Bible that work out to basically the same thing.

Do not be decieved; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  (Galatians 6:7)

You shall love your neighbour as yourself.  (Mark 12:31)

And besides, I never really took to the idea of our lives being guided and shaped by God.  I was always a firm believer in free will, even before I knew what it was called, and if I have any belief at all, it's that the Gods give us the clay, but it's up to us to shape it, though because some things do depend on luck, or at least on the decisions of other people, which really can be arbitrary at times, other hands can and do interfere with our work.

And ultimately, I also felt he was ignoring the very cycle that even now the Church, however half-heartedly, still demonstrates in the life-death-rebirth narrative of Jesus that so closely resembles the Pagan Wheel of the Year, thanks to a good deal of appropriation on both sides.  So I could not accept most of what he said in his homily that day as truth.  And it's times like these that remind me that in some ways, despite my four wonderful years as part of my church choir, and despite the place that I have in my church's community (if only because I've only ever told one person who was associated with that choir that I am a Christo-Pagan, and he's an Agnostic who eventually ended up playing the organ at another Anglican church in our city, which, to people who know him, really isn't as strange as it sounds) I am still in some ways very much an outsider.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@  --,--'--@

On a vaguely related note, recently it was also brought home to me that as much as I still sometimes feel like an ousider in the church of my choosing, I am also very much an outsider in the church of my baptism.  A couple of weeks ago, I provided some music for a Roman Catholic funeral.  The service was pretty standard, though I found out on the day that there was no Eucharist involved.  (This came as a relief; although I knew what to expect, having been raised Catholic, I didn't want to be put in the slightly uncomfortable place of being a visble part of the proceedings, being obviously familiar with Catholic ritual, and yet also being unwilling to take communion.  After all, in Catholicism, being a heretic is grounds for automatic excommunication; so is being a schismatic.  Because of the way the Roman Catholic Church defines these things, I'm technically both in more than one way, and I'm unrepentantly so as well.)  As startling as it was that the once-familiar responses to things said by the priest (who I remember as a priest-in-training who celebrated his first Mass when I was ten years old; how time flies) came so easily to my lips even after over a decade of absence from the Roman Catholic Church, it was even more startling to realize how foreign Catholicism now seems.

I don't regret leaving.  I can't support a church that condemns same-sex marriage and the ordination of women while concealing generations of child abuse by its priests.  I can't support an organization that views me as a lesser being just because I was born with ovaries rather than testicles, and would eagerly condemn me to Hell for being a woman with the capacity to be sexually and romantically attracted to women as well as men.  I can't support people who would rather see me die than allow me to have an abortion should it prove to be necessary to preserve my life, which is what happened to Savita Halappanavar late last month as a direct result of the Roman Catholics' total opposition to abortion under any circumstances.  There is much good in many individual Catholics, of course, but having left the church, I find that I cannot go back.  Not while these injustices are permitted to stand.

There are some things that I miss, of course.  For example, during the consecration of the bread and the wine, there are things written into the service that I find to be almost, well, Pagan.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this bread to offer, which Earth has given and human hands have made.  It will become for us the bread of life.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

Priest: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.  Through your goodness, we have this wine to offer: fruit of the vine and work of human hands.  It will become our spiritual drink.

Congregation: Blessed be God forever.

I miss this acknowledgement of how the bread and wine came to be.  I miss the acknowledgement that whatever the story behind this ritual that after all these years still seems rather cannibalistic, the actual bread and wine that are to be consumed came from the Earth and were made the way that they are by human beings.  These few little lines always made me feel like the whole thing was more natural, and perhaps a little less creepy (despite the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation, that is) than the Anglican phrasing of the consecration of the bread and wine, particularly in the Book of Common Prayer.

However—these are small things.  And although the words and the ritual of that funeral service were almost as familiar to me as the sight of my own face in the mirror, I felt oddly disconnected from them.  I was a stranger there.  Perhaps it's a mark of how far my journey has taken me from the church of my childhood.

Being a Christo-Pagan puts me into an odd place; I don't entirely belong to Christianity or Neopaganism, and there are people who would argue that in trying to be both, I am truly neither.  But then, if I had let other people define my path for me, I would still be a practising Roman Catholic.  Instead, I'm constructing my own path, and although it isn't a perfect one, at least it ensures that I always remember that compassion is priceless, that it is necessary to take care of the Earth, and that people whose beliefs differ from my own are not necessarily my enemies.  There's value in that, I think.

Monday, November 12, 2012

War Is Not Great

Once again, Remembrance Day has come and gone.  (Or Veterans Day, or Armistice Day, depending on where you live, if you live in a place where November 11 is a day to remember the end of the First World War.)  And once again, I have a few thoughts.

The Great War, the one that this day was originally set aside to remember, officially began 98 years, three months, two weeks, and three days ago.  It officially came to an end 94 years ago today.  After all this time, some of the battlefields of this war remain dangerous, thanks to unexploded shells, the possibility (still!) of being exposed to mustard gas, and other assorted remains of the ammunition used in the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles, signed the following June, set up many of the conditions that not only made the Second World War possible, but, arguably, inevitable.  And although I can't speak for anything before 1988 or so (my first school-hosted Remembrance Day celebration), as far back as I can remember observing Remembrance Day, I remember the most powerful message being "don't ever let a tragedy of this magnitude happen again."  I've read that in the aftermath of the First World War itself, the message was very similar.

But that has slowly changed, and I don't like the shape that the changes are taking.  The focus has slowly slipped from "don't let it happen again" to "worship the soldiers; they died for your FREEDOM!!!" And a day that was once anything but a glorification of war has gradually become precisely that.  Instead of "never again," it's "be proud and grateful."  And in Canada, we're told that this war, our first as a nation, was (despite all that came before and after) the defining moment in our nation's history, the time when we actually became our own country.

As if it takes a war to confer the status of nationhood upon the people who live on any of the (largely arbitrary) sections of land that we call "countries."

There's no doubt that the First World War was one of the defining events of the twentieth century.  Its effects still reach us today, nearly a century after it officially began.  And the Second World War was no less important.  But when all the wars after that aren't considered to be as notable (especially as the second one becomes more a matter of what's written in the history books rather than a matter of lived experience), and when my country is being encouraged to think of ourselves as a warrior nation instead of the peacekeepers that we had once been proud to be, I can't help but think that we're doing a great dishonour to the very people we are supposed to be remembering and honouring on Remembrance Day.

They didn't die for values like freedom or national pride or any other impressive-sounding word.  Whatever their personal reasons for going to war, they died because of politics.  Soldiers are still dying because of politics and because of politicians who would rather send women and men to their deaths than work out their differences around a conference table, where these things are ultimately decided anyway once far too many lives have been lost or irreparably damaged.

And don't forget the civilians.  They, too, make sacrifices and they, too, are directly affected by wars.  It is their homes that are destroyed, their fields that are made unsafe for growing food, and, all too often, it is their lives that are brutally ended and then brushed off as collateral damage.  Unimportant.  A minor detail.  They are never remembered at these ceremonies as the dead and wounded soldiers are, though their lives were of no less value and their sacrifices were no less complete.  And the civilians whose friends or family members are sent off to war have a significant chance of losing somebody who is profoundly important to them.

This is the year 2012 C.E., and we should know better than to glorify war, particularly after the many conflicts of the twentieth century.  But the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Syria, and the military conflicts inYemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mexico, and Colombia, among many others, prove that we have not learned our lesson.  When it comes down to it, "they have something we want, so let's attack them for it" or "they're doing something we don't like, so let's attack them for it" or even "they aren't a democracy like us, so let's attack them for it and try to force their country to make itself over into our own image" (which of course has gone so well for everybody involved) is still a much louder message than "don't let another war happen" ever has been.  But war has no winners and although it is sometimes a necessary evil (people do, or ought to, have the right to defend themselves against aggressors, and it is a good thing to actually help nations out who have been unjustifiably attacked, after all), it is never ever a force for actual good.  In war, there is simply evil and less evil.  That's it.

This does not mean, of course, that I do not have respect for veterans or their dead comrades.  I do.  I simply choose to acknowledge that the sacrifices that they (and the civilians who were caught in the crossfire) made should not have been necessary.

I will end this rant with the following video.  It was released in 1990, and while the lyrics do not acknowledge the fact that women have taken part in military conflicts and the music itself now sounds a little dated, the message is still an important one.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Importance of Words

I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance of words.

There are a lot of words with which I tend to be very careful.  For one thing, I don't tend to swear a lot.  Part of this, of course, is due to the fact that I work with children.  (I've always thought that it was rather interesting that these words are considered to be actively harmful to kids, and I've always rather preferred the idea of teaching them how to use these words responsibly.  Still, I'm not a parent myself—nor do I ever intend to be—so, particularly in the interests of keeping my job and obtaining better work in the future, I think I'll defer to society's conventions in this case.)  But it's also largely because I feel that overusing swear words causes them to lose their power, both therapeutically speaking and for the kind of emphasis that sometimes only a really taboo word can provide.  Being careless with swearing might be an easy habit to get into, but I don't think that I'd ever really benefit from it, even if words like that coming from a face that looks as innocent as mine sometimes does have a certain amount of inherent comic value.

There are other words that I'm careful with.  Faith.  Truth.  Holiness.  Freedom.  All of these words have been misused in many ways.  Faith is used as an excuse to stop thinking, or for preventing other people from thinking.  Truth—as I understand the term, anyway—is rarely absolute, frequently subject to interpretation, and claimed by so many people, all of whom hold beliefs that contradict the beliefs of somebody else who claims with equal fervency that they are the ones who know the truth, and of course they can all back up their opinions with proof, some of which is convincing, some of which is not, and most of which could really be interpreted in more than one way.  Holiness has been used as an excuse to kill other people, ostensibly because of their beliefs (which is bad enough in and of itself, of course), but, perhaps more importantly, because they had resources or access to valuable trade routes that the aggressors wanted to claim for their own.  Freedom as a concept has been used as a reason to take people's actual freedom away (witness the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks).  The misuse of words has the potential to do real harm.

Evil and hate are also words with which I prefer to be careful.  I don't call anyone evil; that word makes it too easy to forget that they're human, too.  I have no problem with calling people's actions evil.  But calling people themselves evil makes it too easy to dehumanize them and to risk becoming as bad as I believe that their actions are.  And I don't hate anybody.  It's too exhausting; it takes too much energy to hate, and I'd rather be using my energy to do things that help rather than harm.  In the end, hate isn't worth it.

But the word with which I am perhaps the most careful is one of the most over-used and misused words in the English language.  It's a big word, for all that it only has four letters.  It means so many things.  It affects so many people.  And at certain times, and in certain places, it can even hold the power of life and death.


I use it colloquially, of course.  I don't really love the internet, or my second-generation iPod Touch, or my favourite skirt, or any of my jewellery.  Actually loving things or concepts is an alien idea to me.  Things are things.  They're useful for a while and then they're recycled or thrown away.  (You can probably guess my preference in this matter; Pagans often tend to be environmentalists to varying degrees, and I'm no exception, even if I can't always make the choices that I'd prefer to make—for example, composting is great, but it's not necessarily a wise thing to do when you live in an area with a decent-sized bear population.)  Loving things holds you back.

But in a truer sense, I almost never use the word "love."  I've written at length about this subject before, but just to recap: this is partly because I perceive loving and falling in love to be very different things—perhaps now more than ever.  To me, love isn't just a feeling—it's an action, too; it's felt and it's shown.  And there are as many kinds of love as there are ways to show it.  This wider view of what the word "love" means is good, of course, and it works for me, but it also complicates things.  There are some people in my life to whom I would very much like to say "I love you," but a certain fear of misunderstandng holds me back.  When the only forms of love that are widely acknowledged are familial love and romantic love, and when the person to whom I would like to say "I love you" isn't a known relative (besides being a member of the same species, of course), it would be easy for them to assume that I mean the emotional and hormonal mix that we refer to as "falling in love."  Only one of them would be right, and that person would assume—quite incorrectly—that I wanted to act on it though I know full well that those feelings are exceedingly unlikely to be returned.  That's not what I want.  In circumstances like this, a solid friendship with somebody I trust is wonderful enough.

Being careful with words can be difficult.  It can be maddening, especially because I don't actually think with words, and translating the concept that I'm thinking of to the most accurate word I know sometimes leads me to make odd word choices, do strange things to my spoken grammar, and even occasionally use the wrong word because it looks, sounds, or feels like the one that I really mean to say.  (I sometimes feel like at any moment, somebody will quote Inigo Montoya at me.)  But I believe that it's worth it.  After all, words have power, and they have more power than people often give them credit for.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Having so recently written so much about love, I now find my thoughts turning to what's commonly considered to be its opposite.

I don't understand hate, except perhaps in the most abstract of terms.  I understand anger, yes, and bitterness.  (Perhaps I understand bitterness a little too well.)  I understand frustration.  I understand jealousy up to a point, but I don't understand letting it get to the point where it causes a problem.  I understand fear.  I understand suspicion.  I understand dislike.  I understand self-loathing—depression taught me that much.  I understand pain.  And I certainly understand distrust.  I've felt all of these things, though not always to the same degree.  But I don't understand hate.

How does it work?  What sows the seed?  What makes people actively want to harm other people, or rejoice when terrible things happen to them?  What convinces them that hate is right?  How do they justify it?  Why do they embrace it?

I just can't quite get my mind around the concept of such strong negative feelings about another human being that suddenly they don't seem human anymore, or worthy of the consideration that one would give to another person.  I don't understand the willingness to kill people for being different, or for having other ideas, or for any other reason except perhaps self-defence.

Sometimes I wonder if this means that I can't really understand love, either.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Wow, I hadn't realized that it had actually been so long since the last time I posted here.  (I've been working on a few posts, which probably helped preserve for me the illusion of actually having posted.)  For those who may wish such reassurance, let me say that I've been well, and even a little bit busy, between working on a cause in which I deeply believe with a few friends, writing a long-ish story for a fan fiction exchange in which I'm taking part this year, making crochet hats and scarves for various care packages to be sent out this winter, and (as of this week) doing some volunteer work in a local elementary school.

Anyway, some time ago, somebody found this blog with the search term "Pagan thoughts about love."  I can't speak for most Pagans, of course, but here's what this Christo-Pagan thinks about love.

First of all, I think that in Western culture, we've given the word a terrible reputation.  I think that we've commercialized it, made it into an excuse, cheapened it, bound it up in far too many limitations, and yet abused and overused it to such a ridiculous degree that the word itself doesn't mean much, at least in certain circumstances.  When it's not the type of love reserved for family members, which rarely enters into conversations about love anyway, we've turned the meaning of the word "love" into something that's purely hormonal, something that looks and feels mysterious but is really nothing more than the effect of various chemical compounds on the brain.  We've taken an action and turned it into a feeling that is at once sought-after and held in disdain.  We've privileged some forms of it and dismissed too many others as unimportant because they don't usually involve sexual arousal.  To love, we're told, is to burn, to feel passion and the "urge to merge," and if you really love someone, that feeling will never go away.  We're told that to really love, there has to be only one other person involved, and we have to be everything that they need, and they have to be everything that we need.  Friends (especially friends who are of the same gender and sex as your partner) and family are nice but unnecessary when you've found that ONE BIG LOVE.  And then we're surprised when, crushed by all of these expectations, what we thought was love did not stand the test of time.

All in all, I think that the word "love" has gotten a pretty raw deal.

Furthermore, I think that love itself is not a feeling (or at least, it's not only a feeling).  Affection is a feeling.  Lust is an experience.  But love is an action, something that's shown, not merely felt.  Saying "I love you" ought not to just mean "I feel a lot of affection for you" and/or "I want to have sex with you."  It should also mean something along the lines of "I trust you, and you can trust me.  I'll help you when you need my help.  Even when we're not getting along, you're important to me."  Without actions, without a solid foundation of trust and mutual support, what we often think of as "love" isn't quite it.

I've also been thinking lately (again) about the nature of what's known as unrequited love.  (For reasons that are probably made obvious by the paragraphs preceding this one, I dislike the use of the word "love" in this term, but at the moment it's the only phrase I know that describes this particular experience; I'm aware of what limerence is, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)  I admit that I have at least one personal reason for doing so; I'm kind of on the edge of it at the moment, and I'm fighting it.  So far, though I admit that there's always the possibility that I'm fooling myself, I think I'm winning.  It's difficult, though.  Late last year, I met someone who's proven to be an intelligent, funny, and compassionate person.  We hit it off more or less right away, and he and I have become fairly good friends in the course of the past year.  I knew that I was attracted to him, but I shrugged it off; I'm aware that for various reasons, I'm not exactly the type of person he'd normally consider dating.  As our friendship developed, occasionally that attraction bothered me a little, but I've long been of the opinion that unrequited attractions, and even what we call "unrequited love," do not necessarily ring out the death knell for a friendship, especially if the friendship itself is solid and both (or all, depending on the situation) parties are still invested in maintaining it.

The thing that annoys me the most about the way that people see unrequited love is that there's this automatic assumption that you have to want the feelings to be requited, and you'll be totally miserable when, time and again, it's proven that they are not.  It's as if everything goes to hell once the hormones kick in.  And although I'm not speaking from current experience, my past experiences have shown me that this doesn't necessarily have to be the case.  Even if you can't control your actual feelings, you can choose how you will react to them and how you will deal with them.

Meanwhile, practically everything I've read about unrequited love suggests that it's one of the Greatest Lifetime Disasters of Humanity, as if it's automatically a cruel and humiliating experience that absolutely destroys one's life.  Call me a heartless bitch if you like, but I don't think that unrequited love even ranks in the top ten disasters that a human being can experience.  Sure, it can be unpleasant, and I'm sure that there are people for whom the experience is worse than it's ever been for me, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world.

In any case, as I've said before, love itself is more than a feeling.  It's action.  It's compassion.  It's mutual trust and support.  Under certain circumstances, it can involve lust.  But what it never is, is selfish, jealous, possessive, or manipulative.  Anyone who acts in those ways and says it's because of love is a liar.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"...this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

Perhaps the title for this post wasn't the best thought-out, given that it's arguably racist (it's a quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest, and Prospero's talking about his slave, Caliban, who is frequently portrayed as being non-white).  Nonetheless, it was the only title that came to mind that I didn't absolutely hate, so I hope that you'll forgive the infraction.

The thing is, a number of things that I've been seeing, reading, and experiencing have lately had me thinking about the darker side of people's personalities.  Regardless of whether we admit to having them, we all do.  All of us have thoughts and desires that, if we're basically decent human beings, disturb us or make us wonder if we're really the good people that we want to be.  (Or, if you want to be cynical or are experiencing a period of self-doubt, you might say that these things make us wonder if we're really the good people that we pretend to be.)  Nobody thinks or acts with perfect love at all times.  And yet, so many people have such a drive to be kind, to make this world a better place, despite these things we try to keep buried, to hide from others and perhaps especially ourselves.

It's such a temptation to pretend that these less-admirable qualities of ours don't exist, and it occurs to me that it is not necessarily a wise thing to do.

Wouldn't it be better if we were able to openly acknowledge these things about ourselves?  How effective is it to bury these things, knowing that they're never really all that far away from the surface?  I'm not saying that we should actually indulge these harmful aspects of ourselves, but I do think that it's far healthier to admit that they exist and try to actually live with them rather than to try to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they don't exist, despite the strange shapes that they make under the surface that we're futilely pretending is flat.  And in fact, perhaps the one positive thing that I've found has come as a result of having experienced serious, long-term depression is this: I've been forced to confront these demons of mine.  I've never had the luxury of ignoring them.  And every time I feel like I'm going to relapse, I have to confront them again, if only because I know from experience that if I try to ignore my personal demons, my mental and emotional state will only get worse.

I won't list them, but anyone who's been following this blog for a while will probably be able to figure out what at least one or two of them are.

When my character flaws come to surface as they occasionally do, I deal with the problems that result in several different ways.  Usually, my first impulse is to write out what's bothering me; if I can put what I'm feeling into words, it will almost always calm me so that I can deal with my emotions in a more productive manner.  (In the words of John Donne: "Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,/ For he tames it, who fetters it in verse."*)  The results of this tactic, of course, sometimes end up here, or in a locked post on a blog that I write on another site under another name.  Sometimes I'll resort to meditation, or if I can't concentrate on that because I'm too upset, I amuse myself by playing Vice City in order to do some stupid car tricks (I've edited a couple of the cars so that they're almost indestructible and will travel far faster than their default settings would allow for), picking up my violin and playing very fast; tunes like Catharsis or a fiddle adaptation of The Hellbound Train are particular favourites of mine for moments of intense frustration, perhaps especially because I don't play them perfectly, or, if I can be reasonably sure that nobody will hear me, singing something with a lot of high notes—or even one very cathartic high note, like "Stay" by Shakespears Sister. (That note actually is in my range, though I don't so much "hit" it as "pulverize" it, so it's not actually a sound that you ever want to hear me make.  Still, I often feel better after I've sung that song because it just feels good to produce that high note.)  And when all else fails, I take a good long walk, moving as fast as I can for as long as my feet are willing to carry me.  And then I rest for a while, think (or write) about what's been bothering me, and make my way back home.

I know that none of these things will ever solve whatever problem I'm encountering, but I still consider them to be a good start; they give me a chance to tame the negative emotions that I'm experiencing so that I can actually think clearly enough to do something about whatever is causing the problem.  It's my form of acknowledging those demons of mine without actually letting them take over, especially as most of my character flaws tend to be emotional in nature.

I'm not suggesting that everyone has to do these things, of course.  However, I do think that, rather than just ignore one's shadow side or try to pretend it doesn't exist, it's far more practical and constructive to take a good look at it—shine a bright enough light so that it can be seen, so to speak—and come up with ways to deal with it.  It's a profoundly uncomfortable processs, of course, but I would argue that it's also a necessary one.

After all, it's awfully difficult to figure out precisely what darkness and light really are unless you've taken a good, hard look at both.  Or at least, that's been my experience.

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*"The Triple Fool"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Enough Already!

Courtesy of a friend's Facebook feed: here is something that makes me very, very angry.  And courtesy of the group in whose photo album that picture is posted, here's a statement about Christianity that starts out with a fair point, though one that's a bit of a straw man in places, but which descends into little more than a slightly more eloquent version of "these people are all scum."

I realize that a group with the name "Strong Intelligent Women Choosing Equality & Freedom Instead Of Religion" is hardly going to be sympathetic to anything that even has a slight whiff of religion to it.  I understand that they have a certain interest in portraying themselves as being more intelligent than people of any kind of faith, and that they will prefer to see religion as an oppressive and evil force that holds no value in their lives and ought not to be valuable to anyone.  And in all fairness, given the fact that I left the Roman Catholic Church for some similar reasons, I admit that I can even sort of see their point.  Still, it makes me angry that people who see themselves as intelligent and strong are so adamant that anyone who hasn't embraced atheism as they have has to be stupid and malicious.

It's not just the repetition of these tired old stereotypes and attacks—and I do view the way that all Christians are routinely equated with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church or the guy holding the sign in that first picture as a sort of attack, as by far most of the people I've known in my life who are Christians are actually pretty decent people, with (gasp!) functional brains and well-developed consciences—that makes me angry.  It's the fact that so many Christians, people with whom I share some elements of belief, are expected to be judgemental and misogynistic anti-intellectual assholes, particularly since so many vocal and/or high-profile Christians insist on being judgemental and misogynistic anti-intellectual assholes.  It's the way that it's so popular to either embrace the worst hateful, misogynistic, and destructive things (and it's a decided understatement to say that there are some absolutely awful things in the Bible) or harp on the horrible stuff as if that's all there is.

On both sides, and in very different ways, there often seems to be a willing ignorance about (or perhaps even the suppression of) the kinder, gentler things that appear in the Bible.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye.
—Matthew 7:1-5

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  Then the righeous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  And the king will answer them, 'Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'
—Matthew 25:34-40

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
—Luke 12:48

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

These passages, and ones like them, are the reasons why I'm able to blend the basic religious framework in which I grew up with the more Earth-centred, female-friendly, and inclusive spirituality that I developed in my years as a total Pagan.  This is why I haven't totally abandoned Christianity and this is why I believe that it is, at its most basic level, compatible with my Pagan beliefs and practices.  There's love there, and compassion, too.  There are reminders that no matter how self-centred we can get, we are not the centre of the universe and we owe other people, and the world itself, our kindness and generosity.  And the more we have, the more we have a duty to share, or at least to work for a world in which those who do not have as much as we do will still have a decent quality of life.

Don't tell me that I can't believe in these things, or that I can't possibly acknowledge the importance of science (I do), or that I'm a misogynist or an anti-choicer or a person who thinks that women ought to shut up and be kept pregnant and dependent on men (I'm not) just because to me, one of the faces of the Divine is Jesus of Nazareth.  If you do, you're doing yourself no favours and you're doing me (and people like me) a lot of harm.

It's one thing to dislike Christianity because of the bad things that it's been used as an excuse for, and because of the less-than-compassionate aspects of the Bible.  That's fair game.  But to hate all of it outright, to blast it (and the people who follow one of its many paths) for the bad things and completely disregard the good without regard to the fact that many people are inspired to do good things because of it, are inspired to be better people by it (and not just because of the threat of Hell that the churches have disproportionately emphasized through the centuries for their own purposes and gain), there's no excuse for that.  The anger may well be justifiable, but the misrepresentation and disdain are not.  It's entirely possible to disagree with people of other creeds without having to stoop to insults, straw arguments, lies, and half-truths garnished with conveniently unpleasant truths.  All it does is antagonize people.  This kind of hate, as with any other kind, doesn't help anyone.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Sometimes I wonder if I've gotten too comfortable with my life.

I mean it.  As much as I dislike the fact that I've remained officially unemployed for so long (it's weird how volunteer work somehow doesn't actually count as work), and as much as I really don't like still being under my mother's roof when I'm going to be turning thirty years old in a few months, I wonder if perhaps I've gotten too comfortable with these forms of discomfort.  I'm starting to wonder if I'm too used to experiencing disappointment in my job search, and if I'm just too accustomed to feeling stuck and boring and lonely.  I'm even starting to wonder if some part of me wants to stay this way.

I also wonder if I've gotten too comfortable with the state of my spiritual life.  I'm so accustomed to going to church on Sunday, mentally adding my own private Pagan musings to what I'm seeing, hearing, and doing as part of an Anglican church, that somehow some of the flavour seems to be gone out of it recently.  I'm so used to going through the "Wheel of the Year" with my own private observances and reflections that incorporate some aspects of Christian thought and practice that seem appropriate to the time, that I'm starting to wonder if I'm doing all of this out of habit.  I wonder if, since I joined my church choir, I've become too Christian and not remained Pagan enough.  (There are certainly those who would argue that any amount of Christianity in Paganism is too much.)  This path still has meaning for me, and that's why I'm still walking it.  I don't intend to give up on it any time soon.  But even so, I still have doubts, especially because I could easily be seen as being part of a privileged group (Christians) who is wrongfully appropriating aspects of a non-privileged group's culture and beliefs (Pagans and Neopagans, and the various cultures and traditions from whom their beliefs are drawn).  So much of my philosophy of life is wrapped up in this idea that kindness, compassion, and respect for other people is absolutely essential, and cultural appropriation is something that just—please forgive me for using a fan culture term here, but it just absolutely squicks me.  The possibility that I'm actively taking part in it because I couldn't stick with just one or the other is, to say the least, somewhat disturbing.

And I miss my closest friends.  Somehow I've managed to just fade into the background with most of them.  One is living across the border until sometime around the end of August, and I haven't seen him in a couple of months; the border guards really scared me the last time I went into the USA, and though I can certainly understand that it's their job to make sure that it's safe to let people into their country, being "subtlely" accused of being a homewrecker, a slut, and a possible future illegal immigrant really gets old after a while, especially when these things come with not-so-veiled threats of being detained or refused entry into the country unless I can prove without a doubt that I intend to return to Canada in a reasonable amount of time.  Another friend is so busy with various things in her life that if I hadn't randomly run into her while we were both running some errands at the beginning of the month, I wouldn't have seen her at all since sometime in May.  Another—who is somewhat paradoxically the friend with whom I've had the most contact in the past month, and from whom I'm trying to withdraw a bit because I'm getting a bit afraid that I'm annoying him—is in a city that's several hours away until the end of August, researching and writing what he hopes will be his first book.  And every time I've tried to make plans with the other two in the past month or so, those plans have always fallen through for one reason or another.  It's a little discouraging, to say the least.

So it's reasonable to say that I'm not precisely in the best mental space right now.  I need to re-engage with the world again somehow, and I need a bit of positive discomfort in my life.  Something that helps me to move forward, rather than the discomfort that I've got right now, which is just making me feel stuck and hopeless.  Darned if I know how to invite it in, though.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Out of the Void

Today, a friend re-blogged something on her Tumblr blog that hit very close to home for me.  I'll paste it at the end of this post, but for now, I'd like to say a few things.  (Probably at length, as usual.)

I used to be depressed.  The person described in the Tumblr thing isn't me anymore, but for the most part, it used to be.  I never became actively suicidal, though I would be lying if I said that the thought of just disappearing into the wilderness and letting myself die of exposure didn't look awfully appealing from time to time when I was at my worst.  And I did function to some extent in the rest of the world, though it took a tremendous amount of effort.  In fact, I was only able to function at all for two reasons.  First, the only other member of my household was (physically, at least) in worse shape than I was at the time, and she was mentally about as bad, so if I let my depression take me over, she'd have nobody to take care of her.  So although I was entirely convinced of my own worthlessness, the hate that I felt for myself at the time actually drove me to make myself useful to her because I felt that I'd be even more worthless if I let my issues get in the way of her recovery.  Second, I was still singing with my community choir, which helped me immensely because it forced me into some badly-needed social interaction with people who like me, and which was (and still is) directed by a kind person with an excellent sense of humour.  In cases like mine, laughter really was some of the best medicine I could have asked to receive.

Depression stole valuable things from me: time and ambition.  I can't do anything about the years I lost to it, but my ambition has largely come back, though it brings some of its own frustrations with it.  Foremost among them is the fact that although I'm making progress, I still haven't managed to build myself the kind of life that I'd like to have.  And this is because that awful void, the feeling that nothing really matters and that the world would be better off without me, took me far too long to escape.  (No doubt this was exacerbated by the fact that I never sought treatment for it; I didn't want to be medicated, especially as I was reasonably sure that my depression wasn't the result of any sort of chemical imbalance, and I'm still young enough that I might want to or have to change my health insurance plan at least once in my life.  Even in Canada, a pre-existing condition like depression, even when a full recovery has been made, can be a bad thing to have on one's insurance record.)  In fact, I still occasionally feel its pull, especially when something goes more than usually wrong.

 And sometimes it threatens to send me back.  A little over a month ago, I had what I now think might have been a minor relapse, though I denied it at the time; I felt very gloomy for about a week, and I had several reasons.  I'd been worried about a couple of my friends; one has two daughters-in-law who have been diagnosed with cancer, and another was at the time facing some difficult circumstances that were not of her own making.  Then, I started worrying about my future; I've been out of teacher's college for several years now, and although I am working in a classroom now, I don't get paid for it.  True, I wasn't exactly free to leave for a couple of years (and it wouldn't have been a good idea anyway, given my mental state at the time), but I do sometimes worry that I've managed to screw myself over by not seriously looking for work outside of my district for most of the time since I earned my Bachelor of Education degree.  (I've started actively looking for teaching jobs elsewhere again since then, though, so this is less of a concern now.)  Overall, I was feeling pretty awful.

And to top it all off, for various reasons, the venue for my community choir's spring concert this year was bringing back some pretty seriously painful memories, some of which involved the man of whom I wrote in this post about two years ago.  Since then, I've completely moved on; I stopped missing him quite some time ago, and although I'll never forget him, I've put him quite firmly in my past.  Still, I've recently had a number of reasons to realize that he hurt me in ways that I hadn't even known about at the time, and while I have friends who are helping me to deal with them (often without even realizing it), sometimes the damage that he did becomes more apparent.  And while I'm not quite sure why it happened so strongly near the beginning of May (though I certainly have my suspicions), this, on top of everything else, left me feeling rather shaken.  All in all, I was feeling pretty vulnerable, and in past years, all of those things put together might have been enough to tip me back into a full-blown episode of depression.

But they didn't.

The difference was that I now have friends whom I trust with these things; I don't just know that they won't abandon me, even when I'm feeling rotten and do something stupid like start to isolate myself.  I believe it.  I trust them with my vulnerabilities, and they've trusted me with some of theirs.  Between them, they've helped me to develop the tools that I needed to fix something in me that I hadn't even realized was still broken.  When I get gloomy, they don't let me stay that way.  One of them has even inspired tears of relief and release with little more than a few well-chosen words that reminded me that there really is hope and that I'm not as awful a person as I'm still sometimes afraid that I am.  Knowing that these people care, and that I can trust them, is incredibly powerful.  Without them, I would probably not have gotten through that as well as I did, and that horrible week that I recently had would certainly have sent me back into the mental state that I was in when my depression was at its worst.

I can say with absolute certainty that what the following description says is true.  I've been there.  So many kind, compassionate, funny, intelligent, unusual, talented, and caring people have helped me to stay away from that territory; some of them even have first-hand or second-hand experience with depression themselves.  So if you ever feel inclined to dismiss depression as something insignificant, the sign of a whiny and lazy individual, think again.  It takes a tremendous amount of strength to uphold the fiction that everything is OK; it takes even more to admit that it isn't and to ask for support from loved ones and seek out the help of trained professionals.

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Depression is humiliating. It turns intelligent, kind people into zombies who can’t wash a dish or change their socks. It affects the ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your children, your lifelong passions, your relative good fortune. It scoops out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable sludge that finds no pleasure, no delight, no point in anything outside of bed. You alienate your friends because you can’t comport yourself socially, you risk your job because you can’t concentrate, you live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. You become pathetic and you know it. And you have no capacity to stop the downward plunge. You have no perspective, no emotional reserves, no faith that it will get better. So you feel guilty and ashamed of your inability to deal with life like a regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation. If you’ve never been depressed, thank your lucky stars and back off the folks who take a pill so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over an averagely turbulent normal life.

 It’s not an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. At all. If you and your loved ones have been spared, every blessing to you. If depression has taken root in you or your loved ones, every blessing to you, too. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It runs in families, it ruins families. You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a dentist appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself. Depression is real. Just because you’ve never had it doesn’t make it imaginary. Compassion is also real. And a depressed person may cling desperately to it until they are out of the woods and they may remember your compassion for the rest of their lives as a force greater than their depression. Have a heart. Judge not lest ye be judged.

(Source: sherunsfromdarkness)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a week...

It's been a deeply emotional week, and I actually feel rather exhausted because of it.

Last week, I did something that, from what I've heard since then, may have led to some undesirable consequences for someone who was, up to that point, a close friend (and for one or two of her friends as well).  It was unintentional, and if it hadn't been for the written equivalent of a slip of the tongue, I might not have caused any damage at all.  But I did make that mistake, and I still feel terrible for it, though I'm no longer in the state of self-loathing that consumed me for several days after I was informed that I'd made a severe and potentially harmful misstep.  I did what I could to fix the mistake, and I apologized as much as I dared to, given how upset my friend was, and knowing that I was quite possibly the very last person she'd want to hear from at the time.

I've consciously kept away from her—and to a certain extent, our mutual friends as well—since then; I'm terrified that she's still angry with me and I'm afraid that I've done our friendship irreparable harm both by doing what I did and then keeping such a low profile afterward.  But for a few days I was in absolutely no shape to talk to anyone if it wasn't totally necessary.  Experience has taught me that when I'm that upset, it's best to shut off my more social inclinations for awhile.  I ultimately end up truly hurting fewer people that way.  The person I am when I'm depressed, or even when I'm just somewhere on the outside edges of depression territory (as I was last week), is not a particularly pleasant person to be around; I don't become cruel, but I do become very gloomy, and people tend not to appreciate the company of someone who is that negative.

And then, a few days ago I heard from another good friend, a person upon whom I've come to depend perhaps a little more than I ought to, that he had the opportunity to leave our mutual hometown to work somewhere else.  There were several reasons why going elsewhere would probably have been a good decision, as well as several reasons why it might have been a mistake, but it's not my story to tell, so I can't say much more than this.  But I can say that I encouraged him to go; as much as I'd have missed him, I truly believed that he'd be most content with the decision to leave.  However, he eventually decided that he'd be staying here for a while yet after all; he says that he's at peace with that decision, and as for me...well, it was quite possibly the first good news I'd had in a week.

That these things happened more or less all at once was an interesting coincidence, if not an easy one to deal with.  And it's got me thinking about the importance of social interaction.  You see, although the friend whom I accidentally hurt last week is someone I've known for somewhere between eight and ten years (we had a couple of classes together in university), and one of our mutual friends is also an old university classmate of mine, the other people I've come to think of as particularly good friends are of a much more recent acquaintance. I met two of them last May, and the other late last September.

Given that it's usually very difficult to earn my trust, it's rather remarkable that I let all of these people become so close to me, most in a fairly short period of time.  Because of them, I've become more social in the past year than I had been in years.  And it's changed me.  Although I still maintain that nobody can make other people happy, and that looking for another person to complete oneself is foolish at best, because of these friends I feel more more alive than I did at this time last year.  Because of them, my mind and my heart are more full than they were, more engaged, and even healed from some of the more significant hurts in my past.  My life is better because of them, and I hope that I've been able to be at least a little helpful to them as well in some way, in spite of the problems I might have caused last week.

I don't use the word "friend" lightly.  And my faith in myself was severely shaken by the mistake that I made; I felt that I could not be trusted and that I wasn't fit for human company.  I'm out of that initial shock of self-loathing now, but the results of my mistake last week are still somewhat unclear to me.  Perhaps in a few more days I'll be able to muster the courage to ask my friend if she's still upset with me, but for now, I remain a coward.  Perhaps it's for the best; if what happened after my mistake did happen as a result of it, I suspect that I might still not be the most welcome person in her life at the moment.

So, yeah.  This has all been fairly exhausting, and I hope that the week ahead doesn't hold any more unpleasant surprises.  I still need some time to catch my breath from the ones I've already had!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

For the record...

I've been looking at my stats page again.  While I'm a little amused because my blog apparently showed up in two different sets of search results in response to two separate queries about interviews conducted by Jian Ghomeshi (probably because of this post), I also saw a search term that started me thinking again:

"what does christo pagan say about homosexuality"

I don't know about other Christo-Pagans, but once again, this Christo-Pagan is going to go on the record as saying that as far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with homosexuality.  Furthermore, I'm bisexual (though I prefer the term "heteroflexible"), I have a cousin who is gay, and I have friends who variously identify as bisexual, heteroflexible, lesbian, and queer.  So this matters to me because homophobia has the potential to affect me and it does affect some of the people I love.  Homosexuality is not wrong.  It's a natural variation on the theme of human sexuality—and sexuality in general, in fact.  Homosexual behaviour has been documented in hundreds of other species.  And regardless of anything that any translation of the Bible might say, I cannot believe that it is any more evil for two women or two men to be sexually attracted to each other and act on it than it is for a woman and a man to do the same.

Not everybody thinks, acts, or loves in the same way, and it's about damn time that society in general accepted that as long as nobody is genuinely being hurt or exploited, this is a perfectly normal, natural, and right thing.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Power of Stories

We all have stories that we tell to ourselves.

"I would be so much happier if I had a million dollars."

"Someday I'll meet the right person and they'll be so perfect and I'll never be sad or lonely again."

"Everything will be so much better when I lose all that weight."

"People aren't animals."

One way or another, we all have our myths, whether they take the form of ancient stories, religious narratives, tall tales, rumours, urban legends, or common wisdom that may or may not actually be wise.  Among other things, I have my faith, and I do believe that I have good reasons to have it.  But I'm also willing to entertain the notion, if only as a mental exercise, that the atheists may have it right.  I don't believe that we should take anything as absolute truth just because it makes sense to us or we've been told by someone we trust that it's absolutely true.  We should never let anyone else take responsibility for our own thoughts and beliefs. (Even atheists shouldn't, in my opinion, but because of the nature of my spiritual life, I suspect that I may not be the best judge of this.)  In fact, I would argue that to let that happen is a little lazy and extremely irresponsible.

Whether or not our everyday myths stand a chance at being true, and whether or not there actually are Gods, angels, demons, faeries, etc., it just seems like most humans need something bigger than ourselves to believe in.  It doesn't have to be supernatural.  It just has to be bigger than we are in some way, or more important, or something that convinces us that we're right in spite of whatever doubts we might have (regardless of whether we'll admit them), or at least something that gives us the promise of a better life than we currently have.  Something that promises enlightenment, or power, or the possibility of getting what we want.

The power of the stories that we tell to ourselves is immense, and I often wish that it wasn't so frequently misused.  Stories can do tremendous good; they can inspire us to be better people, comfort us when we're sad or lonely, give us hope when we despair, and give us entertainment as well.  But when they're misused, stories can do tremendous harm as well.  They can inspire, or at least be used as an excuse for, some of the worst impulses in human nature.

Never underestimate the power of stories.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sometimes Christians do bad things. Deal with it.

This post isn't directed to the people who object to the harm that certain Christians cause to other people and to the world in general.  This is directed to the people who don't accept that Christianity is composed of a number of different large groups of HUMAN BEINGS, and, like any other group of human beings, is going to be composed of many different types of people. Some will be good, some will be bad, some will be neither, and most will be varying degrees of both, leaning one way or the other, but nonetheless both capable of great goodness and great evil.  That's part of being human. And this post is especially directed to people who claim that anyone who does something wrong isn't really a Christian.

Newsflash: sometimes Christians do bad things.

Sometimes Christians persecute members of other faiths.  Sometimes Christians kill in the name of their God.  Sometimes Christians enact pieces of legislation that will make it next to impossible for women to access medical treatment (and no, I'm not just talking about abortion; states in which funding for Planned Parenthood has been cut or eliminated have also made it difficult, if not impossible, for low-income women to access affordable health care at all; Planned Parenthood was never just about abortion).  Sometimes Christians lie, steal, cheat.  Sometimes Christians rape.  Sometimes Christians murder.

And whether or not you like it, they're still Christians.

It doesn't matter that you don't believe that they can be real Christians.  As long as they believe in Jesus-as-aspect-of-God, and as long as the collection of writings we know as the Bible is their holy book, they're Christians.  Their ideals and models for behaviour aren't the same as yours, and their priorities are different as well, but that doesn't mean that you get to say whether or not they're part of the religion they've chosen.  Regardless of whether you approve of what they do, and certainly regardless of whether Jesus himself would have approved of their actions, they are Christians.

They're not just horrible people using Jesus' name as an excuse to do terrible things.  They are Christians.  And denying that they're Christians isn't doing anybody any favours.  True, along with the damage that they do to the people they hurt, they also give the rest of us a bad name.  But you then make that name even worse every time you assert that people can't have morality without Christianity, and that all Christians are good people.

Christianity doesn't have the stranglehold on morality that you think it has.  It doesn't necessarily make you a good person; it doesn't automatically fill people with love and light.  Christianity is a system of belief.  It doesn't remove the impulse to harm other people, and under the right (or wrong) circumstances, it can even fuel that impulse.  That doesn't make them not-Christian.  It makes them dangerous, because they believe that they can do no moral wrong, because their anger, their hate, and their harmful actions are backed up by their God.  Saying "Oh, but they're not real Christians" is neither true nor helpful.

Sometimes Christians do bad things.  Don't deny it.

Deal with it.

(By which, of course, I mean "do something about it.")

Monday, April 23, 2012

Musings Upon Finding My Missing Rosary

I found my rosary a few days ago. It had been missing since shortly after my grandfather died in late 2010; as I discovered, it had somehow slipped into a drawer in my dresser that I don't really open that often. For lack of a better explanation, it's what I call my "memory drawer"—a drawer that I set aside for small keepsakes, photos, newspaper articles, and the like when I was about thirteen. I've been thinking of putting some of those photos and articles into a scrapbook, and was going to go through some of it that night, but then, there it was, right on top of one of the photos.  I consider that to be simultaneously amusing and appropriate.

It got me thinking, of course. Several months ago, I threatened to post about the reasons why I chose to make use of certain prayers when Grandpa was in the hospital, and I think that this is going to be that post, though (as usual) I also have a feeling that it's going to be awhile before I actually get around to writing directly about that.


I haven't considered myself to be Catholic in nearly fifteen years. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, would say differently; according to them, once they've got you, you're theirs for life, regardless of whatever you might say on the matter. (Naturally, this is one of the many things about which I disagree with them.) But at the same time, those early years of Catholic belief, or at least of Catholic thought, have left a mark.  Perhaps it speaks to the power of early conditioning; I have a friend who was at one time an evangelical and charismatic Christian, but who has since become an agnostic, who nonetheless is currently the organist at an Anglican church and who has been known to admit that despite now being an agnostic, Anglican hymns and the Book of Common Prayer are "in [his] circuits."  Obviously there are people who are raised in one religion or another who do completely get out of that mindset, but for some of us, at least, it's not necessarily going to happen.

Some of my Roman Catholic mental residue is actually good; for example, despite my disagreement with Catholic teachings on the subjects of birth control, abortion, sexuality, homosexuality, transubstantiation, and the ordination of women, among other things, the early exposure that I had to the ideas that we should actually love each other and help people who need it laid the foundation for my present political and social views. Perhaps I'd have come to similar conclusions if I hadn't been raised in any sort of religious framework, but as it is, I was raised Catholic and the experience did convince me that we ought (as one of the hymns we sang at practically every Mass says) "to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with our God."   (Though of course that last bit is negotiable, since not everyone believes in any kind of deity.  But the first two are certainly important.)  Furthermore, it's probably the biggest reason why I'm able to be so comfortable with Anglican liturgy. (The Eucharistic service from the Book of Alternative Services in particular is very, very close to the form that Mass took when I was growing up.)  And as I've said before, as much as I sometimes still can't believe that I, of all people, am a member of a church choir, my experiences at my church and with my church choir have proven to be enlightening in their own way, and I wouldn't want to have missed that.  And if I hadn't had my Catholic background, or if I hadn't been born to a family with Anglican heritage, I'd never have been so comfortable on the trips that my community choir took to sing at the cathedrals in Winchester and Lincoln, and I'd certainly never have been able to join the my church choir and adjust as easily to it as I did.

Some of the residue isn't so good, of course. I mean, I was a narrow-minded little twit for a good chunk of my life because of it, even after I converted to Paganism, and sometimes I still struggle with the difference between what I know is right and what I was taught is right. Among other things, the fact that until my mid-twenties I was unable to acknowledge, even to myself, that I'm bisexual probably comes from that. I never had any problems with the existence of gay or lesbian folks—it's kind of a long story, but by the time I was eight years old I had come to the conclusion that some kids had two mothers or two fathers who loved each other and lived together and that was perfectly OK—but at least among my peers, bisexuality was considered to be undesirable at best, thanks to the promiscuity, infidelity, and perceived denial (or mere experimentation) that are so much a part of the bisexual stereotype. And of course the Roman Catholic Church isn't generally a particularly friendly place for people who aren't strictly straight, which (because I remained in the Catholic school system until I graduated from high school) gave me an additional incentive to ignore that part of myself even as it was beginning to reveal itself.

And some of that Roman Catholic residue is just plain weird, like feeling a little strange every time I make beef vegetable soup during Lent (Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat during Lent—and, strictly speaking, on Fridays throughout the year, even if not a lot of people pay attention to that these days—though fish is inexplicably OK). Or the fact that I automatically remove my hat, if I'm wearing one, as soon as I enter a church, regardless of the reason why I'm there; everyone at my school walked to a nearby church for Mass at least twice a month when I was a kid, and even the girls were told to remove our hats when we got to the church (traditionally, girls and women are supposed to wear something to cover our hair at Mass, though again, these days not very many women actually do except in the more conservative Catholic churches), probably because the boys tended to object when they were told to remove their hats and the girls weren't, and it was easier just to tell all of us that it was disrespectful to leave our hats on in church. And I admit that my fondness for the more theatrical aspects of ritual—Pagan or Christian—largely stems from that period in my life as well.

And perhaps the oddest part of the Catholic residue in my mind is my enduring fondness for the rosary.  But it's something that I consider to be one of the good parts of this residue anyway.  Which brings me back to the prayers that I chose to whisper when my grandfather was dying.

I never actually prayed the whole rosary while Grandpa was in the hospital. Sometimes I'd take it out and go through a decade or two of it when I felt I needed to calm down (a "decade" on the rosary is the "Our Father," ten repetitions of "Hail Mary," and then the "Glory Be" once).  Because it's so repetitive, I find the rosary to be a good way to calm myself down.  Other times, I'd just hold the beads in my hand, feeling their weight and concentrating on what I was feeling, trying to reconcile myself to the knowledge that my grandfather was going to die, probably very soon.  (The fact that the Hail Mary includes the words "now and at the hour of our death" probably helped.)  But the prayers that are traditionally used for the rosary still come as naturally to me as breathing (though admittedly, I do add another prayer near the beginning, I change the wording of a couple of the prayers because of my current spiritual path, and I omit the various Mysteries associated with the rosary because I find them to be unnecessary, so I actually deviate more than a little from the "official" method of praying the rosary), and though I rarely actually make use of my rosary, I do find it to be useful from time to time.

For one thing, it's extremely repetitive, and it takes a long time to get through it all. (There are five decades on a traditional rosary, plus the medallion and the five beads and the crucifix at the bottom of it; fifty-three repetitions of Hail Mary, seven repetitions of Glory Be and Our Father, and once through the Memorare—this is the prayer that I add—and Hail Holy Queen and the Apostles' Creed take quite a lot of time to get through all at once.) Because of the way that my mind works, sometimes I find that it's best to occupy myself with something like that to re-focus my mind, or sometimes just to give myself something to concentrate on when I'm trying to work through something that's bothering me. I'm not quite sure how to explain it except that the sheer repetitiveness of the rosary gives my conscious mind something to focus on while my subconscious mind wanders down whatever paths it has to in order to sort out whatever I'm trying to deal with.

Come to think of it, it's almost like crocheting (well, when I'm not crocheting as I'm socializing, anyway) that way. :)

And for another thing, although the Lord's Prayer and the Glory Be are, strictly speaking, prayers dedicated to an aspect of the Divine that is usually thought of as male (though I hear that at one time, the Holy Spirit was considered to be female), by far most of the prayers involved are addressed to someone who's female, who lived a human life, and although these prayers only ask for intercession rather than any direct miracle working, even when I was young I found it to be very satisfying to be able to address a prayer to someone with whom I might have a chance at identifying.  Surrounded by a culture of strict gender essentialism, I felt that God-as-male seemed to be unapproachable, but Mary had been a human woman, and was by far more easy to relate to.  Later on, when I first converted to Paganism, that early fondness for Mary became the reason why I was prepared to accept the idea of a feminine aspect to the Divine.

Regardless of the reasons why I like the rosary, it is almost surprisingly good to hold mine in my hand again.  I'd missed it.  And while I don't plan to actually make use of it anytime soon, it's good to have the option again. :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shame on the people who thought this was a good idea.

There are no words, but I'm going to try to find them anyway.


Blackface on a cake, of all things, depicting the head and torso of a naked Black woman.

A terrible racist caricature of a Black woman used to protest an act of violence against women.

Red velvet cake, obviously meant to symbolize blood, carved up by White people.  Every time a slice was cut, the baker, also a performance artist, whose head was poking out from under the table, would scream.

That's just wrong.

This is a world in which Black people's lives are frequently held to be less important than White people's, and as a result, they die.

Trayvon Martin was killed for doing little more than walking through a gated community (and he had every right to be there, as he was visiting his father, who actually lives in that gated community) while talking on the phone with his girlfriend and carrying Skittles and iced tea.  His killer was only arrested a few days ago, though there was never a question of who did it.

Anna Brown was arrested for trespassing on hospital property for trying to get treatment for the condition that killed her soon afterward; she died in prison that day.  The hospital claims they thought that she was just looking for drugs; after all, not only was she a Black woman, she was a homeless Black woman.  (An autopsy was performed; no traces of any kind of drug were found in her body.  However, they did find numerous blood clots in her lungs and in her legs.)

Kenneth Chamberlain was shot to death by police in his own home when he'd accidentally triggered his medical alarm in his sleep.

These are only the stories that have gotten enough press that I've heard about them.

And now this.

Racism is evil.  It kills.  It destroys lives and families.  Even if the intentions of the people behind this racist act were good—the cake was apparently supposed to protest female genital mutilation—that doesn't erase the harm that it's done.  It doesn't matter that Makode Aj Linde, the performance artist who baked the cake and did the screaming, is Black himself; it doesn't matter that he claims that the cake, and the cutting of it, were misunderstood (his work has in the past involved putting Blackface into new contexts in order to criticise it).  Blackface is innately racist and even attempting to subvert it, considering the immense damage that racism does worldwide, results in more harm than good.  Especially since most of the people who attended this party at Moderna Museet were White.

I'd say it's even worse that Makode Aj Linde participated in this racist act because it's now given White racists an excuse to say, "Hey, this isn't so bad after all.  A Black guy did it, so why can't we?"

This cake was an act of violence, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

I am disgusted and heartsick.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The evils of religion?

Of all the things that one might have expected me to be contemplating on Easter Sunday, somehow I doubt that atheism would be among them.

Not that I'm thinking of becoming an atheist, mind you.  Regardless of whether the Gods exist, my mind doesn't seem to have the wiring for atheism.  As I am now, the closest thing I could probably get to total non-belief is a sort of curious agnosticism.  And despite normally being a logic-oriented person, I do not consider this to be a problem in any respect.  My belief-and-skepticism system works for me; it inspires me to be a better person.  It reminds me that it's possible to be a thoroughly flawed human being and still manage to do a bit of good in the world.  It reminds me that prayer is all very well, but you've got to help people in practical ways as well.  (I can say this no better than it's already said in my favourite passage from the first letter of John: "Little children, let us love, not in word and speech, but in truth and action.")  It even keeps me from taking myself too seriously.

The thing is, I've been noticing, and hearing about, a lot more highly vocal atheists lately.  And usually they've been the obnoxious ones.  The ones who, being so angry at the idea that anybody else dares to think something that they don't think, might fit in well with certain groups of rigid fundamentalist Christians if it weren't for the fact that atheists believe that the whole God thing is bullshit.  The ones who believe that there has never been anything good whatsoever that came from religion of any type.  The ones who believe that all the world's evils come from religion in general and Christianity in particular, and that we'd live in a perfect world if no human being had ever come up with the concept of one or more Gods.  The ones who look down their noses at people of any religious persuasion, calling us stupid and superstitious.  The ones who speak of us all as if we were somehow simultaneously childlike in our naïveté and hyper-dangerous psychopaths who are just a few social conventions away from reinstating the Spanish Inquisition and shamelessly persecuting and brutally murdering anyone who doesn't agree with us.

Believe it or not, atheism itself doesn't actually bother me.  We've all got to make up our own minds about what we will and will not believe, and I understand that there are people whose lives, and whose treatment of other people, become better once they discard any concept of religion.  We all need to have our own freedom of conscience.  And to a certain extent, I must concede that they have a point or two, even though I doubt I'll ever entirely subscribe to their point of view.  But the common assertion that religion, and especially Christianity, is the root of all evil bothers me on a level that I can't quite articulate.

The thing is, I deeply suspect that even if religion hadn't ever existed, most of the evil things that religion has been used as the excuse for would still have happened.  Religious or not, that seems to be an aspect of certain people's human nature; given great power, and the desire for something that's already possessed by someone else, some people will only need the right excuse to become genocidal.  If it wasn't religion, it might be some other custom.  It might be language or skin colour or some theme in the other group's art or music that the aggressors consider to be unwholesome.  It might be patriotism or some form of insult, imagined or otherwise.  I can't think of a single religious war, even the Crusades, that couldn't also have been fought for other reasons.  Religion made a damn convincing excuse, but as long as there was something else to be gained—valuable territory, access to certain commodities, greater political power, and similar—then religion was nonetheless still little but an excuse.  In its absence, another one would surely have been used.

I will never accept the idea that religion is itself evil; I will certainly never again accept the idea that Christianity is inherently evil.  It's been used as an excuse for evil things, and there are people who use it as a weapon even today.  That, I believe, is evil.  But not religion itself.

If there's evil in the equation at all, it's in the people who use their beliefs to harm other people.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Want To Believe

I want to believe that I live in a country where, if I should get pregnant (which, I might add, is against my expectations and personal preferences), my very personhood will not be stripped from me in favour of the personhood of the potential person in my womb.

I want to believe that if this hypothetical pregnancy became dangerous to my health, whether the danger was physical or mental in nature, I would have the option of terminating it in order to save myself.

I want to believe that as long as I reside in this country, I will live in a country in which I retain the right to make my own decisions about what happens to my own body.  I want to believe that I will not be reduced to the status of incubator, with no rights over my own self, just because a sperm has fused with an egg.

I want to believe that birth control will not be outlawed in my lifetime, and that the ridiculous (and extremely unscientific) arguments that we've heard in the States about birth control being entirely abortifacent in its nature will not make their way into Canada.

I want to believe that my body's ability to produce life will never be valued more than my own life.

Most of all, I want to believe that in Canada, in the year 2012, we are not seriously going to "re-open the abortion debate," which so far has consisted of little but big-C-and-small-c conservatives' opinion that abortion is evil, never necessary, and something that must be stopped at ALL costs—costs that, in places where abortion is banned, frequently include women's lives.

I want to believe, but I can't.

Not anymore.

Not since the allegedly-honourable Stephen Woodworth, MP for the riding of Kitchener Central, was permitted to introduce Motion 312, the purpose of which is to give full personhood to a fetus yet in utero.  This, predictably, poses a risk to women who are now pregnant, and who will be pregnant in the future.  And not just to the ones who want abortions, either; in places where fetuses have been given full personhood rights, women have been prosecuted for things from refusing a C-section to having a stillbirth.  Early last year, Georgia state representative Bobby Franklin presented a bill that would even have made it illegal (on pain of death) for pregnant women to experience a miscarriage.

Think of that for a moment.

Lest you think that I'm one of those straw feminists who are so often concocted by conservatives of either "C" who are supposedly out baying for the blood of innocent children and who want every baby to be aborted and who use abortion as a form of birth control—I'm not. I've never even met anyone who was. I love kids. I work with kids. At one point in my life, I did want to have one or two children of my own, before I realized that the choice would be highly undesirable for some very good reasons, including genetics (to put it briefly, I'm fine, but there's a fair chance that my offspring wouldn't be) and personality.

But, you know, even if I wanted to have a family of Weasley proportions, and even though I personally wouldn't have an abortion unless my life was at stake if I didn't, I still wouldn't welcome Motion 312, or any other laws meant to bestow full personhood on fetuses, because I do not want to lose my own personhood—which is what would eventually happen. Not immediately, perhaps, but the way would be paved. Once you grant personhood to a fetus, their life will be held to have more value than the person in whose womb they are growing. We've seen it before. (For more information on the cases cited in the linked video, click here.)

And we'll see it again.

I want to believe that Canada isn't going to go down this same dangerously slippery slope as so many places in the United States have been.  Because if we are, then my beloved home is going to become a very dangerous place to have a uterus.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Atheists learning from theists (and the other way around)

Most weekdays, I listen to the 10:00 AM broadcast of Q* on CBC Radio 1—or at least, most of it, as I generally have to leave the house before the show's over. I'm not sure I could call myself a fan of Q, but I certainly do like listening. I always enjoy Jian Ghomeshi's opening essay; I may not always agree with what he says (RoBu indeed!), but whether he's being silly or serious, what he says is usually interesting, and he often makes me think. (I must say that I particularly appreciated one essay last week which was about International Women's Day and the reasons why, despite the gains made by women in Canada and in the rest of the world, International Women's Day is still a sadly necessary thing.) And I certainly enjoy most of the interviews that are conducted on the show, as well as the debates, and especially Elvira Kurt's hilarious mostly-weekly inductions into the "Cultural Hall of Shame."

Last week, Ghomeshi interviewed Alain de Botton, an atheist who argues that atheists can learn some valuable lessons from various religions. Being a rather eclectically spiritual person with some agnostic tendencies and influences, I'd been looking forward to this interview since Ghomeshi first announced that he'd be conducting it.  It was far from disappointing, and de Botton made many good points.  These points, paraphrased, of course, are the ones that resonated the most with me:

*While we don't necessarily need religion to provide a guide to morality, most of the world's religions have put hundreds of years of thought into defining what's right and what's not, and sometimes it might be a good idea for atheists to pay attention to what they have to say, if only because they've had a very long time to figure out what works and what doesn't.

*People are ritualistic animals, and when it comes to major life moments like coming of age or getting married or the death of someone you love, there's really no one set atheist way to acknowledge these milestones, and without some kind of general idea of how to approach them, they can be a bit difficult to deal with properly.  Looking to how religions deal with them can be very helpful.

*Religions tend to be very good at creating communities, and modern secular society doesn't tend to be quite as good at that.  By and large, atheists need to learn how to connect more with each other and the world in general.

*Religious or not, we need reminders that humanity is not the Superior Pinnacle of All Existence.  Without the awareness that there's something greater than us in existence, whether it's nature itself or one or more supernatural entities, we humans can be egotistical little buggers.  That kind of thinking, the idea that the Earth is ours to exploit as we will because we're the most important species on it, is precisely what's gotten us into so much trouble.  Again, looking at how religion taps into this need for such an awareness can be very useful.

Before hearing this interview, I hadn't really considered that atheists might be able to learn much at all from those of us with religious or spiritual inclinations, though I do now think that it might be a good idea for theists and atheists to have considerably more honest dialogue (as opposed to the usual "YOU ARE WRONG BECAUSE I AM RIGHT" arguments, of course) between each other, because there really is a lot that we can learn from each other.  Of course, I don't necessarily mean that we can learn much from those atheists who consider themselves to be intellectually and morally superior to those of us who aren't atheists and aren't afraid to make total asses of themselves in proclaiming that superiority, of course, because all we really learn from them is that closed-mindedness doesn't limit itself to religion.  But the ones who aren't quite so abrasive and self-righteous—sometimes they do have some excellent ideas.

First, it's OK—and I'd even argue that it's necessary—to be skeptical even of your own beliefs.  Unless you're a member of a new religion that's just gotten its start in the past seventy years or so, chances are that you weren't around when the central stories and tenets of your religion were being formed and decided on.  Unless you're a character in Radio Free Babylon's Coffee with Jesus comic strips, an honest-to-goodness physical-world here-and-now face-to-face conversation with Jesus just isn't possible.  No living Muslim has met Mohammed.  No living Buddhist has met the Gautama Buddha.  And so on.  All we have are the stories that are told about them and the things that we are told that they said about life, the universe, and everything.  When belief gets in the way of compassion and logic, it needs to be re-evaluated.  I don't think that this takes away the beauty, meaningfulness, mystery, or comfort that so many people find in their religions; I think it can only add to them because it's a more active way of believing.  It's deciding what you'll accept and what you won't.  It's a matter of consciously choosing what you believe and being truly aware of why you believe it.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when people feel threatened by the prospect of testing and examining their beliefs, it's often a sign that they're feeling insecure about those beliefs in the first place.  Untested faith cannot be strong.

Second, it's entirely possible to be a compassionate human being without belonging to any specific religion, or any religion at all, really.  Some people do not become better people when they subscribe to religious beliefs; some people become self-righteous, judgemental people who prefer to revel in their own salvation rather than do good works to help those in need, so arguably their religion hasn't done them (or anyone else) any favours.  Religions can and do offer useful moral guides, but they're all far from being the only source of ideas on the subject of morality.

Third, science is as flawed as the scientists who practice it, but it's the best tool that we have for understanding the natural world and our place in it.  To some people, the knowledge gained, tested, and either rejected or built upon, is the only way to understand ourselves and the world—and that's OK.**  The world isn't going to end just because somebody disagrees with you.  The fact that someone believes that science is the source of the only rational and correct kind of thinking does not in any way mean that your faith is diminished.  (Mind, your faith doesn't mean that you have to abandon any and all acceptance of the empirical evidence that science has provided to us about the world either, but that's another matter.)  Without science, the lives of millions of people would be quite a bit worse.  And science, if we're very, very lucky, can provide us with the means to deal with climate change and all that it is bringing with it.  So learn how to read about science, don't undervalue it, and don't ignore it just because acknowledging the knowledge that it brings might be inconvenient to your faith.

And last, even if there is no Heaven or Hell or Everlasting Life, even if the Gods are a delusion and strange phenomena nothing but hallucinations or stories we tell to children, that doesn't mean that humans are free to be assholes to each other or to deplete the planet's resources and pollute it into lifelessness.  If this really is the only shot we get at life (or even if it isn't), we ought to do each other, and future generations of people, the favour of doing our best to leave this world even just a little better than it was when we arrived.

It is, after all, the right, and maybe even the logical, thing to do.

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

*Even if you don't listen to CBC Radio or any of the American radio stations on which Q airs, you may have heard of this show and its host before because of Billy Bob Thornton's extremely rude and awkward behaviour during an interview that Ghomeshi conducted with him and his band, the Boxmasters, in 2009.

**Of course, for some people, scientific knowledge is not the only way to understand ourselves and the world, and that's also OK. True to form, I've decided that the best way for me to know and experience the world is through a middle way: a mix of scientific and spiritual exploration, because I have a deep appreciation for science and technology, but I find that I have questions that can't always be answered or even tested entirely through the scientific method. Even then it helps, and I don't necessarily cling to the idea of the existence of Gods and Goddesses—as I said, I do find myself influenced a little by agnosticism—but I also find that sometimes I nonetheless need to consider what the writers of The X-Files sometimes referred to as "more extreme possibilities," even if I may ultimately end up rejecting those possibilities.