Friday, April 14, 2006

What Does the Cup Mean?



There is a girl who I've been friends with since we started our studies in the same program together. From the first day I met her, we fell into a comfortable closeness and mutual pattern of teasing each other and checking up on what's going on. To this day, we still disagree on who introduced themselves first. She is very attractive, a good personality and naturally someone who I'd be interested in seeing. There has been that playful air of flirtation at moments but nothing either of us would rush home to write in a diary, unless perhaps, you count online diaries...

I've asked her out on dates before, waiting for the right time when it's both convenient and when I could make a special event of it but because of the way I've phrased it casually, you have to put the quotation marks around "date". Maybe I'm just too aware of the fact that she never really took me seriously that way. Either that, or I can visualize taking a number for my place in line. Well, that's fine with me, we're just friends. I no longer insist on a label for our hang out sessions. I've been there for her throughout her breakups and small failures and vice-versa. We both build each other up when we know we could do better in relationships, jobs, school etcetra and I appreciate her the way she is.

So tonight she invited me to go see The Easter Story, put on by local Baptist church. I like that part about her that is down to earth yet very mysterious. She is one of my few friends who openly believes in miracles. Since I've been out of the habit of going to church, I no longer have many friends who take religion seriously. I discuss questions like "does God exist?" with the philosophical types, but usually it gets into a highly skeptical diatribe against the bible, into a technical overview of Darwinian evolution and back towards an X Filesish egnosticism of "the truth is out there" or it devolves into a bitter venting session about how all religious people are hypocrites, how none of them practice what they preach and how, cynically, Jesus was just a gay schizophrenic who liked to fish for men.

Getting right into the question about what I think of the whole religion issue, she kind of stumped me. Is it a problem if I believe the values of Christianity are good but I question the miracle aspect? She explained that believing in Christianity while being raised Christian has made it that much harder for her to explain it to others. It takes away from her credibility. People assume she's been brainwashed. Yet, how can you believe a story is important if you don't even believe it's true? I mean, how do you explain someone who goes around asking cryptic questions, curing blindness, bringing dead children back to life, hanging out with prostitutes and then claiming to be the son of God? Nuts. Then again, this world is nuts. Look what we're doing. Still, for me, my skepticism has grown over the years, and I voiced to her my frustration with people who get wrapped up in the miracles of the Christian story without really taking any insight from the lessons of Jesus, how for example, it wouldn't cost you so much to be a good neighbor, to be nice to your parents, or to be a good servant to your employer. Evangelical preachers get on my nerves though. I always want to prove that people who speak about the coming doomsday are wrong. But I don't know...

I explained that I get angry about people believing if they can't even explain it to themselves. If you don't have at least one plausible theory about who smuggled the hemlock into Jesus's sleeve or whether there was a graverobber or whether it was Celtic, Black or the Newskool magic that Jesus practiced, then what? I realize though that I'm critical of my own faith. The part that I like about the Jesus story is his personality. To me, he was peaceful. He made people think of possibilities they wouldn't have been able to without him. The Old Testament compared to the new stressed such a vengeful, stubborn, righteous God, whereas the Testament that Jesus ushered in seemed to be the seeds of modern democracy: the ability to compromise, to make peace, to be kind and to give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God's. One example is the woman who has been caught for being adulterous, who according to Moses law should be stoned to death. Jesus says "let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

He made a point of living for the moment and not carrying grudges over until death parts us all. He separated the material world and the spiritual worlds, which, to me, are both certainly real aspects of the same universe. The story of his crucifition showed a very true characteristic of humanity to be utterly cruel. The mobs misled themselves, the disciples denied him against their word (like Peter) or sold their friendship for money (like Judas), the governors washed their hands of responsibility (like Pilate) and the murderers asked for forgiveness. Some things don't change very much over history. We're still starting rumour mills, mismanaging our environment, and starting wars for no good reason. However, maybe it's not so much to believe that at least a part of Jesus lives on in the world in the form of faith. I saw it in the smile of a little girl who was walking down the hall the other day when she asked her mother "do you think the tooth fairy is a man or a woman?" The mother answered "I'm pretty sure it's a man". The child wasn't blindly faithful mind you. She asked: "but how do you know?" I saw the mother look over and smile at her husband.

When Jesus broke bread and said "do this in remembrance of me" whether symbolically or literally, his body turned into bread. Now, for those who believe, the bread turns back into the body, and the wine the blood. For me it does so symbolically, because I think about it. If I was more of a believer in miracles, the next time I was at a party where they ran out of wine, I'd be asking where Jesus was at.

For everyone else who either doesn't feel that there is a coherent question to believe in decisively yes or no, or who have other prophets or heros, this story nevertheless cites an example who was merciful enough to say in a way: don't worry about it. It's OK, but I have a vested interest in you. You don't have to understand everything to want to understand more. To enter a new world, you have to be born again.

Since this play inspired a change of thought in one way or another, I think I was reborn.

So much of what is wrong with this world is the judgements we get caught up in, the disagreements, the arguments, that we don't ever shut up and listen to the other person's point for what it is. It may be a different point but I'm not sure it's always a contradictory point. What if all religions got it right?

Anyway, after the show, my friend freaked out because she noticed her ex boyfriend happened to be there with his new girlfriend. She's over him but not used to seeing him with anyone else. They said hi to each other, and I did my part by standing there and shaking hands so that the sense of awkwardness could be buffered. She then said she'd walk home so I knew she needed time alone.

I drove home and the roads were empty and foggy. I thought: how strange it is that we live in this world of science and technology, where we expect everything to be explained or else not exist at all. I can't believe that someone over 2000 years ago came to life from the dead but yet I have a friend personally who was clinically dead for over half an hour in a hospital, with machines hooked up to him and no explanations why besides it being a miracle.

Fittingly, I was listening to Tori Amos:

Why do we
Crucify ourselves
Every day
I crucify myself
Nothing I do is good enough for you
Crucify myself
Every day
And my heart is sick of being in chains


I felt downtrodden thinking about the sin in my life, the chaos and irresponsibility I sometimes exhibit. I think it's not identifying experiences in the right light to acknowledge them with an open heart. I get cold, frustrated and cruel. I never think of it with that word, but "sin" is what it is. Then again sometimes I get breaks in this rat-race of a concrete maze we live in. Does that make me better prepared, or just lucky? It's so miraculous and mysterious! Like Virginia Wolf, I wonder: wouldn't it be worth it to believe in doing good for the sake of it? The practical problem is coming up with a reminder that is consistent. We all struggle with trying to live our lives better while we have it, trying to calculate and strategize and get in the mood as best we can because we only have one rehearsal.

The question is, in thinking of Nietzsche's concept of ad nauseum: what play are you preparing to watch over and over again, into eternity?

religion and philosophy

12 Comments:

Blogger Chloe said...

you know my opinion Barrett. I believe we should be good independently of any religion. And then there are these examples of wonderful and larger than life personalities, like Jesus that inspire us. For me, no miracle is needed. Being that good is a miracle by itself, and i think more difficult to be achieved than any other miracle.
xxx
thanks for the songs

8:16 p.m.  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I think that many people hide behind their religion, and don't take enough responsibility for their own actions. I believe we are in control of our own destiny (kismet!)..and it's just far too easy to hide behind the 'bible of choice' and say "it was meant to be" when something goes astray in our lives. Do I believe in miracles? Yes..but I believe it's us that creates them. Likewise, I believe that many things in our life, if examined deep enough, youd find the core is the same as the shiney surface. I'm not saying I do or don't believe in a "God", but I AM saying that I believe in the power, and responsibility of our own actions and paths.

9:47 p.m.  
Blogger Captain Bee said...

I won't comment on the religion issue - I steer clear of that.

What I can say is this:

1) I've found that religion and politics are two easy ways to completely torpedo a conversation with a lady.

2) That comment you left on my blog the other day was amazing (the Chris Farley one).

8:23 a.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

chloe -Good point. Making miracles happen is a challenge, but achieveable by the flesh and dirt.

kimberly -and I suppose whatever instilled that power is as much a mystery for me as well, although what I believe seems very clear to me. "you find the core is the same as the shiney surface". That reminds me of fractals or Gestahlt psychology. The part makes sense from the whole, and vice versa. Funny to think that there is no coherent concept of being outside of the universe to look and judge it's value. Everything is everything.

captain bee -Indeed, religion can be a sketchy subject. In this case though, we were just in a church, we were caj, and she brought it up. I know that I could tell her anything and she wouldn't care. It actually turned into a short little chat that we both ended respecting each other for.

I hope I haven't opened a can of worms for bringing up the J-man.

10:45 a.m.  
Anonymous sarah said...

yeah... i have a lot to say about this. too much for a comment. thanks for the story though, lots to think on.

4:40 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:48 p.m.  
Blogger Kunstem√¶cker said...

I agree with Chloe.

4:37 a.m.  
Blogger mistipurple said...

i am always tongue tight here. i should leave a sign that i have come by.
*SIGN*

5:35 a.m.  
Anonymous Adorable Girlfriend said...

Very nice post. I like it that she believes in miracles too. There's something comforting about knowing that a few folks out there believe in such ideologies.

11:32 a.m.  
Blogger Jason said...

There are some great letters to the editor in the Globe and Mail today. They deal with this exact topic. Someone brings up the point that we as children are indoctrinated into believing some of these 'miracles' and in exchange for believing, we get Xmas presents, Easter chocolates etc...

1:45 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

I'm glad you guys came by to say hi whether or not you want to get into religion here.

Thanks Jimmy!

4:12 p.m.  
Blogger J said...

"I explained that I get angry about people believing if they can't even explain it to themselves."

I don't necessarily agree here. I think of people like my Grandma. Simple people that are comfortable with what they have been taught in church or by reading the Bible and, for them, no further questioning is necessary. And that's okay.

What angers me, however, is when people use church as a way to feel better about themselves. They can trample on others and treat each other like merde, sporting attitudes like "it's not personal, it's business" for 6 days of the week, but as long as they sit in church for an hour on Sundays, they're still good people. I found too many of these types in my church, and this was one of the reasons I was so turned off of it. I still have my faith, but I believe that church and faith don't have to be dependent on one another. One can go to church and have no faith. One can not go to church and have faith. I don't see the verse in the Bible that says I'm going to hell for skipping church.

End rant.

3:13 a.m.  

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