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Right now, I’m going through a bit of a spiritual journey. I was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (aka chronic fatigue syndrome) recently, and have been suffering from it for over a year now. And while it’s come with a lot of challenges, I do feel a silver lining is that it’s made me have to come face-to-face with my own life and self.

It might sound odd, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the external – your job, your housekeeping & errands, spending time with friends and family, wasting hours online looking at stuff (even if it’s interesting stuff) – that you start to lose sight of the internal. I feel a little like I’ve lost some of myself – some of that is from not being able to do some of the things I enjoy, but honestly, now that I’m not able to DO so much, it makes me realize just how neglected the rest of me, and the rest of my life, really is.

On that note, I’ve started thinking more about my spirituality. I’m a Christian, and I always will be one. It’s something that’s an integral part of my life, how I view the world, etc. I really do believe all of it’s true. I could never pretend that it’s just not real or anything like that – it truly would be pretending.

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Jesus is the coolest.

But you know, I’ve always been a little different in that regard. I’ve always thought of myself as not fitting in well with other Christians – it’s been my experience for the larger part of my life. I think the main reason is that while I’m  very much on board with God, Jesus, and all the rest, I’m not very much a Christian in cultural terms. Sure, I don’t get drunk or do drugs, and from a moral perspective I’m much more Christian than many of my friends. But I’m also a huge nerd, I like punk and metal music, I like to wear big black boots and tribal jewelry, I like to dye my hair purple, I like to play Dungeons and Dragons and plan on naming my two hypothetical future-daughters after characters from Avatar: the Last Airbender and Lord of the Rings, respectively.

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My “inner me” looks a little something like this. Yes, I am a huge nerd 😛

These are things that, growing up in the church, have gotten me some sideways glances and on more than one occasion – and I believe the reason is that culturally, these are not Christian things. People just don’t get it. When you play Dungeons and Dragons, you do not actually cast spells, nor does it inspire you to want to practice witchcraft. It’s about as harmful and about as effective as making a gun with your fingers and going “bang” at someone. You’d also be surprised at how much some punk & metal music mesh with Christian values, or at least have good, Christian-compatible messages in them (off the top of my head, I think of The Kids Aren’t Alright by the Offspring, True Believers by  Bouncing Souls, and The Gauntlet by Dropkick Murphys).  As for the rest, it’s all fashion; who cares?

The real problem here isn’t that these things are inherently bad. It’s that many Christians are uncomfortable taking anything away from something that does not “belong” to them. Anything that comes from a tradition or culture not their own is treated as if it’s inherently evil. But many people can see that’s not actually the case, and some can even see that the Church’s fear of not being “Christian” enough can lead them to exclude people who would greatly benefit from being there, and could make a positive contribution to the church.

 

I think this same attitude extends to learning from other faiths. In this regard, I’m a bit of an outcast again – at my most spiritually-connected, I felt energy from living things around me, felt myself connected to the world around me energetically… I believe that people really can be psychic. I see all these things in Christian terms – God made everything alive, energy flows through us all as that life force, and that both God and Satan can give people powers most think are impossible. Having this belief made me feel very spiritually healthy. When I began meditating, I expected only to have a good relaxation effect, and in fact it helped me to be able to hear God’s voice better than ever before.

Now, as I seek to regain spiritual strength and connectedness, I read articles about finding your “soul tribe”, about how life ebbs and flows and how you can find personal regeneration in the low times of life, about mind-body connectedness… and I find truth and meaning. It resonates with how I truly think and feel (the bit about regeneration in particular hit me. I feel as if my life is in winter mode right now – a time of reflection and quiet and darkness that can be used to rest and heal).

However, none of these insights come from Christian viewpoints. Many of these things would be considered pagan by many church-goers. But where they see caving in to pagan ideas, I see that most spiritualities carry some grain of truth in them (personally, I feel if they didn’t have this, they would not have many followers). I think we Christians need to remember that while our God is true and good, our religion has its blind spots. While we may not agree on lots of stuff believed in other faiths, they may have some true insights or useful practices that we could learn from.

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The funny thing is that a lot of these ideas are not really un-Biblical; some are actually very much in line with Biblical teachings – but they are just not part of our culturally-accepted Christian worldview and thought-frames.
Sometimes all it is is a Biblical idea rephrased in a way that may make more sense to someone. Sometimes it’s a 3/4 truth that you can run with to God to get that extra 1/4 truth. Sometimes it’s something Christians shun as being “too (insert philosophy here)”, when really it’s a useful idea.

Instead of being afraid that if we look into other religions, that we will fall away from God, we should be strong in our faith in God, and pray that we will learn good things in His view from people of all faiths (or none). God gave us our faculties of reason, God gave us His word by which we can measure the truth of other ideas, God allows us to come to him with our questions and ideas. By being afraid of learning about other ideas, of seeing where others may have caught something we missed, how are we showing faith? We are not. We are staying in fear, and it may do harm to us personally. It may do harm to the church as we turn away people and truths that are too “out there” for us.

Of course, this might vary by individual. You don’t want to put yourself into the position of a recovering alcoholic at bar, spiritually speaking. But as a church, if we held this attitude, we could not only be stronger, but could help those who are weaker in faith, going through rough patches, etc. without having that element of fear. We could better answer their questions. We could encourage them to move forward and be strong.

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steven-universe-season-2-episode-76-still-1Yes, it’s true. I know, I know, some people find this to be a very obvious theme in the show. But call me naive, I just didn’t see it as I was watching it, not until very recently – and even then, I only wondered about it because of all the pro-gay media out there, and didn’t believe it til I read  an article that talks about how Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, thinks more LGBTQ representation in kids shows is needed, and wants Steven Universe to reflect that.

“But how, Firefly” you might wonder, “could you miss something like THAT?” Well, it’s easy. You see, I don’t think in LGBTQ terms. Never have. And while that automatically makes me “heteronormative” or maybe “cis”, or perhaps even “homophobic” in some people’s minds, I find that all to be just a ton of jargon that muddies the waters more than it helps.

I base part of that feeling on my own experience growing up. People always talk about learning about love from Disney movies & such, but I didn’t. Sticking to Disney for simplicity’s sake here – as a kid, I would watch Disney movies, and thought the romance was sweet, but I didn’t “feel it”. It didn’t “seem like me”. The only Disney movie I saw as a kid where the romance resonated with me was Aladdin; otherwise, it was just part of the story. I did often identify with various characters cos of their personalities or skills, though – Disney’s impact on my role models were mainly Ariel and Robin Hood. I wanted to be those characters – I wanted to be smart, resourceful, talented, adventurous, and in the case of Robin Hood, terribly clever. Luckily my parents didn’t care if I found that resonance in a girl or guy character.

As an adult, I’ve often had more guy than girl friends, and from the time I was about 18 I really strongly identified more with the guys in my life than the women. I think more like them, I enjoy the things they tend to enjoy, and I very much didn’t resonate very much with stereotypically feminine things, except perhaps fashion.

From what I read online, a lot of people would say this falls pretty well into LGBTQ territory – but the thing is, it wasn’t a “queer” thing either. I was treated as a person – I am a person – and a person can have a variety of characteristics. I personally don’t really “identify” as a female. I am a female. I am a person. I am a female person. That’s all there is to it. I identify with my sexy parts about as much as I do with my hair colour. They’re a part of me, yes, and a useful label in describing myself to others. But they’re not part of my core identity the same way my interests, talents, history, or spirituality are – it takes a backseat to all of that. In my mind, while I am a female, what am I supposed to “identify” with there?  Yes, it shapes my experience to a degree – but to me, this all seems less of a queer thing than just an obvious fact of life.

This was one of my favourite things about Steven Universe, message-wise. Although the characters are technically not female and are technically asexual, they all look female. So there are 2 elements there. On the one hand, having them all look female does give a nice variety of full, well-developed, diverse “female” characters that you don’t often see in media.

On the other hand, the fact that they’re technically not female was nice cos it allowed you to focus less on the external form and more on the character as a person. It was kind of liberating to watch. Not just the gems, but all the show’s characters seem like real people. There is no stereotyping with any of them, and that makes the more real. It was nice to see diversity in SU – not “LGBTQ” diversity, but just diversity of characters with all of them being portrayed as normal, whole, flawed people that could be any one of us. The relationships between the gems, by making the gems not technically have a sex, lets you focus more fully on the relationship itself, on the characters and how their relationships develop. I found it to be really nice – so often, we identify a character or person with their external characteristics – I think this “as a woman”, you think something “as a black person”; we fit ourselves into these neat boxes. I feel like SU and the gems broke that – it weakened those preconceived notions, and that makes us get to the core of things, without that framework to fall back on in our mentally lazy common fashion.

Making the show about queerness and gay relationships kind of breaks that. Although, according to Sugar, “it’s not meant to be political”, just by classifying it as pro-LGBTQ it kind of becomes political, you know? LGBTQ anything is political, as it’s basically a political construct with political implications and very politically-current political controversies. I know people might not like me saying that – I’ve been called a homophobe more than once – but it’s true. I get that some people are gay or bi. But to be honest, any other colour on that LGBTQ rainbow has always eluded me as to its purpose. Why does anyone need to come up with these intricate labels to create this detailed continuum of gendered-ness and where they fall in that continuum and how exactly they want to express it? Why not just be people? 

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Ah, but you might wonder, that’s only part of the equation. You can basically say that Ruby & Sapphire are gay, and that Pearl wanted a gay relationship with Rose! As asexual female-ish aliens, I find no issue with any of these relationships.

But it’s official that it’s not really intended to portray that, now. So yes, I will say it, I have problems with showing gay relationships in kids’ shows. People talk about “representing” gay people in shows for the sake of gay kids. I understand where they’re coming from – but really, how many kids (especially younger ones) think they’re gay? Many might realize that a certain thing does or doesn’t resonate with them, or that they do or don’t want this or that. But kids are… well, they’re inexperienced. They don’t know much about themselves or how the world works. And while I mean no disrespect toward gay people, the truth of the matter is that heterosexual relations are one of the very few social norms that are rooted in actual biology. I find it unwise to teach kids that the feelings of a small minority are an option, when in reality it has a bigger chance of confusing a kid than helping one, just by the numbers.

I think of my guy friends who, as teens and young adults, wondered if they were gay cos they weren’t interested in dating, or liked women’s fashion, or were more sensitive (spoiler alert: none of them were gay or even bi). I think of myself, a girl who often identified more with the guys in my life than the girls – and I’m not gay or queer or anything either. The non-LGBTQ reading of Steven Universe hits this mark well by representing so many different kids of people for anyone to resonate with. I think it helps eliminate confusion.

But this experience also makes me think this whole focus on representing “gay kids” misses the mark. If I grew up in this day & age, there’s a good chance that I, and my aforementioned guy friends, would have been encouraged in a direction that’s just not us. Not only would it have led to confusion, but in this day & age if any of us had realized we were confused and tried to get help to correct it, it’d be actually frowned upon – even outlawed in some places. It’s in the best interest of kids to correctly guide as many as possible, and the truth is that for most kids, the direction they go is straight ahead, as is biologically normative, for what should be obvious reasons.

So yeah, I don’t think putting gay relationships in kids shows is a great idea – kids just don’t know enough about the world or themselves yet, and focusing too much on it could create confusion like I mentioned above. It’s more likely to do harm than good, in my opinion.

But creating all these amazing characters, where the focus is on the personality and not the form that person takes… that’s nice. Steven Universe’s well-developed relationships really teach good lessons to kids and adults alike. I think that’s lovely, and really breaks down the barriers we have as seeing people as just people, and from seeing relationship dynamics in a clear view. I kinda wish SU had stuck on that line- it’d still work just fine for LGBTQ people, but without the controversy (and, despite the wishes of the creator, political-ness) of whether people think it’s a good idea for kids to see that.

tall-poppy
I’m in Australia right now on a working holiday, and learning some rather interesting facts of the culture here. So I ended up looking up “Tall Poppy Syndrome” : basically, the desire to cut down anyone who distinguishes themselves as being above the rest. Apparently, this attitude is common not only in Australia but in Canada too, as well as pretty much every Anglicized nation but America.

I see it all the time here… most especially, when someone drives by in a nice car, anyone within earshot of it will go on about how the guy’s some jerk who wants to show off how great he is by driving around in a nice car. All this guy wants is our attention, and that makes him a huge jackass; if that weren’t the case he wouldn’t be driving a Lamborghini or whatever. It’s like the guy’s pompous jackassery is implicit in the car he drives. Even the nicest, most reasonable people I’ve met here will start spitting venom at the sight of someone revving the engine of a Ferrari… despite the fact that they also really love nice cars.

I find this to be a pretty alien attitude, so when I see online that apparently we Canadians have it too, I was a bit befuddled. To use the same example, when someone drives by in a nice car, maybe revving their engine a little, I don’t think it’s common for people to react as strongly as they do here. Sure, depending on how ostentatious the guy’s being, we might giggle a little and roll our eyes a bit at how he’s showing off, but it’s been pretty rare to see the kinds of character judgments and hard edge to the criticism that you see here in Australia. On a broader scale, in Canada you see little of the anti-intellectualism common in Australia, and people often strive to do their best with little thought given to whether they’ll seem arrogant or distant for doing well.

So in my opinion, I think largely the idea that Canada has much in the way of Tall Poppy Syndrome is more to do with lumping us together with other Commonwealth countries. If anyone reading this has any ideas about the concept, though, I love to hear them 🙂

Atheism, Religion and War

Religion has caused more wars than anything else. Right? Judging by the talk floating around much of the internet, you’d think so. Of course, religious people- mostly Chrisitans, from what I’ve seen- deny this. On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that atheism is responsible for more deaths in the 20th century alone than religion caused in its whole history. Of course, atheists deny this. So what exactly is the truth, and does it matter?

I decided to do a little digging on this very interesting topic, and I’m forming a few ideas here. Granted, I’m not an expert on history, much less enough history to be able to give a comprehensive analysis of exactly how many deaths were caused by each group and why throughout all of human history. But I’m a pretty good closet philosopher, so here goes…

The first problem I see is that there is no distinction between what a religion’s holy books teach and what the followers themselves do. This is an important distinction, since the two are not always the same. For example, I came across a site that argued that contrary to what some argue, Hitler was not that much influenced by atheism, but his atrocities were due to his Christian upbringing. Why? Because a lot of Christians, including Luther, whom apparently was influential in Hitler’s thinking, were anti-Semitic. Of course, the Bible itself is hardly anti-Semitic- heck, the Jews are God’s chosen people, for the love of Mike. True Christianity is therefore not anti-Semitic, though some Christians can be, generally due to misinformation or cultural influences. Thus, while Hitler may have been influenced by Christians, he was not influenced by Christianity. Perhaps some Christians encouraged him to hate Jews, but that belief is against Biblical teachings.

For atheism, this is a little harder to peg,  because unlike most religions, atheists can believe pretty much whatever they want and there’s no real guidelines to compare it to. You can tell if a Christian is living up to the Bible’s teachings, and the same goes for most other religions, but with atheists, there aren’t really any accepted teachings to serve as a standard.  Because of that, one person’s atheism may lead them to just not care or be involved with religious discussions, another might be a total nihilist, another becomes a militant atheist trying to rid the world of religion, etc. Still, though, while a person’s atheism may not necessarily lead them to do bad things, it certainly doesn’t preclude them from doing so. A large number of people seem to think that because atheism is just a lack of belief in the supernatural or deities, that nothing can truly be done in the name of atheism, but this is not true. An individual’s atheism can mean to them whatever they want it to mean, and if they decide it means that the best way to rid the world of destructive, irrational “religion” is to kill every religious person, that’s totally legit according to their own beliefs. Not that I’m saying that’s happened necessarily, just it’s not as impossible as many people seem to think it is.

 

The second problem is simply that of blaming the majority of the world’s strife on religion. For one, not all religions are the same. “Religion” encompasses a large number of highly varying belief systems, so to say that “religion” is responsible for anything is ridiculous, especially in conjunction with the previous point. It seems that in most discussions, “religion” refers to Christianity, or occasionally Islam; it’s rarely used to refer to Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, etc. Also, it ignores the fact that many, many problems are caused by greedy, self-serving governments, militias that want power and prestige, poor economic and social policy decisions and the resulting fighting over resources, and just plain hate of various kinds of people. Honestly, do people really think that if there was no religion, that these problems would just disappear? Do they really think that religious differences are the only thing that can cause one group to hate or hurt another? Do they really think that other ideologies and agendas can’t divide people?

Also, the people debating this point tend to separate political institutions from ideological beliefs for their own group, but not for others. The easiest way to say it is that religious and atheist people have been responsible for atrocities, but not necessarily due to their religion or atheism. True,  Stalin was an atheist, and yes, he killed jillions of people. Mao, Pol Pot, and others are the same. Did they kill people in the name of atheism? Not really; though their atheism was certainly an important part of their political ideologies, it’s true that it’s mostly cos religion posed a threat to the total power of the state, more than that they were eradicating religion in favour of their atheism. The same is true for many of the “religious atrocities” people like to list. They forget that the Catholic Church was as much a political as a religious entity in the Middle Ages. The Crusades? They were taking the land back from the Muslims who had recently conquered it. The Inquisitions? Totally about solidifying the Church’s power; I mean, the first Inquisition was against Christians who wanted to read the Bible themselves. Just as there’s more than atheism behind the actions of Stalin or Mao, there’s more than Christianity behind the actions of the Medieval Catholic Church.

I think the best solution is to say that anyone is capable of atrocities, and that ANY ideology can be used- even warped- to further the agenda of those in power.  Blaming war on atheists or theists is pointless and only serves to distract us from real issues and make us feel comfortable that our way is superior, when really it’s unrealistic and increases feelings of hostility between different groups of people. I’m all for thinking through your beliefs and knowing your history. But we should be realistic as well.

 

heartcloudSo, I just found out that Stephen Chow- one of my top celebrity crushes, sharing a spot with Ryan Gosling & Chris Hemsworth- turned 50 last summer. I had no idea he was that old (I’m freshly 29, so it’s a bit of a deal for me). View full article »

Best Lottery Plan Ever

$signeyesWho doesn’t love to think about what they’d do if they won the lottery?

My sister’s boyfriend Corey is practically religious in how he plays the lottery. As we were driving home from our New Year’s party, he was saying how it’d be such a great way to ring in the new year by winning the lottery. Haha, I think that’s how everyone would want to do it…

And so we got to talking about what we’d do with the money if we won. Pretty much everyone in my family has this dream of living “off the grid”, and it turns out Corey is no different. Get an acreage, some windmills & solar panels, grow your own food, be completely self-sufficient. Haha, he’ll fit in well with the family. View full article »

indoctrination

So I was doing a little early-morning reading and came across this article from the BBC. Essentially, first they outlawed teaching creationism in state-funded schools, then they made sure their purposes couldn’t be circumvented by also putting it into law that one has to teach evolutionary theory as well-supported fact. I have to say I was rather surprised at the number of positive responses this legislation was receiving. The majority of comments, blog posts & the like regarding this are applauding the success of these laws… but frankly I think they’re a little nuts for saying so. View full article »

So I’m Doing a Blog

Hey anyone out there in Internet-Land reading this! What’s shakin’?

Me, I’m writing my first-ever blog. I never thought I’d be writing a blog. Like, ever, cos I don’t even like being on the internet that much. However, I find myself needing an avenue to think things through, vent, rave about awesome stuff, express my meandering thoughts, etc., and Facebook’s just not doing it for me anymore. Hence, blogaliciousness. I’m hoping the exercise in expression will be fun, and also turn me from this:

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into this:

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Yeah, I’m far too silly to ever REALLY meditate properly. So that’ll be good enough ;P

Anyway, the computer is sucking out my brain, and my eyes are going all googly from being online at work all day. I’m going to go for a swim, whip up the circulation.