Monday, December 26, 2005

My Christmas

My Christmas was a bit different this year. We've always had our family Christmas Eve party at Grandma's house, but this year we had it up at my folks house. It is even the first time we've had any parties up at my folk's house--they have been working really hard on getting the place rearranged and even putting in a insert wood stove and building a hearth around it. I wish I had before and after pictures to post--it's a bit like Changing Spaces or something 'cept they did it themselves. :-p

The Christmas Eve party went off great--we ate, Grampa shared some of his Christmas memories, the Christmas myth was read, we sang some carols. I'll see if I can get some digital photo's from Dad so I can post them.

I spent the night up at Mom and Dad's house after the party. It was weird sleeping on the couch, and I didn't get to sleep until about 3 in the morning. As Christmas morning is also Sunday morning, Mom invited me to go to church, as expected. I pretty much planned on going with them anyway, so I accepted.

We missed half of the service since it went from 10am-11am. I'm not sure of the reason for the shift in schedule; I think it was something to do with the pastor's traveling plans. Anyway, what it meant to me was that I only had to sit there for 30 minutes as opposed to an hour. LOL The service was alright--we walked in where the pastor was reading Isaiah 53 and then switched to the birth of Jesus and then to the bit in Revelation about the Lamb and the seven seals. A team with a soprano sax and a singer who I know from when I was in the youth group did "O Holy Night." They did quite a good job on it too, the singer even did it in sign language.

Then, to my dismay, I found out that they were going to do Communion. This was the first time I'd been to a Communion service since I decided that I definitely was not a believer. It was also the first time that I sat still during the entire thing--just breathing in and out and trying not to look too conspicuous. I used to love Communion when I was a Christian, and the combination of that and that of going against the peer pressure made it all an unpleasant experience. What else could I do--to take it is no less than a public proclamation of faith. Far as I know, most in the church are totally unaware that I have rejected Christianity--they only know that I've not been going to church. I wonder how many noticed that I didn't even take Communion when it is open to anyone who has "accepted Christ as their lord and savior"? Not that anyone mentioned it afterward, of course.

The rest of the day went alright--but as this post is already pretty long I'm going to make the rest of it very short. We ate Christmas dinner at Grampa's and then I went to my roomate's family party. And that was my Christmas this year.

Monday, December 19, 2005

events of the day

Today I went to a memorial service. Also known as a funeral. It was for my little neice who, as it turned out, died before ever seeing the light of day. Her name was Rebecca Grace. I've never seen such a tiny casket.
I've also observed in the last few year that funerals are much harder for me than they used to be. This being because most of the "comforting words" are about mythical stuff that most of the people there happen to believe. While the pastor was going on at the memorial service about how "God knows how to lose a child" and "the baby is in the arms of Jesus" and all that I just stared at the tree behind him and concentrated on breathing in and out and waited for him to get done. I suppose it doesn't really matter if those words were any comfort to me or not, as they meant something to the parents and the others there. I'm not going to sit and wallow in self-pity over it--just thought I'd share my thoughts here for all the others out there who have similar experiences. At least no one tried to witness to me, or talked much at all about it after the sermon, far as I could tell. It was good to be around family, and it was heartening to see how many people showed up. I do know my brother and sis-in-law are going to need support this Christmas.

On a brighter note, I have finished with my classes. No more tests (of the written and graded type, anyway). Woo hoo.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A false dichotomy

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I have discovered the thing that I've heard as the sort of reason that people renounce atheism in order to embrace some religion or another. That is, that science and reason in themselves are unable to give meaning to life.

Most of my life I have held this assumption that to be spiritual and to find warmth and meaning in life was somehow tied to believing things that defy what my eyes see and what my science teacher tried to teach me. Salvation was found in believing things and trusting that if your eyes and reason said otherwise, then your eyes and reason were deceiving you. The alternative was simply disbelieving anything that couldn't be proven for certain--after all I've always hated being uncertain in these matters. (Especially when I thought my eternal destiny was tied to my degree of certainty, but I digress). This is the false dichotomy that I'm talking about.

I came to the point of recognizing that reason is not everything on my own. My explorations into Buddhism revealed the rest. I'd hardly considered the possibility of a religion that is not based on faith, but rather experience. There may be faith involved in varying degrees for different people, but it's not essential. Well, anyway, Buddhism as I know it is primarily about our experience of the present moment--no so much about the origins of life or what, if anything, happens after we die. Not much reason to get into debates about evolution versus creationism here.

Also, today I read chapter one in a book called The End of Faith by Sam Harris. He expressed very clearly the idea that has been rattling around in my head for the past couple of months, and it was this reading that moved me to write this entry. It seems so damn simple--like it was right on the edge of my thoughts before but I've never been quite able to bring it to the surface of my thoughts before. Too many of my old assumptions were in the way.

We cannot live by reason alone. This is why no quantity of reason, applied as antiseptic, can compete with the balm of faith, once the terrors of the world begin to intrude upon our lives. Your child has died, or your wife has acquired a horrible illness that no doctor can cure, or your own body has suddenly begun striding toward the grave--and reason, no matter how broad it's compass, will begin to smell distinctly of formaldehyde. This has lead many of us to conclude, wrongly, that human beings have needs that only beliefs in certain fantastical beliefs can fulfill. It is nowhere written, however, that human beings must be irrational, or live in a perpetual state of seige, to enjoy an abidng sense of the sacred. On the contrary, I hope to show that spirituality can be--indeed, must be--deeply rational, even as it elucidates the limits of reason.

So you don't have to either hold absurd beliefs or refuse to consider any ideas that your reason cannot understand. There is a whole lot of middle ground here. And it's a wonderful sense of freedom when you realize that you need not fear reality causing your beliefs to crash down around you! If a belief is shattered by reality, then that is just one more obstacle on the road to a clear view of the world out of the way--and this is a good thing.