Losing My Religion…

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My parents raised me with a level of piousness that was nauseating. They knew being the child of a deacon and a Sunday school superintendent would cause me to be judged by standards reserved for pastors’ children and gods. My life could be summed up as church, home and school because that was my routine; I was a member of an evangelical church. My baptism as a pre-teen was predictable and the fanfare that followed mirrored the return of the Ark of the Covenant when David danced before the Lord, well, except the nudity. People called me young Samuel while encouraging me to considering studying theology. I came to the realization early that I was the prototype; the good church boy who became the president of the youth group, then promoted to a Sunday school teacher, while leading choruses at Sunday worship services, and eventually becoming the director of youth ministries and sitting as a council member. Young people my age told me their parents would compare them to me and they hated it. I hated it more, but not for reasons you may imagine. I hated it because I was not being true to myself.

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child… The idea of Moses parting the red sea after inflicting plagues on the Egyptians is believable when tooth fairies deliver cash for fallen teeth. Mermaids and glass slippers need the same level of imagination that the story of the Tower of Babel demands. I believed it all, until my parents could no longer quench my questions. I was submerged in this world until I learned good doesn’t always win and evil is just as encompassing. I lost my innocence and I was losing my faith. I disliked the hypocrite that I was morphing into and felt like I was denying my true self to live…but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Beside the need to suspend logic and replace it with blind-faith into a book written by a tribe of desert people, my exposure to history provoked thought and was one more stake in the heart of Judeo-Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition, Monroe Doctrine, Salem Witch Trials, Jewish Holocaust, residential schools, and the enslavement of Africans showed me that Christianity is smeared in blood. Our ancestors inherited Judeo-Christianity from men who viewed them as chattels. Our fore-parents were taught the tenets of Judeo-Christianity through systems that told them they were inferior. My granny has a framed image of a White Christ, with golden blonde hair and sky blue eyes. It features prominently in her bedroom and takes pride of place over pictures of her daughters and grandchildren.

The self-hatred taught in the name of evangelism is seen in how the church in general paints Africa, especially the black churches. It is agonizing to hear anything connected to the continent being casted as evil and most forms of African retentions derided. It is even more painful for me to admit that I bought into this lie for many years. Gods that looks like me were demonic, but I woke up to a framed Caucasian Jesus on Christmas holidays at my granny. Jupiter, Athena and Apollo enjoy the privilege of being considered myths, but Ogun, Eshu and Nyame are demonic forces that were worshipped by the savages of the Dark Continent before they were rescued by slavers. The lead up to visiting Ghana in 2001 was revealing; church folks warned me to “cover” myself from evil spirits that prowled the land. I gave them the side eye, but went along with the charade and did as they recommended. Assimilation was successful, but its hold on me was slippery.

I feared telling mommy and daddy about my changing views. My folks were simple-working-class people who had little to nothing to pass on to their children. Christianity was the greatest gift they could give and they had worked hard to tie a bow around it. The certainty wrapped in hope of a paradise after death, was greater than any tangible thing they could give me. How could I reject it? I witnessed controlled pride in my mother’s eyes when I taught my first Sunday lesson. My father invited his sisters and brothers to church when I delivered my first sermonette. My parents had been successful in steering me down the straight and narrow. I had doubts. My questions festered until I found plausible answers outside of the church. I was no longer a sheep.

In Grade 12 I shared my sexual preference with my mother…well, more like she found out. My mother exposed a side of herself that I’ve never seen. Her logical questions were bathed in an empathetic tone. The words she offered were perfect for a 17 year old who had contemplated suicide because he was gay. Her prayer was not that I would change, but that I’ll find joy. My father was told by my mother and though we never discussed it, our relationship remained the same. I found it odd then for two evangelical Christians, Jamaicans without post-secondary education, to comprehend sexuality the way they did. But their reaction to me walking away from Christianity was stripped of all reason. My parents could not understand it; they didn’t try to understand.

I came out atheist to my parents two years ago and it was one of the hardest tasks I’ve undertaken in my 30 years. The revelation altered our relationship. My mother wept openly. My father’s tone told me I had failed him as his only son, despite the plaques and trophies that littered the living room. My mother called me early the next morning to pray. She had not slept; I could hear it in her voice. Her one desire was for the lord to reveal himself to me. To say I felt horrible would be an understatement. I had caused my parents so much pain. I have replayed the conversation many times since then and sometimes wish I gave an alternative response to the questions surrounding my absence from church.

I am not an evangelical atheist. I have no desire to convert people or even have them understand my rejection of a religion that I was fully immersed in. I lead my life with a principle that pre-dates Judeo-Christianity; do to people what you want them to do to you. This has forced me to be less judgemental, more empathetic and more vulnerable to those I interface with. I know if I should die now that my parents would ensure I was given a proper burial, starting with a lengthy sermon at my funeral. Deep inside I want them to respect my decision and even be proud that I am bold enough to follow a path based on my own understanding of the world. But I don’t get expect that to happen,  not any time soon and that r the truth.

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Ground Zero Abortions

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Abortion is legal in Canada where it is considered a reproductive right. Women health clinics are scattered across the GTA and serve a diverse clientele consciously deciding to terminate their pregnancies.

It was just coincidence that I happen to notice two abortion clinics in close proximity to women’s only shelters and government funded housing. It provoked thought that this may have been mere coincidence, but the conspiracy theorist in me would not allow this rational to stick.

I did some research and came up with a shocking trend that I decided to show through mapping. The map shows clusters of shelters and government houses for poor families in Toronto. Most of them are near to clinics that specializes in abortions. Another dimension is added when consideration is given that the main demographic within these areas are First Nations and Blacks…not trying to call it strategic placing, but it does smell foul.

Take a look at the map.

365 days later…

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It is a year since I have been away from Jamaica and oh, what a year it has been.

I’ve made new friendships, but still support those I created in Jamaica with phone calls, BBM, Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype.  I have been assigned the role of ambassador in social settings when my accent reveals my nationality. This is a role I’ve been happy to fill, because I have been allowed to debunk some of the myths people have of Jamaicans. I have been asked questions ranging from my relationship with my family to how Bob Marley’s music affected my life. One particular question that floored me was if Jamaicans know about Canada. I simply smiled and said yes then walked away to prevent any further interaction. To my new friends I am the official litmus in determining if a smell, sound or taste labelled Jamaican is authentic.

My assimilation into the Canadian society required me to disrobe of some of the bigoted world views that I inherited from my fore-parents. I have been confronted with other lived truths and experiences that have forced me to re-evaluate things I have held as true. I started my journey on the 21st of December, 2011 at 5:10 p.m. from my parent’s house in Jamaica and I am still travelling.

Possibly the most frequent question I’ve been asked is if I miss Jamaica. I’ve often responded with a reflexive yes, but recently it hit me that I was lying.

I don’t miss Jamaica.

I miss the familiarity it affords me.

I miss my family, friends and the memories I created while growing up.

I do not miss Jamaica.

I don’t miss the need Jamaicans have to police your behaviour, dress-code and speech.

The suffocating value system that we cloak in black, green and gold and use it to suppress expression and individuality.

Since my journey began I have pierced my ears and I am contemplating a tattoo.

I have a fire-engine red pants in my closet and a jeans so tight it requires a special dance to get into them.

There are things I have done and expressed that I was afraid to consider in Jamaica.

I surprise myself at times, but it gives me a great feeling that makes my heart smile, a rush that makes me feel like I am alive and living. The thought of shelving these inhibitions I have developed over the past 365 days scares me.

I’ve said I love you more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I have cried openly with members of my family and have fearlessly exposed my vulnerability in ways I dreaded. This journey I am on has taught me more about myself than I cared to know.

I have heightened my relationship with my sisters and made me realize how much I love them. My younger sister sent me a card on my birthday which made me cry. She has never expressed the words she wrote to me and just reading them forced me to realize how much I took for granted. I also realized that had I not been away from home, I may never have read those words.

My mother is my life. Yet, I would get annoyed when she told  stories that I have heard a thousand times before. Now I long for them and laugh my ass off as if I am hearing them for the first time while listening to her on the phone thousands of miles away. I picture her warm eyes, the smell of vanilla that I attach to memories of my mother and the way she smiles while reliving these memories as only a mother can. My father and I are also different. He is no longer the man who I fought on a daily basis as a teenager, but instead has morphed into daddy. A man with his own insecurities who never grew up with a father but was required to play the role without a script. Our conversations has become meaningful since I have been in Canada. I recently saw a picture of my dad and it forced me to deal with his mortality. My father has aged so much within a year. The implications of this realization were not lost on me and all his vices seemed irrelevant in that moment. I have him now and I plan to make it count.

This journey has brought people of various faiths into my life, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jews and even Atheist. I have been able to sit and listen to world views and lived experiences that challenged many of the things I questioned, as well as things I held as true. I grew up in church. I taught Sunday school, worked at church camps and served two years as Youth Director, but I had major issues with the tenets of the faith I was socialized with.   Surely this will cause many conflicts with family and friends, but I am ready to live with the consequences of my actions that are decided by my perception of the world.

Just a year and already I can document changes in my life. We often tell people, “don’t change, because I love you just the way you are”, yet change is inevitable, even the dead changes.

I am changing and this fact excites me. I look forward to where this journey takes me and how much growth I will experience…and it r the truth.

Preying on prayer…

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I was taught to pray at an early age by my mother.

I remember waking up many nights and hearing her whispered prayers as she walked through the rooms of the house.

I attended three catholic schools and we prayed before classes, before lunch, after lunch, before we left for school and we prayed just because it was Friday.

My first executive position at church was prayer coordinator for the youth fellowship. Clearly prayer has been a major part of the fabric of my life…just like cotton.

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the statement, “Prayer changes things…” but lately I have been asking, what is the purpose of prayer?

Christians believe God to be all knowing, all powerful, all loving, alpha and omega, holding all our future and plans in his hand. His will is described as perfect and he knows what is best for us all. After all, he knew us from we were in our mothers’ wombs. If this is the case, why do we pray? Why ask God to change things since he already knows what is good for us? To think I would have to go to my mother and father every time I have a need that they are already aware of, they have an obligation to fill that need. Isn’t it the same with God? Since he knows what we need why should I have to ask? Can my prayer change the will of God?  

I have often marveled at chaplains and athletes praying for victory, how does God even decide this? How does he pick a team to win or decide that this praying Christian’s request will be granted and the other denied? Surely we have seen people who later are revealed to be cheats win and walk off with the glorious moment of having confetti fall while they are hoisted on the shoulders of others, with the crowd chanting their names and the devout prayer warriors are left in the shadows. How about God allowing people to go on a murderous rampage, then we are urged to pray for the family left in the wake of the tragedy. Pray that “God may comfort them in this hour of need”. This bothers me. There is a school of thought that God allowed it to happen so people will draw closer to Him. seriously… Do I need to show the flaws in that ideology? 

I recognize the need for prayer, it is like a journal that allows people to get rid of some of the issues that plague their minds. It offers a release for many and offers hope in a world that may seem gloomy to some people. I am grateful when people say they will pray for me, not because I believe God may alter his plans for my life but that they care enough to try and have him alter his plans for my life. To say I have removed prayer from my life would be a lie, as there are times I ask for strength and answers to even some of these questions. Sigh, sometimes I wish I had blind-faith like so many Christians I know…oh well I guess I should pray for it….and it r the truth.

We are not Free….

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Recently I made a declaration on Facebook, that I do not believe people choose their sexual orientation. As is typical with my status comments, it elicited  a range of responses, from support, to indifference and of course a few disagreeing with my position. However, one comment provoked me to examine my own thoughts on free-will; ‘God gives us choice in every aspect of our lives….” Simple reasoning would prove this statement invalid, as none of us choose our parents, our date of birth, or nationality, yet these seem diminutive when juxtaposed with other aspects of our lives where we have no choice.

I’ve always believed in Predetermination, the idea that every event is caused, not simply by the immediately prior events, but by a causal chain of occurrences that goes back well before recent events. For example, one’s personal characteristics are predetermined by socialization and heredity, by a chain of events going back before one’s birth. Children born in the ghetto to a poor dysfunctional family are predetermined to live a life of crime or debauchery. One could argue that some make it out of the ghetto and lead successful lives, but even this is predetermined by factors outside of that person, factors they make no decision on; opportunity, motivation, “the drive” to make things better for themselves. This  does have seriously implications on our penal and reward system, as this reasoning suggest that criminals are not responsible for their deeds, and people are not responsible for their own successes. My personal belief is that society makes criminals then punishes them for being criminals, but that is for another blog spot.

I’ve pondered on the following disposition where I love honey roasted peanuts, they are delicious. I also love peanut cake and may say it is a confection that I was addicted to as a student at University, yet I cannot put peanut butter in my mouth, the very smell of it makes me nauseous…how come? I did not choose to dislike peanut butter, neither did I try not to like it, it was predetermined by something in my genetic coding. 

With advancements in science, we are able to see that genuine dysfunctions exist that cause students to be slow at Math and other technical subjects. For years they have been labelled as slow, dunce, or just lazy, yet we realize this exist outside of their ability to control it. The spin-off due to this dysfunction that they had no control over has led many of them down unsavoury paths. So are they free, or predetermined?

I should hasten to say I think there are some points at which persons make decisions, but even the options are based on predetermined factors, so how free is there choice? There are studies to show that human behaviour is affected by so many external factors, that coupled with those based on genetics, it is ridiculous to say we have free-will.

The idea that people are free agents making decisions based on an unlimited course of action is flawed and should be examined honestly. As it relates to sexual orientation; homosexuality is as much a choice as heterosexuality and it r the truth.

 


What If…?

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What if I were BLACK?
Not smooth, rich black, grinning black,
but coarse BLACK,
abrasive and obscene BLACK.
The make you cringe type of BLACK,
Would we be friends…?

What if I were HIV+?
Not victimized, poor thing, HIV+
but “brought it upon himself” HIV+.
Messed around, sexed around, slept around HIV+,
Would we be friends…?

What if I were CRIPPLED?
not faulty machines, accident crippled,
but broke the law, had my ass clipped CRIPPLED.
CRIPPLED due to disobedience,
Would we be friends…?

What if I were DULL?
Not shy, stay by myself dull,
but a sad DULL, no jokes or dramatic anecdotes DULL.
DULL u scurry to escape from as it draws near,
Would we be friends…?

What if I were GAY?
Not happy, suave, well groomed gay,
but angry GAY, loud, defensive GAY.
Pelvic bone in your eye shoving GAY,
desire the smooth finish of women’s clothing GAY,
Would we be friends…?

What if I were an ATHEIST?
Not agnostic, flat out ATHEIST,
call you foolish for believing ATHEIST,
regard as ramblings, eternal soul ATHEIST,
Would we be friends…?

Life MAY NOT take me down this road,
so perhaps what I should ponder is,
WHY are we Friends…?