Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Call to a Christian TV Show

A week ago I had to make a 9-11 call. No, thankfully it was not a domestic emergency. I made a call to the nightly, Canada wide CTS Christian Call- In Show " It's your Call. " The subject on that night was ' The Atheist Perspective' and they were discussing  9-11, inquiring where God was on September 11th, 2001 when the terrorist attacks in the US were taking place. It all stemmed from an email the station received from an atheist wondering where the Christian God was on that day, and suggesting that believers just made excuses for their God's lack of action.

I know some atheists  will be asking how I managed to be watching this program , maybe thinking that I just happened to be flicking through channels and stumbled across it. Well, it didn't exactly happen like that. I actually do spend some time listening to various forms of Christian programming, call-ins and discussions. Some of my atheist friends consider that doing this is a strange form of self torture, but I actually find it entertaining and it helps to get an eye into what persons espousing the various flavours of Christianity believe. When I went to channel CTS on the night in question and saw a picture of an atheist logo on the screen next to the host Robert Melnichuk, I dropped what I was doing. I immediately started recording the show on my PVR,  because I knew this was one I couldn't afford to miss.

I have to give credit to  Rob, for accurately interpreting the arguments of the atheist when dealing with issues regarding the problem of evil, which on this night in question referred to events of 9-11.

 "Do we as Christians make excuses for God when  tragedies happen? Are we just making up rationalisations to account for the things we don't understand ?"

Yes yes, yes!! I couldn't believe the host had summed up things so beautifully. No atheist could have done a better job. I thought it was a bold question to put out there. Still, I realised Rob was speaking to his choir. This was 'It's Your Call' not 'Ask an Atheist.' Things were well set up up for his audience to call and declare in chorus that nothing could be further from  the truth. Of course, that's exactly what happened.

" Free will, free will, it's all about free will!" was the cry.

One lady made a statement that had a layer of irony thicker than the rubble left behind when the towers fell in 2001. " God wants us to be free to decide whether we want to choose him or not. If God had intervened to stop the attacks of 9-11 where would our freedoms be?" she exclaimed.

I hadn't during all this time intended to call the program, I just wanted to listen. In typical fashion, although they were looking at the ' Atheist Perspective' it was more a case of considering the atheist perspective from the christian perspective. Jeez, how many times have we heard this? Then something did break the ice, an atheist called in to explain how religion is where people turn to for comfort and that is why so many people turned to religion after 9-11. It was important to make this point as the host had begun to imply that the increase in numbers of people turning to Christianity after 9-11 was testimony to the fact that Jesus was real and had the power to deliver people from their distress. As the call finished Rob asked why the caller didn't believe in God and  the caller mentioned how seeing his son circumcised before his eyes was so horrific that he questioned the overall sanity of religion, he studied and began to look more closely at  the claims religions were making and eventually came to the conclusion that God was not real. The call unfortunately finished soon after.

I thought it was a shame the call ended there because I know enough about Christians to be sure that many would boil down his entire conversation into the statement, "I stopped believing in God because I don't like  circumcision." They would then dismiss the caller by saying that his point doesn't make sense since they as Christians don't believe in circumcision either. The believers would  then go on  to say that the atheist caller obviously doesn't understand that we are now under the new covenant and Jesus has changed all that and it is now about a relationship with God not a religion bla-bla bla, bla- bla bla. At that point I decided I would go for it. I would make the call at least to try to leave something more with the viewers. With any luck it  would portray  more fairly the 'atheistic perspective' and why we don't believe in the  God that they do.

My decision  to  call was late in the show and I knew I would probably have to be on hold behind all the callers in front of me in the line. When I eventually put the call, I received a very enthusiastic call screener . I told him I wanted to get on the show and he asked me if I was aware of what tonight's topic was.

" Yes" I replied calmly." In fact I am an atheist."

" You're an atheist? That's great!!!"  he responded.

I had this image of everyone in  the room where he was punching the air. At that moment I felt as if I knew exactly how the 'Atheist Experience' crew feel when a theist calls in. I realised that I was now 'that  theist caller' in this alternative evangelical universe. Then the phone seem to go dead, no sound of callers talking on the live show, no elevator music, just dead silence. On the tv screen it seemed they were showing a special that lasted about five minutes about a family from 9-11, so I would probably have a long wait sitting through that and then whoever else was waiting from earlier . Then I got a jolt that broke the silence like a thunder bolt.

" And we've got David from Calgary!"

That's when I got the lump in my throat, this was it. Wow, they didn't take any other calls while I was on the line. Maybe they ushered me straight to the top of the queue because I was an atheist. Well, there was no more time to reflect, I had to start talking and get on with it. I had no idea how much time I would have or if and when I would be interrupted. I had written out a few key points I had hoped to hit, I just took a deep breath and got going. The moment was made a bit more awkward because  this was not only the first time I was calling into a Christian show. This was actually the first time I had called in to any call-in program. I had been a frequent listener to shows like 'Tell it Like it Is' and 'Getting Down to Brass Tacks' in Barbados and have done my fair share of radio and TV interviews in my time but for some reason I just never thought that calling in to a live program was my thing. My lack of experience showed when I realised that although the TV was turned down very low it wasn't muted, so I could hear a faint echo of myself in the background. I frantically tried to mute the TV as I was speaking and as a result I paused as I gave  my opening statement, where I was making the point that I was an atheist. I wondered if  viewers would interpret those pauses as being scared of calling the 'A' word. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

I found myself after thanking the host for taking my call,  getting straight into the story of my deconversion. How I was once where he was but had since changed. In spite of having my talking points to hit, I think sub- consciously I wanted to take this public moment to tell the world, well in this case Canada, why I no longer believed.  I felt I just needed to get it all out and to be honest I really felt better having done it. I spoke of how easy it is to see a God in everything  once you believed in him. A sunrise or sunset the sound of a baby laughing, all those things testify to a God once you believe. I went on to say that when things like 9-11 happen ,that seem not in keeping with a loving God, you still accept them as part of a plan, they must be a reason for these things even if you can't understand. It is this type of conclusion that I think leads to the excuses and rationalisations that I thought the atheist writer was alluding to in his letter. I went on to say that I also used to see God in everything when I was a believer but that one time after observing a tragedy unfold in Barbados, I asked  myself for the very first time, " What if God really doesn't exist?" I told him that once I removed that 'faith lens' and started to look at the world without assuming that a God existed it became more and more apparent that God wasn't there.

As I finished these thoughts I heard the host's voice cutting in  and I apologised because I felt I had spoken for a long time uninterrupted. That was a bit of a surprise to me too. But it did seemed the host was listening very carefully trying to take in all I was saying. I wondered how it all went down with viewers though, I was thinking that maybe it just went totally over the people's head. Then the host asked what was a very odd question.

" So David, do you believe in God now?" The only words that could come out of my mouth were " Pardon me?"

Don't get me wrong, I heard his question clear as day, I just couldn't believe that he had actually asked that . Had he not understood anything I said?  After he repeated his question, I followed by saying, " NO I don't!" with as much emphasis as I could without raising my voice.  I added the following,

" I just think that if you want to find truth it is far better to look at the evidence and let that lead you, rather than start by believing something on faith and  investigating from there, because if you have faith then you don't need evidence."

Well,  I am not sure what happened after that because as soon as I got that statement out all I heard was dial tone. I had a nagging feeling that this would be it for my night's contribution. I was right. As I could see the hosts mouth moving on my now muted television set, I figured he was making some comment on the call.He might even be still carrying on the conversation  without me. I felt a bit disappointed because I didn't get to say what I was planning to end of with. A simple question of why God didn't care about the 'free will' thing when he intervened in the lives of the callers who phone the show every night speaking of their personal 'miracles'. Alas, my 'free will' moment  was denied.

I actually had to play over the recording a few minutes later to here what had actually occurred after I was off the line. To my surprise. Rob's  response to my statement that it is better to follow evidence than faith in order to find truth, was met with the answer, " That's a  fair point."

I was taken aback, that's a pretty big concession for a christian TV host to make to an atheist . Maybe he just didn't have a response to give me right there and then and that was the easiest thing to say. Either way I hoped that the viewers would reflect on what the implications of their faith based beliefs would be if I indeed had  made a ' fair point.' I guess I will never know what the results of any such reflection will be. Anyway I thank Rob and CTS for allowing me to make my points and giving me a fair hearing. I don't think one could say that for every christian show.

After acknowledging my point, Rob said that unfortunately it was time to wrap up. Wow, I had just got in before the bell. I smiled to myself as he finished off because the whole scenario seemed so familiar to me. I used to attend a bible discussion here in Calgary where whenever I brought up arguments to challenge the group leader's arguments for God's existence, he would look at his watch and lament the fact that time was running out and we would have to wrap up right away. Curiously, there were other group discussions that took place alongside ours, but the group I was in always seemed to finish first. I know that this time it had to be station schedules, but it still brought back memories of old.

As Rob was signing off the program he held out his hand and pretended that he was holding something round in it. " This is the fruit." he said. "You just have to come and taste it. This is what God  is asking us all to do just come and try it and you will see how sweet it is."

Apart from remembering the devastating consequences that followed  the last time that God was part of a story involving eating a fruit, there were other  things that bothered me about his invitation, presumably aimed at us atheists. It is the assumption that we atheists actually have these spiritual fruits but just refuse to eat them. They think we are well aware that their God is real but we are just stubborn deniers,many Christians really don't believe that we are atheists. It follows, because I have been often called thinks like a "self acclaimed atheist," and a "person who calls myself an  atheist" by believers I have interacted with.
Caucasian Man Sitting at a Table and Reading a Menu at a Restaurant Posters, Art Prints
Christians tell us to 'try Jesus' as if he is some exotic dish on a menu at a fancy restaurant. A culinary delight that we are too scared to order because we think it will be too spicy or tangy for our palates to handle.They don't realise that we can't try what we can't see. We have looked over the menu back, front, inside and outside many times and we have not seen the " Blood of Jesus Special."

When we ask why we can't see this divine tasting treat, they tell us it's because we don't bring faith to the table. But how can an atheist bring faith ?  If we had faith to bring, we would not be atheists.  How can we acquire belief, if in order to do that we have to believe to begin with? It's the perfect circle.  It makes it logically impossible for any sincere atheist to ever find God. Faith is needed to find God, and the only way to get it is to have it. So, if you don't start out with it you are eternally screwed. Well, in that case, I can only hope that I am an insincere atheist , because only the pretenders among us non believers have even the faintest hope of finding the God of the faithful.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God is so much like the Chinook

We've had a rough time in terms of weather conditions here in Calgary in the last few weeks. Many days have been like the one in the picture on the right. I took this photo at a nearby bus station, an evening when I could barely feel the camera in my hands. That day was bitterly cold. One of those days where no amount of protective clothing seems to be enough. For my Caribbean friends, YES, that is a MINUS sign in front of that number 22. In recent days it has been the continuous snowfall that has created the challenge to pedestrians and drivers alike.

Some may be surprised to learn that, in between it all there have been moments of warmer weather that feel more like spring or early fall. The reason for these radical change in temperature? It's the Chinook winds. These winds that come into this area from the west are formed as cool air rises over the Rocky Mountains. When they descend on our side they become warmer, creating dramatic temperature increases during the course of a day. This can sometimes melt as much as one foot of snow in just a few hours.

Apart from the warming the Chinook brings there is also a spectacular visual effect in the sky known as the "Chinook Arch." The clouds form an arc with the pale blue sky underneath and a hint of yellow sunlight refracting from the edges. I know many atheists will cringe to hear this, but when I walked outside my house in the depth of winter and experienced the full effect of a Chinook for the first time it was almost a spiritual experience.The view was something like the photo below.

We human beings have something of a fetish over arcs. Perhaps it's the upbringing so many of us have had in Christianity. Arches, arcs and arks are so popular in the bible. Whether its the one that carried two of every animal or the one that was being carried when it slipped and caused a rather unfortunate death. Then there is the rainbow that everyone loves, the promise of God. In contemporary times rainbows continue to fascinate us. Who can forget that viral youtube video from last year where a guy almost had an orgasm when he saw " a double rainbow all the way round." But that day of the Chinook, when I looked up in the sky it was church that came into my mind. I remembered a visit I made to St.Paul's Cathedral in London where the arches are such a beautiful part of the architecture. It was then I started to realise that when it comes to churches and the Chinooks there are so many similarities.

Perhaps the reason I was so excited to experience the Chinook was that I had heard so much about it from the time I landed here. "Don't worry about the cold winters." people would tell me.
"We have this thing called the Chinook that will come and warm you when you least expect it." In Calgary everybody talks about the Chinook, it is an integral part of the culture. There is even a popular mall here carrying the name. In spite of all the talk, during the first year I was here we had no Chinooks and I started to wonder if the whole thing was just a myth, a figment of the Calgarian imagination. Alas, in my second winter the promised salvation came. It came in all its glory right after the depth of a - 35 day. I felt like screaming out to the heavens,
"Praise the Lord!" It wouldn't have taken much more for me to fall on my knees in "Road to Damascus" style and pay the Chinook homage.

Later that year I returned to Barbados and told my friends there of my experiences in Canada. Naturally, I told them about the Chinook. I told them that the winters were cold but this Chinook was a life saver and there were few things in life I had experienced that were more amazing. My friends were intrigued. " Tell us more about this Chinook!" they implored. I gladly went on. "Well it's like this, it's the middle of winter, it's -30 and then magically this wind blows in and we get up to ten degrees Celsius in about half an hour!"

I waited for my friends' response. An exclamation of "Wow!" or " Fantastic" or "That's incredible!" Shockingly, there was nothing. I just got blank faces staring back at me. It's like they were still waiting for me to deliver the punchline. Then suddenly someone burst out laughing " Ten degrees, you think ten degrees is warm? HAHA!" So I continued, "Well there are times when it can even get up to 20 degrees Celsius in the middle of January." Surely that would now impress them. But no, even more laughter ensued. "Oooh, 20 degrees that's so so hot." one of them said sarcastically. I felt a bit embarrassed and slightly upset. How dare they make fun of my experience. They had no right to mock me. If only they went to Calgary with me then they would understand.

I thought for a few minutes and then I started to laugh at myself. Of course the Chinook would be unimpressive to a West Indian. Hey, 24 degrees Celsius counts as a cold day down in the islands. A few years ago I would probably have been the one leading the mockery. It is exactly the same thing when a christian tries to convert a lifelong atheist. When he tells the atheist he should become christian and go to church to experience the love of Christ he is like the new Canadian telling someone from the Caribbean they should go and live in Calgary to experience the salvation of the Chinook.

The Christian just like the new Canadian does not realise that the emigration has changed his reference point. He forgets that when he entered the church his self esteem was reduced to a depth just as low as the temperatures in an Alberta winter. He is taught that he is nothing, worthless, not deserving of anything the world has to offer, he is a hopeless sinner, a wretch in need of saving. As painful as this new reality in Christianity seems at first, the new convert is taught that all is not lost. If he holds on in faith and waits on Jesus Christ, deliverance will come. Then one day with the help of friends and family that great awakening arrives. He feels his confidence rising and a thrill that comes with the recognition that "Yes, I am something after all!" Something, only because of the love, mercy and power of Jesus. With that thrilling moment of faith there is a feeling of empowerment that drives evangelism, because the new Christian can stand up and proclaim, " I have had a personal experience of the saving power of my Lord Jesus Christ."

That's the thing about it. Humans are very emotionally responsive to sudden upward movements. It is the change in state, the "delta T" rather than the absolute value "T" that really matters.We feel great when we think we have a last minute escape from a disaster even if we end up worse off than where we started. It is why God is praised for saving one foot of a surviving passenger in a car accident when the life of the driver has been lost. It is also why we thank God when we were told we were going to be fired but the next day the boss has a change of heart and let's up keep or job with half the pay.

I have to accept that no matter how many pictures I send with Calgarians dancing in shorts during a Chinook; how many testimonies I have from those visiting Calgary from Edmonton or Siberia, my Caribbean friends are not going to be convinced to come here to experience this phenomenon. Ten degrees is still ten degrees no matter how you try to spin it. Caribbean people are not close minded or dogmatic for saying "no thanks" and remaining firmly at home. If there is no point in going to live in cold Calgary just to feel the Chinook, there is no point subjecting yourself to the cross just to get a crown less valuable than the hat you wear now. Neither the experience of Calvary nor Calgary is required to lead a fulfilling life.

So, the obvious next question is," Why have I left my Caribbean paradise to subject myself to this bitterly cold land?" That my friends is truly a mystery, one every bit as unsolvable as those that God throws out at us everyday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Maths : 1 / 10 = miracle

We've heard it for the first time this year and we know for sure it won't be the last. It's the phrase that the media just love to scream at us, whether it's a miner in Chile or a pilot on the Hudson River. " It's a miracle!" The story this time is the heinous shooting tragedy in Arizona which took the lives of six. In the midst of such bloodshed it is natural to look for the upside. Thankfully this story provides such an opportunity; for in the midst of it all, Rep. Giffords the target of the attack has been recovering from her gun shot wound to the brain. Don't get me wrong, I am extremely happy that things are turning out well for Giffords so far but this story taken from the Associated Press on January 13th caught my attention. Here are the opening sentences from the article :

"Even Gabrielle Giffords’ doctors are starting to call her recovery a miracle.
Few people who take a bullet to the brain — just 10 percent — survive such a devastating wound."

I had to read this over and over again. Ten percent survive such injuries and doctors, DOCTORS, not ordinary Joes in the street, are calling it a miracle? Wow!!! I know that we have been told by Christians that God doesn't do those really incredible old testament things anymore like part Red Seas, send plagues and turn people into pillars of salt but in 2011 a 1 in 10 chance event is a "miracle."This is a level of devaluation far worse than any developing country's currency has had to face at the hands of the IMF in the last two decades. It's definitely a head scratcher but in the new maths of the 21st century, 1/10 = miracle.

With this new ultra low bar for miracles I now recognise how many miracles I experience everyday of my life. I just need to think of my regular visits to the supermarket. There are 10 checkouts for groceries and I have to pick one. It's quite a random thing and the probability of picking any cashier is of course 1 in 10. On any given day there would be a ninety percent chance that I avoided the one I happened to be at. I never really thought twice about it before but now I know that each time that happens it's a miracle. A miracle in the supermarket with every visit, isn't that something?

I thought about it further and realised this "1/10= miracle" changes so so much more. I mean, think about the different activities that you do each day. Anything that is done less often than once every 10 days would have to be classified miracle. This means every day that I have stayed home sick from work has been a miracle and a huge one too, since that would be less than 1 in every 100. Vacation days by the same reasoning would have to be miracles as well. So next time you are on a cruise ship with tourists from around the world, take a moment to reflect, you're smack in the middle of a mass miracle. Because, with the exception of the crew, that is not how any of those people spend one day of every ten.

You could just go on and on to find more miracles and the scary thing is that with the rate of devaluation of miracles, things are not likely to end here. In the future we are likely to see 1in 5 miracles maybe even 1 in 2 miracles. Indeed, I have heard that successfully predicting the gender of an unborn child has been described by some as a miracle. If this is true then the era of the 50/50 miracle may well be close at hand. This raises of course an even more interesting question will the "miracle line" one day shoot below that "50/50" axis? Could we one day see a situation where a miracle is actually more probable than no miracle? We could very well one day have miraculous expected events. Getting out of bed, eating breakfast, not getting into an accident on the way to work, these could all one day be miracles.

All of this makes me think about the Centre for Inquiry (CFI) advertising campaign about to begin here in Canada. Perhaps reflecting the more conservative nature of the average Canadian compared to those south of the border , there are no claims of people knowing anything is a myth or a scam. It's a simple restatement of that old Carl Sagan adage, " Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence." The ad goes on to list some examples of claims such as Bigfoot, UFOs, Christ, homeopathy and Allah. I rather like it, it's sure to stir some emotional responses but yet it's not saying any of these things are not real. It's just asking them to " show us the beef" so to speak.

Still , notwithstanding that the CFI message is good for today, we have seen above that many things referred to as miracles are nowhere near as extraordinary as Bigfoot or UFOs. What can we do to address this changing reality? I don't know, but maybe the next bus ads should say something like this:

" Ordinary Events require ONLY Ordinary Explanations."

Monday, August 23, 2010

A life without thanking

August in Barbados is often seen as a bit of slow period. Coming after the energy and jump up of "Crop Over" (carnival) but before the back to work and school frenzy of September. However there is one thing that lights up the front pages in the middle of every August in Barbados , it is the announcement of the names of the students who have won the prestigious Barbados Scholarship. This story from the Barbados Nation features some of this year's winners. You couldn't fail to notice how well God did too, even though the picture suggests that one scholar considers that football is his religion. Here are some of the comments:

“The exams were very challenging but by God’s grace I came through.”

“I prayed right there in the exam room and God answered my prayers, so I am really grateful to him,”

“All last week while I was at church camp I was praying that God would help me to be successful.”

Amazing! In case you are wondering this is not one student going on about his Lord, these are three separately interviewed students. This is a great example of how omnipresent God is to Caribbean people and the way that the youth pick up the vibes. But apart from the belief that God is in control of all in the world, at least all the good stuff, this article highlighted something else for me. The importance for our people of giving thanks, or as we would say in the Caribbean,"giving tanks." Yes, thanks is very important in the Caribbean. One of the things I can really give parents in our region credit for, at least in years gone by, is the emphasis they placed on politeness. You always had to say 'please' and 'thank you' and there was no compromising on that. You couldn't get that piece of chewing gum or wind-up toy unless you used those 'magic words.' That early training has remained with me until today and I am grateful or should I say thankful for it. It is now so automatic I don't even realise I'm doing it. Sometimes I think I come across in North America as being a bit too pedantic in a culture that often values getting to the point without the need for all of the niceties. I find it hard to write an email without a 'thank you' somewhere. However, so many here in Canada like you to use that valuable bandwith to actually say something of consequence.

Of course in growing up, giving thanks did not end with simple gifts from adults it extended to the ultimate provider. It was really a sin to take anything for granted, you always had to thank somebody. We were so programmed to thank, that if we got something and it was not immediately clear who was responsible we just thanked God. Indeed we thanked God for pretty much everything. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night. As the song goes, " He woke you up this morning." At primary school, before lunch the prayer we recited was, " For what we are about to receive, nay the Lord make us truly thankful, for Christ's sake, Amen." Wow, that's quite an intersting prayer, looking back, we actually prayed to God to make us more thankful to him. Indeed as a new atheist I find one of the most difficult things for me is not having somebody to thank. For example,who now gets the credit for what I formerly referred to as my 'God given' talents? For me the thought of living a life without thanking is intuitively uncomfortable. Anyone who has given a 'Vote of Thanks' at an event knows there are not many feelings worse than forgetting to thank someone who made an invaluable contribution. Not thanking a God makes me feel at times like an ungrateful child, taking what life has on offer without pausing even to acknowledge a source.

I think many times in discussions on religion this aspect of faith is overlooked. We often think of religious people as going to a 'wishing well' with a grocery list of requests for a God. The truth is much of worship is really about thanks. I remember hearing many sermons while I was growing up that chastised us for being 'Gimme' Christians. Thanksgiving I was told on many occasions, was what being a Christian was all about. I must say that I rather liked that aspect. So much in the church is about thanks, from the annual harvests, to the celebrations of weddings and christenings. Even many funerals today are referred to as, " Thanksgiving services for the life of................" I know its curious to many visitors to our region, but if you ask a West Indian, especially a Rastafarian, "How are you?" The reply quite often is "Giving thanks."

Make no mistake, the term " giving thanks" is a religious reply. It means giving thanks AND praise to Jah, Jehovah, Jesus, the most high or whatever name or title that fits. This is the point at which thankfulness leverages into worship. Thanks and praise are two words that are never far apart from each other in those parts. "Praise the Lord, thank God," was a phrase my grandfather use to mutter several times a day. In everyday life if we like the way someone has done something we praise them, we pat them on the back and tell them 'well done.' God essentially is no different. God immediately becomes worthy of much much praise, because we have so many things for which we are thankful. So suddenly we are worshipping and bowing down before a deity, prostrate at his feet all because we started with a simple and honourable desire to give thanks.

So we must be careful about being too thankful,as it can so easily end in subservience.When I think of the Caribbean and the wider developing world there is another far reaching effect. It can make us prone to settling rather than pushing for that extra. In our thanking culture, the emphasis is so much on being content with what you have. You are always reminded that things could be so much worse than there are.This way of thinking is extremely useful when survival is the primary or only goal, which has regularly been the case for black people throughout history. The world stood in awe when the Haitians, in spite of going through the most devastating earthquake , were out in the streets next day, praising God and giving thanks. That is a great illustration of the mindset of our people and this attitude has helped to endure the many hardships that have come our way over the centuries.

But spending time on thanks can be a hindrance when a society is looking to drive ahead. You become risk averse, worried about losing what you have, like the man in that famous parable you want to sit on your talents rather than invest in them. We end up comparing ourselves with those who have less rather than trying to achieve something more so we can assist those with less. Indeed, yearning for more is sometime seen in our islands as being ungrateful for what you have. Meanwhile the developed world always seems to be looking for what more they can achieve, the next frontier, the next step to innovation. There is that one day in October in Canada and November in the US where everyone pauses to 'give thanks' but by and large it's all about forging ahead in these nations.

So now I recognise, that when it comes to things that nature and chance determine, I can live a life without thanking. I will be quick to give earthly thanks to individuals that have made my life better along the way but none of my praises will be going skywards. To a large extent I accept that things just are. I am fortunate in many regards and less so in others. I will not spend too much time reflecting on what I have or don't have or how far I have come. My emphasis is on what difference I can make or what I can achieve with what I have now. I can only hope those brilliant young scholarship winners also look to what they can do for the future of their land when all the thanks and praises are over.

It has taken me many years, but I realise now that you don't always need to thank. So,when someone offers me a gift of eternal life in return for a life of thanksgiving to one I have not seen, I can just turn to them politely and say, "No thanks."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Faithland : A fascinating journey in both directions

From as long as I can remember I have always loved to travel. There is nothing like boarding a plane and taking a journey into the unknown. The simultaneous anxiety and excitement as you try to imagine what things will await you when you land. Will this place live up to your expectations? Is it all that the brochures make it out to be? Will you be met in the terminal by an eager host or will you be forced to use all your street smarts to somehow make it to your hotel?

I always make it a point when I travel by plane to try to find out something about the person sitting next to me. Over the years I have met people with so many different stories. Excited honeymooning couples just married yesterday, proud mothers feeling the thrill of the opportunity of seeing the first gran and college students enjoying the feeling of liberation of getting that trip away from home for the first time. I have occasionally run into the sullen face of a reflective son or daughter facing the task of burying a parent, or a disappointed professional returning home after a promising job didn't quite work out.

What I often find fascinating in travelling as well, is the difference between the emotions of the traveller beginning the trip and one who is returning home. It was especially clear whenever I was about to land in Barbados. While I usually just gave a cursory glance at my island home through the left window, my neighbours would often be clamouring over me to get as long a look as they could at the paradise they had saved the entire year for. They would tell me that they had their bathing suit at the top of their hand luggage so they could hit the beach even before they were shown their rooms at the hotel. I think that there were as bewildered by my nonchalance as I was by their childlike glee. Now as I live in Western Canada I have come to understand them a bit more. The majestic Rocky Mountains that used to have me staring with jaw dropping awe, have become an everyday background that now generally serve me more as a natural compass to tell me when I am going west. At the same time I regularly long to hear the surf and see the contrasting shades of blue on the water that I used to experience everyday but barely noticed back then. It really is all a matter of perspective.

In living in Canada I have met people from all over the world and of course it has been a great learning experience. I find that perhaps the most interesting people I have met are those from China. I suppose the reason is that, on the surface at least, Barbados and China could not be more different. Whenever I tell a Chinese person that I come from a country of 270 thousand people they stare at me incredulously, assuming that there must be something lost in translation. That number would not even qualify for the designation of small village in their country. An island like Barbados for them is just, like or slogan used to say, completely beyond their imagination.

However, as I have learnt over the last year or so, size and population are only the beginning of our differences. The contrast is just as glaring when it comes to the question of faith. I had a discussion with a colleague from China who asked if I believed in ghosts and /or gods. I answered no on both counts, recognising now the irrationality I had in the past of excepting one group and rejecting the other, but another thing hit me. Unlike other times when I told people I was an atheist there was no startled or excited response. It was just a casual, " I don''t believe in anything like that either."

However, my Chinese friend went on to tell me that she was beginning to have doubts about her non belief. Recently some Christians had come to visit her at home and told her that as someone who didn't believe in God she was missing something very important and worse than that she had no soul. This had her confused; maybe she was not a complete person after all. She remarked that from birth she had been taught , even at school, that there definitely was no God and all religions were just inventions of man. It was nothing that she had ever given much thought to as it just seemed obvious to her. Now that she is in Canada and being exposed to Christianity she was wondering if what she had been taught as a child was really the truth. I was just about to ask her why she would want to change, tell her how fortunate she was to be born in reason and assure her that nobody else had a soul either when I realised something amazing. She and I were going through the same thing , she was on the same faith journey but going in the opposite direction. We were both questioning the ideas that we were born into. She was going to faithland while I was coming from faithland. It was if we were two trains passing in the night. Atheism was her indoctrination, at least that's how she saw it. She, incredible for me to even conceptualise, had never been inside a church in her life. How could she be really sure that it had nothing that could enrich her life?

Once I realised that she was going through the same thing as me, I became more understanding. After all, I think questioning your long held beliefs and opinions is a desirable thing in any context. I encouraged her to explore what for her was something new that seemed exciting. However, I felt I needed to caution her. I told her that I had come from where she is thinking of going to and it's not quite as beautiful as the pamphlets and tv ads make it out to be. It seemed to me that she was thinking of going to faithland as just a 'weekend getaway visit.' Just a stop-over to see what it is like. The problem is that many faithlandians are not satisfied with overnight guests. Once you are in their territory they will lay out everything to entice you to stay longer and if you aren't firm in saying, " no thank you" to certain offers you can easily find yourself holding citizenship there before you know it. So when it comes to faithland it may be easier to just cancel the trip and turn back.

But would that be really be fair ? After all, every journey is a learning experience and as many people have told me even visiting a country with poor living conditions has the advantage of helping you appreciate more what you have at home. So, after some thought I think the best advice for my friend is to go ahead on the journey. See what lies out there. I however suggested that she take the longer route through reason rather than the ' faith express.' I think once you approach through reason you can enjoy faithland for what it is. You can enjoy the stories about mighty kings and beautiful queens, visit buildings as exquisite as any palace you have read about, wear the most radiant costumes, dance and sing along to lovely tunes and lose yourself on an emotional roller coaster in a world of magic and mystery. You can also learn so much in the process about history and traditions and how men and women from the earliest times used all the knowledge they had to make sense of a fascinating yet scary world surrounding them. I think that's worth it if you can get a ticket, just make sure it's 'return.'

Well, for me I have certainly been there, done that and have bought more t-shirts than I care to remember. It's been over a year since I have been to any of faithland's places of interest. Am I tempted to go back and visit? Of course, but for the time being I am enjoying my new home. There are so many fascinating things I am discovering everyday. Like anyone in a new place , I want to explore everything, I just can't get enough. I just want to read all about it, go to all the events, meet the people living in the community and when it comes to the internet I want to see all the sites.

So many people ask me if I think my excitement will last. Shouldn't I wait a bit longer before making the decision to migrate? Don't I miss faithland ? Won't the novelty wear off someday? Yes, I am sure the newness will wear off at some point and just as is the case after every trip I have been on, it will be back to life and back to reality. Well, that's ok with me, because more than anything else, I want to live in reality.