‘Poets, priests and politicians’

It’s actually the latter of the three that’s on my mind (and on my television) right now.

Debate time.  We’re a little over a week away from a provincial election here in Ontario.

Sigh.

I’ve spoken a few times before about how veryvery much I prefer dialectic to debate.  It’s sort of the basis of my approach to the world.  That there is a leader’s debate happening right now is symptomatic of what has gone so veryvery wrong in our political system.

Winning and losing.  Diametrical opposition.  Extremes of belief with no attempt made to find common ground.

And then there’s the mudslinging.  And speaking over one another.  The pomposity.  The posturing.

The same old song and dance.

Speaking of song and dance…

Way back in 1980, that Sting Dude wrote one of my favourite tunes while he was still in one of my favourite bands.

(Hope you enjoyed that video, BTW.  Watching it made me feel both nostalgic as Hell- I still have instant, visual recall of the boys being silly in their matching ski outfits- and as old as the hill on which they were skiing.  Jebus.  That was a looooong time ago.  Sigh.  I think I’m a little (more) depressed, now).

The song, which has been running through my head since listening to a wonderful live performance CD over the weekend, was a response to the attraction to the simple– how inane lyrics attract all kinds of attention and get our toes tapping, and how the most popular of songs are really all about their catchy hooks, while they say nothing of real consequence.

In his typically Sting-ish fashion (To be Sting-ish: 1. Involving cleverness and intelligence of insight with just the slightest soupcon of pretension and self-satisfaction.  2. Songs that contribute to the Logos of my life.  3. Brilliant, if occasionally pedantic.), Mr. Sumner (to use his once-upon-a-teacher name) was trying to highlight the power to be found in the straightforward, by interspersing his important ideas- about leaders and their attempts to drive their listeners into submission with their words- with the mainly nonsensical but oh-so-very-catchy chorus.

He contrasted the words of the poets, priests and politicians:

‘Words that scream for your submission
And no one’s jamming their transmission
‘Cos when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you’

With:

‘De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
Their innocence will pull me through
De do do do, de da da da
Is all I want to say to you
De do do do, de da da da
They’re meaningless and all that’s true’

Lots and lots and lots of words.  Without clarity, rationale or substance.

Politicians (like priests, and yes, poets- like Mr. Sting) do have words to thank for their positions.  They use those words to persuade- and when they can’t persuade they start yelling and screaming and hammering home their ‘message’.  Sticking to sticking points regardless of logic or basis in honest examination of the issues (despite the overuse of the word ‘truth’ tonight).

Straying from the questions asked- by those they seek to govern- to iterate (and then reiterate) those choice selections that are playing best in the polls.  Resorting to personal anecdotes to strum at our collective heartstrings.  Throwing personal insults about- disguised as back-handed compliments.

None of my questions were answered, either.  I learned nothing in the past hour and a bit that I didn’t know going in.  Certainly nothing that will change my mind, or my vote.

Debate rather than dialectic?  Waste of time.  Without actual information- rather than sloganeering and politics-as-usual- voters’ discontent will increase.  Having to sift through the bullshit trying to find a core of substance that might move us forward requires more effort than many are willing to expend.

That’d be why so many people buy the catchy, simple nonsense of the chorus (nonamesmentionedcoughFordNation).  Or let their apathy overwhelm and can’t even ‘be bothered’ to vote.

Interesting that, like the debate raging in the background here in my living room, there were three of them-there-Police-guys- and they couldn’t manage to get along either.  Their artistic differences (okay, and egos) resulted in a break-up that broke my heart (until the brief reunion tour a few years ago- Jebus, am I glad I lived to see that!) and left us, instead, with a whole bunch of mandolin-heavy music that we could have done without.

The vast differences in the wordy rhetoric being spewed by the three putative leaders on the t. and v. tonight, based in partisan ideologies that have more to do with power (okay, and egos) than with purposeful change in the province?

Those are words that can lead to the breaking of more than a heart.  Regardless of what the paid political pundits, journos and analysts will have to say in its aftermath, NO ONE ‘won’ tonight.

This is our future, peeps of Ontario.  Cut through the artful eloquence and see if you can figure out who might just best represent the innocence that might pull us all through.

Please.

It’s vital that we take the time to do so.  Sad that it’s required, but essential nonetheless.

Word.

There it is again…

I’m not really the type of person who looks for signs or stuff like that.  But I do try to listen to what the universe seems to be telling me.  Since I believe that we, as people, are interconnected in numerous ways, I do subscribe to the idea that synchronicity exists and is at work in our lives.  I’ve written about that before.  When things aren’t going all that great, it’s easy forget that these connections exist so sometimes we need a kick in the butt to get us paying attention again…

January/February is not my favourite time of the year.  In addition to the polar vortices (anyone else getting completely sick of the overuse of that particular hysterical buzz term, or is it just me?) of biblical proportions (it’s freakin’ cold out there again today) and a distinct lack of sunlight, I find that my brain tends to slow into hibernation mode- and likewise isn’t up for much in the way of social interaction or, to be frank, productivity.

Winter blahs to the nth degree.

So, given the usual late-January ick factor, yesterday was an unusual day.  I was productive at work- despite the fact that I needed those fingerless gloves (think Bob Cratchit at work in any theatrical/filmed version of A Christmas Carol) to effectively type the regular daily correspondence (wearing them today, too.  Polar vortex, you suuuuuuck) and feeling like was I getting somewhere with a few things on the new job-search front, so the fact that I have been feeling a little less-than-myself, and not particularly inclined to write stuff lately, was less wearing and seasonal-affective-disorder-triggering than it has been.

Before I left work I got an email from a dear friend regarding an in-the-works CBC radio story on a topic close to my heart.  The one I wrote about here.  This friend gave the producer my name to possibly have a chat about my experience with and perspective on the whole thing.  Interesting, indeed.

I headed home on the TTC, grabbing the first bus that showed up so as to not have to stand in the cold for long.  Mistake there.  That first bus took me not to a nice, warm subway station where I could get on a nice, warm subway, but to a streetcar line.  Which would be fine.  In reasonable weather.  But it seems as though the streetcar lines don’t play nicely with polar vortices, so the connecting streetcar (which was there right when I got off the bus- THAT never happens) was going nowhere.  Which also meant that all the streetcars that showed up after it were also going nowhere (given that they all use the same tracks).  There were lots and lots and lots of people exiting streetcars with nowhere really to go.  Instead of waiting around for shuttle buses to start arriving, I started walking.

Toronto is a great town for walking.  Normally.  The downtown wind tunnels when the wind chill is making it feel like -30+ degrees Celsius?  Nope.  Not fun.  Not great at ALL.

But, once I was committed, I walked.  The rest of the way home.  After a few blocks I could have hopped a subway but I have this stupid stubborn streak that, MetroPass notwithstanding, makes me feel lazy or something if I take public transportation for a minimal distance.  One subway stop?  Silly.  In January with brutal wind chill?  That might have been the more prudent option, actually.

Point of all this?  I was walking past things I wouldn’t normally be walking past- if I’d taken a more sensible route from here to there/there to here.  I stopped in for a coffee partway- it warmed my hands, even if it burned my tongue- that helped make the last few long city blocks survivable.  Liquid warmth clutched in mittened hands, I cut through the courtyards between buildings and found myself beside the venerable CBC MotherShip itself. 

Just as this song came on the Shuffle Daemon:

Followed by:

and then:

Once home and (somewhat) thawed out, I got to thinking about the opportunity to share my two cents (which is what I do hereabouts, after all), having my voice heard by some who might not otherwise hear it, and the potential positive outcomes that such an opportunity might bring.  I’m certainly not counting chickens- opportunities aren’t always realized, after all- but there seem to be some things moving in my little section of the universe.  And even the barest hint of a whisper can sometimes, if properly nurtured, lead to the necessary volume required to affect change.

I also realized that it was six years ago this week that I defended the thesis that earned me the title of PhD.  Achieving that designation has taken me down a number of paths- and none of them are the one on which I thought I’d be traveling.  This, I realized, is okay.  Knowledge and experiences are never wasteful- and should never be wasted.

Even with the lassitude that winter always seems to instill in me, I’ve started 2014 with the intent to bring about change.  For myself in my own life, and in matters that will contribute to changes in my wider community and world.  I’m still working out strategies.

But….

I’m on my way to City Hall tonight to attend a ‘how to become a candidate’ meeting in the Council Chamber (yes, that famous site of so much of the recent press attention our ‘mayor’ has brought upon us.  I can’t even think about the latest escapade.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be ready to talk about it.  Although I’m sure it will be well-covered by Jon Stewart, so not sure I should bother).  Not because I’m thinking of running- at this time, anyway- but because I’m genuinely interested in learning about how the process works and the steps required to declare and then pursue candidacy for municipal office.

Basically, I’m doing things and looking forward.  Which, when it’s cold and dark and the News keeps getting on my nerves (there was that speech the PM gave in Israel too.  Was going to write about that… We’ll see.), is nothing to sneeze at (there is more than enough sneezing going around here, surrounded, as I am, by people who SHOULD be at home, in bed, with the flu).

Well, my soul checked out missing as I sat listening

To the hours and minutes tickin’ away

Yeah, just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin

While it was all just slippin’ away

Well I’m tired of waitin’ for tomorrow to come

Or that train to come roarin’ ’round the bend…

There WILL be better days.  I’m doing what I can to expand the reach of my small voice.

Have to keep that in mind.

It’s the Principle of the Thing…

I have a friend who is in a pretty significant state-of-life quandary at the moment (and who, if I am diligent in my constant haranguing, will start a blog all her own one day) .  She is extremely well-educated and experienced in a number of different areas, but, like me and a number of others I could name, is cursed with under-employment as a result of the economic downturn.  Which remains a real and present issue here in Canada, despite what the Harper government might want us to believe.

As I have mentioned before, under-employment can be soul-sucking in and of itself.  When you spend most of your waking life in the same place, with the same people, it would be ideal if said job was both challenging and in an environment that promotes learning and professional development of some kind.  This is not remotely the situation for my friend.

To describe her work atmosphere as ‘toxic’ is to massively understate the case.  As an educated, worldly and open-minded individual, she has been exposed to all kinds of different people from all kinds of different backgrounds, and views such exposure as a means of understanding her fellow human beings.

Not so her immediate supervisor.  That person is, in a word, a bigot.  And that person’s prejudices run the gamut of race, religion and sexual orientation.  Views which that person is not afraid to vocalize.  Pretty much all the time.  In a place of business.

Think Archie Bunker, but without the charm and redeeming qualities.

Although my friend has repeatedly attempted to inform her superior that the voicing of such views- not to mention the views themselves- is inappropriate in a business environment and something that makes her increasingly uncomfortable, her requests have gone unheeded over the years.  The opinions have, if anything, become more frequently expressed- in an attempt to goad my friend into defending her perspective on why her ‘superior’s’ attitudes are incorrect.  Not out of any attempt at self-improvement or interest in changing those views- but because it has become a form of bear-baiting that the boss seems to find amusing.

My friend very much feels that she is completely without recourse at the moment.  She has examined the anti-harassment rules and regulations for the Province (not to mention those for the company where she works- which she helped to draft), and has contacted someone at the Human Rights Commission, only to be told that the degree of her complaint is not great enough to warrant action or likely to achieve vindication in any real form.

Have I mentioned that she can’t just quit this job?

Despite regularly applying for positions (in this, as in other things she has my complete sympathy AND empathy) she seems to be falling through the cracks of ‘over-qualification’ for some of the positions she is looking at as a means of progressing in her chosen career direction, and being viewed as ‘not experienced enough’ for more senior positions, since much (but certainly not all) of her writing, editing and research experience stems from her work in the academic realm.  She has maximized her networks, seen career counsellors, HR people, life coaches and attempted to exploit any sort of nepotism that might be in the offing.

Nada.

Yet she keeps at it.

She is, by nature and by upbringing, someone who is inclined to see the best in people- ALL people- and to give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.  She has attempted to speak with her boss and to provide some insights as to why the comments that are made are inappropriate and just plain wrong, only to be labeled a ‘bleeding heart’ and ‘left-wing socialist.’  Which are, to the boss, faaaaaar more offensive descriptors than the other epithets that are thrown around on a regular basis.

Any number of people have suggested that she ‘just quit’- since the atmosphere is so patently toxic and because the job is just that- a job– without any potential for advancement or acknowledgement of the good work that she does.

But she can’t.

No matter how against her principles it is to work for a bigot and remain silent (to a degree, anyway) when offensive, ill-informed and inflammatory rhetoric is spewed on a regular basis, she needs the paycheque.  There are loans to repay- related to her educational expenses and as a result of a bad divorce that left her holding the bag on some joint credit accounts- and a roof to keep over her head.  As utility rates continue to rise…

She is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  The Devil and the deep blue sea.  On the horns of a dilemma.

Between Scylla and Charybdis.

There’s the mythological reference.  They have been sorely lacking lately, I realize.  Kind of lost the plot of the blog for a bit there.  But here I am, back in the saddle again with more mythic sea monsters in tow.  Sea monsters are fun.

See?  Fun!

According to Homer (not Simpson), Odysseus had to choose which of the dangers was the lesser in order to continue his journey.  Scylla was described a rock shoal/six-headed monster and Charbydis as a deadly whirlpool, located on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Siciliy and the Italian mainland.  Idiomatically, they have become synonymous with choosing between the lesser of two evils in order to move on through the turbulent waters of life.

Sting used his previous life as a school teacher to imbue his lyrics with all kinds of literary allusions- and Synchronicity has more than a few (as I mentioned here).  Wrapped Around Your Finger uses the mythological idiom as a metaphor for a dangerous relationship- one that is imbalanced in its division of power.  Although the person that he is singing about- the one he has come to learn from- is not, exactly, Faustian in providence (‘Mephistopheles is not your name’) he feels trapped and disempowered by the relationship.

Until the lessons are learned and the tables are turned once the ‘Devil and the deep blue sea’ are behind him.

Principles are necessary.  Without principles, based in our upbringing and cultural context, we descend into anarchy.  Greed and cronyism run rampant and overshadow the good works that some among us are attempting to accomplish as we try to demonstrate that there is something worth salvaging in this material-driven society of ours.

According to the Wikipedia, principles ‘represent a set of values that orient and rule the conduct of a concrete society. The law establishes an obligation in the individual’s conscience that belongs to the cultural field in which such values are accepted. It supposes the liberty of the individual as cause, that acts without external coercion, through a process of socialization.’

Unfortunately, principles are often expensive– especially at times when our elected leaders are content to maintain their own interests above those of the people who elected them.  Times when any job is thought to be a good job.  When people are told that to ‘rock the boat’ is irresponsible and dangerous.  When people have to work multiple, low-paying jobs to make ends meet, meaning that the time they have in which to explore the underpinnings of principles is lessened to a distressing degree.

In addition to the stress associated with the constant job search and day-to-day dealings with the toxicity of her co-worker, my friend also feels a deeply fundamental guilt and as if she is somehow complicit in the bigotry that surrounds her 45 hours a week.

But her choices- and resources- are few.

The fields of Eden
Are full of trash
And if we beg and we borrow and steal
We’ll never get it back
People are hungry
They crowd around
And the city gets bigger as the country comes begging to town
We’re stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Between a rock and a hard place
This talk of freedom
And human rights
Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts
Stuck between a rock
And a hard place

Tomorrow our Governor General will deliver the Speech from the Throne on behalf of the federal Conservatives (our federal leaders are finally deigning to get the hell back to work- my sympathy to those of you in the US who are still waiting for that to happen.  The prorogation of Parliament might have been a heavily politicized pain in the ass, but at least it didn’t shut down everything).  My friend and I will both be listening intently to see what the Conservatives have to say about the jobs they have created under their Action Plan.

I don’t believe that the situation has improved- overall- as much as they continue to claim.  Not according to my own experience and the experience of friends.  I know too many people who remain in jobs that violate their principles and damage their psyches on a daily basis- at least five days a week.  The Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem terribly optimistic either…

And yet THESE guys have well-paying jobs that actually affect the lives of millions of people.

I’ve been studying humanity for the entirety of my adult life, but some days I just reallyreally don’t get people.

At all.

This seems to be one of those days.

At least I have some great people keeping me company.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

P.S.  STILL needing convincing that sea serpents are cool?  Check THIS out.  Synchronicity… or something.

Connect 4

Once upon a time, back when TLC actually was about LEARNING stuff (rather than ‘reality’ programming focused on people who are willing to live their lives in front of the camera and/or shows that follow women as they buy wedding dresses and plan ostentatious parties) there used to be this show…

Connections² and Connections³ were shown on TLC in North America in 1994 and 1997, based on the original 1978 series from the BBC.  The Man Who Makes the Connections is James Burke.

He.  Is.  Awesome.

As a science historian and broadcaster he linked science and world events and demonstrated the continuity and development of humans and all those cool things that we’ve managed to create.  All these things are interconnected, and through historical reenactments, working models and James’ inimitable and enthusiastic delivery every episode both illuminated and reassured.

James maintained that the world as we now know it is a web of interconnected events that drive history and innovation.  These seemingly, at first glance, isolated events- that happened for reasons of religion, curiosity, profit or power- led us to where we are now, with the technology we have and the promise of more to come in the future.

His examples demonstrated that those who started the chain- with the singular event enacted for their particular benefit- could not possibly have seen forward to the place where a simple act might lead.  Time and progress work in inexplicable ways.  In demonstrating this, James suggested that we, likewise, have no real way of predicting where technology might end up.  There are many possible factors- shifts, synergistic interactions and random innovations- as we move through the loops and whorls of time.

As history progresses the potential for connections increases, which causes the processes of innovation to accelerate.  New technology comes at us faster and faster- becoming de rigueur for a moment and then rapidly thrown into obsolescence.  It’s hard for the regular people (people who aren’t James Burke) to keep up.  Which is why we need to be as awake and aware of the connections and the changes as we can- or risk being left far behind.

I love James Burke.  He’s a man after my own heart (I tend to see links between things that may be less than obvious).  All is connected- no vacuums hereabouts- and our history, scientific and otherwise, is what has led us to this very point in time and space.  The whole ‘science historian’ thing is very groovy.  My youthful love affair with science sort of petered out after my OSCOTT club days at the Science Centre.  James revivified it.  And reminded us that human history is the story of our creativity (not always good creative- but creative nonetheless)- in the arts and the sciences.

Between the original Connections and Connections², he presented another series- The Day the Universe Changed (1985), which focused on the philosophical reactions to scientific change in western civilization. The perfect melding of the scientific and the metaphysical innovations of the western world.

At the end of that series he postulated that computer technology and innovations in communication would permit the instantaneous exchange of ideas.  As I write this on my laptop after finishing the day’s email replies and having had a chat with a friend on the Facebook, I have to admit that he was pretty bang on predicting the trajectory of computer innovations and their effect on the way we interact with one another.

He’s spooky.  Spooky smart and spooky engaging.  You can find him on YouTube.  Watch him.

Anyhoo.

I got all reminisce-y about my old buddy James because I’ve had ‘connections’ on the brain this week.  Since I haven’t yet succumbed to the lure of Doktor Snake in the whole job searching thing (but only just barely), I’ve been attempting to ‘work my networks’ and search for ways of maximizing existing connections.

It really is a small world- and a small town (largest city in Canada notwithstanding- it’s really a village)- so I’ve been attempting to get into the six degrees of Kevin Bacon frame of mind in an attempt to find referrals and leads.

Connections.

And synergy.  From the Greek for ‘working together’.

Hoping that some solid synergy will lead to some synchronicity.  I’ll take all the meaningful, if seemingly unrelated, connectivity I can get at this point.

A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible.

I am a Police fan from waaaaay back. Been there, still have the cheesy buttons/tour t-shirts.  They were my favourite band for many moons and still rank way up there among the oft-repeated tunes on the Shuffle Daemon.  Even the huge egos and childish spats didn’t detract from their greatness.

I rarely travel far for concerts anymore, but the reunion tour a few years back more than warranted the road trip to Montreal.  (Especially since Sting’s kid’s band opened the show- Fiction Plane.  Solid band)  They rocked.  Hard.  And Sting didn’t even bring out the damn mandolin.

My love and hero worship of the band aside, they have a couple of songs that are all about the connections- random or orchestrated- that have been on my mind lately.

The album Synchronicity was bittersweet.  It was the brilliant swansong that marked the end of the Police.  It is one of those albums that I listened to all the way through.  Repeatedly.  It wasn’t a concept album, but the songs/stories remain linked in my memories and the two Synchronicitys (Synchronicities?) made an impact long before I really understood the complexities of the word.

Years of study- that included Jungian theories about religion- and the definition as it appears in the Wikipedia (‘the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, whereas they are unlikely to be causally related. The subject sees it as a meaningful coincidence, although the events need not be exactly simultaneous in time. The concept does not question, or compete with, the notion of causality.  Instead, it maintains that just as events may be connected by a causal line, they may also be connected by meaning. A grouping of events by meaning need not have an explanation in terms of cause and effect’)– clarified the subject somewhat.

S1 describes it as a ‘connecting principle’.

(This is good.  Need the connecting right about now.  And there have been subtle connections happening- like the correspondence/collision of two of my recent posts the other day).

S1 also references Spiritus Mundi– W.B. Yeats’ ‘spirit of the world’- the belief that all human minds are linked to a single vast intelligence that causes universal symbols to pop up in each individual’s consciousness (also very gnostic and very Jungian- Bythos and archetypes- loving these connections).

Yeats mentions this prophecy-providing principle in The Second Coming, his post-WW1 poem that uses imagery of the Christian Apocalypse to describe the confusion of the years following the War.  The vision he experienced was not one of comfort- not the ‘second coming’ of Christ in glory, but a ‘rough beast’ slouching ‘toward Bethlehem to be born.’

As things fall apart (‘the centre cannot hold’), the beast awakens after a 2000 year slumber and returns to a world that has lost its innocence.

I love Yeats.  I’ve mentioned that a couple of times before.  His words, like James Burke’s, remain timeless and uncannily prophetic- based as they were in a particular context of time and place. 

(Not unlike the biblical prophets- who spoke about their own times in the same way- but that’s a discussion for another day)

That which has been done- and learned and employed- cannot be undone.  The lost innocence of which Yeats spoke included the advent of such things as chemical warfare- something that proved increasingly ineffectual over the course of WW1 as soldiers were schooled to carry gas masks- and so became a weapon that was later used against civilian populations.  This lead to the establishment of the Geneva Protocol which banned the use (but not the stockpiling) of chemical weapons.  And that little bit of history served as the justification/imperative that almost lead to an American retaliatory attack in Syria a few weeks back.

Connections.

S1 and S2 are linked by this Yeats-based idea of synchronicity- the concept that the events in one part of the world (Europe) set in motion events that are happening elsewhere (the second coming/reckoning with the beast).

S2- my personal fave- suggests that the mundanity and daily drudgery of the suburban life is somehow connected with a disturbance in ‘a dark Scottish loch’.  The realities of life (in the 80s) causes the Loch Ness Monster to rise from the lake and creep up to that unsuspecting cottage on the shore.

Yeats spoke about the chaos after a war unlike any other in history.  S2 told of social anomie in the pursuit of the material at the expense of things of substance and real import.

Can’t say that the Police (or Sting, anyway) aren’t book smart.

The connections are there.  All around us.  We may not see the causality yet we can sense the synchronicity.

James Burke knows.  Yeats knew.  The Police definitely are aware.  Even I can feel it in the air this week.

Gotta get it working for me, is all.

But right now I really have to get back to the packing.

Happy weekend everyone.

Nessie found a new vocation- surely I can too…

‘Oh Life…’

I’ve written about loss before.  The sudden death of a loved one, and the slow, painful withdrawal of the personality that was the beloved long before the inevitable loss of life.

You’d think it would get easier with years and experience.  It doesn’t.  Losing someone rips a hole in the fabric of the universe that never completely closes.

The clichés and platitudes notwithstanding (man, am I ever against the platitudes this week), it doesn’t always get easier, and letting go can feel like betrayal and lead to guilt that is even harder to shake.

Loss. Decisions.  The human condition.  These are the foundations of all the religions of the world.  Once upon a long ago time, with the development of self-awareness, and given our nature as social animals, when those we love left us, we humans created hope that we will meet them again- or that they are, at least, in place where the suffering has ceased and there is peace and happiness.

People often make the hard decisions- CAN make the hard decisions- with this as an underlying hope or belief.

But what happens when one of the things that gets lost is the religion that we create in an effort to moderate our sadness and help justify the pain and its eventual lessening?  And lessoning?

The song is 22 years old. Where has the time gone?

(More losses- of both the time that has passed and the place with which I most associate the tune)

Losing my Religion’ is really a Southern US colloquialism for losing one’s temper, flying off the handle, behaving in a manner that is less than civilized (gotta love the Southern equation of ‘religion’ and ‘civilized behaviour’.  Ack!).

Subject-wise, the song is more about unrequited love and obsession (Michael Stipe has actually compared its theme to Every Breath You Take– that exemplar of obsessive songs about stalking restraining orders love from the Police’s 1983 wonder of an album, Synchronicity) than about the loss of religious faith.

But it’s a good song.  And it fits my mood and the paths down which my slightly disordered and sleep-deprived mind is traveling right now, faced as I am with another potential loss.

I was, nominally, raised in a religious tradition.  Attended services, participated in the community, was taught the mythology.

Frustration with the blatant abuse of power in the Institution and, especially, my absolute lack of comprehension about how, in any way, the theodicy behind the myth system can be justified, marked the finality of the decision to ‘lose’ it.

Millennia ago a man wrote a treatise that encompassed all kinds of aspects of the realities of life.  It became part of the collected wisdom tradition of the people behind one of the most influential mythological systems in history and spoke to the realities of life and the nature of the godhead.  The questions he expressed- alongside a recounting of his own experiences- were answered by the theodicy of the day- ‘because the god wants it that way.’

It could have been written yesterday.  Plus ça change

Abuse of power: Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.  Look, the tears of the oppressed- with no one to comfort them!  On the side of their oppressors there was power- with no one to comfort them.  And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive, but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (4.1-3).

The ever-repetitious cycle of life: “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns. (1.4-6)

Death: ‘For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals, for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (3.19-20).  (N.B. the lack of anything approaching the idea of heaven/hell in that little statement.  He finished that thought: ‘Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of of animals goes downward to the earth?’ 3.21)

That Qohelet guy found the faith in the plan of his deity to make the terror, the repetition, the inequity, the futility and the rest of the realities of morality manageable.  He, like Job and the Prophets and the authors of the Psalms, trusted the justice of the god in spite of infinite examples of injustice and pain in the world.

Me?  Can’t do it.

My faith is based in this world and in my fellow humans.  Which means that I have to do my best to act against those inequities that can be changed and roll with the punches dealt by those that can’t.  Including the deaths of cherished loved ones.

It’s a different kind of faith, and one that offers no easy answers or comforting visions of angelic choirs and waiting La-Z-Boys at the right hand of an Elder of Days.  It requires reliance on others who share our lot in this here world, and the strength to endure and to ask for help from those others when our own reserves run low.  The cultural and social realities of today, combined with our collective experiential learning, have rendered the created, absent, inscrutable, unjust godhead obsolete.

My religion may be long lost, but my civility is intact and as ready as it can be to face coming inevitabilities.

But I can still find comfort in Qohelet’s musings +/- 2500 years after they were first written down.  Not for his conviction about his god, but because of the beauty and humanity of his questioning and honest examination of the world as it was still is.

‘For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.’  (1.18)

Truer words…