Donating Blood In Canada

First off, just to start, you should do it. Not just in Canada, but wherever you live. You’re saving lives, you’re contributing to a good cause, you’re doing undeniable good.

However! I’ve had a few salty encounters with their twitter account over the last few days and it’s left me feeling a little…bitter, and angry, towards them. It started off because I saw an ad of them posting for help (they’re in the middle of a six year low in donations and they’re riding the line pretty hard on their supply) and usually I just see them, feel sad for a little bit (if you’re unaware, it’s still Canadian Blood Service’s policy that gay men who have been sexually active with another man in the last year are not allowed to donate blood), and then I move on. But I was feeling a little more aggravated about it than I normally do, so I fired off a quick “I would love to!…if you didn’t exclude me from doing so based solely on my sexual orientation” tweet and kind of forgot about it.

But somebody over there was paying attention. And they sort of tried to be conciliatory? They said that they understood that it was frustrating, but hey, they changed the rules a little while ago so that gay men could donate now after only a year without having sex with another man. So basically, if we just cut that gay shit out for a year, they’ll let us participate. Do they know how insulting that is? And unrealistic (for those in the gay community who like and participate in sexual activities)? Have you ever not had sex for a year before? On purpose? I did it this one time by accident and it was wack.

Plus, straight people aren’t immune to STIs and it’s not standard practice to make them wait for a year after having sex before they give blood. If you made that the rule, you wouldn’t have any blood. Your blood banks would be filled with cobwebs and hate mail. The rule still essentially excludes a huge portion of our community. And yes, I know that gay men are at a higher risk (because the people that run that twitter thought it would be a good idea to send me a study telling me, as if I wasn’t already aware) for STIs that are transmitted through blood. But show me the study that proves that gay men who practice safe sex are at a higher risk than straight people who don’t and I’ll shut up about it. Hell, show me the study that says they’re at higher risk than straight people who also practice safe sex and I’ll be quiet.

Also, can you do me the favour of not pretending that it’s entirely scientific and has nothing to do with prejudice? Because if it was, the rule would just be that anybody who’s had unprotected sex with a new partner in the last year shouldn’t be allowed to donate, no matter their sex or sexual partner. It wouldn’t exclude people who have been in relationships with the same person for ten years or people who (like me) might have multiple partners, but who are meticulously safe in their sexual encounters and have never had an STI.

I’m safe, I’m healthy, and I’m willing, but I’m prevented from participating in the health of my community because of the people that I love, and it’s a real fucking bummer. How does the chant go? We’re here! We’re queer!…And we want to help you, and there’s a lot of us. Yes, right now you can cover the amount that you need. Everybody is provided for. But if the donation slump gets worse, or there’s an emergency of some kind and the need increases? I can’t help but think that anybody whose life gets put in danger, anybody who might die one day, needing blood that one of us would happily give them if not for your dumbass, bigotted rule…that’s kind of on you.

I know I usually put a heart here, but today I’m not quite in the mood.

VBR

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This book holds such a weird and conflicted place in my heart.

I read it when I was really, really young. Probably too young, but I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was like nine and read A Game of Thrones when I was around eleven, so that ship had pretty much sailed (and just as a by the by, nothing to do with my parents. I was a particularly determined and underhanded kid, and though they were pretty liberal with the art they allowed me to consume, there were a few things I never gave them the opportunity to object to).

This novel (and the series that followed) had a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first hard scifi book I’d ever read. The first to treat intelligent children not just like they matter, but like they’re useful, dangerous even (which seems a little strange to frame as a positive, I know, but treating somebody like a threat is, in a weird way, an acknowledgement of their capability. I was a clever kid who was tired of being treated like a child, and something about this really got to me). It was also the first genre book series I’d encountered with themes of pacifism and anti-warmongering at its core, along with some pretty strong messages about the dangers of othering people you don’t understand, how much fear that can generate, and how easily that fear can turn to hate. This series helped to shape not only my taste in fiction and art, but also my idea of the adult that I wanted to grow up to be.

One of the perks of getting at this so young was that I was able to read it and love it, the whole series, without having much of a chance to encounter or care about the author’s personal politics. At that point I didn’t even know what my own were, and if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have really understood what you meant. Besides, I’d never been the type who worships the maker of the art. It’s the art itself that I’d always been interested in. That’s where all the swords and laser beams and forbidden, sweaty love is. Author’s names weren’t much more than a helpful reference tool for me to find more books that I wanted to read.

It was only years later (like a decade and a half actually), after several rereads of the series and numerous recommendations to people, that I heard anything about it. It was just an offhand comment on a podcast of some kind, and I didn’t really think anything of it. Then I heard something else. Then again. And eventually I was compelled to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t really ever done. I turned to Lord Google (All Hail its Knowledge and Supreme Benevolence) for some info on a guy I had kind of assumed was a collection of monkeys and typewriters. And it broke my heart.

How could somebody that wrote about peace and compassion, about overcoming prejudice by trying to understand the things you fear, support such hateful, awful garbage? He was one of the first people to teach me that love and life is complicated, but that compassion and community, relationships, are the things that make life worth living, and we should take them where we can. Unless you’re gay and you want to get married, I guess. A man can love a female voiced A.I. (which…it’s a computer program. You can name it Jane and give it a lady’s voice and that still doesn’t mean it’s a woman), but he can’t love another man, another human being? I don’t get it.

At first learning this didn’t really change the way I interacted with the series itself. Death of the author, right?* No matter what he espoused in his personal life, it didn’t change the message that I got from his book, the lessons it taught me, the positive impact it had. And most of the people I know who read it got a lot of the same things from it that I did, so the book itself is a net good, right? Even if the man isn’t.

But…it’s not that simple. It would be great if we could interact with the art we love without having to worry about the person who made it, but we can’t. By purchasing the book (I’ve repurchased it at least three or four times), and reading it, raving about it, telling people in my life to do the same, I’m contributing to something. Yes, the book itself has a positive message, but the money that I, and all the people I convinced to buy it, spent isn’t getting thrown down a well. That money, or a portion of it anyways, is going to Orson Scott Card, and he’s using it to fight against people like me being able to get married. That’s super fucked up.

When you buy art you’re not just supporting the creation of more art like it (although you are doing that), you’re providing power and a platform to the person who’s creating it. I know you can’t be checking every single thing that you consume (is every actor in every television show I watch a good person? Is the CEO of the company that makes the plastic that houses the grape tomatoes I like a SJW?), but I think it’s well past the time where we acknowledge that who we give our money to matters. So let’s try our best not to give it to dick bags like this, okay?

Recommended for sexually confused, politcally oblivious pre-teens with low self-esteem, and…um…people who didn’t read the review I just wrote, I guess?

VBR

Ps. Honestly, if you decide to just keep ignoring authors (or musicians or directors or whatever) and reading books, I really don’t blame you. I still don’t look into every author that I read (I would never get ANYTHING done. I mean…I don’t really get that much done now. But even less. I would get EVEN LESS STUFF DONE), and anybody that says that they do is either lying or doesn’t read as much as we do. Just know that if you’re not careful, you might one day realize you’ve been contributing to something that really doesn’t sit well with you and that’s (trust me) a really ooky feeling.

 

*For those of you who haven’t  heard this saying before, this isn’t me threatening to kill Orson Scott Card. It’s just a saying among readers which means that what the author thinks about his work, what he was trying to convey, isn’t as important as the message that you pulled out of it while reading it. Once they put their art out into the world, their opinion about what it means becomes irrelevant.

 

 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

What a fun, light little gem of a Western.

I’m not really sure where my deep and abiding love of the genre comes from. I didn’t read any as a kid and basically refused to watch the old John Wayne (or should I say, Marion Mitchell Morrison) movies, though I had a few friends who were obsessed with them (I was a picky kid with weird tastes and didn’t like the look of anything old fashioned). But as an adult, there’s few things I like to lose myself in more.

There’s something about the aesthetic, the setting, the very bad bad guys and the reluctant, also sort of bad good guys, that really tickles me. There’s also something in the atmosphere of constant hardship in Westerns. Most books have struggle in them, but there’s something about the griminess and the poverty and the lack of technology that I find really appealing. People don’t have magic, or gadgets that might as well be, to solve their problems. There’s no super powers. In order to overcome their obstacles they have to think around them, and that’s something that always, always appeals to me.

This is a really solid example of that. The main characters are a crotchety old man and the stubborn, clever, brave young girl he’s reluctantly convinced to help. If that sounds a little True Grit-y to you, well, it is, sort of. But it’s also different. The mission at the centre of the story is a little more…morally complicated than in the Portis classic, and one that I found more interesting than simple revenge (though I am a sucker for a plain old revenge story).

I don’t normally do story details, but this one is a bit hard to talk about without some reference points. The young woman he’s ferrying across the country had been captured by Native Americans at a young age and raised among them as one of their own. For all she knows and believes, she’s a part of their tribe. When she’s “rescued” by the settlers in the region and sent with Captain Kidd to live among relations she doesn’t really remember, she feels like she’s been stolen from her family. She fights and tries to escape and wants to go back. That’s a complicated, twisty, interesting idea, and my only real complaint about the novel is that it doesn’t follow that thread all the way down. That moral tangle is the centre of her book, and she touches on it and there’s a conclusion to it, sort of, but…I guess it just never really got there for me. I still enjoyed it, a bunch, but I felt like some parts of it were left a little unresolved.

Recommended for people who like historical fiction, Westerns, and prickly, but loveable, old men.

VBR

 

Ps. I have an itch I need scratched by somebody with some gun know-how. There was one action scene in the novel where the characters used their wits and some dimes to get themselves out of trouble and I bought it at the time, but thinking back on that…is that how that would work? I know nooooothing about guns and if any of ya have any smarts in that department, I’d appreciate the clarification. Thanks in advance! 🙂

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Everybody, I have a confession to make. I’ve done a stupid.

On the last day of my trip I started a big, honking fantasy series and now I’m in so deep I don’t think there’s going to be anything else that I’m going to read until I’m done. And while the series is great, and I’m going to give it a little write up here, they’re not different enough from one another to give them each their own blog. The good news, it’s been about a week and I’m four books through, so we’re moving at a decent clip. The bad news, there’s six more books to go. So we’re probably going to be pulling from the backlist to write things about over the next little while.

You gals, this series is everything my hearts been wanting for the past few months. I’ve been reading lots of really good books over the last little while, but a few of them have been on the heavier side (which I like! I love, actually. I just like to intersperse my heavy, serious reads with some lighter, fluffier fare). I hadn’t actually realized until I picked these up how long it’s been since I’ve read a big, fun fantasy series. I can’t even remember the last time I latched onto one and burned my way through it (maybe the Dresden Files? Which itself is a series with great world building, okay writing, and some well-meaning, if not always well-executed, politics). It’s a thing I used to do a lot more when I was younger and didn’t have as many obligations eating up my time, dive into a world and lose yourself there for a few thousand pages, and I’ve missed it.

There’s so many things about this book that speak directly to me. I was raised in a fairly WASP-y environment (I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table as a child without saying “I’ve had ample sufficiency.” For real) and the stuffy, buttoned-up, very slightly before Victorian-era main character just…delights me. I love how proper and concerned with formality he is (he notices when people aren’t wearing their full dress coats and neck clothes, even when they’re in tropical environments, and does his best not to look down his nose at them because he’s a god damn gentleman). He also does that thing I remember, oh so fondly, from my childhood, where the angrier you get, the colder and more polite you become. Mmmm…childhood memories.

Now, because of the time frame and the place, his concern with respectability and his upper-crusty British-ness does lend itself to some…old-fashioned (sexist!) ideas about things, but Novik is aware of it, and addresses it pretty cleverly. She’s created a society in England at the time, The Aviators (people who’ve bonded with dragons) who, from necessity, have a more liberal viewpoint than most of the rest of the world. They don’t discriminate based on gender, babies out of wedlock are no big deal, they don’t bother overly much with status and the layers of planning and propriety that seem to go into every conversation because of it. By dropping her suuuuuuper British character among them, she gives him a means and a reason to learn, which he is both capable of and willing to do. You get to see that he’s a pretty good guy, and mostly just a product of his environment, constantly course correcting as he adjusts his ideas about what the right things to do are. Plus it’s just fun to watch him unwind a little (not a lot) over the course of the books.

And the dragons are great! Funny, likeable, smart. It’s a really good, fairly original take on the creatures, and Novik uses their intelligence and the weird position they hold in British society to make some smart social commentary. A lot of that comes from the main dragon character Temeraire, who acts as a good surrogate for the author. He’s smart and opinionated and gives a lot of kickback on the shitty thinking of the time, allowing the author to slip in her own opinions about some of the less appealing aspects of British society.

I’d recommend this series for lovers of fantasy (though don’t go in expecting high fantasy. Dragons are the only fantastical element), adventure, and people who like a little flavour in their historical lit (Novik seems to have done a buuunnncccchhhh of research for these books. I’m no expert, so everything she says could be completely and totally wrong and I wouldn’t know, but it feels authentic enough). Also recommended if, like me, stiff, emotionally unavailable British gentlemen make you purr like a cat.

With the Sincerest and Most Deeply Felt Affection,

Yours,

VBR

 

 

Oh, Canada

Hello my lovelies!

So yesterday was Canada Day, the celebration of our country’s 150th year in its current iteration, and it was a huuuuge party. Everybody was out in red and white, laughing and drinking and wearing those funny little hats with the maple leaves on them. And I was…uncomfortable, a little.

I’m not going to give a huge lecture or anything, because people like to celebrate and everybody needs to blow off steam (also because there are a lot of indigenous leaders that are making these speeches and they’re better thought out, better written and come from a more personal place than anything that I have to say on the subject), but I do think it bears mentioning.

Our country prides itself on our multiculturalism and inclusivity (which, I know, is not a word. But it’s a series of marks that represent sounds which convey a meaning, so I think it’s probably close enough), which is one of the things that most people are celebrating when they don their red and whites and crack their beers on July 1st. But…Canada is not a 150 years old. It was here for a long time before we got here and it wasn’t empty when we arrived. What you’re celebrating is not the birth of the land itself, but the country in it’s current form. And I get that you love it, I love my home too, but you have to understand where it came from.

We built this country on the broken backs of, not one, but dozens of other cultures. We butchered them, ground them into the dirt, and then parceled out small spaces of their own land where we’d allow them to live, keeping the best bits for ourselves. That seems like a kind of shitty thing to celebrate, don’t you think? At least with beer and red hats and douchebuckets named Dave-o or Bry-Bry chanting “Go Canada! Go Canada!” in the streets. I don’t see anything wrong with marking the occasion, but maybe we should note it with a little more quiet reflection. How did we get here, what have we done since we arrived, why do we have all the things we have? How can we change? And yes, that doesn’t sound like as much fun as pounding twelve beers with your dude-bros and waking up in the drunk tank (haha, that jail cell was littttt), but I think the Canadian spirit would be better served spending the day coming together as a community and trying to solve the problems of colonialism that are still, shamefully, all over the fucking place. Maybe then we could finally, finally start the process of reconciliation and collaboration that we’ve been pretending at for so long. We could make this a country really, truly worth being proud of, one that reflects the principles that it preaches.

VBR

 

PS. Please, please, pleeeaaase don’t send me messages with the “don’t say we. I didn’t do anything, and neither did you!” comments. I grew up in small town Alberta, and have heard the arguments a hundred times before. We’re living amidst the wreckage that our ancestors created and we can’t just ignore that. It may not be fair, exactly, but you’re an adult. The world isn’t always fair. If you’re doing nothing about the problem, then you’re a part of it.

Wonder Woman

Okay, so since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to chew my way through all the pop culture that I missed, and this seems to be a big one. It came out the day before I left (which didn’t quite give me enough time to squeeze it in) and already people had been singing its praises. Critics liked it, fans liked it, it was slotted to make tons of the monies, everything was great. Now it’s three weeks later and it’s still doing great, both critically and commercially, better than anybody could’ve hoped for. I mean, I saw it on a Wednesday night at the quietest theatre I know, and it was still packed. That’s gotta say something.

It’s also become something of a cultural talking point. Errrrrybody and their mom has something to say about it. Mostly, if they’re idiots, it’s about how surprising it is that the movie is doing well. “You mean a good director can make a good movie, even if she’s a lady?! Poppycock!” And if they’re not it’s about how great it is to finally get a good, female led super hero movie or that it’s nice that the curse of the DCEU is finally over. And I agree with both those things! Diversity of representation in films is important (and I am not implying, in any way, that the problem is solved. Only that this is a positive and necessary step in the right direction) and having a superhero that the other fifty plus percent of the planet can use as wish fulfillment is a good and positive thing. Plus, even though I’m an unashamed Marvel fanboy (Peter Parker was solely responsible for my sexual awakening. When I was a kid I used to watch the 90s cartoon and just want, so hard, to be 1/2 of a Mr. and Mr. Spiderman marriage. Ever since then, if you’re not a handsome secret genius that wears skin tight suits and cracks wise while beating up street thugs, it’s probably not going to work. If you are though, get at me, I’ve found dating really difficult for some reason) it’d be nice to get good movies from both of the big houses.

So basically I went into this movie hella ready to heap my love on it. My heart was full, my tear ducts were open, and my fingers were poised to tippity tap out their sweet, juicy approval all over the internet. And…

It was pretty good!

I mean, I liked it. Well, not all of it. But most of it! Sort of most of it. Some of it…

Part of the heartbreaking amount of meh I feel towards this movie may have to do with my superhero fatigue, which the child/teenage version of me would punch me right in the mouth for saying. “You had to watch Mutant X for years just to get your fix, and now you have too much?! We watched all of Smallville you sonofabitch! And I get his anger, I do! It’s like a rich person complaining about how having too much money is a burden. I’ve just…I’ve seen so many, and almost all of them are the same. They’re different too, different characters, costumes, powers, villains, whatever, but in most of the ways that matter they’re identical. Person discovers they’re extraordinary, discovers a bad guy that needs to be stopped, suffers tragedy and hardship, grows in some way, defeats said bad guy. The End. And that’s not a terrible thing, in and of itself. I’ve spent years of my life loving it. Not only that, but I generally tend to love genres that use repetitive narrative structures, mysteries being another good example. I find the predictable nature of them delightful and comforting. But that type of mystery, where I kind of know the end, and the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad, are not the only books I want to read. And neither is this type of superhero movie. I like it when people surprise me sometimes, when they take that expected narrative device and do something interesting and different with it.

I think another big part of my problem with this movie was the beginning and the end. The middle chunk of this movie is incredible, almost perfect. But the setup is a little rushed (which might just be me. I like a nice, slow burn, and tend to find shoe-horned in exposition really jarring. Most of it was pretty good, but every now and again it seemed like they were just whipping through stuff as fast as they could), which wasn’t a huge deal. I get it. It’s a big movie, you’ve got a lot of stuff to fit in there, and it’s already pretty long. But it’s not like there isn’t stuff you could cut out to make the film fit better (*ahem* boss fight *ahem*).

Which brings me to the only thing that I really, really didn’t like about this movie: the third act. God am I ever tired of these. I can’t be the only one, right? Big, firey, CGI smash em ups just aren’t that fun or interesting to watch. And the middle part of this movie is sooooo gooooood! She starts on one end of the spectrum (people are good and if they’re hurt you should help them) and Steve starts at the other (things aren’t that simple, and if you want to do good you have to compromise) and throughout the course of the film they learn from each other and move towards the middle (him more so than her). I just thought it was building to a more complicated, nuanced finish, and when it didn’t I was really let down. Also, the execution of it was a little on the cartoonish and silly side, and didn’t fit the World War 1 setting and tone.

Listen, none of this is the filmmaker’s fault. Patty Jenkins has nothing to do with any of the previous superhero movies and she shouldn’t have to shoulder all the baggage and expectations I came into this with. This was a good movie, with a great cast and a solid story. She did enough. But I can’t help the way that I felt when I left the theatre: fed, I got exactly the meal I paid for, but not quite full. Wanting more.

VBR

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I have such a crush on this lady.

Roxane Gay was another one of those authors who I’ve been hearing about for years, but never really got around to reading. Then she had a couple of big media moments over the last little bit that kept floating her name to the top of the book news world and eventually bumped her up on my list. One, her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body just recently came out to some rave reviews (which, despite my staggering, towering, unconquerable TBR pile, I just bought a copy of yesterday, partly because I enjoyed reading Bad Feminist so much, mostly because I have no self control) and two, when S&S inexplicably gave that vile, slime-ball, shockjock Milo whateverhisnameis a book deal, Roxane Gay pulled out of some stuff with them (because she’s a fucking boss). It’s not like I wouldn’t have read her without these things, but they definitely pushed me to dig her up from the depths of my bookshelves a little sooner than I might have.

I’m soooooo happy that I did.

Gay is a smart as fuck, take no shit woman with a keen eye and a savage writing talent. She tears apart our culture (some pop, some not) with her bare hands, peeling back the skin to expose the layers of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia that lay beneath. Most of the time she doesn’t have to dig deep. Sometimes she doesn’t have to dig at all. And that may sound a little…lecturey, or finger waggy, but it’s really not. It’s educational, but it’s also filled with hope and humor. There’s a lot wrong with the world, and she knows it, but she’s not beat down by it, can still find things to laugh about. She’s got such a sharp, wicked sense of humor that even when she was talking about some really bleak shit I found myself laughing along with her.

Gay also has a lot of empathy and understanding (most of the time) for people and their fears, the things that stop them from being their best selves. She even admits to it readily when she does the same (she likes hip hop and acknowledges that it’s a complicated love, that you can nod your head along to a catchy song while hating the lyrics that degrade your entire gender). She may get angry sometimes, and rightfully so, but she’s never mean, never unfair. She just wants us all to be better, herself included.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best collections of essays I’ve ever read. I normally don’t read them all in one go, usually I split them up with short story collections or read them alongside a novel, bit by bit. But I read this one front to back and almost entirely in one sitting. I’d get done with one essay, be about to put it down and do something else, and I’d think “just one more”, over and over again, until eventually I had no more “one more”s to go. I didn’t agree with her one hundred percent of the time (though I did a lot), but she’s got such a sharp insight, such a unique mind, that there was something to be learned in each and every one of these pieces. And the writing! Uggghhhhh. This woman is the writer that I want to be, that I’m trying to be, that I fear I’ll never live up to.

I’d recommend this book for people who identify as feminist, for people who identify as definitely not feminist or anti-feminist (which I’m a little bit less forgiving of then she is. I mean…come on, anti-feminist? If gender quality is something that you’re actively against then you can do me the kindness of unfollowing my blog, and do us all the kindness of fucking off to live in a monastery somewhere. The kind where they don’t let you access the internet. Or talk. Or have kids), and for people who are on the fence about their feminism. So…everybody. Go out and buy it!

Anywhoodle, that’s all for now! Speak to ya soon 🙂

VBR

 

I’m Back, Baby!

Hey there friends!

So I’m officially back in action now! Hurray!

Even though I haven’t really been posting much over the last few weeks (although I did get a few out that I was pretty proud of), what I have been doing is reading. A bunch. Too much, even (I brought like eight books with me on my trip, read them all, had to buy more books, read them too, and then made one last trip to the book store for something to read on the flight home). And all of them were great! The wild, improbable, incredibly amazing hot streak I’ve been on over the last month or two continues! Woohoo! I’ve also been keeping notes on what I thought of the books that I was reading while I was away, so hopefully over the next few days (once my brain gets right. Jet lag is a such a dick. I’m even having trouble with this tiny, conversational post. My brain is all mixed up and mushy and my thought bubbles are nothing but zs) I’m going to be able to power house through some posts and get us back up to speed.

Anyways, as always, thanks for your patience and for even bothering to read this in the first place. Ya’ll are the best.

VBR

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This book really, really moved me. It was, is, and will continue to be for some time, very important to me. I’m going to do my best here to describe why. I’m not really sure if words will do it, at least not in the way that I use them, but I’ll do my best.

This is a book of such beauty and grace. I know that’s not a novel description of it. It’s on the cover of the book itself, and countless reviewers have probably said the same thing, and will continue to. But it’s new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever, not even in all of the thousands of unread words I’ve written in journals, used the word grace to describe a book. The fact that I’m doing it now is itself a testament to the way reading this has impacted me.

If that paragraph above was a little too pretentious for you, strap in. It’s only going to get worse from here.

My relationship with this book started really contentiously. I’d heard about it, knew that it was centered around religion and was told from the point of view of a religious man, and that caused me to enter into it a little warily. I’ve had a difficult relationship with religion. I’ve always been surrounded by it (I spent a large portion of my youth around a big, warm, lovely catholic family), but I’ve never had much time for it myself. I don’t hate it, not like some people do (though my feelings towards the institutions, as opposed to the people and communities who practice it, are not as kind), but I’ve never appreciated it much either. Never really believed in it. I still don’t. My brain is wired for facts, numbers and statistics and reasons that people can give why I should believe them. Believe, not believe in. The difference there is subtle, but it’s there. I think I’m missing that thing, whatever it is, that allows people to believe in a person or an idea that completely. In fact, if we’re being honest, I’ve spent much of my life looking down on that quality and the people who have it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. It seemed archaic, unnecessary, a false comfort for people who couldn’t face the cold, hard intellectual truths of the world. A way of ignoring them. I try to live my life being kind and understanding, to view the world through other people’s eyes (to not be an asshole, essentially), but every now and again the stubborn, opinionated, right teenager I used to be would bubble up. I’d say, yes, that religion of course had it’s place. Whatever comfort people could glean from the world, false or not, was a good thing. And that the institutions didn’t reflect on the people. I would acknowledge that it was made up of individual, distinct parts (how good of me). But then I’d clear my throat and crack my knuckles and say that just because an institution is made of kind people who do kind things doesn’t mean that we should just ignore the injustices they’ve been responsible for. Those kind people gave their money to the church, provided them with the power that they’ve misused, again and again and again. And if you think about it, catholics especially, why are you giving your money to the church to begin with? The pope preaches giving alms to the poor from a city made of gold. It’s hypocritical and gross. Then, smug and satisfied, I’d pat myself on the back for an argument well-made and go on my merry way. Looking back on it now, the arrogance of it embarrasses me.

The truth is that I still believe most of those things to be true (though I never bring them up anymore. What good does it do? How many people’s minds have I actually changed? Is that even what I want? If I did manage to persuade someone, really change what they thought, would what I was offering them be worth what I was taking away? Am I that sure of my own rightness? There’s too many questions behind it, and I don’t have the answers to any of them), but that they’re besides the point when you’re talking about the religions themselves, when you’re speaking about belief. It’s also just rude.

Because of my antagonistic way of interacting with religion, I always felt a sort of antagonism back from it. The offenses you perceive from other people have more to say about yourself than they do about them. I know that that’s true here, and I think it’s also just true generally. I always felt like their terminology was demeaning. By offering to save me, by referring to the act of joining them as being saved, they were denying my right to know what was best for me, denying my ability to look at the world and figure it out for myself. They were, in my eyes, dismissing the thing that I value the most about myself, my intelligence. But really, if you think about it, of course that’s the word they would use. And most religious people of any kindness or intelligence would inform you that it’s just a term. That they don’t really believe that people are ignorant or stupid for not believing what they believe, or that those people are doomed to burn in hell. No God that loves us would damn us just for the crime of non-belief. He couldn’t be that cruel.

The most obvious example of that is the brother and the way the narrator interacts with him. He mentions the brother’s belief (gleaned from an author and thinker whose name eludes me) that the kindness and beauty that we make in the world (and that which exists without our involvement at all) should be sufficient for our understanding of it. The world itself is enough. He thinks that religion is unnecessary, and that it should just “stand out of the way and let joy exist pure and undisguised” (this is the view in the book that hews most closely to my own). The author thinks that his ideas are marvelous when it comes to appreciating the world, but that he is ultimately wrong. At first after reading this I was furious. How dare he wave that idea away, belittle it, treat it so trivially. It was right! But the more I read and thought about it, the more I realized that’s not what happened. The narrator (the author) had thought about the viewpoint and respected it, but simply disagreed (with me). That’s all. And disagreement itself is not dismissive, despite what my pride may want me to believe. I had treated their beliefs about the world with condescension and arrogance, and I was looking for the same in return. And if you look for something hard enough, you’ll find it, even if it’s not there. Even if it never was.

After coming to that realization I was able to let my guard down, and, for the first time in my life, set aside my prejudices enough (or as much as is possible) to get a glimpse of the world through the eyes of a person who really, truly believes. And it was lovely. Different, yes, and in some parts so much so that it was hard for me to grasp, but no less beautiful for its strangeness. The narrator had so much warmth and wisdom and kindness to share, so much love for the world. He wasn’t using his religion to shield him from the darker parts of it, he was using it to confront and understand them, to seek guidance through them. Most importantly he was using it to appreciate all the light. As he would say, that’s a remarkable thing to think about.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I’ve been converted. I am who I am, and who I am lends itself to a belief in the physical, the tangible. But I feel like I learned a lot. I’m still no expert on faith, but I think I understand it better now. I respect it (not that it matters to anybody whether or not I do). I may not think that it’s right, but for the first time in my life I feel like it might be good.

Grace. I think I’ve avoided using that word to describe previous books or authors because I never knew what it meant, not really. I still don’t think that I’ve quite figured it out. But I’m a good deal closer than I’ve ever been.

Be good to each other.

VBR

 

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