Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Church of Jay

“Religion is sort of like a lift in your shoes. If it makes you feel better, fine. Just don't ask me to wear your shoes.” –George Carlin

For those of you hate my long-winded “back story” and set ups, you can skip this part and go right the next section.

I can’t wait for the reaction to this one. I can hear it now… “Why you write this stuff during Islamic Holy Month?” “You are the Devil’s child” “You’re going to hell” blah blah blah…

Actually, it was Ramadhan that inspired me to write this piece. Throughout the world, for Muslims, if you don’t already know, it’s Ramadhan. It’s a time of fasting and rebirth, testing your faith and patience, learning and reconnecting, families and festivities. It all ends in Hari Raya, a wonderful time of celebration and togetherness.
But, as always happens in Malaysia during this time, we’re in the middle of some “saber-rattling” as one of the very “right-wing ultra-conservative” Islamic political parties try their level best to make headlines and get their names in the papers, etc.. So we have things like banning alcohol sales in stores, Muslims being charged with “proximity” (look it up if you don’t know) much more than usual, and of course what in my humble opinion is the worst case of bad press we could have here in my adopted country, the caning (whipping) of a Muslim woman for drinking a beer. Damn, I’m SO glad I’m not trying to run the world marketing campaign for THIS country! That’s GOT to be a tough fight!
“Malaysia, Truly Asia… (IF the rest of Asia beat people for having a beer!)

Now look, I’m not trying to convert anyone, if you’re Muslim, stay Muslim. If you’re Christian, stay Christian. That’s one of the beauties of the church of Jay, you don’t have to convert. More on that later.
Anyway, let’s get off that and on to what my original intention was for writing this.
Backstory: When I was born, my parents were Catholic, consequently and not my choosing, I was baptized a Catholic.
One day, during Catechism, (church school), the nuns told us the story of the “End of the world” They preached about God coming back to earth and fire and damnation and people dying in the streets and thunder striking the bad people (read: non-Catholics) dead on the spot.
So, after class, everyone’s parents had picked them up from the church and it was only my sister Kathy and I left. The nuns also left and there we were, alone on the steps of this enormous church.
Guess what happened next? Yup… An enormous thunderstorm rolled in. There we are, huddled together, my sister Kathy and I, remembering the lessons we’d just been force-fed. Two freckle-faced little country kids, alone with a darkening sky, thinking of all the bad things we’d done in our short lives that we were about to pay for. From across the distant mountains comes the roaring sound of thunder and lightning, or maybe hell fire and brimstone!
Needless to say, when Mom and Dad arrived to pick us up, they found two VERY frightened kids!
About a month later they left the Catholic Church and became Protestants.

Now, my parents have to have been the coolest on earth. They raised us with a faith, but when we got “old enough” to make up our own mind, that’s exactly what they let us do. Choose for ourselves.
My Mom always said, “We gave you a good foundation for life, now… whatever you choose to believe, or not believe, is up to you. You’re old enough to decide.”
Bless you Mom! Parents could really take a lesson here!

During my teenage years, I was actually fascinated by religion, or more accurately, Faith.
What makes people faithful? What makes some people willing to do literally anything for their faith? What drives people to kill for a faith and what makes people SO need to cling to an idea or a faith, that they turn their mind off to anything contrary? Faith or people’s IDEA if faith, has always, ALWAYS captivated my imagination. If I’d thought of it first, I would have written “Angel and Demons” and “The DaVinci Code”!

Because of this, I have studied about, and with, so many different faiths… Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Lutheran… I was a Jehovah’s Witness for a while. Interesting bunch and NOT as quirky as most people think! I have studied Judaism and the Hindu faith. Buddhism and all it’s hundreds of forms is amazing, although I found Theravada Buddhism, more dominant in Thailand, to be more to my liking.
My adventure in Malaysia, and having so many Muslim friends, has given me a new understanding and appreciation of Islam. I even have an English translated copy of the Holy Quran, which yes, I HAVE read!
Not just read the ‘headline’ version of these faiths, but really studied them, talked at length to people who believed, a lot. Dug in deep to try and understand where they were coming from. Like I said, people’s Faith fascinates me.

The closest I ever got to finding something that “clicked” with me (better sit down)… is Wicca.
Yeah, I know. Witchcraft may not be your cup of tea. Because most people don’t bother to take the time to find out more and better understand it, they have some preconceived notion about it. But trust me. We don’t sacrifice babies, drink blood and burn animals! It’s NOT the Hollywood version of Witchcraft just to make interesting stories and sell cinema tickets. The idea of everything having a kind of “energy” is an interesting one. Earth, Wind, Fire, Water. The elements.
The Wiccan Rede: ‘An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will’ may sound a bit morally “loose” to most, but honestly, if you think about it, basically it means, mind your own business, do what you will, but harm NO ONE in the process! What could be better than that?

Anyway, while for some time, my life has been lead by a strange adaptation of Wicca, I was a bit turned off by the Gods and Goddesses and all. But therein lies another great part of what Wicca teaches. How’s THIS for a faith… Imagine your church saying THIS to you…
This is paraphrased from several books on Wicca:
“If any part of what we write here ‘feels like’ it’s not right for YOU, that’s okay. Find the way, the path, that feels right to YOU and that’s what you should follow”
In other words, you don’t follow a hardcore set of rules and regulations. No one is trying to RULE your life. No one is trying to pass any moral judgment on you. As long as it harms no one, do as ye will!
Seriously, if you take a bit and honestly, with an open mind, read about Wicca, you’ll find it’s not what you think!

But again, I’m not truly Wiccan. I gave up being a witch a while ago! I moved on. Now when people ask what faith I am, I have an entirely different answer. I have answered that question the same way for about 5 years now, although I think I’ve lived nearly all my life with these beliefs. It just took some time to put them into perspective. (fade to black)
(fade in from black) About 2 years ago, I nearly died. Seriously. Sparing you the gory details, I was in hospital for a month plus, had a very bad time of things, and the doctors really didn’t know if I’d survive. I did…
And even that, even being that close to the end of my life. It didn’t shake my faith, my belief system. And what is that? What faith has finally made me a believer? What religion has convinced me it is THE way?

“The Church of Jay”

It’s simple really. So simple, it’s easy to live your life by it’s teachings.
We don’t have any funny costumes. We don’t believe women are any different than men. We accept anyone. We don’t have any religious icons. We don’t pray to anything.
You cannot join my church. It exists only in your mind. You cannot donate millions of dollars to my church; we don’t want any of your money. You don’t have to burn incense, cover your head, or prostrate yourself on the ground. In fact, we don’t want you to join; we just want you to read our rules, think about them and try to follow them.
We have only three rules.
Ready? Here they are…

1- Be a good person
2- Try and help out when you can
3- Do the right thing

By ‘good person’ and the ‘right thing’, what I mean is: That ‘gut’ feeling we all, as human beings, have. You just KNOW when something is right or not; knowing that what we are doing, is truly being a good person, that it is the right thing to do.
So, what am I? I guess I’m a mix, rojak. DO I believe in a “Supreme Being”? Honestly? Not really.
But what I do believe is we really don’t know what’s next, do we? That’s what faith is, belief in something that cannot be proven. So what DO I believe? I believe I’ll follow my simple little rules and live the best life I can NOW… THIS time around.
If there’s something else, some other road to travel after this old body’s worn out, I’ll be content in knowing that I did the best I could.

It’s just that simple. Think about it.