2 Mar 2014, 11:59am

A Little Personal History, part 4, higher callings and higher learning

In 2008 I decided I would make a thank you, a narrative of formative influences, 40 words at a time.

I suppose this comes from a few places. Jenna’s Tree Seed Workshop on examining your fears, a friend saying our course is set by our age. Avonlea Fotheringham’s piece, Fragmentation. And time of year. Coming out of my 41st year I’m still weighing how I got here. It seems ad hoc to call me one story. There’s not a lot of continuity except that these are things I recall. Is there a constant constraint of “self”.

Many elements are there. Some dominate at times, while other strands recede. Sometimes I’ve been wallflower, sometimes I have been a bavarde, running a commentary at the back of the room, giving a counter narrative to the school lessons or making heckling remarks to people nearest at poetry readings.

When I took a History of Islam class in the early 90s, I was in listening mode. The man behind me was Shi’a and the teacher was Sunni. He did running commentary of where his views diverged so I got two classes in one. I understood his resistance. People don’t do things for no reason. Something made him take the class, stay on course.

When another Christian felt propelled to stand up and testify that Jesus is not a prophet but the God, I saw her turn red and shake before she did it. A few people were beginning to observe before she stood.

I’ve seen that witnessing before. It comes from a place of threat and fear and necessity and a bloom of compassion and love for the lost people around you. Powerful forces.

I was a mixture of admiration and shame. It should have been me. Why did it not even occur to me? And it should have been no one. That took guts to do. It also took a dumb head. Why come to a class to learn and not listen. But at the same time, one has to do what one has to do. People listened respectfully. There was no applause, no scorn. It was a thing. And we moved on.

To my disappointment university wasn’t a space where knowledge is holy and sought, where integrity to true is valued. It wasn’t the sanctum where secrets were hiding, withheld until you prove personal credibility so they can stamp your card and give you Englightenment. It was more sloppy workaday with people schlepping through but still. University changed my bias, which is what it is intended to do.

I took the History of Science, which was mostly history of knowledge but with a last day that was ridicule of the notion of god. The prof was still less contemptuous than the Christian history prof who thought the Bible was literary not literal. He was gooseneck fascinated by people who tried to find physical proof for Bible stories and continued to research. I felt ashamed and reproached for not being rigourous in thought and self-and world-examination.

Life is the testimony, proof and fruit of the living path. If a path leads to creating harm, or illness, or suicide, unhappiness, destructiveness, there’s something wrong in the path.

When I looked at those I knew, those who claimed to be agnostic or atheist treated me with compassion, curiosity, kindness. Their lives seemed healthier. Their bodies were healthier. They seemed lighter of spirit.

Those who were hep up about being Christian were mean-spirited, name-calling, with sneaky cruelty, actively damaging, most likely to be messed up and relying on god as a crutch. They were making choices that kept them in a place of danger. They were loud and unlistening.

It didn’t make for a comfortable reckoning. I didn’t know all of Christianity. I knew one is shaped by one’s faith but religion doesn’t entirely make you. It’s formative but any belief system has the whole range of people in it whether that’s Hindu, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian or Wiccan. But those I knew who were struggling in a morass without end were Christian and those who were over the years becoming more centred, less angry, more considerate were coming out of therapy or out as atheist.

In 2000 I admitted aloud for the first time that I was agnostic while being pressed by a Christian student who wanted me to admit we were the same “kind”. She was a white supremacist. I kicked her out of my class in that instant realizing that the abrasion between her and other students wasn’t pre-existing. She couldn’t bear to be in the room with certain skin tones. I asked her to apologize or leave. Or she quit because she couldn’t *spit* learn from someone like me.

She was the second Christian woman to spit at me and make that declaration. The other called me queer and tried to get me fired for it. She went to my boss, my boss’ boss, the school board and they, bless them, all consistently backed me and told her that if she doesn’t like her teacher, there are other places she can learn. Or so I heard. That student quit.

Stopping is a kind of doing. It isn’t an absence, not exactly. There is no vacuum possible. I eventually quit teaching. Was part of the Editor’s Association of Canada. Quit that. Each quitting is a starting. To stop something is to do something.

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