B.C.'s Thoughts:
Losing My Religion

I'm Choosing My Confessions

Before I start blathering on, there's three things you need to know.

First, I recently had dinner with a former co-worker. He'd been reading my page, keeping up to date with what's going on in my life, and he asked me something over dinner. He said: "How can you put so much personal information about yourself on the web?"

The question surprised me, because I consider myself a pretty private person. I honestly don't see the things that I write about here as being at all personal. In fact, many of the topics I write about, such as gender, express a lot of my thoughts about the topic, but don't often reveal how I perceive myself in the context of those thoughts. This site is full of topics that I find interesting, and I suspect that because they're somewhat unusual topics (like transgenderism), people assume that they're somehow "secret" or "personal". I just don't see it that way. <shrug>

I mention this because this particular page is an exception. I consider it deeply personal. In fact, I say things on this particular page that I've never said to anyone, before. And if I were forced to answer my friend's question about this page, I'd have to say that I find writing web pages to be cathartic; this site is my confessional, of sorts, and besides, it's my bloody web site, and I'll put whatever I want to put on it.

The second thing that you should know is that I have a fondness for pop music with nonsense lyrics. I mean, the lyrics themselves aren't really nonsense, but they don't describe complete thoughts or situations the way a Dickens novel might. Instead, they give you images that conjure up a feeling.

Here's an example: David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust":

Ziggy played for time
Jiving us that we were voodoo
And the kids were just crass
He was the nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far
But boy could he play guitar

Making love with his ego
Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band

None of these lyrics really mean anything on their own, but they convey a sense of the character of Ziggy Stardust.

I often wonder about how we communicate, and how one goes about communicating raw feeling. And I find some small inspiration in songs like this. Anyway, I only bring this up to point out that all the headers in this article are lyrics from the REM song, "Losing My Religion".

The third thing is that I'm damaged.

It's Bigger Than You and You Are Not Me

"People want a personal experience with God. They want an easier, faster, no-fuss, microwavable God."

I was reading the Globe and Mail the other day. There was an article about spirituality and religion in it. Apparently, there's been a resurgence of spirituality... but not of religion.

According to this article, Jesus is a hot commodity. But the new Jesus trend has little, if anything, to do with mainstream religion. People are looking for what religion means to them, not what the church can tell them about God. It's a very "me"-type take on religion.

Here's a good quotation from the article:

"In a highly individual society, religion is very private," said Rev. Harry Maier, a Lutheran pastor and professor of the New Testament at the Vancouver School of Theology. "People want a personal experience with God. They want an easier, faster, no-fuss, microwavable God."

My reaction? Gee. I'm in a trend.

That's right. I've been conducting my own spirituality quest for years. I mean, I say "years", but to be honest, there've been long stretches of time in which I didn't do anything specific. But, really, I've been trying to figure out the world since I sought out the Baptist church when I was sixteen years old.

But then there's that organized religion thing. Especially where Christianity is concerned. And there's all that theological messiness, á là XTC's "Dear God".

Like the Globe article suggests, I'm one of those people looking to make my own connection with religion; what it means to me, and not necessarily anyone else. And, after many years of introspecting myself, here's what I believe:

  • There is a higher consciousness -- this higher consciousness is God

  • That there is a feminine aspect of God (this isn't really a surprising belief; if you consider that we tend to imagine God in our own image, it only stands to reason that since there's a feminine aspect to me, there's a feminine aspect to my view of God)

  • That there's a part of me that won't die

  • That I can't accept the idea of a utopian afterlife, where I'm always going to be happy, unless that afterlife involves full-frontal lobotomies

  • That I've been put on this earth to discover something about myself, and I've been given certain knowledges that'll play a part in this discovery

Christianity didn't work for me. It appears to work a lot for some people that I respect, but I can't help but notice that they're also the ones who haven't found an organized church to hang out in. Hurm...

And then, in 1986, I found Richard Bach. The first, and most influential book, was Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. When I lived in Forest Hill, I went up to check out the library one day, and discovered the book. The title vaguely rang a bell (a friend of mine had recommended the book once in a letter quite some time earlier). So I borrowed it, and devoured it, and internalized it.

Bach became the closest thing I had to a faith for many years. There were a few points about which we disagreed: Bach's God (the "infinite radiant Is"), for example, doesn't have gender, whereas mine does. There's another consideration: the study of Bach was a solitary effort, and at some point I started to feel the need to have a community with whom I could share ideas, and hence refine my beliefs.

And somewhere along the lines, I heard about paganism. I have another story, here. When I moved out of my apartment in Forest Hill, I bought a house in the city of York, near Eglinton and Allen Rd. Around the corner from this house was a former location of the Occult Shop, a pagan book store run by the Wiccan Church of Canada.

I was frequently fascinated by this bookstore. I'd head in, browse around, and occassionally buy some books.

A few years later, I met Siobhán, who was, herself, pagan. She was kind enough to invite Ldot and me to attend pagan circles with her coven.

Just as an aside, there's a really fun comment that I found on a web page while looking for the lyrics to XTC's "Dear God":

There's the whole paganistic Druid/Wiccan gig. I can't deal with them because most of them are these sophistic little lemmings who are more concerned with negative attention than actually giving a damn about their gods. Typically, modern-day Wiccans, especially, use the religion as an excuse to carry about their pathetic little Gil Hibbens into which they've focused something that none of the rest of us could care less about.

But That Was Just a Dream

A year and a half ago, I was at a pagan festival in the States, and I sat through a directed meditation lead by Isaac Bonewits. The purpose of the meditation was to gain insight into what kind of spiritual path might fit you the best. One might discover that a Druidic path suits one the best, or perhaps that a Ceremonial Magickal path is more apt.

A directed meditation involves putting oneself into a receptive state through deep breathing and relaxation, and then visually free associating on a scenario that the leader describes: "You are going through a door. Look at the door, and notice what's distinctive about it."

It was an interesting experience. Some people had very confused visions, full of indecipherable imagery, and others perceived very clear messages about what kind of spiritual path was being communicated to them.

I went somewhere else, entirely. My vision had almost nothing to do with spirituality. It was a vision about my gender transition which I'd really only begun to plan. It was a very detailed, meaningful vision, and I pondered it for several weeks.

There was a little symbolism near the end of the vision that, I figured out later, had to do with my original spiritual quest, but, by and large, I couldn't figure out why that particular vision came to me then.

If I were the sort of person who tried to claim some kind of prophetic powers, I might be inclined to suggest that I foresaw my gender interfering with my spiritual journey. God, isn't creative reinterpretation of the past wonderful?

As I write this, I'm suddenly reminded of a line from James Alan Gardner's book, Commitment Hour, a story about gender and spirituality:

"The Mocking Priestess has a saying," I told him. "You can get what you want most in life; not even the gods can guarantee you get your second choice, too."

That's Me in the Corner

At the same pagan festival, I went to a panel about organizing a pagan group; the panel moderator was Deborah Lipp. During this panel, Deborah handed out copies of her syllabus and reading list.

Yeah, she had a working syllabus, detailing the specific training that she provided to each of her students, and a reading list of books that she wanted her students to read. It sounded fascinatingly organized.

Later that night, Siobhán and I were sitting on the old, plywood stage in the meadow talking about a variety of thoughts. She asked me what my thoughts were about her coven. I had to confess that I had some reservations.

I'm a thinker. I like concepts and notions and theories. And Siobhán's group was entirely experiential. They just do, and don't talk about it. And sometimes they don't even do. They get together and tell lewd jokes, and laugh boisterously. I found it very difficult to find something about the group that engaged me.

"I think that the teaching would benefit from some formality," I told Siobhán.

"Why don't you say something to the High Priestess?" she asked.

"It's not my place," I replied.

I've always had a hyperactive sense of "my place." I didn't feel that it was my place to go about changing a group that I wasn't really a part of. It had been made clear to me that my attendance was by invitation only. First, because Wiccan covens need to make sure that new members "gel" with the group before formally bringing them into the coven through a process called "Initiation" -- a ritual somewhat like baptism. But also because the High Priestess had expressed concerns to me about whether or not there would be friction between me and another member of the group -- one of Siobhán's ex-parterns.

For many, I'm sure, the process of becoming one with the group would have been invisible; they would grow closer and closer, integrating naturally until an Initiation was almost a formality. But not me. I'm not the sort of person to ever lose sight of the boundaries that separate me and them. I never presume that those boundaries are disappearing on their own.

I went there because I felt that I had learned all that I could from books. I needed to exchange ideas; I needed to be challenged to think in previously unexplored directions. I needed other viewpoints. And I sat in the circle listening to them tell lewd jokes.

It's not my place, I felt, to try to turn the group into something that fit my needs.

The Distance in Your Eyes

Okay, so problem number one was that I needed something that the group wasn't giving me. Problem number two was that I was always mentally reinforcing the distance between me and them. Problem number three emerged as I moved closer and closer to my gender transition.

Gender is significant in paganism. It was one of those things that originally bothered me about paganism as I was reading a copy of A Witch's Bible Compleat (good book with a stupid title). As you might know if you've read other pages on my site, I have a political issue with a lot of our culture's view of gender.

Parts of pagan rituals are gender-specific. And when I attended my first circle, Siobhán asked whether I was going to take a male role or a female role; the group's High Priestess looked surprised. I took a male role, to avoid any conflict and because that way, we'd have gender parity. For me, "maleness" has always been about walls -- about the barriers that I put up to keep people from seeing the real me. I didn't like playing male, and it was yet one more thing that put distance between me and others in the group.

But the group was very quick to put out of their minds any idea that my gender should be something to think about. You could see this in a lot of little things.

One day, I overheard Siobhán talking to our High Priestess: "Who's going to train BC?" she said. The standard in their tradition is that the High Priest teaches the females and the High Priestess teaches the males.

"What do you mean?" the High Priestess replied.

"Given BC's gender," Siobhán elaborated.

The High Priestess looked surprised. "Oh, we'll have to figure that out," she said, and the topic was never brought up again.

The High Priest was no better. He was the sort of person who would address me by my birth-name even after it ceased to be my legal name. And even though everyone else calls me BC. And even though nobody has ever introduced me to him by any name other than BC.

Late one night, Siobhán asked me, "why do you always take the male role in circle?"

"Because the group has problems with my gender," I replied.

"Shouldn't you say something?"

"It's not my place to tell them what role I should take in their group."

Siobhán was quiet for a few moments. "I'm not comfortable with this."

"Neither am I." And even without any prophetic powers, I could foresee that the group and I would part ways on bad terms.

If you've gotten this far you're probably wondering "why?" Why didn't I just say something? Why didn't I voice my concerns? It was clear that this was something that was very important to me. Why didn't I do what was necessary to get it?

If you're wondering all of that, you're forgetting what I told you, above. I'm damaged. I'm not somebody who can ask other people for something that I really want. I've never been able to say that I need something. These things make you vulnerable.

In many ways, my damage made it possible for me to get through life -- to take charge of my life -- because I knew that I had nobody to rely on but myself.

Oh no, I've Said Too Much; I Haven't Said Enough

Seven months ago, as I expected, I left the group on unhappy terms. And I'm not dealing with that well at all.

When I was attending the group, they would seldom have the organizational prowess to schedule a circle every other month. Since I left, they've been having two circles a month. And when Siobhán and Ldot tell me about them, I feel -- what? -- jealous? Resentful? I feel like somebody is poking at the big emotional scab that's formed over my hurt. And I'm angry. I sit down in the shower with the jetspray hitting me in the head, and shampoo stinging my eyes.

And I don't talk about it. What started out as an opportunity for me to be with a group that I could explore my spirituality with turned into something that made me withdraw to the point that I can no longer share that even with the people that I'm closest to.

One of Richard Bach's most recent books is Running From Safety, a book in which Richard Bach meets Dickie Bach, the kid that Richard was fifty years earlier. And while pondering what he might have to say to a younger version of himself, Richard again works through his philosophy of life.

And it's then that he realizes something important:

We wait all these years to find someone who understands us, I thought, someone who accepts us as we are, someone with a wizard's power to melt stone to sunlight, who can bring us happiness in spite of trials, who can face our dragons in the night, who can transform us into the soul we choose to be. Just yesterday I found that magical Someone is the face we see in the mirror. It's us and our homemade masks.

For now, I'll seek out my Gods alone.

Copyright © 1999 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated: January 11th, 1999

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