Tuesday, 31 March 2015

LGBT - the real stats

Just how many people are gay?

The whole issue over people being gay or straight is a nightmare! Especially from the religious viewpoint, but also in society as a whole.

It's traditionally been firmly categorised as "gay" or "not gay", and that's it. The other strange anomalies such as bisexual or transgender are either completely ignored or regarded as some even worse perversion.

There's the standard LGBT descriptor (lesbian, gay bi, trans, and some other variations). And then there's all the other labels of Queer, Pansexual, Gender fluid, Asexual, etc, to say nothing of some cultural variations such as Fa'afafine of the Pacific Islands, and so many other indigenous and tribal variations, that all try to categorise, label and box any deviation from heterosexual.

Click on the image to see it full size
The reality of sexuality and gender is far bigger than we imagine, or care to admit. Here is a diagram that tries to explain it in as simple terms as possible, although even this misses some finer points (there are more complex versions of this image but we'll stick with this for now).

We are ALL at different places on this spectrum, yep, every single one of us. The reality is, no two people are the same. There is no simple straight or gay! Although many people may be at far ends of one spectrum, they may be further up the scale on another. It's just not black and white!

Now here is where the statistics about how many people are gay come unstuck. There are many surveys and a lot of research conducted to get a handle on this, and nearly all of it is intrinsically flawed. They work on the assumption that people are gay or straight.

But it gets worse! Only 2% of the general population (allowing for cultural demographics) actually identify as "gay" or homosexual. That may not be publicly, but in terms of the anonymity of research, that's the figure.

But other research has been done on a much broader scale that says up to 25% of the population has experienced some sort of interest and experimentation outside of the heterosexual norm. The problem is, most people, are somewhere on the spectra in the above diagram, so they have the ability to adjust and adapt to heteronormative society and expectations without much difficulty.

It's estimated that around 10% are actually close enough to the gay end of things to be unable to fully adapt to heterosexual stereotypes and cultural expectations.

Just think about that for a second - one in ten people have a level of sexual and/or gender identity and expression that could be called "gay" (in generic terms).

And in churches, there is anecdotal evidence that says the number may be higher. This is for the simple reason that many LGBT people look to religion and spirituality in some form to help them understand who they are, and to look for love, acceptance and community.

More often than not, the very place that should offer the most, brings condemnation, guilt, shame and a deep sense of failure, trapped and silently suffering in an insidious, subtle, abusive environment.

We must stop seeing people as gay or straight. We are simply people, who are free to express who we are and love who we love, whoever that may be, in whatever way.

The attitudes of society and the church about LGBT people are consistently based on dramatically incorrect assumptions - assumptions that bring hate, isolation, rejection, abuse, mental illness and even death to millions of beautiful people.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Life that brings death

I had a rave/rant with (well "at" really) a good friend about some fundamental christian principals.

I've noticed more and more, with myself and with countless others who have ditched traditional christianity, one of the most fundamental flaws with the belief system. It's not just a theological concern - its a life or death concern.

Many people embrace christianity because they are broken, beaten, abused and rejected. They have a self image that only the promise of new life in Christ can rebuild. They have had experiences that say "you are useless, a failure and your only hope is in something greater than yourself to lift you up and love you".

This sounds wonderful, and it is! It kept me alive, gave me the endurance I needed to continue with this life and a sense of being loved, mostly. The thought prevailed that no matter how broken and disgusting I was, Jesus saved me - I'm a sinner saved by grace.

There's a lot of theological discussion going around these days looking at the different aspects of the theology of Jesus, the "sacrifice", the example, taking on the "sins of the world", becoming sin so we don't have to reap the eternal consequences etc. Heaps of alternative views, and all backed by scripture - of course - that's always the case isn't it! Endless arguments all backed by scripture and everyone having the correct understanding (creating even more denominations/sects etc).

But that's not the point. Scripture is not my concern any more these days. Feel free to toss it around and analyse it into oblivion, but it makes no difference in the end. What does make a difference is life now.

The most fundamental flaw with christianity is that we are born sinful - that we are born into sin. We are sinful and broken from the day we are born because of a "condition" that has been passed down through all mankind from, well, from the "fall" apparently.

Why is this a problem? Because no matter how much we love Jesus, defer our perfection onto him, claim freedom from sin because of him, stand in God's love because of his sacrifice etc, the fact remains that we are still faced with the most fundamental doctrine that we are useless, doomed to fail, born filthy sinners - unworthy, unable to face God, except through his magnanimous sacrifice of Jesus.

It means that our value as humans is only through Jesus. We can argue the semantics and subtleties of doctrines. Yes there are many views that say that God loves us totally for who we are, but only after we accept Jesus. Some even say that God only sees Jesus when he looks at us.

Here's the problem in a nutshell, no matter how you try to frame it. All traditional christian doctrine suppresses our intrinsic value, our self worth, into something worthless - worse than worthless! We are born enemies of God! The deep damage this does can easily be seen if we can take a step back.

I see so many people who no matter how much they know that God loves them, still think they are only of any worth because of Jesus. This is crippling! It brings death where life was intended. I see people struggling with depression, failure, suicidality, because the very thing that "saved" them is killing them! Self love, self value, at a deep level is not only unachievable, it's undesirable, and even sinful. To love ourselves is supposedly pride, which was the greatest sin of all.

But Jesus said it - love your neighbour as yourself. Do you love yourself, or are you afraid? How can you love yourself because you'll end up full of pride. It will trap you and lure you into a life of hedonism and narcissism! You won't be even interested in loving others because you will become the centre of your life instead of Jesus.

What a sad delusion! There aren't any terms and conditions on loving yourself. You know why? Because loving yourself means treating yourself as you treat others, as you understand love, as you embrace unconditional love and compassion for yourself, as you live loved.

Jesus was a cool guy, but we were not born sinful and needed saving by him. Even he never said that (yes, you can read John 3:16 with a different lens, as you can most scripture). We are perfect! We are loved - we are love. We have simply been taught the lie that we are broken at the most fundamental level, so we live our lives, coloured by that. The lie goes deep and creates a paradigm that we refuse to acknowledge - a paradigm that cripples our growth as humans, that causes us to do unloving acts, because we think that's all we are capable of without Jesus' magic trick with God.

I constantly see people who have been crippled inside, come to life when they let go of the lie and begin to see that they are perfect and loved exactly as they are, right now. They realise that the only thing that stops them living loved is how they see themselves. It's not pride to love ourselves - its life! And I mean really love ourselves. Look in the mirror and love what you see. Look into your heart and love the child in there - the child who has been squashed and kicked and abused and told they only have any value because of some mysterious spiritual transaction.

Repent - which simply means change your mind! Change your mind about who you are. You were never broken, you don't need fixing or saving. You have simply believed a lie, so repent.

You can throw scripture at me, argue theology, whatever... It changes nothing. The fruit of our lives is the test. If whatever you believe doesn't bring life and love to yourself and everyone around you, you are believing a lie. If you aren't "living loved", you have completely missed the point.

At best, traditional christian doctrine can keep us alive, bring comfort, and help us have compassion and empathy for others. But it stops short of real life, real love, and giving us the ability to live to our fullness right now.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mansionland (a short story)

The land was expansive. Really expansive. I’m not really sure you could say it had a horizon, although it did, sort of. It faded away into immeasurable distance, and I mean a really, really immeasurable distance. Well that’s how it seemed.

But that was just one aspect, although I must admit a rather impressive one.

There was light. You know, just like in the movies and C.S. Lewis books, and near death experiences. That sort of light. But you breathed the light and it felt like air in a light sort of way.

Anyway, this place was awesome, in an over awesome way that transcended the awesomeness of any other awesome thing you could think of. So really, I don’t think I’ll bother even trying to allegorise it, let alone metaphorise it. Let’s just say it’s beyond metaphor, or language.

So there’s this place and I’m looking around, and there’s these huge mansions scattered around. Quite a few of them really, spread out way into the fading horizon that isn’t really a horizon.

There’s a lot of space between them all though, forests and gardens, beauty that’s disorganised in a non-minimalist crazy person kind of way. Wild but knowable, untamed but playable.

The whole place, the land, whatever it is, was complete. Nothing could conceivably or inconceivably be added or taken away. You just knew that the entirety of ‘all that is” is here, visible or hidden, searchable for sure, maybe not findable, but there none the less.

So yeah, it was just the other day, or maybe it was tomorrow, or did I dream it, or will I dream it in another life? Anyway, there I was, smacking my gob at this place and wondering about the mansions. So I set off to the closest one.

Not sure how long it took, maybe an hour or a week. Just can’t tell in this place.

As I approached I could see this mansion was huge, really huge! But it looked really strange. Despite the obvious ostentatiousness of the place it was really a hodgepodge of add-ons and extensions. So much so that I had no idea what the original might have looked like. The windows were boarded up, which I though was rather strange given how incredible the view was – and who the heck would want to block out this light?

So as I approached I met a couple of people wandering around outside in these outrageous suits – like diving suits. You know, all sealed up with air tubes going back to the mansion and an airtight helmet with tinted glass so I couldn’t really see their faces, and we had to shout at each other to be heard. It was really, really weird. Maybe they all had some medical condition?

Never the less, they invited me in.

The front door was very impressive indeed with very ornate symbolism in the carvings and pictures all over it. But instead of the whole door opening to welcome strangers, there was just a little door down one side – just like those big warehouse doors have a little one so they don’t have to open the whole thing all the time.

We quickly entered and slammed the door shut behind us while they took off their suits in the rather comparatively dim light.

Together they welcomed me to the “Mansion of Light”.

OK… it was rather dingy, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

I was then given a map of all the places to see, in the correct order with the correct viewing times and who would be leading the viewing sessions and their qualifications, along with all the correct protocols to follow.

They wanted to personally take me around to make sure I got it right, but I hate guided tours - you know how it is – you never get the time to really find out the whole story. It was a battle but I assured them I’d be fine and follow all the protocols, sheesh!

Of course I didn’t have any intention of following boring tourist guides and protocols so I set off exploring the moment they were out of sight.

All the boarded up windows were a puzzle, seeing as they had to rely on artificial light all the time and some corners, and even whole rooms, were really hard to see into.

As I went around the rooms I found endless groups of people mostly discussing what the land outside was like and the best ways to get around out there. Other groups were saying outside was a dangerous place and best not to venture out unless properly prepared, and proceeded to debate the best methods of protection. Many seemed to think that outside was actually evil and we shouldn’t even entertain the idea of going out there.

There were so many rooms some big, some small, some huge auditoriums, some little studies, but all with people discussing/debating/arguing, or just being told, how to deal with outside, or even if they should deal with outside in the first place. It was so confusing, even though each room seemed to basically agree amongst themselves.

Every so often though, I’d see someone sneak out and into another room, as if nothing had happened. But as I was going down one particular corridor, a whole heap of people suddenly ran out of one room down the hall and into an empty room, shouting wildly about the colour of the walls. Truly perplexing!

I began to wonder where I’d be if I’d taken the guided tour!

After a while I bumped into a quiet sort of guy walking slowly through a pillared gallery where some of the windows weren’t quite so well boarded up, and cracks let through small rays of light that shone on parts of some of the paintings and sculptures.

Thinking he might throw some light (as it were) on what the heck was going on this place, I straight out asked why the windows were boarded up?

He looked at me with a strange expression, as if I was either an idiot, or maybe it was a trick question and he was waiting for the other half of my question so it would make sense. After a few moments where he seemed to be trying to process the obvious absurdity of my question, he started on quite a long and eloquent discourse.

Around 5 minutes later he stopped to see if I was following, but alas, I couldn’t follow a single thing he was saying. It all seemed to do with ancient prophecies and traditions, and the elders of the ancient days who spoke of strange powers and beings and who knows what. I just wanted a simple answer as to why they didn’t like the light.

As he began his dissertation again I casually wandered over to a nearby window that was letting in a ray of light and went to look through the crack.

Well, what a commotion! He stopped in horror and began a tirade about respecting the light and having to wear special glasses, and you had to spend hours in preparation or be one of the elite before you could even glimpse outside.

This place was really beginning to creep me out. So I excused myself with many apologies and headed off for the stairs to see if I could quietly find some light and fresh air. After a while of wandering and working my way up, I found what seemed like a rather little used hall leading to a stair case that almost certainly went to the roof or a balcony, judging by number of flights I’d come up and the general layout as best I could figure it. As I reached the top of the stairs and began to look for a door outside, a very old guy suddenly threw open a door and light streamed in behind him creating a silhouette. He had been outside obviously, but was keen to come back in. He hesitated when he saw me and looked around, perhaps to see if I was alone.

He obviously didn’t know quite how to deal with my presence and stood there with the door half open, until he decided to ask what I was doing. I honestly stated I’d like some light and fresh air as it was getting rather oppressive inside.

Again he looked around and asked if I knew what it was really like out there. Well, of course I knew, although after being in this place for what seemed like ages, I was beginning to wonder if I did. All the confusion and different ideas that really didn’t make much sense to anyone who had actually been outside, were beginning to take their toll on me.

He grabbed my arm and pulled me closer. I saw in the silhouette of his face that he was wearing dark glasses, but he wasn’t in the suits that others wore outside. It all seemed very conspiratorial somehow, but never the less he seemed to think I was an ally of some sort who was in the know.

He reached into his coat and pulled out another pair of glasses, saying I’d need them before going out. I could see it was bright outside but not harsh or glaring, still, I put them on just to humour him.

We quickly stepped out on to the roof and I was hit by the incredible view. Simply amazing. But the stupid glasses made everything look dull and all the colours were wrong, and I couldn’t even see clearly into the distance. I guess it was my previous experience of the land which allowed me to appreciate it still. I put my hand up to take off the glasses but he jumped in horror when he realised what I was doing and knocked my hand out of the way, declaring me insane.

I stopped and decided to humour him. He was shaken but turned to look out with me. After a few seconds I pointed to another mansion some way off and asked who lived there.

He turned slowly and seemed to be struggling with my question. He then started a discourse, not unlike the other guy downstairs, about the ancients and traditions and evil forces and battles and who knows what, until after a few minutes I gave up trying to follow him.

This was all too much really. I politely interrupted him and said I couldn’t really follow him, but that was OK, I was just curious. I thanked him anyway and as I could see a staircase that wound its way down the outside of the building, I said I’ll just go and see them myself and took of the glasses to give back to him.

That was obviously a huge mistake. Apparently it was inconceivable that anyone could/should/would even think about doing that! He then preceded to pontificate in a strange voice about the curses of the ancients and the dangers of venturing out on my own and being blinded and deceived by the light because the nature of the land apparently could only be correctly discerned with their glasses.

It started to get rather ugly, and even though I apologised for any offense, and tried to reassure him that I was fine because the light was actually a lot better without the glasses and I just wanted to meet the other people and hear their story, he just got more worked up.

Oh well, I smiled anyway and quickly went down the stairs. I could still hear him shouting from the roof as I walked on to the grass and out into the wild/tame gardens towards the other mansion. He wasn’t making any sense at all by that stage and his abuse faded into the breeze as I breathed in the light and lost myself….

Friday, 13 March 2015

Seek ye first... pleasure!

The meaning of life?
Our purpose?
WTF are we here for?!

I've probably heard every philosophical and religious answer under the sun, as most of us have, and they are all valid in some way.

Religion gives us the most succinct answers in terms of serving our deity(s) of choice. We are created to serve, learn and grow in wisdom, bring love, spread the gospel, conquer the infidels and brings God's rule to earth. All very tidy answers and for many, they are good enough to get on with life as best we can.

Others devote their lives to understand life within the confines of those paradigms, and are happy, and often ignorant of deeper truths, sometimes simply because here and now is too full on to give such things much thought. We perform the daily rituals of life and die hoping that we'll end up in the company of our deity unscathed.

But underneath all that, there is a driving force. A force that no matter how we wrap it up and disguise it, no matter how much philanthropy we throw at it, no matter how much love and sacrifice we struggle with, there is only one thing that we all look for, motivates us, and gives meaning:


Yes, Jim has lost the plot. All those years of being a passionate christian and serving God with all my heart have finally come down to this self-centred, egotistical, hedonistic cop-out!

But wait!! Of course I'm not going to write a blog as lame as that.

Here's the thing... everything we do and believe is with the ultimately hope of bringing contentment and happiness, which is pleasure.
I want to experience love because it's pleasurable.
I want to love others because it gives me pleasure when they respond.
I want a better world because I will experience more pleasure.
I give because it gives me pleasure.
I receive, because it gives me pleasure.
I help others in their pain because it gives me pleasure.

It's not dependent on the immediate response in any situation. The pleasure is derived from knowing that I have done something "good". I hope for "heaven" because there I will experience pleasure. I tell people they can also find pleasure here and now, because it brings me pleasure to do so!

The only thing that gives us meaning and purpose is pleasure. And yet we are taught that pleasure is "evil" or at least a "fleshly" pursuit that we must sacrifice to attain true holiness.

But even without the direct influence of religion, society has a concept of pleasure that is limited to sensual desire in some way, or simply having fun.

So where am I going with this? We cannot survive without experiencing pleasure in our deepest self. Our heart/spirit/soul craves it. Without it we become bitter and angry.

I'm not talking about the pleasure a psychopath experiences or other forms of severe mental illness. I'm talking about you and me, genuine people who mean well and want the best out of life. For us, love is the key - and why love? because it makes us feel good - it brings us pleasure, it brings everyone around us pleasure which in turn gives us more pleasure.

My greatest pleasure has been learning how to love myself - unconditionally. I'm learning that to experience that pleasure is central to me being able to love - on every level. I can't give until I have received. I can't give pleasure until I've experienced pleasure deep inside my heart!