When I was 12 years old, Steve Taylor released Squint, a disjointed solo album that I really enjoyed. The songs were a little uneven, but as a whole I enjoyed them. I was particularly fond of "Smug" and "Sock Heaven," and the opening track "The Lament of..." is a pretty awesome rock track as well.
I was never quite a fan of one of the hits, "Jesus is for Losers," but I accepted the message. The concept of the song is essentially "We're all broken, sinful losers and Jesus came to save us." Taylor was trying to send a classic evangelical message by turning it on its head.
I internalized that kind of messaging hard. I, Jeffrey Nordstrom, was a born horrible and unacceptable, such a horrible being that God had to send his son and kill him in order to make me acceptable.
The issue was, though, that I took it further. When I felt shameful, I assumed it was because I was intrinsically a shame; when people constructively criticized me, I assumed it was due to my sinful, broken nature; when I felt like crap, I felt like I deserved it; when people complimented me or praised me, I talked myself down in order to remind myself of mine and the world's sin of pride. Although I always knew I was an OK person, any time I even slightly felt negative about myself, I had an all-encompassing, supernatural reason to confirm my bias of wretchedness.
In the end, I never stood up for myself. Standing up for myself was evidence of pride. When I'd get yelled at or criticized or told-off, I just thought I deserved it. Sometimes I'd stand up for myself once, but after repeated attacks I'd assume the problem was with me. When I got called names, I'd think "There must be truth to this" and try to own it. It got me nowhere.
It didn't help that this brokenness seemed so virtuous in the religious circles I worked in. I heard so many sermons from so many different pulpits that seemed to back up this message, that I was horrible and only "worthy" if Jesus covered my sins. Being a "slave to Christ" was an ideal that I heard many times, and "turning the other cheek" was seen as a prime directive. Although I've moved on from those beliefs, they still sting in the back of my head every time I see someone act more patient, more generous, more thoughtfully than myself. These beliefs sit deep in my consciousness.
For the last few months, I feel like I've been redeveloping a bit of a sense of self. I'm a little more at peace with myself more than I have for a while. For the last few years, with therapy, counselling, reading, and vulnerable openness with friends, I feel like I've been developing a bit of a... me. I've been learning to accept that I'm allowed to have needs, to set boundaries, and to do things for myself now and then.
But then I realize just how far I have to go. I catch myself cursing myself, calling myself names, the same things I was called through all those years of supplicance. This will likely be a lifetime of deprogramming and trying to learn new systems. I need to set up better routines in my life and need to learn how to use my time more wisely, to motivate myself to do the things that make me happy. I think these things and then I curse myself again and it all starts all over again.
That's all. I have a long way to go because I started at a really low place. But I'm taking steps forward every day. So it'll be alright.
My ability to believe faded years ago; when I left Christianity behind, I left all spiritual beliefs with it. I came to a point where I felt that all unfounded belief systems suffered from the same problem: they depended on a choice to jump past the probabilities, and none of them seemed more probable than another.
But I've never been totally on board with bad-mouthing believers. Even in my most shameful, misguided moment—when I carelessly heckled a Jehovah's Witness student for refusing to partake in a Valentine's activity for religious reasons—I've never wanted to convert people to non-belief. Some atheist-folks have suggested that I should more aggressively haggle with believers in order to have them abandon their faith, but I have no interest in that sort of behaviour.
Why, though? I've never been able to provide a real answer. Why do I have so little interest in evangelizing my new understanding of the world? This sort of question has bothered me for a few years now and I haven't been able to put it into words.
Last Saturday evening, I attended a taping of The Imposter at UFV in Chilliwack.
The musical guests were Mourning Coup, a group led by Chandra Melting Tallow. During Aliya Pabani's on-stage interview with Melting Tallow, my mind started to wander a bit. It seemed like Tallow chafed each time Pabani mentioned a critic or reviewer of Tallow's work. It was interesting to see this dynamic at play: Pabani's casual attempts to make the conversation work, using data and history, and Tallow's tugging of the conversation back to the here and now, back to the authentic present.
My mind started to wander a bit and a pithy statement hit me: authenticity is spirituality. So I bounced it around in my head for a bit. And, for the moment, I like it.
I've been listening to a lot of those self-improvement sorts of podcasts and reading a lot of self-help-type-of-books over the last couple years. I've also visited multiple counsellors and a psychologist, trying to find my way through this rather discouraging part of my life. Most of these resources, including those educational leadership resources that I battled through for my Master's degree, tend to focus on the need for humans to be themselves, to have an uncompromising vision that seamlessly jives with your central being. In other words, I've been hearing a lot of messaging that tells me that authentic living in all facets of your life is essential.
So I admit that I'm primed to think about authenticity. But the message seems to keep coming up. Whether I'm listening to The One and Only, or perhaps The Art of Charm, or if I'm reading something by Brené Brown or Marshall Rosenberg, authenticity seems to come up as a theme over and over again. It seems to often appear alongside the need for human spirituality. Perhaps there's a connection there.
I couldn't keep being a Christian for authenticity's sake; I couldn't keep justifying many decisions I made during my marriage for authenticity's sake; I struggle at work when I can't seem to make it happen for authenticity's sake.
So, perhaps authenticity is the thing that's supposed to fill in that gap. Maybe that's the thing I'm missing from my life, that was missing from my marriage, that's missing on those days when I scramble through work and can't seem to get into the right headspace. Perhaps authenticity is the spiritual goal that I need to seek out and live by, no matter what Andrew Potter claims.
Because I'm simply not cynical enough to go full negative. I love people. I want people to get along. I want people to find common ground as much as they can. And when I can't even keep this sort of practice going, I break down. I can't fully dismiss people; I can't fully act cruelly when compassion or empathy might work better. Hence why I can't attack people for believing things I don't, particularly if they appear to be genuinely doing no harm.
I think I can flesh this one out more, but that will come in some sort of later post.
For now, "Authenticity as Spirituality" is about all I can do.
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