Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday Afternoon Coffee Thoughts

Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario

"You are much more than you realize you are."

"You deserve good things."

"Don't let others dictate who you are."

"Share your wounds not so that others can heal them - because they can't - but in order to help others."

"Don't take yourself, or life, too seriously."

"Don't put up with too much of others' bullshit. It is theirs to deal with and not yours."

"Be gentle with yourself."

"Find out what you're good at and do it."

"Don't let yourself get overwhelmed with the constant e-noise that is out there to be distracted by."

"You don't have to be a rock. It's ok to need, to a point. Form a few friendships with people who can hold you and build you up."

"Express your anger and sadness, and if certain people are offended, they probably don't know you enough to know where it's coming from and it doesn't matter anyway." In other words, say damn, fuck, and shit on a healthy basis, because it's gonna come out somehow anyway."

"You may just have to give up your idea of sainthood. Try beer and wings instead."

Mark Andrew Alward

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Krispy Kreme Donuts, Buddhism, & A Pile Of Dung


And in case you missed it...wait for it....Shit.

It's one of those nights for me, so there might not be anything profound or deeply spiritual coming from these fingertips tonight. And what's frustrating is that there really isn't much of a need or reason to feel like shit at the moment; I just do.

It could be because I spent over a day and a half in bed (which would be fine if Scarlet Johansson were present), or it could be due to the fact that I just finished reading the first 16 pages of a new book by Pema Chödrön, and could I tell you anything about what I just read? Pretty much nothing. Something about impermanence and sitting with our emotions without labeling them. Some people's minds are sponges; mine is rubber and everything just bounces off of it sometimes.

Anyways, her book is called Living Beautifully With Uncertainty And Change, a title that if you're in a good mood sounds magical and refreshing. But if you're in a bad mood, you could just say, what the fuck is this? I'm somewhere in the middle tonight. I know just a little about Buddhism (oh ya, Chödrön is a Buddhist nun if you haven't heard), but it sounds in many ways directly opposite to the fundamentalist Christianity that I was saturated with as a child, youth, and into my late teens. It was like I was a Krispy Kreme donut being dunked endlessly into a vat of icing and sugar, but I wasn't being licked for my deliciousness since it was inappropriate to do so for many of the young ladies in Bible College.

Whereas my fundamentalism stated that there were many things to be absolutely sure of in this life (i.e. "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is shifting sand, all other ground is shifting sand."), Buddhism turns that upside down and says "all ground is shifting sand, and you might as well get used to it, Bub." Or as the author likes to say, we fight against the raging ocean, when it would be best to let go of the tree branch we're holding onto and go along for the ride.

There's a lot in life that can shift and knock us over, and we can either grasp and gasp for sure things that aren't there, or we can experience the shit (or goodness) for what it is, realizing that it is fleeting. This is just a fact of life, without Tootie (if you're not a child of the 80's you won't get that reference).

Another real difference between the fundamentalist and Buddhist approaches is that feeling shitty is ok! I'm not saying that all Christians put on fake smiles, but I know that many do; I know I used to do it. There's a lot in life that can get us feeling shitty for a time: unemployment, illness, divorce, Toddlers & Tiaras.  So you might as well go ahead and say Fuck, Fuck, Fuck! and get it out of your system. Actually I think it's unhealthier not to do so. The more I think about it, repression is pretty much the answer to...well, not much.

And then guess what, the shitty time ends, because...everything is impermanent!

All of this leads to the key teaching that we would do well to practice being present, being here, now.  There's no other time like it, whether we like it or not.

In the time it's taken for me to write this masterpiece, that feeling has lessened. But I'll still say it anyways.


Mark Andrew Alward

Monday, January 28, 2013

Behind The Protests: The Quiet Place






The list of causes and what many would call "fights" seems to be endless these days, and we are completely saturated by them if we use social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Frankly, it's exhausting, and it can cause a sense of anxiety and almost panic if we let ourselves get overly drawn into it.

I am not saying that these and other causes are or aren't important. I currently sit on the executive of a local political party executive and we discuss all of these things and many more; we also show up at protests and write letters to politicians.

But we can get pulled into that sense of anxiety and panic to a point where it seems that we are against more than we are for. Even our ability to sleep or our overall health can suffer.

The question could be asked, "Am I creating more love and peace in this world by my actions, or am I just getting incensed?"

Maybe a breather is necessary, such as a regular meditation practice, or journaling each morning or night about the day.

Gandhi said that he would never attend an anti-war rally, but if there was a peace rally, he'd be there.

Another question that can be asked is, "What voice, what spirit do you hear when you're not being bombarded by LeadNow petitions asking you to sign this or that?" Do you have any calm in your life? Do you have 15 minutes to sit and just look out the window at the icicles melting on your balcony or the rabbit hopping through the snow? Are you taking the time to be with your Deepest Self (or God, or Spirit, or Love or Whatever You May Call It).

I encourage you take a few minutes each day to tune out social media and the pandemonium that it can feign, and truly be present, if even for a few moments. It may take some practice (as I've found), but you may be surprised at the sense of peace and love that you find in your mind and heart.

It's then that we'll be in a better place to engage the pressing issues of our world.

Mark Andrew Alward

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Beautiful Girl's Response To Obama's Gay Inaugural References

from The Huffington Post

Barack Obama made history on Monday when he became the first president to speak about the Stonewall uprising and the gay rights struggle during an inaugural speech.

While many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were thrilled with the mentions, an 11-year-old transgender girl named Sadie wondered why the President didn't directly address trans people, too.

"Sadie was so proud of President Obama for including the gay community in his inaugural address on Monday; however, she felt like the trans community wasn't included," Sage, Sadie's mother, told The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "That inspired her to write her own 'speech.'"

January 21, 2013

"The world would be a better place if everyone had the right to be themselves, including people who have a creative gender identity and expression. Transgender people are not allowed the freedom to do things everyone else does, like go to the doctor, go to school, get a job, and even make friends.

Transgender kids like me are not allowed to go to most schools because the teachers think we are different from everyone else. The schools get afraid of how they will talk with the other kids' parents, and transgender kids are kept secret or told not to come there anymore. Kids are told not to be friends with transgender kids, which makes us very lonely and sad.

When they grow up, transgender adults have a hard time getting a job because the boss thinks the customers will be scared away. Doctors are afraid of treating transgender patients because they don't know how to take care of them, and some doctors don't really want to help them. Transgender patients like me travel to other states to see a good doctor.

It would be a better world if everyone knew that transgender people have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We like to make friends and want to go to school. Transgender people want to get good jobs and go to doctors like they are exactly the same. It really isn't that hard to like transgender people because we are like everyone else."

Sadie socially transitioned from male to female in kindergarten. She was home schooled until this year and is now in fifth grade and attending public school. A vegan, she loves anything that "protects the environment," as well as reading, swimming, basketball and texting her friends. She listens to Lady Gaga, Pink and Justin Bieber and wants to work for Green Peace when she grows up. She also wants to be a mom.
Though Sadie has been openly discriminated against, her mother says that she "isn't shy or ashamed of who she is," and adds, "I'm always 'on' when we go out because I never know when she'll strike up a conversation with the person in front of her in line at Trader Joe's. When she chats with people, she introduces herself as, 'Hi, I'm Sadie, my favorite color is pink, I'm vegan, and I'm transgender. Who are you?'"
Sage says she encouraged Sadie to write the essay because she thought "it might help empower her and overcome any feelings of oppression." In the end she says that she wants Sadie "to know that she has a voice. My dream for her is that she will be happy. That's all, really. I just want her to be happy."

"One Today" by Richard Blanco (2013 Obama Inauguration)

The beautiful poem by Richard Blanco, the first Latino and openly gay poet to recite at a Presidential Inauguration.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Listening As Spiritual Hospitality

"To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations.  True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known.   They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.
Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond.  Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings.  The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves.  Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you." 
~ Henri J.M. Nouwen
Have you ever got together with someone and had no intention of listening to anything they're saying whatsoever? I've been guilty of doing this on many occasions. Instead, I want a platform to raise my complaints, concerns, self-aggrandizement, gossip or any manner of things. Why is this? Why can't I be quiet?

It is difficult to be quiet with another person and thus actually hear them when you are not interiorly free. People who have a regular prayer or meditation practice, or who see a therapist or spiritual director have a lot more space to actually be present and not have to talk all the time when they are approached by a person.

I was recently given a great gift. I was approached by a person with Downs Syndrome and I could tell that all they wanted was to be heard. I had a very real choice. I could have brushed them off and not heard them, or I could stop in my tracks and truly listen to what was on their mind. I'm glad I chose the latter; the moments we spent together were a gift to us both.

Let's all try to intentionally be more present with each other.

Mark Andrew Alward

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Voice That Keeps Calling My Name

"He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’" (1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV)
First of all, you can pick your mouths up off the floor that I'm quoting Scripture. Successful? Good, now let's move on.

I was thinking of what I wanted to write about today, and immediately the title The Voice That Keeps Calling My Name came to mind.  You see, I still hear it to this day, and every day. Sometimes I listen to it, other times I occupy myself with distractions so that I don't have to listen to it.  Here are some of the voices that I hear on a very regular basis - and by voices I do not mean literal voices in my head, but they are just as real to me as if they were literal:

  • "Be easy on yourself."
  • "Be kind to yourself."
  • "Don't be hard on yourself."
  • "Do what you want to do."
  • "You are not nearly as bad as you think you are."
  • "You are worthy of love."
  • "Wait. Love will find you."
  • "The love you give will come back to you in return."
  • "Slow down. There's no rush."
It is hard to hear this voice, which I call the voice of Love, when you fill your day with work or other activities and don't seem to have the time to sit with yourself and "fill-in-the-blanks-here." Your inner voice, the Inner Voice, God, Spirit, Love, Life, Mystery. It takes practice, and I must admit, I suck at it. I suck at sitting still, I suck at staying quiet. I'd rather be on Twitter or watching a movie, or surfing Facebook to see how many people are reading this blog entry. :)

I was just thinking of when this "voice" started within me, and when I think really really hard, it has been with me since I was a small child, a little boy. Back then it was also comforting, reassuring me that everything would eventually be alright, even as I was living with childhood trauma. Or, as a boy when I would anxiously await for my mother to return from music team practice, trying to fight the macabre overactive imagination that she had been in a car accident and that I would be left to be raised by someone else.

And I am so grateful for it and that its presence has never left me. The question now is: Will I now take the time to listen more closely to this voice, my voice - or will I continue to run and avoid it?  On their Christmas album, The Rankin Sisters sing a song called The Christmas Star, and one of the persistent lines is "Peace must come from within." As an evangelical, I chalked this up to New Age gobbledy-gook, but now I realize much of it's truth. 

I leave you with this quote from the American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader     Howard Thurman: 
"There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”
May you be blessed by a renewal of listening to your inner voice today, or by taking those steps toward that inner resolve you may have lost years ago.

Mark Andrew Alward

*The following is a song called "The Warrior Is A Child" that I must have listened to hundreds of times during my childhood which expressed how I felt as I lived through the yelling, the slamming of doors, and the deafening silence of abuse. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Politics Matter: It's About The People, Stupid.

This past year I have had the privilege of sitting on the executive of Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party as LGBTQ Representative. My term is winding down and I have a few thoughts as I sit in a café in downtown Kitchener.

Politics are in my blood. My paternal grandfather Harry Owen Alward ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the provincial legislature as a Liberal, but had a much more successful run as a municipal politician, sitting on almost every board possible from the 50's to the 80's, and being a councillor and Reeve for many many years.  My grandfather's interest in politics was handed down to my father, who handed it down to me. At first as a teenager I was enamored with the now-defunct Progressive Conservative party led by Jean Charest, but I also attended rallies and appearances by Jean Chretien (Liberal) and Stockwell Day (Canadian Alliance).  For a few years I wavered in my allegiance between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, before committing to the NDP.

These days my Facebook feed is often filled with anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal status updates, or links to anti-Conservative or anti-Liberal news articles.

And I think this is what most people are sick and tired of.

Yes, I believe that our provincial and federal governments must be held accountable for actions which subvert the democratic process or are harmful to its citizens or environment, but when was the last time you heard a Conservative praising a New Democrat, or vice versa? It doesn't happen enough. That's why, when a member of another party comes up with a great idea, we should let them know. One such idea is that of Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid, who wants to extend the deadline of charitable giving from the end of the year, to the end of February, when RRSP contributions are due. He also wants to create a National Charities Week during the last week in February. Provincially, Kitchener Centre MP John Milloy, who I have disagreements with, has had his hand in opening more low-income housing, and I congratulate him on that.

A cynic from another party might try to pour over these things and find some minutiae to argue about...or we could see them for what they are: accomplishments and good ideas.

Politics must take on a less-toxic tone than we have seen here in Canada for many years now. And that means working with people who we previously haven't bothered to get to know.  I know for myself, I entered my portfolio as LGBTQ Representative as an ally who wasn't aware of many of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, and I still have a long ways to go.  But it is thrilling when you move beyond your comfort zone or that which you are knowledgeable about and learn about people. Because if politics isn't about people, people will continue to tune out and voter turnout will continue to plummet.

As part of Kitchener Centre's NDP, we have our annual general meeting quickly approaching. If I am fortunate to be elected to another position, I will commit to two things: Firstly, listening to people around me, whether they make six figures or panhandle on King St. Secondly, I will work with anyone from any party to make our community a better place, and I will listen intently and decide whether I can or cannot support something they or their party are proposing.

In conclusion, politics must be about the people. We've had enough of partisanship and brinksmanship.

Mark Andrew Alward is on the executive of Kitchener Centre's New Democratic Party.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Deepest Prayer Happens Silently In Our Nature

"It is important to acknowledge that our deepest prayer happens in our nature. Prayer is not the monopoly of the pious; neither is it to be restricted to the province of those who are religious or spiritual. Conversely, neither can we say that those who have no religion or belief are not in prayer. Neither is prayer to be equated with prayers - the sequence of holy words with which we attempt to reach God. Were the spiritual life to be reduced to what we can see and the categories we put around people, no-one could ever be deemed spiritual. Prayer is the activity of the soul. The nature of each soul is different. The eternal is related to each of us in a unique way. Frequently, our outer categories of holiness are mere descriptions of behaviour. They are not able to mirror or reflect the secret and subtle way in which the Divine is working in the individual life. The words we use to describe the holy are usually too nice and sweet. Sometimes, the divine is awkward and contrary. God might be most active in an individual who just at that time invites our disappointment, judgement or hostility. The prayer of the soul voices itself in each life differently. One of the wonderfully consoling aspects of the world of spirit is the impossibility of ever making a judgment about 'who' someone is in that world. You may know 'who' a person is in the professional or social world, but you can never judge a person's soul or attempt to decipher what their destiny is or what it means. No-one ever knows what Divine narrative God may be writing with the crooked lines of someone's struggles, misdeeds and omissions. We are all in the drama, but no-one has seen the script.
Deep below the personality and outer image, the soul is continuously at prayer. We need to find new words to help name the unusual and unexpected forms of the Divine in our lives. When we divide life into regions, we lose sight of the most interesting places where the Divine is alive in us. It is difficult to trust most spiritual or pious talk; it inevitably seems to have either a dead or a domesticated God as its reference. The Divine Presence slips through the crevices between our words and judgments. Wall-to-wall spiritual talk leaves no oxygen for a living God to breathe or for the danger of the soul to quicken. Words map the world. When we attempt to name the Divine we need words which illuminate its seamless and hidden presence. The Divine has no frontiers. Our fear and limitation invent the barriers that keep us locked out from our inheritance. That kind of banishment makes you a victim of your own loss. To the Divine Eye, creation in its diversity is one living field. Often where we consider the Divine to be absent, it is in fact present under a different form and name. Spiritual discernment is the art of critical attention that is able to recognize the Divine Presence in its expected and unexpected forms. The Divine prayer sustains all life; it never ceases, in every place and in every moment its embrace is there."
by John O'Donohue, "Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong" 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God, Are You Listening?

Happy New Year everyone! I hope your Christmases and holidays and New Year celebrations were happy ones. This year, while still tackling some of the things about evangelical Christianity that I no longer believe, I am also going to try harder to listen, and to turn the temperature down when possible. Here are a couple musings I have on a late night in early January.

Does God Really Answer Prayer?

This opens up a whole can of worms, the first being "define what/who you mean by God?" Are you talking of the Judeo-Christian God found in the Bible, or some other form that another religion or philosophy believes in?

Seeing as how I have a lot of Christian friends on Facebook, it's not uncommon to see prayer requests come through. "Please pray for my Aunt Susan, she just had a heart attack." "My wife just got layed off and please pray that God will provide."

Now, if you believe in the interventionist, intelligent, supernatural God that a lot of my friends and family believe in, these are quite valid pleas. God is somewhere out there or even near here and perhaps he will act on their behalf.

But it's anybody's guess, and the response to that is usually, "well, only God knows. We're not God so we should just trust him."

However, does it not bother such believers that God heals Susan and not Shirley, or that he "gives" Henry a new job to provide for his family, and not Harry?

Furthermore, what does this God base his decisions on? Is it how faithful Susan was or how Harry never read his Bible?

God Does Great Things

Often we'll hear stories in the news about car accidents and how it was a miracle that a baby was uninjured in the crash. Or we'll hear stories of new schools being built in Africa.

There's only one problem.

What of Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 20 children who were gunned down? What of children working in sweat shops in Bangladesh with pretty much no shot at a better life?

If God is the Controller of the Universe, you can't praise his name and then let him off the hook or excuse him from the atrocities that go on in our world every day.

This is one of the many reasons I do not believe in this intelligent, controller type God anymore. So what then?

A Few Final Thoughts

To end off this brief entry, I will reiterate what I have always said. I deeply believe in God, though I seldom use that word. I believe there is a Mystery to life that we may never fully comprehend, in this life or any other.  Also, there is a metaphysical aspect to life that we have barely touched on, and practices such as Reiki and chakra work can do wonders. It's all very ethereal.

But if we're going to praise an all-knowing, all-powerful God for the good, we better be prepared to give him an earful for the evil.

Mark Andrew Alward

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Unitarians: We Meet To Inquire, Celebrate, Share And Care

The lit chalice is the official symbol of Unitarianism.
I departed evangelical Christianity just over a decade ago, and have been part of my local Unitarian congregation off and on (more on that later) for about 4 or 5 years. I'll have Christians or others ask me "What do Unitarians believe?" and I do my best to give them my answer. We have a set of 7 Principles & 6 Sources, but even more can be said. Here are some words by Rev. Charles Eddis, who has served Unitarian congregations in Edmonton, Montreal, the U.S., Australia, etc.

What's In A Name: The word "Unitarian" comes from a distinguishing belief its founders held four centuries ago in the unity of God, in contrast to the Christian belief in the Trinity, God in three persons.

Beliefs: If you ask Unitarians what they believe, you may find them stumped for an answer. If you were to conclude from this and from their diversity and freedom, that they don't know what they think, or that one can believe anything one likes and be a Unitarian, you would be mistaken. In spite of appearances, they are remarkably united in their basic values and beliefs.

I have never known a Unitarian who did not accept the findings of science. I have never known a Unitarian who did not affirm the importance of this life, of living well in the here and now as opposed to preparing now for a life to come. Unitarians hold that living well now is the only possible preparation for whatever may come after death - if anything. Life is a gift, a mystery to be respected and lived.

I have never known a Unitarian who did not feel a sense of personal responsibility for how he or she lived his or her life and for what happened to society and the world. I have never known a Unitarian who did not insist on the right to make up her or his own mind, rather than being told what to believe.

I have never known a Unitarian who did not believe that Jesus was the son of normal human parents, conceived and born as you and I were. I know no Unitarian who regards the world as a puppet stage over which some higher inscrutable power from time to time pulls strings.

I cannot be sure no Unitarian will contradict me on some of this, but I venture to say that Unitarian agreement on these matters is as close to unanimity as you will find in any religious movement.

We Unitarians are not distinguished by one or two simple points of belief. The question "What do Unitarians believe?" is almost too broad to answer. Ask what we believe, for instance, about God or human destiny, and you will get answers to that one question. The answers will vary. It will be clear that our beliefs are still evolving.

Beliefs Are Subject To Reason

Beliefs are often confused with credulity. Too often, faith is thought of as the acceptance of beliefs which are beyond question, not subject to the tests of reason and experience.  But what of contradictions? In the event of a conflict between beliefs and reason, which should be modified or give way? Are beliefs superior to reason and experience and beyond comprehension, or must they be modified in the light of reason? Must beliefs conquer reason, the facts, our experience, history and personal judgment?

In the sense of beliefs that cannot be questioned, we have no beliefs. We hold that all beliefs must be open to examination, questioned and then accepted, modified, or rejected.

No Absolute Truth

We reject truth with a capital "T," the truth of a holy book that cannot be questioned, or the truth of an authoritarian religious leader. Truth is a function of persons, of people, not of books beyond reason or faiths beyond doubt.

Unitarians believe, first of all, in an open search for truth and meaning. Truth cannot be embalmed for posterity. We jealously guard the right to know, to speak and to argue freely, according to conscience, within our own church and in society at large. We are opposed to censorship by church, state, or any other institution. We believe that truth emerges  more clearly under conditions of freedom.

We are firmly committed to truth with a small "t," to the right - indeed the duty - to exercise personal judgment. Freedom of belief is not a licence for religious anarchy or irresponsibility. It is not a franchise for wishful thinking. It is an opportunity for careful, honest though. Every person should develop her or his own capacity for personal judgment so that he or she may, in the words of the Christian apostle Paul, "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good." Such thinking is not private: we believe in sharing personal convictions and beliefs with each other in an atmosphere of openness and mutual respect.

We value honesty of belief and integrity of convictions in every person. We do not say, "Think as you like but say you believe." We say, "Think as you must, then say what you really believe."

Much of our diversity, our variety of beliefs, lies on the surface. We each have our own personal perspectives and experiences. We attach difference meanings to words.

This is obvious when we speak of God. There is no "yes" or "no" answer to the question, "Do Unitarians believe in God?" There is no universally accepted meaning of the word "God" among us. Its meanings among us include the ground of being or existence, creative force, highest ideals. Some of us say the word has too many meanings and express their beliefs without using it. Beyond the questions of meaning and usage lies the mystery of our being here, with all the gratitude and wonder it entails. Our thoughts lead us to a depth we know and acknowledge that goes beyond words.

Human Possibility

We have a fundamental and underlying faith in human possibilities. We believe our inherent powers are such that under favourable conditions we can judge and know what is good and true.

We human beings can also act. We have the power and the ability to act constructively and creatively. Given the opportunity we can, if we choose to, make this life a good and a fulfilling one - not just for ourselves, but for all people, indeed for the whole of creation here on this earth. We believe we should use our powers to this end. We believe in the good life for all people, with each person to decide for himself or herself what that good life is.

We believe in social responsibility. We believe in human rights; in basic human equality; in universal community, undivided by nation, race, age, sex, disability, sexual orientation, age, caste, colour or creed. We believe the good life for all people is within our powers, if we will but develop our capacities to know and to love. This is easier said than done, but nonetheless true.

Nature And Evolution

We believe in the world, the universe, our home. It is a source of ecstasy and joy. It is also, one must acknowledge, a source of tornadoes, disease, pain and death. Yet it is dependable, orderly and, in its way, intelligible and predictable. We believe its evidence. We believe in evolution because that is what the evidence indicates as to the origin of life on this planet. We view life on this planet as an interdependent web of which we should be responsible members.

The Past And The Future

The only way we can understand the past is from our own perspective. We cannot draw on the Christian Bible and the other great religions of the past using the interpretations people of old placed upon them. We draw on the past using our present insights. The past can only live in the present as appropriated by the present. The future is contained within the present, too. It is within our hands. What yet shall be is our responsibility and our concern, here, now.

Spirituality Of Religion

While Unitarians enjoy intellectual stimulation and tend to be book lovers, we also enjoy the arts and music. We do not use free inquiry to make our religion complicated, but to make our perception of it so simple and direct, so free of obstacles and nonessentials it is sometimes hard to put into words. We are emotional people like everyone else. We value the emotional and spiritual side of religion. We recognize depths to our selves the conscious mind can hardly take in. We have our dreams and our loves. While we meet to inquire, we meet more to celebrate and share, to enrich and care for each other.

If you are looking for such a community of people, we invite you to celebrate and journey with us:

In Waterloo Region: Grand River Unitarian Congregation

Canadian Unitarian Council

Unitarian Universalist Association

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mark's Sermon On The Mount: Reflections On My 18-Year-Old Horny Self

Warning: This entry contains plenty of sexual humour; if this isn't your cup of tea, you may want to skip over this one.

I remained a virgin until I was 33 years old. I didn't kiss a girl until I was 18 years old and in college - and it was terrible; for purposes of anonymity I will refrain from going into detail. And it was mostly my fault.

Yes, the number of  "sexual experiences" that I had until I was 33 were very few and far between. Actually, now that I think of it, they weren't, but still they could be counted on one hand...

I remember as a 15 or 16 year old flipping through the Sears catalogue, and for the first time being intrigued by the swimsuit and lingerie sections. Somehow I knew what I was doing was very wrong and dirty and something I was ashamed of, especially when I discovered, like Columbus or Al Gore, masturbation. Now, I had had "the talk" about the birds and bees by my mother earlier on in my adolescence, but not much was said about masturbation. And to her credit, she was approachable when I wanted to talk, but still I was ashamed. And you have to remember that she was going on what she knew and believed as well. In the evangelical denomination that she grew up in, it was a sin for a woman to enter a church service without a head-covering, and dancing and playing cards led to sinning, all of which led to Hell.  I basically remember my Mom telling me that masturbation was normal (thanks, Mom!) but not to over-do it.

Oops, I forgot about that one.

So, instead of completely repressing my growing sexual feelings, and instead of going out and schlooping every girl that I knew, I became addicted to masturbation. It was swell. I soon discovered that certain channels that we got on TV played soft porn on Friday nights (bless you, CityTV), and then there were those suggestive ads where you could call the 1-800 number and listen to a provocative-but-probably-70-year-old-voice on the other end of the line until you had to enter a credit card number. So it continued that I was always the giver and never the..wait for it...receiver.

Things only got worse when I decided to go to Bible college. Now there were a lot of girls my age who were also Christians. We had a lot of similarities in wanting to serve God, worship, find our calling in life, etc. But they were completely unattainable sexually. Not that I would have made a move if the President of the college himself would have told me that God, in a dream, had given me permission to shag so-and-so. I absolutely knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that sex before marriage was a sin, and so I continued in my sexual repression. I began to sneak onto friend's computers (or my own when I had one) and surf pornography, and then when I was handed the keys to the kingdom (I became security guy who locked the buildings up at night), I simply used the library computers to have sex chats with strangers or to surf more porn. It really is amazing that I don't suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome today.

During this time in Bible college, we had chapel services 4 times a week, and there were many times when I responded to the altar call, to come forward and confess your sins and be "healed" or at least forgiven for your sins. But nothing ever worked. I'd find myself on a computer or lusting after the hot girl who sat in front of me in New Testament class. I did become part of an "accountability group" with two friends on dorm - basically we could be honest if we had "stumbled into sin," and I am still grateful for the friendships that formed there, but nothing really worked.

Near the end of my 3rd year of Bible college, I had worked myself up into such a frenzy about my "sin," that I convinced my OCD self that God had kicked me out of his kingdom, that I had committed the unpardonable sin, and I was going to Hell.

After a few weeks of living with this anguish, I decided to let this guilt go and see how it felt; it felt good.  Subsequently, around the same time I began having major theological doubts about the Christian faith and I would fairly quickly leave fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.

I have since realized that not only do many Christian youth have damnation and judgment hanging over their heads - consciously or subconsciously - but they are told - to their great detriment - to repress a HUGE part of who they are - their sexuality. If "no sex before marriage" works out for some Christians - good for them. But I am unconvinced that this is the only way.  A few suggestions:

  • Parents need to be available as open, non-judgmental people to their adolescent children who may come up with all sorts of questions they never themselves raised during their youth. My mother listened to me and was willing to have the conversations, but had the same answers as her parents had given her, and her grandparents had given her, and which her church had given her. A new openness has to be achieved.
  • Masturbation should be encouraged; we are sexual creatures. If someone were to say "I am physically hungry but it's a sin to eat," we'd find that to be incredulous. The same should be said for masturbation. (I love the saying "God kills a kitten every time someone masturbates." In that case, I need to find a much larger apartment and become known as the cat-man of Kitchener).
  • Churches should offer up sensitive, discussion-provoking conversations with their youth (with parents approval and guidance of course), so they know that sex is not a dirty word before marriage. Contraception must be taught by both parents and the church.
This is a big one. Sex is not always about love. Ideally ever sexual experience would be on a bed of rose petals and in the bliss of a committed, long-term relationship. But realistically this is not always the case anymore. Sometimes sex is about love. Other times it is about two people who crave the company, or two people who are having consensual fun. It is unrealistic to think that every person on earth find that one true love in their mid to late 20's (or later) and finally start letting go of their repressions.  In fact, this can be harmful. Two people can finally get married and find that - oops - they are completely unalike in the bedroom.

Repression will eventually come out. This could be in the form of extra-marital affairs, alienation between spouses, or overt sexual expression in a way that may emotionally hurt others. OR letting go could be liberating. I can't help but think of Beyoncé, who grew up singing in her church, or Katy Perry, who grew up as Katy Hudson, and was a contemporary Christian singer. Now she covers her breasts with whipped cream and does duets with Snoop Dog (no complaining).  Rumour even says that she has kissed a girl and she liked it. :)

I'd say "Have a good day," but instead I bid you farewell saying, "May each of you receive your come-uppance."

Mark Andrew Alward lost his virginity at 33 outside of marriage and lived to tell about it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I'm Glad I Don't Have Long Fingernails

I'm glad that I don't have any fingernails to speak of; at least long ones.
They make it sound so sexy to run your long fingernails down your lovers back,
But I'd rather feel the warmth of your skin.
And wouldn't you rather feel me hold you, rather than rake you like Autumn leaves?
With my fingers and with these hands I can pull you towards me much more quickly,
And with much more passion than if I had long fingernails.
With these fingers I can feel your muscles, I can feel your skin,
As I pull your clothing off.

And then the night begins.

Mark Andrew Alward

Reconciliation: Not As Easy As It Sounds

The following passage was written by Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen. The post-notes are mine.
"Reconciliation is much more than a one-time event by which a conflict is resolved and peace established.  A ministry of reconciliation goes far beyond problem solving, mediation, and peace agreements.  There is not a moment in our lives without the need for reconciliation.  When we dare to look at the myriad hostile feelings and thoughts in our hearts and minds, we will immediately recognize the many little and big wars in which we take part.  Our enemy can be a parent, a child, a "friendly" neighbor, people with different lifestyles, people who do not think as we think, speak as we speak, or act as we act.  They all can become "them."  Right there is where reconciliation is needed.
Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls.  God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends."
~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

 I have a few thoughts on the topic of reconciliation today.

  • It is not always possible, and this does not make you a failure. Sometimes two people are so widely apart and one or both parties are unwilling to look beyond "the issue" or mend fences, and a happy outcome, even if craved, is not possible. To reconcile in some of these situations means contorting yourself into someone/something which you are not, and you will go on making each other unhappy.
  • Sometimes the two people or two sides are so far apart on "the issue," whether it be religious, political, or social views, that they are simply unwilling to budge. This also does not make them a failure. It simply makes them a different human being than you are.  And if you truly love them, you will agree to disagree, move on, and stop stoking the fire that one of you has been poking at for so long.
  • There are different levels of relationships: acquaintances, casual friends, confidants, lovers. If something can be salvaged, that is a good thing; if not, again, one must move on.
  • There are many times when pain is inevitable, such as estrangement from a parent or an impending separation or divorce. Rather than dance around that pain and contort ourselves and try and become a different  person to suit their needs, we would do well to (painfully) bid them farewell, at least for now, and continue on our own journey.
Wherever you are today on your personal journey, I wish you peace and love,

Mark Andrew

All Things Are Being Made New

"The beginning of the spiritual life is often difficult not only because the powers which cause us to worry are so strong but also because the presence of God’s Spirit seems barely noticeable. 

If, however, we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. This new hunger is the first sign of God’s presence. When we remain attentive to this divine presence, we will be led always deeper into the kingdom. There, to our joyful surprise, we will discover that all things are being made new."

~ Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New