At only a few months I was christened by my Uncle, Father Joe. I was reborn and bathed in the blood of Christ at 3. I was baptized in the Holy Spirit at 8. At 10 I had the gift of speaking in tongues. At 13 I went to Eurofire where I saw a women’s twisted legs become straight and watch as she ran across a stage while 50,000 people were slain in the spirit- including me. I have testified, glorified, witnessed, protested. I attended Catholic school until I was in Grade 9 but my mother and stepfather were Born-Again Christians so my understanding of theology is vast and complex. I have read the bible cover to cover about 7 times. I have had a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
And now I am an Atheist.
I am not here to debate religion with you. There are many who would love to do so on r/debateanatheist. I am not here to tell you the story of how I lost my faith either. I am not one to hate those of faith or disparage their beliefs. Because I know what it feels like to believe.
But I also know I never fully felt human, connected to the universe, to others, I never fully felt free, until I understood- this is it.
By a series of wonderful circumstances I have come to be here and what a fantastic gift I have been given.
Today is the Day of Ascension. This is the 40th day of Easter, the day that Jesus ascended the pain and suffering of human life to be with God the Father. The day his work was done on Earth. Today was always a sad day for me as a child because it was the day my superhero (a man who could raise the dead and walk on water!) left us to our faith, and our rules and our imperfect human selves.
My stepfather (a chemist and theologian) had an enormous library in our basement. My siblings and I often messed up neat rows of National Geographics, Carlos Castaneda, Apologetic texts and lots of Charlie Browns.
The rule was: If you can read it- you can read it. And we did.
As a result, from an early age it was clear that the mythology of ascension was so much a part of our human narrative. I read about Hercules, Adapa, Enoch, Murile and they all predated the New Testament story of Jesus. In more modern times I geeked out when Darth Vader rose up from fire and brimstone, leaving Anakin Skywalker in ash in order to bring balance the force, Dumbledore’s phoenix literally rises from the ashes to have a pivotal role in defeating evil, and in Stargate Universe a central tenet of the story arc is that the ancients have ascended to live as energy beings, and humans are on a quest to understand how to reach this higher state.
So why is this so much a part of our human narrative?
We are a species that evolved with a complex brain and tenacity for wanting to survive. For most of us in the developed nations though, survival is pretty cushy. But we carry this ascension narrative with us in unique and powerful ways.
Yesterday, I read a book called Edwardo The most Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World by John Birmingham. I had never read it before and just had randomly grabbed it out of a box I was packing. It was a poignant reminder of the power of words and labels. It was a story of a boy who status is created based on the labels others assign him. As I read it, I realized that it was written more for the adult reading it than the child listening.
As we unpacked the story it became clear the subtext was- it is true, there are always going to be people who judge you, not by merit or by ethic but by gossip and hearsay. They will not take the sum of your heart but focus on minute aspects that they personally don’t like. They will label you, give you ‘advice’, and create hyperbole out of your circumstance.
The end of book is not a happy one for me. Edwardo swings from being the most horrible boy in the world to being labeled the loveliest boy in the world. My students and I talked about how it just didn’t seem balanced. Sometimes we all can be cruel, dirty, and mean. Sometimes we are kind, generous and understanding. Sometimes we are the victims, sometimes the aggressors. We are complex, intense social primates. And that’s ok.
We talked for along time about this story. Most 5 years olds have a certain wisdom that adults lose. A clarity of vision, an acceptance of others, they live in a prelabelled world.
As an educator, I need to be mindful of the power of my words. I have written it before and I do believe it, there are no bad children, only inappropriate choices. But sometimes as an educator perhaps I should dig deeper into the why of that choice. Sometimes choices are born out of that complexity in our human brain, our need for survival, our pragmatic understanding of the past. My job is not to chastise the choices of children but rather, understand why they have made them and help them in their journey. I seek not to label or judge but to give generously of my time, patience and love.
It would behoove adults to treat our colleagues and friends in this same way. There are going to be those of us who are passionate and driven, intense and powerful. But that’s not all they are. They are also sweet and kind and broken. It is easy to throw a cliché at them but much harder to sit and listen to the why of their choices. We need to be mindful of the judgements we bestow on others. We need to realize that people are unique, and complex. Just like I tell my students, you don't have to get along with everybody, you are not forced to like everyone, but you do need to treat them with respect and tolerance.
There is one bit I forgot to mention about Ascension Day. It is also the day Jesus promised to return. Because even in Biblical mythology, all of life is change. What goes up, must come down. Whomever wanders comes to rest. Whatever is lost becomes found. These super narratives help us to survive as a human race. We rise from the ashes of our past, but our rebirth is again and again.
So today, but not more than another day, whether based in any faith or not, let us take the time to look upwards, to set goals, to ascend from the ashes of yesterday, and see this one as a magnificent gift to use the best we can.
Just because I know I may get comments on this post: Atheism is not a new religion for me. It is anti-theism. My rational brain knows there is no scientific evidence of a God, and the burden of proof rests not with me. So if Jesus were to descend from heaven and there was evidence of divinity of course I would change my stance. As with all good scientists- I ask questions, gather data and make decisions based on fact. This is my choice. Go well with yours.