I arrived on this earth already fitted with a story. I learned my story mimetically, that is, unconsciously imitating those around me.

Through the eyes of others I learned what to desire and what to fear. Earlier than I can remember, I learned that decency, neighborliness, honesty, a good reputation, good manners, were consecrated things.

I also learned that communism was evil and that Nikita Kruschev was no better than Lenin, whose army my grandfather and his young family escaped. Democracy, on the other hand, was right and John Deifenbaker was good to the bone.

I learned that a Mennonite heritage was good but that it wasn’t good to be like some Mennonites who were too proud of this. I learned that wars were somehow necessary, but to fight in one might be wrong.

I learned that to show too much excitement or too much sadness was an indication I wasn’t thinking clearly enough. I learned that celebrations of birthday’s and anniversaries were fine but not necessary. And vacations were luxuries.

I learned that while not drinking, smoking, playing cards, going to pool halls and movies didn’t make you Christian, they were still excellent indicators of whether or not you were Christian. I learned that being Baptist was probably the best form of Christianity. I was also taught that churches with domes and odd looking crosses on top were somehow sinister but that it was good to pray for people who went there, so they could be "saved."

I learned that my culture was a great gift to North American Indians, Chinese immigrants, Jews and Negroes, as they were called.

I adopted all these messages long before I could reflect on their adequacy or truth. These and a host of other messages formed me, and formed for me, a story with which to navigate life.

Old Balsam Poplar
Old Balsam Poplar

Sometime during high school I became friends with a group living out a different story. It was not a radically different story, but my contact with something other than what I took to be right and natural disoriented me.

I didn’t frame it in this way but until then I had no insight into the anthropological fact that I was living out any kind of story. I only sensed that I was now waking up to other possibilities for my life.

This possibility of another way of understanding the world was strong elixir. To cast off those things I took for gospel was exhilarating but it came with moments of panic. The seventies were this for me. After I got out of school my life as I knew it cracked open. I discovered books and learned for the first time the power of thoughts written down. The power of poetry and music.

Suddenly there were options. It was like I was molting. I questioned my parents about their beliefs, about the Christianity of the Baptist Church. The shift in me alarmed my family. While all of my older siblings had gone on to Bible school after grade 12, I questioned why the bible was the measure of all things. What about the multi-religious world I was just squinting toward? And of course there was the question of God "himself."

And then the more practical questions…Why did I need to get a job, get married, buy a house, take out a mortgage? Why not live day to day? Why not love and live with those of like mind, who happen to be at hand? Well, I grew my hair long and moved to Vancouver Island.

Fast forward a half dozen years: After the collapse of what I thought was the "new world" it was tempting to go straight back to the security of all the old messages, back to the old story. And for a while, I tried. But of course, just as you can never completely leave behind your first story, neither can you go back to it, outside of a kind of sustained self-deception.

Ephphatha House cross
Ephphatha House cross

What counts in this little tale is the letting go of old parasitic messages, and those that masquerade as "new." What counts is the life-long practice of waking up to new and greater messages. What counts is the receptivity to messages of beauty and symmetry and harmony. Messages that because of their truth are open and creative. Messages that shape our story in Love. Messages of mercy.

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