Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beneath the Surface

I have had a series of conversations with my former Youth Pastor. They started because he was trying to understand why so many of his former flock had left the church. Many of these had moved to the United Kingdom. This made him feel heart sore given how closely he was involved in our lives at their most tricky parts. I was ‘under his wing’ from about the age of 13 till I was 17. This was at a time when my world was at its most wobbly. My brothers had left home and my parents had gotten divorced. I had moved from the home I grew up in. Things were rocky and I was questioning everything. Rich did a lot of listening. 

Personal Story (with Rich)

I left home for England after I finished school. I worked as an assistant teacher at a school in Chichester. England is far more secular than South Africa. Although the church and state are still one. The Queen is the head of both. The Church of England is much more deeply entwined with schools and there are lots of beautiful, very old, churches. Despite all that, I did not find a similar world view to the one I had left behind. The bubble I grew up in was rather British. An English speaking area that considered itself liberal(ish). Almost everyone went to church of some sort. Until Apartheid ended, we were exposed to almost no Hindu or Muslim ideas. This despite the fact that Durban has the biggest Indian population of any city outside of India. Like the UK, the majority of religious people in South Africa were Protestant. The Afrikaans community in a large part were formed from people fleeing religious persecution in Europe. The French Hugenots were given a few years to leave their homes or become Catholic. Like the history of America, much of the migration to South Africa was from people looking for a place to be allowed to believe. 

At the airport, leaving South Africa for the first time

I didn’t find a church community in Chichester. The few churches I visited were full of much older congregations. Not the youth groups of which I had been a part when I was in Westville. So my Friday nights and Sundays stopped revolving around the Church. I also started reading more widely. While many people were nominally religious, it wasn’t something that was spoken about as openly as in South Africa. In South Africa, many sportsmen will thank God first in post-match conferences. The 1995 Rugby World Cup team fell to a knee to pray as the final whistle blew. This new world I was in kept their faith much more privately. 

Dropping a Knee

Two years later, I arrived at University. I was super keen to be involved in a community but the church communities in Cape Town seemed very foreign to me. Not private at all, I started having a few clashes with individuals who I thought were being incredibly judgemental. To be fair, they disagreed with my choices too. I had one instance where someone actually warned a girlfriend of mine because of my alleged hypocrisy. There was another instance where we were prayed for at a fines meeting. There are photos where a bunch of guys are dressed in silly clothes having far too much to drink, and in the back ground there are other guys with their hands in the air, eyes closed, and speaking in tongues. Although not willing to side with the ‘non-believers’, I was caught in the middle. I believed strongly that there was a God. I believed strongly that I was not him. 

The big turning point never really came for me. It was a slow, traumatic, release of belief. I compare it to the emotional feeling of a horrible break up. The thought of the God I loved deeply, but who had left me. Who had arguably never really been there. Like questioning whether an ex really ever loved you. Questioning the motivation. Questioning everything that held my world together. The world no longer made sense to me if the story I had always told myself was true. Reading Richard Dawkins book, ‘The God Delusion’ briefly convinced me that it was actually something I should turn on explicitly, and aggressively. 

But Christianity is too deeply wired into my world to reject completely. Particularly family and friends who define who I am are too deeply wired in that way of looking at the world. I couldn’t do it publicly. Faith is such a personal thing. Other writers resonated with me more deeply. While Dawkins follows the academic approach of tearing down belief in search of truth, others come at it in what I see as a more human way. I found a path to acceptance of my history and new world view through Yoga. 

Yoga, through Vedantic Philosophy, allows for the variety of ways people see the world. Our stories are completely path dependent. Our biology, our experiences, our geography, our choices all lead us to perceive things in a way that is unique to the world we have danced with. Yoga is more a set of practices or way of life, and not a religion. The way you connect things is up to you. Within Yoga, they talk of four paths that can be followed in varying combinations. Through action, devotion/worship, meditation, and knowledge (Karma, Bhakti, Raja, and Jnana). We are each able to find something to suit us in our quest to create meaning and find peace. 

Looking at things differently
I am the pin on the far left of the ten

I just happen to be one of those people who always asks questions. I like to look at how ideas clash. I like to fight with ideas that can't both be true. I like to constantly chip away at my philosophy of how I see the world to create something that helps me cope. I also try do things I would consider Karma Yoga (washing dishes, cleaning the house, teaching Yoga), Bhakti Yoga (my art and music), and Raja Yoga (Yoga Asana, Pranayama and Running), but I mainly focus on the reading, writing and conversation. This has allowed me to re-engage with people who I may disagree with on the surface, because I don't think it is the surface that matters. 

We each have our own surface. Beneath that, we share the stuff that matters.

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