Born into a sectarian world in Northern Ireland, we were not just Protestant but Presbyterian. This was the “Hellfire is Waiting” school of thought, and yet I managed to get this, a copy of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”. This book returned to me when I was about 50 years old from a friend of the family whose kids had inherited some of my childhood toys and stuff. Inside it there’s a plate inscribed in blue ink: First prize for “Good Answering at the Annual Examinations”, at the Presbyterian Church Sabbath Schools. Well, it’s good to know I had a promising start! Never mind that my grandmother would have lost many a nights sleep over me marrying one of them – a Catholic!
From Ireland, we emigrated to Toronto then Oshawa, and my sister and I were sent to United Sunday Schools until I was about 12. One Sunday I was deeply disturbed and felt very weirded out by biblical descriptions of something religious. I just couldn’t understand what it had to do with God and Jesus. Plus the teacher, a man, appeared to have great difficulty explaining it to me. Any Guesses? Well, I was pretty amazed that cutting part of a boy’s penis off could actually be in the bible and also be thought of as a good thing. I was also disturbed by the idea of a God who could allow Hitler to murder 6 million Jews and cause the war deaths of an incredible 60 million people. Pretty suspect stuff. I went home and announced my retirement from Sunday school right then.
Moving to Napanee, at about 14-16 years old I was now a very intelligent loner, but not by choice. No wonder, I always read and studied philosophy and religion a lot, trying desperately to fit life into some sort of construct, to attach a… (oh nooooo) MEANING to it. Here’s loner reading at 16 yrs: The Meaning of Existence.
At this point I began to take long, communing-with-nature walks in the woods with an air rifle – in order to shoot accurately you have to be at peace. The only time I killed a bird I didn’t even mean to hit it and felt terrible. Many hours, thousands of shots and miles spent in nature, a comforting spiritual home for me. I also began martial arts, wanting to be competent and not afraid anymore – based on my treatment by others for many years. Both of these things, when done in a non-violent way, feel spiritually based for me. Aiki Jitsu and aikido, for instance, rely on taking control with minimum harm to others. Target shooting is meditative.
These teen years continued with Mysticism, spirituality and conventional wildness. I was looking for the meaning of life, reading the existentialists and writing about life. Way too smart and totally out of social touch, I basically had just two understanding friends in their mid 20’s: one certified insane and one a jazz guitar mystic poet. We shared the ability to be gentle and see things others couldn’t and things in the cracks, in between mystic highs, and playing chess while listening to King Crimson all night. We took Castaneda trips in search of whatever was out there, and shared a mystical spirituality related to the earth and wicca and psychic stuff.
This actually fitted pretty good with me but wasn’t a thing one could share socially. Friends were few and dates non-existent. No one wants to explore that stuff at that age. Too weird. As I explored, I met some people who converted me into a Jesus freak. This was interesting, the biggest thing was the emphasis on gentleness and understanding and giving. Seemed okay to me. Gentle James got my attention once, he always had a faraway light in his eyes. When asked what he was up to, he simply looked around and said, “Just standing on the planet, man.” Jesus freaking eventually expired, taken down by a minister who convinced me that I was not depressed but actually needed to be exorcised. Seemed reasonable to me so I went with it. Exorcism was a pretty weird experience. Not really recommended.
So off I went to build my own method of spiritually relating to being human. I practised witchcraft, tempered with mystical trips, eastern stuff, Buddhism and Christianity. I took what looked reasonable to me from everything. I examined them, tested them and if they fit my outlook, modified them to my use. Referring to myself as a “Red-Neck Buddhist”, this says I see the world thru many eyes with some compassion, but if a rabid or dangerous animal threatens in the yard, I’m not gonna bring it in and try to cure it. It’s to be destroyed before it hurts another life form or suffers more itself. A sick mangy coyote received this grace. So I’ve been known to light a candle, bury things in the earth, cast spells, walk the earth at night feeling the earth’s magnetism in the fields, say the Lord’s Prayer, pray for blessings for others and myself, and follow many of the teachings of the Tao, having studied it in many translations for about 35 years. My biggest thing from all this is compassion: Can we listen and offer it to others? I believe we must listen first and then act. Think and ACT. Even a little action in a positive direction can be a world changer for someone who is troubled.
There is a theological spirit thing in love of all kinds for me. I love to be human. I again love life now that I am healthy once more. And I love the difference between the sexes and enjoy deep friendships with men and women. I love man except when he fails by hurting himself or others, and I have a very hard time with those who practice deliberate malice.
Zenna Henderson was a pioneer in spiritual/religious science fiction. She created The People, a deeply spiritually compassionate and openly religious culture of beings crash landed on Earth. I love her stories and wish we could all live here in their way. In my teens this was a comfort that someone might feel that it was possible to live in harmony. I still remember those stories.
Over all, my theological outlook says, “Try to understand where a person is coming from – it may be that if you were in their shoes you would see things similarly.” Sometimes this is not possible. But if they need compassion, let’s give it too them. Let’s instill the young with compassion, and give compassion to grown-ups.
However, I also think that sometimes, when things are incurably off base and people are suffering, you may have to resort to the rabid skunk approach and make sure the problem cannot recur.
Compassion tempered with reality. That’s Red-Neck Buddhism.