Thursday, March 20, 2008

Radiate Warmth


A couple of things are happening lately that have brought the topic of religion up in my life (again) and how I may be the true minority of the village.

First of all, we are having an experience here in Mekoryuk called Jubilee, its a big deal, and our village will be growing by about 50 people today through Sunday which almost increases our population by thirty percent. Jubilee is a celebration here based around singing the words of Christianity in the fellowship of other Christians, which many people will come to enjoy. Imagine if your town suddenly increased its population thirty percent of a specific type of people with a specific purpose/definition, what would that look like?

Secondly, this Sunday is Easter where Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his crucification on the cross. It is also another religious holiday that has been paired with, what many may hate to admit as the new modern spiritual leader, commercial and material goods. Not only will people spend their weekend in their religious rituals and buildings and beliefs, they will possibly pack their faces full of chocolate, carmel and malted pastel candy coated balls.

Lastly, the topic of yoga has come up. I was forced to try to contemplate why on earth someone would not want to include a very healthy, active, natural way of stretching and conditioning the body into their state educational standards based physical activity based on the fact that it is linked to Buddhism. Officially I was not teaching yoga, rather pointing out several stretches we do in PE are like those of yoga poses. "Namaste" was never said, no blood, no foul. But I digress...

So lets start from the concrete. I'm going to to be very specific, so just to make very clear some things. I do not believe in god. Yep, read it again, I said it. To tell you the truth I never have. And, to the best of my surveys, may be the only one on this island who doesn't.

It is a weird feeling to just realize. Not only am I on a literal geographical island in the Bering Sea, I am on a spiritual island too, one as far and distant and possibly dangerous (at least to my friend making ability and career in Eskimo Village public education) as the Bering Sea itself. What do I mean by that? What do I mean by god?

Well, here's how it goes. Have you ever heard of those children that are locked up in their closets by their whacko parents for the formative years of their language development and how they are then unable to truly form any vocal or verbal competency for the rest of their lives because of it? I believe the same is true for religion. Either you believe in some sort of god, or you don't and this is based on whether or not you were exposed to him/her/it/them as a child or not. IT WAS FORMED as a part of your reality as a child in a little way or a big way, you can't change it easily because it is ingrained in the very fiber of how you make sense of your world around you. I am not saying that my parents are whackos who kept me from religion, they simply let us decide if we wanted to believe (a cool move on their part I think). In so doing, we were not exposed to the rituals, practices, words, or indoctrination as other kids, Therefore, when I formed my early theories on how the universe is put together as a child I had to come up with alternate explanations besides god made it so or god made it so.

There was no Noah's Ark for me. I had books on Dinosaurs. There was no David and Goliath, there was The NeverEnding Story. There was no Mark, Luke, Paul, John. There was Susan (mom), Mark (dad), and Hal (brother) my family, Harvey, Barbara, Lindley and Jean (Grandmas and Grampas). They were my religion, my pastors, priests, shamans and guides. There were the apple orchards and hikes with Grandpa to the point in the Okanogan Valley. There Grampa and I would sit and stair down to the Giant white cross bolted to the top of the cliff and I would feel nothing. He didn't even speak of it to me, he only listened to me talk as we walked along picking the various plants, throwing rocks, and telling jokes. What I'm trying to say is there is no "GOD" in the Christian sense for me. There really isn't god in any sense for me. There is only life, the one I'm living, the memories and lessons I've learned, and the hope for the future.

As I grew older out of childhood, I started to pay attention to this thing they called science. It explained things. Things that nobody else felt like explaining to me. It could explain how everything I see around me worked. How everything I can't see worked. And if it can't explain it, a scientific process of going about studying, experimenting, recording and making a conclusion on how it might.

This caused a little bit of trouble for me. Mostly because I got science right away. I had built my reality of the world on observations, mini internal experiments. Dinosaur books and nature. Science just became the voice for which I could start to verbalize and categorize how things worked in my world. This can cause trouble because science is based on "facts." I was good with facts. I was good with school. I was good with understanding facts at school about science. I was not good at understanding why a lot of the Christians at my school said I was going to this "hell" they spoke of just because I didn't believe in their explanation of reality.

In Gig Harbor Washington where I grew up through school, there is a strong "Young Life" contingent. There is a multi-million dollar church and many many many teachers, coaches, and community members involved in it and its youth outreach programs. If you were a rambunctious high school student with an above average understanding of biological, evolutionary and scientific theory in a world like this, it was like a debaters heaven. Young Lifers came from all angles trying to persuade me to come to their special camps in the summer, to come and hang out, then when I said the magic words "I don't believe in god" they suddenly would turn on me as if I was some sort of freak. Unfortunately I don't have as much understanding as I do now so I would pull out my shiny Colt-45 six shooters of scientific knowledge and gun them down mentally at high noon, showdown style. I was an arrogant ass (maybe still am) of science and youth.

I was able to resist Young Life and Youth Group until I figured out that the winter bible retreat was going to be at Whistler/Blackcomb British Columbia ski resort. I was a ski instructor at the time and I loved to ski more than just about anything. I'm not gonna lie, I sat through two excruciating months of Monday night Young Life meetings singing acoustic guitar accompanied songs and hearing people talk about how awesome Dave Matthews Band was and how awesome Jesus was and all this other stuff that made me really enraged. But I bit my tongue. I knew that if I could just hold it in I would get to go to Whistler Canada to ski at one of the finest skiing locations in the world. Ands so I did. I went on the trip all the way on the bus with a glazed look of ecstasy on my face. I skied my brains out too. I missed prayer circles because I was skiing. Then I was looked down upon by the people who made the prayer circle but also snuck off to smoke a joint at night. I was unChristian for skiing. And on the last night, when they had us bow our heads and close our eyes, asking us to only open them and look at the camp leaders if we wanted to finally accept jesus into our hearts I simply smiled and took a sigh of relief that I wasn't going to have to prove I wasn't a Christian by doing anything more than passively sitting their peacefully with my eyes closed which is all I wanted in the first place. I instead visualized the giant hill of powder on the Blackcomb Glacier I skied down that day with my friends in the sun.

I eventually escaped Gig Harbor. College was enlightening in many different ways. Freedom, new minds, new philosophies, youth, adult learning and better science. I was a biology major. I was comfortable. It was the first place I'd ever been where the "question" of evolution didn't exist. In an educational institution of biological science it is simply accepted as a fairly simple rule of the world that it is happening and it has been forever. Its not a debate, its not a "Intelligent Design" issue. Its simple real science. Just like gravity. But, what was up for debate were the minutiae of the theory itself, just like biblical theory, biologist were exploring with fantastical steadfast earnestness every last detail of how it was happening and finding new and deeper understandings. I was in heaven. College was reality expanding in many ways, but because of other societal norms of appropriateness I'll leave those insights out until another time (I hope Radiate Warmth can eventually include all parts of my life). If their was any inkling that I didn't believe in god it was cemented here. I went to the Athiest/Agnostic club meetings a few times too. They handed apples out on the court of school (the fruit of knowledge) and I thought that was very cool and clever. But the people at the meeting were as obsessed with the absence of "god" as the people who were convinced "god" was real. I think it is around this time I dropped the Atheist tag for explaining myself and started to float the spiritual ocean currents of theories like a jellyfish in the open sea.

Around graduation there were some major spiritual and life hurdles to overcome. I made some pretty sizable mistakes around that time (also would love to share but can't), learned from them as a result, and moved on. I read a lot too. I read Kerouac and Kesey and got introduce to Dharma Bum Buddhism and beat poetry as well as the intellectual, social, racial, sexual and gender revolution of America's past. I got introduced to other less acceptable forms of religion. I eventually moved to the underbelly of Tacoma and grew to know witches, and gypsies, alcoholics, and hippies, hindus, jews, agnostics, homosexuals, drug addicts, and straight edgers. It was then I started to realize that although I was spiritual inside, a passion for being a good person existed, science had no way of defining that part of me in the text books. I started to recognize the need for a spiritual recognition of the meaning of all this mess we call life. The problem was every religion I encountered, every book I read, every corner I turned didn't fit. I started to recognize the need to find a "religion" in a world of Religions I couldn't join.

I started to think a lot about this whole situation. I read things like the Celestine Prophecy, The Secret, and other books that introduced me to energy. Thats right Energy. This stuff that makes up everything around us. You know what you are made of? Science, Christianity, Nature, Buddhism and every other religion combined into one thing you can't deny exists. Balance. Equilibrium. Frequency. Waves. Magnets. Electricity. Fire. Water. Earth. Heartbeat. Love. Beauty.

I had to go back to my child hood. What was my religion? What was my doctrine? What was my explanation? What was my faith? To tell you the truth I finally just came to the realization that how I explain the world in my own head is a combination of infinity and me and isn't anyones business. It can just be my religion. It tells me good and evil. It tells me right and wrong. It explains how things are. And you know what, it doesn't have a name. It doesn't have a god. It just is. I think science is just as whack as christianity and all the other religions. Their prone to doctrine and limits. I simply prefer science because its usually outside where I want to be. This thing, this energy, this god, this spirit, this sun, this mind up in the sky, this feeling, this unending question in everyones minds trying to figure out "What is the meaning of life" and the unending ridiculously personal and individual answers people come up with are all the same thing to me. Its just our way of surviving and making sense of a possibly senseless existence. It is what separates us from all other things. We contemplate meaning. Therefore we believe in things whether they are "true" or not, because in essence, "truth" is made up by us as well.

So when my students ask me, do you believe in god, are you a Christian? It is the most frustrating question I ever get asked. There is nothing I can say to enter into any realm of normalcy for them. They can only comprehend a world of god because that is how they were raised. I'm not right, they're not right, no one is right, except in our own minds. There is no truth that governs over all others. We just are here believing in our own stuff. Its up to you to be a good person, you make decisions based on the need to survive. You can do that through the teachings of Jesus, or Mohammad, or Siddartha, or Albert Einstein, or Da Vinci, or Newton, or your grandpa, or your professor, or your coin flipping, or your stock portfolio, or your .25 acres of track housing or Larry the magical emerald encrusted Snail it really doesn't matter to me. What matters is that you Radiate the Warmth inside you. Where I start to lose my marbles is that I have to accept living in a world where people don't tolerate or even consider the minute incomprehensible imposssssssible no chance in hell possibility that they might not have the ONLY way of being a good person in the world. It makes me depressed, sad and hopeless that anything universally good will ever happen.

But hopelessness is boring. Its got one ending. Tragedy. I used to live in this defeat. Until I moved to a small island in the Bering Sea. Until I moved away from everything I know into another world. Into a place where it seems a community of native people have been almost surgically exacting in their adoption of all the qualities of western culture I seem to go so fully against. And here, only here have I been able to finally think clearly, quietly, about my meaning, my purpose, my understanding, my challenge, my beliefs. And when I sat down and started writing out my thoughts and my feelings and my beliefs it came out on a web page in cyber space, why this medium was chosen is up to the random chaos of the univers. With no possible way of ever completely picking the perfect set of words in my vocabulary to express the infinite wonder, awestruck baffling amusement, joy, tragedy, irony, coincidence, and ultimate meaning to my life I simply picked a childhood memory of the fireplace, the thing that makes me happiest in life, lying in front of a fire in my home, with my family, safe and loved.

The reason this blog is named "RADIATE WARMTH" is because my religion, my belief, my goal, my meaning of life is to be that fireplace for others. I want to radiate the warmth and love of a fireplace to those around me. Thats it. Its that simple. I falter, I fail, but I try. I do my best to Radiate Warmth now. It wasn't always that way. But its my religion. So how do you tell an Eskimo high school student all that? How do you explain all that in 3rd period writing or junior high science? You don't, you just smile, close your eyes, accept them for the possibilities they could be and sigh out all the love you can possibly muster that day in hopes that the energy inside you, the warm light that each one of us has or can create, will some how penetrate that center of their internal processes that will unlock the ability for them to do the same. You call it prayer. I call it nothing. I just sigh.

This is where I am now. This is my beliefs. I'm not asking anyone to believe them. I'm just trying to explain the idea that we are all working things out in our own way, and everyone is equally right, and equally wrong, and I am stuck in the middle. I just know one thing, I feel better when I treat people good. I don't want to feel sick anymore with anger, or depression. Its exhausting. All I had to do to make my switch was make a decision. A decision to Radiate Warmth. So there you go.

I think I'm going to take a break for a couple of days on the blog. Or maybe not. But I need this moment to stand as an important moment in this blog and my life. I want this blog post to stand as a moment where the people that read this get a chance to understand fully what is going on with me. I want this to stand as an accountable moment. It wasn't until I started publicly (like the opening of the eyes at Bible Ski Camp) stating that I want to be a good person, a happy person, that it started happening. As much as I think this blog is for my readers sometimes, it is really for me. If I say that I'm happy, and a good person enough, I will believe it, and you know what, I'm getting there. This blog, however bizarre or impossible it may be that this is what it finally is, has become a sort of manifesto, a document of my existence so that if anything is ever found of me in the future, it will be words of love, expression, humor, and rhythm. I don't even know how to end it other than by saying that I love you guys. I hope you have a good Thursday. And, I'm not sorry for dumping this heaping steaming pile of self reflection on the front lawn of your mental property if it helps people realize its okay to think differently as long as you love. I love words and I love you and I love that we can connect right now through them. Have a moment. I am. Then have a good day, morning, night, evening, afternoon, or midday, rather, have a good life, you can you know?


Hal said...

Wow, congrats to any readers who got through that! Long post kale! But a good one. You have a talent for articulating your thoughts so well, I wish I got those genes. I feel like I have often faced the challenge of feeling spiritual but not being religous.

Anonymous said...

This is so odd, we just had this conversation with Alex at dinner last night. Alex was telling us about a discussion that took place in his reading class. The teacher (who is very religious and a dear friend of mine) was asking about examples of non-fiction texts. Alex's friend said the bible. Alex, said, how do you know thats non fiction?

Well the teacher knows Alex and knew that she needed to move the conversation along. Later, his friends said, I can't believe you don't believe in the bible. He didn't know what to say and didn't want it to be an issue. He just said, its okay to question things, but they said, not the bible, god or the church. My remark to him was, I can't believe they do believe in the bible.

I went on to add, the bible tells them to be kind to others, so when they make remarks to him about they can't believe he doesn't believe in it, or he will go to hell, etc., aren't they going against what they hold so close to their heart-the bible?

It was really when Alex was born, that we decided to not baptize him. Neither one of us believed in it. This was one of the first times we openly said we didn't believe in god. I remember people saying horrible things about Alex not being baptized. That we were cursing him, and if he was to die he would go to hell.

My response was, I didn't want any part in their religion, if their god believed that a child should go to hell for not being dunked in water. At that point I was done with 'organized' religion. I was mad.

We've talked to Alex about religion. We talk about all kinds of religion. He went to a Methodist pre-school. He's gone to church. We have friends that are Mormons. We talk more about gods, or spiritual beings then A god or THE god.

However, Alex is more of a math and science guy, if it isn't proven, he's not believing it. And thats okay with us as well.

I know that if I was to die today. I did the best I could do while I was here. I loved the people who were close to me, I cared for those around me and I gave as much as I possibly could to as many as I could. I am happy with who I am and with my family. How many people can truly say that? :O)

I certainly want my kids to be able to say this about themselves no matter what religion they do or don't believe in!

We love you Kale!!!!

Anonymous said...

Kale!!! I'm Kabir from India! Wanted to discuss somethin' with you - I'm a n avid reader of your blog... could you email me at - pleeeezzz, coz I don't know how else to reach you

Jessie said...

i think this has brought into the light all the times any of us were standing in the shadows... being that different one. The one that seems to be the black sheep in the heard of white. This is an excellent post! I agree with Hal, you are very good at keeping thoughts organized and flow amazingly! This really did make my morning and answered questions i was throwing back and forth in my head. All in all I decided, "Damn right!" Thanks for helping me conclude to that!

Anonymous said...

As parents, sometimes we do things right and sometimes we do things not so right. I think we got this one right. I have seen too many good "Christians" stab each other in the back, literally and figuratively, to support that life but I applaud anyone who has the guts to stick to what they believe, God or not. I applaud you. You are what I hoped you would be when you were born, a person who knows his own mind and heart and believes in the goodness of it all.
I believe that whatever "God" exists, it is your enjoyment and perception of the world around you and not in a book or ritual of life. That way, you really can worship every day. Worship in the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Worship in the joy or agony of your physical activities. Worship in the love you share with those around you.
We have all had so many experiences, good and not so good, that shape who we are. Don't regret any of them because they exist for a reason.
Thank you for sharing all of this with us all. How can you be so far away and feel closer than ever?!
Love, Mom

Reese-E said...

Woa. Pretty deep stuff to contemplate on a Friday morning! But very good post. Must've taken you forever to write. It was really interesting to hear how you were raised because it's so different from how I was raised.

One day, after Mason and I had a huge religious debate, he sent me this quote: "Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so, too." And we both vowed to think like this in the future, instead of always trying to convince the other one that they were wrong. I think if everyone could stick to that kind of thinking when it comes to religion (and all things), we'd all get along a lot better.

Oh, and btw, thanks so much for the comment on my blog. Great advice about trust. I really like the part about the things you think coming into being. And I love that you like reading the blog!!

Louise Lewis said...

Hello from California!
A 'meaning of life' Google Search served up your post. (I hope you don't mind a "stranger" reading your words.) Since I believe in 'connecting the dots' of my life, I just had to take the time to say 'thank you' for such a wonderful post! I love your honesty and insight.

Now at the tender age of 49 1/2, I've learned that as humans, we simply want to be be known. Your posts are truly a gift to those in your life!

It's funny, but after my family read my book, they said things like "We never really knew you, did we?" My Mom said, "I didn't know you were that intelligent!" Ok, it took many decades, but at least family and friends know a bit more of me. That's why I applaud your efforts of posting yourself on your site! Bravo!

As my simple way of giving back, I'd like to offer you (and all who read this) a gift copy (pdf) of my book, "No Experts Needed: The Meaning of Life According to You!"
It's the true story of my 4-year, Spirit-led journey of how simply talking to the person sitting next to you can add meaning to every day of your life.

There are no strings attached to this offer...really! Just e-mail your request from my web site -- -- and a copy will be sent within 24 hours.

Yes, that's all you have to do...As I said, just my way of giving back.

Enjoy your journey!

P.S. I read your Mom's reply...she rocks!

take care,
Louise Lewis, Author
No Experts Needed: The Meaning of Life According to You!

Mr. Kale Iverson said...

I can't believe I can be found on google if someone searches for "the meaning of life" that is pretty intense.

thanks for reading louise

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Kale, great post! As I read your post it brought me back to my own childhood. My parents tried to do the thing "good" parents do, and bring us to church every Sunday. My family isn't religious, and in those brief attempts in pretending to be, I remember us all just sitting in pews giggling the whole time at something that I'm sure was completely inappropriate. I give them props for trying to expose us to religion, but the apples didn't fall far from the tree.
I'm not looking for a fight, but my personal belief is that the religion is just an ingenious form of control and power. In the big picture I feel it promotes more evil than good.
If people would just open their hearts (and minds) a little bit, and quit letting a book dictate who and what is right or wrong this world would be so much more tolerable.
I only have two sibilings in the world, and one is in Iraq, and one is on his way to Afghanistan. If more people thought like you did I have no doubts that both of my brothers would be home.
So people are listening Kale! Keep talking!

hdt said...

I think that this post came at the perfect time. Not only for you but probably for so many people who read your blog. Thank you for your amazing honesty and bravery for putting this out there in the universe. This post has sparked a lot of thought and that is always good!

kmc said...

"Hopelessness is boring." (My favorite part of this profoundly insightful post.)
I fully agree.
Talk to you soon.

to view my other blog OUT OF THE CLOSET ATHEIST click HERE