Gram Seed (2008) One Step Beyond: One Man’s Journey From Near Death to Life.

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An epiphany is a moment of sudden insight or understanding. Gram Seed, the bad seed, died and came back to life. You know how the story goes. He was lost and now he was found. He was drunk on the Lord Jesus.

This was one of Robert’s books. For a reader like me – a short read of a few hours. The park bench were Gram Seed decided was the best spot to drink himself to death, I know it well. It’s there on Dumbarton Road. On the square, across from the corner shop and Macs. A busy thoroughfare. Robert’s flat, 8f Dunswin was near the station and entry to Dalmuir Park. He didn’t stay in the house. He could never be himself. Haunted by demons as Seed was. Hail, rain, wind or snow, Robert could be found on that bench.

He got lifted by the police a few times. They even jailed his dog, Max. I had to go up to the station and get Max out. Robert went back to the bench, in the same way that Seed did. No earthly power could stop him.  

Drink was Seed’s thing, just the same as it was Robert’s and so many more lost souls. He tried but he couldn’t give it up. Then he gave up trying to try. Bad Seed knows that story well, he lived it. Died it.

The consultant said to his mum they wanted to switch the life support off. Her son was brain dead and if he lived he’d be a vegetable and paralysed for life.

I’d have turned the machine off, no question. Any of my relatives, any of my loved ones, turn the machine off. DO NOT RESUCITATE is what a protocol I’d hope was written into the end of life stuff.

Seed’s mum wouldn’t agree. He’s only thirty-three, she argued, give him a chance.

Robert was black with death the last time I saw him and I hope he’s resting in Jesus.

Religion is a bit like our first attempts at sex, we’ve grown ashamed of it. Biblical references like a waterless cloud blown by ill wind nail pretty much what I think about the moron’s moron, or any Tory, especially the new-old breed of liar (and odd-on to be elected for an extended stay) Boris. I have heard, as Balaak heard, a donkey speak and it was hee-haw, hee-haw.

Do I believe in God? The answer is yes and no. It’s an embarrassing question that Gram Seed is only too happy to answer. His mission is to convert prisoners, those people like him that didn’t give a fuck about today or tomorrow or the next day. I wish him well and many blessings as the thirty-two physical marks of Buddha.

Robert flirted with religion. AA meetings and the higher power. The Big Book. The Bible. He chatted with Jehovah Witnesses. Promised to visit their Kingdom Hall, but never did. He talked to all kinds of people that passed everyday on that bench. People liked him. One of them gave him this book. I don’t know if he ever read it. I’m reading it for him. He spoke to the woman that does the ground in St Stephen’s, asked if he could go inside and sit a while. A shrine of The Crucifixion, Jesus on his Cross, is in an island arbour of plants in one of the walls. He noticed that it had been painted or newly varnished. Who knows what he was thinking? Certainly, not me. RIP.   

Lorna Byrne (2010) Angels in My Hair.

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I think I’ve read this good book before. I get that sometimes. Words wash over me and through me and I’m not really reading, although I am. For the record, I read ‘The International Bestseller’ a few weeks ago, again, or not again (as this might have been the first time). Just to remind myself, where I look at words every day, Lorna Byrne sees angels. (I don’t know if Angels is a proper noun, or is it a bit like cows or sheep? No capital letter?) Here’s the rub, I believe she does see angels.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe in Angels and I’m not American. Probably ninety-six percent of them voted for the moron’s moron. Around seven percent of the UK population attend Christian worship. We are an agnostic nation, verging on the atheist and that’s just the way I like it. I can witter on about cognitive dissonance, or Schrodinger’s cat, but the truth is I’m with Eva Lowenthal in that I find it quite easy to believe that ‘evil does exist’. Lowenthal was secretary to the Reich Nazi Propaganda Minster, Joseph Goebbels from 1933 to 1945 and she observed first-hand how under the right conditions evil flourishes. I read about how Alabama is trying to shut all abortion clinics and outlaw abortions, even in the case of incest or rape and that to me is an evil perpetuated on poor, mainly, black women. I hear about a five-year-old girl trafficked and taken into care in Glasgow, with no nails, kept in a box and raped. And I want to kill. To hurt. To maim. I’ve no problem believing in the reality of evil. Or even the devil. I’ve got a problem with religion and a problem with God.

Probably, the best definition of religion is the Dali Lama’s, my religion is kindness.

That makes me smile.

Karen Armstrong in her introduction to A History of God, summarises how I feel.

As a child, I had a number of strong religious beliefs but little faith in God. There is a distinction between belief as a set of propositions, and faith which enables us to put our trust in them. I believed implicitly in the existence of God; I also believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the efficacy of the sacraments, the prospect of eternal damnation and the objective reality of Purgatory. I cannot say, however, that my believe in these religious opinions about the nature of ultimate reality gave me much confidence that life here on earth was good or beneficent. The Roman Catholicism of my childhood was a rather frightening creed.

Richard Holloway, like Karen Armstrong, was a cleric and walked away but gives us an insider view of the box-ticking religion. They could no longer trust God and no longer believed in God. Holloway’s favourite novel Andre Schwartz Bartz, The Last of the Just, has a hero Ernie Levy on a train destined for Auschwitz telling consolatory lies to children about the kingdom of God. That sounds like a good fit. A good way of describing religion.

Lorna Byrne, like the fictional hero, describes our world in the opening chapter: ‘Through Different Eyes’.

When I was two years old the doctor told my mother I was retarded.

As a baby, my mother noticed I always seemed to be in a world of my own. I can even remember lying in a cot – a big basket – and seeing my mother bending over me. Surrounding my mother I say wonderful bright, shiny beings in all the colours of the rainbow; they were so much bigger than I was, but smaller than her, about the size of a three year old child. These beings floated in the air like feathers and I remember reaching out to touch them, but I never succeeded. I remember being fascinated by these creatures with their beautiful lights…angels.

I’m not one of those people that can remember being a kid. I certainly don’t remember being in my pram. I can remember being scared of trains coming into Dalmuir station, that somehow the wheels would suck me under. Sorry, no angels, apart from my mum.

Moses and the burning bush. Jesus in the desert. Buddha under the tree. Muhammed in the cave. All saw and heard things beyond themselves. Holloway describes this as a kind of psychosis. Hearing voices and seeing things. What made them real was their ability to convince others that what they experienced was true.

Here’s the testing, here’s the knowledge gained, here is salvation. God does not take kindly to being questioned if we follow the precepts of the Book of Job… Where were you when I created the universe?

Well, according to Lorna Byrne, she was in heaven and she has been tested by Satan himself, she has met with the Virgin Mary and Archangels Michael and Gabriel, been tutored by the Prophet Elijah, she has met the Son of God and I’m sure there’ll be a place in heaven for her.

I’m not too sure about myself and the rest of humanity. We read our own belief into others. I recognise the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the possibility of runaway global warming and nuclear winter. I know that’s an oxymoron. Evil does exist. That I know, I’m not so good at the good stuff. Lowenthal, aged 103, said something quite profound. ‘There is no justice’. She could just as easily be working for the antichrist Trump, bookended by the fundamental Christian Right and Vice President Mike Pence. There, I’ve done it now. A victim of my own verbosity. As soon as you mention antichrist and  Hitler you lose the argument. But here’s the rub again. Hitler could not wipe out humanity. Trump has the devil’s own pride. You don’t have to be able to see angels to notice it.

We can call on The Angel of Belief. The Angel of Strength. The Angel of Courage. The Angel of Miracles. The Angel of Patience. God knows we need a Guardian Angel and all the help we can get to avoid Armageddon. I believe that. The message of religion is quite a simple one. What matters isn’t yesterday, or tomorrow, but now. What matters is this moment. Hope in the now.  May my religion be kindness too.