Religion, strangers, Uncategorized

…been to an Atheist Church

day 72Day Seventy-two

The main thing that puts me off church, apart from the God stuff, is the singing. The awkward group mass mumbling of hymns, where only the odd dedicated few seem to vaguely know the tune, whilst the rest keep their head down and try to get through it.

Things are different at the Atheist Church, which is an obvious contradiction in terms.  Instead of dreary old religious numbers, we sang pop hits like I Will Survive and Holding Out for Hero.  This however didn’t stop my usual awkward feeling when it comes to group singing, despite the old granny bopping along next to me, I didn’t quite have the confidence to belt the words out.

The Sunday Assembly is a Godless congregation who aim to celebrate life. They’re attempting to help everyone find and fulfil their potential.  There was tea and cake, just like in a real church. There was moments of reflection, a bit like praying in a real church, even a children’s play area, and not a pervy vicar in sight like in a real church.  I quite enjoyed it and found the optimism infectious.

The guest speaker for the morning talked about Brunel building a Victorian tunnel under the Thames.  He spoke of how it kept flooding during the construction and was only complete due to human PERSEVERANCE.  Later in the day two other people, in separate conversations, used the word PERSEVERANCE.  I found this a little odd, a day after deciding to preserve with my challenge – I thought perhaps this was a sign from God telling me everything will be alright, but then I remembered I’d just been told there is no God.  Oh well…a little weird though, no?

http://sundayassembly.com/

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Dance, food, Health, money, Religion, strangers, Uncategorized

…guest speaker/bible/5Rhythms/ballet/£3,700…

Week 10

Day sixty-five

…been a guest speaker

I Day 65was invited to be a guest speaker at the Greenwich Series, an informal evening where speakers talk for 10 minutes.  The other speakers were from Amnesty International and Talk To Me London, an organisation making strangers communicate better – both worthy causes, unlike my self-centred adventure.

I had no idea how much I was meant to prepare.  Was it best just to get up and speak? Prepare a PowerPoint presentation? Printed hand-outs? Or perhaps an interpretive dance?  I decided just to talk.

As I started speaking my nerves took an unexpected hold on me.  The audience, gathered in the top room of a Greenwich pub, stared at me intently.  The more I talked, the more I was unsure what was coming out of my mouth, but I think something along the lines of “Blah Blah Blah”.  At the end the audience asked a few questions, which was kind. I probably should have done the dance.

I’ve been invited to talk again at the end of these 365 days. I just hope I’m not dead by then. Or in jail.

Day Sixty-six

…tried to read the Bible

I discovered it takes between 50 to 100 hours to read. I was expecting the bible to be easy to follow, considering how popular it is. I managed 17 pages.

At least I tried.

Neil’s book Review:
Title: The Bible
Publisher: Various
Price: free from most good hotels.
I was slightly overwhelmed by the numbers of characters and felt this book could have been shorter, however I certainly liked the snappy title and couldn’t argue with the price.

Day Sixty-seven

…tried a 5Rhythms

The basic idea is to move to the music however you feel, a bit like jumping around in a club without any alcohol.  At occasional points, a somewhat camp man whispered into a microphone in a slightly creepy way to “just move like the sea” or “feel like the wind” or “set your mind free”

At the end we all sat around in a circle, with a candle in the middle (not sure why), and were invited to talk about our feelings.  We sat in silence for a few minutes staring at each other until one woman whispered the words “thank you” whilst touching her heart. Yeah.

However, one middle-aged gent was rather disappointed.  “It’s not as good as my usual one in Oxford,” he sighed. “People seem to be less into you being touchy feely here in London”.

Day Sixty-eight

…had lunch at a members’ clubDay 68

I spent the whole time speaking in a gentle mannered voice.

I also kept looking around to see if there were any celebrities, wondering “who’s that guy?”

Perhaps everyone else was wondering that about me…

Who am I?

Day Sixty-nine

…Been to the BalletDay 69

BORING!!!

Next…

Day Seventy

…eaten a whole scotch bonnet chili, twice

having not learnt a lesson from my experience with the Phall curry on Day 28, I tried a Scotch Bonnet Chili.  It wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, so I immediately popped another in my mouth – once again, I spent the whole night clutching my stomach just for the sake of a new experience. Idiot.

Day Seventy-one

…bathed in £3,740.Day 71

No, it wasn’t mine (in case the Inland Revenue are asking)

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Acts of kindness, Crime, Dance, Dating, internet, Religion, strangers, Uncategorized

…shoplifted/Hare Krishna/Freemasions/Ninja Skills…

Week 9

Day Fifty-Eight

…signed up to a dating website

I’ve always thought internet dating was full of weirdos and perverts – so I gave it a try.

Match.com allows you to upload 6 profile photos, unfortunately I don’t have any of me working out or saving several orphans from a burning building, just lots of drunk photos, which is unlikely to entice the ladies.

If you wish to date me (I’m not paying for the whole meal) you’ll find me under the name neilfoster81 here: http://www.match.com

Day Fifty-nine

…committed to seeing something through to the end

It was New Year’s Eve.  I contemplated the ten months left of this challenge and came very close to quitting.  One of my Friends said “why don’t you just give in, that’s what you always do”.

Like most modern men, I have commitment issues – it’s not my fault, I blame the generation I was born into.  On New Year’s Eve 2014 I made a commitment to my friends to see this through to the end and not give up on it, something I’ve never really done before.

I’m excited about the year ahead.

Day Sixty

Day 60…shoplifted

I’ve never shoplifted, apart from when I unintentionally stole Pick ‘n’ Mix as a child, so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a lot harder than it probably used to be as every shop has cameras, so I had to wait until the shopkeeper turned his back.  I bought a bottle of water, whilst at the same time sneaking a Mars into my pocket – proper rebel.

Afterwards I felt completely guilty, so I’ve returned the pilfered confectionary item in post with a note apologising for my misdemeanour; I’m not quite a career criminal yet.

Day Sixty-one

…listened to a meditation tape

To get the New Year off to a good start, I received a speeding ticket from the police.  I now have three points on my driving license, which I’ve never had before.  I was always told as kid that points mean prizes, so I’m quite pleased.  In the eyes of the law I’m now three points closer to being a Bad Ass.

To help me relax after this unfortunate news I tried listening to a meditation tape, it didn’t work.  It was basically just the sound of nature with a softly spoken woman saying “you’re in your secret place”.

Each time I tried to relax a really loud woodpecker kept making me jump, making my secret place quite stressful – I won’t be going back.

Day Sixty-Two

Day 62…visited the Freemasons Grand Lodge

I don’t know much about the Freemasons, apart from that it’s a very secretive organisation – which is why I don’t know much about it.

I discovered there’s a small museum in the United Grand Lodge, their HQ in Holborn.  You can visit the museum if you ask at the reception desk, but you have to sign in and they watch you closely.

The plethora of Freemason artefacts on display still didn’t really explain what they’re all about.  The whole time I kept thinking, if this was a movie I’d accidentally uncover a secret, my apartment would be bugged and men with guns would start following me.

I was given a tour of the Grand Temple.  It was impressive, but I was still no closer to the truth.  However, to my surprise, the tour guide suggested perhaps I’d consider becoming a member; he asked nobody else in the group.  He took my details and said he’d pass them on when I’m ready – if you don’t hear from for a while, then I’m being bugged and the armed men are coming.

Day Sixty-three

…folded a t-shirt in 2 seconds like a Ninja

Day Sixty-four

1528552_781065705241364_1171771393_n…chanted at the Hare Krishna Temple

I was informed the Hare Krishna’s (or “a bunch fruit-loops” as my Nan once called them) have a service/get together on Sunday that’s good for newcomers, so I went along.  I was expecting someone to greet me and explain the basics, but nobody did, so I sat on the floor in their small temple, just off Oxford Street, and tried to copy everyone else.  I felt like a bit of a prat, but I don’t think anyone cared as they were more concerned with Krishna.

At one point, after lots of chanting, a large curtain was drawn to reveal some deities.  Everyone stood, banged cymbals and danced; I must admit I got into a bit, despite having no idea what was going on.  At the end, three hours later, they asked who was new and why they were here.  I put up my hand and explained about my yearlong challenge and they all spontaneously clapped, which I felt was a very gracious, but I guess that’s what they’re all about.

On my side quest, to understand religion, I’m starting to realise gathering as a group to be selfless and share some common principles may be a very beneficial practice, but I’m still not convinced there’s a God yet.  The Hare Krishnas were very lovely people; they gave me a free Indian meal, making them one up on the Christians who just offered me coffee and cake.

HARE KRSNA, HARE KRSNA, KRSNA, KRSNA, HARE HARE

HARA RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE

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Religion, Uncategorized

…been on a floating church and chatted to some Christians

Day 25Day Twenty-Five

The only times I have visited church was for family and friends’ weddings (three weddings of which have now ended in divorce), and sadly for one funeral.  I always find when I enter a church I hold my body and use my voice in the same way as I do in a library – everything is done very softly and quietly and with a constant fight against the urge to loudly shout out something childish like ‘BOOBIES’.

I’ve never been into a church on my own and chatted to a vicar, and being an atheist I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to go into a church and chat to a vicar.  I had no idea if there would be anyone in a church during the day as I figured there’s not much to steal and perhaps they just leave the doors unlocked.  I already knew I wanted to converse with some Christians during my exploration of religion as part of my year of doing new things, and on day twenty-five I stumbled upon the perfect place.

In Canary Wharf, London’s bizarre Financial Disneyland, amongst the high-rise headquarters of multinational money-makers, on the surrounding docks is a floating church.  St Peter’s Barge is London’s, and I believe Britain’s, only floating place of worship.  I had to give it a visit.

The sign on the Quayside said all are welcome, but after walking down the gangway I opened the barge door nervously as I wasn’t convinced I was allowed in.  I entered softly and quietly.  On the inside the barge didn’t look much like a church, in fact more like a business conference room and I guess in keeping with its modern corporate neighbours.  There were three people sat around a table having a meeting. I apologised for interrupting and explained I just wanted to have a look.

All three, one woman and two men, were Christians who worked on the barge.  They were very welcoming and instantly offered me a hot drink and their last piece of ginger cake – I wasn’t expecting this kind of hospitality but I guess coffee and cake is a church standard. I actually enjoyed their company as I sat explaining some of the adventures I’d had in the last twenty-four days, and things were going well until ten minutes in one of them suddenly said:

“So what’s your views on Christianity?”

For some reason I wasn’t expecting them to talk about Jesus, which is bit stupid really considering I’d entered a church.  The man and the woman left the room, and the man who’d asked me the question put a bible on the table and began his ‘sales pitch’.

I had to remind myself I’m approaching all these new things with an open mind.  I tried my best to listen, avoid forming an immediate opinion and above all not shout out “BOOBIES”.  However it was easy to listen to the pleasant man as he wasn’t preachy, and in fact probably explained Christianity the clearest it’s every been described to me.

He drew on a piece of paper two large boxes with a gap between them.  On top of one box he drew a little stickman and wrote inside of the box the word ‘Us’.  Inside the other box he wrote ‘God’.  And in the gap between the boxes he wrote the word ‘Sin’.  To bridge the gap between ‘Us’ and ‘God’ he said all I had to do was accept in Jesus Christ.

The concept of just accepting in Jesus Christ was quite a lot for me to take on-board and I had severally questions I still wanted to ask such as “What about the Dinosaurs?” and “Will I get coffee and cake every time I visit?”, despite all these questions in my head I felt comfortable sitting with the holy man, until unexpectedly he said he was going to have to kick me because they needed to continue their meeting.

I was given me some bits to read from the bible, which normally I wouldn’t bother to do but this time I will and I’ll continue my investigation of religion, and also I’ve decided I WILL return the Scientology questionnaire that’s still sitting at home.

In conclusion: sometimes it’s hard to keep an open mind, but there’s no harm in listening to other people’s ideas.

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Religion, Uncategorized

…visited the church of Scientology

Day 12Day Twelve

On day twelve, of my year long voyage to destination Three Hundred and Sixty-five Things I’ve Never Tried Before, I decided to return to my side mission of getting to the bottom of this whole religion thing.  I’ve never really understood much about religion because Religious Education at school was the top subject for staring out the window and daydreaming.

Neil:      Hey Gansh, Allah, Buddha and the rest of you – that includes you Jesus, don’t think you’re special Jesus – I’ve got some good news for you all.  I’ve got to the bottom of this whole religion thing.  Now let’s all go for a nice cup of tea.

Gods:    You’re right Neil it’s time we stopped this bloomin’ squabbling.  Thanks for putting in the effort to get to the bottom of this once and for all, that’s very considerate of you.

I’m possibly getting a bit carried away.  If I can’t put an end to all religious wars, which I’m doubting I can, the bare minimum is to have a chat with some preachers of as many religions as possible; something I’ve never done.

I decided to start with Scientology.  Firstly, because I know very little about it and find it somewhat intriguing.  Secondly, and probably the main reason, because someone once told me Scientologists believe in aliens – that’s got to be fun surely?

I’ve walked past London’s Dianetics and Scientology Life Empowerment Centre on Tottenham Court Road many times in the past and it’s always caught my eye, mainly because of its location.   The Scientology Centre is between a Pret A Manger, the overpriced sandwich shop for the health conscious, and the favourite of the nation’s youth Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I always thought this a strange place to find an Empowerment Centre, but I guess to some people fried chicken may also be an empowering experience.

I entered the Scientology building or possible secret alien Earth base with slight trepidation. I was expecting to be pounced on by men in white gowns and dragged off to be sacrificed in candlelit room like a goat to the slaughter, but it wasn’t quite like that.  An Englishman possibly of Indian origin and perhaps in his late twenties was sat behind a reception desk.  “Hello, how can I help you?”.  I suddenly got the fear that you weren’t just allowed to walk-in without being a member of the church or knowing the special handshake.  “Hello, I want to learn a little bit more about Scientology” I said in reply.  I was expecting him to jump up and down on the spot exclaiming to the heavens (or wherever the aliens hangout) “YES!! We’ve bagged another one!”, but instead he calmly lead me to a bank of video screens to watch an introduction video.

As I sat, alone, in Dianetics and Scientology Life Empowerment Centre watching a very American style information film I soon switched off; as I do with most things.  The film was explaining the theory of Dianetics which, as far as I could make out, was based around an idea that all our past major and minor traumas are recorded in our memory banks and affect how we approach life and it shapes who we are.  The film went on a bit so I started glancing around the room whilst at same time ensuring the man, who was now sat back at the reception desk, didn’t notice I wasn’t giving the film my full attention in case he got angry and dragged me off to the secret slaughtering room which I was convinced was out back somewhere.

Looking around the room I noticed everything was very clean and ordered, almost too clean and ordered.  There was about five very high-tech information video units positioned around the room with crescent shaped seats in front of them.  Neatly stacked on shelves, again almost too neatly, were copies of just one book. It was quite a large book. On the front of it was an image of an erupting volcano, and it was called Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard (the now deceased founder of the religion).  On one expensive looking wooden wall was a 3D version of their logo.  A coat of arms that wouldn’t look out of place on the walls of Hogwarts. I noticed everything looked very expensive, and wondered how they had made so much money with only one book for sale.  It’s when I saw a sign to the Testing Room I started to panic and decided to leave.

I headed for the exit, abandoning the film that was still playing.  I was nervous and mentally prepared myself for the reception man to rip the skin off his face revealing a hideous hidden alien head. I’d planned to grab one of the many Dianetics books and slam it around his gooey green alien skull then burst out the door back onto the busy Tottenham Court Road. To my surprise he didn’t rip his face off but just thanked me for coming.  Just before I left he gave me a personality test to fill in at home with the instructions to post it back so a one-to-one personality consultation could be arranged.

The personality test is still sat on the cupboard in my bedroom.  I answered all two hundred questions (the man didn’t tell me there were two hundred questions), but as I was about to put my address and phone number on the back I got the fear once again.  What if the aliens come knocking on my door, and what will they do with all the information about my personality?

I’m still undecided if I want to send back the questionnaire and continue researching further into scientology, which I think actually has nothing to do with aliens, but for now I can happily say I’ve been to the Scientology Empowerment Centre and have tried something new.

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