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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Big issuse, Homeless, Poverty, Uncategorized

…started a conversation with a homeless person (and unintentionally two Jehovah’s witnesses)

Day 3Day Three

This really might not seem like much, in fact I imagine most people talk to the homeless all the time…but I never have.

My ‘policy’ on beggars, and I think everyone has a policy, is that I don’t give any money but I always make eye contact.  Also in my policy, it’s not a manifesto just two points, I never say “I’m sorry but I don’t have any change” because I always have change, instead I just say “sorry”.  So to sum up my policy when asked for money: look them in the eye and just say sorry (in a whispered, slightly inaudible or sometimes just the word mouthed reserved English way).

I was worried about the task my friend Alex had set me – having to talk to homeless people ashamedly made me nervous.  I’m not very good talking about serious things to people I don’t know, normally I don’t listen properly instead I’m just concentrating on looking like I’m listening whilst at the same time trying to find a way out.

After being distracted by Facebook for at least three hours, which is the best way to avoid any task, I thought it’s time to talk to some homeless people.  I knew where I would start, a Big Issue seller outside Waterloo Station.  I’ve walked past him probably over a thousand times in the last few years but never once have I spoken to him or bought his help the homeless magazine.  To be brutally honest he kind of annoys me the way he says “Biiiiig Issue, help the homeless pleaaaase!”, I’ve always thought he’ll never sell any saying it like that.

I approach the Big Issue seller who it turns out is called Robert (I must remember to use his name next time I walk past whilst maintaining eye contact and mouthing sorry):

Homeless Robert: Biiiiig Issue, help the homeless pleaaaase!

Unnecessarily Nervous Neil: Hello I’d like to buy a Big Issue

Homeless Robert: That’s £2.50 please

Not that scary after all, but not really a conversation.  What should I say next?

A little more relaxed Neil: So how does this Big Issue thing work?

Homeless Robert: well I buy each magazine for £1.70 from the Big Issue office and keep the profit

I forget the exact amount he buys the magazine for because I’m not really listening, just pretending to

Not really listening Neil: So it’s like running a business really?

Homeless Robert: Yes the Big Issue is like a business rather than a charity

And at that point I said goodbye and walked away.  It wasn’t quite the profound conversation I was hoping for.  He didn’t cry into my arms declaring “if only everyone was like you Neil the world would be a better place” but never the less I’d spoken to a homeless person.

I wasn’t really satisfied with my effort and felt I had to talk to another person.  The problem with homeless people is they’re a bit like buses, when you don’t want them there are loads and when you need one you can’t bloody find one.  I walked for ages until I found another homeless person – in London! bloody ridiculous!

I saw a Jehovah’s witnesses giving out leaflets about what the bible really means.  It wasn’t part of my daily task, but I thought I’d approach her with an open mind as I’m trying to with all these new experiences.  I explained I’m an atheist and believe in the logic of science.  She then explained in a very articulate manner how DNA is made, talking of amino acids and various compounds that come together to make this scientific miracle and that the chances of it happening are so rare there must be some kind of God behind it all.  The problem is I wasn’t really listening and also know Jack Shit about science.  I walked away with a pamphlet and decided ‘is there actually an afterlife?’ was a subject for another day.

The next homeless person I meet was called Trevor.  He was in a bad way.  He’d just been discharged that day from St Thomas’ Hospital where he’d been for two weeks and had come close to death, he was now back on the street and very cold.  He’d got septicaemia from a cut on his leg, the cut was from climbing over a fence to a secret place he’d found to sleep.  I liked him.  He had a cheeky edge underneath a desperate teary-eyed look.  Trevor showed me his stolen NHS pyjamas he had on underneath his jeans to keep a bit warmer – cheeky.  We talked a bit about hostels and that the charity St Mungo’s (weird name) had him on list for permanent housing.  I walked away thinking I must speaking to him next time, but hopefully I won’t see him on the street again.

Another Big Issue seller commented on how I’d already got a copy of the Big Issue in my hand, I felt like some weird Big Issue stalker.  I later bumped into a friend of mine and sold her my 2nd copy for £3.  Immoral maybe, but these are desperate times.

Later I meet a homeless man with a dog.  I petted Gizmo, the dog, not the man.  The dog seemed to like me but the man not so much, perhaps Magically Margret the Psychic was right about animals being sensitive towards me.

The final homeless man I saw was freezing.  I gave him some money and just apologised it wasn’t much. It seemed like he didn’t want to talk.

Before I got my train home I saw a final Jehovah’s witness and for some reason approached again, I guess I was still a little curious.  He talked about the Promise Land where there’s no violence and hate.  This was definitely one for another day, but I made a mental note to talk to preachers of different religions on my quest to do new things.  If there is a God he MUST have sparkle.

By the end of the day I’d donated about £8 which was the same amount I paid for the psychic the day before, and I had changed my ‘policy’ on beggars.

In conclusion: you don’t have to give to the homeless but it might be nice to stop and have a chat.

SO, ON TO THE NEXT NEW THING…

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