Essays on this Page:
Blowing Myself Up
Spammed-a-lot in SF
The Last Worship Service
“Brain Fat: the other, hidden, obesity”
Science and the Media (S&M) tell us we are getting fatter and lazier (as if we need to be told). What a depressing thought. This kind of “news” and the accompanying images of stuff and waddle really makes you want to grab a bud and chips to kick back and forget about it by watching pro-wrestling—or a political debate. Or go hunting.
The brain. This is your brain on junk. The Junk Brain. Sandwiched between. . .well, sandwiches. I’m sorry to say it but the brain—my brain and yours (if you’re currently packin’)—is a couple pounds of raw meat. And, as we all know, meat has a lot of gristle—greasy fat. We sometimes say, not without tenderness, “You fathead!” When we’re a bit more compassionate we might whisper that a person—that other person—is thick-headed.
Truth is, from what I’m told since I can’t see my own upstairs meatpie, the human brain can hold quite a bit. Information seasoned with a sprinkle of knowledge and a pinch, ever so slight, of wisdom—if we’re lucky. And for pure engineering you can’t beat the brain for running the mechanism we like to euphemistically refer to as “Me” or “My body.” Our control tower flies the thoughts, when they aren’t crashing into other idiotic idea factories.
Yes, I’m a materialist (in a messed up mystic kind of way). I know, that makes no sense and asks you to swallow a whole bowl-full of contradiction. Very well. What else is new? You’re stuffing yourself anyway, why not cram in a bit more crème de la conundrum?
Brain fat. Bears love it. Maggots feast on it. And hopefully that would happen after death. I’ll be cremated (not the same as eating a creamy substance, for all you salivators), which means my brain will not be eaten or rot more than it is each day I pack it with more worthless “knowledge” everyone tells me is anything but worthless. In fact, I’m told that I simply have to think about the earth on life support or this cause and that cause, to care what happens to the brain-containers in Africa or the walruses with walnut brains or the frogs with brains only a high school biology student would love. Some find synapses succulent. Too salty for me.
By the way, I think I read that Walt Whitman’s brain was preserved for a while, but then someone dropped it and it was no good any more. Poetic justice? Wasted food for thought?
Brain fat. Obesity up there. You know, there! Touch it if you dare (or at least its hairy shell). And answer me this: How much that’s in there is spare tire, flab, in need of a good long session of over-the-lips liposuction? Be honest. You see. You can’t even think of that. Too repulsive. Makes you shudder and wiggle and wobble. Which of course is part of the problem. You’re hopelessly in brainfat denial.
Alright. Go grab the tub of ice cream. Go to a Tempest-in-a-Teapot Party rally.
If you don’t give a peanut-brain-damn about the brain. . .never mind.
Life’s one big fat feast of brain-bingeing anyway.
Note: some of the foregoing is self-reflection and should not be taken personally—unless you’re a thick-headed numb-skull
The weary string of climbers set their bivouac in a vast open valley of the third highest ridge of the range. They were in clear sight of the adventure that awaited above as each rested and stretched punished legs that had worked ceaselessly all day to reach this base camp. Though this was the lower peak it was the loftiest any of them had ever achieved. Huddling together for warmth and safety they quietly eased into the reward of their accomplishment. But their rest was short to enjoy. Shaken by winds rising from the dense, interminable forests stretching like a verdant tapestry as far as they could see in all directions, they struggled to stay close and protected. A pounding rain kept them awake and active all night. It was all they could do just to keep their tightly grouped tents from ripping to shreds and keep their precarious footing on the steep, slick slopes. The pummeling drops felt more like stones thrown from some angry mountain deity. The streams, already torrents from a record spring runoff, came at the exhausted team like blasts from fire hoses. By lacing together limbs and ropes they braced and held on for their lives. Seasoned climbers would surely have advised against this treacherous assault, especially now after the tremendous winter snows. This seemed more a time for Nature’s own spectacle of creative strength.
Yet, to arrive in this dangerous and beautiful place, each climber had literally risked everything, giving up the comfort and contentment of home, kindred, all they had known and cherished. Though every step of the way had been difficult they each seemed happily resigned to make it here, now, as one. What was not so clear, because it was a truth perhaps unknown to everyone there, was that none, not one, would ever return from this ascent.
As morning poured itself onto the high points not an eye was unobservant for not an eye had closed in the dark. By sheer determination every wakeful adventurer had survived the night’s avalanche of water and now faced the threatening dawn with a renewed resolution to go on. As they attended to final preparations one large group tested and retested ropes; swift hands mended and wound. Some sipped icy cold water (climbing virtually weightless they carried nothing to heat with) eating a light breakfast of greens gathered along the tumbling rivulets of the smooth and rippled slopes of the valleysides. If one had been asleep even a short way off, not a sound would have been heard save the natural sounds of water, winds and birds in that high place. In their silent cooperation, checking equipment, stretching, wordlessly encouraging, it was rare to see more than one or two who glanced upward at their common destination. Oddly, the scene gave the appearance of fearless acquiescence. And indeed it was so.
Then it began. Slowly, with great confidence, the first few climbers began to move up. These were the best of the best. Strong, nimble, perfectly adapted to climbing, these elite masters of their craft rose like winged beings effortlessly ascending. Grasping the light, superstrong strands of rope the agile acrobats leapt and soared over sheered edges and vast canyons of open air, constantly scouting ahead for secure anchors. Before mid-day they had reached the pinnacle. Without resting for a second, they shook the ropes to telegraph the message below: all is ready; come!
The lines had formed hours before. Two, then four, finally six were on belay, rooting the lines around their bodies, tensing the cords for the rest. Not a moment was wasted in hesitation or fear. One after another, hands and legs moving deftly, silently, each climber pulled and slid up, acting as if born for this ascent. Before long there were up to twenty at a time on a single rope, threading the needle of the sky before them. Some were slower and were given quick pushes from behind. A constant stream of limbs dangled and grasped, dangled and grasped, over and over, up and up.
Hours went by. Finally, all the climbers bunched on the blade of the highest peak with a warm, gentle drift of wind refreshing, drying, welcoming each one. They were champions. Not one had perished. All had achieved this height, their height, the triumph of a lifetime. No one looked back. Most gazed only at one another, patted slick backs, rubbed knees and feet and felt comforted.
At this triumphant moment one of the last climbers to arrive on the peak held to a large rope and stepped to the point on which the apex seemed to cut into the azure world that enveloped them. In the sight of all, this one jumped with nothing below but clouds of space. An eerie peacefulness descended on the group. Then a wonderful thing happened. The jumper floated past, up and away toward something that had appeared above them all. Higher and higher the jumper floated, uncoiling the rope still anchored to the peak. The jumper disappeared into a great, green thing that seemed to be vibrating or dancing in the limitless space above them. A moment later a trembling could be felt in the line and those who had thought they had gone as far and as high as possible were now beginning to go higher. A renewed energy, vitality swelled through the mass. Onward! Higher! seemed their unison call. Four hundred pairs of legs continued their ascending traverse, three times higher than the morning’s majestic climb. And none (surely not the narrator) could imagine the inspired greatness that can be achieved by one hundred climbing baby garden spiders.
I personally witnessed these events—the bivouac at base camp, “roping up,” the belay, the climbs, the push, the tight huddle at the peak of the lilac, the ascent into the tip of the fir branch. I can attest to the truthfulness of nearly every detail though I erred by looking away at times, missing important moments. Therefore I admit to a certain sprinkling of assumptions in the story. Yet one indisputable fact remains to be told: reaching the end of this observer’s tale I stepped over to the stage of action and found the teeming ball of climbers gone. Gone on, higher, beyond the reach of human eye (but not imagination).
There’s nothing more delightful or satisfying for a true-blooded heretic than to live up to the name. A heretic chooses another path, a fresh way, pioneering and pathfinding uncharted courses in wild places where outsiders and solitaries gather. . .or not. To be a heretic is to be aberrant, independent and even a bit mischievous. Of course, this is one major reason we don’t find many true heretics running for political office. In fact, if there are any, they get run Out of Office. My gawd, no one but a city councilman in Asheville can even get a public seat (except in the restroom) without being a clear Anti-heretic—in other words, Orthodox in the most ortho (right, correct) ways. So it seems. So much for freethinking dreams.
This is why I find it so amusing (shockingly so) that “Sly Sarah” Palin’s publisher chose to cruelly and coldly strike the nation with a terrorist attack bound in non-recycled paper, with a picture of the Hunter-in-Chief wannabee all decked in Communistic Red and Rouge, and called it “Going Rogue.” Do publishers read dictionaries any more? Do they own one? I’m surprised no one in the media has picked up on this simple exercise in hysterical irony. I think a huge joke has been played on the country, and this tragic-comedy should be shaking the masses and minions into uncontrollably jovial jocular jest and jeers. This winky-winky impractical joke ought to have us rolling in the aisles.
Are you ready for the laugh? Can a nation split up by rhetorical irrationality taken to the limits and beyond dare to split sides with a monumental bellylaugh and perhaps pleasurable flatulence? Here’s the joke, on the “author,” the Ex-Gov, Ex-VP candy-date, the publisher, the Rogue Party (formerly GOP), the Religious Wrong (formerly “Right”), Preservatives (formerly “Conservatives”) and all the rest of restless America:
Rogue (Webster’s): noun: Vagrant; Tramp; a dishonest or worthless person: Scoundrel. A mischievous person; Scamp. A horse inclined to shirk or misbehave; an individual exhibiting a chance and unusually inferiour biological variation. Adj: Resembling or suggesting a rogue elephant especially in being isolated, aberrant, dangerous, or uncontrollable. Corrupt; Dishonest.
Oh, this is priceless isn’t it? A grand buffoonery on a grand scale. On the stage of the world, no one looks more the fool than the one who stands before the incredulous audience with the audacious arrogance to proclaim, “I am Not a Clown!” with a snicker and a wink and an almost invisible distain for a brain.
There. I’ve played the card; the joker. Are you laughing? Angry? At least shaking your head? All the other tricks played in the game of politics over the past 10 years nearly, nearly, pale in comparison to this vast and vacuous vivacious piece of vaudeville. Almost makes me want to go shoot the lipstick off a moose. . .
This woman is no heretic by a longshot. Eve-Angelicals love her, and no one in Washing-town seems greatly concerned her little wagon of whining will ever roll into the seat of power, even loaded with a heap of bestsellers. No, she’s no heretic, but I will concede, by definition she is certainly a rogue with rouge.
Ah, being a heretic is such a delight (mixed with moments of pure and puerile disgust).
What if a homeless woman was sleeping outside under some cardboard behind the bushes. And what if she was only sleeping with one eye closed out of fear that she would once again be awakened by the police officer’s flashlight in her face or attacked again by a shadow in the dark. And what if the bushes that concealed her bed each evening were trimmed regularly by a gardener who was supporting his family with the constant thought with every snip and weed that they could be deported for living illegally. And what if there were crowds of elderly ladies and gentlemen passing by the gardener in the daylight, with a hint of apprehension and passing the bushes in the nighttime with even more quickened and anxious steps. And what if those people were passing these outsiders to enter the big, warm, secure building every week to hear talks about a homeless criminal long ago executed by the state, or to read stories about wandering people pursued in their poverty and powerlessness in the desert by unwise authorities. And what if these people even prayed to Someone who was an outsider, a homeless, criminal outcast or prayed to Someone who chose an orphaned outcast of dark skin to lead people of the lowest class from their dirty and despised life into a place of goodness and joy, into a land where they belonged. And what if the people would not open the doors of their God’s Home to people suffering and dying in the bushes outside. And what if the reason they would not open their doors to the outsiders was fear of losing money or respect or even their building. And what if the woman who slept in fear outside each night and the gardener who cared for the bushes were, in reality, the Gods these people said they served and loved and worshipped. And what if. . . What if. . .What if?
Blowing Myself Up
(for Faith, Fun and Profitphet)
July 5, 2009
17, 36, 12, 89, 150. . .Lottery numbers? Combination to the gym locker? Password to the account with not much to count? No. The number of women, men and children I’ve taken with me when blowing myself up for God (and glory). I don’t bother to add up collateral damage–hundreds of injuries; people losing their eyes and legs and hearing; children who no longer have parents and parents who have to pick up pieces of their children. Not to mention the property damage or (this occasionally bothers me for a moment) the killed and wounded, maimed animals–the donkeys, camels, horses, dogs, birds. . . . I know that when I explode, it’s messy, but it’s my mission.
You see, I believe in something and I’m willing to die for it. It’s hard to live with these beliefs, so I choose to die for them, with them, and sometimes in spite of them. I mean, there are the teachings of compassion and love, it’s true, mercy and forgiveness and all. But I’ve been taught for a long time, since I was a child living in one small room with my parents and sisters and brothers and grandmother. . .there are “higher purposes” and a greater calling for people like me, and that’s to be a “martyr,” a sacrifice, willingly and completely surrendered to God.
Do I understand “God” or Faith, Religion or the full meaning of “The Cause”– of what I do? Not really. But does that really matter, in the end, when my life, your life, is over– when all life is (thankfully) over and we all have to add up the numbers and the good works before the Loving One, who will (justly) torture unbelievers forever. I do not wish to be tortured.
I need to tell you, before I blow myself up (there’s that beautiful ticking sound again)– I don’t always kill people– that is, at least not their bodies. Here’s a secret, and my time is short so I can tell you: I have found a way to take pieces of people’s minds, little bits of their ideas, with me when I shatter into millions of bloody cells. In fact, this is the most amazing part of my “job,” my holy work– In my act of violent love, I blow up reason and conscience, peace and liberty, and (forgive me if you can), the cause, and Yes, even God! (may He be praised).
I can’t explain it all right now. I have to go. Fate and Faith call. But I have to confess to you before I detonate. There are some questions, images really, that seem to haunt me every time I live and die my faith. You’ve heard of the 70 virgins in heaven– in the garden paradise above? I know you smile, but I’m being honest here. I dream some nights, and sometimes just as I push the red button with my trembling, sweaty hand, I wonder, How will I face the garden (will I even have a face?) and can I enjoy the virgins right away, and is it right? Sorry to be so worldly and dirty in my words and thoughts. I just wonder how that all happens up there. It troubles me, will I have to lift my burkha for the joyful celebration? Is it right for me to have all those men to myself?! It seems so shameful.
Well, now it is time. Time to stop this sinful and sick fantasy. That’s not even my Religion! Oh God, help me, forgive me; Come to my aid in my hour of need, as I take more minds and bodies, dreams, hopes and ideas with me again. Help me, Lord! These people are not innocent, they teach “Human Rights” and freethinking and even Evolution to the children, but they won’t let us pray or worship You in the schools. They won’t let us put Your teachings in courtrooms or Congress. Their values are not our family’s values; and so many do not believe in You in the right way, in our way. Yes, and they kill babies who never have the opportunity to be born into this world of faith and sacrifice, to be raised in Your Way, taught as I’ve been taught. Yes, Lord, they deserve Your wrath! And I am honored to give my body, my soul, my mind for Your holy work. Take me, and take them too!
I’m squeezing the button now, Lord (You are Great!). I feel momentary pain, hear faint screams, smell burning flesh, hot blood, and fire, it’s all fire!. . .I’m flying, drifting. Now all is still. It’s over. . .It’s done now.
I see You! I see You, My God, O there You are!
It’s cloudy or foggy here. I feel cold and it’s hard to focus my eyes, but there You are! Sweet Lord, you welcome me with open arms.
But Lord, I see no gate, no city; no virgins, no garden; I hear no music, no choir, no dancing.
And Lord, My God! There are tears and dirt on Your face! And, Your hands! Your hands are bloody; Your robe is ripped and hanging in shreds; Your hair is blown and burned; I can smell Your flesh!
And Lord, this is too strange for words! You, look so different than I imagined. I was never taught. . .Wait! What? Where did Buddha come from??
Spammed-alot in San Francisco
June 23, 2009
“Arms for the poor! Arms for the poor!”
My wife and I celebrated her birthday with an evening of chuckles, giggles and moans in San Francisco. We drove in to see Monty Python’s Spamalot, a spoof of the old Holy Grail movie. Thinking to save a few bucks, I parked up the street from the theatre, spying a nice bright (and free) space. Though I well knew this was a part of the City famous for low-rent hotels, streetwalkers, alleysleepers, dealers and really dangerous speeding limos, I noted the well-lighted space and shrugged off the “terrors of the Tenderloin.” On the walk to the theatre we stopped to offer smiles of support to a marching mass of Iranians flipping fingers–middle and forefingers–at us; they were radicals; we could tell, they were shouting the word “Freedom!” like they meant it. We passed a man I once knew as a “streetperson” and said hello, calling him by name. Startled, he immediately shook my hand saying, “Hi Chris! How are you?” He told me that personally he wasn’t doing too well so I wished him good health, he shuffled away and we continued to a small donut shop to sit with some tea and watch the show before the show. Interesting to observe the human rivers and streams on city streets, taxies and buses and trains and bicycles and wheelchairs all dodging pedestrians who are dodging each other and each unique person is Everyone incarnate. What odd, humorous and dolorous specimens we are, as a species. We’re all begging for something, aren’t we? Is it attention, or incognizance? And we all think we’re going somewhere, but where? It seems we just live to cross the next street–if we can make it alive.
We gulped our tea and somehow made it across ourselves, passing the huddled humanity on every corner, some in suits and silk, to wind our way to the theatre. Climbing far up into the balcony we had a good bird’s eye view of the flocks. After several hours of entertainment, inside and insanely silly entertainment, about 10:30, we were herded back out onto the street like more of Arthur’s lost knights in the night, singing the song that the cast belted out, twisted from Life of Brian, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!” We nearly danced up the street, right up until the moment we saw the truck. One side rear window was completely smashed out. Our giddiness was shattered. The happy tune droned off into a deep sigh of sad disgust.
Most of our stuff had been cleaned out of the truck. Some coats, shoes, pack, cellphone, blankets, tools, tapes. . .grabbed to go and gone. Who cares, right? This happens all the time. Just stuff. Stuff we used and now it’s gone, pilfered off into the night. As we stood stunned and I began to call the police (and got cut off the first time), two local guys were walking by and I pulled my wife near the door. One young guy stopped, shook his head and smiled, “Chris!” It was Brett, a guy I had known in my former work. Brett gave me a hug and told his friend I had helped him when he was younger, when he was living on the street in Marin. We explained what had happened and Brett grew serious and angry. “I know who did this and I’ll find him!” I gave him my number and another hug as his friend Andy helped brush broken glass from the backseat. We all shook hands and they walked off, Brett promising to be in touch.
The police never came of course. This kind of “emergency” happens so much that when we finally flagged down an officer she suggested filing the report on line. Which is what I did. Had no insurance for the window or the possessions. But I wasn’t that concerned, especially as I reflected on the incident and the evening with my wife (by this time her birthday was stolen too). One missing item made me break into a smile. There was a black cap with some yellow words on it saying, “Playing for Change.” I bought the hat months earlier to support the creative work of an organization that helps street musicians and builds music schools around the world. Then, another memory broke into my mind: I had worn that cap every day last winter as director of the county emergency shelter. I could almost imagine this was yet another sick joke from Monty Python!
I’ve had the window replaced. My wife has another cell. And somewhere out there, in the heart of the City (or at least in its loins) there is a person on the street wearing a cap with special meaning and how could they ever know? There’s the spam; there’s the shattering, cutting, busted out and busted in bright side of life! And all for a free parking spot!
Note: and the hasty thief even left my crumbled chunk of a Scottish castle! Aye, the spirit of Muir was dancin’.
“[The one] who dares not offend cannot be honest.”
~Thomas Paine, Forester Letters, 1776
Seems the neighborly thing to do: say something about them, if not directly to them. After all, a neighbor is, as the Old English would say, a near-dweller. Those who dwell nearby are neighbors–they are “nigh” and they may or may not be “boors.” Of course, we probably wouldn’t want to refer to a neighbor as a boor since calling someone a rude, insensitive peasant might cause them to leave something quite unpleasant on the lawn.
I’ve had troubles and conflicts with boors living nigh for many a year in many a hood of neighbors. My peevish problems usually focus on noise issues but could be generalized in the following manner: Discourteous, disrespectful and basically dumb people seem irresistibly drawn to dwell in close proximity to me. These “people” don’t give a crap about me and will do whatever the hell they want regardless of me. How’s that for diplomatic? Lately I’ve taken to print out some nice looking certificates for my nigh-dwellers. One, who left his SUV alarm blasting all night, causing me to call the police twice, got a nice award on his windshield. It said, Rude Neighbor Award. Congratulations! For Mindlessly allowing your Stupid Alarm to keep us all Awake and wasting the time of the Police all night!–or something to that effect. I can be so subtle.
The nigh-dwellers upstairs have a young child I call the “Frog Boy” since he seems utterly incapable of moving through their apartment without hopping, jumping or rolling in a big metal cage–or so it sounds, and feels. Numerous times my wife has gone up to speak with them (I’m just not safe to contain in those moments. Though I don’t own a gun and don’t believe in them, I might just roll some words like grenades into their hall if they dare to crack open the door). I have yet to make another Rude Neighbor Award for them. I guess I can’t help imagining the Frog Boy might simply frame it in chewed bubblegum and paste it on his wall as a Real award. And, of course, his parents, apparently as parental as a deadbeat donkey, would no doubt treat it as a victory of sorts. “Duh, Yah! We’ve finally pushed him over the top by stomping on his head, thumping and bumping on his ceiling from early morning to late at night. Oh, and he really must have lost it after all those times we let Frogchild leap in front of the blaring telly and play Violent Toad videos in his room, especially on weekend mornings.” I just couldn’t give them that kind of pleasure.
Lo, in recent days, another kind of “neighbor” has emerged from the dungeon of boors. These are the ones who have faith congregations across the county trembling as in olden days. One would think the Romans are back and they’ve brought some pretty hungry lions. The fearfully faithful seem most frightened by the prospect that any vestige of “respect” or comfortable position in the community will elicit discomforture and Mayor-forbid! a visit from the planning commission or the police. One might ask how and when these neighing boors got so powerful. They are tax-payers! They are homeowners! They are. . .basically ignorant, nasty beings with nothing to do but complain and waste everyone’s time with their bleating, handwringing blusterings. There goes my diplomacy again.
I’ll cut to the chase (before I crank out a truckload of “Rude Neighbor Awards” for these cranks). Here is a current events, now, here, today kind of story that puts nigh-dwellers straight in my sites, or sights. Some congregations simply wanted to shelter a group of unsheltered men for one day a week for a tad over a month. One day a week. About a month. One busload of decent (though generally unshowered) guys. Well, we know where most of these holy buildings lie: You guessed it! Smack dab in nasty neighborland. A number of congregations responded with that most cherished of religious terms: Silence. Others responded with a weakness that was really quite embarrassing, though I fear they didn’t notice how embarrassing it was. Most had grave concerns about the children’s schools on the property, the cleanliness of bathrooms and the disruption to religious activity on site (now there’s spiritual leadership! And courage too!). One apartment denizen next to a synagogue called the sheriff at 6am when our guys were talking a bit loud getting Out of the neighborhood onto the vans. One pastor told me the church couldn’t take in anyone because they had a Contract with the Neighbors. A bold priest asked me how we could sneak the guys in so the neighbors wouldn’t know we were there doing something as disturbing as giving a slice of floorspace for tired, cold, wet and weary lives. Actually, this church leader emerged as one of the most noble, heroic (or at least ballsy sorts) by choosing to risk his position with the neighbor-ruled city and bring in the guys on “Spiritual Retreat!” Excellent idea! Brilliant, in my book! Let’s see the city, any city, shut down a spiritual retreat of men who simply eat a meal together, go to prayers if they so choose and lay down on the floor for the night. I’d like to see how the media would treat such an unneighborly city. And here, there’s the rub. Here’s my pointed point in each nigh-dweller’s eye. You see, that’s where I come down on my neighbor’s lawn (and maybe on their stupid fake flowers). Fine, let’s be respectful of The Neighbors (maybe even when they aren’t respectful of us). But what about us–aren’t we “neighbors” too? And what of those who can’t afford a home or find a safe place to settle? Aren’t they our neighbors as well? I dare someone to say “No, they aren’t!” I dare them. Because I have a big fat award to give them and I might even make a big sign and post the whole damn thing on a website devoted to these people. Besides, who wants one of THEM as a neighbor anyway?! They are the real peasants–poor in brain and heart. Just because someone owns a house (or rents one) doesn’t mean they Rule. Personally, I think these folks need some good ol’ fashioned Education. Hell, I’ll let Frogchild loose on ’em!
Well, there I go again. I really should be kinder, gentler and more neighborly, shouldn’t I? Uh. Why? After all, they’re such boors! “Love thy neighbor,” you say? Nice try. I’m callin’ the cops!
p.s.: I sure hope, in the next disaster coming to a neighborhood near you, the dreaded Neighbors show up looking for shelter. Oh, I want to be there!
“The Last Worship Service”
A tale of shutting doors, and opening minds
In those days it came to pass that the people met for the last time, the last hour of worship. The preacher looked like god–or how we imagined the creator looked in those days–bearded and robed in pure white. Like a prophet of old, he raised his hands, soft and glittering with rings and a golden watch on the wrist; from the sides we could look into the billowing sleeves and see he was wearing a colorful print shirt. His voice rang out with assurance and an unusually joyful tone. “We have ended our service, for today.” I noticed just a brief hesitation as he glanced furtively from the front to the back pew. He cleared his throat and some of us thought he was almost stifling a chuckle and a smile. Raising his head and looking up, he repeated, “The Worship is over. . .let the Service begin!” He immediately stepped confidently down the three altar steps and strode down the aisle, eyes wide, teeth shining, scanning each face, as the choir sang “Go in Peace” with a mix of glad and somber voices, almost a dirge. Pausing at the back, by the last pew, the preacher turned and waited for the organist to play the final note. Just as the congregation was about to move, he spoke again. “Please join me! The Worship IS over; Let’s make the Service begin!” With that, he pulled his robe over his head and tossed it on a chair. Shoving open the heavy wooden doors, he strode straight out, hopped down the walkway and down the street. Those of us who ran to peek out the door saw him pick up a crumpled newspaper and throw it up into the crisp air, pat a small maple tree on its top and leap almost imperceptively into the air before turning the corner and disappearing from view. Since no one was at the door when everyone was leaving, there were quiet whispers and murmurs all the way out. A handful of people lingered near the baptismal pool in stunned silence. “What did he mean?,” one finally whispered. “He made is sound so final. As if this really was our last worship!” Another shot back, “Well, he has never given his benediction like that before! Is he losing it? This is our worship service. Why would he make such a big deal about the words? He’ll be back. He needs the pay check.” This caused some grumbling, but eventually, one by one, they each walked out alone. One little white-haired widow was the last one out. She flipped off the lights, stood motionless for a long moment gazing into the empty sanctuary, adjusted her rather rumpled dress with the red bouquets across the top, and gently closed the door behind her. A gust of wisteria breeze brought a smile to her wrinkles as she hobbled down the path. She felt lighter somehow, even younger, walking the long block back to her own silent home.
This short story grew from some thoughts that swirled around the notion of a last worship in one congregation; an event that would, possibly, spread to many other places of worship. I wondered, what if the hours, days and years people spend in “worshipping”–in praising god in many names and images, praying, singing, studying, reading–what if these activities ceased and there really were to be last worship services?
Think about it. Add up all the hours. All the Sunday mornings and evenings; all the music rehearsals and performances; all the Friday and Saturday shabbats; all the Friday juma prayers; all meditation retreats; all prayer times, corporate and private; all the holy book study times; all the rallies and concerts and pageants; all the long seminary hours; all the monastic and convent rules, chants, hymns and special sacred times. Add up all the hours devoted to devotion, to being religious and being faithful. It must be a very large number indeed. Let’s say, worldwide, a wild guess might be a total of something like 100 million hours a year, give or take an “oh, god!” moment or two.
Now, here’s where my wonderment becomes more challenging (at least to the faithful minions). What if we, they, applied those hours to making our world a better place for all of us? What if each of those hours was devoted to improving the living environment and mental and physical health of people in the home, the school, the neighborhood, the work place, the community, the nation and the world? What if! 100 million hours of service time! What could be accomplished?
Here is where it gets a little touchy and probably offensive to a whole large number of the worshippers. What if worship, the activity of praising, prayer and piety, was transformed, even eliminated, for the purpose of performing service to each other? Isn’t worship a–no, THE, major distraction, even the greatest obstacle and time-consumer, from the best work we could do as human beings?
Let’s imagine. The last worship service concludes in a congregation of any faith. The final hymn of praise, the final prayer for forgiveness is spoken, the final act of adoration has been performed, the last head bowed before the great and awesome Judge and King above, the final hands folded or head dropped in submission or meditation. What might happen next? What might the billions do with their millions of extra hours? Will they cease to respect others? Do they end being loving, caring people? Do they suddenly become people with no sense of justice, kindness, compassion, peace or morality? Or, will they simply have extra time on their hands (instead of on their knees)?
These questions raise great hope, and immense fear. Release people from the obligations of faith and religious practice and what changes could be seen all across the planet!
What of the clergy, the professionally spiritual, the shepherd herders of the sheep? Are the pastors simply put out to pasture, or do they find a new bounce in their step and a joy in their heart like the preacher in the story? Will they utilize their gifts of leadership and pastoral care to transform the rites and rituals into real action and reforming of society? Will they come down from their podiums and mental pulpits of control to work alongside their former flocks and audience, working together to alter community after community without any fences, barriers or perpetually divisive altars?
What of the buildings? What of the churches, synagogues, mosques, meeting houses and meditation halls? Are their doors closed and locked? Are they abandoned to ruin?
Perhaps. But, as Frances Wright urged in the 1820’s, why should people not reform their very sanctuaries and structures, renovating each one to accommodate clinics and counseling centers, job placement and training offices, shelter or even low income housing? Wright called for the creation, the opening, of Halls of Science where knowledge, education, community understanding, could thrive. And, she saw some of those abandoned churches transformed. More people came to hear Fanny Wright than had gathered to hear any woman in history. Here was a freethinker in the tradition of Thomas Paine, and countless others who chose a “higher” devotion, a deeper sense of vocation, to the common good of all people of all backgrounds. The creed was truth and the way was education and the practice was community–black and white, female and male, poor or wealthy. Wright practiced the manner of the freemind, starting communities of people who simply wanted to share their lives, their work, their minds and their dreams of a better way.
Could we imagine this happening in our day? Might the story of the preacher come true? Might rabbis and priests, imams and gurus and leaders and clergy of all restrictive, constrictive groups close their doors to open their minds? Could whole communities choose to let go of the distraction of worship in favor of the action of wellbeing and wellness for everyone in the neighborhood, city or country?
We could imagine, and many do.
Maybe this is the true and right America, and the true and just world, envisioned by all freethinking people of all time. This is not only Thomas Paine’s vision or Frances Wright’s past experiment. This is the image we must find and create in every corner of the earth. How will we survive if the stories aren’t told, made alive, preacher by preacher, parish by parish, person by person?