Monthly Archives: July 2014

Out of Nowhere

There was a stock tank below the pulpit  The first row of seats was reserved for people being baptized. The next two were reserved for the families and friends of those being baptized today.  We took up most of a row.

It was my cousins’ church. Evangelical, non-denominational, non-Pentecostal, so hip that I regretted sitting in the aisle seat by the wall. Speakers pumped out repetitively cheerful choruses so loud that you could feel the music coming out of your mouth if you tried to sing.

I wasn’t there to sing. I was there for my family.  For my cousins.

So were a lot of others. ‘Saved’ and ‘unsaved’ alike. The church had pushed this as a life event.

They were talking about evangelism. They were so on top of things that they even mentioned colonialism.  Real evangelism had nothing to do with that, we were told.

“Now, I know a lot of us like to do something called friendship evangelism.” the pastor said.  “We become friends with an unsaved person and expect that, in the course of the friendship questions of faith will just naturally come up.”

“But here’s there real problem. Here’s where it can go wrong. We become so comfortable in the friendship, we value it so highly that we don’t want to rock the boat by bringing up the unpleasant things like sin.  We don’t want to offend”

Verses were invoked.  Darkness and light. Not yoking with unbelievers.  It’s not just about marriage, after all. It’s about lifestyle.

“We can’t become friends with people without evangelizing. We can’t be friends with people.” he repeated. “The friendship can only happen if evangelism the whole goal.”

The baptisms began.  Prerecorded video testimonies played in the background and the lighting shifted emotionally, people moved from the category of mere potential converts to that of full human beings whom one could befriend without ulterior motives.

It was mostly kids. Children who had accepted Jesus when they were six, and then again at summer camp, and were now trying to make it become real. My young cousin.  My uncle was also baptized. He was the only adult baptized that day. He was also the only black man in the entire extended family. He had said he was a Christian years ago, but (behind his back) no one in the family believed him.

No one believed him now either.

As we left the parking lot, my mom seemed cautiously optimistic, despite the loud music.

“Wasn’t that a great message for Sue to hear?” she asked my dad.

Sue and her family had come, of course.  She wasn’t a Christian, but she and my aunt had been friends for such a long time. They had been through so much together.  She’d come anyway.

***

“You should have been there for the earlier part.” my sister said.

I had intended to come to the Bible study today.  My  little brother had asked me to come, all hopeful and wide eyed, where the others buried my non-attendance in starchy silence.

I had gotten involved cleaning and had forgotten the time.  When I walked in, everyone looked up.

I hid in a corner.

“Pastor seemed so sad.  He’s worried about his nephew in the IDF.”

I hadn’t known Pastor had a nephew in the IDF.  His family is all in the East coast, but they aren’t Jewish that I’d ever heard. So this would be someone married in?  How does that work?

I fretted as I reviewed what I had heard, trying to see how the earlier part would have played into the later.

Not enough people had showed up, so they were taking a break from the official study til next week. It seemed they were doing a question and answer session instead. My little brother asked why  there are so many translations of the Bible.  The short answer popping into my head was that words have more than one meaning and can be translated many different ways, and also most languages change so you have to keep retranslating into the new version of the language so that people still understand.

Pastor started in on Evil Greek Alexander imposing Greekness on everyone everywhere and the seventy translators of the Septuagint magically all coming up with the exact same translation. Therefore the Bible is true.

I sat in the corner and drew.

“I’ve tried to reason with the KJV only people, but even when presented with the evidence they don’t seem to see.”

It went on and on.

But maybe he was scattered and not at the top of his form.

Finally, it came around to prophesy.  It usually does.

Apparently, at the end of the world, the state of Israel will be defeated and almost all Jewish people killed  as “the power of the holy people is broken”  Then, and only then, will God deign to come back.

“People think that since they’re so strong, since Israel has one of the best militaries in the world, they can take care of themselves. But that’s not how it’s going to be. They’re going to be almost totally destroyed.”

Various passages were discussed. The Lord, The Lord Almighty has a day of tumult and trampling and terror, of battering down of walls and crying out to the mountains, after all.

“But don’t you see? God has to let that happen.  Of all the the people in Israel today, only 10% take God seriously…”

I am trying to imagine how this would have sounded, with the additional fact that Pastor was worried for a family member.  It sounds worse, to me.

I mean, sitting around and saying God should totally wipe out some group of people is cold and frightening and apathetic and passive aggressive, but you could argue that no one loves a faceless stranger and that groups are abstractions.

But he was thinking of a specific person? A family member?

God has to kill you, nephew, and all your countrymen. Because you didn’t believe what I think you should believe.

You can’t even say he was lulled into complacency by distance.

When I came back to my home and home state I told my mother that I wouldn’t discuss my questions with her or her underage children unless asked.  In all this time, I haven’t been.  Maybe I could have gotten away with it under the ‘but this is a question and answer session’ clause.  That didn’t occur to me, and frankly, my throat was clogged with angry. Maybe I’m passive aggressive too.  I hadn’t thought about that.

I think, if I had been there for the earlier part, I still would have walked out.

He had had a little quaver of emotion in his voice.

***

Mom was sitting at the computer as I walked in. We exchanged pleasantries.

“Have you seen the news today?”

I had. I had spent the afternoon with an elderly gentleman, watching footage of rockets in Gaza and tunnels into Israel while he slept in his chair.  Anymore, I don’t tell her anything.

“Why, what’s up?”

She mentioned the things I had seen.  Then what her websites had said.

“It’s like it was before World War II. There’s a wave of Antisemitism going on. People are demonstrating against the Jews, and even here in America, at a school, they drew pictures of ovens and showed them to the Jewish kids.”

“It’s so weird. It’s just come out of nowhere.”

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Holi-Day

A year or two ago, I remember reading an article about Dios de la Muertos. The author was exasperated that her ethnic group’s celebration was becoming mainstream- mainstream in the sense that a lot of fat white people were amusing themselves by dressing up in the festival costume of people they have treated and do treat like dirt. You Anglos celebrate our festival as a curiosity- as a cultural artifact that you take if you want and do with as you please, she said. But this is part of my religion. This isn’t a joke for me.

That was a year ago.  I haven’t been able to find that particular article.   If I do I’ll link to it.

Here are some  other articles.

http://www.maswired.com/disney-dia-de-los-muertos-culture-is-not-for-sale/

http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/10/for-this-year-dont-be-a-racist-for-halloween/

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/costume-cultural-appropriation

As I was thinking about this, I wondered- if it is bad for us to celebrate your holiday, what holiday should we anglos be celebrating?

Halloween, of course! They happen about the same time- they both have something to do with death.  So, we’ll just practice that version instead.

But then the irony hit me.  Halloween seems to have come from the Celtic holiday Sanhaim. It’s the holy day of a culture and language that was deliberately erased by the English- the original Anglos- in every way they could think of.  If I remember correctly, step dancing- dance of the celtic Irish- was designed so that patrolling English looking in the waist high windows wouldn’t notice they were dancing and come in and beat them up.

Halloween is ok to appropriate because it was appropriated before our time?

I suppose there a lot of arguments that could be made about that. But then I started thinking about some of our other holidays. Maybe the rest of you know this stuff already, but I hadn’t thought about it before. Here’s how it went.

Thanksgiving. The first European settlers that we will admit to (Jamestown was a stinky failure) nearly starved to death their first winter on these shores. The friendly local inhabitants saved their lives by bringing them food and teaching them how to plant crops in their new environment. The settlers thanked God for feeding them, and then (in the long run) proceeded to cheat, bully and massacre the original inhabitants because God said they could.

Christmas. God impregnated a 14 year old and she gave birth to the child. In our culture God would be prosecuted as a pedophile because the 14 year olds are so young and naive that the power imbalance between them and, say, a 19 or 20 year old who impregnates them, is so great that the relationship constitutes predation.

God is said to be at least billions of years old.

God also didn’t pay child support, but we at least don’t have a specific date on which to celebrate that.

Mardi Gras. A religious holiday? Um. We celebrate. People’s asses? What’s that one about again? Mostly celebrated in New Orleans where there used to be French people. In the rest of the country where there didn’t used to be French people, people sort of just wear the beads and giggle nervously.  Or travel to New Orleans for a chance to act like morons.

So… more inappropriate appropriation.

Valintines Day. A minor holiday. We celebrate romance. Or try. In a very shy, frigid and mass produced sort of way.

It also something to do with St. Valentine, but we try not to think about Saints very much because of the thing about  God feeling the death of the devoted is precious to him (psalm 116), and then how the people who were really devoted to God ending up being butchered in horrible and surprising ways.

Because… God isn’t a sadistic voyeur at all.

Fourth of July. Our forefathers embarked on their dangerous bid for a nation state of their own: an idealistic state structured around the principle that political liberty and equality were the innate right of all human beings- since all humans are created in the image of God and therefore have innate value that must be recognized politically. They proceeded to spend most of the next 100 years sailing to another Continent, kidnapping people, selling them as slaves, breeding them like livestock and working them to death.

These images of God were not innately valuable because obviously God is Caucasian and they didn’t resemble God as much as other people. Fully half of the Caucasians at the time were not given political equality (without which liberty is somewhat chancy) because God obviously has a penis and other male biological markers. So, these images didn’t look nearly as much like God as the others did.

Washington’s Birthday. Washington being one of the Founding Fathers, this is similar to the the Fourth of July. We mostly don’t remember who Washington was except for the Cherry Tree Story, which didn’t actually happen and heaven help us if we remember what the punchline was. “Father, I cannot tell my allies I’m spying on them, but I can’t not spy on them either.”

I think that was it.

Possibly this should be renamed Edward Snowden Day?

Lincoln’s birthday. Slavery- the buying, selling, breeding like livestock and working to death of other human beings- was such a non-issue that no one did anything about it until it screwed up our system of importing and exporting goods. Then somebody shot the politician who freed the slaves as part of the solution. Also there was a war.

Martin Luther King Day. We are Such Racist Fucks. A Caucasian shot an African American for having the audacity to say so. The African American was even using polite language. The Caucasian sure showed him wrong. Right?

Easter. A long time ago, it was a celebration of new life and fertility. But then God took it over.  Today, if we celebrate it at all, we celebrate by dressing up in happy pastel colors and going to church where we thank God for loving us so much that he would brutally torture his own child to death so that we could see what we have coming if we don’t  beg for forgiveness and thank God for ever little good thing that happens as if He were the direct instead of the ultimate cause.

(Alternately, God allowed us to torture His child to death, so that we would finally see what awful fucks we are for torturing his child to death.  Despite the fact that if God has one of us tortured to death, it’s “precious”.)

God then brought his child back to life so that 1) there would be a carrot  for obedience, and 2) it would be clear that even death wont save you from God.

There is still some fertility symbolism associated with the day.  But mostly it’s used to market candy.

Labor day. Like Mardi Gras, I can’t remember why we have this one. But I don’t think we stole it from anyone either. It’s clearly not religious because instead of gorging on clothing, gifts, candy, food or sex in attempt to relieve our anxiety, people usually just hang out with their families and have a nice time together.

Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. In honor of the soldiers who have survived and the soldiers who have died in our near continual wars. Not particularly religious. Celebrated like Labor day.

Which brings us full circle to Halloween. Once a celebration of death as Easter was a celebration of life, when God took it over, the day upgraded very naturally to All Hallows Eve/All Saints Day, but then was downgraded to The Day We Get to Wear Costumes because we’re Not Catholic and we Don’t Like to Think About Saints.

There are a handful of others, like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, and Dias De Los Muertos etc, practiced by constituant minorities. They are becoming more popular as we attempt/ pretend to be less racist. But we are still pretty racist on one hand and on the other hand it seems people don’t appreciate having their holy-days stolen by commercialists like us.

In short. I had a realization.  America doesn’t have a lot of good holidays.

Maybe that’s why we keep trying to steal more, huh?

It was recently the Fourth of July, the day on which we are supposed to try to feel patriotic.

What can I say? I honestly didn’t feel celebratory.

Maybe I can say this. Holidays are embedded in the past. Some of them commemorate past events. Some past persons. Some commemorate the cyclic passage of time, as we have experienced it thus far. They bring the past with us as we go, and sometimes the past has been horrible.

“But he who has no memories can have no wishes.”

Michael Ende said that. He wrote The Neverending Story.

If we wish the future to be different from the past. the past has to keep existing. In memories, in books, in rituals like holidays, it has to come with us, or we will never go anywhere.

As far the act of celebrating goes, if life is a good thing, then as long as we’re alive something can be found to celebrate.

We can celebrate birth, death, and love. We can celebrate the sacrifices that have been made to keep them from having to be made again, or made as often. We can celebrate the survival of everyone who has survived, whether they fought in war or escaped a genocide.
And if the founders didn’t describe the nation they built, perhaps they describe the nation we are building. A free nation with liberty and justice for all- it’s not what we have been.

But maybe it’s what we will one day be.

Or maybe that’s not even the point. Maybe they were describing the goal that we aim for- no matter how close we ever come or how far we fall short.

Maybe that’s what’s Holi about the Days.

 

snapshots and a rainbow

Sister 3: “Excellent, Sir!”

Brother 1: “Wait, why did you call [sister 2] ‘Sir’?”

Sister 3: “I called her Sir because she sounded brilliant and scientific!  Not like a lowly woman!”

***

My mom was explaining to my younger siblings  (aged 18, 16, 13 and 8) how the vast conspiracy aiming to take over America and destroy Christianity is getting the upper hand.

Me: “But if the Government was controlled by a conspiracy like that, they would hardly have given Hobby Lobby their case.”

Mom: “Oh, but that decision wasn’t unanimous! And I think They throw us a bone sometimes just to keep us quiet. Just to- test the resistance.”

Brother 2: “Ah!” He’s a lanky 18 year old in a rotting t-shirt full of holes. “So when people say that we’ve won something, it’s actually just Them tricking us into thinking things are getting better, so we wont fight Them.” His newly deep voice sounds confident and cunning.  He sees that he understands something Most People don’t.  Most People aren’t clever like We are.

Me: “So if things don’t go your way it’s proof that They’re winning, and if things do go your way it’s also proof that They’re winning?”

***

Pastor stood behind the podium of the summer camp’s main hall. Everyone in the auditorium knew why we were here. So much of Christianity in America was corrupt, frivolous, and lacking commitment to God.  Also, years ago, the main church body had kept the building when they kicked Pastor out.

“Some people act like it’s a big deal that they turned their lives over to God.” he said. “They make it into this dramatic story about how they decided to give their lives to God. As if they did something.”

“No!’ he went on. “We are only saved because God allows us to be saved.  He does it! Not us!”

I felt a tad dizzy and kept my head down, focusing on my sketch.

He had spent the first part of the sermon explaining how people who didn’t accept God and didn’t become Christians did this because they didn’t want to know the Truth and deliberately turned away.

If you don’t chose God, it was your own evil choice and you are held responsible. But if you join God’s side, not even your choice counts as good.

No matter what happens, God is the only one responsible for Good and YOU are the one responsible for Evil.

Despite God having all the power and you having none.

God’s a tricky devil, isn’t he?