Thursday, March 16, 2017

Writing

"I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am."

                                   --Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

An Introvert in Paris

"When the high-speed chases and mandatory shoot-outs become too repetitive, I head over to the revival houses and watch gentler movies, in which the couples sleep in separate beds and everyone wears a hat.  As my ticket is ripped, I briefly consider all the constructive things I could be doing.  I think of the parks and the restaurants, or the pleasantries I'll never use on the friends I am failing to make.  I think of the great city teaming on the other side of that curtain, and then the lights go down, and I love Paris."

          --David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dunked

Here's a story that comes to mind every once in a while.

To quote Sophia from The Golden Girls, "Picture it...fall of 2009."*  I was transitioning out of Christianity.  I wasn't using the word "atheist" yet, but was on my way, and was desperately trying to cling to the basics of what the faith should be, or what I thought it should be, anyway.  Thanksgiving was coming up, and several churches in the community were gearing up for the annual dinner that they put on for the holiday.  I couldn't volunteer on Thanksgiving day due to family obligations, but I volunteered to help plaster the town with posters about the event.  It was my way of being part of an actual humanitarian effort, focused on feeding people and giving lonely people a place to go on a significant day.  Looking back on it, I naively chose not to think about the more overt religious nature of the holiday.  I'm sure there was prayer, I'm sure there was Christian music playing during the dinner, and I'm sure people were mingling with the specific purpose of proselytizing.  I was grasping at straws at this point.

Nevertheless, I turned up at the church to pick up the flyers.  I was still attending a bit, but it was easier to show up during the week and find the stack of paper in the office rather than find the woman who printed them and answered my phone call when I said I'd post them about (I'd never seen her and had no idea who she was.  It's not a megachurch, but for our small town, it's one of the bigger ones).

As I walked back to the office area where the flyers were, I could hear an associate pastor of the church talking on the phone in his office.  He wasn't the main minister who would preach every week, but sort of an assistant pastor who would visit sick people, fill in with preaching occasionally, and just be a general good egg where and when the main dude couldn't make it. 

He was talking to someone who I could tell was another adult male...I don't remember why this was the case.  He probably used a name I knew at the time...I don't know.   The main thing to know here is, there were two grown men talking on the phone, and the topic was baptism.  The general conversation was some dude on the other side of the conversation asking one of our pastors, Steve, why he needed to be baptized again, when he'd been sprinkled as a baby.  Steve is a gentle dude, and very unassuming...almost annoyingly meek, but he was very direct on this call...the guy on the other end needed to be immersed in water to be fully and officially baptized, and the reason is that in order to be obedient to Christ, baptism by immersion is necessary.

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I'm leaving pauses here for that to wash over you.  Over us.

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In order to be close to God, and to be completely obedient, some people think you can sprinkle water on a baby, and all is good.  Some people think that, no, you have to wait until at least the age of eight...or maybe twelve if you go to the church down the street...and at that time you have to be dunked under water in a tank big enough for a few humans to enter, or a pool, or a stream, etc.  Dunk all the way in there.  Or, you know, the god of the universe might not be happy with you.   You'd better do it just in case.  Some churches think it's just symbolism, but not Steve and the others at this specific church.  This shit is real.  You better really wade in the water.

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Crickets chirping.

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So, here's the thing.  I was trying, y'all.  I really was.  Maybe none of this made sense, maybe it was all bunk...but the Jesus stuff was mostly ok.  If I helped out with actually feeding humans, or was kind to the earth and animals, or donated to human rights organizations, or put my hands to work for the betterment of peoples' lives...maybe I could sort of stay in this whole religion thing.  Maybe outside religion or faith, these things would be harder to organize...

But I hear two grown men discussing whether or not one of them would rot forever if he didn't step into some water and dunk all the way in...not a hair floating on the top for fear that God might not be cool with it. 

The gods must be crazy, indeed.

Something snapped when I heard this nothing conversation, empty of any intelligence, not fitting for our time, and completely stripped of these men's actual lives...their actual realities.  In life, they go to restaurants, go golfing (Steve does, anyway)...one of them had an actual job.  The other one's job partially entails telling the other to get dunked in water. 

I just couldn't.  It was my moment of "I can't with this." 

I went around town that night, in the dark, posting those stupid flyers.  I also went to the local college campus and did it, thinking some students might have to stay during the holiday.  I hope if they went that it wasn't too religious and annoying.  Many who stay on campus for holidays are international students.  They may have been bemused by the events if they did go.  Some probably had other places to be.

Anyway, that night, thinking about Steve's ridiculous job (and I can say that, because I had a similar absurd Jesus job) I passed a point of no return with religion.  That wasn't my breaking point, I don't think.  It's hard to remember, because I didn't know it was happening.  I didn't document everything as it occurred. 

I do remember that same night going over to the gym where I worked out.  I went into the actual gym with a basketball court, but no one was playing that night...not even the hardcore scary volleyball people were there that evening.  My fifth grade teacher was there, though.  She was there with her husband, and they were practicing ballroom dancing.  It was no joke--she had the proper high-heeled shoes on (red) and he had a laptop set up for the purpose of blasting the music and also recording their moves, so they could re-watch and correct their steps as needed.  They were old, and they were fucking good.

I watched for just a minute, and then left them to their practice. 

These stories...the dumb phone call, the poster plastering, and the dancing...don't really have anything to do with one another.  They're just indelibly connected in my mind. 

I do not need the fucked up dunking I got when I was 15.  I don't need religion to help me along with my humanitarian aid.  I do need to keep doing good stuff for people on my own and with others.  I do need to do fun things now and keep doing them when I'm old.

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Picture it...fall of 2050...






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*I should probably update my pop culture references.