A well nobody dug filled with
ripples and a shapeless
weightless man drinks.
The weeds at the bottom gently bending down the stream, shaken by the watery wind, still planted where their seeds had sunk, but erelong to die and go down likewise; the shining pebbles, not yet anxious to better their condition; the chips and reeds, and occasional logs and stems of trees that floated past, fulfilling their fate, were objects of singular interest to me, and at last I resolved to launch myself on its bosom and float whither it would bear me.
---Henry David Thoreau
The mind is like water: when it's still, there is reflection; when disturbed, no mirror. Muddled by folly and craving, fanned by misleading circumstances, it surges and billows, never stopping for a moment. Looking at it this way, where can you go and not be mistaken! It's like trying to look into a flowing spring to see your own appearance---it never forms.
Let's not be irrational about this. The widely-distributed still you can see at Middle East Online http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/features/?id=28063 from the notorious video of Sarah Palin, then running for governor of Alaska I believe, receiving a blessing from a Kenyan pastor to protect her from the influence of witches, is not meant by me to mock either the vice presidential candidate or African rituals. Services and spells to ward off or cast out demons are practiced by most religions everywhere in the world. Not only that, I'm sure many of our presidents and vice presidents went through rituals like this, of one kind or another, to join a Masonic temple or Skull & Bones or even Alpha Bokka Babee fraternity. What did primitives make of Christian missionaries offering them the flesh and blood of Christ? This article is not about such rituals, hair-raising or otherwise.
I watched the vice presidential debate again last night from a tape I made of it. I was a debater in high school on a champion team, and I know very well how much theater goes into such things. When I watch a theater piece the first time, I let it take me and experience the emotional impact. I like magic tricks and marvel myself into the illusion. Later, maybe like most people, I want to know how it works. There were some moments among Biden, Palin and Iffel that I wanted to see for that reason.
I wanted to see what Biden and Palin did while the other was speaking. Were they listening to each other or preparing their next remarks? I wanted to see the moments in which one really dominated the other. I wanted to see Biden go after this "maverick" thing. (How can there be a "team of mavericks?" Is that something like an idiot savant?) But most of all, I wanted to see Sarah Palin's response to Joe Biden's recollection about losing part of his family in an accident and fearing a son was going to die. Many people have commented about how moving the senator was as he went through it, and also how the governor seemed to have no response at all.
It's only fair to say the camera was not on Sarah while Joe spoke. Unless alternate footage is produced, we don't know if she was listening or getting ready to go after her next topic. Nor would her response be particularly important, if she didn't constantly talk about home and family, the kitchen table and God...and pluck at our heartstrings about a challenged child or 2. She just had been doing that, to which Joe's extemporaneous comment was an identified reply. So, what is it in a person that brings her to block an obvious need for an honest acknowledgment of suffering?
There are a number of Evangelicals in the school where I work. I wouldn't know that, except in the past few years they have been asserting their religion more and more obviously. For a while there was a contemporary Christian radio station playing all day in the front office...and mellow vanilla-scented candles going to further the mood. My daughter received abstinence-only sex "education" in 3 different classes one year. One of the classes would have been called Home Ec in the old days, but here a 3-day old embryo, that could have become a stringbean or salamander, was identified as a "baby just like you and me." There was an optional bible study class for girls after school. I asked around if it was OK if priests came in to receive optional confession? New Testaments still get handed out to kids annually as they leave school property, cross the public sidewalk, and get on the school busses. What if pagans used the same technique to distribute free brochures about animal spirit dieties?
For the past 2 or 3 years I shared classrooms and work assignments with a member of this group. I know that because she occasionally tried to get me to go to week-long missionary evening intensives at her church. A couple of those were being led, I believe she said, by a remarkable pastor from Kenya. Could it have been the same guy? She described amazing phenomena happening, like people fainting at his touch and being healed of cancer. People regularly were ecstatically inspired to speak in tongues, and another time angel feathers came down from the sky upon the preacher. OK, but I don't go to church for spectacle...and wasn't in the mood to do research at the time, so I never took her up on it. A work colleague had tried to "save" me once before, years ago.
What I have wanted to do during these Bush years of Evangelical aggression is engage such people in talk about issues. Back when Bush/Quayle ran against Clinton/Gore, I was working in a government office and there was a superior who liked to talk politics at lunch. We were both educators who had taught social studies, and now were lending whatever skills we had to the bureaucracy. I knew she was conservative but we enjoyed comparing our views, and were delighted to find out how much we agreed about many things. She wanted to vote for Clinton/Gore...but said she couldn't. Couldn't? This is where her church came in...and the first time I learned about her religion. Clinton/Gore was in favor of women choosing for themselves about the conclusion of a pregnancy. This single issue compelled her vote for Bush/Quayle. After I left that work I tried to maintain email contact, but I never received a reply.
Anyway, I began to push back against Evangelicals at my school...and was eager for any kind of topic to come up in which I could engage them. One time the woman I mentioned was talking again in the classroom (she did this constantly) about their successful youth group. An average get-together brought out 400 kids, she said---and I have no reason to doubt it. There are summer Jesus camps too, but I think something about this group is known as The Pillar of Fire. She had been busy making a gigantic wall painting and was quite excited about it. I asked if the nature of the flame was for revelation or punishment. (I know they may not be mutually exclusive.) O, it was the judgement of the Lord...and fire rains down upon the sinners. I asked her abruptly if forgiveness ever was taught in her church. Without hesitation, she said No.
The other day, I was talking with another teacher who works in what now is called Industrial Arts. Among other things, he introduces middle school students to the precision of blueprinting or mechanical drawing. We were chatting about the troubles with the US money system. I just had attended a retirement seminar, and was sharing how every participant lamented there was no way anyone could afford to retire anymore. The cost of health insurance has all of us trapped inside our benefit package until we finally croak in the classroom. My friend shrugged, smiled and said, "It doesn't matter. No one will need money at The End of Times." He looked completely at peace.
I've noticed universally in my discussions with Evangelicals, that you can get to a certain point with them, usually a challenging one or a fact that surely should amend their argument, and they look away from you and sort of go blank. It's as if I've said something that just pulls some kind of plug connected to the juice. I realize that in their minds, they probably are identifying me at the moment as the Great Tempter himself. My words, just because of who I am, are straight from Hell, no matter what they sound like, no matter what I'm saying. I'm challenging their very Faith.
When I've been to Pentecostal meetings---and I have been---I've been struck by the intensity. Usually there's a circle---which of course we equate with some kind of cozy intimacy---or church seating itself in a semi-circle and pounding, amplified music, often rock influenced. The speakers talk through microphones at high volume, sometimes even to distortion so you have to strain to understand what's said. Sensorily you are inundated. People are gyrating, holding hands, or in a meditation with arms outstretched. One's perception is greatly heightened, and light itself seems more yellow and bright. One might think one was closer to Salvation, unless a hormone measurement at the moment would reveal that this is what such input does to any human. Bah, this is why they hate "science"!
Probably there is something about everyone's faith that defies reason or logical expectation. I guess that's why we take in on faith. Faith is supposed to make you strong in the face of temptation and catastrophe. Faith is the engine (Sarah Palin likes that word) that drives you through life---and, if necessary, through death. I do not deny faith. I have some myself. But I like to think it was not created by scary masks, bludgeoning chants, and hallucinatory magic. I even enjoy a challenge to my faith. I try not to invite it, but if it happens I hope it will survive. If it doesn't, and that has happened before, I will change it. I will improve. I will strengthen into something different.
I pray I will not tune out. I pray I will not accept coincidence as some sign that God is on my side. My greatest devotion is to refuse to accept monetary comfort as proof I have been chosen to effect the Will of God upon the world. Maybe this makes me a mystic. A great Tibetan Buddhist teacher told me I was a wild mountain monk, incapable of receiving the teachings among the rank and file. Perhaps. I like to think I'm just an old-fashioned American voter, who puts all this stuff aside when he walks into City Hall.