Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Preacher and The Pagan

A couple of weeks before the preacher arrived, this song started looping through my head. Frequently.

I don't believe for an instant that The Preacher was ever on a mission to convert me into a professing Christian. It's just that he gets passionate about the Bible and in a debate, he seeks to persuade. He's curious about Pagans, Celts and Goddess based religions, but he finds all manner of opportunities to talk about God as an external presence. Or maybe that's just what happens to a man when marijuana is introduced into the environment for the first time in twenty five years. Weed has a way of taking conversations on tangents.

Before he left for the airport, he said that he had needed the preparation of fully five years in Seminary to spend a week with me. And it wasn't even a whole week. I'm not sure how I feel about that statement, although I can see how he might have found the last few days challenging. Deflating, even.

He's a great guy, for sure. I respect him for who he is and for what he's trying to accomplish in his career and calling. He's dedicated and earnest and sincere. And I was impressed and flattered that he threw caution to the wind and got on a plane to come see me. Nevertheless, I must confess I'm wondering if there is a connection between mainstream American Christianity and a tendency to be uptight and inhibited when it comes to celebrating life as a free spirit.

I'm pretty sure there's no room for free spirits in an institutionalized patriarchy. Woody used to get hardcore about religion demanding obedience, etc, which I don't necessarily think is true when you consider the way Jesus and The Buddha approached Life, The Universe and Everything. However, looking at The Church as Institutionalized Patriarchy, I sympathize with the urge to rebel. The Church requires people to accept and live by the authority of a hierarchy of officials who have abused their power for generations. Jesus may have encouraged folks to free their spirits, but The Church needs frightened spirits to fork over their cash.

The Preacher acknowledged the existential absurdity of insisting that one individual knows more about God than another - but he has a hard time stepping outside of that institutionalized patriarchy. He wants to, I think, but as a servant of that institution, albeit a more liberal minded denomination within that institution, he's really stuck on the universal significance of the Bible.

Personally, I prefer novels. If the Bible is filled with parables and stories that inform our laws and morality, and if the guys who wrote down those stories were directed by God - why can't Isaac Asimov have been equally moved by the Holy Spirit when writing the Foundation Series? If God can move one writer, why not all writers? Why not Kurt Vonnegut, Fay Weldon, PG Wodehouse, Douglas Adams? Christopher Moore or Robertson Davies? Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope? Why not Ghandi? It's not like the Bible is the only book on the fucking shelf.

Ever since the preacher got his plane ticket, I figured he was as interested in theological debate as much as a date. Or maybe he simply wanted a date with a woman who could debate theology over bong hits. It's not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning, but during the course of the conversation, that free spirit of mine felt the oppression of Institutionalized Patriarchy, and it reminded me of a song:

Not that I was anything but polite. All I did was sing a chorus.

Everybody Now, bring your family down to the riverside
Look to the east to see where the fat stock hide
Behind four walls of stone the rich man sleeps
It's time we put the flame torch to their keep

Burn down the mission
If we're gonna stay alive
Watch the black smoke fly to heaven
See the red flame light the sky
Burn down the mission
Burn it down to stay alive
It's our only chance of living
Take all you need to live inside

(Elton John/Bernie Taupin, 1970)


Blogger lisahgolden said...

Sounds like quite the time. Have I mentioned how much I love your writing?

I'm keeping my agnostic self to my self on the meat of this post, but dang, what a read!

May 8, 2010 at 9:20 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

As someone who has just spent four days in theological discussions, I'd enjoy a little religion from the peanut gallery. I'll go rest my brain.

May 8, 2010 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Core beliefs - they're like other people in the room. Of course you can have all kinds of respect for them, but eventually it gets crowded.

May 9, 2010 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger Punch said...

Your words:

"I must confess I'm wondering if there is a connection between mainstream American Christianity and a tendency to be uptight and inhibited when it comes to celebrating life as a free spirit."

My Words:

you are better than that.
By definition,
MainStream American Christianity is uptight.

Hell, Lady! h'Its right there in the Bible, something about Camels, Eyes of Needles, Heaven, maybe not gettin' in.
Right there, one has it all.
Maybe I missed something along the way. (chuckle)
ya'll were smokin' Camels?

May 9, 2010 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Punch,I am happy to say that I left Uptight and Inhibited so far behind when I said Goodbye to Buzz Kill that I had forgotten that there was even a possibility that Uptight and Inhibited still existed in the world- until a representative of Mainstream American Christianity landed in my living room. To be fair, I believe The Preacher was more overwhelmed than anything else since he wasn't disapproving at all, and he's a good sport. He said something about how he probably should have stuck with a 350 instead of going for the 850. I may not totally understand the motorcycle metaphor, but I'm taking it as a compliment.

Jennifer - it was crowded and intense, not to mention tense at times, but it makes a great story. That's the main thing, isn't it?

May 9, 2010 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger VV said...

Debating a missionary...I did that back in the 80s with Mormon missionaries. They were uncomfortable with my spirit and strength, my certainty that my creator did not need me to come through a man for my salvation. My thought was, if our creator put the creation, growth, and upbringing of children in the female sex, we certainly couldn't be inferior. What creator in his/her/its right mind would trust the continuation of a species to an inferior sex?

May 9, 2010 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Or any human at all, for that matter.
Since everything we attribute to God is a human construct, how can any human claim to know anything about God with any certainty at all?

In Chapter 3, Bokonon tells us about a lady in Newport who "claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly . . . She is a fool and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

See - As it happens, Cat's Cradle is already numbered with Chapters and Calypsos. And frankly, I'm finding Bokonon much more relevant to my ordinary life than The Church ever was.

May 9, 2010 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger MRMacrum said...

Pagan Temptresses. I was warned ealy in Life about Heathen wimmin. Good thing too. I didn't waste as much time avoiding them.

Jesus and bong hits. Reminds me of the Born Again ex-junkie who lived behind me in B-more back in the 70's. When the methadone and prayer vigils weren't cuttin it, he would drop by for a doob and some conversation.

We're all weak. What we use to make it through those weak moments is all that really seperates us.

Won't scare any preaching out of me. I'm in too good a mood and my belly is full.

May 9, 2010 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Excellent. All this theological exploration has given me a headache, and I could use a good story. I must say, MRMacrum, you tell some good ones over there in the Bozone.

May 9, 2010 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Jaliya said...

Sir Elton: Amen :-)

Oh my ... theological date 'n' debate! I've done it too, with various and sundry humans over the years ... It sure is an experience, eh? I once dated a guy (EVER so briefly) who, when I told him I'd been accepted into an undergrad program for psychology and religion, accused me of being under Satan's influence and "all you need to know is in the Bible!" ... I will never forget those words ... They chilled me to the bone -- even when I was, at the time, a professing Christian ...

"Existential absurdity" ... I like that ... it about covers my sense of ultimate things these days ...

I am so with you re: inspired writers and their holy written words. My "closest to God" writer is Rainer Maria Rilke ...

What a journey you're on ... :-)

May 10, 2010 at 3:52 AM  
Blogger PENolan said...

I'm not surprised to hear you've had the date 'n debate experience - and it reminds me that when I was younger, all wished people would notice more than my looks. Now that we're all of a certain age, it's great that men are attracted to my mind as well as my body. Until recently, only lesbians had that capacity ;)

G*d and everybody else knows I love men - even when they leave the seat up (or maybe especially when they leave the seat up).

Satan's Influence? Hallelujah!
Actually I've been curious about how psychotherapy has replaced religion for a generation. Did you finish that course of study or go on a detour?

May 10, 2010 at 7:15 AM  
Blogger Commander Zaius said...

...if there is a connection between mainstream American Christianity and a tendency to be uptight and inhibited when it comes to celebrating life as a free spirit.

If I remember my Sunday school it all falls back to original sin and the view that humans are weak and can't really decide what is right. That any temptation will ultimately corrupt and condemn a person to Hell. My views on this tend to run the spectrum but for me it always comes back to the idea that as long as you do not hurt children, someone's property, or endanger other people with your behavior I don't care what anyone does.

That does not make me popular with a whole bunch of people.

Douglas Adams? I thought he was inspired by God.

May 10, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Life As I Know It Now said...

Those are some great authors that you suggest we read. Some of my favorites too :)

May 11, 2010 at 12:56 AM  
Anonymous JD said...

PE, I offer only this mild correction to what you said I said. Actually, I was saying that in my formative stages of motorcycle riding, people suggested I start off with something "more manageable," such as a 350cc bike. I, however, went for the gusto and got an 850cc bike, with which I still cruise up and down the mountainsides. I believe I lifted this up in the general context of why some uptight, institutionally bound preacher of Biblical patriarchy would ever hop on an airplane and fly halfway across the country to visit you. Now, I'd better get back to my pursuit of institutional, uptight church patriarchy, since between the two of us, that patriarchy is only offering one of us a steady paycheck at the moment. And it ain't me.

May 11, 2010 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Liberality, I'm a sucker for a good comedy of manners and/or social satire.

Beach, you're popular with a whole lot of other folks, though, and I'm betting they are more fun.

JDHays, I stand corrected and hope you'll get work soon so you have enough money to gas up the rice rocket ;)

May 11, 2010 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger intelliwench said...

It's been interesting catching up on your adventures. It's one thing to invite a new man into your home, but a whole 'nother level of bravery to get all philosophically naked with him!

The only way I can deal with discussions of religion is through an anthropologically tinted lens. No matter whether or not God "is" -- religion itself is surely a manmade construct. (oh, yes, with the emphasis on 'MAN')

May 15, 2010 at 10:10 AM  

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