Monday, 23 June 2008

I Can Feel It Getting Down To The Wire

The second-last week before summer vacation just finished, and it was quite the time. By Wednesday of this coming week I need report cards done, parents of unsuccessful kids phoned and so on, and I need to finish the yearbook by Friday. I took last Friday off to take Dad in for prostate surgery.  
    Thursday evening, I worked on the yearbook for a while, then went to my folks' place two towns over.  As I drove through my old town on the way and looked at buildings and houses where I used to shop or know people,I found myself noting "burned down, out of business, dead, killed, died, moved away, died, torn down and replaced with Shopper's Drug Mart, died last week" and so on. A morbid inventory, I realized. 
      I arrived to find my folks very tense and nervous about the surgery, and glad I was helping out by coming along and driving everyone.  My dad's voice was unusually high and soft, and he stammered often when talking about the surgery.  They both went to bed and I couldn't sleep so I took the sort of silent, contemplative walk I used to take when I lived there: down long, unlit dirt farm roads with trees overhanging on both sides. There were no stars due to clouds scumbled thickly across the sky, and the moon only a glow cutting through that here and there. There were some unbelievably loud frogs nearby. 
     I startled a huge deer which was walking right toward me until it heard me from a couple of meters away, and thudded and splashed away. The trees were all bespeckled with fireflies. It was like walking through an entire forest glen of Christmas trees filled with moving sparks. There is a new radio tower visible from that neighborhood in the distance now, with an obnoxiously bright, slowly pulsing white light on top which looks like a bad UFO effect in an old movie. I could swear some of the fireflies were frantically signalling back at it. I hope it isn't coincidentally flashing the firefly equivalent for "I'm not wearing any panties" at the little buggers. Big disappointment all around if that's the case. 
   At 4am, we piled into my folks' old car and I drove them to the hospital 1.5 hours away.  It takes me 1.5 hours, anyway, and my mother was panicking and asking me to slow down because I was driving around bends over the speed limit.  I had my father's support in driving 20km over the limit, but she was having a tough time with that. 
     We got to the hospital and had to wait 40 minutes for them to be ready to let people in.  Then we sat in a room for almost an hour before the doctor and anaesthesiologist, each in turn, came to have a word.  My dad and mom didn't see the humour in the surgeon and anaesthesiologist (for a prostate removal) being named Dr's Siemans and Ho.  It struck me as absurd and funny. Then my father was eventually gotten into a robe and slippers prior to surgery and came and sat with us some more, and was then whisked off to surgery.  
    Mom and I went down and had breakfast once the cafeteria opened. Then Mom and I sat in the O.R. Waiting Room and I marked final exams.  She was trying to read Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller, which I'd brought for her, but was, of course, having trouble relaxing and concentrating.  I'd about finished all of my English class when the nurse came to say the surgery was underway and we'd hear something in maybe 2 hours.  
     Mom was all for sitting there for 2 hours, but I was all for breaking our time up by going and sitting in a park across the street in the sun, under some trees.  We did that, which was a good idea. We came back in, and I marked some more, finding it harder to concentrate because some idiots decided they needed to watch afternoon television in the waiting room with the volume up.  
    I put on my iPod with King's X (I don't know why, it's just been a while since I listened to Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, and it's better for blocking out nattering shrill voices than Glen Hansard of The Frames and The Swell Season is) and marked at about half the speed I'd been going before. 
    The nurse came and said the doctor would be coming out to speak to us in about an hour and a half, so Mom and I had lunch and sat in a different park, then came back.  The doctor said the surgery was textbook, that the cancer had been very localized and they'd also been able to leave the nerves on the right side so my father could retain some sensation, and that he was very happy with the job he'd been able to do.  Then we were told we could see Dad in a couple of hours.  So, more marking.  
     I got one of my Civics classes all marked, and had an interesting conversation with a woman who turned out to be an elementary school teacher in our school board (despite us being 2.5 hour's drive from my school) and we were told there was delay in getting a bed for Dad.  
    Eventually, they let us come in and see him in recovery.  He was lying in a funny little bed, looking very small and pale, with his foot sticking out of the bed with an O2 sensor clipped to it, shining red LED through his big toe.  He was on morphine and was very out of it, but we spoke to him, and then drove back home. 
    Saturday I worked on yearbook, pottered around not getting much done, had an energy drink to get moving, drove into town and saw The Incredible Hulk, which was OK, though I'm completely sick of CG, I've come to realize.  The movie was nice when there was talking, but was also like an adaptation of the classic 80s video game Rampage in spots, especially when the giant pudding monsters were wobbling about, roaring and fighting, with not the slightest bit of suspense due to no one being able to picture them being real, physical things, nor capable of getting hurt in any way.  
    I realized what my problem with all these people making the movies I would have wanted to see back in the day: I am tired of being pandered to rather than challenged. 
    Sunday I phoned Mom for news and she said she was going to drive in and see Dad, as he was staying in a couple more days.  I hadn't got much work done, and it was looming, waiting to get done, so I offered to drive her in to see him, and did.  Mom made no comment on me driving even faster than the speed limit, and I put on my iPod with the hymns my sister and I recorded last summer. She'd never heard them and was quite impressed, and sang along.   
    Dad was in bed, but able to get up, which he did. There was some joking about his "aquarium equipment" (catheter stuff).  The view out the window of sailboats on Lake Ontario, and a medical helicopter landing and taking off was quite lovely.  He wants to sleep a lot, and he's not really feeling like eating, but that takes time.  
    The nurse wasn't bad looking.  Brunette, brown eyes, ghetto booty.   
    I drove Mom home to find her power was off, then drove me home and found I needed to take a nap before I could do any work, then didn't want to work, then got some yearbook pages done and felt a lot better.  Bethany phoned in the middle, which helped.  Interruptions and being able to ask for second opinions help me work.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

The Bemicturated Translation

I was raised to read the bible every day.  I was supposed to read a chapter each morning, from quite a young age, and for the most part, I did.  I was paid $20 when I was twelve to read the bible cover to cover.  (One thing to know: it had to be the 16th Century King James Bible, and not a modern translation, as those were thought to be not the "real" bible, but mere paraphrases or translations by people without the proper respect for the book.)   I did read it, with every begat, every thee and thou and hast, and though I was reading quickly (more so that I could say I'd done it, than for the $20, though I wanted $20 too) for the most part I understood what the words meant.  
    I say "I understood what the words meant" in the same way that, nowadays, I can claim to know what the words in the bible say.  Very different from "knowing what the author intended by saying this" or stuff like that. 
     That reminds me of how Bill always used to complain about, object to and otherwise comment upon things in the bible, yet every single time he did, he'd mention something that wasn't in there at all:  Three wise men and their names, "God helps them that helps themselves," "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," people in heaven wearing white robes and playing harps and singing, a choir of angels singing at Christ's birth, people becoming angels after they'd died, purgatory, Peter manning the gates of Heaven, Heaven having gates, the gates of heaven being pearly, Jonah being swallowed specifically by a whale, Adam eating an apple, and on and on and on.  He'd always insist that stuff was in there somewhere, though he hadn't read it, and he'd want to comment on it or object to it as if it was.  And he wouldn't believe me when I said it wasn't.  
     Hearing one of these stupid arguments, Dave said to Bill "Look.  The bible is a book.  Mike read it. He knows what's in there."   
     Knowing what's in there.  Very different from knowing what's meant by everything, knowing how to make sense of or how to benefit from anything.  (Bill actually tried to fight that one on "Well, there are an unlimited number of ways to interpret..." but Dave pointed out that this was a matter literally of "is it in there or not?" and it was therefore not a matter of interpretation.) 
    The specific attitude with which I was to read the bible as a child was one of those things that wasn't quite stated explicitly by anyone, but the message was sent and I picked it up loud and clear.  In light of assertions that the bible had "all the answers to life," more specifically and conveyed quite wordlessly was the belief that the bible was to be read so you'd know what to do, and what not to do.  In other words, you were to read the bible as if it were an instruction manual, set of rules or how-to book.  For life, of course, but an instruction manual nonetheless.  
     The bible says the Christian life isn't about rules and laws so much, so when that was pointed out, the "rules" were called "guidelines that it is very, very important to follow, or it's very dangerous." Some institutions of higher learning, I found out, taught that the bible was literature, that it was beautiful, and a unique example of something, with emotional and life content shared across the ages by people long dead.  The idea was also wordlessly conveyed to me by my spiritual keepers that to elevate the bible from how-to manual to piece of world literature would...debase it, somehow.   The book wasn't meant to be treated like one, and certainly not like pretty words that touched the hearts of anyone who read them, even if they didn't believe the stories really happened.  It needed to be stories that really happened.  
     In such a literature course, they'd no doubt only cast doubt on those awkward beliefs we insisted upon, like that Isaiah wrote the entire book of Isaiah all by himself, and that at the end, where it tells us that he died, he must have foreseen this and wrote it, through divine inspiration.    (No one wanted to say "Oh, Steve wrote that last bit."  Because that would bring down the whole house of cards, somehow. )  Same thing with Moses.  Wrote a bunch of books, including the parts that happened before man was created, and what happened in heaven when no men were present, and what happened after he died. 
      I have many cherished books.  I have books that I have often used to divert my mind into wonder when my life was grey and empty.  I have books that made me laugh out loud with delight at their unconventional and ruggedly individualistic cleverness.  I have books which are just really good examples of something or other.  My life bears the imprint of these works, and my walls are thickened and edified by their sentry-like presence in every place I have ever lived. 
      I also have some how-to books.  I have one on the art of sensual massage, and a few about photography.  I have ones about how to play the guitar.  I have one which promises to teach me to read New Testament Greek in just 20 minutes per day.  I have some about how to use computers which have now been obsolete for ten or twenty years.  The thing is, I haven't even finished reading most of those.  Even the ones with the occasional picture of a partly nude woman. (those 80s computer manuals and New Testament Greek primers got pretty racy) These expensive, colourfully illustrated books were bought with the best of intentions, filling me with the enticing notion that, by reading this book, I was going to become a more well-rounded, skilled, interesting person.  No doubt one who could be performing a sensual massage on a Greek woman I'd been photographing while the strains of my new classical guitar CD filled the air, playing from my TRS-80 4K computer.  
     Despite the best of intentions, to a man these books have sat upon my shelf, pouting, brooding, textually unfulfilled. Now, to this very day, which category is my upbringing going to predispose me to put my bibles into?  That's easy.  How-to books.  Nonliterature.  Reading them is supposed to make me a more well-rounded, skilled, interesting, spiritual, peaceful, happy, enlightened person.  I plan to read them with the best of intentions.  Yet they sit near my bed and beside the futon buried under murder mysteries, westerns, science fiction and short story compilations. 
     The bible is insane.  It has a musical about two lovers having sex until they need to order in some apples to regain their strength, professing melodramatic love, taking an inventory of each other's bodies, then separating, then waking each other up at weird hours of the night, then running around the city and surrounding countryside in the middle  of the night looking for one another, and so on.  
     Don Miller wants to teach this book of erotic poetry in a "how-to" approach, just for laughs:  
"Breasts like towers.  Like clusters of grapes.  THOSE are the qualities the Word of God instructs you to look for in a godly wife, young men.  Go out and find those breasts, described for your learning, here in the Song of Solomon.  I'll be praying that you do.  And have sex until you need to phone room service for apples." 
    (there are apples mentioned in the bible.  Adam didn't eat one, but Solomon wanted some after a lot of lovemaking) 
     So yesterday I read part of the bible (using the little, leather-bound 19th Century J.N. Darby translation that my dearly departed cat once most spitefully urinated upon for reasons known only to himself, and which has not entirely lost that odour, despite my best efforts) and tried for the emotional, life connection approach, rather than reading the bible to see what it said I should do.  
    So, rather than getting some advice and instructions about oxen, husbandry and the treatment of slaves (which no part of the book has any ethical problems with) I read the book of Lamentations.  I like to lament (complain) and usually feel regretful most of the time.  
    It fit me like a glove, and it was itself, and I wasn't trying to make it serve me and my predilections and needs.   The overall feeling of the book called to a responsive space inside myself.  And the book seemed to be Jeremiah bemoaning what God had done to Israel, and feeling a little bit hard done by and maybe even resentful of God.  
   Religious people get very scared and angry with me whenever I feel this way toward God myself.  There is really no message, straight from God, put into the lips of Jeremiah to pass on to the people of Israel that I could find in Lamentations.  It sounds like Jeremiah's own emotional response to the destruction of Jerusalem, as someone who lived there and loved it.   There weren't shoulds and should nots, for the most part, and though there was hope that God would one day stop allowing them to be oppressed, and bring them out of slavery and set them back on their feet, this certainly wasn't presented as a moral, a good example to follow or even as upright behaviour.  It wasn't prefaced or packaged or interpreted at all.  There was no moral or application.  It was just what he said.  
    It sounded like he was "off the clock" when it came to being a prophet.  The usual prophet's message "God feels this way, because you're fucking up, so repent or He'll blow your house of cards down to show how precarious your position truly is, and if you do repent, He'll forgive you" is entirely lacking. Because it's too late.  
   They didn't repent, they worshipped stupid made-up gods which suited them better than the real deal and His noted lack of cooperation and meeting of preconceptions, and now Jeremiah is bemoaning what happened and maybe even resenting it a bit.  And I could feel it. 
     So, I guess there's an important reading lesson in all of that, a method for reading the bible, and most of all, a wonderful moral that I can provide for everyone.  And I guess I won't tell you about any of it or do that.  You can pick up and chew your own food in your own way and at your own pace.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Snowballs and Jihads

Sometimes we just know things, deep down in our hearts, though nothing official, recognized or "on the books" reflects it.  We don't expect "the system" to back us up.  Sometimes it does anyway. My friend Joel told me that there were two kinds of teachers when he was in school: the kind who, when kids threw snowballs, sighed, and if they were directly in vicinity, said like they didn't like this part of their job, "OK guys, c'mon.  You know you're not allowed to do that.  The principal told you that.  It's dangerous.  Gimme a break, alright?"   
      And there was another kind.  The kind who were hiding behind the bushes at lunchtime, eager with the delight of possibly being able to catch someone bending over for a handful of snow, just so they could triumphantly leap out to criticize, judge, punish and generally unleash what they felt was righteous indignation.  Someone with an axe to grind.  Someone with a cause.  Someone on a crusade.  Someone with no forgiveness, mercy and certainly no sense of proportion whatsoever.  
     On our bad days, we all run the risk of being the second kind of person. When it comes to rules and their enforcement, we see something interesting in the bible, of all books.  In the Old Testament, dealing with a barbaric, often nomadic desert tribe called "the Jews" or "The Children of Abraham" who, like everyone else, took a full, gleeful part in the slavery, genocide and butchery that was seen as a wholesome part of human civilization back then, God sets up quite a heavy-handed, black-and-white system of rules completely unlike what He brings with Him when dealing with the very same people in far more civilized ages to come. These desert people are told that there are certain specific things they shouldn't do.  Most of them would hurt people.  In some cases, if they do these things, rather than just needing to donate an animal sacrifice to the temple, the system dictated that someone would actually have to take the transgressor and kill him by throwing large rocks at him until he was dead.

Some countries do the same thing to this day, but with cooler killing toys.  In other cases, they had to whip him (the number of lashes set always at "forty lashes, minus one" for mercy's sake).   If we were to meet observant Jews from "back in the day" who felt very strongly that they themselves were not going to break these rules, that they themselves were going to adhere to this system and see where it took them, and hope for blessing and peace and prosperity, we'd probably not be able to help feeling a fair bit of respect for them and their willpower and integrity.   
     In like manner, if we met a Jew who was taking his neighbor's wife a ham sandwich he'd shoplifted from the market, in hopes that while her husband was at temple she'd share with him the ass he'd been coveting, you'd probably feel a fairly natural disrespect, a bit of disgust at his hypocrisy, his unconcern for what he was doing to his neighbour and the shopkeeper, and just his general lack of integrity (integrity is a word that means "cohesive structural strength, the ability to remain in one solid piece" and integrity comes from internal consistency.  
     The opposite of a person of integrity is someone whose internal structure is shot through with lies, or with hypocrisy.  Stuff like that inevitably weakens them). If, however, the man with the ham sandwich en route to his neighbor's house on the sabbath day was caught and was to be stoned to death, and the official who was in charge of the event came solemnly up the man, with three tattletales peering excitedly over his official shoulder, and then a small gang of guys ran up all out of breath (guys who had for months now been longing for a chance to smash someone's head to pieces with large rocks) you'd find that you really felt very little love and respect for the people tattletaleing, nor for the sandalled rednecks showing up fer a good old-fashioned stonin'.  You'd feel their characters were lacking in something. 
     You see, being quick to judge, delighting in catching others in faults, delighting in taking part in or seeing punishments carried out, all those are weak and nasty personality traits.  The bible speaks out against these traits with just the same disapproval we all felt in grade 3 when Tammy Juniper said "Miss, Justin threw an eraser when you were in the hall talking to Steven.  I think he should have to miss snack time."  The very same disapproval.  Stuff about "judge not lest ye be also judged" and "feet that are swift to shed blood."  Stuff about treating others the way you want to be treated (unless you're a masochist).  Stuff about shutting up. 
     Being quick to judge, taking delight in judging and criticizing, these are things even God doesn't feel OK with.  We see Him repeatedly taking hundreds of years to lose His temper, and then cooling off and seeing that things get fixed, fences mended, the cats brought safely back inside afterward.  And His main focus is internal.  He wants us to get what we did that didn't work out, rethink and refeel the whole situation and be armed with better approaches and reactions for the next time.

Jesus Dodging Judging
When Jesus was walking around being a human being to show us how it was done, the religious assholes wanted to involve him in the judging and beating to death with big rocks of a woman they'd (no doubt with the help of some tattletale or other) managed to surprise in the midst of having sex with someone the boundaries of marriage marked as not for the taking.  You see, they knew enough about what sort of a person Jesus was (walking around showing us what kind of people God wanted us all to be) to know that he'd not be raining down judgment and criticism and punishment on anyone.  This, even though he no doubt felt that cheating on your husband was a really awful thing to do, which was also totally not how God wanted things to be.  He didn't do that.  
     He seldom judged, and when he did, it was to call the religious assholes names and tell people not to respect their hypocritical, self-serving displays of religious piety, nor under any circumstances to act like they did or make them role models of any kind.  Said assholes invited him to "help judge," hoping to be able to say they caught him condoning adultery, and no doubt he could have joined in with the throwing of rocks also, if he'd been that sort of person.   
     As we know, he wrote on the ground with his finger as they bothered him with the sordid details, perhaps trying to ignore them or express disinterest, or perhaps he was just thinking, I don't know of course and won't pretend to (unlike the people who claim to know that he was writing anti-adultery scriptures in the dust).  Of course, when they'd made their case, he did nothing to say she was innocent, or that what she'd done was perfectly or technically OK, nor that they were wrong to judge her.  He just said "He that is without sin among you cast the first stone."  
     I think he was just reminding them that they weren't, as they wanted to feel, in a position quite above and superior to hers.   We're all screw ups.   None of us has lived well enough that we deserve to judge others, have earned the job, and can now enjoy doing it, because that's what "truly good" people are supposed to do.  Only Jesus himself hadn't screwed up, so "deserved the job" but he didn't enjoy judging and generally left people alone unless he was doing a kind of "intervention" type accusation to lead them to self-awareness and the chance for change.  He was without sin.  He could have cast the first stone.  He refused to, and none of them were qualified, so they all left.   
     He then said "Woman, where are thine accusers?" which was both an interesting question to contemplate, and also a subtle way of not counting himself among those who wanted to accuse her.  She was guilty, but that didn't mean he was obligated to accuse her, or risk condoning her behaviour.  That's not how that works, apparently.  
    I don't have to speak out against homosexuals or whoever, or else be guilty of condoning their behaviour.  My opinion on their actions Just Doesn't Matter.  Because I'm just me.   Jesus then gently but directly told the woman to quit being a 'ho and sent her on her way.  Whether or not she continued in her whorish behaviour the record of history does not reveal.

Fundamentally, Fundamentalism is Terrifying
I'm reading Don Miller's Searching For God Knows What.  He makes this point about how, if we listened to Muslim fundamentalists on the radio or TV programs of the middle east (and, presumably, if we spoke Arabic) we'd hear them denouncing and hating the moral excesses of American culture (their "freedom" as the W puts it.)  They'd speak out against promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion, and how American music, television and movies, and even the news and some churches fail to judge these, but are, instead tolerant and accepting of the people who engage in such behaviour, and are therefore, they feel, guilty.  There would be no forgiveness, no sign of understanding what Jesus showed everyone.   
     And then, if we listened to Christian fundamentalists on the radio or TV programs of the American south, we'd hear...exactly the same feelings and ideas expressed in almost exactly the same terms, and with no more awareness of the barest...fundamentals...of what Jesus showed everyone when he was here. 
    And there's something a bit more scary about the American ones, because they are trying to take over the governing of the whole country legally and completely, rather than "merely" terrorist-attacking symbolic bits of it.  And the scary thing is, radical atheists have learned some bad lessons, and are starting to demonstrate some of the same dogmatic, closed headed, closed hearted, jihad/Crusade mongering nonsense that comes from a more savage time.  
     Henry Rollins is funny and has a lot of heart and no patience with fakery, but listen to the scary mirror-images thrown up between someone like him, and his Islamic and televangelist counterparts... Each one saying "No!  My way!  People need to see things like I do, or they're wrong and need to be silenced and kept out of any place where they might have say, sway others, be heard by children or make decisions that affect anyone."  Echoes of Tammy Juniper in Grade 3.  "No!  Be quiet!  Make him be quiet!  My way!  Like this!  Listen to me 'cause I know!  You're in so much TROUble and I'm not!"  
     And an equally forceful objection against anyone else being able to say certain true things in plain or even forceful terms, as was the manner of Jesus. Sometimes the best thing, what God wants from us, is to leave people alone.  Even if they threw an eraser when Miss Granger was out of the classroom.