Palm Sunday

I was raised American Baptist and went for it completely until I was thrown out of my church youth group for playing a record (Hair) they didn’t like. I was the president of the youth group, well-liked in my church AND I came from a home with problems (dad with MS) so the event caused a furor in my church. It led to me being lectured by several deacons and the pastor telling everyone to calm down, that young people are young people. I just quit going. The following summer I was invited by a woman who represented the “Pro Martha Faction” to work as a counselor at the church summer camp. It was the best job I’ve ever had until now (working as a famous artist) and I did it for the whole next summer.

Events my second summer led me to step quickly and firmly away from organized religion, especially anything smacking of fundamentalism.

So here I am in the Christian holy week in a very church centered town. I know the Bible very very well since all four of my novels deal with religion one way or another. I also like the Bible — its contradictions and weirdness don’t bother me. In fact, I consider it a very accurate reflection of humanity’s relationship to all things unknowable and knowable. I like it very much. It’s simply the bit of accepting Jesus as my personal lord and savior and believe no one else goes to Heaven (which I’m not sure about, either, since I think THIS is pretty good). That said, I’m completely great with that other people believe different things. As I’ve written before, I am a panentheist, that is a person who thinks everything, the universe, all of it, in toto = God. In short, if you’re looking for God, you can’t miss.

I never rejected Christianity, but, quoting Goethe, “I’m not Christian. I’m not UN-Christian, I’m not ANTI-Christian, I’m simply NOT Christian.” I’ve even been to Latin mass at the Basilica San Ambrogio in Milan. It was wonderful and important to me because, after all, San Ambrogio baptized St. Augustine of whom I happen to think very highly.

But as I walked out the door this afternoon after strapping Teddy into his halter, a Palm Sunday hymn wafted through my mind, a hymn I don’t even like, and I remembered this day for the moment it represented throughout my childhood and youth.

Most of the cranes have left, but there are still some remaining. I had slim hopes of seeing any at the Refuge. I don’t think they liked all the car traffic this year any more than I did. My hope is that next year the festival will be back on and the majority of crane tourists will be conveyed in busses. I parked near a little trail both my dogs like and took Teddy around it. He’s learned to lift his leg and enjoyed mightily every demonstration of prowess. Then two more cars came and parked beside mine. “Rats,” I thought. Teddy and I continued, disturbing (gently) two Canada geese and we continued on our way. At the far reach of our walk, I heard cranes above me and was able to enjoy about fifty of them flying above me and calling out. Soon after, we turned around.

When we had returned to our car, I saw an old couple sitting at the single picnic table the Refuge affords. it’s at the trail head to my dogs’ favorite little loop. I put Teddy in the car and said to the couple — about my age — “He’s not that dog friendly.” They had an older shepherd mix girl with them.

“Ours isn’t either,” they said. I went over to say hello.

“Where are you from?” they asked. This time of year a lot of out-of-towners are around.

“Monte Vista,” I laughed.

“Us too!” We all laughed.

We talked about how much we love the Refuge and expressed that we all come out there often. “I don’t know why,” said the woman. “We live in the country.”

“There’s something about it,” said the man. “It’s like you can imagine how it was before…”

We all said the same thing. That we felt free out there in some mysterious way. I, personally, consider it my “church”.

“He fixed this picnic table,” said the woman and for the first time I saw it wasn’t the broken down, splintery mess it had always been. I don’t use it so I don’t see it.

“Yep,” he said. “I had some boards at home and I went to the co-op and got the rest of what I needed.” I looked at it. It looked new.

We talked about all the traffic that’s been out there and I said, “Yeah, no festival so no busses.”

“Well, last week.”

“Yeah, the craft fair but no bus tours.”

“Did you go to the craft fair?” asked the woman.

“No. Did you?”

The man said “Oh yes, I sold things. I make birds out of wood.” Then he told me the whole history of the Crane Festival. Teddy was in the car with the windows up and the car pointed south so I figured I should go and said good-bye.

Only later did I realize I had been chatting with a carpenter and his wife in a holy place. Happy Palm Sunday.

Labyrinthine Trap of Time

Competing versions of Christianity in the early church distilled into Roman Catholicism. The distillation process did not make the faith more pure as the flames beneath the beaker were money and power, lucre and death. An early version of Christianity — Arianism (not to be confused with that Hitlerian perspective about “Aryans” not the same thing at all) — saw Jesus as God’s son. There was none of this abstruse business of the “three in one” (which really does sound more like Twix — chocolate, caramel, cookie — than anything believable). God is God. At some point he had a son who is AWESOME and worthy of lifelong attention, and came here to help and redeem us, but who is NOT God the father.

Think of all the conclaves throughout the history of Christianity that attempted to explain the Trinity, all the blood shed over that (completely made up) question. This alternative view was labeled “heresy,” and as has happened throughout time, the label superseded the reality (“Sleepy Joe”). What IF Arianism had won out. The three Abrahamic religions wouldn’t be so far apart — all three would be worshipping the same Abrahamic God, and two would have their cool prophet, chosen by God, to help them.

I don’t think there is much that is truly spiritual in these religious competitions any more than I think there is much that is truly spiritual in today’s “Christianity.” I’m not saying that Christians are not spiritual people — many are. But no “ity” or “ism,” no conglomeration of people, can ever retain the intense focus of a spiritual life. Their elevated quest for God will always be dragged to a stop by the drogue chute of buildings, bank accounts, internal disputes, competition, interpersonal conflicts, the drive for consensus and approval from others.

Which is why so many of the early Christian saints went into the wilderness; why Jesus went into the wilderness. The elemental imperatives draw the human mind away from petty quotidian disputes.

History — like my own personal life — is full of turnings like that one, turnings where if things had just gone the other way, this moment would be different. Under everything in history (and my life) it seems that the trajectory of actual events resulted from ONE decision, ONE choice at each turning. Much as I dislike Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” way does lead on to way. The “temporal” world is the world in which time is boss. The word means “world of time.” That basically means that once a decision is made it is in the past and we are blocked forever from re-doing that decision. Hindsight might reveal what an idiot we were, but it doesn’t matter.

Church of the Blue Heron, the Eagle, the River, the Mountains and the Meadowlark

I was raised in the American Baptist church but life carried me into a different faith, one that was correctly identified by a little boy as “Panentheism.”

It was nice to have a word for it.

Still, I know my Bible very well which is lucky since, so far, all the novels I’ve written are about Christianity one way or another. I like the Bible very much and Jesus’ story is inspiring and sad. The saddest day of all is this one in the Christian calendar, a day called Maundy Thursday. It’s the day when Jesus had dinner with his pals and then went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, knowing he would be betrayed by one of his friends. He knew his destiny (we all know our destiny, but some people are unfortunate as was Jesus to know WHEN and HOW).

It is my favorite part of the Bible because, like Jesus, I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful garden. So, on Maundy Thursday I usually make a point to spend time in the Garden to think about things, about the numerous “cups” that don’t pass by us in our lives, and how humans so often have the courage to accept the cup however unwillingly or however much they feel unworthy of the charge put upon them.

Today when I went out with Bear I had forgotten what day it was in the Christian Calendar. But, as I stood looking at the pastel shades of REAL spring (not daffodils, tulips, etc.) I remembered. Already by then I’d watched a bald eagle swoop and dive for prey and then allow himself to be carried aloft and away on the wings of the wind, a beautiful thing to see. I’d seen a blue heron take advantage of a lull in the spring winds to float from a tree down to the river. I’d noticed the blue and golden swallows are back, diving for bugs whenever they have the chance. When I arrived, I immediately heard the song of the meadowlark. The Sangre de Cristos are still white spires and the river is full and fast.

So, Jesus, I’m sorry for what you went through and for what we all go through. I understand how you felt that night in that lovely place, waiting for the shoe to fall. Thank you for your story and how it reminds me to spend at least one day of the year being as present as possible in this marvelous world. I’m sorry I ultimately couldn’t accept all that about salvation, sin and one religious denomination over another. It just always seemed to contradict this complicated wonder in which I live. I’m totally cool with what other people believe, though. I think the point — as you said — is that we love one another.