I walk along a slot canyon, roughly a mile, known as al-Siq. The walls are high, ancient sandstone deposits, dating back to the Middle Cambrian to Lower Ordovician age. The passage is narrow, dangerous after a cloudburst. Rushing water formed this passage; rushing water continues to sculpt it. Geology is dynamic. As long as there is wind and water, nature will continue to work this passage.
The payoff comes at the end of the Siq. Peering out from the narrow gorge is the Raqmu, now known to western tourists, misnamed the Treasury, one of the masterworks in the ancient city of Petra. It was built as a mausoleum by the local Nabateans and part of the great trade network throughout the ancient world, known as the Silk Road.
Growing up in a stifling, lower middle-class family in the oil fields of west Texas, our only emotional outlet was not in the home-where it should have been safe-but in the church. I have written about the uncontained emotion that I often exhibited in this congregation when the Lay Witness “missionaries” would come to town once a year, transporting the normally deadpan, distant group of midcentury, working-class WASPS into an evangelical dramafest: hands extended to Jesus, crying for mercy, for forgiveness of unknown sins…all with the theatrical ending of “Jesus will save you,” “Expect a miracle,” and the people in the crowd would silently cry. Down to the altar many went–giving their life to Christ. “Miracles are alive today,” cried the missionaries. More soldiers for Christ! Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war…
But after all of the “missionaries” packed up and left to another equally, dry, dusty, tumbleweed-infested Podunk, Texas church, nothing had changed. The next Sunday, the same old tired sermons, the same old stoic, boring mythology and the same old little infighting, based on myth, legend and created drama. “I’m more holy than you because I have the holy spirit in me. Jesus has given ME the ability to speak in tongues.” All it takes is a little education to realize that all this miracle about the holy spirit giving you the ability to “speak in tongues” is absolute bullshit. It’s one thing to speak and pray in another language. It’s another thing to spew out a shitload of jibberish and let all of the uneducated around you tell you you’re speaking in tongues. Dramatic fakery, was my take on the whole situation.
Robert Tilton, speaking in “tongues,” courtesy, YouTube.
What did make sense to me, though, was acting in plays at the small, notable community theater in town. The dramatic plays that came and went in our community spoke of real emotions, real life. These plays were not based on myths about superheroes who could save you eternally if you just believed in the unbelievable. No, these were real stories, real dramas, based on the everyday life of just plain folks who are caught up in the daily struggle of life, of death, of trying to make a living, of trying to find love and purpose, the pursuit of happiness in its purest form. Real. Dramatic. Life.
I thought that what I needed to be was an actor. This was my calling. It was the only thing that made sense to me. Insisting that I get out of all of that fake-church drama and pursue the art of drama in my teenage years did one thing for me. It saved me from the world of religious fantasy that was forced upon me. An acting career was, alas–and dramatically–not for me. That takes complete commitment to the craft and unbridled commitment to myself. However, I craved the blessing of my family. I was not given that confidence as a child, but rather, it was clear to me that I was to be seen and not heard. My opinion and my dreams do not matter. Shut up. Stop being so dramatic. Actors are whores. So that was the end of my dramatic dreams.
Fast forward half of a century later on the opposite side of Texas. As my husband and I were going through marriage counseling toward the inevitable end of our marriage, our very wise, very perceptive counselor mentioned how early Greek dramatic plays helped people deal with their pain and their fears long before the advent of psychology and psychotherapy.
Suddenly, the lightbulb turned on. I got it. The dramatic world that I craved as a child was not that of the stage, but that of reality. Not the drama of the religious dogma, but the dramatic playing-out of real life, real emotions, a safe place where I could release my emotions and become the person that I really was. Not a drama queen but a person with real, dramatic feelings. The stage was the one place where I could be a real person, not a follower of a 2,000-year-old superhero who was born of a virgin, performed miracles and will guarantee me “eternal life” if I only believed. No, that’s not the dramatic life that I want.
To admire. Easily done in the context of a celebrity-crazed culture. Admire an actor, an artist, a politician, an activist, a leader, a family member, foreign or domestic, straight, gay, bi, trans–we all have those we admire in our lives.
When I saw the Daily Post for the day, all I could think of was not whom or what I admire: rather, I saw French. The word admire is from Middle French, admirer, which has not lost its original meaning: to marvel at.
When I began taking French lessons at the Alliance Francaise, my instructor told us very early in our classes that English is 40% French. I never really thought about English having so much French influence, especially since our language certainly does not sound French.
The French language entered the English lexicon in 1066. Every English historian knows the date. William, Duke of Normandy crossed the English Channel–or La Manche (the sleeve, in French)–and killed the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold II at the Battle of Hastings. It was all about politics and land grabs. William, who also went by the moniker of William the Bastard added another title to his name, William the Conqueror.
Norman French became the official language of the British Monarchy for 200+ years. So many of our french words are almost unrecognizable to our ears when we speak English. If you have ever heard a Texan or a Michigander say “admire,” you know that. Yet, French lives on in our writing, especially in our weird rule-breaking spelling.
In this case, I admire the evolution of our language from Norman French to modern English.
Word of warning: this post is about something that all of us have and don’t like to discuss. We in the States known it as gas. You know, that feeling like you are going to explode–and it hurts and you have to do something to get relief and you know it’s going to be stinky…
Gas can come from several different sources, according to WebMD: beans, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, onions, fruits, sodas, milk and dairy products from being lactose intolerant, and from such diseases as irritable bowel syndrome.
Years ago I was in London and suffering from gas. Maybe it was too much pub food or, more than likely, too much pub drink. I knew I needed to find some relief in the form of an antacid or a product with simethicone, such as Gas-X. I set out on a mission to find a pharmacy, or as the Brits say, a chemist.
I didn’t take long to find a Boots, one of England’s leading chains of pharmacy and beauty products, very much like Walgreens or a CVS. The stores are always pleasant and stocked with great everyday items.
I looked for the area where one would think a product such as Gas-X would live. Couldn’t find it. Oh, crap (no pun intended), I’m going to have to ask for help. A lovely young woman with her Boots tag was not far away.
“Please excuse me, but I’m looking for some product that I can take to get rid of gas. Would you help me?” I asked, a bit sheepishly.
She looked at me quite puzzled. “Gas?” she asked, with an incredulous look on her face.
“Yes, I’m sorry to say that I have gas and I need some relief.”
“What do you mean, you have ‘gas?'”
That’s when I realized that the Brits must have a completely different term for this particular bodily emanation, and it was probably more proper, shall we say?
“You know, I’m bloated and I need to–fart.”
That’s when she let out a small laugh of understanding. “Oh,” she told me, “you have wind.” That cracked us both up. “Yes,” I exclaimed. “I have wind!!”
“Then you need to try Wind-eze. It’s right here.” We both kept chuckling while I loaded up on a couple of boxes of Wind-eze.
As George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill have all said at different times, Britain and the United States are “two nations divided by a common language,” and in this case, a common wind.
Yes, Ark has this whole apologetics situation pegged. Do EVERYTHING you can to make the biblical narrative “true.” The dance that has to happen to make this mythology true defies physics and reality. Just because you want the impossible to be true does not make it so. Keep up the good work, Ark. SCH
It was the early 1970s and Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry were rocking the Pop/Country charts with “Little Green Apples” and “Let it be Me.” But one song that I always liked was “My Elusive Dreams.” Written by Billy Sherrill and Curly Putnam, it continued to be popular through the 1960s and 1970s. David Houston and Tammy Wynette recorded the most famous version, but Bobby Vinton and Charlie Rich also got in the act with their versions. Whenever I hear the word elusive, the the Campbell/Gentry version pops into my head, giving me a day-long earworm.
I do enjoy the vocal harmonies by Campbell and Gentry, but, really, people, the words are pretty lame. Nice idea, though, and certainly an argument for trying to find the gold mine in life and never quite digging in the right place.
“My Elusive Dreams”
You followed me to Texas, you followed me to Utah, We didn’t find it there so we moved on. Then you went with me to A-la-bam’, Things looked good in Birmingham, We didn’t find it there so we moved on. I know you’re tired of fol-low-ing My elusive dreams and schemes For they’re only fleeting things, My elusive dreams.
You had my child in Memphis then I heard of work in Nashville, But we didn’t find it there so we moved on. To a small farm in Nebraska, to a gold mine in Alaska, We didn’t find it there so we moved on. I know you’re tired of fol-low-ing My elusive dreams and schemes For they’re only fleeting things, My elusive dreams.
Now we’ve left A-las-ka because thewas no gold mine, But this time only two of us moved on. And now all we have is each other and a little memory To cling to and still you won’t let me go on alone. I know you’re tired of following My elusive dreams and schemes For they’re only fleeting things, My elusive dreams.
Sanctuary, for so many people, evokes a safe place. For me, though, sanctuary unnerves me.
The word’s meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, is
a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter
the protection that is provided by a safe place
the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sanctuary
The word derives from the late Latin work, sanctuarium, which, according to http://www.latin-dictionary.org, means ,”place keeping holy things or private/confidential records.” So the word has pretty much not changed for at least 2,000 years.
I was brought up in an “evangelical” Methodist Church in Texas. Growing up, I had only seen this church and the church where my grandparents attended.
But within this very small, very isolated community, I was different from everyone around me. Two or three times a week, I had to file into the Sanctuary of this church and listen to the evangelical preacher. I saw everyone explode in unhinged emotion almost every time I stepped into that Sanctuary. Nothing made sense to me. The preacher spoke of miracles and a virgin birth. “He has risen, he has risen, indeed,” echoed from the pews of this Sanctuary constantly. You must have the faith of a mustard seed. You must believe. If you don’t, you will be condemned to hell.
But I did not feel safe in this place. It did not make me feel protected. With all of the commotion around me, it made me feel like everyone was in on this mythological game and I’m doomed to play it, day in and day out. Constantly. And stand to be ridiculed at the very least if I dare to blurt out that I think this is all ridiculous.
It was not a sanctuarium to me. Rather, it felt like a sanatorius, a sanatorium: “an establishment for the treatment of he chronically ill.” (Thanks again, Merriam-Webster.)
Now I know that people who are religious are not mentally ill. Religion and spirituality appear to be ingrained in our DNA. (Remember the “God Gene?”) While many of us are hard-wired to find “sanctuary” in religion, not all of us find comfort in its dogma, its stories, its beliefs, its overwhelming attempt to pull in everyone in its path. Question, but do not question too much. Don’t get wise-ass on Jesus.
“…you are hereby summoned to appear for jury duty at 8:00 a.m….” Crap. The day before I am to leave for a month-long trip to Alaska, I get hit with this.
“Just ignore it,” my husband tells me. The courts do not send summons by registered mail so if someone gets back to you, just tell them you never received the letter.” Yes, thats true. But I’m thinking I can convince the judge that I’m out of here and he/she won’t want to mess with me.
The morning of jury duty, I am armed with several books and the paperwork stating that we have paid thousands of dollars to leave Harris County the next day. The judge asks people if anyone has any reason why they cannot serve. I walk up and stand in a VERY LONG line to discuss my situation. The judge listens to me and is very uninterested. First World problems. “You probably will not be on a jury. Go sit down and wait for your name to be called.”
Hours later and a book or two finished while sitting in uncomfortable, hard pews made by Texas inmates–I have been to a prison facility where furniture for municipal buildings all across the state are churned out–I am one of 24 jurors called. Crap. My husband was right; I should have ignored the summons.
All 24 of us walk into a courtroom. We are both male and female and a combination of different nationalities and skin tone. That’s Houston for you–nothing if not diverse. The person next to me doesn’t want to serve either. “What do we do,” she asks me. “I don’t know; wait and watch what happens,” is the only unusable piece of advice I can come up with.
Our defendant walks in. He is a man of color, a multiple offender who knows the inside of the Harris County Jail like most of us know the back of our hands. He’s accused of theft from his employer, who sits opposite him. The accuser, you can tell, is of immigrant descent and an obviously hard worker. While the defendant wears prison orange, the employer is in jeans and a tee shirt, mad as hell and pissed off that this recalcitrant former employee has made life difficult for him one too many times. He’s trying to run an honest business and is going to make this guy pay.
Both lawyers spell out the situation for us. The defendant is a repeat offender. He’s been caught on numerous surveillance devices, redhanded. The defendant’s lawyer, a short, stubby man, obviously way down the list from the public defender’s office in an ill-fitted suit, gives us the 411. The defendant was set up. He is the victim. Then the public defender begins questioning all of us.
“What is prison? Punishment or rehabilitation?” It only takes a few moments for me to realize who the lawyers want on the jury. Those who answer “punishment” are immediately written off by the public defender. Those who answer “rehabilitation” get their jury number written down.
I whisper to my neighbor, “say punishment, and you won’t get called to sit.” The light bulb goes off above her head. I’m going to Alaska. The thief is going to the Harris County Jail for rehabilitation.