Sunday, June 24, 2012
MARRYING & BURYING, RITES OF PASSAGE IN A MAN'S LIFE by Ronald L. Grimes
Okay, now I know all I need to know about Grimes. I just finished his autobiography, “Marrying & Burying: Rites of Passage in a Man’s Life” by Ronald L. Grimes, Canadian college professor and ritologist (expert on ritual), who occasionally dipped down into Colorado. He was born in Clovis, New Mexico, but he was not a Clovis man. He’s a baby boomer. A parashaman. A family man and a really nice guy. He’s a friend of Sam Gill, who himself has a website where he has stockpiled his work (http://sam-gill.com ). These men are handsome, prosperous, admired, “successful,” and having a wonderful time. Ward Churchill, once in the same department, not so much. (http://wardchurchill.net) Vine Deloria, Jr., http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/15/national/15deloria.html also there, has transcended religion by “going ahead” to what was surely a reward. But that was just Colorado, a very atypical place, inland California. Grimes is truly a Canada man. Make that Ontario, Canada. That puts him under the American radar for the most part.
Grimes has no heavy political agenda. As a little kid he started out a Christian Cowboy (conservative Methodist) and has remained in part Roy Rogers, an honorable collaborator with his Dale Evans. It’s impossible not to like him and to laugh with him. This book is from 1995, so it’s a kind of mid-life toting up rather than a final trajectory, quite simply about his education and conversion from instead of to the ministry, reaching a sort of compromise by teaching religion. His first marriage was a tragedy, producing a child who could not live to adolescence and a former wife who remarried, remaining distant. But he learned from all that. The second family works.
In this book there is not very much exploration of larger issues or overviews of the twentieth century or anthropological fine-tuning. Rather he takes us to the attic chapel of the family home, the place where the sacred objects and altars are, ready for use in something I’d call “play therapy” except that that’s belittling and doesn’t suggest the kind of dignity involved. Go to “Ronald L. Grimes” with Google. Then -- instead of calling up any of the references -- go over to the short list on the left and hit “videos.” That’s where the more recent examples are, along with a lot of intelligent discussion among gifted people.
Once all the debris from his birth family is sorted (Why do they call it “luggage” when it’s often more like rubble?) things settle down into a very pleasant life. But old porcupine quills work themselves up to the surface and he sometimes ends up raging. This is a man who meets Paul Schilpp’s definition of art: “Art is the expression of a relationship between a man and the universe.” If you’ve forgotten, Schilpp was my Philosophy of Religion professor in 1960 or so, and I argued against both the narrow gender designation and the idea of an “expression” which is essentially participation in some kind of creation regardless of whether anyone is watching. (The way God worked, come to think of it, which sort of suggests narcissistic grandiosity, doesn’t it?) I argued for “communication”, which is a performance meant to be received and interpreted. Like, um, prayer? Witness? But Grimes goes to expression for its own sake, as a way of resolving rage (he says “anger”) and achieving sanity.
To give him credit, he doesn’t interfere in other people’s rituals so much as he investigates them, observes them carefully, suggests interpretations. He values them, which is a contribution in itself, and he’s good about not forcing templates down on them. Often he suggests several alternative ways of looking at what happened. Not a loner, he pulls his friends into his own acts, giving them scripts and things to do and wear. He sets up mounds and hangs ritual objects, often child’s objects or found bones.
Somewhere he has found a source of faceless muslin rag dolls he can write on, cut open to stuff with seeds or beads or messages, or even to burn “alive.” I kept wondering how anatomically accurate they were, remembering one doll -- meant to teach youngsters about birth -- that had an elastic cervix and a zipper for c-sections. A tiny baby doll fits into the womb. When as a child he was first told by a rude boy (who described a woman’s you-know-what as a “slobbering cow’s mouth” -- which seems rather English somehow) how babies were made, he went to his mother, insisting indignantly that his parents would never produce him by fucking. Not only did she tell him the truth, she used two dolls to demonstrate the missionary position. It took two hours, not to explain the facts but to deal with the emotional fall-out.
All this sounds goofier than it is in context. Ron is quick to see the funny side of things, but he never mocks and he respects boundaries. Grimes’ scholarly books in their clarity are the most helpful that I’ve found and the closest that any of these theories could be to my thinking, without having taken into account brain theory and accepting the notion that “religion” is really the institutional and political enshrinement of human feeling, the perception of the Sacred. This book is domestic, quite a bit like Lynda Sexson, whom he quotes briefly. He remains Christian/American Buddhist.
So what was it I wanted to find out? I was curious to know how far he would go, how dangerous he was willing to get. Not very far, not very dangerous. Why spoil everything? Esp. the consultancies to churches that are feeling a little bland, a little repetitious, even -- well -- BORED. He doesn’t ask why. He just gives them a kind of liturgical tune-up, some workshop exercises, a little summer camp juice.
Where’s the screaming? The despair and indignation? It’s there in the early part of the book. If you look at the vid on Ward Churchill’s website, you’ll see it and you’ll see that the room is packed with intelligent, passionate young people. (Don’t pay any attention to Russell Means except to notice his very elegant clothes and his entertaining malapropisms. The man has become an LA anomaly.) Grimes says that when all the AIM confrontations began, Sam Gill left the field. Grimes went back to Canada. Churchill stayed to fight. Still at it right now. I gave away my Ward Churchill books. But I like his attitude. He’s tenacious. I think he means it. Grimes means it, too, but, well. . .why make trouble?