Tuesday, April 23, 2019

WHAT'S THE RELIGIOUS NAME FOR THIS?

It was the early Eighties and I was serving the fellowship of a major city in Saskatchewan.  As is typical of groups in that province at that time, everyone was white, educated, and insular.  They drew a little circle and stayed in it where it was safe.  Not that they agreed about anything because arguments kept them safely separated from each other.

AIDS had just hit the world and though they thought they would surely not have to deal with it, we had done a conference on "landscape" where we discovered that one of the clergy -- a handsome PK with a doctor for a partner -- was on the rigid and harsh regimen that might keep him from dying.  In those days there were few people who only carried the virus and didn't die.  We would have done a better job of pretending nothing was wrong if his pill carrier hadn't been electronic and beeped to remind him.  In a while he died anyway.

I tried to understand how to get people to understand. (Did I understand, myself?)  Then one starless night with a temp of forty-below (farenheit --though it would have been celsius up there) I was driving my old van back home from Calgary.  I was passing through a bleak area of sands that the Blackfeet identified with death, a place where their spirits wandered eternally.  

Just as a blood-red sunset crept under the dark, my van died.  I waited a while and restarted.  It ran a few miles and quit again.  I could see a town in the distance, but if I tried to walk there, I would die in spite of my big down "rancher's coat."  I got out and tried to stop the last of the traffic, people going home after work.  Once they had passed, there wasn't likely to be more traffic.  If the engine wouldn't run, the van would soon be as cold as everything else.  It was a struggle between despair and terror.  I tried stopping cars with no luck.  Finally I got so desperate that I jumped right in front of a driver and he had to stop or explain how my blood got all over the front of his car.

That's what AIDS was like: a struggle between the emotional impact and the urgent need for help.  After the sermon people left early and didn't say goodbye, but they did come back the next week.

It was almost harder to think of a way to convey what it was like a bit earlier when the culture shifted enough to allow a community of gays in all their splendid assortment and zany displacement of stigma, just long enough to set them up for death, which shifted them again to a new culture for men.  The limitless love of each other's bodies impelled them to nurse their lovers while they died.  Small Saskatchewan groups can understand this.  They still remember the Spanish Flu, a true decimation of ordinary folks.

It's much harder to explain the joy of release from punishing limits.  Those conscientious but nervous people had rarely, if ever, been part of a carnival (carne - flesh) so how could they understand its loss?  I'm the wrong person to ask.  My extravagance has been of the mind rather than the body.  It's evidently scarier to a lot of people.  I don't hide it much because most people only see disobedience, refusal to conform, anyway.

I watched "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1950) for Easter, but YouTube's algorithm always urges what they think is similar.  They came up with "Tommy"  (1975) which is an extravagant and over-the-top Hollywood big screen version of what they thought that SF gay scene was about.  I haven't seen it.  It must be still popular since they still pay to watch it even on TV.  I watched the preview and read a little bit about it.  It's based on Big Hollywood names.  The anonymous Wikipedia expert says:  "Tommy is a 1975 British independent rock musical fantasy drama film based upon The Who's 1969 rock opera album Tommy about a "seemingly disabled" boy who becomes a pinball champion and religious leader. Directed by Ken Russell, the film featured a star-studded ensemble cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey, who plays the title role), Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, and Jack Nicholson."  

Music, dance, flamboyance, and culture-mocking are the markers of Russell.  I'm not a participant on a physical level, but thought and emotion give me access to at least thinking about the two extremes and the imputed relationship between orgasmic recklessness and torturing disaster.  HIV/AIDS is just one example.  There are so many.  I am fascinated.  

This is a "religious" issue about the foundation of what humans "are" just as much as the notion of Christianity that there is a humanoid God who raises the question of why good people are terribly punished.  This is such a clinging question that it has a name:  theodicy.  How can a good and compassionate God be so vicious and betraying?

Now that we see the heavens as not a throne room but an immeasurable vast receding space of revolving round worlds and blazing suns, theodicy is a silly question.  What is the pressing question now?  We can't even blame God, though we killed Him for His shortcomings.  We didn't crucify God -- just Jesus.  But why did we do that?


At least some people got busy to find a cure for HIV -- we've gotten as far as amelioration, but when we get to the essential elements of flesh we find that we are the obstacle.  We don't want to know. We don't want to do hard things.  We want to make a little cluster of connected people and not find out about scary stuff.  Is there a name for being intimidated by the cosmos?

Monday, April 22, 2019

IF YOU WANT A CODEX, PRINT OUT THIS BLOG.

The convergence of a number of things: house maintenance, governmental corruption, an arduous winter, blogging daily, some deaths among friends and students, and herds of cats have all been made almost unbearable since my fall on Groundhog's Day, the one that dislocated my shoulder and put the whole top left quadrant of this pudding of a body into a state of nonfunctional pain.  Then the painkillers fuzzed up my head.

Short example:  I didn't act fast enough when one of the three female cats gave birth to five "sparrows", scroungy little gray specimens with various decorations of white.  I'd say they were street cats if we had real streets in this tiny village.  Pretty scraggly inbred lot.  One has fallen in love with me and follows for a chance to snuggle.  They all have the idea that my double chin is a lot like a mamacat's belly and determined that there must be a source of milk somewhere.  Maybe claws . . .

Then it's Easter and I watched "Jesus Christ Superstar" on YouTube twice.  This has led to an attack of not-quite-conscience.  Because having a conscience is knowing what is Right.  I don't know what is Right since I don't even have Trump's conviction that wealth is the criterion.  (Too bad he's not really rich -- just faking it.)  But there's never enough money to cure stupid, weak bullies, or the other insecurities of a bald old fat man.  Now I'm just going to talk about myself, who never valued money and so passed up every opportunity to get money in order to preserve my freedom.  

As a barely post-toddler, I was entirely secure and protected.  Even when the second baby, a boy, appeared, I was confident that I was the Axis Mundi, the spindle on which the planet turned.  But the planet tilts and it's doing that now.  Still, I coped pretty well until school.  The adults all thought I was just what a little girl should be and gave me good grades and praise, though one noted on my report card that I cried all the time.  My classmates despised me.  Still do.  They'll deny it.  Nearly eighty years old, red-faced, relatively prosperous, they meet for lunch once a month.

That's the grade school bunch.  In high school no one mattered but my teachers and the dramatics program so college was where my dramatics teacher graduated.  (She disliked and feared AK -- I think it was the lesbian thing.)  But now I am shamed by my classmates, so hooked by success and achieving a respectable version.  Northwestern University now sells out to international corporations, letting the School of Speech become so esoteric that it will be easy to snuff in time.  And yet I could use the services of a good otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat doc) because I have issues, surprisingly related to Dr. Porges' ideas about the vagal nerve system.  (I guess that's pretty esoteric, too, but at least no earth-eating international corporation is involved.)

What's at issue here is the concept of success. I didn't have some burning issue about going to teach "Indians" as is assumed.  It was just an accident that after graduation we drove through Browning and a job was open. But once there I did have conscious issues about what person would be best for me to link up with.  It was Bob Scriver.  So then we concentrated on HIS success.  He was 47 and in the next ten years I put him first in my life.  I made myself as closely like him as I could, but also cheerleader, cheap labor, and publicist.  I pushed him into the New York scene because I still read the NYTimes.  Locals will say I made him a success and even ask me to do it for them, but they have no idea what I did, because they have no concept of the New York art scene.  When Bob divorced me, he said that he should charge me tuition because I learned so much, and there was truth in that.

So -- over thirty and out on the street with no money. (Alimony was $1,200 and a free winter-over on the little Two Med ranch he bought without consulting me.  I loved it.)  Was this success?  Two years of penance teaching again and I discovered Third Force psych.  Reframing has been key ever since.  Success is how you look at it.  But I wouldn't mess with marriage again.  I did keep watching the Western Art world and, once I convinced Bob that I wouldn't attack him, saw what a racket it became.  

The arts became enchained by those who capitalized on it: the publishers, the dealers, the galleries and bookstores, the customers who believed they were doing something smart and privileged when they were only sheep.  The best-seller lists of books are not based on quality of reading, but rather on sales.  The sales of certain bookstores were added up, and the ones with the most money were the number ones.  Art auctions were similar: sales were through auctions: public, hyped, a little drunk, reputation by word-of-mouth, and secret deals.  When there are lectures to explain why certain paintings are worth millions, they fall flat.  When one sees that they are linked to virtue -- paired-with secret-sin, it's even harder to understand.  No need to reveal which artist is the son of a whore or even a whore himself.  Charlie Russell loved to hang out with whores and that's a known fact.  Would Jackson Pollock sell so well if he weren't a suicidal, unfaithful, self-destroyer?  Writers, the same -- the worse, the better.

I didn't get hooked into that.  I don't drink, smoke, gamble, overspend, chew gum or dance.  I eat too much and I have too many cats and I don't dress well, which is what convinces people I'm disreputable.  I'm full of The Big Ideas.  So it seemed like seminary would be a natural place.  That's where I saw the real coverups and pretences.  Until I went out in a circuit-riding van to be more martyred and virtuous than anyone else -- mostly based on self-deprivation, which I thought of as asceticism.

When I came home that time, it was to a Portland full of crime and drugs, but I wasn't out on the street anymore except to and from work on the bus.  That was enough: a drug king was pushed up at gunpoint by a cop just outside the window by my seat.  It took a minute to realize that a bullet would travel through that wall, so I should move.  I had been hypnotized by the three carat diamond stud earring in the drug boss's ear.  Then there was the young man on drugs who slept in the bus stop shelter until his lungs hemorrhaged, creating a twenty foot pool of blood on the sidewalk. It was days before the contracted bus shelter maintainers cleaned it up.  The shelter itself was architect-designed, a beautiful glass and bronze structure.  I saw that the celebration of a wonderful pocket garden in the ghetto had a dark side: the bushes made a perfect place for rape, just like Central Park.

By this time, I had a Lisa computer and impressed my mother by sending an internet message to my high school's principal, a black woman, and receiving an answer from her by return email.  I figured out how to contact a professor in Dillon who maintained a circle of Montana people, and started to send him an email, but ended up crying so much that I couldn't.


It was 1993.  It will take whole blog posts to explore the rest.  Reframing -- this is a "book."

Sunday, April 21, 2019

RESURRECTING THE STORY

This YouTube.com is the earliest and many say best version of the original "Jesus Christ, Super Star."  There are no images -- just sound -- and it lasts an hour and a half.  It might be pretty good background music if you are baking or dying eggs.  



No words today.

_______

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTct5PkNE2A

Sorry --  this version is better.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

HARROWING OF HELL

Christianity in its Medieval form, like Notre Dame and the other cathedrals built about that time, is a colorful mix of daily human experience and vivid imagery imagined according to doctrine.  I'd forgotten about the story for Holy Saturday until Stuart Somerville on Twitter posted a vivid rendition of naked people emerging from the gaping mouth of Hades, the entrance to Hell.  Jesus is there to extend a hand to all who went to hell through no fault of their own --including Adam.  This is a depiction of what is presumed to have happened on the Saturday between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  


Of course it is about what any compassionate and thoughtful Son would do.  Maybe you have a child with awakening moral sense who is asking (a lot of people have) "But if only people who know about and believe in Jesus can have eternal life, what about the people who lived before him, even LONG before him?"  I asked my snobbish old Presbyterian minister my question:  "What about people on other planets?  Do they get their own version of Jesus or do they get a Martian who is the Son of God?"  The minister walked off, looking grim.

This story is remembered by a website called "Churchpop" (great name!) which is Catholic, that tradition so big and baggy that it's possible to find all sorts of niches in it.  The thread of forgiveness is also in the idea of limbo and in Universalism, which became a whole denomination based on the forgiveness of God through Jesus.  These folk stories are sometimes ridiculous and sometimes fun.  The Islamic tradition has one about the birth of Jesus.  Mary is struggling with labor and Jesus speaks to her even as he is being born, saying, "Don't worry!  I'm a Son of God and He'll take care of us!"

The folk theology of the Medieval times was perfect for enacting by traveling troupes who used their wagons for stages in villages across Europe and Britain.  You might remember them from Ingmar Bergman's film, "The Seventh Seal", which mixes historical accounts with personal struggles and totally convincing images of Death playing chess with the Knight who struggles for our salvation in the abstract, while his squire more practically slips narcotics to a teenaged girl about to be burned alive as a witch.  I've always loved the final depiction of the ordinary/holy family which is the secret core of Christianity.  Deny the family trinity and the theology takes off into wild forays into particle physics or something.  The family survives culture variations.

The title of this particular folk/family story is "The Harrowing of Hell," and it's an agricultural image since that was what most people did in those days.  A harrow is a drawn-along piece of machinery with terrible sharp tines that rake the earth.  A harrowing experience is one of pain, sorting, and destruction, and should leave the victim with a new understanding of life.  In drama the human thirst for violence, sex, suffering and final redemption is given a kind of virtual reality.

This website is a nice discussion of the genre before theatre became some other kind of interpretation, maybe Shakespeare or Bergman.
https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/medieval-drama-and-the-mystery-plays  Even now "television" provides many examples of folk drama that address suffering and retribution.  The difference is that today in our stories we tend to celebrate violence and criminality.  Hell has a swinging door.


But then, Christianity has lost its punch for many of us.  The family is no longer fertility-based, occupations are no longer agricultural, and God is dead.  Some will say this is a proper harrowing of religion.  Others will say it's a "Saturday story," neither here nor there.

Friday, April 19, 2019

ENDARKENMENT

In Portland, OR, on every Good Friday in the Seventies the downtown big church ministers sponsored an "Endarkenment" service to prepare for Easter dawn.  One of the church sanctuaries had no windows, so as the story of crucifixion was acted out -- with Jesus speaking through a PA system -- the lights were turned off, one after the other.  When we were sitting in total darkness, we pondered in silence for long minutes before the lights came on and we went about our business.

The UU ministers were always a little nervous about the strand of religious dogma exploring "endarkenment," a word meant to counter "enlightenment" which is often used religiously to mean seeing the final truth.  Others use the trope of light/seeing/understanding to mark science as a higher form of understanding.  The science-honoring ministers joked about endarkenment, esp. the ones who suffered from it in their private lives, not knowing what to do about things like their own family wars.  Sometimes endarkenment is used to refer to the "dark arts" like witchcraft, magic, sorcery.  The Dark Web carried the meaning to secrecy, even the illegal.

Science as it stands does not replace the benign anthropomorphic old white king-on-a-throne with any idea as reassuring.  But if honest believers in "God" are real, they admit that the Old Testament's jealous punisher is more than a little bit Satanic.  

Someone recently said, when the news about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire was relieved by billionaires pledging enormous sums of money, "It makes one believe there is a God after all."  Someone less sentimental suggested that if there were a God who valued cathedrals, "he" would not have let the fire start.  Divine intervention has yet to be proven.  Others cried out, "So that's where all the money for the poor and suffering has been!  Billionaire's pockets!"

We want to reform, be reborn.  But it's difficult to envision what the future might be when it's not like us and we're not in it.  This vid linked below is a version of the vision according to one rather dark branch of scientific speculation.  It is not about salvation or humans.  But it is about participation by each of us in an abstract and strange way, too overwhelmingly dark to understand.


Before Jesus, a body of expectation was based on the idea of "The Christ" in a world of oppression by the mighty.  It pictured the Christ as a savior coming down out of the sky at the head of a legion of angel warriors who would end the Roman hegemony.  A lot of people still appreciate that idea.  But when Jesus, the humble kid in what appears to be a nightgown, finally showed up on foot with only twelve disciples, some insisted he was nevertheless the Christ.  His weapons were love and generosity: he didn't live by the prevailing rules.  He had more of an Asian idea, as in Buddhism, and some suggest that Jesus had followed the Silk Roads out to India where he learned these ideas.  They still haven't prevailed, but we are hopeful.


Others have made a home in the dark, accepting secrecy and anonymity as a way of finding peaceful safety, avoiding the glitter, the dazzle, the wealth.  Hopefully also escaping the Stigma Cross that crucifies those who aren't part of the wealth-pursuing world that makes the cross into crosshairs marking violence compelling obedience to some new oppression.  The key idea is that we are flesh, as was Jesus, but our ideas are invincible.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

THE NINTH GENERATION

In the years between 1492 and 1776, populations grew and crossed over in many ways, most commonly in liasons between European men and indigenous women.  Few mechanisms for recording them existed yet, except as the Catholic church kept records and devout individuals listed their family in their Bibles.  Thomas Conselor (1784-1853) who died as the Old Northwest of southern Michigan was filling up, dividing into thrifty farms along the streams.  

Because genealogists have ferreted out the records of wills, censuses, land assignments and sales, for nine generations -- begat by begat -- we know that Elisha Counselor (which might be spelled Counsellers or Councilors or a dozen other variations) had moved his branch of the family to Michigan.  Mitsawokett is a website that has accumulated and organized as much information as they could about that community and have named the individuals in each generation until the present.  Eventually, a descendant of Thomas Counselor married a descendent of Cyrus McCormick in Michigan, but as marriages and children continued, some in the present have lost both patristic names.  Perhaps some genes persisted.  If the causes of schizophrenia are genomic, this is not a happy possibility.

The Michigan Conselors are descended from Elisha, who could be a son of Benjamin, one of the first to be born in America.  Genealogists are like bird-watchers, obsessed with detail, exerting many efforts, keeping lists and theories,  always provisional, and not really affecting anything.  By the ninth generation the Conselors had met the industrial revolution.  The hard-working farmers were expanding their incomes and know-how by working in the Detroit and Lansing automobile factories capitalizing on Post-WWII hunger for cars, meeting the remnants of the war effort.  One of the ninth generation cleared a field to make a runway and bought a small airplane.  Inevitably, when he had the resources, he moved to California, rather than the New Northwest of Oregon and Washington.   In the nine generations the line of progenitors had reached from one coast to the other.  They had a provenance proving descent. 

The story goes that the first, or at least a very early Conselor was a French pirate. Besides being part of the Lenape complex of indigenous people, at least part of the family was more properly Metis.  Others say that the first Conselor was Spanish.  Mitsewokett was under "Indian control" when that first single man -- however one spells the name and whether or not he was a pirate -- first settled there.  He married an "Indian".  The next generation all married "Indians."  What lures the researchers on through successions is the usual assortment of scandals, murders, small fortunes, and occasional flares of genius and madness, not counting a small number of religious leaders.  But that small tendril of the family line didn't release their hold on the small farm along the pleasant stream until very recently, abiding through the generations.

My Twitter feed includes many tribal people from the North and West in Canada.  At this moment at least a few of them are very intense about blood quantum and their status with the Canadian government as well as the Provinces, which have much more control than States.  International corporations, of course, dominate nations.  In spite of the RCMP's story, things get lawless when distances are immense, and powerful international corporations will do almost anything to prevent interference with their hunger for resources.   Values that are present in the laws are deeply based on British assumptions.  For centuries the whole West half of Canada, though called "Rupert's Land," was essentially the fiefdom of the Hudson's Bay Company which had a mercantile goal.

The identities of the indigenous people on the entire continent were heavily influenced by concepts convenient to slavery, which carried over to the native people as though there were some definitive and universal law about the nature of genetics separating everyone into races.  The idea of culture as also being a trajectory that controls both identity and law was  near-religious in the sense of being a matter of faith in something untrue, rejecting challenge.

Species are separated (until recently) as a matter of definition, meaning inability to cross-breed.  All humans as races can easily (sometimes a little too easily) mix with other races.  This is evident but denied by the cultures.  It is also the key to evolutionary fitness as the environment varies from pleasant to challenging, often unexpectedly.  Only some can cope.

The identities of individuals are created by the pushing of the genome against the resistance and forming of the environment.  Often hard times are the origin of hard people, or at least those resourceful enough to find new ways to live.  It's not a matter of magic, neither things nor stories and songs.  But we rejoice in these familiar things.  Wanting to keep them alive is a near sacred trust.  Even pirates have their uses.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

ALONG A PLEASANT STREAM IN MICHIGAN

In the mid 19th century, the general population's fancy was caught by what was called the Old Northwest in Southern Michigan.  My paternal grandmother's family was part of that.  Beulah Swan Finney Strachan.  I'm told Swan is a common Metis name. 


My grandmother as a teenager

In a country largely based on agriculture, the land was valuably fertile because of the many streams that ran through the hardwood forests.  In those early days the homeland still belonged to the Odawa Indians.  In 1833 a well-connected man named Samuel Dexter, Jr. arrived from the East with associates and the tribe sold their crops to them, then moved to the Flat River.  In 1850 they were relocated to Oceana County to be part of the larger Ojibwa domain there.

The white people thought of themselves as the only race present, but my grandmother spoke of walking with her mother from one farm to another on a woods trail and meeting a small group of indigenous men.  They were respectful and moved to the side.  One was heard to say, "Woman heap brave."  That story is probably apocryphal to some degree.  But "Indians" soon learned to be invisible and to find quiet corners that were safe.

The rich soil was contributed by rivers overflowing their banks.  Remnant feral "Indian" corn persisted years afterwards and plowing turned up pink quartz artifacts.  Game thrived but most people only kept domestic livestock for their own use.  The stability and prosperity of the area supported education and real achievement in the next generation.

"The Treaty of Detroit was a treaty between the United States and the Ottawa, Chippewa, Wyandot and Potawatomi Native American nations. The treaty was signed at Detroit, Michigan on November 17, 1807, with William Hull, governor of the Michigan Territory and superintendent of Indian affairs, the sole representative of the U.S." (Wikipedia)

The most prominent tribal leader through these times was  Cobmoosa (1768 -1866) AKA Weebmossa.  It means "Great Walker".  He seems to have been Metis, the son of Antoine Campau and the usual "Indian princess." (But there were half-a-dozen additional wives.)  Cobmoosa said of his half-French father, he "espoused the cause of liberty with the Americans and remained firm to the end."  Cobmoosa was considered "majestic and eloquent."  For a while he ran a trading post and then later a grocery store, much respected, and died at age 98.  After his death a fancy Victorian declamation called "Cobmoosa's Lament " was published in the Grand Rapids Eagle in 1854.  It is the familiar sad and sentimental essay, written by Alden Jewell.  I know nothing about descendants.  The citizens named a town for him (Cobmoosa, MI) and erected a modest monument.

Returning to the man who displaced Cobmoosa's original camp, remember Dexter?  Descended from him was a totally different kind of person.  Among Dexter's descendants was Katherine Dexter McCormick, an MIT graduate with a BS in biology, the second female graduate.  She married a son of Cyrus McCormick, who had invented the McCormick reaper.  The son was not so famous but because of his father he was wealthy.  It turned out to be Katherine Dexter McCormick who became justifiably famous.  She was a distinguished researcher in biochemistry and schizophrenia. She had no children, which may have been deliberate or merely fortunate, since her husband and his sister were diagnosed and hospitalized schizophrenics.  Maybe this is why she almost single-handedly paid for the development of the contraceptive pill and pushed for the 19th amendment that allowed women to vote.  She co-founded the League of Women Voters.  In a society that puts a woman in the hands of her husband, no matter his circumstances, these are vital safeguards.

Dr. McCormick had no descendants but remained close to the collateral family.  As she grew older, she lived in California near the clinic where her husband and his sister were patients.   But back in Michigan she bought Dexter Hall where Samuel Dexter had lived.  The house was believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad.  "Millisent Dexter employed a string of Black servants, all of whom were recent arrivals and none of whom stayed long."  The house had many secret rooms in the basement.  The house went through several owners, including the University of Michigan and then the Methodists.

Though such things as mental illness and liberal politics don't always persist through generations of descendants, sometimes they do.  Besides biological inheritance, there is a kind of cultural heritage.  When combined with the hard work and caution of a local prosperous farming people, culture can become a powerful force.  Ag people are impressed by the name McCormick because of the combination reaper/hauler he invented, but he was only Dr. Katharine McCormick's father-in-law.  Those who really "know" are more impressed by Katherine Dexter McCormick herself whose work almost caused a cultural runaway in the Sixties and Seventies.  Her financing of the Pill and her work to liberate women, combined with her biochemical knowledge in general and pressing interest in schizophrenia, would have put her in the middle of things.  She didn't die until 1967.

So -- a lady doctor and an "Indian Chief" are legitimate examples of American rootstock and achievement.  They don't overlap in time, but they occupied the same rich soil along the pleasant leafy streams of Michigan when it was the Old Northwest.