Wednesday, February 24, 2010

nights at the new paltz trailways

cold, crisp days like this remind me of the days when I wanted to be jewish. I was attending suny-new paltz and took the bus to and from kingston where barbara and I lived. in the morning I took the small bus operated by the old fellow bob, who got you there for a dollar and a half, and in the evenings I took the trailways that dropped me off at the broadway end of elmendorf.

I remember the evening rides best, or waiting for the bus in the evenings. I generally caught the 645 and the sun would already be down and the cold closing in. I don't remember what I was studying--it may have been philosophy--but I had a long, thick beard and hair down past my scapula. I wore a bowler hat and thick winter coat that reached my knees and affected an accent sometimes. I imagined, standing there in the cold busroom, a single room with a single bulb in the center of the ceiling and a pinball machine that never worked and a pistachio dispenser that was always refilled (they were always green but tasted so good), that I was a hasid studying my torah (when what I was actually reading, holding it close to my face and licking my thumb before turning the page, was probably science fiction). I had to walk around because the room had no heat and the few seats were already taken up by mothers and broods of children, and that was as it should be. sometimes it was warmer and friendlier to wait outside.

it's hard to imagine, perhaps, but I loved those evenings. I felt a real part of some life outside the normality barbara and I tried to project, that of a couple who had middle class aspirations. I felt like I was searching for something bigger than that, not necessarily god--had I really been a hasid it would have been god--but a context and community that looked at life differently and more deeply than most people did. I was certain there was a frontier out in the cold somewhere I could enter, if I only could decipher the directions.

Monday, February 15, 2010

new wells, old water

in her essay "to speak of god from more than one place: theological reflections from the experience of migration," nancy bedford writes of the locus theologicus ("the place where god is manifested in a special way") and peoples' conceptions of god metaphorically as water from a well. "certainly we need to drink from our own wells...but what happens when those wells are left we carry bottled water with us--or will the water become stale? do we drink virtual water using communication we get inebriated on water from our wells when we are able to visit our places of origin? can we dig new wells, and are they somehow less hydrating by virtue of the water quality abroad?...where or how can we situate ourselves to speak meaningfully of god?"

bedford is writing specifically about the experiences of migrants in a physical sense, but I'm thinking of migration too in a theological or philosophical sense--if we experience the world differently than we used to and that changes our view of god and religion and spirit, do we need to reconcile that with how we used to see the world? for instance, as an atheist do I need to meld my current view of theology with my upbringing as a seventh day adventist?

the short answer, I think, is I can't help but do so. even if we deny or react violently against our old beliefs we're reconciling the two in some way. I don't react against my conservative deist background, I see people and the world in a different way than I did then, and I like to think I understand the fright some conservative deists feel when confronted with a world or an experience that doesn't conform with the way they've been accustomed to seeing life. on the other hand, I am not that person any longer except in ways that I can't help changing--when I listen to brother r.g. stair or chuck swindoll, even at their most angry and denouncitory, I see the faces of people I loved, and even my parents (who share some of the same convictions, even if they don't talk about them as often).

unitarian universalists are often guilty of defining ourselves negatively, by what we don't believe rather than by our convictions. even as someone who watches out for such faults, I find myself contrasting statements I hear or come up against by saying, inwardly, "I don't accept that," rather than, say, "I accept this." I don't think that's unusual for anyone who has moved from one form of belief to another. I think that, like it or not, we often carry around those bottles of stale water we collected a long time ago, and in the course of digging those new wells from which to drink, it would be best if we poured the remaining liquid into them, letting the waters merge.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

cold comfort

I will admit it: I hate the rim this time of year. the cold that licks my legs and delves into the soft parts between my bones. the ice and sleet that rime my eyes. the dark that threatens never to lift. the harsh wind with nothing between its start in alberta and where it ends in louisiana except me. the stink of damp wool and the tug of heavy, wet clothing. my tendency to eat and drink and sleep too much and not to get outside often enough. I'm not from here, I just live here, and it's my considered opinion central midwesterners should face facts: people were not meant to live in this part of the country this time of year. we should return to our nomadic roots and abandon the states north of missouri come late october for southern digs and return in april to watch the daffodils come up.

but for all that I'll also admit there are things this time of year I love like no other. the sight of my dogs rollicking in the snow. the smell of coffee brewing at 5 o'clock and the exhilerating taste of it in the cold car and the warmth of the mug in my hands. driving the back roads slowly and listening to old country music. the sundogs and moondogs that might tinkle like glass shards if I was close enough to hear, and the northern lights that are like things alive. the hiss of fat snowflakes when they hit the ground. the tang of cherry and cedar and pine smoke. the absolute stillness in the house in the middle of a blizzard, knowing I don't have to go anywhere or do anything except sit here.

these are things that make life on the rim bearable for me. while the big things--the cold, the wind, the dark--depress me I'm comforted by the little things--dogs, coffee, music. there's wisdom in the old saying about facing one big spider rather than a thousand little ones. we can often outmaneuver the big things while the thousand little ones would overwhelm us. I know which I'd prefer facing me and which I want arrayed on my side.

Monday, February 1, 2010

air force pagans, druids and wiccans have a place to worship

this is a good thing. too often there seems to be a disconnect in folks' minds between the ability of people to worship as they want and the opportunity to participate in a physical way that makes a difference to them. in prisons, at least out here on the rim, there's a big move toward granting american indians access to sweat lodges for ceremonies, and here in wisconsin there was a big issue a couple years ago when one of the state's prison chaplains turned out to be a pagan. but as with the victory won a few years ago by the families of pagans as well as military pagan groups to have their religion denoted both on their dogtags and on their military graves, this is hard fought and worthwhile. too often, we only think of the abrahamics--judaism, christianity, islam--as the sole religions worth taking into account. but there are so many more faiths of which most of us aren't aware, and one of the unacknowledged benefits or curses of globalism is that our religions as well as our economies become less provincial. (there is nothing saying, of course, that the christians could not also benefit from this worship space, given some recent research.)