Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Movie Night at the Church

I am eleven years old as we walk into the church.  It’s strange to be here at night.  The walls, which are bare, look even more so without daylight to brighten them.  A few people greet my mother and they are a buzz with excitement.  I see a large movie screen has been setup near the pulpit.  I ask Mom what movie we’re going to see.  “It’s about the End Times.  This is important because these things are going to happen in your lifetime.”  

We take our seats and the lights go out as the screen comes alive.  A grey-bearded man is telling a story about a mustard seed.  He’s a holy man and he made this movie to tell people what will happen to them after Jesus returns for the Rapture.  I know the Rapture means when Jesus will call everyone he loves to heaven.  When I was three, I learned to sing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”

The movie starts and there are people that Jesus didn’t take with him.  They seem like nice people, and I’m wondering why Jesus didn’t take them.  They’re all very sad.  One of them is an old man wearing a powder blue suit.  I am shocked when he explains that he is a pastor.  He says that for many years he preached about being saved but he never truly believed in his heart, and that’s why he’s still here.  I’m worried that maybe I only think I believe, like the pastor, and that maybe I don’t truly believe in my heart.  

The AntiChrist has created his kingdom on the earth, and his police are attacking the nice people.  They tell the nice people that if they don’t accept the Mark of the Beast that they will have their heads cut off.  The speakers set up near the screen blast so loudly that I jump and the screen cuts to a guillotine covered in blood.  

I am rushing to the bathroom because I feel sick in my stomach.  I must have caught another stomach sickness, like that time we went on vacation and I threw up for two days, but when I reach the bathroom I start to feel a little better.  After a few minutes, a man enters and asks me if I’m ok.  I tell him that I think I’m going to throw up and he says it’s not fun to be sick and leaves.

My stomach doesn’t want to be sick after all so I walk back to my seat and my mother asks if I’m ok.  I tell her that I must be sick again.  

In the movie, Jesus is making plagues that hurt the bad people, and they all have huge blisters on their faces.  One of the nice people explains that if they accept the Mark of the Beast they will burn in hell forever where the pain is so great that you grind your teeth in agony.  But if they don’t take the Mark, they will get their heads cut off.  The only way they can come to Jesus now is to allow the AntiChrist to cut off their heads.  Another loud blast and another image of the blood-covered guillotine.  Jesus won’t help these people.  He wants the guillotine to kill them, so he must hate them too.  My sickness returns and I cover my mouth hoping that I won’t throw up.  

The sea turns to blood and the sun goes away and there are earthquakes and fires and many more people die before the movie ends.  After the lights come on, my mother’s friend walks over, just as excited as before, “Wasn’t that a blessing?  Praise Jesus!”

Several months later, my father is watching a television commercial advertising a movie about nuclear war called “The Day After.”  He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “You can stay up past your bedtime to watch this movie.  What it talks about is important, and it may happen in your lifetime.”

If you want to watch any of the fun films described in this post, you can find some of them here.    

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Psychic Surgery Dreaming

I’m lying in my bed without any covers on.  The shades are drawn and in the dim light I notice there are people I don’t know casually standing in the room, some looking at me.  I’m not afraid or even concerned about them, but I am a little nervous about something.  There’s something wrong with me, and I turn to the right to see a familiar face.  There’s a doctor here, though you wouldn’t know that by his comfy couch-potato attire.  He’s got a kindly face, and looks vaguely like Walter Matthau.  He’s operated on me once before, though I don’t remember for what, and I’m perfectly comfortable with him, relieved in fact.  Whatever ills me is bad and I’ve got a reasonable amount of trust that he can fix me.  

I’m thinking about this as I get up and go to the bathroom.  I figure I’d better do that before the procedure.  As I return to the bed and lie down, Amanda appears holding a roll of burgundy cloth that’s about four inches wide.  She ties one end to the bed post by her pillow and then works the ribbon of cloth around the two posts at the end of the bed.  There’s worry on her face, but not panic.  I figure that she’s also comforted by the fact that the doctor has returned to treat me.  

I turn my head to look at the doctor and realize he’s chatting with my father.  My mother is nearby, and she and Dad look at ease.  The doc radiates calm and an easy charm.  He notices that Amanda has finished and steps over to me and I pull up my tee shirt so that he can have a look.  He’s examining the lower right of my rib cage, and I hear him mumbling to himself.  I hear the word “tumor.”  I turn to my Dad and ask if we were able to provide the doctor with the tools he’ll need, especially the scalpel.  Dad says no, we didn’t have a scalpel, and I feel embarrassed and ashamed, as if a houseguest discovered that we were out of toothpaste.  I say that I feel terribly that he’ll have to use a steak knife, and I look for Amanda to ask her if she knows where an Exacto knife might be.  The doctor softly tells me not to worry, and my worries immediately ebb.  I realize that this surgery is somehow different, and that it doesn’t really matter what he uses.  

The good doctor reaches for a large syringe containing a rusty red and slightly textured fluid, and he explains that it’s a general anesthetic.  He sticks me and I feel nothing at all, then rests the syringe against my forearm, and in couple of seconds later it lazily rolls off, but the needle bends like a piece of electrical wire and he gently rests it on my arm again.  I feel the drug work quickly as my body becomes very relaxed and I close my eyes.

And I open them again and I’m awake and in my real bed with a sense of well-being that lasts all day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

An Organized Religion for People Like Me

Amanda and I finally got our butts into church. Some of you will say, “Why?” and others About time.” I’ll take the former first. During our time studying cultural anthropology we learned a few things, one of which was the profound feeling of isolation that being raised without any religious tradition can create (we heard about these feelings firsthand from a fellow student back in Christine Eber’s undergraduate anthro class), and we decided that we didn’t want our children having those issues.

As for asking “What took you so long?” I can say that we’d made some valiant attempts in the past, including trying to become members of South Church in Portsmouth a few years back. Also, it didn’t make sense to take Hazel until now as she wasn’t old enough to understand.

Amanda and I had good experiences with Unitarian Universalism in the past, and a few weeks ago she discovered that there was a UU church in Nottingham, so we decided to give it a try. At the annual town meeting I heard its minister, Pastor Pat, give an invocation, and the following day we packed up the kids.

I was raised a Southern Baptist, and I was “saved” when I was a young teenager and later walked away from the hate and hypocrisy that I found in Born Again Evangelicalism in my late teen years. I searched for a few years more, investigating Quakerism, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, and a few others.

I soon decided that no organized religion exactly agreed with my values. There’s usually some statement that parishioners recite together in every flavor of religious service, and in each of those there tends to be some ideas that you believe, and several more you really don’t. The Nicean Creed, for instance, while not nearly as strident as most evangelical statements I’ve heard, still includes a bunch of literalistic bits that I would mumble over. Jesus didn’t simply return from death, he “rose on the third day according to the scriptures.” The Trinity is enforced through the recitation of belief “...in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life-giver, that proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshipped together and glorified together....” And then there are those pillars of faith that you don’t object to but that appear irrelevant, such as the acknowledgement of “one baptism for the remission of sins.” Why only one? And who really cares? If somebody has more than one, will God really be pissed? Is that like taking an extra seat on the bus?”

Here’s the statement the parishioners at the Nottingham Community Universalist Church recite:

Love is the doctrine of this church.
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall
grow into harmony with the Divine —

Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.

To love, to quest for truth, to serve and dwell in peace, seeking knowledge in freedom. I realized with amazement that I believed every word, and that there was a small group in my little town that feel the same.