"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Thursday, July 15, 2004
rep-re-sent Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French representer, from Latin repraesentare, from re- + praesentare to present
1 : to bring clearly before the mind : PRESENT
2 : to serve as a sign or symbol of
3 : what our actions do to our labels
It was twenty years ago, and I can still see him, hanging out of his driver's side window wearing his Sunday best, his wife holding the wheel, hollering obscenities at me while careening down the highway at fifty five miles an hour.
There was a bumper sticker on the back. It read "In the event of Rapture, this car will be unmanned." Apparently several of his teeth had taken the trip well in advance, as there were great gaps in his dental work as he flung invective after invective at me.
Well, to be honest, I think I did cut him off when I merged onto the highway. If so, it wasn't on purpose. I mouthed the word "Sorry" but I don't think he could read my lips.
After about a mile or so, he spat out one last curse and tumbled back into his car, which rocked back and forth for a bit from the impact, then chugged on down the road to church. That was obviously where they were headed, because his wife had her hair all done up in one of those two foot beehive styles like Marge Simpson and was wearing her best horn rimmed glasses, the ones that come with the little diamonds in the corner. I couldn't see the diamonds but you could just tell. And my bet was that you could probably have smelled the Old Spice aroma flooding from the car at the red light.
I never found out, I pulled over into a parking lot for a moment to forestall the possibility.
This happened in Greenville, South Carolina, which along with being the home of several good sized corporations and some very good colleges, was the home of many thousand textile workers. There seems to be something about that income level, where you are not completely destitute yet you did not get to where you wanted to get to, and it can make people accept things that are a bit....Weird.
Or at least that is the train of thought passing through my mind as I go to the church I am going to, a church that had been recommended to me. I figured I would give it a shot.
The first thing that struck me was the complete absence of anyone who was capable of traveling over two miles an hour. As the pews were tightly spaced, that made for a stately, slow procession as each person went through the great ordeal of plodding to their personal pew and laboriously lugging themselves to their assigned seats where they had sat since, well, since whenever.
These people were old. Real old. I'm not talking sixty, I'm talking maybe a hundred twenty, hundred thirty or so. Every single one of them, save for a couple of intrepid college students that I didn't know.
We sang three dirges no one knew accompanied by an electric funeral organ, did a session of responsive mumbling, sang the doxology (good participation here, everyone knew the song) and took an offering where I dropped in more than I wanted to, embarrassed because I was apparently the only one in the place without an offering envelope with my name pre-printed on it. They announced that so and so was sick, so and so had died, none of which seemed to surprise anyone. Then someone trudged to the front and read a couple of Bible passages in King James English, and you could tell by the expressions on the faces of the congregation that they approved. Heartily.
After all the excitement, the sermon.
The topic started with the passages, and quickly wandered. You could make out most of it, and the topic fluttered where and there and eventually landed on how people that went out to clubs on Saturday night then came to church on Sunday morning were going to hell.
Yes, he actually said that.
And I'm looking around, and I am thinking, 'these people are not in danger.'
I shook the pastor's hand gently when I left so as not to damage anything, and never returned.
Across town to the west (if I have my directions right), different things were happening. I never saw it personally, but I saw video footage of it.
That is where you could find the Holiness Church of God in Jesus Name, a church like no other church in the area. You see, they were unique not only because their services tended to be on the longish side, like their church name, but because of what they did in those services.
The Holiness Church of God in Jesus Name was a snake handling church.
No dirges for these people! They would belt out old gospel tunes with a modicum of melody and a plethora of volume, punctuated by the frequent "Glooo-reee!" and "Prrraaaiise God!" As the service progressed, lots of people would get up and dance to the music as if in a drunken stupor, both young and old. The fervor would be whipped higher and higher, with men shouting and jumping around and women screaming and falling flat out onto the floor, and eventually someone would produce a rough handmade wooden box and a mason jar with a hand scrawled label on it and a clear liquid inside.
The wooden box would be opened, and inside would be several angry rattle snakes. At the peak of ecstasy, a worshiper would reach in and grab one, waving it about in faith that it would not bite them.
Usually it didn't. Although sometimes it does.
Then the mason jar would be opened. It contained strychnine, a strong poison. Worshipers would take the jar and have a few swallows out of it, again, in faith that they could drink poison and survive.
Like I said, I never actually attended this church. But it was there and I saw the video of it.
Now, in these three instances, I have to ask, is my God being represented properly? Each of the three, the man leaning from the window of his car hollering curses, the judgmental church willing to send all socialites to hell, and the snake handlers tempting God in the name of their faith, are claiming membership in God's kingdom, and claiming to represent Him.
If I happened to be a person who didn't know God, what conclusions would I draw?
If we claim membership in God's army, if we claim to be His son or daughter, we are on stage 100% of the time. That does not mean we have to be perfect, but it does mean we have to be seeking his face, loving others, and not hogging His spotlight. Sometimes that's a lot harder than picking up some rattlesnake.
Reflections. That is what we should be.
We are, after all, His ambassadors.
There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton (1862 - 1937), Vesalius in Zante