Turtle Funeral - Reverence/Mystery
Sunday School Jesus.
I did it all backwards. While Christians were on the east coast suddenly realizing it was all right to love each other, and not hate Muslims. A few of them anyway. I was out west hanging out with cowboys, suddenly getting it.
I never understood the conservative approach to life. Not the way Christians I knew lived it. The spirit was misaligned with the spirit of Christ, at least in the way that I had embodied it. Had I gotten it completely wrong? Was I the one who was going straight to hell? All I knew was that if I was, it wasn't because my heart was insincere. That has always been the indicator for me. It's never been the result of a preacher telling me that
I was living Christianity backwards all along, at least the American culture of Christianity. I had no choice. My heart was not responding to the videos of the American flag waving and appealing to the congregation's nationalism to support the Iraq war. My heart revolted when I walked into any church with abortion posters hanging in the entraceway or inside the women's bathroom stalls with pictures of dead fetuses asking me not to kill them. My heart broke when the man next to me asked for people to join him in a prayer to get rid of all those ragheads in town before they kill more people.
It nauseated me. Yet, on another level, I understood. I understood where they were coming from, and I understoord I didn't belong here. Not now. Not ever. These were not my Christians and they never would be.
Every now and then I'd end up in a conversation with a Christian who saw from this worldview, and I'd ask how they concluded that these positions were the ones that Jesus would take. More often than not, I was dismissed as a Sunday School Christian, the kind that understands God through the eyes of Sunday School Jesus.
I've spent the last decade rethinking that. It has gone through many revolutions of thought, and the answer is always the same. I believe in Sunday School Jesus. That's the Jesus I know, that's the Jesus who met me wherever I went, and that's the Jesus who I follow today.
There was never anything wrong with Sunday School Jesus. As a matter of fact, he was the only thing that made sense. His words made sense, even if confusing at times.
But I didn't make sense of jesus through Christians. That's not what brought me all the way back to following Jesus. It was all the other things I learned about other people, other beliefs, and how we think, act, and behave along the way.
I did it backwards. My childhood was spent in the melting pot of the inner city of New York. My childhood was also spent in Norway. Then at age 35, I spent twenty years living in the middle of America - in the Rocky Mountain west among cowboys and indians learning another very distinct worldview that became logical to my way of thinking within the framework of that culture. To be a conservative and republican in that culture had some logic behind it, but not for the reasons most of us think. Their politics and worldview didn't look like the same political point of view in urban areas. The issues were based in an entirely different belief system than those on the east and west coasts of highly populated, urban areas. The spirit was completely different.
Until Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
These men, with some help from the liberal pundits, successfully destroyed the spirit of a nation of conservatives, turning them into mean spirited, cruel, bigoted, arrogant ideologs. This is what caused the fall of conservative Christianity. It was so obvious from its beginnings that there was nowhere to go but down, even when ratings soared. It was clearly an accident waiting to happen. I didn't understand how they didsn't see it coming, or if they had any understanding of how much damage they were doing. It was sad.
It was not different from the hostility one sees in a certain part of the Atheist movement, or those mentioned earlier in the environmental activism movement who were more like environmental warriors than healers. Anytime a movement crosses the line to hostile, violent, and vengeful, the end is in sight.
This kind of hate and anger is self destructive, and will almost always implode in on itself, usually sooner rather than later. It does not inspire people, or win them over. It makes them uncomfortable, and often, fearful. It's a red flag, even if people don't know why it is.
Becoming a full fledged member of a culture that was deeply grounded in the conservative worldview made me curious. Not only from a religious perspective, but also from a political one. The most striking characteristic of this culture was the raw strength, pride, and kindness that people demonstrated among themselves. They were tough. Their work was hard and dangerous. Their dedication was awe-inspiring. It's not that they were heroes, not by any stretch. It's often easy to romanticize cowboys and their culture - usually because it's unfamiliar and seductive when it's juxtaposed against a life of concrete, skyscraper offices, asphalt, and suburbia. Open range, endless sky, a horse instead of a car, the natural world, and your own business which includes owning land is composed of many of the things dreams are made of. But the reality is nothing like the imagery. Well, some of it is exactly like the imagery, but getting there is another story all together.
It is grueling. Expensive. Stressful. Difficult. Risky. Dangerous.
It's not for the average man. Or woman.
Claude Dallas Story....interview the 45 Ranch people.
The Mormon influence is strong out west, and their culture was built on the ideals that came from their own struggle to practice their religion freely and live independently.
One year I lived on a ranch as a caretaker for the winter and offered to help in some of the little houses around the property. The owners had recently purchased the place. I peeled wall paper and cleaned out stairwells, washed floors, painted, etc. The longer I was there alone working, the more I could sense the history of this place. I didn't know much about it's past, but I could almost hear children playing all around. I imagined the women who lived in these houses and it suddenly occured to me what had happened here.
The Mormons are often criticized for the practices of polygamy that were customary before 1940000?. Being on this ranch and getting a real sense of what it was like out here all alone at almost 7,000 feet allowed me to experience the compassion, kindness, friendship, and community that was needed to sustain oneself through the viciously cruel winters and fast growing season, where probably everyone was needed to pull a plow, work a field, harvest and work cattle or whatever livestock they raised.
As these pioneers, who traveled across the country in covered wagons with little protection from the forces of nature, hostile Indian tribes, and other settlers, arrived as far west as Idaho, Utah, and Oregon, they had little left. Men had died on the trail, and over time more men died. There were not enough men to care for the women - and as men were lost, other men took the widows in to care for them. The women shared the work on the ranch and the child rearing. These were not the Polygamist families of reality shows today, this was much harder, much more challenging and life threatening.
It became clearer and clearer to me that the women needed each other. I could almost imagine a woman thanking God for sending another woman to them. Women often need community, and raising a family alone with not a neighbor for miles is a difficult and lonely life. They needed someone to raise the food that fed the family, to can and preserve it, to care for children, to cook for the family, to take care of the livestock. There was a lot to be done. I could almost imagine a women being grateful she didn't have to provide sex every night too....but of course, this is difficult for all of us to imagine today - when it is real. I certainly can't assume what that was like, good or bad. It only seems like it would be bad in my imagination, but I, too, am shaped by my own cultural and religious influences that tell me it is undesirable. Not to mention my own tendency toward jealousy.
The need for freedom in that environment was critical to their own collective self worth. The Mormons had been persecuted and ridiculed for their beliefs, and they wanted to demonstrate their civility and goodness to others by the way they lived. It was a long road, but a presidential nominee is a good indication they've come a long way.
Mormons taught me a lot over the years. They exemplified Christ in my life over and over again. It wasn't all they did for those around them although they did. It was the sincerity and kindness with which they did it. There were many exceptions, of course, because they too are human.
Their community and culture was something hard to criticize even if it differed from traditional Christian communities. More traditional Christian communities cite that the Mormons guidelines for community meet criteria as a cult, because they don't stick only to religion but also recommend life habits such as dietary guidelines such as not drinking caffeine, survival recommendations such as how much food to store and preserve, and other guidelines for child rearing and other life acitvities.
When one considers that they lived isolated from others, and sustained themselves as communities, it's not surprising that they developed various ways of helping one another how to live. The reasons for many of these guidelines are tied to their religion, however. Most of the guidelines came through the prophecies of Joseph Smith.