Sunday, April 20, 2008
Baby Ain't We A Beautiful Disaster?
I awake from a long, deep sleep On a leaky little boat on a wide blue sea I spy no island, rock or shore And the sea, she's a-comin' to me through a hole in the floor And the tide come in and the tide go out And the waves they come toss my little boat about And the sky turn black and the sky turn blue I got no pail, no sail, no anchor, too Just a leaky little boat --RCPM, "Leaky Little Boat" I wasn't sure how to start this one. Nothing really worked and the closest thing I came to was still pretty, "Meh." Then, through that thing we might call providence, serendipity, or sheer, blind luck, I found someone who could offer a way to start it. I had the pleasure of seeing a Choctaw storyteller named Tim Tingle on this very Sunday night. As I myself have started down the storytelling road, I'm fortunate to have seen Antonio Sacre, Jim Mays, Syd Lieberman, Pat Ryan, Jon Spellman, Meghan Wells, and several other great storytellers live as well as by sheer, dumb, luck accidentally walking in to a Storytellers Guild meeting and joining the same guild as Linda Gorham, Sue Black, and the Double Deckers. In about a year and a half I've gotten a pretty good idea of what good storytelling is. And Tim Tingle is an amazing storyteller. He told the story of Indian Joe, one of the most famous patrons of Alcatraz, through the memories of a man named Cecil, who just so happened to have been a literal partner in crime when Indian Joe took that first step down a star-crossed path. It was a life I would not ask for myself, nor would I wish upon anyone else. At the end, Tingle finished with a thought from Cecil, who said, and I paraphrase, you go to the Wal-Mart on Saturday morning and look at all the people. See the ones with stooped shoulders and the ones with chests puffed out with pride. Look at the ones who don't have enough money and the ones with too much. And you try not to judge them. I was already planning on using "Leaky Little Boat" right here, exactly the same way I'm using it now. But in my car on the way home I just had to listen to it. Tears came to my eyes and my heart leapt to my throat because I'd just heard Roger Clyne's point told better than I could ever hope. It was a moment of synergy, convergence, serendipity. And as I wake I look around I have no notion where I'm bound So many different colored boats I see Are all leaky, lonely, and driftin' Just like me --RCPM, "Leaky Little Boat" I'm sure we all know someone who does nothing but complain about their lot in life or just calls to tell about all the wonderful things they did (most of which aren't even interesting, especially for those who weren't there in the first place) and tends to ask how we're doing as a formality. I'll bet you can think of someone. And if you can't, here's an experiment. Call everyone you know. See if they pick up the phone. If no one does, you might be that person. Some people are the center of the universe, at least as far as they can tell. I think we all have a tendency to find ourselves at the center of the universe from time to time, so I try not to judge. But I have had a friend or two who's calls eventually ended up finding my voicemail because I was tired of listening to them talk about themselves. We all realize from time to time that we're on leaky little boats, battered by the uncaring sea. It takes a little more attention and empathy to realize that everyone else is dealing with the same problems. It's hard, I think, because on some level we all want to be the center of the universe. We walk through life, trapped within the boundaries of our skin, constantly telling a life's narrative to ourselves and desperate for others to realize just how great that story is. Hell, it's what I'm doing right now. We don't want to admit that we're all in sad shape, however. We want to have all the answers or find someone who does. So we look out of our leaky little boats to try to find those whose boats seem to have bigger holes in the bottom and laugh at them or those who are riding a little higher on the waves and try to figure out what they're doing. We judge anyone we can see and further separate ourselves from them. It's why I enjoy the theories of Martin Buber. Buber was a philosopher at the dawn of the postmodern movement whose greatest work, I and Thou, can basically be broken down to a simple thought. As soon as we drop the barriers and truly join with another, we find that which is divine. The rest of the book is an attempt to explain how to get there and why we spend so little time in that divine place. It's too bad that Buber couldn't have been around to hear Roger Clyne end "Leaky Little Boat." Alone, adrift, together are we Slowly sinkin' in a deep blue sea But we smile and we wave And we say, "I'm afraid...and I love you...and here we go..." --RCPM, "Leaky Little Boat" I have hopes. I have fears. I succeed on some days, fail on others. I'm not special. There is nothing about me that is special, nothing that is extraordinary. Yet I want to be special. I want to be extraordinary. I think that tug is the root of the reason why we look upon each other with judgment and scorn. I have to think you're bad in order to think of myself as good. Trapped inside my skin, cut off from the I and Thou, there is no other way to become divine. There's a fundamental truth that hit me like a freight train as I wrote that last paragraph, a way of looking at the universe I'd never seen before. I wish I could explain it, but the words I come up with are insufficient. Still, I think it's something that gets to the root of the I and Thou better than any way I'd ever understood before. The greatest heights and lowest depths the human race is capable of reside in each and every one of us. We're not special simply because we're all capable of great good or terrible evil. We walk through our lives leaving destruction and beauty in our wakes, often unaware, sometimes confusing the two. If I want others to think I'm special I cannot do it with a megaphone because I can't do anything that is truly special. The best way, perhaps the only way, to be special is to hold up a mirror. By showing that which is special within others, we raise ourselves with them. That cuts both ways. By judging others, we diminish ourselves. Destitution... Persecution... Execution Retribution Revolution! Restitution!! Absolution!!! Evolution!!!! Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, We never run out of hope when we love one another! When they raise the price of bread When they lower the wage Together we hold our key inside of their cage! RCPM, "Leave an Open Door" I had a jarring conversation last weekend (which I'm sure Fiat Lex is tired of hearing about). I ran in to someone I've known from church since junior high. It connected in with the comment Fiat Lex made about demonizing a part of the self and back in to this in a way that I kept trying to articulate to myself but couldn't quite get to work. Still, I've been working around it and finally know what I've been trying to tell myself. The conversation involved someone neither one of us know, an actor who has recently claimed Christianity. I mentioned said actor just because I was talking about a particular movie. I immediately got an earful about how much of a Christian this actor isn't, no matter what he says. I tried to change the subject, but to no avail, and ended up leaving disturbed and pissed off. That conversation reminded me of so many I've been involved in that didn't disturb me nearly enough at the time centered around people who were and weren't Christian enough. Religion allows us to pretend that we're not on leaky little boats. Or, if we are, we're about to get on to a big, seaworthy boat and leave all those other chumps behind. It's a shield that keeps us from the reality that we don't have all the answers, aren't the end-all-be-all of the universe. At its best, religion reminds us that we really aren't the greatest. I can respect the humble practitioner of a belief who honestly seeks to make the world a better place and honestly believes in a divinity who cares and is above our petty squabbling. I've just seen very few genuine examples of Kierkegaard's Knights of Faith and a whole lot of pretend warriors clad in cardboard armor and armed with a look of scorn for their fellow humans. I got to a point where I realized that my religion was keeping me from loving people. I saw a god who was tiny, petty, and cruel. I was forced to realize that the god I was told exemplified love actually seemed to love people a hell of a lot less than I did. The reason that conversation last weekend bugged me was because that church friend unknowingly held up a mirror to the me who I was and it was an ugly picture. The reason the conversation has been eating at me is because my response was a mirror, too. I offered nothing but scorn in my mind while doing nothing to help a friend see his own wretched condition. Driving home tonight with "Leaky Little Boat" and Tim Tingle's story fresh in my mind I realized something. I've been afraid for the last year or so. I haven't been willing to tell anyone outside of a small circle that I'm no longer a Christian. But that means I've been seething at the crap that the Christians I still see spout out. And I've sat in silent judgment the entire time, unwilling to look in the mirror. Maybe it won't get me anything but misguided attempts at reconversion. But maybe it will make someone stop, look around, and see that we're all in the same sea with the same problems. Maybe we'll sit down and, when all is said and done, both be better people.