Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 24: Don't Like Christians, Arthur Rimbaud, "People in Church"

I have a confession:  sometimes, I don't like Christians very much.

There are people who walk around, claim to be devout Christians, go to church every Sunday, and make a great show of praying.  That's not enough.  Those things aren't the test of a real Christian.  A real Christian does things that make the world a better place.  If a person is hurting, a real Christian stops and listens to that person, hugs her, offers something more than prayer (although prayer is important--don't get me wrong).

Don't tell me you're a Christian if you haven't done something nice for another human being this week.  Don't tell me you're a Christian if you saw somebody begging on a street corner and walked right by, eyes down.  Don't tell me you're a Christian if you're in favor of people not having decent healthcare.  You're not a Christian then.  I think Jesus called people like that a "brood of vipers."

If this post makes you angry, maybe you need to go and volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Saint Marty isn't a perfect Christian, but at least he tries, dammit.

People in Church

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

Penned between oaken pews,
in corners of the church which their breath stinkingly warms,
all their eyes on the chancel dripping with gold,
and the choir with its twenty pairs of jaws bawling pious hymns;

Sniffing the odour of wax if it were the odour of bread,
happy, ad humbled like beaten dogs,
the Poor offer up to God, the Lord and Master,
their ridiculous stubborn oremuses.

For the women it is very pleasant to wear the benches smooth;
after the six black days on which God has made them suffer.
They nurse, swaddled in strange-looking shawls,
creatures like children who weep as if they would die.

Their unwashed breasts hanging out, these eaters of soup,
with a prayer in their eyes, but never praying,
watch a group of hoydens wickedly
showing off with hats all out of shape.

Outside is the cold, and hunger - and a man on the booze.
All right. There's another hour to go; afterwards, nameless ills! -
Meanwhile all around an assortment of old
dewlapped women whimpers, snuffles, and whispers:

These are distracted persons and the epileptics from whom,
yesterday, you turned away at street crossings;
there too are the blind who are led by a dog into courtyards,
poring their noses into old-fashioned missals. -

And all of them, dribbling a stupid groveling faith,
recite their unending complaint to Jesus who is dreaming up there,
yellow from the livid stained glass window,
far above thin rascals and wicked potbellies,
far from the smell of meat and mouldy fabric,
and the exhausted somber farce of repulsive gestures -
and as the prayer flowers in choice expressions,
and the mysteries take on more emphatic tones, from the aisles,
where the sun is dying, trite folds of silk and green smiles,
the ladies of the better quarters of the town - oh Jesus! -
the sufferers from complaints of the liver,
make their long yellow fingers kiss the holy water in the stoups.

June 24: That's Life, Keys to the Front Door, Dragonfly

There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too.  They couldn't imagine what time looked like to him.  Billy had given up on explaining that.  The guide outside had to explain as best he could.  

The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear.  They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them.  But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off.  There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of a pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor.  He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe.  The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar.  All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe.  He didn't know he was on a flatcar, didn't even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.

The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped--went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways.  Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, "That's life."

That's a fairly frightening description of the human understanding of time.  Limited.  Narrow.  Choked.  But Vonnegut's point is pretty clear:  we don't see the big picture here on Earth.  The future is a distant mountain.  The past falls behind the tracks of the flatcar without notice.  We just stare up at our little pinpoint of sky, oblivious.

That's a fairly pessimistic description of the human race, I have to say.  But, at this moment in the United States, it seems pretty apt.  Myopic doesn't even come close to describing the situation.  I grew up believing that one of my main jobs as a traveler on this little rock of a planet was to leave it in a little better shape than when I arrived.  Sort of like borrowing someone's house for the weekend.  When you leave, you make the beds, do the laundry, clean the bathroom, and maybe buy a gallon of milk for the fridge and a bouquet of roses for the kitchen table.  You leave a note of thanks.  That's what good guests do.

That's what we all are.  Guests.  We don't own this place.  God simply gave us the keys to the front door and told us to make ourselves at home.  When I look at my kids, I want them to have a better life than I had.  I want them to know that it's their responsibility to take care of our little corner of the world, for the kids that come after them.  I don't want them going through life strapped to a flatcar, staring at a tiny speck of sky through six feet of pipe.  I want them to see the mountains and canyons.

For the most part, I think my son and daughter get that.  The other day, I took my son to a playground.  He was playing with another little boy, and that little boy caught a dragonfly by the wings.  My son had a meltdown, yelling, "Let it go!  Dragonflies are GOOD!  They're GOOD for the planet!"  Eventually, the little boy relented and let it go.

Saint Marty is thankful today for a son who cares about dragonflies.

Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23: In Defense of Poor People, Arthur Rimbaud, "The Poor Man Dreams"

Well, I want to say something in defense of poor people tonight.

Poor people deserve the right to be happy and healthy.  Those two commodities should not be reserved for people with money and power.  If I'm sick, I should receive care.  If I'm hungry, I should be fed.  If I'm naked, I should be clothed.  If I'm grieving, I should be comforted.  Sound familiar?

Saint Marty is just giving you some beattitude tonight.

The Poor Man Dreams

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

Perhaps an Evening awaits me
when I shall drink in peace in some old Town,
and die the happier: since I am patient!
If my pain submits, if I ever have any gold,
shall I choose the North or the Country of Vines? …
- Oh! It is shameful to dream - since it is pure loss!
And if I become once more the old traveler,
never can the green inn be open to me again.

June 23: Sex on Earth, Labels, Leaving Things in Better Shape

There were five sexes on Tralfamadore, each of them performing a step necessary in the creation of a new individual.  They looked identical to Billy--because their sex differences were all in the fourth dimension.

One of the biggest moral bombshells handed to Billy by the Tralfamadorians, incidentally had to do with sex on Earth.  They said their flying-saucer crews had identified no fewer than seven sexes on Earth, each essential to reproduction.  Again:  Billy couldn't possibly imagine what five of those seven sexes had to do with the making of a baby, since they were sexually active only in the fourth dimension.

The Tralfamadorians tried to give Billy clues that would help him imagine sex in the invisible dimension.  They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals.  There could be babies without female homosexuals.  There couldn't be babies without women over sixty-five years old.  There could be babies without men over sixty-five.  There couldn't be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth.  And so on.

It was gibberish to Billy.

Vonnegut really was ahead of his time with this discussion of sexes on Earth.  Back in the 1960s, he was talking about homosexuality, and not in any pejorative way.  Homosexuality is necessary for survival in the universe of Slaughterhouse.  Sex and sexuality are very fluid things.  That's a pretty amazing thing for Vonnegut to say.

In our country where the rights of all people who aren't white, male, heterosexual, Christian, and healthy are under attack by white, heterosexual, Christian, healthy men, perhaps every person in Congress needs to pick up a copy of Slaughterhouse Five to read.  Or maybe everyone in Congress needs to spend some time in a Tralfamadorian zoo.

I am not going to write about the Senate's version of Trumpcare in this post.  Not climbing up on a soapbox tonight.  I simply want to say that it really doesn't matter whether a person is gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, black, white, or blue.  Defining someone by any kind of label is dangerous.  I am more than a man or Christian or heterosexual or father or husband or poet or blogger.  I am a fellow traveler on this third rock from the Sun, trying to leave things in better shape than I found them when I arrived.

Every person is important.  I think that's Vonnegut's point in this little passage.  Everyone has something to contribute from the day that they're born to the day they die.  So it goes.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the chance to make the world a better place.