A BACK PEW BAPODIST

I wish I had never become logical…mostly logical…wishing I were logical.

When I became logical, I began to question.  I miss those days as a child when I took things at face value…especially as I move from my autumn years into the cold reality of winter.  But, I mean, at my age, I should cover all my bases, right?

“Is this what old people do?”  Do old people begin to question their beliefs?  Or do old people discount any questions as an assault on their beliefs?  I don’t know what old people do; I’ve never been old before.  “With age comes wisdom” might be the worst lie ever told.

I am habit driven and as soon as I complete my morning ablutions, I step out into the dawning morning and try to complete my absolutions or metaphorical self-flagellation.  Equal parts prayer and meditation, I try to find the moon or Sirius to focus on.  I can usually tell what kind of day I’m going to have if I can focus at all. 

I give thanks for my many blessings, ask for forgiveness of my many sins, “past and future, real and imagined.” Finally, I discuss those things that bother me so or as Buffett might sing in “He Went to Paris”, “Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.”  I’m not going to Paris unless it is Paris, Texas and so far, my discussion is quite one sided, my questions unanswered which is quite bothersome.

My issue, problem, concern is the lack of answers forthcoming for old questions which simply create more questions de jour.  The silence is deafening.  Except for night birds, tree frogs, and a raccoon rustling in the periwinkle, I hear quiet, a hush, a stillness.  It is tranquil but tranquility is not my goal.  Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions and now I’m hearing the buzzing of mosquitoes.

I grew up in the church…a conservative, Welch’s Grape Juice and Saltines at Communion, Methodist Church.  Little Donnie in his Sunday best, shoes polished, Bible in hand, sitting in the pew designated as “Oh, don’t sit there, that’s the Miller’s pew.”

I joined the church when I was a pre-teen, I still have the Bible they presented me, a Revised Standard, my name etched in gold leaf. I even thought I might become a man of the cloth…although it was more what my mother wanted.  Sorry Mom, I know I disappointed you more than once. 

Left home the fall of my eighteenth year for a conservative Lutheran school of higher learning in the late Sixties and married a Southern Baptist woman…a couple of Baptist women.    Went through the public dunking to join the Baptist Church before sending off an email to become a Dudeist thirty years later…now a Dudeist priest I might add. “Mom, you got your wish!” Some might say I have retreated from the “light.” I say I’ve become a “recovering” Baptist. Is there a twelve-step program that includes giving up your casserole dish?

There are some Christian sects (cults?) (denominations?) that would not use Methodist or Lutheran and Conservative in the same breath.  I counter, in my little church, there was a gracious plenty of hellfire and brimstone preachin’ and long, long alter calls until someone finally stood up and made their way to the front of the church. Are preachers paid according to the number of people who answer an alter call?

Give me that old time religion” singin’, Bible thumpin’, Amen shoutin’, and summer revivals kind of church.  Pretty much I found myself inside my church’s four walls three or four times a week.  That’s a lot for a Methodist. Singing in the choir, progressing from going to vacation Bible school to teaching vacation Bible school, to teaching Sunday school. Dear God, at what point did I fall off of the straight and narrow and onto the primrose path. Another story for another time.

A side trip. I find it interesting as early as 1873, when “Give Me That Old Time Religion” became a standard in Protestant hymnals, people seemed to be dissatisfied and were singing and wishing for “that old time religion.”  Some modern day Christians still sing it but I am unsure what “old time” they are embracing. Many around my little piece of heaven seem to be combining their old time religion with “Old times they are not forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land.”

Today’s question de jour, I have a problem with the “Wrath of God”.  I’ll take it one step further, the “Genocide of God”.  I’m not a fan of the Old Testament unless it is Proverbs or Psalms.  I don’t understand how a somewhat more “loving” God of the New Testament could be so harsh, angry, and vengeful to completely annihilate entire city-states in the Old. That’s one of those questions “that bothers me so.” It seems “He’s not the same God” is not the answer but that statement has its own set of questions.

In Deuteronomy 20:16–18, Moses gives these instructions: “As for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.”  Men, women, children, and animals.  At times, it seems the Old Testament God, Yahweh, didn’t care about proselyting, opting instead for mass carnage of non-believers and I see too many embracing this mind set around the world. “Resistance is futile. Assimilate or die.”

When I was young, I was awed by the triumphant Israelites as they dispatched their enemies. I think I associated them with the triumphant Allies over evil in World War Two. Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, and Sampson became Eisenhower, MacArthur, Nimitz, Halsey, and Patton. What I didn’t associate was the annihilations of entire city-states.

Trumpeting the fall of Jericho, banners flying.  Glory be to God, all in the name of God. Afterwards, Ai, then the people of Makkedah and Libnah and Lachish and Eglon and Debir—every man, woman, and child slaughtered and dedicated to God. In the end, the entire populations of thirty-one city-states were destroyed…and their animals. Shades of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki but their destruction maybe more in line with Sodom and Gomorrah as “hellfire rained down from the heavens.” More questions?

I see too much of the Old Testament anger and vengeance in some of today’s so called religious folks.  Not just Christian folk. I still consider myself a Christian, just a lost one. There are very outspoken groups that spew hatred toward those who believe differently on the one hand and lament the loss of membership on the other.  I wonder if those two outcomes are related.  I guess what I consider hatred, they consider obedience to their God. That is not my cup of communion grape juice.

Too much of the world’s violence is created by religious beliefs, I think, sometimes doing more harm than good. Look no further than the Middle East. Too many wars fought with a religious component of my God is better than your god.  Too many songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I’m not attacking Christianity. Well, may be I am but I’m sure other religions have similar tunes to rally them to their religion’s ideology and I am attacking them too.  I worry most for those who attach their religious leanings to their political and military leanings. At least in Christianity you can walk away without losing your head.

Worse, I have a hard time dealing with a New Testament God that would allow The Holocaust, mass shootings, the rape of Nanking, abortion, plagues, poverty, and hunger galore. I see no Divine hand at work, just the evil in the heart of man.

I’m not a theologian and not likely to be but I can’t buy it as a just God’s plan. I can’t relate to “that” God. Maybe the old Deist were correct. God set the Universe in motion like a clock and walked away. I’m sure he is shaking his head, wondering what went wrong…or maybe the joke is on us.

My next question, “Did I just sign my lease for a flat in hell for questioning God?”

Note: Dudeism is a religion/philosophy based on Taoism that preaches non-preachiness and practices as little as possible. It is the result of the movie, The Big Lebowski. It is not related to Deism which believes in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. Maybe they are related.

Mellow out, man

Don Miller writes on many subjects, good, bad, fiction, non-fiction. Rants, raves, etc. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR31n_M2GoO3Us0peAwKvRMb001kyhZbwgGbY5MnU5wTKq_hy19h6qdbtiY

Yelling God image from Canva.

Psychedelic Baseball under Tangerine Skies…

 

A tangerine sky had been painted above an old textile baseball field.  Above the bleachers and avocado green grandstand, a child’s hand-drawn clouds chased each other around a hippie-inspired sun of brilliant yellows and oranges.  Old Sol featured a smiling, female face with almond shaped, green-blue eyes.

A stiff breeze blew out to right field but clouds seemed to move in any direction they wished.  The US flag, in vivid colors I didn’t recognize, and pennants in mauve, purple and gold, snapped and popped as the wind swirled.  A pink, blue and green, paisley print flamingo soared above the thermals, riding the wind…high, higher, highest.

Wooden bleachers built when Methuselah was a child, were weathered to a gray patina, the boards rough, warped and twisted.  The roof of the old grandstand was rotted with jagged holes allowing bright sunshine to leak through, highlighting men in white dress shirts, sleeves rolled up above their elbows, their fedoras pushed back on their heads.  I saw them in black, white and gray, as if from an old newsreel.

The one women I saw was surrounded by pastel colors from a Monet painting as she strolled on boardwalks that shouldn’t have been in a ballpark.  Twirling her parasol, she strolled by in a long-sleeved and high necked dress.  The hem of the ethereal gown, lacy in pinkish beige, swept the old boards of the esplanade.

Her gaze was distant and pensive under hair piled high and restrained by a straw boater. The flat brimmed hat was pushed forward at a jaunty angle to accommodate her dark brown tresses but her stare was anything but gleeful.

Watching from my vantage point in my head I wondered how she could sit wearing such a large bustle and how she could stand the corset that made her waist so small.

The field was of dark green, perfectly maintained grass…grass marred with red clay and sand baselines and infield cutout.  Sharp white lines were arrow straight and ran toward the infinity of the outfield foul posts.  Sack bases gleamed in the technicolor sunshine as a ground crew finished the field with earth movers and bulldozers.

It wasn’t an LSD trip, just a dream…a dream that featured a heavenly figure dressed in Yankee pinstripes and a Satan in tie-dye.  God was a midget who looked like Yogi Berra, Satan could be no one else other than Billy Martin.  Martin glared at me from behind dark sunglasses his cigarette smoke twisting and turning, rising into the tangerine sky.  He held up a martini glass in an empty salute…as empty as the glass itself.

I was playing right field…I think it was me.  I looked like Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball and I openly wondered why Babe Ruth or Roger Maris wasn’t available.  Yogi said Maris was on a mountain top contemplating the asterisk after the number sixty-one in the “Good Book”.  Ruth was holding court in street clothes, smoking a cigar while drinking a beer and eating a hotdog.  A high school chum was there too but he looked more like Thurmond Munson than the friend I remembered from fifty years ago.

I don’t normally dream so vividly.  I blame it on a sinus infection, the drugs that treat it and the left-over quesadillas my wife brought me after her luncheon with a friend.  There is something about cilantro that sometimes fuels my more psychedelic dreams.  Cheaper and less dangerous than peyote or hallucinogenic mushrooms, not that I really know.

I had died in my dream, the casualty of a falling treetop and found myself in a heaven of my own creation.  No blazing white mansions or streets of gold.  No old, bearded white men in long gowns, No call to a warm and embracing light. Just a perfectly laid out baseball field and hot dogs to die for, an all-star team of dead Yankees playing an all-star team of devil’s minions.  Both teams cheered on by men in a black and white newsreel and a woman in pastels.  The call was to the Big Leagues not into the light.

It seemed I had awakened from one dream into another, my death from being shish kebabed by a treetop to a heavenly baseball game.  Speaking in cliches, Yogi told me the game was being played for all the marbles, good versus evil, winner takes all.   As I jogged to right field he growled, “Don’t forget!  It gets late early out there.”

Though I desperately tried to stay asleep, my dream ended before the game was decided.  With the game tied and a runner on second in the ninth, Ty Cobb stepped to the plate, or a devil’s imp appearing to be Ty Cobb.  Depending on whose history you read, in real life, he might have been the devil incarnate.  Razor sharp cleats glinted in the tangerine light as he taped the dirt off them with his bat.  Watching him step into the batter’s box,  I awoke as a puppy dog pawed me, blind eyes saying “Open the door, I need to potty.”

I don’t normally remember dreams but this one was just too vivid, just too real…just too troubling  This one I want to remember despite the fear I felt in the pit of my stomach.  It’s too good of a subject for a short story and I can end it any way I wish.

I need to remember it today because my plans were to cut down the dead tree that killed the dream me.  I think I will let Mother Nature do her part and cut it up after it falls.

The image I used is TANGERINE SKY by Fran Slade.  It may be purchased at https://artpublish.glopal.com

Books by Don Miller may be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM