A Variety of Religious Experience

This happened in Scotland on August 30, 1978. My best friend had met a Scottish girl while working as a volunteer at a Presbyterian retreat center in Crieff (in the central highlands). He invited me to be best man. It was an honor and a great reason to travel overseas.

On the morning of the wedding, before any activities had started, the staff of the retreat center saw me standing around in the lobby, doing not-a-lot. They invited me to their Wednesday morning staff meeting, at which communion would be served. (Michael and his bride were absent.) I had no plans at the moment, and they were nice folks, so I went in with them in the name of international amity.

About ten folks were gathered in a small room. We sat in a circle. After a little talk about administrative matters, the center’s director, a minister, took out the bread and wine. I had seen worshipers lining up for communion, so being in a circle disoriented me.

He spoke, the blood of Christ, shed for you, and passed the chalice to the woman on his left, offering her the wine. She spoke the verse to the same for the man on her left and proffered the wine. The elements went around the circle counter-clockwise. Meanwhile, the minister took the bread, said the body of Christ, broken for you, took a piece off the loaf and gave to the same woman.

As the wine and the bread approached me, I increasingly felt the presence of what I can only describe as immense, silent, relentless energy. I have never stood next to a dynamo running at full power, but this is how I think it would have felt. It was not a vision, I didn’t see Jesus, but I cannot account for this event as anything but a visitation.

I entered this experience as one who intellectually acknowledged the existence of God but lacked any conception of Christ. I spoke the words of institution and partook of the elements, conforming to practice, but when I had done so and the power-feeling faded, I knew beyond any doubt that He had died on the cross for my sake.

And risen too.

Save for one brief moment, I have never distrusted my experience. Over the years I have doubted my brothers and sisters and the church many times, and refrained from formal worship for a long time, but this certainty has never left me and animates me to this day.

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Simple Minds Appreciated

I posted this several weeks ago on the Simple Minds International Facebook group. It’s pretty “inside” but I present it on the infinitesimal chance that an SM fan is reading…

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, to express my appreciation for the fine band we all love, and to the group for its humor and spirit.

This American first encountered Simple Minds when a friend of mine gave me his LP of Sparkle in the Rain. Said it was too noisy for his taste. Well, that only attracted me. I was hooked when I heard Catwalk and went to heaven when I heard Waterfront. It went into my rotation of great albums, along with my U2 collection (peace, folks). I bought New Gold Dream and soaked in its grandeur.

I had no idea of SM’s earlier work (didn’t even know they were Scottish). I was excited to see them on Live Aid with the la-la song… Once Upon a Time knocked me over too (peace, folks). I snatched up City of Light but found it overproduced. Sad to say I did not buy Street Fighting Years—what can I say?–it didn’t seem like an SM title and I didn’t like the cover…

That’s the last I heard from them. I had no idea they were still making records. Thirty-five years later, older and more tired, I was on YouTube and looked up the la-la song for old times’ sake. Somehow I found my way to Blindfolded.

I felt young again! Here was the same power and spirit that drew me to SM in the first place. I explored the remainder of Big Music and fell back in love with Jim’s voice and Charlie’s riffs.

Since then I have explored at least part of every one of their works and found musical pleasure at every turn. Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call in particular have made their mark on me.

I awaited Walk Between Worlds like everyone here. It’s not my favorite, but it has some amazingly strong work for a 40-year-old group. Anyway, they are my heart group now, still alive and kicking long after U-know-who has become routine.

Thank you all so much for reading this novella. I’m off to listen to 20th Century Promised Land.

Discourse Dishonored

My parents didn’t fight fair. They loved each other, but their marriage suffered because they didn’t know how to resolve conflict.

I inherited their literacy and intellectualism and read at an early age. Even then, I had an affinity for ideas. As my literacy progressed, I appreciated the flow of ideas, the give and take of words between diverse personalities.

When mom and dad clashed, I felt the usual trauma of a child in that situation. Their life was not like book life, where characters engaged in dialogue and listened to each other.

I distanced myself by evaluating their differences intellectually. I looked for the origins of their disagreements. Without knowing the rules of debate, I tried to judge the merits of the argument.

Of course, I could not. I had yet to learn that personal conflict has an emotional dimension, often driven by an accumulation of resentments. I developed an aversion to histrionics that lasts to this day.

As I matured, I watched the televised presidential debates. The opponents pulled no punches, but at the end of ninety minutes they shook hands, and meant it. I watched William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. I disagreed with him most of the time, but I could discern an intellectually honest engagement with a well-thought set of core values.

Into the Eighties, the two parties fought hard but treated each other with respect. A Tip O’Neill and a Ronald Reagan could actually communicate with each other and work out a compromise.

Fast forward to today’s politics. Our political landscape is rife with anger, self-seeking, and wilful misunderstanding. Our president behaves like a child when he is contradicted, emulated by a small percentage of the opposition. Their antics allow Trumpists to demonize those who dissent from the president on principle.

What passes for discourse has become a pissing match.

I despise this. I resent the desecration of principled debate. This has been going on for decades, exacerbated by reality television, social media, pseudo-intellectualism, and the decline of critical thinking among the electorate.

Most of my Facebook friends lean left. I didn’t plan it, but people of like minds have a way of finding each other. Postings from interest groups such as Occupy Democrats find their way onto my feed. When such ideologues go over the line, I source-block them.

I disagree with the President and his actions on many levels, but when the more rabid of his opponents violate the principles of reasoned debate, I dismiss them. Many of them are younger than me, but they’re acting just like, well, my parents.

 

Edited and revised from previous version, July 2, 2018

Oak City Essays

 

This blog is a reboot of an earlier one that I played with in 2013. The impetus for this new start began first as a series of letters to a higher power that morphed into a series of observations and complaints about online dating. As my thinking calmed down with the aid of a good counselor, I realized I had begun a daily habit of writing.

At the same time, I began writing lengthy Facebook replies to political controversies, sometimes addressed to a conservative friend. It dawned on me that Facebook is a terrible venue for long-form writing, for reasons that will become evident if you ever go beyond, say, 50 words. I wanted a cleaner format and a less diffuse audience.

Hence, Oak City Essays. A few of those misplaced essays appear here, with more to come. I’m tickled to explore new ideas, proposals, contradictions, appreciations, and fulminations. Thank you for being a reader.