Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pop and sacraments

Religion and rock and roll were both ruined for me by the same thing: I started really listening to the words. I would not go back to my old ways. But it makes me a conspicuous element in a front pew at a Christmas Eve service.

I have no quarrel with many of the general principles espoused by the followers of God, but church has become more than just a boring interlude before we get gooey breakfast pastries on our way home to enjoy the rest of the day. And I don't mean that in a sappy TV movie way. "More" in this case means "more mind-bendingly encumbered with wacky beliefs about supernatural beings and human sacrifices," and "more disturbingly filled with group chants and rituals."

Add to this my aversion to singing in public and you get one stressed unbeliever on public display among a bunch of happy Christians.

I do mean Christian in the best sense. If I was going to be one, I would be one with them. The sermon was about welcoming strangers. I am the habitual stranger. I do not assimilate.

I hope my Episcopalian friends who are the cellist's friends and fellow musicians will forget anything they might have seen that betrayed my lack of Christmas spirit. They kindly placed me by the choir with whom the cellist sang as a guest, little realizing the position in which it placed me with my conscience and my lack of vocal range and control.

I'm a back-row churchgoer who accidentally ended up stuck in prime real estate last night. I like what they do. I'm glad they do it. I just don't need to do it with them. I prayed that someone deserving would come up and ask me with puppy-dog eyes if I would kindly give up my front-row seat to their ailing mother or something so I could slither back to my natural habitat looking at the backs of a bunch of heads. I might even be able to slip out the side door into the comforting raw fog that made the darkness that much darker.  But no, of course it didn't happen. Would it have made me believe in miracles? I had to sit there looking suitably reverent while the words ran in my head as if I was saying them but I could not open my lips to affirm a belief I do not hold. If judge there be, I hope I get a few points for honesty before a foot to the forehead starts me down the sliding board to eternal fire. But I will no doubt get a few demerits for being a poor guest and not joining in with the culture with wholehearted verve just to help them keep the party at full festivity. Really, what IS wrong with me?

Strange as it may seem, I was happy to be there for the reasons I was there: the cellist is loved and respected by this warm group who also surround and connect with her father. The mortal remains of her mother and brother rest on the church grounds. As much as I wanted it to be over, I would not have wanted it not to happen. And I did not want to just send her out on the foggy night alone to do her thing and then come back.

Suddenly I understand just wanting to shut up and play a drum. It can mean whatever you want it to mean while keeping a nice beat for the other celebrants. Too bad that wasn't an option. Music Director James Fitzpatrick asked me if I wanted to sing and I couldn't decline fast enough. If he'd offered extraneous percussion I would have joined immediately. Well, maybe not tambourine.

Every believer picks and chooses scripture and interpretation. At what point should you cease to call yourself by a familiar denominational designation and honestly examine your spirituality without the cocoon of an institution? You can find your social capital in any number of affiliations. And some of us really are reclusive. That may not make us defective. We'll simply never join a group to represent our rights and beliefs. Talk about an invisible minority. We'll just be known as "that weirdo in the front row who didn't say any of the prayers or sing any of the hymns and carols," or other descriptions psychological or anatomical. As long as you feel freaked out by us as individuals rather than a monolithic bloc we can't ask for much more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We're all in this together -- except for you

As the economy lurches further into an unacknowledged recession, desperate people are starting to consider superstitious solutions like human sacrifice. If someone is known to be different and occasionally a little too blunt, they become a valid candidate for human sacrifice to appease whatever evil entity stalks the country right now, keeping good, virtuous small business people from prospering.

My employers have started picking fights with their employees, finding reasons that employee inadequacy is diminishing an already minuscule bottom line.  My weird sense of humor and my poor bedside manner are driving customers away. The rest of the blame lies with President Barack Obama.

According to my employers, Wolfeboro, a town owned and operated by staunch Republicans, is in the financial swamp because a Democrat in the White House has ruined the economy. Forget the fact that he's cleaning up after a Republican and inheriting a pile of debris that started with increased political activism by big corporations in the 1970s and got a huge push off the cliff from the policies of Ronald Reagan. More correctly the decline and fall was set in motion by the forces behind Reagan and behind the conservative movement ever since, with increasing virulence.

The fundamentals of our economic prosperity have not been sound since -- since maybe forever. All the famous fortunes of the Gilded Age were based on environmental rape and exploitation of labor. Every boom time has been followed by a bust as the principles that underlay it were revealed to be weak. Every attempt to design something with stronger -- if shorter -- legs has been met with abuse, derision and outright hostility since the 1960s when a large enough segment of the population started to notice that something really ought to be done. Unfortunately, a lot of people awoke to portions of a realization at that time, creating a confusing babble of competing priorities.

We still suffer from a Congress with many members who want to direct blame at the president and his party more than they want to see the situation improve. The worse things stay, the more simple minds will insist that the problem lies with one man. Or they will condemn politicians in general, which may have some merit, but who else are we going to sucker into taking those jobs? Do YOU want to go to Congress and listen to all the bitching, whining and accusations while you try to balance your responsibility to the average voter and your obligation to huge corporate donors? For that matter, do you like the nickel-and-diming emails from political candidates and their PACs as they try to get financial support from the general population instead of corporations and the super wealthy? If I gave $3 to $12 every time they asked for it I would have given a few thousand dollars by now. If I HAD that money it would indicate that the system wasn't so badly broken that I needed to GIVE that money to someone to fix it.

My coworker and I get the feeling that our employers are trying to get us angry enough to quit so they can stop writing our checks and won't be legally obligated to pay us unemployment compensation. How this will help them if business does pick up I have no idea. I haven't looked at the bankruptcy laws yet to see if it helps them in the event that they go under completely. And frankly I believe they're just desperately blurting out whatever pops into their heads because they're terrified of the chasm yawning before us.

Forget the Fiscal Cliff. We've been on a crumbling precipice for years because we sell unpopular items like bicycles and cross-country skis. Drivers want us off the roads. Mountain biking depends on trail access. Cross-country skiing needs lots of natural snow and expensive grooming on plenty of land either in public hands or generously opened by private owners. On public land, other user groups who trample grooming lay claim to the trails to walk their dogs, go snowshoeing or even operate snow machines and ATVs. Just about everyone would be happier if we went away. We've tried to sell the benefits of our healthy, active lifestyle to no avail. People would rather drive through congested streets and pay for parking at a place where they can exercise in a building before driving somewhere else for the next event in their busy schedule -- if they want to exercise at all. They would rather walk on a so-called multi-use path to nowhere than use a bicycle to run errands and go to work. An active population of thieves and vandals conspires with the weather and hostile motorists to keep the bicycle an option only for a tiny, determined minority. Many of those riders are simply financially disadvantaged and will get a car as soon as they can afford it.

How much longer will most people be able to afford it? Not only does a motor vehicle cost thousands of dollars to buy and maintain, the environmental costs and a dwindling fuel supply mean that the replacement motorized alternatives are even more expensive in all phases of operation. Sure, electric vehicles and hybrids use less or no petroleum, but they need some or they need to be recharged from an outside power supply.

Forget logic. We're in panic mode. The conservatives love panic mode. It proves that they were right to be afraid all along. Fear the enemy, who could be anywhere. You! I think you are in league with them! Stone this man!

Excuse me, I have to run now.