Creepers

I’m a fan of the slightly spooky.  A full moon on a chilly night or an abandoned house in disrepair appeal to me at some level.  I like those spooky sounds tapes available for Halloween at the public library.  It may even be a genetic condition – one of my sisters likes to refer to herself as ‘Queen Creepster’.  Occasionally however real life situations are a little too creepy for me.  Take, for instance, the recent discovery of yet another foot in BC.  This one washed up along the Fraser River.

What’s really spooky about the whole situation is not the fact of a foot in a shoe but separated from a body.  I mean, it probably was pretty creepy to find the shoe, but a dead foot is not the spookiest thing I can think of.  The creep factor for me really comes in with the origin of the feet.  These weren’t feet that were hacked off – they supposedly came off the bodies through a natural decomposition process.  The question for em is just where all these decomposing bodies came from.  it’s not like they’ve had that long to decompose – the shoe models were from 1999-2004.  And it’s not like these are shoes washing in from a known burial site – all of them are athletic shoes, which is not what people are typically buried in.  What makes it creepy is that somewhere out there are the lost and unclaimed bodies of those we cannot identify and may never know.  Their families and loved ones may never know what happened to them, or where their final resting place may be – even if a foot or two is positively identified.  The unknown, as always, is the creepiest thing there is.

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We don’t know what it is, but it sure is something.

I am extremely interested in the ways in which modern science cannot tell us about our past.  Take, for example, a recent boat wreck rediscovery off the coast of Alabama.  The wreck has so far been identified as either the Rachel (wrecked in 1933) or the Monticello (wrecked during the Civil War).  Of course, further study may reveal more possibilities for identification.  The wreck was originally half-buried in sand off the coast and was then (or this is my understanding from the poor wording ofthe article, but that’s another story) thrown further on shore by recent storm systems.

Now, both boats were schooners that did wreck in that general area at about the appropriate time.  So the shape of the ships themselves would probably be somewhat similar.  Still, there are small things that would probably lead to the identification of one boat or the other.  One expert mentions steel cables, which the wreck may or may not have, as possible only for the later ship.  Also there should be some apparent burning on the Civil-War era boat, which supposedly was burning as it ran aground.  Still, Museum of Mobile marine archaeologist Shea McLean says “You can never be 100 percent certain unless you find the bell with ‘Monticello’ on it, but this definitely fits.” Ok.  How about reasonably sure?  How about even more than half sure?  Do I hear 55%?

I can understand some hesitation on the part of the experts to make faulty claims when they have not yet had a real opportunity to understand and investigate the wreckage, so I’m perfectly hapy to wait for some real results.  I also agree that the wreck should be moved and protected as quickly as possible, especially after one strom flung it right up on shore from being half-buried.  Still, the idea of another storm sending the wreck flying “through those houses there like a bowling ball” amuses me.  But I’ll leave the current shipwreck flying jargon in the hands of the experts.

Tibet

It’s one of those countries that smacks of differentness. People think of Everest, of Shangri-La, of remote little villages and little wizened people climbing through the mountains. It is remote, and for that remoteness, pristine and beautiful. Even the real experience of being there heightens the idea of mystical experience – the air is thin enough to cause mountain sickness and hallucinations. Due to a renewal in the popularity of eastern religion, at times it is seen as a place more holy and special than others. It’s a land starkly contrasted between very arid scrubby lowlands and extreme elevations capped with unmelting snow.

My experience there was also one of extremes. I had both the best and worst bathroom experiences of my life there. I was constantly torn between admiration for the people and discomfort with what they believed. They are of stern convictions, but do not allow this to impede their happiness or friendliness. potala-palace-at-lhasa-2.jpgI saw little unrest, but I would assume such things would be hidden from foreigner eyes. But the excesses of Buddhist decoration, gifts, and ostentation are not things I admire of that religion, and I found many temples strangely disquieting. I had the most magical time at the Potala Palace, but that was from small things. I remember getting close enough to see that dyed sticks piercing the walls make up the dark red ribbons that top Potala’s buildings. I remember the songs of workers as they stamped and damped down the (mud?) roof of one building. I will try to find the video so I can put it up here.

With the 2008 Olympics and all the recent protesting that’s been going on, it’s not hard to see this extremism rising to the surface again. But its history is here more occluded. Though the protesters present themselves as simply wishing the return of their religious and spiritual head, they are not just advocates of freedom. Tibet was formerly theocratic, in particular at its heyday as a major stop on the Silk Road. But even in those days, power was torn between rival religious leaders, namely the Panchen and Dalai Lamas. Both leaders were extremely political, and the choice of new lamas was often contended. Fatalities were frequent, and intrigue, rife. The PRC changed all that through military force and the subsequent rules, proscriptions, abductions, and importation of Han Chinese people.

I don’t claim to know who is the rightful ruler of this land, or who would be the best one. I don’t know if claims of continued oppression and violence on the part of the Han Chinese are true. I don’t even know what the population statistics for each ethnic group now living there are. I do know that the situation is highly charged and highly political – implications are extensive, in particular for Taiwan. I know compromise between the Chinese government and the Tibetan government in exile is dying. I also know that, despite the history of extremism in the area, violence and suicide will not renew that compromise.

Continuing in the Mystery

Yesterday I had an interesting and moving faith experience at church.  That sounds a little odd almost – a faith experience at church.  Duh.

The 20s/30s group, which I moderate, was supposed to meet and eat and discuss our faith experience after church.  I was dreading the discussion, on those moments in our lives that we have been sure that God existed, or conversly that there was no God.  While this is an interesting idea at some level, there are a number of problems with it.  First, it assumes that you’ve had such an experience or such a moment.  second, it precipitates discussion of a certain type of event – probably a powerful moment in your life, some sort of irrevocable event – rather than addressing some of the more rational aspects of belief.  Third, it can lead to a discussion of ‘Jesus Saves’ moments that I occasionally find disturbing.  If you find your faith because some stranger whose identity was never discovered rescued you from your burning house, that’s great.  I wish you well with your faith.  But for me personally, it’s difficult to find comfort in a God who saves a few from misfortune and perishes the rest.

But the discussion was not that – it was much better.  I heard stories of many paths, all with a consciousness of still being on a journey, of not being settled into a routine of faith but still exploring.  I heard one woman’s experiences with a more modern church and their rock-style service, and of the power of seeing that and other’s joy and excitement for it, but still not feeling it for herself.  Wanting it, but not feeling it.  I heard a man’s experience with the churches in his area, each one telling him what he shouldn’t do and what he shouldn’t believe, rather than giving that example of what he should do.  I heard another woman speak of her experiences with her mother’s Christian Scientist faith, and her own conflicting emotions around that; and another speaking of her struggles to balance between a Christian college where she felt she did not belong, and her somewhat atheist home environment, which she returned to in a struggle to protect what she believed.

Most importantly what I  heard about was power.  not the power of manipulation, or control, or financial power, but some sort of ‘faith charisma’, some sort of spiritual or emotional draw.  There is an idea for many people, Christian or not, religious or not, of a certain attraction.  Many of the people who discussed with us yesterday told a story of returning, often in times of doubt or grief, to a church environment.  And that is one type of statement on humanity, the way we reach out for comfort from each other when troubled.  But there was a story – most people continue to go to church or to practice a faith or religion after they’ve had a traumatic experience.  Is this simple human habit?  Perhaps.  But I also think there is a draw towards spiritual and religious practice that overcomes the negative aspects of organized religion.  I think it is best described as the way one non-Christian spoke of her attendance at a church.  She had gone at first to help get through the loss of a close friend, thinking she would no longer attend after that period of grief.  But she still attends, though that period is long past, and she’s not quite sure why.  But there was something here – some indescribable thing was attracting her to come, something she was getting out of the experience that she couldn’t quite define.

I know a lot of agnostics and a lot  of atheists and a lot of people who just don’t believe or find the idea of organized religion too fraught with strife and negative history.  And there are many, many terrible things that have been done in the name of organized religion.  There is nothing necessarily wrong in decrying religions or in having a more general belief in something bigger out there.  Personally I don’t think it means you’re going to hell, though many would probably disagree with me.  But this is not what I believe, and I’ve often struggled with why I continue to be a Christian in the face of the many flaws of Christianity.

There is a religious leader, I think a rabbi, who has a famous quote about immersing yourself deeply in faith.  I am going to mangle it, and I apologize, but the idea is one I respect and helps explain a bit of my own faith.  His idea regards the importance of deeply embracing a faith, practicing it deeply, and truly exploring it.  He says it doesn’t matter what that faith is.  And this is a powerful and good idea in my mind.  But it gives another question: why?  If I have respect and understanding of multiple faiths (which I think I do) what makes it better to embrace one over others?  And how do I choose?  I love and hate these questions of faith, because they confuse and disturb me, but without them I would stagnate.
There are those who say it’s impossible to truly understand other faiths when your thoroughly engrossed in one, but I don’t agree.   I feel awe in a Buddhist temple just as I feel awe in a great cathedral.  They are both sensations that are unquantifiable, and I would probably have that same feeling of awe whether I was a Christian or not. I would have the same respect for the faith of others if I was Christian or not.  I would probably have the same moral code and act in the same way if I was Christian or not, though I would like to think I do good things now because of a sense of affection for God.  But there are things I would miss, not being a Christian.  I would never walk into a strange church on a Sunday morning and pick up my little hymn book and know that these people were my people.  I would  never speak in time with others and feel the words swelling beneath me like a wave.  I would’ve walked out of my home this morning with the sun on my face and my cheeks red with the icy wind and my breath puffing and not known who to thank.  I might even think and think and think and not quite hear anymore that voice deep inside me that says, ‘Wait.  Rest.  It’s ok to just be for a moment’.  And for better or worse, that’s too much of a loss.