Village of Needham, England

11:10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Chosen because…it’s a Church of England church and has really cool tombstones in the church yard. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the official church name and it never opened for service.

I have a tiny little pea brain and can’t remember much of what I’ve written or read for that matter, which makes writing about the Bible without text or consistent church services fairly difficult. However, I do remember some things. I remember that Jesus and maybe God, are supposed to be with me at all times. I think that’s crap not because I make dumb decisions and find myself wallowing in sorrow wondering what the hell happened but because during this 2011 quest to experience as many churches as possible, I’ve had the damndest time actually being admitted to service.

I try this nameless church, which is surrounded by “Night of the Living Dead”-like gravestones but it never opens for the 11:15 a.m. service. I try everything short of knocking. No answer. Instead, I walk the grounds searching for ghosts, reading church bulletins and watching the cop in the adjacent Needham Coronation Village Hall parking lot talk to a female speeder who is wearing exercise attire, a rare sighting in England, and a blonde bystander who clearly wants to test his authority on a more personal level.

The churches here look the same. Cold. Ominous. Hard. The church bulletin is worn, the pre-Photoshop era graphics faded, text bleached. Among other things it says:

“1 in 5 older people skips meals to save money for heating.”

And: “Surely I am with you. Always to the very end of the age.”

I wonder if either are true, know the second isn’t. Babies get raped, children die and I can’t get into service. God is either flat out cruel or he has a fantastic sense of humor.

I Want My American Red, White and Blue

I don’t know about everyone else, but I hit a cultural sensitivity breaking point when I’m away from home for more than a month. I never have them during critical periods in travel. I won’t breakdown if I miss a train, can’t understand someone or am bamboozled into eating disgusting cuisine such as pig ear. No. My inner child throws tantrums during the most civilized, insignificant points in my trips, proving that like God who would let me in a church if he was with me every minute, maturity and cultural sensitivity are sporadically with me.

Sometimes I just loose the plot which is a snobby British way of saying I freak out and act like a child. Take the f(*#&^% savory biscuit incident. I calmly handled throwing used toilet paper in open trash bins in Colombia, a practice that doesn’t sit well with a germaphobe, but finding graham crackers in England prompted a hissy fit.

I’m too tired and hungry to go to the grocery store after my failed church experience but I go anyway because I have to eat. I turn into a five-year-old when I’m hungry so this is a bad decision. Before I get in the store I start cursing the English, silently of course. What kind of a country makes people check out grocery carts? It’s only a stupid pence or pound or some other frustrating, misshaped currency but it’s the principle – the wasted act of actually getting change and renting the trolley – that sets me off. I also hate all of the change currency bursting the seams of my wallet; the stupid “hiya” greeting (are you welcoming me or about to karate chop my face?); looking the wrong way when I cross a road; and walking to the bar to order a drink. I also can’t stand English castles. They’re nothing to look at and neither is Buckingham Palace, which is a glorified government building.

This sweet employee tries to help me, asks if the graham cracker is a savory biscuit or a sweet one, brings another employee into the conversation. I try to be calm. They’re nice, trying to help but they’re slow and cannot comprehend this long, sweet, brown cracker that breaks into two halves perfect for smooshing melted chocolate and a heated mallow. I want to tell him to shove his savory biscuit up his British ass but that’s insensitive so I do the mature thing and take my anger out on my shopping mate, who spends the next 20 minutes hiding out in an aisle far, far away from me.

Always to the Very End of the Age

Somewhere in me lies a culturally sensitive person but where she is, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll reappear in a few weeks, after I refresh myself in the states and head back out on the road where other things will amuse me until they become familiar. Maybe I’ll find her the next time God stays with his believers and, as the bulletin suggests, lets me into a church.

I can’t believe that God is with believers at all times and I’m starting to believe I may lose interest in traveling, seeking new experiences, using toilets outside of America and adapting to not having everything exactly as I want the it second I want it.

If we’re not with ourselves all the time, how can we let anyone else, least of all a controversial, possibly fictious figure be with us 24/7?

I should write about suicide and sex all the time. They’re huge sellers. That being said, the honesty of yesterday’s post really freaked some people out. Initially it irritated me, but then I realized the reactions reflected our discomfort with honesty. We covet our feelings, our flaws and our desires for fear that others will judge us. Myself included.

Yesterday’s confession was three years late. Why? Because it’s easier to talk about things that are embarrassing or emotionally intense once they’re in the past. Way in the past.

In short, we’re often ashamed to be human, which is why I like Jesus. He encourages honesty and introspection. He also allows us to forgive ourselves for being human.

Unfortunately God gets all the glory. All I ever hear is “Dear God” or “Thank you Lord.” God is the one who brings people to their knees. Jesus heals. The Lord hates. Jesus loves. Jesus accepts. God damns. Jesus helped the poor. God damned them (at least in the beginning of the Old Testament, he did the same to foreigners).

Do people pray to Jesus? I’ve heard “In Jesus’ name,” but that doesn’t sound prayer-like to me.

Why does God get all of the kudos? Well, he’s older and we’re taught to respect our elders. He’s also very Hollywood. He loves special effects and doom and gloom. Jesus, on the otherhand, is like an Independent film. Listening to him takes patience. He offers substance.

Last night I tried praying — to Jesus, not God — and instead of peace, I had a horrific nightmare, woke up yelling, knocked water all over my side table and quintupled the width of my favorite short story collection. My hips, back and stomach also seized up, preventing me from cleaning the mess. The dream —family murdered, me living in a house of blood with an invisible killer that suffocated me from time to time — wasn’t what I was looking for, but it made me think. God may have delivered blood and guts, but I don’t know if he would have putt me in the house or subjected me to the invisible killer. Jesus did (maybe) and I’ve been analyzing both all day. How do they pertain to my life? Emotional state? Etc.

I like Jesus, but I think this is a farce: “When  you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for.”

When I sort of prayed, I did not expect physical and mental torture especially because my prayer was altruistic, which is uncommon. Is exorcism a common response to prayer? Is that why everyone prays to God instead of Jesus?

Well, I’ll give Jesus another shot. As for the Lord, adios Dios.

Stopping Point: Book of Luke

For all the wind I blow about being a non-believer, I sure do find myself wearing articles of faith. Sometimes I do this insincere promise making I suppose the liberal minded might consider prayer. It goes like this: “Whatever you are if you get me the hell out of this hurricane, I’ll try to be grateful for what I have.” Etc. I also believe in something greater than myself, embrace my own mortality and am fascinated by the spiritual world, but that’s only because I have Irish ghosts.

I’ve criticized God for being contradictory but in the Book of Isaiah, he sticks to his general theme of punishment and forgiveness, destroying people and land and then rebuilding both. He does this over and over again. Why? Because people don’t learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. If they did, this cycle would stop.

Interestingly, God doesn’t want people to listen to the dead — he abhors it. Curious. His prophets are dead. The people in the Old Testament are dead. If a person reads the Bible, aren’t they listening to the dead? Think about what we could learn, what some of us have learned, from the dead.

Let’s look at my Irish ghosts.

Letterfrack Industrial School Graveyard

I don’t like to harp on sexual abuse in the church. It gives religion a bad rap and unfortunately, abuse happens everywhere. However, the physical and sexual abuse administered by the Christian Brotherhood for nearly 100 years is exactly why God should encourage us to listen to the dead.

In the late 1800s through the 1970s, Irish parents turned their sons over to the Christian Brotherhood believing the fathers could not only feed their sons during a period of grave economic depression, but could also teach them a trade. These children attended schools like the Letterfrack Industrial School. Rather than getting an education, many of them were raped, beaten and killed.

My husband and I happened upon the Letterfrack Industrial School several years ago. We learned about it while sitting in a bar. Miraculously I convinced my husband to visit the school’s cemetery at dusk. This is what happened during our encounter with the dead.

What We Discovered Before Going

Thousands of boys were abused and then murdered, buried in surrounding peat bogs; the church wasn’t held responsible; families never knew what happened to their sons; supernatural interactions were common; no one wanted to talk about it.

What We Experienced

10 p.m. Summer. Dusk. Walked through the woods. Extreme presence, heavy. Sounded like singing in the trees. Curiously non-threatening. Opened the gates. Few graves. Large monument. Me taking photos. Husband behind a monument. Suddenly he asked to go, felt unsafe. We headed to the gate, thousands of microscopic bugs ran up our arms, legs, everywhere. Ran through the woods. Got in the car. Looked through the photos. Saw ghosts. Went to a pub. Showed the photos to patrons, watched the pub clear.

We returned to the site the next day to disprove my husband’s theory that the orbs in the photos were actually “medallions”, but we didn’t capture anything else on camera (or see anything in the trees). On the flight home my husband, Mr. Science, admitted that he had actually wanted to leave the graveyard because while standing next to the statue, he felt something on his neck. Interestingly, I took a photo right before he asked to leave. In that photo he’s standing near an orb. Odd.

Water spots are common on pictures, especially digital photos however, I’ve talked to several photographers about this photos and none of them have been able to explain these orbs. (Look at the detailed shot. I see an orb and a face. Crazy?)

I can’t stop thinking about Letterfrack, about what happened to those boys, about the priests, the crimes they got away with and the idea that this might happen again. Can’t we listen to those kids? We listen to prophets. Both are dead.

In the grand scheme of things, Letterfrack is a small example as to what could happen if we would just listen to the dead. What if the Rwandan government listened to those who died during the Holocaust? What if U.S. leaders took a little peek at Roman history? All those dead guys?

Why doesn’t God want us to listen to the dead? The dead wrote the Bible. They destroyed nations. They ruined the reputation of the church. The dead have a lot to say.

I’ve been researching the Letterfrack Industrial School for years and — if given the opportunity to do an in-depth study on some issue — this would be the one. All I need is funding, possibly a bit of protection. If you would like more information about the Letterfrack Industrial School, check out The Knitter blog or “Founded on Fear,” a book written by a man who went to the Letterfrack Industrial School and eventually killed himself.

Stopping Point: Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40-66

Note: My apologies for the Thursday post. Some really cool opportunities were presented to me yesterday and I had to take advantage. Will not happen again.

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