Ashes to Ashes

May 23, 2011

I’ve tried to keep up with my churches and bars while traveling but it’s been challenging to say the very least.

Yesterday, for example, I spent the time I allocated for God following news updates about the freaking volcanic ash threatening to derail my travel plans to Iceland. Since I’m hopefully headed into the beginning of the rapture, which was supposed to start Saturday, I may have to read the Book of Revelation in Iceland. We’ll see about that. I’m more excited about wearing a Keflavik International Airport issued mask and goggles than reading the end of the Good Book.

I recently spoke at TEDx Lansing. I spoke about the ThumpMe project, what I learned from the Bible (to have faith in myself), etc. To prepare, I read through all of my ThumpMe entries. It’s interesting to see how, even though only five months have passed since the last entry, my thoughts have changed. Evolution.

If you did not read the original ThumpMe entries – the ones following my reading and interpretation of the Bible – you might find these interesting.

If I get into Iceland and ash doesn’t ruin my cheap traveling Toshiba, I’ll have a dive bar post for you Wednesday. Enjoy!

WooHoo! Suck — Despair, Job and Me

I thought about Job all weekend. There is, I’ll admit, a bit of an attraction there. He’s sort of like the diseased, depressed, sackcloth wearing dead guy that got away.

Predictably, I’m drawn to his despair, a unifying isolator that can supersede centuries, nations and ideologies but not the individual. When desolation brings Job to his knees, he says:

“I have no strength left to save myself; there is nowhere I can turn for help.”

Had I been an oppressed B.C. concubine or prophet, Job could have turned to me. I carry other people’s burdens well and identify (monthly) with the absolute collapse of spirit. However, if I had been around would Job have asked me — his new girlfriend — for help? Probably not. His unwillingness to share his feelings may have ended our relationship, but raises a phenomenal question: Why the hell is it so difficult to ask for help?

Read the entire entry here.

Puff the Magic Prophet – Ezekiel Sucks the Cactus

Mescaline is: “An alkaloid drug, C11H17NO3, obtained from mescal buttons, which produces hallucinations. Also called peyote.” (Definition provided by Urban Dictionary contributor, Adict). (Gist of this is how does one become a prophet)

This hallucinogen is obtained from cacti and special beans. I don’t know if mescaline producing cacti grow in the Middle East, but I assure you beans belonging to the Fabacae family are a prevalent food source in Middle Eastern diets and, based on his extremely bizarre visions, I’m going to guess Prophet Ezekiel fancied this particular food group.

Ezekiel learns he’s a prophet after four creatures with human-ish forms appear before him. Each of these forms has four faces — a human face, lion face, bull face and eagle face — four wings, straight legs, hooves (like a bull) and four human hands under each wing. Wheels with eyes sit next to them and there’s additional detail about subsequent wheels and fire, but it’s too confusing for me to explain. Despite Ezekiel’s descriptive efforts, I cannot imagine how these things moved or what they looked like.

Read the entire entry here.

Fa La La La La, La La La La, Liquor ­­– Holiday with the Jews

Ah, holidays. What could be better?

Holidays were created to celebrate dysfunction. It’s OK. All families are dysfunctional even the “normal” ones — it’s called denial. Don’t stress out about, enjoy it. You’re in good company. Jesus’ family was screwy too.

In the New Testament, four men give a version of the gospel. You can glean anything you want from any of them. I think Matthew is dryMark is dark and Luke is wonderful. His writing is interesting and he details good old family pandemonium.

Read the entire entry here.

Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher – Meet Preacher Mike

To my knowledge, Preacher Mike is the first church authority — sorry Mike, couldn’t think of another descriptor — to pay attention to ThumpMe.

For political reasons, I pretend to read many blogs, but I actually read Preacher Mike’s because it’s interesting and un-preachy (new word).

Preacher Mike (Mike Cope) lives in Abilene, Texas and teaches at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the vice president of the non-profit educational organization Heartbeat. TheHeartbeat What Really Matters project facilitates discussion about the things that matter — friendship, decision-making, social injustice. Cope joined the project after his young daughter, Megan, died in 1994.

Read the entire entry here.

Revelation. – No Time for Endings

Six months ago I played a damaging, ingenious trick on myself. I decided to write fiction. No more articles. No more journalism. Fiction. But fiction isn’t a career. It’s a lifestyle with no immediate returns. It’s founded on failure and takes incredible dedication, which is precisely why my intestines immediately inverted, I stopped sleeping and my heart retreated.

When I started writing, really writing and stripped myself of measurable success, which is single-minded and safe, the identity I created for myself when I was a child — pushing to grow up, get to college, make money, excel at everything — treading a path I thought would lead me to life, but exhausted me into oblivion, I didn’t find anything. 29 and hollow.

I decided not to read Revelation because I no longer want to see what’s coming. I’ll catch it when it comes.

Read the entire entry here.

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*Let us clarify. By death, we mean the marriage can be dissolved for any of the following reasons: Large arguments; small arguments included but not limited to those concerning the agricultural categorization of a tomato and the merits of golf as a leisure activity or a sport; mid-life crises; general boredom and dissatisfaction with life; dirty dishes; ugly children; the discovery of anything that’s bigger, better and more interesting than what you have; drug allergies; delayed bi-curiosities and outside influence.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, England

Various hours

Chosen because…missing it would be like going to Rome and not dropping by the ‘ol Vatican.

Sigh. Watch this. Bride loses it because her husband’s family apparently doesn’t have the mental capacity to effectively participate in wedding day activities which, oddly enough, include a rousing game of the board game Clue.

Would you marry this woman?: Latest Bridezilla Meltdown! 

St. Paul’s Cathedral is gorgeous. I’m thrilled to go in. Until I learn the cost of admission, which is something like the equivalent of $36 U.S. if you want to get a view from the top. I bolt for the door. My tour guide grabs my elbow and forces me through the Capitalist gates. (Photo is the view from the top of the Cathedral. Can’t take pics inside.)

I’ve said this 1,000 times but opulence and a complete disregard for Jesus’ teachings – poverty, good will, helping others – is one reason I hate church as a walled institution. It’s the same reason I’m fairly anti-marriage – people get too caught up in flowers, budgets, color schemes and board games to think about what they’re doing, what it means and if it’s for them.

This comes from a recently divorced woman, a divorcee, a social pock-mark but hey, I went for ceremony when I didn’t want it and though I don’t think it impacted my marriage, I certainly let the grand idea of a wedding as well as outside influences and second hand experiences occasionally sway dealings within my marriage.

I wish more people – myself included – would go beyond the pomp. Beyond churches as symbols, holidays as economic bustiers and weddings as events.

Perfect example: The Royal Wedding. My trip to St. Paul’s happens a few weeks before the wedding, but for the next few weeks, the cathedral haunts. It’s on every news channel and in every paper, commentators speculating on guest list dust ups, Kate Middleton’s relationship with the church and her ability to look like a royal by W-Day.

I hope the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a lovely life, I really do, but standing in St. Paul’s Cathedral, listening to reporters say things like, “Oh look at them, you can just tell they’re in love” is like nails on a chalkboard. How is marriage between  man, woman and, for believers, God, everyone but the bride, groom and God have an opinion?

I suppose the trip up St. Paul’s stairwells was worth $36 but I leave feeling the same way I do after exiting many wedding receptions. What is the point?

I must admit that I would have thoroughly enjoyed the royal wedding had I been invited, the Syrian ambassador to the U.K. hadn’t had his invitation renigged and the lovely princess sat me between him and her drug and booty loving uncle, Gary Goldsmith. That’s the kind of pomp and circumstance I look for.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

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

Chosen because…went for Pentecostal but service times didn’t suit my needs so swapped it with another “al” denomination.

Well I Never

I’ll never stay in Colorado. I’ll never read the Bible. I’ll never go to church. I’ll never get married. I’ll never get divorced. Never say never. Lesson learned.

Since the Redeemer Lutheran experience, I’ve put my pissy pants on every Sunday morning, bitched and moaned all the way to church and resisted pre-service temper tantrums. But when I left St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, I was calm. Like abnormally, once-in-a-lifetime kind of calm. Why? Because it turns out that I’m getting dumber, not smarter and for that I’m grateful. I’m so sick of thinking.

Age: The Great Eraser

I don’t know anything about Episcopalians and that’s fine as knowledge taints experience. I love the church interior. Basic. A few stained glass windows. A cross draped in white cloth hanging from the ceiling. This is the first church I’ve been to with organ music, which I love. Very traditional. Love that too.

Service starts. A choir cloaked in white, wooden crosses hanging from necks, floats down the aisles. Priests or whatever take the stage. There are many. They have hoods on the back of their white robes. I’m not in the deep south or Michigan. I wipe KKK from the brain. During meet your neighbor the preachers step into the aisles, shaking hands as they go. I like this but am trapped between an old woman in a powder blue suit and a crabby note taker who nearly clips my toes every time she pulls down the prayer bar.

Most of the congregation will be chillin’ with God soon. Perhaps that’s why the preacher chose John 3:1 – 17. Here’s the story. This arrogant dude, Nicodemus, meets with Jesus at night because he’s ashamed to be seeking advice from a lowly country boy but he needs counsel so he does it anyway. Nicodemus thinks he knows everything but in his later years, after Jesus dies, he doesn’t say anything. He kicks his know-it-all attitude, which suggests that as we age we either lose our minds or realize we don’t know a damn thing about anything.

I believe it’s the latter. I’ve realized this in my own life, particularly within the last few months. I’ve ripped the blanket off some of my more gregarious opinions and stereotypes, but I still use “you’re wrong, you’re just wrong” when backed in a corner during arguments. Turns out I’m usually wrong, which I hate especially when my mom hauls out the dictionary as backup. You can’t argue with Merriam.

Never Say Never

I didn’t want to go to church, assumed it would suck, thought “I’ll never enjoy this” but like I said, it really chilled me out. I liked the sermon but I also didn’t feel any pressure to share my non-existent relationship with God with other people. I’m not sure I’ve gotten that from any other church.

Example. Rather than harping on Bible studies, the pastor focused on Foyer Groups, groups of eight-to-10 people who meet for dinner etc. to get to know each other. I like that. I need friends but I don’t want the Bible getting between us.

I never thought I’d use the prayer bar or reply to the preacher as outlined by the bolded text in the leaflet, but I did it. I kind of want to get baptized so I can receive communion. But I’ll never do it. I’ll never stick with organized religion. And I’ll never say things I don’t mean. Ever.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Collins, Colo.

11 a.m. to ?

Chosen because…late service

Biggest church I’ve been to.  It sits in a giant field surrounded by wealthy neighborhoods. Not only does it have a welcome center, which gives makes me feel like I’m walking through an airport rather than a church, it also has a worship center, life/center gym, preschool, student center, etc.

I’m grateful for the coffee/donut room. Guilt kicks in so I donate $1 to the coffee collection. This is the only donation I’ve made to a church thus far. After service I feel duped, used and wish I could take my money back.

Love Money, Then Jesus

Remember this scene from Jerry Maguire? This is Redeemer Lutheran Church.

JERRY MAGUIRE SHOW ME THE MONEY


The preachers or whatever are dressed in white, red sashes resting on either side of their chests. Huge choir. Massive movie screen. Many people wearing buttons purporting their love for Jesus. At least I think that’s what they’re for.

It’s “commitment weekend,” a time for parishioners to place donation envelopes they received via mail in Pottery Barn-like donation baskets. Before they do, the preacher fills them with artificial love, hiding the church’s need for greed behind Bible passages such as “whoever does not love God does not know love.”

When the preacher quiets, this message is conveyed, falsely — though song — and soundtrack as people in the sound booth add thunder and other such nonsense to the melody.

After guilt by love, the preacher gets down to business. This whole love B.S. will continue for 36 months because the church is on a mission to a) Raise up stewards b) Pay down debt c) Further the mission.

So learn about God, pay down the Redeemer Lutheran‘s $2 million debt during the next 36 months and then spread God’s word through costly missions. Appalling.

Need for Greed

He uses the following mantras to encouraging giving…and love.

“Love is not really love until it’s given away.”

“I hope you get to learn during this season we get to give love away.”

“We don’t want to whore the message of God.”

Then we watch a clip from Schindler’s List. It’s at the end when Schindler realizes the money he spent on material excess could have saved thousands of Jews.

People sniffle. It’s an emotional scene and a cleaver way for the preacher to beg for money. After the clip, he invites everyone to bring up envelopes of money, encouraging them to “woo hoo” when they dump it in Pottery Barn-like baskets.

I’m sick to my stomach. This place of worship is an infomercial, not a church. I leave and head to a dive bar in Loveland of all places, to cleanse my soul.

The leaders of this church should be ashamed of themselves for their unabashed call to greed. Redeemer Lutheran Church is antithetical to Jesus’ message. It’s disgusting.

St. Joseph’s Church, Fort Collins, Colo.

8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Chosen because…good Catholic friend in town

I will never go back to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, not because I tainted the holy water in elementary school, but because it’s the most judgmental church I’ve visited. Nothing about St. Joe’s embodies peace, love or understanding.

Before I delve into my own judgments, let me say I know it’s contradictory to condemn judgment and then judge but processing experience necessarily requires judgment. Also, this opinion is based on the 1.5 hours I spent in one church. By no means do I think all Catholics adhere to these values or lack there of.

Choice, Freewill, Abortion

From the street, St. Joe’s is beautiful. From the street, you can’t see the picture of a fetus (it isn’t graphic) framed by words urging congregants to pray to end abortion.  I don’t care what people think about abortion. Life, choice, whatever. I also don’t care about political views. Democrat, Republican, anarchist, whatever. What irritates the living hell out of me is listening to a priest tell a hundred people or so how they should feel about abortion or politics.

Unfortunately for the congregation and the advancement of peace and understanding through Christ, this priest focused on condemning those who make poor choices, such as abortion. Well, that and contradicting himself.

One of the day’s teachings included the following:

“…we should not be passing judgments on others, for this is the Lord’s right. Rather, we should joyfully await his return, when all shall be brought to light.”

Sometimes I’m a little slow, but the Bible led me to believe that there’s only one God. Google’s helped me understand that there’s billions of people on this earth so, if the relatively small St. Joe congregation judges those who abort, doesn’t that mean that more than 100 people in tiny little Ft. Collins are playing God?

Good Old Catholic Spanking

My dad was raised Catholic. He’s got some great stories about naked swimming and nun brutality. While I can’t speak to his experiences, heavy-handed Catholics continue whacking from the pews.

The woman in front of me had three kids. The husband immediately left with the little one. The poor thing was terribly sick but I would have preferred her fever and hacking cough to time with mom who, between praying and singing, occupied her time by whacking her sons on the head, pinching their arms, yanking their wrists, flicking them in the middle of the cranium with her thumb and pointer finger and threatening spankings.

Doesn’t Catholicism sound fun?

The Punisher didn’t smile, but neither did anyone else. I saw a lot of kids and a lot of young parents — good honest Catholics using the ‘ol rhythm method, holding tight to their anti-abortion stance — but I didn’t see many smiles and I certainly didn’t feel like I was part of a community. In fact, not one person returning from communion reception looked happy or even content even. Either something’s askew in the church or Christ tastes like garbage.

Not that they’d want me, but I’m passing on Catholicism.

NOTE: Once again I blew it with the pics. I took plenty, but I’m out-of-town and forgot the adapter. I’ll add them when I return.

Might be a Mennonite

February 21, 2011

Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, Fort Collins, Colo.

10:30 a.m. to noonish

Chosen because…I’m fascinated with buggies and bonnets

I love Mennonites. At least the ones I met at the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship. They’re friendly and as far as I can tell, they view Jesus as a symbol of peace, not a vehicle for judgement.

Now, on the judgment front…

I saw my first Mennonites at a Taco Bell in Fort Collins. The girls were darling in bonnets and homemade dresses. I assumed the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship parking lot would be full of buggies, men in cute hats and suspenders helping bonneted women to the street. Giddy, I thought, “Try not to make an ass of yourself by immediately asking about the buggies and bonnets.”

I’m not sure why these Mennonites are singing in a subway, but this is what I thought my Sunday would be like.

Mennonites Singing on a Subway

In a group of less than 30, I found one bonnet. I should have known. The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship site addresses bonnets, notes they’re not the norm. Another newbie asked about bonnets and horses. The people he asked politely chuckled and explained.

So who attends the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship? Very chill people. Very Colorado looking people — jeans, Merrells, outdoor wear. I felt like I was at a peace rally. A bell kicked off service. Two girls — one barefoot — lit a candle with this long thing, the one without shoes nearly clipped the other’s face with the flame. Then some acoustic guitar, a bit about Haiti, sermon or talk, bell, discussion, refreshments.

Mennonites Hit No. 1 on Church Billboard Chart

The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship is No. 1 on the ThumpMe billboard chart because they do peace and acceptance. They’re open-minded. In fact, I found them by going to www.gaychurch.org, curious as to which churches are cool with homosexuals.

While homosexuality wasn’t discussed (I believe David was gay), the Sermon on the Mount was. Mennonites believe Jesus’ word trumps all others, including angry God and confused prophets. The speaker talked about going beyond religious laws to uncover deeper meaning. Does it really make sense to take in all the wretched souls and then condemn them for committing adultery simply because they looked at another woman? No it doesn’t and that’s why I love the Mennonites. They are what I think people who proclaim to follow Christ should be — emissaries of peace and understanding.

The speaker asks, “If your religion does not go beyond, what is it?”

Nothing.

Observations

The bulletin said “we are all ministers in the fellowship” and included quotes from Buddha, which is confusing, all inclusive and quite a bit different than my southern Baptists. Two individuals knitted during service, one worked on a laptop, one read a book. Very laid back.

After the sermon/lesson, they opened the floor to discussion. Discussion! I couldn’t believe it. No one said much, but encouraging opposition nearly knocked me out of my chair.

At the end, we held hands and said a prayer which was way uncomfortable for me but whatever. I think I heard a bongo or some other instrument I associate with freedom, but can’t remember.

NOTE: I don’t have a photo of this church. I once again left a piece of clothing in a public place — my jacket, restaurant  — and was without a camera.

Religion or Bust

February 15, 2011

I had every intention of going to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. In fact, as soon as I realized the events surrounding the Mercedes-sponsored Laureus sports event would prevent me from going, I tried to extend my stay purely for the mosque. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the eighth largest mosque in the world and the largest mosque in the UAE. It’s gorgeous and open to visitors for educational tours. Understandably, visitors are asked to respect cultural norms ie. wear modest, conservative, loose fitting clothing; long sleeves, long skirts and trousers; leave shorts, short skirts and tight clothing at home; avoid intimate behavior such as kissing or handholding; wear a headscarf (women only); and keep beachwear at the beach.

My first experience with Islam was, naturally, inappropriate. I first heard midday prayer while relaxing on a private beach in a garish, unholy Victoria’s Secret bikini I bought on a whim of overconfidence (I’ve lost the bottoms to my standard plain Jane swimming suit). Though it was a private beach, I felt uncomfortable until the wind forced me to cover up.

(The dreaded VC suit on a lampshade…where it belongs.)

The prayer was surprisingly soothing and nothing like the chaos Fox News links to everything Middle Eastern and/or Islamic.

I did have a little prayer mat in my room and realized on day three that the diagonal arrow above my bed was intended to lead guests toward Mecca, not the closet. Waking up to the early morning prayer was delightful and saved me from missing my return flight.

I only wish I could have made it to the mosque and actually come back with an impression a tad more substantive than prayers and an arrow.

My flight out of Abu Dhabi had some quote from the Koran but I can’t remember it. However, when I got home, I found a Bible on my front porch — no joke — and there was a bookmark in the Book of Esther so I randomly grabbed a quote as I need guidance and apparently, sometimes when people are struggling, they reach for a random bit in the Bible and relate it to their lives.

This is what I got:

“And the ‘drinking’ was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure.” (Esther, Chapter 1)

I was looking for something more substantive, something that wouldn’t encourage my commitment to vice. I thought the Bible was supposed to speak to people when they’re hurting. Maybe it’s supposed to act like a cheering section. Who knows. I was hoping for something like:

“This too shall pass,” a Facebook post from a friend that may be Biblical in nature? I’m not sure.

On a side note, my flashy binki may not have been entirely inappropriate. Apparently bikinis and religion can work together as proven by another Mercedes-sponsored event — the True Religion Bikini Runway. I wasn’t asked to participate in this one. I can’t imagine why. You wouldn’t believe the number of swimsuit modeling offers I turn down each year. It’s out of control.

True Religion Bikini Runway 2011 Line

I will be heading to a Mennonite church this coming Sunday and apologize for the flighty posts. Travel. Hopefully I’ll adjust.

(You can follow us on Twitter @thumpme or join our Facebook page. No obligation.)

Abu Divey

February 10, 2011

Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Multiple Days

Notable Matter: ATM for gold, not cash

Feb. 4. land in Abu Dhabi at 3 a.m. to cover a sporting event, an unexpected, surreal experience. I have no idea what I’m doing, where I’m going or what is in my suitcase.

Before leaving I read about Abu Dhabi, learn that unlike Catholics, Muslims are not reputed for tipping back the bottle. Thankfully, Abu Dhabi in all its wealth and prestige caters to Westerners and therefore permits alcohol in hotels where Westerners feel safe. Places like the Intercontinental and  Emirates Palace, home to an ATM for gold. Yes, people wait in line and buy gold in Abu Dhabi.

Dive bars don’t exist in places with golden ATMs so I made due.

Intercontinental, Abu Dhabi

First time I’m uncomfortable in the presence of men. They sit in circles chain smoking. They keep to themselves. I falsely believe I’m intimidated by their dress — kanduras, guthras, egals — but that’s not it. I never see them with women, particularly in the lounge. I don’t know if I can talk to them and I don’t want to trample cultural boundaries.* This pisses me off.

*I do this anyway. Details forthcoming in the church/religion bit.

I drink a glass of red wine, smoke a cigarette and eat some nuts. I try not to think about the other hands that may have touched my nuts.

I listen to British accents, foreign tongues and watch the lounge singer. Her gaze fixes on me. I’m the only one watching.

When I leave I can’t get out of my chair. It weighs about 100 pounds. The waiter rushes to my aid. If I can’t get out of a chair, how will I organize my life?

I ponder the possibility of joining a harem.

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi

This is our home base — media, PR staff, athletes. We’re treated like royalty, media included. I spend a lot of time researching the athletes nominated for the Laureus awards, find myself getting distracted by futbol players I don’t need to interview. There’s something about futbol. It isn’t the players, it’s the culture. It’s refreshingly un-American, tan and fit.

I don’t drink much here. I’m on the clock and exhausted from travel, a long excursion to the desert for celebrity sandsurfing and, of course, insomnia. I manage a half a glass of wine during lunch on the final day of my stay. I eat a little and read about Cairo. What Abu Dhabi lacks in freedom of press, it makes up for in wealth, pouring ridiculous amounts of color and gloss into its dailies. The newspaper is probably more valuable than my car.

The individual serving me has no idea what I want. Water. Yes. He returns 10 minutes later and puts the bottle on the table, a major faux pas in these restaurants. I ask for wine. He brings milk. I understand the confusion, each has one syllable. It happens.

A manager steps in and brings the wine.

I lose interest in Cairo and instead stare at the beach. I see a fat woman in a bathing suit. Must be an American. Halfway through the glass I leave in hopes of finding Kelly Slater at a nearby futbol match. He isn’t there but I’m allowed beyond the rope dividing media and important people. I stand next to a short person who I’m told “basically owns” Abu Dhabi. I pretend to watch the game for four seconds and start a conversation with a German. He tries to name players I might recognize. He’s aghast (politely, Germans always are) that I don’t know anything. My face is blank.

I roll up my pants, head to the beach and ride a camel.

Later that night after red carpet and the award ceremony, I end up in the after party tent. I’m not supposed to be here but the event organizer ushers me in. I’m on the hunt for an athlete. He isn’t in the tent but I run into his manager who gives me his agent’s number. I make myself comfortable, drink some champagne and people watch until I remember my 6 a.m. departure. Somehow I never make it to bed.

These may not be dive bars, but somewhere between packing at 5:45 a.m. showering at 6 a.m. and leaving at 6:15 a.m., I lose a computer cord, bra and shirt. That’s pretty divey. It’s not what you think, but it’s divey.

I Get It — Get Wet

January 31, 2011

Cheyenne Christian Center, Cheyenne, Wyo.

9:20 to 9:59

Chosen because…mobility

I was sick to my stomach Sunday morning so after much deliberation (and chunky vomit) I decided to stay home.

Lucky for me, divine intervention flew down the morning before. Saturday, my dad and I went to breakfast. As we were leaving the place that likely gave me food poisoning, I found the Cheyenne Christian Center “2 Church Ordinances — Water Baptism & Communion” CD in a newspaper bin. What are the odds?

Head on pillow, I pop that baby into my computer and, according to iTunes, prepared to listen to “Uber Die Aufgaben Des Schriftstellers in Unserer Zeit” on the “Wirkliche Leben in Verlorenen Landern” disc. Poorly translated this means, “On the Tasks of the Writer in Our Time” in “Real Life Lost Countries.” Interesting.

Disc intro includes heavy breathing and a few “amens.” I think, “Damn, this is a cover for some sort of soft core German porn. How will I relate muffled foreign slang to Sunday service?”

The Mystery of the Dunking Unveiled

The sermon is not about porn, it’s about Passover, a time for Jews to celebrate their freedom from Egyptian bondage. Although Passover is a few months off, this is a timely discussion since there’s a minor tiff occurring in Egypt and Syria.

According to the pastor, Passover and baptisms, which I fear, go hand in hand. Thank God for that because it answers a question no one has answered. That is, why do baptisms require submersion? Answer: Symbolism.

Apparently the dipping is a choice. It symbolizes faith in Christ; receiving the sacraments of grace; turning into a new person; and walking with the privileges of the covenant. The water is celebratory. These are the details I need to jump over some of my Biblical stumbling blocks.

I have an answer to baptisms, but I still don’t know why people writhe on the ground and speak in tongues to demonstrate their connection to the Holy Spirit. I also don’t know why pastors discuss the number of people in the Bible saved by baptism, but gloss over the number of those God killed.

Remission

The pastor plants a new idea in my head — Remission and forgiveness are not the same.

“Remission is stronger and means to send away. It signifies the release of bondage or imprisonment, a sending away and forgiveness is an added quality of canceling out judgment, punishment, obligation or debt.”

And Jesus’ blood allows for remission. This makes me reconsider the blood and body of Christ…

He says resurrection is a timeout, a “hey, despite the stuff we talk about every week, it all comes back to the foundation of sacrifice.”

I think about this. I have an epiphany. I thought my inability to sacrifice was my greatest weaknesses but, I’ve sacrificed happiness for selfishness and broken my own heart. That’s gotta count.

The pastor says, “We do things out of habit rather than out of understanding and worship.”

Makes me think about “I love you” as automation, not emotion.

Take Away

Sermon via iTunes is a bad way to worship. It’s too distracting and impersonal. Looking forward to getting my butt back in a pew.

*Next week’s Bible entry may come from this CD or an on-line service. I want to diversify my church selection but I’ll be en route to Abu Dhabi Friday and since most religious services are held Friday (Christians included), I may improvise. Men, I may hit you up for some background information regarding sports

Down and Out in Arkansas

January 26, 2011

Ohio Club, Hot Springs, Ark.

5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Notable Matter: Prominent photo of Al Capone, to bathroom says “Grandpa’s Workshop”

I fell in love with Arkansas the moment I crossed the state line and saw a man with a Jason mask four wheeling along the shoulder of the highway against the flow of traffic.

I drove from Tennessee to Hot Springs, Ark. to salve my wounded soul and aching body, which had, more or less, been in a car for two weeks.

Hot Springs, Ark. is known for its eight bathhouses however, the women at the tourism office and the guy at the hotel had no idea when the city’s major attractions closed. Arkansas.

The Ohio Club

I go to the Ohio Club after soaking in the baths. I’m wrong. It isn’t a dive. I ask for directions to a dive bar. They are withheld. Strangers are more concerned with my safety than I am. I stay.

I love this bar. It was gangster hangout and I love gangsters. Al Capone, Bugs Moran and Owney Madden loved the springs and gambled, drank and philandered at the Ohio Club during prohibition.

Despite the great atmosphere — 1920s décor, mahogany bar, mezzanine level perfect for stripping — and the club’s sordid history, I can’t talk to anyone. I’m depressed, have to think about some stuff. Mind goes back to the bathhouse.

Bill, Boob, B…

Every state lays claim to something — world’s largest prairie dog, largest ball of twine, etc. Hot Springs, Ark. is the hometown of Bill Clinton, the country’s most publically excitable president. It is also home to the world’s largest natural breast. I know. I saw it.

I walk into the bathhouse. Four pools, varying temperatures. Pass on the middle pool, which is behind a full length, glass display wall. Pass on the left pool, too cold. Three fat, hairy old men in the right pool, a couple sucking face in the upper pool. I choose the old guys. Don’t need love in my face.

Notice a group of large women sitting in chairs, watch them, listen to their accents. Watch in horror as one woman’s swimming suit gradually succumbs to the weight of her left breast. She notices when the suit hits mid-nipple. I tell myself I’ll be OK. I’ve been to nude beaches, seen other breasts. I will recover.

But then…a middle-aged woman who is au natural walks into my bath. Until she sits, her curls and my eyes parallel. I want to flee. Don’t want to be rude. She talks. I think of germs.

I relax. She’s cool. Traveling to Arizona with her partner for an RV festival. Partner’s  Each has a daughter. One on each coast. I want to join them. Don’t ask. Have to tend to a minor task called figuring out my life.

The Ohio

Thinking about the bathhouse pulls me out of my funk. Put away pad, pull hair back. Ask owner to recommend a Baptist church. She looks at me funny. Asks man at the end of the bar, request passes every mouth.

Woman: “Honey what are you writing?”

I tell her about the project, make it known I’m not a Baptist.

“Honey, I’m Pentecostal you can go to church with me.”

Man laughs.

“I was thinking Baptist would be good since I’m in the south.”

“Oh you’re in Baptist country. They’re crazy you know.”

Man: “Don’t tell them you don’t believe.”

Woman: “Oh God no.”

“Why?”

“They’ll make you go to the front of the church so they can convert you and you’ll probably have to stay up there and sing.”

“Seriously?”

Woman: “Don’t listen to him.”

They say 90 percent of the community “goes to church,” which means they think they’ll be saved if they show up a few times a year. The woman yells down the bar that I don’t believe. The only atheist in town comes over. We talk about science, his experience with the Church of Christ, the reason he stopped believing.

Lesbians and atheists in Arkansas. Interesting.

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