El Porton, Bogotá, Colombia

3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Notable Matter:  Foreign animal head (oxen?), canteen, horseshoe and bull fighting paraphernalia above bar.

Describing a dive bar to someone living outside of the U.S. is difficult. Not because class division doesn’t exist – it does – but because independent retailers and restaurants are the norm, not the exception. A dive bar in the U.S. is a neighborhood bar everywhere else. Like our dive bars, they tend to be dark, lack windows and fill with interesting characters but they’re not competing with chain restaurants and flashy facades so they don’t slide into the category of slightly sketchy.

It’s no secret that Americans fear Colombia. The only thing we know of it is drugs and violence. Thanks to U.S. intervention, again, in Colombian policy and the acceleration of Mexican cartels, Americans view Colombia more favorably than before but when compared to what we’re comfortable with – large, shiny, safe, new things – it remains a dive country.

I wasn’t afraid to travel to Colombia but I didn’t want to go to a dive bar alone. I could handle the unknown city, but feared the unknown bar. I thought I might get kidnapped, which is not only stupid but extremely egotistical as there’s nothing about me or my life that would be of any value to a kidnapper in Colombia or anywhere else.

I planned to travel to the south side of the city, an expansive mass exiled from all tourist maps, with some natives to check out some dives as described by me and interpreted by them, but those plans fell through. I almost used this, two attempted purse snatchings and a small run in with the police as an excuse to can the Colombian dive bar experience but then I would have lost to fear and we can’t have that.

Toe First

I walk past El Porton, a small white building with a large door blocking the crooked hole serving as an entrance, and grab a safe lunch special at an American looking French sounding restaurant. When I leave, I give myself a pep talk. I’m on a side street in the middle of the city. I’m tired of being on guard 24/7 and weighing my commitment to church and alcohol. Is it more important to follow through on the blog or remain sober for the three mile walk home?

El Porton is across the street from an old bull fighting stadium, one I wouldn’t have gotten into if I hadn’t poked my head through a crack in the door and grabbed the attention of a police officer. One I wouldn’t have had to myself if I’d snubbed my curiosity. I remind myself Bogota is a city, that as long as I respect it I’ll be OK. I walk into El Porton.

I fall into the bar because like the rest of the country, the steps are surprising and uneven. The tables are white, plastic, covered with red and white checked table cloths. The table numbers are written on the white wall in black marker or crayon. The room is long. A young woman comes from the back to take my order. I assume it’s a family business. Mom follows the girl and yells to dad when I ask if I can take pictures. For some reason I obtain manners in foreign countries that I don’t have at home.

The walls are sparse, signed bullfighting photographs with curled edges huddle near the door and behind the bar. The family doesn’t understand why I’m here but we don’t talk so it doesn’t matter anyway. I stare at a poster. Looks like a harmonica man is coming to town. I watch the military or the police or some other protective force patrol the street outside the bar. These protectors are everywhere, including the parks where drugs are sold. I wonder what, exactly, makes people feel safe.

Fear is necessary response, but a wasted emotion. I wish more people would challenge fear of the unknown. It would be great if we examined what we fear before moving onto what we know. It’s interesting to think what would happen if church goers and administrators had to talk to atheists, Buddhists, etc. before studying the Bible.

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.

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.)

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

Suck Me in and Spit Me Out

January 24, 2011

Grand Avenue Baptist Church, Hot Springs, Ark.

11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Parking Lot Sign: “You are now entering your mission field.”

Chosen because…”You’re in Baptist country honey.”

For the majority of my eight-hour drive from Tennessee to Arkansas, I fantasize about this church experience. Small Baptist church in a field of sunshine. Large black women in robes singing in the choir. As the only white person, I stick out and after service, the women embrace me, invite me to a picnic. The pastor’s wife asks me to stay at their house for undetermined amount of time. I ask them about racism, get it on film documentary style. I’ve seen too many movies.

Woke up early. Asked white desk clerk how to get to the church. Said he didn’t have a phonebook (?!). I should ask the black bellhop. Awkward, did it anyway. Old white maid gave me directions.

“Is this OK to wear to a Baptist church?” Concerned about jeans and tennis shoes.

“Honey, as long as your dressed I don’t think they’ll give a damn.”

Suck Me In

Church is in large part about community and I loved this community. Over perfumed women walk to my pew, squeeze my shoulders, cup my hands, talk to me in those darling southern accents. Swoon.

No one looks at my shoes but then again, the man next to me has a Band-Aid in the middle of his forehead. I’m second tier entertainment.

First up, a baptism. Dressed in white, the pastor ascends to a spotlighted platform six feet above the choir and dunks a teenager. Creepy. Too much power. The pastor magically disrobes, descends, sits with kids on the stairs like Mr. Rogers and says, “Committing yourself to Christ means you’re willing to do something just a little bit weird.”

Asks those needing prayer to raise their hand. I want to raise both hands and legs, but I’m writing. Pastor invites people to pray at his feet. Men join him and they cry. Heaving shoulders. I cannot stand seeing grown men cry, especially if I’m the source of the pain. I want to hold them but they’re burly and I know I can’t assuage their pain so I cry.

Emotional pain manifests itself physically. When I start to cry, my left calf cramps. I lean down to rub it and smash my forehead on the pew back in front of me. This gets some attention. I turn red.

Spit Me Out

Then the sermon: “The Invisible War, Spiritual Warfare.”

The pastor talks about using prayer as a weapon against evil we can’t see — devils, warlocks, etc. The next eight weeks are devoted to this topic. Not only does he use the Bible and prayer as a weapon and religion as warfare, as he speaks his face changes, it’s almost demonic and every time he wants the congregation to “mm hm,” “amen” or laugh, he cups a hand to his ear.

One of the men in my pew sees me taking notes and gives me “The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare” by Chip Ingram.

“Here, you can take your notes in here. There’s plenty of room for note taking.”

Though I’m a heathen, I respect my elders. I take it so as not to hurt his feelings.

Take Away

I’ll go to a Southern Baptist bakeoff or chili cook off for community but faith by fear is not cool.

If the pastor wants views faith as war against the spiritual world fine. That’s his opinion. I can accept that. But would he accept mine? Unlikely.

I don’t know how many people listen to Eminem while reading the Bible but I LOVE it. Love, as in one of thousands of emotions people refuse to express until it is proffered by someone else.

I’m listening to “Stan,” a rather morose ballad about a confused young man who loves Eminem with such ferocity that, when Eminem doesn’t answer his letters, he cuts himself, puts his pregnant girlfriend in his trunk and kills them both. Stan could have used psychiatric intervention, but I commend his commitment to emoting.

Emote is a verb. It means to show emotion. Few people know about it. Why? It could be our educational system, but I think it’s because we strive to ignore our emotions. We feel them, think about them, weigh the consequences expressing them will have on our hearts, our reputations, our jobs, our futures, assess how people will react to them and, finally, we either release a watered down version of them or bury them in our intestines. Healthy.

In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he wastes words apologizing for his feelings.

He says: “I wrote you with a greatly troubled and distressed heart and with many tears; my purpose was not to make you sad, but to make you realize how much I love you all.”

Here’s an idea, save yourself a 10-page apology and just say what you mean! I love you!

The contrast between what we feel and what we express is disappointing at best. I love South and Central Americans because they’re extremely expressive. They kiss, they hug, they love, they scream and they’re honest. They enjoy their lives.

We hoard our emotions because we worry about what others think and we don’t want to get burned but: “We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies; but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.”

Musicians, artists and writers understand this. They feel. They express and then release. But they can’t always support themselves because we place a fiscal premium on stoicism. We’re a constipated society.

I write to release, but I’m learning I can’t write away emotions. I took a leap of faith and tattooed an emotion on my wrist but guess what? When it’s convenient, I hide that thing beneath my sleeve.

Feelings can be selfish, but if you let them go, they’re liberating. Challenge yourself to laugh, cry, scream, hug and explode before you have time to think about it. It’s hard, but magnificent.

I’m doing it and all I can say is: Damn it feels good to be a lova.

Disclaimer: Though this video exemplifies the exhilaration of emoting, I am not an African American male; I do not pack heat; and I do not drive a hoopty.

Geto Boys — Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta

Stopping Point: Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Note: This stuff is interesting and pertinent to my life so I’m slowing down. In order to meet my Christmas deadline, I’ll be publishing at least Mon., Tues. and Wed. from here on out.

If you don’t have at least one vice, don’t plan on infiltrating my personal circle. I’ll never trust you.

God and I agree on this point, he just doesn’t know it. According to this bit of Bible, God gives non-believers “corrupted minds” so they can do things they should not do, so they can entertain vice, which includes: evil, greed, jealousy, murder, fighting, deceit, malice, gossip, evil talk; hating God; insolence; pride; disobedience; lies; and cruelty.

Above all else “every man is a liar.” Agreed (women included), but what a disingenuous way to garner followers. Essentially God is saying, “since you’re human and these things are bound to happen, you’re screwed so you may as well give yourself over to me and, if you do you’ll have eternal life and this drudgery you live will disappear.”

I’ve stayed away from cliché arguments against religion, but using force and fear as a means to facilitate loyalty is repugnant.

The Book of Romans is fascinating. It’s about God’s Law and it is written like a congressional bill so if a person isn’t paying attention, they just get the fear and follow message. It’s winding, wordy (new word) and extremely difficult to follow. But the stuff Paul wants us to know — you’re bad and if you don’t love God you’re screwed — is written in plain English.

At one point Paul says (in parenthesis), “I use every day language because of the weakness of your natural selves.”

As in, listen up dummy, here’s everything you need to know. God created you to sin, but is merciful and will forgive you and let you walk among angels if you believe. Aside from coercion, this is a lie. In the Old Testament, God is anything but merciful. He doesn’t show grace, turn a blind eye, or bestow patience on sinners. He eviscerates them.

I know the Bible offers a lot of value — I see it — but this is propaganda used to fool people into letting fear overtake thought.

Now, I’m trying to remain open minded. As I said, I’ve found a lot of value in the Bible. I even found two bits in The Book of Romans that apply to my life.

“If our gift is to speak God’s message, we should do it according to the faith that we have.” If we don’t act on that faith, then we’re in trouble. But, if my faith is within myself, does that count? It may not be what God intended, but it’s faith.

Paul says that if we, as individuals, think something is right and we do that thing, we’re OK. But if we have any doubts about it, we’re guilty and therefore it’s wrong. So if I think it’s OK to kill a certain person – no doubts, no guilt — is that OK?

At one point Paul portends to address some important questions, questions no person of faith has ever answered for me. For example, if God is merciful, how can God find fault with anyone? Peter’s response: “But who are you my friend to talk back to God?”

That’s my problem. The answers I see in the Bible are ones of don’t ask don’t tell.

Unfortunately, interpretation is nine-tenths the law and I’m the outlier.

Stopping Point: Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians

* Note to the few of you hanging on despite this post: I will be traveling across the country starting Friday. I will continue the posts, but may add some travel updates as well.

 

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