Tag: memories

Getting religion

June 26, 2010

I went to a Catholic High School, not because I had gone to Catholic grammar school (I didn’t) and not because I or my family was particularly religious (we weren’t), but because after attending public school the first year back in the continental U.S., I was afraid I wouldn’t live through another year of it, much less three more, so I begged to transfer to the school where there was a little more behavioral control in evidence (for context, this was the late 60s).

There were some good moments (studying Ayn Rand, Niemoller, Saint-Exupéry, et. al. with a very charismatic priest is a highlight, as was hearing the coolest brothers and sisters telling about their Summers spent on the nearby Catholic Worker Farm), there was some psychological torture (studying Latin with the most dull-witted and mind-numbing person in the hemisphere).

But by far the best was a religion class in 11th grade. What was cool about it was that we didn’t talk about religion, at least I don’t remember doing so, though surely we must have. What I remember was an engaging, vibrant, passionate sister who clearly loved life, teaching, people and who respected her students and wanted to enrich their minds and hear their ideas.

There were two classes that really stick out for me. In one, the nun wrote the lyrics for the Leonard Cohen song ‘Suzanne’ on the blackboard. We listened to the song, examined and talked about the words, listened again, explored meanings and possible motivations and outcomes. It was one of the most stunning classroom experiences I have ever had. I would say it was the most stunning, except for another, also with the same nun.

She had at the front of the room several pictures depicting Jesus Christ. I don’t remember all of them exactly, but basically, for the purposes of this story, and being descriptively accurate, you could say one was The Pieta, one was a manger scene, one was a closeup of a face with a crown of thorns, one was floating beautifully passionless on a post-ascension cloud and one was Christ of the Breadlines.

Christ of the Breadlines

She asked us which image best represented our idea of Jesus. Most of my classmates had gone to Catholic School and lived in the little township in upstate New York their whole lives. Maybe that accounts for their responses, which were mostly split between the torture victim and the cloud-rider. Anyway, I was the only one who raised my hand for Christ of the Breadlines. The only one, and I was somewhat embarrassed by that, in the uncomfortable way you feel if you are singled out for undue praise. I thought I was making the obvious choice.

That moment really made me aware that I was different from the other students in ways I hadn’t realized before (and I was already plenty different). I was shocked by the choices made by my fellow students and kept trying to understand. Did their responses really reflect their thinking, or was something else at work? Sometimes I’d thing they were just playing mind games with the nun. Maybe they were refusing to give the answer she wanted because, well, they’d been mindfucked themselves by many a nun and wanted to make a point about their earlier Catholic education. Or maybe I was the only one naive enough to be mindfucked into giving Sister the answer she wanted (and yes, I think it’s a given what answer she was hoping for; see ‘Suzanne’ above).

I finally realized that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And that’s when I “got” religion and stopped being a Christian. I realize that it’s possible that someone else, under the same circumstances, would make the opposite choice — in an alternate universe, maybe I’m the Pope. It took me many more years to come to realize I was or had at some point become an atheist, and to come to terms with that. But religion still fascinates me, like a lifelong research project, in the drastic/dramatic way it shapes people, and controls them, blinds them, and even sometimes enlightens and elevates them, and I still think if you read the New Testament, even the Cliff Notes version, and don’t come away seeing the Jesus depicted there (man, god, or literary character) as Christ of the Breadlines, there is something seriously wrong with your comprehension (it probably having been warped even more drastically by the many evils of dogma so that even religion isn’t “religious” anymore).

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that shes half crazy
But that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes you hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From salvation army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

Mario Cuomo – Keynote Address at the 1984 Democratic National Convention

June 13, 2005

My Dad’s a pretty mainstream, “middle of the road” Democrat, but he has upon occasion gotten passionate about politics. He still talks about the amazing Keynote Address Mario Cuomo gave at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. I just found it on a site called American Rhetoric, where great oratory is archived, in text, audio and in some cases, video. Aren’t the Internets great?

Complete index to and partial text and audio database of the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century, according to 137 leading scholars of American public address, as compiled by Stephen E. Lucas (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Martin J. Medhurst (Baylor University). Find out who made the cut and experience the power of rhetorical eloquence in this provocative list of “who’s who” in American public address.

They also have great movie speeches and a collection called “Rhetoric of 9-11.”

BTW, I think Cuomo would have made a great SC justice; Dad wishes he had been president.

(Not So) Happy Earth Day

April 22, 2005

The LeftCoaster has a good rundown of the very nasty Earth Day present delivered by the House yesterday. What a disaster.

I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. The Catholic High School I attended let us out for the day to go to the march. It was fantastic, joyful and full of hope. A few years later, quite a lot of good legislation had been passed, and folks were becoming conscious and future-thinking. Then Reagan came in with his anti-intellectual, pseudo-populist bullshit and now my brother, like millions of other mis-informed people, think the hole in the ozone, and anything else associated with “treehuggers,” is a hoax. And he won’t recycle until they pay him to do it, like getting your deposit back on bottles (yeah, they used to do that).

I remember when McDonald’s stopped using Styrofoam to wrap Big Macs due to public pressure. And being seen at the store getting your groceries bagged in plastic was a social disgrace (paper wasn’t much better; you brought your own canvas bags, thank you very much). Boy, those were the good old days. If we’d seen the parking lots full of SUV that awaited us 30 years hence, I don’t think we would have been quite so excited by what we were doing.