Homo Sapiens Lunaticus
I was in the womb when humans first walked on the Moon; perhaps this is why I was born a homo sapiens lunaticus, a mutant strain of humanity that views everyone on this planet as a member of the same family. Maybe some stray Aquarian moonbeam struck me in the eye, or a breeze of Woodstock fog caught in my nose, or maybe it was John Lennon singing my nursery rhymes from a speaker taller than I was when I was three that made me this way. My kindergarden was as multicultural as any Chicago neighborhood could be at the time, what with the white parents spitting and throwing rotten food at my classmates. Maybe it was sitting in my Nana’s kitchen watching Nazis marching on the small black and white tv in what wasn’t a documentary, but the local news reporting on a suburb a few miles away. Maybe it was the relentless propaganda of Aloysius Snuffleupagus and Star Trek, Superman and Sanford and Son; maybe it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There was a lot of science fiction; Clarke, Asimov, Herbert, all of the writing about humanity against the backdrop of the cosmos. It definitely had something to do with Carl Sagan. I had chicken pox and couldn’t have been more than eleven when it aired, and I was transfixed. I begged for the book for Christmas and cherished it, reading it again and again until it was ragged and falling to pieces. Just recently I cut up the book and incorporated it into my painting of Hypatia and St Cyril, the story of whom I first heard from Carl Sagan. So, yeah, he definitely introduced me to his gang, but he wasn’t the only one who had my attention.
I was very religious from a very young age. My Aunt secretly baptized me in the Catholic Church and my mother took me around to many different churches of a wide variety of denominations. I was around seven when I was banned from a Sunday School for arguing with the teacher who had asserted to a group of children that if Hitler had accepted Jesus in the end he would have gone to Heaven, and that if our Grammas had said, ‘God damn it.’ as she slipped from a stepladder she was headed straight to the fires of hell. My poor mother was mortified when I was brought into the service and she was asked to leave, but God bless her, she thought I was right. There was an argument in English class my freshman year when a girl told me that I was going to hell (actually, she shrieked it rather loudly) during a class debate on whether or not Creationism should be taught in school. We were doing ‘Inherit the Wind’. That should go on the list of influences, along with ‘The Crucible’ and Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, which taught me that religion, politics, economy and ecology are all inexorably tied together, yet the actions and fates of individuals are not merely important but all that is relevant is the final reckoning. Let’s put ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ way at the top of that list.
When I was seventeen, I gave Marxism a chance. I was in my freshman year at De Paul and I met this girl that I really liked and she was hanging out with these cool art students who also were Communists. They had some great parties. Their leader took an interest in me; his name was Chris and he was straight out of central casting for the part, down to the spectacles and beret. We talked about a wide variety of subjects and initially he was very appealing, but this was a pattern I had noticed with the many Christians who had been trying to seduce my soul into their particular prison of belief and I was not completely innocent. Plus, things were going good with the girl. Then came the day when we argued about guns, which he was in favor being as widely and indiscriminately as possible, the better to ferment revolution. This was the day I was supposed to go to an actual meeting for the first time and he was pressing for me to officially join the party. We were sitting on the hilly lawns above the cafeteria on a crisp blue autumn day and I could clearly see a line that I wouldn’t cross, then he asked me if I could drive him by his mother’s apartment to pick up some materials for the meeting. I said sure and twenty minutes later I was parking my 1981 Chevy Citation in the parking garage of Lake Point Tower, one of the more obviously posh addresses in Chicago. For starters, it’s the only one on the East side of Lake Shore Drive. We got in the elevator with a very familiar looking dude who said, ‘Hello, Chris’ and Chris said, ‘Hello, Mr. Furnier.’ and I said, ‘Holy shit! You’re Alice Cooper! Dude! I just turned 18 last week, and I was driving home and that song totally came on and I was like, ‘dude, awesome song moment!’ and now this is even fucking better!’ And Vincent Furnier laughed graciously and shook my hand and Chris looked mortified. His bedroom view was the north end of the skyline. I remember it as being quite staggering. Later, when I dropped him off at the meeting he asked why I wasn’t coming up, and I said, ‘Chris, I got into De Paul through the the Theater School by auditioning, which basically means I got into college by being charming rather than smart. Still, my father is a bus driver and you can’t possibly teach me anything he hasn’t about the Proles.’ and I drove away. The look on his face was almost better than meeting Alice Cooper.I’m still friends with the girl.
My father put ‘1984’ in my hand when I was in seventh grade. I devoured it, the most adult novel I had ever been given, complete with sex and violence. He hadn’t actually read it but the movie had made a big impression on him as a kid. We talked about it over the kitchen table, discussing how Big Brother was a symbol like Uncle Sam or Mother Russia; I delivered my book report under the American flag and smiling portrait of Ronald Reagan, and I was doing great right up until I said how Big Brother was like Uncle Sam or Mother Russia. That’s when Mrs. K rose shrieking from her desk, calling me a stupid boy who missed the point of the book entirely, but I did not cry and I stood my ground as I learned the lesson that a bus driver can understand a piece of literature better than an English teacher.
When I was twenty one my best friend was killed by a drunk driver. It was sudden and wrong and as horrible as anything; she was stolen from us. She was a fervent vegan and supporter of anti-vivisection efforts and she made me more compassionate even though I still think steak is awesome. It’s not like she’s the first person I loved who died; one of my earliest memories is watching my father adjust the pillow of my grandmother’s coffin. He was only twenty two. His grief when his brother died shook the house and my soul; my most beloved uncle who gave me comic books and loved Star Trek and had a convertible and was a hero cop and who died too young, died younger than I am right now, is still a huge presence in our lives. My mother’s father, who argued with me about God for thirty five years, finally won as he lay dying in a coma; the new hospital chaplain was a Catholic priest from Kenya who had pretty much just walked into the room from another continent, looked at us gathered around this old Polish painter and began to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’, which, of course, was my Grandfather’s favorite hymn.
After I got divorced I started to really study and practice Zen. I had been a poseur Buddhist before, who burned incense in front of statues and tried to meditate but never really got too deep with it. I read ‘Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind’ and that definitely made an impression. I decided to pursue the Short Path without really understanding what that meant, and fifteen years later I’m glad I’m not on the Long Path because that would have taken forever. In the year 2000, I found myself in Rome, and one morning I went to the Colosseum where the Christians were mass murdered by the Romans. I walked under an arch depicting the sack of Jerusalem in 69CE, a Menorah being carried off from the burning Temple. One can look through the arch to the broken remains of the Forum. Around the way I found myself in the Basilica Eudoxiana, which houses the alleged chains of St Peter, as well as Michelangelo’s Moses. I walked through the city to the Vatican and took the tour. The Sistine Chapel was the most impossible painting I have ever seen. The Pope had declared it a Jubilee year and the Porta Sancta had been opened. I walked through into St Peter’s tomb and my soul was shriven of all sin, at least according to Catholic dogma. From there I went to the Vatican Gift Shop and then back into Rome, where I had lunch in the Piazza in front of the Pantheon. There I sat and had a daydream that was almost like a vision.
Augustus Caesar awakes from a dream and calls in a storyteller. ‘I cannot sleep’. He says. ‘Tell me a story.’
The old man says, ‘over a thousand years from now all this will be broken and stripped of marble. To build a tomb.’
‘For what dictator is this tomb built?’ Caesar asks.
‘No dictator, mighty Caesar. No, this evening, a man is being interred in Judea…’
‘No. He was executed by Pilate for stirring up trouble with the Pharisees. Among other things, his followers named him ‘King of Kings and Messiah of Humanity’.’
‘Those are my titles.’
‘Of course, mighty Caesar. But in three hundred and fifty years, an Emperor of Rome will name this man God Incarnate.’
‘You’re shitting me.’
‘No, it’s true. The Pontiff of Jupiter Optimus Maximus will worship a triumvirate God consisting of a spirit of some sort, the sky god of the Jews, and his son, who is apparently this carpenter we executed today.’
‘So, the Forum and Imperial Palace aren’t being torn down for his tomb? Then whose?’
‘Well, apparently this man has a best friend who is already denying even knowing him; it’s his tomb.’
This scenario played itself out in my imagination, rather than being crafted as a story by my will. All of my Zen practice primed me for a very Christian epiphany; all of my agnostic angst abated with an ironic laugh. I understood that belief is meaningless while faith is everything. Faith is an intensely private matter because it is all that sustains us in the darkness. The certainty of zealots is spawned by their faithlessness; they cannot bear to see the darkness so they blind themselves with rigid beliefs. This is why zealots emphasize the supernatural nature of Jesus and insist on a literal reading of the Bible that requires replacing science with magic. They will tell you that if the Bible is not literally true then the world is meaningless and there is no morality; I tell you they are doubly wrong. The Bible is not literally true, yet there is meaning and morality in the world.
In November of 2001 the university I was trying to buy a degree from held an interfaith congress which featured various speakers. I went. An Imam got up and started a harangue against America that culminated in the phrase, ‘Osama bin Laden is a victim of American economic…’ and that’s when I stood and in full voice (for those of you who know me and my trained pipes, you are aware that when I decide to project I can overwhelm a mere microphone) announced, ‘All right! I’ve heard enough of this bullshit! I’m leaving.’ I never looked back but I was informed by classmates later that I led quite the exodus from the auditorium. Everyone exercised their freedom of speech. Peacefully.
These are old stories to my friends. They should know them as well as I do by now. These stories are what I found when I searched my soul after the events in Norway; there’s more, but I promised the other people involved in those events I would never blog about them. I am recounting these here for the lurkers below, folks who might feel sympathy to the terrorists’ views on multiculturalism and Muslims. The simple minds have come unhinged by a fact so big they can’t ignore it; but they can’t help themselves from saying the same stupid things they always say because they have never acquired the habit of thinking. They would tell you that people who think like me are trying to destroy our culture. Who is the one trying to tear everything down? I am a progressive multiculturalist who views humanity as the most beautiful and precious thing in the universe; Our diversity is our strength. I live my love for Jesus through humble service to others; I try to do what He said to do. This means that I piss a lot of people off. That’s okay, He warned me that would happen, but that it would all be okay if I have faith. So I have faith. I don’t want to take away your guns, but you cannot force one into my hand. Do not mistake this for weakness, as I can show you how effective a hand can be. Pacifism is not defenselessness. If you could take the leap of faith over here to me, you would see that you are never so strong as when you lift someone up.