A Rapture of Terror

Steve Kornacki wrote a Salon article last week about how Harold Camping‘s 1994 prediction of the end of the world caused him to live in fear at 13 years old.

I feel his pain.

I was terrified of the Rapture as a kid. The Christianity of my youth was full of Rapture and Tribulation theology, with the Antichrist rising up to take over the world and desecrate the Temple, judgments pouring out and seas boiling and scorpions tormenting, all culminating on the triumphant return of Christ himself with a sword proceeding from his mouth to slaughter the wicked.

And me, the confused little preacher’s kid, who got “saved” at age 6 but soon realized that his faith was hollow and empty, but didn’t dare admit this to a soul—I believed the Rapture was coming, and that if it did I probably wouldn’t go. And I was terrified.

Our family attended a dramatization of the book of Revelation, and one scene consisted only of “sinners” cast into the Lake of Fire, coming on stage in gunny-sack robes and screaming in agony as they “burned” in stage-flames. I had a front-row seat. I was terrified.

Continue reading A Rapture of Terror

The Superstar Connection

This one’s extremely personal, folks.

For Holy Week (the week in the Christian cycle leading up to Easter Sunday), I posted songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar on Facebook, one video a day. It started as a whim, but it quickly became a kind of religious practice.

I first saw Superstar about 5 years ago, a local production in which a dear friend played Mary Magdalene. I was moved, in an indescribable way. I  engaged with all my body and soul with the messy, human struggle between Jesus, Judas and Pharisees.  By the end I was bawling like a baby. After the show, the actor playing Jesus found me and hugged me. I didn’t know what it “meant”, but I knew I’d been given a gift, and I felt utterly grateful to Molly, my friend, and her fellow players.

Every now and then I listen to the soundtrack, or play the 1973 film version. I mainly do it to remember the sense memory of that night with Molly and crew, which will always be the “real” Superstar for me.

This time, though, I resolved to pay closer attention to what Superstar was saying to me. Just like past times when “Reading the Signs” has been enlightening, I learned something vital about myself.

The message that Superstar screamed at me through all the songs I posted: human connection is tragically, excruciatingly hard. Our broken, separate-ness sometimes alienates us in spite of every intention to connect, to trust, to love.

Continue reading The Superstar Connection

Enemies

I’m going to get all mystical on you for a minute: I talk to Yeshua sometimes.

It usually happens when my hippie punk-rock faith community has a communion service—I take my wine-soaked hunk of bread, find an out of the way corner, close my eyes, and visualize entering a room to sit and sup at his side. This may sound strange, but I hope it’ll be relevant to human experience whether you believe in talking to Yeshua or not.

Mostly I talk and Yeshua listens. That’s because I try not to put words into his mouth, or simply imagine him quoting a convenient scripture. If I’m going to hear a message in words from Yeshua, it’s important to me that it be his words and not my projection. So, because I’ve still got a lot of mental clutter that interferes with my listening, the conversations are pretty one-sided, and I’m OK with that. Usually I feel Yeshua’s responses to my venting or questions in nonverbal ways, like a loving look, or a physical embrace.

But a few weeks ago I DID hear him, quite distinctly. I had, as usual, laid a problem at his feet: “I feel such a strong urge to fight battles. I want to stand against oppression and injustice, but mostly I just end up hurting those I love. Surely there must be a place for my warrior’s heart?”

Continue reading Enemies

Fiercely Guarding

This week I’ve got something very raw and vulnerable to talk about.

Someone close to me—I’m not going to say who—said something to my two-year-old daughter Niamh that shocked me. My wife Annie was napping and the three of us were alone together and feeding Niamh lunch. I gave her a cup of juice cut with 80% water, and this other person looked Niamh in the eye and said “You’d better drink water instead of juice, or you’ll become a fatty!”

I was stunned for a moment—did those words come from the lips of someone who loves me and my daughter? “Fatty”? FATTY?! My daughter is only two years old and already people close to her are tossing that vile word at her as a weapon of shame? Does a toddler need to bear a burden of anxiety over the shape of her body? Does anybody?

The word was spoken by someone with whom I often experience sharp values dissonance, despite our closeness. Ordinarily I would bite my tongue and remain silent in the face of such a remark, to keep the peace between us. But this was different—this was an attack on  my daughter, on her very identity. So I looked this person in the eye, and I said:

“Please don’t ever use that word in front of my daughter.”

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We All Suck at Joy

Regular readers, if any remain, no doubt have noticed that there have been no posts on Story by the Throat! in a long, long time. There are a number of reasons for this. There are a lot of things pulling on my mental and physical resources that make it difficult to do such a simple thing as write blog posts.

I’m going to be real with you for a moment. My life is not what I want. like, really, truly deeply falling short of what I dream and yearn for. Oh yes, I have many pleasures, many wonderful, enriching friends, many creative and fulfilling pursuits available to me. And of course I live a life of incredible privilege compared to most of the world. But still somehow I find myself beaten down by life until I can barely even remember my dreams, much less pursue them. I drive many miles to work long hours at a job I hate, for a world machine designed to chew me up and spit out the bones. The joyous work I dream of doing–celebrating story, poetry, music–is unsupported in society outside of a corporate-sponsored celebrity system. The precious work that awaits me at home–husband, father, simple liver off the land–increasingly declines as the job exacts its toll. It takes the best wine from my cup and leaves me with dregs.

It’s like I’m running a deficit on spiritual resources; everything I do, everything I attempt, requires a loan against a soul reserve I can’t back up. And acts of love, of creativity, of joy, are the most draining, so it’s much easier to sit and anesthetize the ache with entertainment and frivolity. My time and energy are drained away until I have none left for the pursuits I care most deeply about.

And I’m not alone. I think many of us, maybe all of us, are suffering in one degree or another from this soul disease. Someone I love has found themselves stuck, trapped in a life that looks far different from what they planned, hemmed in with debt and workload and isolation until even the ability to hope for more is numbed.

Continue reading We All Suck at Joy

And So We Fled

Hello, everyone! Annie and I have moved out to her family farm in Warren, OR. Yesterday we spent our first night out there, and this is the result:

And so we fled
And came to the farm house late at night
Parking on the grass
And flipping on lights
That had long lain dormant
And little Niamh giggled and ran through every room
And we followed, indulgent
Reluctant to break the spell

And walking outside
The stars loomed close
Hanging just above my head
Dancing, singing, shining
Through an atmosphere of peace
And I stood and stared
And all but kissed them

And Annie nursed the child
And the quiet stole our breaths
And we whispered in reverence
And Annie sang and the child slept
And later, so did we

And in the wee hours I alone awoke
Out of weary duty
And made the drive
Over that wide and tree-encrusted highway
Wonder-struck at the painted sunrise
That you only see out there
Where we have fled
But I bid it farewell and drove
My foot still smarting
Where I kicked the gate
In the dark, fumbling with chains
Chains that bind us still

Peace,

—Joel

The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

I gave a talk at my church, The Bridge of Portland, OR, on August 15. It was based on my post here, The Sheathed Sword, but expanded and elaborated into a dramatic storytelling extravaganza! It was quite fun and rewarding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgyeXIvlA0M]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8VZ9rBoCww] Continue reading The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Two weeks ago I talked about recognizing oracular messages in the world around me, for instance through storygaming. In that case I didn’t recognize the significance of the sign until after an unpleasant incident, though it was helpful in making sense of my travails. Diagnostic, but not preventative, if you will.

But it gets better—shortly thereafter came a time when I did read the signs in time to avoid causing pain in myself and others. A little background: with our lease up, debts soaring, and paychecks through the summer, Annie and I concocted a mad plan to gain breathing room both financial and spiritual: help renovate her parents’ RV and ditch the city for the summer, camping rent-free on our friends’ farm.

But as we struggled to realize that dream, obstacles kept arising. Creditors, the IRS, the DMV and more descended on us. Both our computers broke down. And we moved in with Annie’s folks while her dad put the finishing touches on the RV. Continue reading Reading the Signs, Part 2: The Sheathed Sword

Reading the signs, Part 1: Montsegur

At Go Play Northwest I played Frederick J. Jensen’s Montsegur 1244, facilitated by John Aegard. The game is about a French castle that has taken in a band of heretical Cathar refugees and is besieged by the Inquisistion, with the bitter end predetermined but each character’s physical and spiritual fate still very much at stake.

It was an intense, personal game experience, with rich storytelling and painful human tragedy. It affected me deeply in many ways, but I didn’t at first realize that it was trying to tell me something important about my own life.

You see, in the game I played the landless knight Pierre Roger, captain of the defense of Montsegur. He’s married to Philippa, eldest daughter to the Lord of Montsegur, but also dallies with Arsende the Harlot (all this is part of the pregenerated situation of the game, not created by players, but it’s up to the players to interpret and flesh out). And there was a theme that kept emerging, partly from my portrayal of Pierre (he was ruthless and decisive in martial matters, but bewildered and hesitant in family affairs), and partly fellow player Susan’s portrayal of Philippa (she spent a lot of time arguing with her parents and sister, and barely addressed her husband), and partly the way scenes were framed (many crucial scenes for Philippa were framed with Pierre absent, or else his presence a mere afterthought). The result was, Philippa was in crisis but estranged from Pierre; he felt for her but knew not what to say or do on her behalf, and she in turn shut him out of all major decision-making in her life. Continue reading Reading the signs, Part 1: Montsegur

Punk Rock is for the kids!

I’m thoroughly stunned that I somehow missed out on the childhood experience of the late 70s-early 80s TV show, “Kids Are People Too.” Through the retroactive magic of Youtube, I’m experiencing a taste of the show, and I’m impressed with its refreshing respect for its audience, not pandering or patronizing or ghettoizing the experience of childhood, but giving them a variety/talk show with the same entertainers and interviewees that an adult show might host. If I’d had the chance to see stars like KISS or Ron Howard talking straight with kids about who they are, I might have—well, forget about that, this post isn’t about regretting the childhood that never was.

Instead I want to talk about an amazing thing that happened when Patti Smith appeared on the show. When host Michael Young asked Patti what Punk Rock was all about, she answered: “The whole thing of Punk Rock is—newspapers and media have thrown it out of proportion—but the main thing of it was that Rock ‘n Roll’s getting back in the hands of the people. It belongs to the kids again, not the big business guys.”

That, right there, is the most beautiful and direct definition of Punk I’ve ever seen. Punk isn’t studded leather and mohawks; it isn’t three chords and vocals screamed in a British accent. In fact musicians who adopt those trappings or styles can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged record-label assets who shill for Doritos. Continue reading Punk Rock is for the kids!