NOMADS

Some cultures believe a man’s spirit exists in the soil of one’s ancestors. My grandmother’s ground furnished my own, with her muddled knowledge extended in part through Grandpa. But I never knew Mom’s parents, who had been born in other states. Here, though, apart from the Indians, we are all nomads. Many of us, spiritless nomads.

~*~

In this Census round I ponder multiple categories of Hispanics: Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, other Spanish, Hispanic. Also, some of the other categories I keep encountering in the Valley: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Guamanian, Samoan, Eskimo, Aleut, other (specify). Indian (Amer.) print tribe.

I have no idea what I am other than a homogenous WASP. English? German? Norwegian? Czech? Not a clue.

Kokopelli, for his part, is offended there are no distinctions between Hopi and Navajo, even if he’d checkmark both and a few more.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

EMPHASIZING THE LIVING WORD

One point Quakers have emphasized is that the Word of God is Christ rather than the Bible. It’s a point made clear in the first chapter of the gospel of John, where what is often translated as the Word – or the Greek philosophical concept of Logos – was made flesh and dwelled among us.

Fundamentalists, in contrast, insist the Word is the book, usually in a King James translation, or so it seems.

Some Christians, aware of the difference, will speak of the Living Word, meaning Christ, on one hand, and the Written Word or some variation, on the other.

The consequences of these differing understandings can be drastic.

In his book Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience, Douglas Gwyn cites another criticism of those who claim their religious authority springs from Scripture. Summarizing John 5:45-47, he says: “Moses, the legendary author of the Torah, will be the witness against those who have staked their salvation and spiritual authority upon Scripture.” It’s a remarkable turn in the argument. Moses, after all, had met the Holy One in the Burning Bush. There was something much more compelling than the written words to draw upon.

It was a first-hand experience rather than a retelling. For Friends, of course, the Holy One was (and is) present in Meeting for Worship and in faithful daily life.

Quakers advanced another concept they called gospel order, which was living in that faithful daily awareness. Again, citing Gwyn, the pivotal early Quaker George Fox “wrote of gospel order as the restoration of the relations between man and woman in Eden before the Fall.” For Friends, this became the basis for allowing women to establish and manage their own Meetings for Business at a time when the very idea was scandalous.

It all points to another central point of dialogue: the source of authority in our various identities and practices. These understandings are important, I sense, because they can profoundly affect our outlook on life itself and the ways we live within it.

And yes, no matter how much we might “question authority,” at some point we still need meaningful structure in direction – individually and collectively. Just where do you find it, in your own experience?

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

A MAIN STREET IN MAINE

Those trying to make the place trendy like to call it SoBe.
Those trying to make the place trendy like to call it SoBe.

South Berwick, just across the Salmon River from us, has a downtown block that retains an iconic appearance. The town is also home to Berwick Academy, a private prep school.

 

The writing on the wall touts Dover, in New Hampshire just to the west.
The writing on the wall touts Dover, in New Hampshire just to the west.

ALONG WITH THE REZ

When you drive, details pile up.

Where mat-house villages once stood, Highway 21 now runs along a large irrigation canal. Because the roadway goes nearly straight, a few subtle curves become especially treacherous.

Illegal aliens buy cars but have no driver’s license or training. No insurance, either. There’s a headlamp out, few repairs, or brakes gone bad. Talk about trouble.

In the dark, a big white furry wing sweeps in front of my windshield. An owl. An omen, nearly colliding. It’s hard to say who’s more startled.

It might have told me the Pom Pom or feather religion, Washat, remains the most practiced old religion on the reservation.

Kokopelli was a member.

Twenty cars park in a hollow point toward what appears to be a white frame meetinghouse. Inside is a congregation of dove hunters.

There isn’t a cloud in the sky, only one jet contrail as crows circle some relentless screeching. As they flap up, slaughter moves out of the shadows and coyote pursue the only antelope in these parts, the ones on the Army reservation.

On the bright side, the State Fair is a three-hundred-pound pumpkin multiplied. Its doe-goats are judged by measuring and weighing their teats in a beauty pageant stripped to essentials.

Back home, her moodiness could be impossible.

Downtown, about nine at night, a wino-cowboy walks into the office. “Where’s the city desk?” He has no place to stay. “It’s a long story.” A quarter in his pocket, stub of a cigarette, and scabies — mites that are highly contagious. “I don’t want to spread them the way some bastard did to me.” So he went to the hospital from the Gospel Mission, received medicine (how’d he know to do all this?). Didn’t get back in. (“He refused to stay for the service,” they explained.) Angry, turns to ask: “Where does a stranger go for help in this town?”

How should I know? I’m just filling in for somebody else.

“Well, if anybody whizzes you,” the stranger says, “it was a matter of amphetamines. Maybe you heard about ‘The Duke’ in Traders? The trial dismissed on procedural grounds?”

He buried $67,000, but when he returned, the money was gone. So he says, far too articulate for the typical migrant.

Later, Kokopelli tells me that guy’s trouble.

Details pile up as I stay downtown at night and taste the psychic toll of economic theories in wasted, untapped talents. The stench stirs tears. Lonely men at counters stretch cups. Icy evenings of waitresses, cowboys, GIs, prostitutes drive from many towns, a migrant worker family whose car broke down, out-of-work loggers, midnight mechanics and nurses. Add to them an assortment of skinny wannabe rich bitches or real estate and insurance brokers. Clerks trying to live on earnings from clothing stores. A few lumpy bag ladies. Walk in, and all look up from their coffee with vacant eyes. It could be Dickens.

I see another hunger, but my own faith isn’t strong enough — I’d yield to despair.

Later, I sing to Kokopelli, “All of man’s good resolutions turn sang froid in the seasons of samsara.” Noticing his quizzed expression, I translate: “Our good intentions turn cold-blooded in the web of life’s illusions.”

It’s the spider again. Coyote’s cousin. Their damned net.

“Sometimes, Bozo, I wonder about you,” Kokopelli says, exhaling blue curlicues.

“There’s no Dedicated Laborious Quest, no magic without the strength of sitting or dancing.”

I dare not be entrapped in any desire to move freely through the vertical and horizontal dimensions of wherever I simply am. So far I’ve surveyed past and present. The future must wait. First, I need to map the emotional and sensual planes of this realm. Every dance has distinctive rhythms and expressions, as Kokopelli reminds me.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

STAY FOR THE SERVICE

I’m invited to photograph an Indian funeral for a 109-year-old woman. It’s a traditional affair, with a Pendleton trapper’s blanket on a casket lowered by hand. Even so, young punks surround me: “Don’t you think you’re crazy,” they ask, implying?

I look around for Kokopelli, who might intercede on my behalf. He’s nowhere in sight.

Later, with a Styrofoam cross and dozens of American flags, the casket rides the back of a pickup, viewed by faces in Cool-Ray sunglasses — ancient traditions side-by-side with the cheapest, most honky-tonk trinkets of the New American Way.

I wasn’t permitted to enter the house, either.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

INVITATION TO FLIGHT

On one of my solitary walks with Kokopelli, I admire the fullness of purple-tipped grasses along the canal bank. Some offer bunched, short seeds in clusters. Others have long-shafted seeds in plumes. Or oblong, spiked seeds suspended like bells. “There must be a thousand golden variations,” I tell him. Oats. Wheat. Barley. Bread and beer. Silk-enshrouded ears of corn for sweet butter. Fat tender steaks. Sour whiskey mash. Like some people I knew. The many named needles and strands of whips and brushes reach skyward, flaying the wind, inviting birds to flight.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.