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Monthly Archives: January 2009

The word “religion” comes from the Latin word which also gives us “ligature.” It is something that binds people together. Christianity–at least the mysticism that Paul wrote about–was about the perfection of man from creature to christ. It was about the Christ in all of us and how to pull that out from the selfish animals we all are. Meister Eckhart saw that, so did Thomas Merton much later on.

Speaking of Paul, a lot of the writings credited to him were not his. The same man who wrote so kindly to the women of the church at the end of his letters would not also denigrate and devalue them. Should be pretty obvious from reading through them that they could not emanate from the same man, even without the extensive scholarship done over the years that proves the point.

The heaven and the hell of Paul’s writings are not physical locations. They are states of mind, states of being. Not some place you go to when you die. We’ve all been in Hell at some point or another, and in Heaven too. Scan your lives, I know you will find those instances in your memories.

There was no historic figure named Jesus, no miracles, no literal crucifixion or literal resurrection of the body. No original sin either. No good, no evil, no god, no devil. None of that makes any sense. As a series of metaphors however it all begins to fall into place and actually have value.

Christianity as practiced today is a perversion.

Religion at its best can be something to uplift the spirit and to make the world better NOW. Because that’s all we have. As I mentioned in this space before, we are all alone. All of us. And the only certain thing we have is that we will all die and return to dust. Religion can be one way of finding solace in this life if solace is what you need. That’s why it’s the opiate of the masses.

Knowing what I know of opiates, Marx was particularly on the mark when he said that.

To Marcy. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Which given the topic is an even odder phrase…

My prayer is a sentence,
Carefully considered
Or rafting on the muse’s rapids,
To you.

Or so I think.

Dear reader,
God of my understanding,
Do you understand me?

These words are trinkets,
Bought with pain,
Careworn by time,
And I mean every one of them.

But do I understand you
Enough to use
The words that
Unlock your door?

Do you understand me
Enough to see
The color and pattern,
Course and drift
Of context conveyance?

Or, hamartia, did I miss the mark?

Today was a very productive day. I got to sit down and focus on something I’ve been wanting to do for about a year now, and that’s put together a new book. This one goes back to an old friend of mine, Roadside Truckstop. Right now everything is together in one manuscript. I might shift some bits around but it’s all there. A lot of running. A lot of lost people. A lot of found people too. And the Elephant Graveyard. This is the introduction I wrote back in 1991 for Roadside Truckstop. Now if I can only come up with a good cover…

The road and I are at odds, and yet it’s on my side. It stretches in expansive metaphor with every billboard parable and roadside truckstop vignette. Towns and cities are interludes. Short or longish breaks in the monotony. The urge to take an exit and get lost in a new world is so very compelling, but the task of going home looms just as large.

I covered nearly 1000 miles today. Every stop was like the last: Pull in, get gas, whizz, get a drink, clean the windshield, pay the attendant, zero out the trip meter (to track gas use with–I trust it more than the gas gauge), then get rolling. The encounters I have are where the routine is broken. To every cashier, gas attendant, waitress and peone I run into, I’m a cipher. A blank slate. Just another face in the shuffle. As far as they know, I’m a famous rock star out for some inspiration, or a rich eccentric, or a travel writer, or whatever I wish.

This one truckstop I’d hit was all-encompassing. Reminded me of a starbase. A waystation where you can get a shower, get your laundry cleaned, buy contraceptives in the washrooms, sit and eat in a big restaurant, catch up on the news, get your car or rig repaired, even get a room to sleep in–all in one place. A guy could live and die here.

There’s a story in all the people that work there, and a few in the people who’re just happening through. Generally it’s all pretty laid back, nothing raucous. Kinda like a graveyard it gets so quiet. With all those big rigs, I’d almost call it an elephant graveyard. Really though, it’s ’cause everyone’s so tired.

Sleep. What a darling concept. Fourteen hours on the road, fourteen more will get me home….

I remember the moment quite clearly, though I was sauced at the time.

It was 1989, the birthday party for my friend Marcy. I was in a new relationship with Rhonda, whom I loved very much–at least as much as I thought I could being so young. I knew I loved Rhonda and I knew she’d said she loved me, but I cried because I couldn’t feel it. I had her words and actions to go by and nothing else. I told her this but I don’t think she understood. I was a drunken mess. What can I tell you. I didn’t understand my own thought enough to explain it to her even if I was sober.
The reason I think of this melodramatic tirade from 20 years ago has to do with Colin McGinn. He is an atheist philosopher, one of the six interviewed on the Atheism Tapes (well worth watching. It’s on Netflix). In his interview he talked about the “god” concept being around–being so prevalent in society–because it answers the loneliness we all feel because of being locked in our own skulls. We make up this concept because we are all truly very much alone inside ourselves.
I call it the Tragedy of the Human Condition. We are unable to truly convey the thoughts we have. I don’t care how much of a command you have over your given language you cannot explain some thoughts so well they will be perfectly understood. That’s where art comes in, I suppose.
We are all alone. All of us.
Do you think perhaps that’s really why people can’t let go of religion? Why they can’t let go of god?
Our soon-to-be-former President and our destructive stay in Iraq spawned, among other things, a wave of atheist sentiment which included three great books: The God Delusion, God is not Great and The End of Faith. All three of these approach the subject of atheism in different ways, each according to the backgrounds of their authors, and with different amounts of vitriol at our species’ destructive dance with god.
I spent a lot of time myself going over spirituality, metaphysics and religion over the last 20 years. I came to Zen Buddhism and Taoism early on in that search and liked them both. The fact that neither one requires a supernatural deity or a godman is even more appealing. I’ll come back to this later.
I went back and forth with Christian mysticism as well trying to strike a balance between the Catholicism of my youth and the things I knew made more sense. Some of that was also mixed in with Gnosticism, both in its historical sense and in its metaphysical sense. At this point I will direct you to Timothy Freke and his books. He pushes his sources to the limit to make a point but his argument about the “Abrahamic religions” being false and destructive is a valid one.
Freke points out that the story of Jesus is a copy of the mystery cults that were found all over the Mediterranean at the time and posits the theory that the Jesus Movement was one started by Saul of Tarsus (Paul) among others as a Jewish version of the mystery cults. This makes sense given the fact that the story later recounted in the Gospel of Mark (upon which the other three Gospels were based) is essentially a godman story originally written in Greek for a Jewish audience (John Shelby Spong also speaks of this last bit in his Jesus for the Non-Religious). It also makes sense when you consider that Paul himself never mentions Jesus as an historic figure. He actually doesn’t even care really whether Jesus existed. It was never important to Paul or to the movement he advocated. This last because Jesus never existed in the first place. Spong has a different conclusion about Jesus’ existence in his book, and his reasons are interesting.
I center myself around Christianity here mainly because it is that movement which is responsible for eradicating the other mystery cults that competed with it and directly or indirectly has caused most of the pain and suffering our race has endured for 2000 years. All this for a man who died so long ago if he even existed in the first place.
Personally I say sod the whole thing. All of it.
Zen Buddhism states that once you reach the other shore of enlightenment you leave the boat behind. Drop the crutch you needed to get across the room. Look at the moon, not the finger pointing to it. I can go on with the metaphor if necessary. I love the honesty in Zen. If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him. same goes for any godman.
My finger points to this: There comes a time, as Paul said, when you drop childish things. Religion is one of those things. If you want to know the nature of good and evil, look no further than the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching.
Jesus is dead, Lao Tzu is dead, Baba is dead, Buddha is dead, God is dead. So’s Neitzsche but he actually existed. So did Baba for that matter….
I will leave you with three concepts: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, “all you need is love,” and the words of Zen Master Seung Sahn: Cultivate ‘don’t-know’ mind.

Energy expansive
Uncontained
Unlimited
Dances and
Spins and
Collimates and
Pools.

Collect,
Coagulate here.
See how patterns freeze
Into matter.

Patterns like letters
Writ one and other
And another again.
The patterns write themselves
Over and over and over.

Notes to paper
To eye
To hand
To sound again,
The symphony moves along.

To eye
To hand
To sound again
And again
And again.

Stop and listen
As you write
Your self.

This is in response to an e-mail sent to me by a dear friend. The subject was how each decade of our lives is like a chapter in a novel. Her message to me, like most all of the e-mails she sends, matches what I am thinking at that very time. Weird, eh Johnie?

Each passing decade has felt like a chapter in a novel. I was in a relationship throughout my twenties where I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t understand *how* to love, and didn’t do a great job. That relationship ended a few days before my thirtieth birthday. In my thirties I did what I should have done in my twenties, I suppose: I did a lot of dating. A lot of indiscriminate dating. I sought love like it was a quest and found ashes instead. I spent some of the back half of my thirties trying to die because I saw what my life had been: A chasing of addictions.
What I have found at this point is that love is l’oeuvre. Taken one way, like in tennis, it means nothing. Not that love is meaningless, everything and nothing have the meaning you give to them. Otherwise your treasures are just these little baubles. Trinkets. Insubstantial.
l’oeuvre also translates to “the work” or “the masterpiece.” One’s life is one’s masterpiece, I suppose. But some of us have great editors who leave out or blur some of the less savory portions.
In the end, I am not sure if I care what meaning my life has to others. I care about other people but you cannot shake an addict from his/her addiction. And we are all chasing addictions.
Chasing personal addictions and battling affronts to our egos. This is the real story of the human race. Not feeding our families and seeking shelter, the rest of the animal kingdom manages to do all that well enough without the need for nuclear weapons, god myths and political parties. Nope, it’s all about where the next fix is coming from and who pissed us off today. Hang out with some active addicts sometime and you will see a perverse version of human existence. Or perhaps it is human existence in super-saturated color.
On the other hand, save yourself the misery and really look at what means anything to you. If it’s your kids or your family, then bravo. But still, ask yourself why. Is it for them, or for the ego inside you?

I for one am glad to be rid of 2008. It was a good year in spots, but not all round. 

I lost some things during this year, but all loss and gain are are what we quantify. They mean nothing except in the context we give. This was a clean and sober New Year’s, like many others I’ve had before, actually. And that is one thing I have gained: Another clean day.
Again though, it’s all context.
I am still twisted up in myself. Like unraveling a knotted length of cord, one knot leads to another and another again. Alexander didn’t have a problem with this. He cut the cord and the cord un-knotted itself.
So what cords do I cut? The cord of escape, I guess, for one. The escape that chemical assistance once gave, or the addictive pleasure of another’s body and mind in mutual escape. That particular pleasure always got me knotted up further. Too many times I would pour my loneliness and lust and need into the body of another for the same sort of succor that I later looked to chemicals for. At the time I thought these were events of love but looking back they were examples of chasing various lusts. No. Chasing implies that I had control for any length of time. Led along might be the better description. 
And no, I was not led around by my dick. You give my storied appendage too much credit. I was led around by loneliness. By a need for attention and affection. To be shown that I matter. With the chemicals later on, I was looking for escape. And death. I was always looking for the toke/hit/sip that would end it all. Oops! Had no idea that one would stop my heart. It was an accident, I swear ta god…
Hah. Kill me? There is no me to kill. The ego is a slippery beast. The biggest knot of all. The true Gordian Knot. 
And so, as I sit here on January 1, 2009, I feel content. Happy even. This year will be what it will be, but so far I walk into it happy, clean and clear.
I hope you do the same, whomever you are.