Saturday, August 25, 2007

Quaker Wisdom...

"To embrace a faith that fits us comfortably is a poor way of accepting religion; more than that, it is in a real sense a wrong and pernicious way, for it reverses the true order of things, placing the people who are to be re-formed into the position of the Truth that is to re-form them. It is an impiety that transposes creature and Creator. Faith most be a continuing challenge to which we must respond, a discipline to which we must submit, not a feather bed to protect us against the sharp edge of living." - Edgar B. Castle (from the book Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My brief stay at the Hard Rock Hotel

When I was a teenager I was convinced that I was destined to be a Rock Star. I thought if I believed strongly enough, my dreams of stardom would come to pass. So, Rock & Roll became my lifestyle, my raison d' etre, my credo, my god. I laid sacrifices at the alter of my god: My education (I dropped out of high school as a way of "sticking it to the man" -- which would be funny if it weren't so tragic), the heart of my High School sweetheart (a rock star couldn't have a High School sweetheart hanging around), my innocence (as in "Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll") and vast numbers of brain cells (as in "Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll"). For the details on how the whole thing turned out, you can read my story here.

My Rock & Roll dreams died a slow, hard death. Gradually the realization sunk in that I'd been had. The glamor, glitz and glory of the Rock & Roll lifestyle was an illusion.

I'm travelling this week between Houma, LA (about 45 miles SW of New Orleans) and Jacksonville, FL. I finished my work in Houma this afternoon and, not wanting to stay in Houma any longer than necessary, drove my rental car onto I-10 and pointed it East towards Jax. Its an 8 to 10 hour drive. I figured I'd go to about Mobile, AL and then stop for the night and complete the journey the next day.

60 miles before Mobile I came to Biloxi, MS; an up-and-coming casino town that was decimated by hurricane Katrina. Since by now it was 8pm, I decided to see how the restoration of Biloxi has come along and also grab a bite to eat. Although there is still much devastation, the big casinos have rebuilt and are back in business. I've never cared much for gambling, but figured the casinos would probably house a variety of dining options.

My attention was caught by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (run by the same company as the Hard Rock Cafes) and I decided to take a closer look. At first glance the place was impressive: Inside the lobby are several restaurants, a Starbucks, gift shops, etc. Loud music is pumping, lights are flashing and music videos play on screens placed throughout. The lobby is filled with museum-style glass cases that contain Rock & Roll artifacts, each identified by a little gold plaque: Elton John's blue jeans (he was skinny once!), Madonna's leather pasties, various shirts, shoes and jackets once worn (allegedly) by various rock stars. Lots of guitars, of course. I wonder though whether any of the rock stars who supposedly owned the guitars attributed to them ever actually played them or if they merely had them in their possession for a brief moment -- long enough to autograph the instrument and hand it back to the Hard Rock Corporation representative.

I browsed around, looking at the displays, and felt completely underwhelmed. Was I supposed to be excited to see Tom Petty's cowboy boots in a glass case, or a jacket once worn by Peter Gabriel?

Since it was getting late, I decided to get a room there for the night. The rate for a "view room" was reasonable (Biloxi is right on the Gulf coast and the thought of waking up to an ocean view was appealing). I also decided to eat at the hotel's buffet.

I had to walk through the casino to get to the buffet. I couldn't help but notice the people "having fun" at the slots and game tables: No one was smiling. I paid $15.00 to graze at the buffet. The food was bland and lukewarm. My luggage was still in the car, but I decided to go up to the 11th floor and have a look at my "view room". It had a lovely view... of the parking lot on the side of the building.

I went back down to the front desk, told them I'd changed my mind and canceled my stay. The Hard Rock Hotel did not live up to the hype. It was a shallow illusion.

I got back in the car and headed towards Mobile.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thoughts while waiting in an airport...

I'm sitting in the airport at Dallas/Ft. Worth waiting for a plane to New Orleans that is (at this point) two hours overdue. Rather than turn this into a rant about American Airlines (ugh!) I thought I'd blog about some random thoughts that have been running through my brain while I wait for my plane.

I took a long walk through the airport -- just to stretch my legs -- and began to wonder about the vast number of people that are in this particular airport at this particular moment in time. I wondered, is there anyone in this airport right now who I've met before? Perhaps there is someone here who I've known sometime in the past 45 years of my life. I could bump into a former comrade, friend, lover or brother-in-arms (aka bandmate) -- but we would probably look each other in the eye and not even recognize one-another. Maybe that's already happened. How would I know?

My friend Bill says that humans are unable to comprehend the true scale of things -- such as how big the earth really is or how many people there really are on it. I think he's right. Perhaps this inability to grasp scale keeps us from going insane.

This reminds me of something I read earlier today in an excellent self-published book (why can't books like this get picked up by Christian publishers, he asked rhetorically and sarcastically) called "Hope Beyond Hell" by Gerry Beauchemin. You can read it online or order your own copy here.

The book draws together various arguments in favor of the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation through Christ. Just before deplaning at DFW I had read in Hope Beyond Hell this quote from another UR apologist, Thomas Allin:

"If [the doctrine of Eternal Torment is] true, can this strange fact be explained -- that nobody acts as if he believed it? I say this, for any man who so believed, and who possessed but a spark of common humanity -- to say nothing of charity -- could not rest, day or night so long as one sinner remained who might be saved. To this all would give place -- pleasure, learning, business, art, literature; nay, life itself would be too short for the terrible warnings, the burning entreaties, the earnest pleadings, that would be needed. No society, no individual, can possibly act, or has in fact acted, on such a creed, in the real business of life. It is simply impossible: who would dare so much as to smile, if he really believed endless torments were certain to be the portion of some member of his household -- it may be of himself? Marraige would be a crime, and each birth the occasion of an awful dread. The shadow of a possible hell would darken every home, sadden every family hearth... 'The world would be one vast madhouse,' says the American scholar Hallsted."

If Christians who believe in the Eternal Torment version of Hell could really grasp the scale of suffering that such a doctrine implies, I think it would drive them insane. Actually, I think it has done exactly that to some poor souls. Andrea Yates, for example, drowned her five children in order to save them from an eternity in Hell, which her "pastor", Michael Woroniecki, preached they would be in dire danger of as they grew up. Yates told her jail psychiatrist, "It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of Hell." Can you imagine the torment that that poor, misguided woman went through as she systematically killed her children in hopes of saving them from a far worse fate?

As I walked through the crowded airport, and if my theology dictated that most of the throngs I passed through were destined to be Hell's kindling, I would either have had to commandeer the public address system and preach an urgent message of repentance or I would have had to metaphorically close my eyes and ignore the magnitude of impending suffering all around me.

Fortunately, that's not what my theology dictates. I was able to move through the crowds -- still unable to grasp their numbers -- but confident that we are all bound for the same destination: Home.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Quote for the Day

Leo Tolstoy from "The Kingdom of God is Within You":

"Christ's teaching is not generally understood in its true, simple, and direct sense even in these days, when the light of the Gospel has penetrated even to the darkest recesses of human consciousness; when, in the words of Christ, what which was spoken in the ear is proclaimed from the housetops; and when the Gospel is influencing every side of human life -- domestic, economic, civic, legislative, and international. This lack of true understanding of Christ's word at such a time would be inexplicable, if there were not causes to account for it.

One of these causes is the fact that believers and unbelievers alike are firmly persuaded that they have understood Christ's teaching a long time, and that they understand it so fully, indubitably, and conclusively that it can have no other significance than the one they attribute to it. And the reason of this conviction is that the false interpretation and consequent misapprehension of the Gospel is an error of such long standing. Even the strongest current of water cannot add a drip to a cup which is already full.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

The Christian doctrine is presented to the men of our world today as a doctrine which everyone has known so long and accepted so unhesitatingly in all its minutest details that it cannot be understood in any other way than it is understood now.

Christianity is understood now by all who profess the doctrines of the Church as a supernatural miraculous revelation of everything which is repeated in the Creed. By unbelievers it is regarded as an illustration of man's craving for a belief in the supernatural, which mankind has now outgrown, as an historical phenomenon which has received full expression in Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and Protestantism, and has no longer any living significance for us. The significance of the Gospel is hidden from believers by the Church, from unbelievers by Science."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

If only life were this easy...