Due to a recent event, I’ve been motivated to write about religion, a subject I’m not too crazy about, but one that’s in the news every day, in one form or another, and which I do find interesting to read about from time to time.
As you already know, I grew up in
These are called dry towns.
It may rain like hell, but supposedly there’s not a whole lot of pouring going on.
The Baptist religion, especially in the
To a devout Southern Baptist it’s considered a sin to drink alcohol period, let alone become inebriated from drinking. So, an example of the sheer power of the Baptist religion in the
Blue laws are designed with religious morals in mind, regulating Sunday activities such as shopping in retail stores, and buying certain things considered vile and unnecessary in the eyes of the moral Protestants.
When I was a young boy, many retail stores were closed on Sunday. Grocery stores often had areas containing dry goods roped off, prohibiting the sale of say…a cooking pan, or clothesline rope. The reason for this, supposedly, was to send the message, “Hey! Sunday is a day of rest! You shouldn’t be buying clothesline rope, you should be in church!”
The blue laws in the Southwest Texas city of
Yep, you read it right…chewing gum, albeit very expensive chewing gum. He’d sell you a pack of say Juicy Fruit, for say $68.00 and then he’d give you the carpet you had your heart settled on. This had the authorities in a literal quandary, but there was nothing anyone could do, since it was fully legal.
The famed “Legal loophole.”
Back as far as I can remember, I was quite literally forced to attend the local Baptist church. I was never given an alternative. I was never asked whether I wanted to attend church. I was told to go and go I did.
I had to attend Sunday school in the early morning hours, listening to a Sunday school teacher blather on and on about things in the bible that I really wasn’t interested in, or found totally unbelievable. I even had to attend
As a young boy of twelve years of age, I was developing into a staunch realist. The stuff they were throwing at me in Sunday school was in direct opposition to what I was learning in public school. I was a young, budding scientist. I didn’t want to believe in huge arks holding every species of animal on the earth in opposing sexual pairs, nor some barefoot dude walking on water, or some bearded guy turning water into blood.
I had to see something in order to believe it. Pragmatism was what oiled me up…got me going. The bullshit I was being fed in Sunday school began to get under my skin and not only bore me, but it pissed me off. I didn’t like being lied to and I even mentioned that very thing, one Sunday, to the utter horror of those around me.
I quickly found myself ostracized, and discovered this welcoming, loving little environment of the Baptist church, became very hostile when they came upon a budding anarchist such as myself.
Funny, that last statement rings true of the situation I’m going through here in
Word traveled fast, and someone from the church called my mother. Luckily for me, she didn’t beat me. I was getting a bit too old for that, and was evolving into a radical and unstable teenager. I frightened my mother because I was also shooting up in height and weight, and was strong…in very good shape while studying the martial arts in my free time, and I was developing a quick and potentially very violent disposition.
My mother gave me the ultimatum that if on my fourteenth birthday I didn’t want to attend church anymore, then my decision would be honored. When that day rolled around, I informed her I was done, finished. It was my fourteenth birthday, and I would not be attending church the following Sunday.
My mother told me I would not sass her, and that I would indeed attend church the following Sunday. One of the many, many times she went back on her word.
I didn’t attend church the following Sunday, and from that point on, my mother pretty much lost all control over me.
That’s a very brief history of my religious upbringing.
What was to follow was mainly borne out of curiosity more than anything else. But, I’m sure that since I was the one making my own decisions at this point in my life, I felt some new-found sense of freedom, which opened up many different possibilities for me.
I began attending church again…No, not the Baptist church, as they were too full of bullshit and hypocrites. I began attending Catholic mass.
Two very distinct things interested me in the Catholic religion.
First was the enormity of the church, the beautiful stained glass windows, and all the little baubles like incense, candles, holy water, saint’s statuettes, and the secret little confession chamber.
Second, I loved listening to the sing-song Latin masses and watching the priest decked out in his colorful, extravagant satin robes.
I didn’t attend the Catholic Church frequently, just occasionally, and I usually went with my friend Diana Servin and her parents. Diana’s mother and father were born and raised in
To this day I’m a fairly good cook and I attribute all my expertise to Mrs. Servin.
I had a lot of questions about the Catholic religion, and although I saw many similarities with the Protestants, I got the feeling that Catholics were much more laid back and forgiving. They could drink (I had developed an interest in alcohol), albeit sparingly, which was a joke if you ever attended a Quinceañera, or 15th Birthday celebration for a young Mexican girl.
These events (and others) always turned out to be a knock-down, drag-out drunken excuse for a celebration, with liquor flowing freely. And some of the priests actually smoked cigarettes.
My next religious safari led me down the road to the Methodist church. I honestly cannot remember why, but I suppose someone told me about their pastor, a very funny man who opened his sermon with the latest basketball scores. I hung out at his church for quite a while, well into my twenties, eventually becoming an actual church member, and volunteering to be on the welcoming committee for a group of Vietnamese refugee’s the church would be hosting, allowing them to live in an adjoining house that the church owned and used to use for meetings.
I had a blast with the Vietnamese family. We chatted about everything under the sun since a couple of the family members spoke good English. They tried teaching me Vietnamese but were not very successful since my mouth didn’t seem to want to make sounds anything like what came out of their mouths. We had fun though, and one day made a trip to a small market I’d discovered in my travels, which had a small alcove out back behind one of the large market coolers, fully stocked with everything Vietnamese.
These folks were flabbergasted. They bought up everything in sight and almost as a second thought as we were getting ready to leave the store, I spied the beer cooler. The eldest brother’s eyes lit up like a spotlight. “Beer!” he practically shouted. So, I picked up a couple racks of pounders (2 six-packs of sixteen ounce - 16 shot - cans to you dabblers).
When we returned home, the women busied themselves in the kitchen and I got to help cut up some green onions, and dice some meat. They were preparing a Vietnamese soup that smelled terrific, when their brother cracked open a pounder and handed it to me. The women abstained, but us guys got right into the spirit of things.
When the cooking finished, we all sat down to eat. Vietnamese are a slurping bunch when it comes to food, but I thought they were all just so much fun. We drank and ate and were generally having a good old time when one of the church deacons decided to drop by for a visit.
Although to this day I don’t see any problem with the situation, it was obviously a no-no with the church, so I was banned from attending.
No, no warning…just banned.
That was the last time I ever walked into a church again.
I just gave it all up for lent, pun fully intended. I didn’t feel any loss, nor did it affect my life in any way, at least that I consciously noted.
Occasionally I’d run into someone religious who would take it upon themselves to judge me because I announced I wasn’t religious, had no religious affiliation, or didn’t believe in god. They’d start preaching to me about the horrors of sin and living a non-religious life, how I’d burn in hell and worse, and I hated all of it. Even to this day I can feel that slight cringe inside when somebody mentions religion, yet I’ve begun to wonder why it elicits that response in me.
Of late, I came upon a tiny baby rat in our yard. A huge coucal (What Mam and I refer to as the ‘brown’ bird, or the ‘whoop-whoop’ bird after the loud, raucous sound it makes) had dropped the little fellow in our yard after Mam startled him. The little fellow was destined to become a quick meal that was for sure.
The little fellow was still alive.
It had no hair and its eyes were still closed, most likely only a few days old. I scooped him up and took him inside to make him a little nest to sleep on. Mam followed me inside with that irritated tone in her voice and that hateful look she gets... “Jeeem, what are you going to do with that thing?”
“I don’t know. What do you want me to do? Kill it?"
"No, it’s just a baby Mam, so I’m gonna try and save it.”
My wife didn’t make many more comments about it, but I could tell she wasn’t particularly happy about the whole thing, having well over sixteen kills to her credit of the larger variety (add one just prior to this posting).
And, since we’re talking about uh…religion here, Mam is supposedly a staunch Buddhist, and Buddhists do not believe in harming any living thing. (Gotcha Mam!)
Every day either upon arising or when I got home from work, I’d feed the little guy. I had Mam pick up a syringe from the local pharmacy (making sure she told the pharmacist what it was for, lest the rumor around town fly that Jeeem was now a drug addict and injecting himself with illicit drugs) so I could feed him in an easier manner, and surprisingly, this worked for quite some time. I really didn’t expect the little fellow to live very long, and he didn’t, but at least I fed him well until his little eyes were open and he got to take a peek at the world around him.
My point, I suppose, is I developed a sort of love for the little fellow. When I finally found him lifeless in the bottom of his box, lined heavily with cotton balls, without even thinking, I said a little prayer for him, and actually shed a tear or two.
This situation suddenly had me in a mild quandary.
Why had I felt the necessity to pray for this little animal? I’d claimed I was an agnostic for years, had gotten into intellectual battles of wits with believers, and had denounced the very issue of praying to anything thought to be of a higher power.
Then, as soon as it happened, it was forgotten…or rather placed on the back-burner.
Days, weeks later, I received an e-mail from my “brother” Jesus Herrera. Some of you know of Jesus and how close we always were during our younger years. Jesus was shot in the face by his own father-in-law with a small gauge shotgun and completely blinded in 1973. Then, after going down a hard road in life, he came very, very close to suicide. Then he “found the lord,” and became religious.
Jesus not only became religious, he devoted his life to religion. He became a pastor of a church. He currently operates a website, mostly in Spanish, about his church and for its people. You can peruse it HERE, under Bodas Del Cordero, and HERE, and can see he now refers to himself as Pastor Almicar Herrera Marquez, due to a theft of his identity. Almicar was his father's name.
Anyway, Jesus and I write to one another frequently. Checking up on how the other is doing. I ask about his family, his wife Perla, and his numerous children. He asks about Mam and how we are doing in life.
Then he sent me a rather odd e-mail…one that stood out among the rest.
It went something like this:
“Hey I am starting a prayer meeting Friday's at 7 I will be praying for you and your wife. My prayer will be that God will bless you with long life, and in my radio program at the I say that my desire is to all that are listening that God will bless you with love, peace and joy [sic].”
That may not mean much to any of you, but a little history might help. Jesus, my dear brother and friend, and I had a bit of a going around about religion after he became just a tad invasive with his e-mails, and I no longer could hold in my ire.
Suffice it to say that after all we’d been through online, over the better part of three or four months, the statement he mailed me, which you’ve read above, is way out from left field.
Then, a matter of a day after receiving that e-mail, the following scenario happened…
Like any other ordinary day, Mam drove me to school, crossing the railroad tracks running north/south, parallel with the park across from the school, and parked on the side street beside the park to see me off.
I said my usual…”Okay, thank you honey. I love you. See you at four o’clock, have a nice day okay?” and I was gone.
My day was really no different from any other. After my last class though, I had a lot on my mind after thinking about an issue involving an old friend. I was pretty deep in thought, but anyone who knows me, knows I’m somewhat of a perfectionist, and one who is very routine oriented…a real creature of habit.
I went into automatic physical mode, while my brain was deeply involved in some inner dialog with my subconscious. Translated, I was moving around and doing stuff I needed to do, but mentally I was somewhere else. I rarely get into this type of mental and physical phenomena, liking to think I’m always pretty aware. But, this particular time, I was really buried deep inside my head.
I swept the floor, picked up the dust pan and swept the dirt and detritus into it and deposited it into the trash bin, turned off the lights, checked all the windows that they were locked, turned off the power to the TV and DVD, turned off the light over the white board, and put away my markers and erasers. Then I turned off the air-conditioning and left the classroom, locking the door behind me.
Sorry to be so vague about what I was thinking about, but it would take an equally long blog posting to explain.
Just suffice it to say it was something (and someone) I hadn’t thought about in a very, very long time.
Then Jeeem left the building.
As usual I stopped by the main office and scanned my finger, checking out for the day. I grabbed the “English Teacher” log and logged out my time, sitting down at a nearby table to do so, while several young students gathered around me.
Answering to the pleading chants of several young annuban (kindergarten) students (mostly little girls) repeating ad-nauseum, Luk ohm! Luk ohm! (Candy! Candy), I reached into the front section of my backpack and pulled out several pieces of penny candy, a habit I’d gotten into with the kids, which at times I wished I’d never started.
Handing out one to each girl, I quickly ran out of candies.
“Luk ohm may-mee! (I don’t have anymore candy!)." To the great disappointment of the remaining girls scattered about.
Firm little faces planted in sour puckers.
“They’ll get over it,” I thought to myself, easing back into my previous mindset and saying, “Bye, bye! Ga ban!” as I set out towards the school gate.
I crossed the street and remembered to look both ways, then sideways, then perpendicular, because when you live in
Managing to reach the other side of the road and the dizzying maze of merchants selling their goods, I began zigzagging through the maze of kiosks that were set up, selling soda, sweets, barbecue, dried squid and other treats, mostly to attract young school children, the smoke of the various barbecues drifting into my face as I walked in a semi-trance towards Mam’s usual spot, waiting for me on the other side of the railroad tracks which she typically crossed in the morning, but didn’t in the late afternoon.
My thoughts were predominant. I remember that much. Nothing else much existed. I was again on autopilot as I hit the sidewalk finally, stepped off the curb, walked around a couple of motorcycles and approached the railroad tracks.
I walked right up to the railroad tracks and stopped.
I don’t know why I stopped.
I do remember that somewhere deep in my brain there was the thought just to keep on going…to reach Mam.
But, I stopped.
I didn’t even hear the train.
In a millisecond it was upon me. I was a mere foot, twelve inches, thirty point forty-eight centimeters…from the side of the train.
Somebody was screaming at me from behind. I knew they were screaming at me because I heard the obnoxious word, “Farang!” and I was the only Farang around at the time.
I could have reached out and easily touched the train’s side as it whizzed past me. I remember distinctly beginning to raise my hand to do so…but dropping my hand after it only barely moved. Everything…everything was like in slow motion. I could feel the intense vibration under my feet. I could see the heavy metal of the track railing heaving upwards, then heaving downwards...moving as the large wheels of the train passed over them.
Immense power, immense weight…then it was gone.
I remember looking up and seeing Mam. She wasn’t even looking at me. She was positioning our motorcycle towards Klong Tong Nuea, where we were to head home.
I looked south, after the train, to see it lumbering along…still feeling the vibrations of the earth beneath my feet and slowly beginning to connect with the realization that I almost walked directly into its path.
I looked behind me, twisting only my head...to no avail as nobody was looking at me, which I thought was strange since all Thais were typically curious and usually staring at me, as well as the fact somebody behind me had yelled “Farang!”
I then slowly turned to my immediate left, first looking north down the forlorn tracks in the direction the train (an engine and four cars…no caboose) had come. Then looking down a shallow hill leading down from the train tracks into another kiosk area located across from the park, and kiddy-corner from the school.
Several kiosks were set up under tarps and umbrellas like a small village, smoke rising from under the tarps from the pork fat dripping onto hot coals. My eyes eventually zeroing in on a man looking directly at me.
A Thai man.
He was standing in front of a fat Thai woman barbecuing fatty pork bits skewered onto long sticks. A common delicacy found in most parts of
He was looking directly at me and smiling. He was missing a few front teeth...I don't remember which ones.
Wearing tan pants and a white sleeveless muscle shirt, he had several Buddhist medallions, or Phat Phoo Tah Lhoop, around his neck. Many Thai’s wear them to ward off evil spirits, or for good luck...which ever you want to believe.
Was he smiling…or grinning?
I turned around to face Mam, turned again to look north and south for any other errant trains seemingly coming out of nowhere, and again entered my out-of-body experience of just floating along in deep thought.
To be perfectly honest, I do not remember getting on our motorcycle or Mam driving me home. My next vivid and conscious thought was seeing Chok, our new little puppy, frolicking towards us as Mam turned into the path leading to our house tucked deep in the jungle.
Since that day, that event, it has dawned on me several times, each time giving me a chill, that I came deadly close to walking right into the path of that train and becoming mince meat pie.
I cannot…Can Not express my true experience, my true feelings about this event. It’s impossible.
Basically, I almost…died.
A matter of milliseconds.
I never heard that train.
I wrote to Jesus and told him of this event…trying to link it to his rather obtuse excuse for a prayer meeting. But, I never received a reply...and I haven't written him about it again.
So, what’s my point?
Chris will undoubtedly understand. As he remembers my “lucky?” get away to
“Double murder / suicide” they called it. Read about it HERE.
Annie understands, as I notified her shortly after it happened, and she had actually talked to Wanda once or twice on the phone.
Several people, mainly Chris, pointed out how “lucky” I was having made the choice to travel to China when I did, knowing full well I might have postponed it for a while after Wanda had begged me to stay just another year, saying she’d support me while I played maid and housewife…a tempting offer at the time.
Is it possible for someone such as Jesus (pronounced “Hay-souse”), a blind pastor of a church and a councilor to many in need, to know something was going to happen to me...something ultimately fatal? Is it of any importance that his name, one often mispronounced, is spelled after Jesus of Nazareth the Christian son of God?
Why did he suddenly decide to hold a prayer meeting in my honor?
Yeah, I’m an Agnostic, and before the events mentioned above, I considered myself a staunch agnostic.
Now I’m wondering if I should take another look at my religious underpinnings…my beliefs…my destiny.
What do others think? I’m certainly open to suggestions, opinions, thoughts, observations, because…well, you know…that’s life man! If you’re not open to new ideas, new avenues, then why even live? We have to remain open-minded….or KARMA will kick our damn asses…no?
Ha! Thank gosh I've got a good sense of humor!