Monday, May 02, 2005

African Dance

I am at Mulan’s African dance class. The drums are beating. Girls are dancing. Mulan has the African-dance skirt on that is like all the other girls. Whew. We’ve been talking about this skirt all week: when she was going to get it, if it would fit, if it really, really would be like all the other girls skirts. And it was. And she’s dancing. And it’s great. The drumbeat is literally shaking my computer as I type this. There are two other rooms of dancing people – a classic ballet class with a piano being played, sounds like Brahams, and another class with a girl singing – what is it? It’s a song from a musical…something something and say --------- agh! I can’t get it. Oh yes, I can…tomorrow, tomorrow is only a day away… what musical is that from?

To my left is a guy – looks to be in his twenties, I’d say, flirting with another girl in low rider jeans, turned-around trucker’s cap, and a halter top – her glistening black skin fresh from the hip hop class. Behind her is the girl’s friend – fifteen pounds heavier, but in the same sized clothes as her companion, and clearly not of any interest to this boy. This girl robotically puts potato chips into her mouth. The more the boy flirts with her friend, the faster the girl eats the potato chips. Oh, how I identify with her. To my right is another guy in his twenties, or late teens maybe, drinking water and saying that he thinks he’s going to “die.” He seems like he wants to tell me why. I am smiling and typing furiously. Compassionate, but not exactly interested. He has found someone else to tell about his class. Apparently the tap program here is very challenging.

I didn’t get much done today on my book. I reread “Jesus, The Evidence.” Well, I reread a lot of it. It’s written by Ian Wilson, a very good writer – I’ve read almost all his books “The Shroud Of Turin” being his most famous. He does try to skirt the line between believing and non-believing. You can tell he’s writing to appease both sides. He wants to be critical, but not too critical. He’s a bridge guy – someone who you can rely on to give you the basic arguments surrounding Jesus or whatever he’s analyzing, but he’s not going to go so far as to say the whole thing is bunk. This is typical of the type of book that I read when I began to be skeptical about religion in general.

There’s a basic mistake that I made, and I think it’s natural to make it – I see it all the time – but the mistake is that when there are two extreme views, you decide that the truth must lie somewhere in between. You middle-of-the-road it. And I think a lot of people use this basic, knee-jerk approach to many things that it doesn’t work for. In any case, I used to think, “There’s probably a lot of politics that went into the Bible and there’s probably a lot of dubious evidence about Jesus, but the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.” And for me that meant that Jesus was special – specially ordained or sent by God or something -- like the Buddha, or like Mohammad, but then we humans didn’t get the message exactly right and we screwed up the execution of his views.

I would have considered the idea, for example, that Jesus never existed at all, as something extreme and highly unlikely. A view that only an angry person who wouldn’t look at the evidence open-mindedly would have. And impossible because I thought, of course Jesus existed, I’m mean – look, he’s everywhere.

That’s because I was also making another classic mistake in judgment. Which was that if some idea or story has been believed as true for a very long time, it’s more likely to be true than not true. Length of time for believing something made it more likely to be true, basically. I just couldn’t have accepted that Jesus and his story, after being so fervently believed for so long, after people dying for his story, after churches and huge institutions and governments and mystics and the whole lot believing it, that it couldn’t be based on something true.

But now I know that something is either true or not true and no matter how long people believe something that’s wrong, it doesn’t make it anymore right. It just means they believed it a long time.

I think this middle of the road approach to discrepancies works better for emotions. Because emotions can be two things at once easily. If I had a girlfriend continually saying that she hated her boyfriend and then she loved him, I would correctly – I think – conclude that she probably had mixed feelings for him – that she came down the middle in her feelings. But when it comes to facts, this is not a good approach.

For example, there either was weapons of mass destruction, or their wasn’t. Now, maybe you can argue that we should have gone to war anyway, or that no one ever thought there really were weapons of mass destruction and this was used to justify something that Bush wanted to do anyway, or you can quibble about what weapons of mass destruction really means, but they either were there or they weren’t. And similarly, God can’t be kind of real.

And I think I lived in that limbo land for so long – sort of acknowledging that the evidence for God was slight, but that the fervency of people’s belief meant that this was And I think I lived in that limbo land for so long – sort of acknowledging that the evidence for God was slight, but that the fervency of people’s belief meant that this was probably based on something real. A good example of this is astrology and Chinese medicine. I see so many advertisements that say that these things work because they’ve been used for “thousands of years!” And you can just get this image in your head of thousands and thousands of people long dead, over thousands of years shaking their fists in support of astrology, or whatever. Even though there is no evidence whatsoever that astrology is a science, that it correlates to anything real, and has any validity in any way at all – since so many people used it for so many years, we are expected to take this as a vote of confidence.

Now you could also argue that it doesn’t make any difference. As long as people believe something, that’s what’s important, not if what they believe is true. And that’s what I’ve been musing on a lot lately. It makes you realize that PR is actually really, really, REALLY important. How you are viewed is probably of more actual importance than how you actually are.

And this is a big difference in my thinking, because for years I believed that it didn’t matter how people were viewed, it matter who they deeply, truly were – and the person who really knew this was God. Now, this is not to say that I don’t care myself whether something is true or not. I actually, do. I care a whole lot. In fact, I find life very loosey-goosey when I let go of my attention to truth, to caring what is true. My care over whether something is true or not, regardless of what other’s think, is what gives me my integrity. It allows me to have respect for myself. It gives me the basis on which I judge others and the world around me.

But when it comes to the forces that drive history or people or politics or whatever, I have come to realize – reluctantly – sadly – that it probably doesn’t matter a wit what is actually true, it only matters what people believe is true. And this has been such a hard, bitter pill to swallow for me. It’s incredibly depressing. That was such a loss, when I lost God, this idea of the final Judge – the accurate arbiter, the final word or the final analysis. No ultimate justice. Ugh. That soooo sucks.

Anyway, so here I am rereading this book. And when I first read it (it was published in 1984 and I think I read it about 1990) it didn’t shake my faith. I mean, I had a sort of wobbly kind of religious faith back then – I didn’t basically think about it at all, and I was cynical about religion when things were going well, and I dipped into it’s ideas when things were not going well. But I remember reading this book and thinking, yeah, there’s some discrepancies over the dates of Jesus’ birth and his death, and yes the Gospels were written for mostly political reasons or to serve very specific ancient Christian communities –they were not written to be alternative narratives or anything, but…so? Still I imagined this God that loved me and I had this vague sense of predestination and destiny.

I was very slutty with my beliefs. I had them when I needed them and I didn’t care about shaping them into a coherent whole. I didn't stick to them when I didn't feel like it or it made me feel bad or I could feel better by believing something else entirely. How awful! What lack of character! Now THAT is a sin.

Now, as I reread this book, Jesus, the Evidence, I think – dear Jeszhus, St. Paul created the Christian religion! And just the fact that the very first writings were his letters, where he doesn’t even mention Jesus’ birth, or his lineage, or any of his “miracles” or of his trial before Pilate. And Paul even admits that he never met Jesus, his whole faith is based on a vision he had after Jesus died. And then, everything was written afterwards – the gospels, the other epistles. So, now I reread this book and I think, “How could anyone think any of this is true?” Mulan and I play “telephone” all the time with her friends and the fun of it is how a word or a phrase gets jumbled between five or four or even three people as it’s whispered between them. And how could anyone think that the Bible, which was written and rewritten and tweaked and discarded, is based on anything except whatever who was in charge at that particular point in time wanted it to be? Doesn’t “telephone” tell us that anything written years and years after an event, coupled with people who were trying to start a religion, is highly unreliable?

And what’s amazing is how much scholarship has been done on this. We know soooo much. It’s not even the subject of debate – it’s clear which gospel was written when and for whom. We KNOW that the gospel writers are not even…the gospel writers! Their names – Mark, Matthew, Luke & John, were just attributions, not necessarily the names of the real authors. And they were written for specific communities as their sacred document – that particular Gospel was their Bible – it didn’t need an author’s name – it was their religion’s story. And all of this is in this book, a book I read so long ago and it just washed over me. The impact did not hit me.

So, I didn’t write much, I just reread a lot of this book, made some notes, watched a documentary on Earthquakes on National Geographic Channel. And I finished my soup. I have made enough soup to eat for months. Honestly, three enormous pots of soup. I will freeze it tomorrow in little freezer bags. Man, Mondays are hard. I am so wiped out from the show.

Yesterday’s show was really fun. I am loving doing my show so much. I am already very very very sad about it closing. On the other hand, I am excited to recover. I am planning to film the show in October. I am so excited to do this. Last night my friend Julia – another Julia, we are the two Julias – she brought over this quilt that she fixed up for Mulan. It’s so fantastic. She got this old quilt from the forties on e-bay and it had a few holes and she totally fixed it up to look just gorgeous. It’s such an amazing gift! I can’t believe she did this. It looks great on Mulan’s bed.

We are planning to take a quilting class in June when my show is over. I am going to get all these old clothes of my dad’s and make a quilt out of them. I went to a quilt exhibit in New York a few years ago, and there were all these wonderful quilts from the south, and that’s what they did when someone died. They made a quilt out of their clothes. I was so blown away by these quilts. I went to the exhibit three times, just to stare at the quilts. Old blue overalls and old t-shirts and…okay – now I’m going to cry. It’s just so beautiful. You could really almost feel the person who’s clothes they were, all worn out and beautiful and patched together. Anyway, that’s the plan. Quilting. I cannot wait! Wow...quiting -- so close to quilting. I like both words a lot.

Oooops. African Dance is over. The girl and boy who were flirting, as well as the potato chip eating gal have disappeared. The boy who wants to die has not, and he’s reading a magazine next to me. I hope I get to bed very early tonight.