Sarah the Channeler

August 8, 2017

I found this story, figured I’d never make money on it, so why not share? It’s a rather unkind satire of New Agery in Ann Arbor in the early 1980s, written maybe 25 years ago. Take it for what’s worth, or not. ©2017, me.

Sarah the Channeler

By Jeffrey Quick

5128 words

 

Mack was in love again. My apartment-mate, the yoga teacher, was moaning in the living room like a sick calf. These affairs were getting hard to take, not just because people in love act so stupidly, but because Mack liked the spiritual ones, the New Age bimbos. He couldn’t settle for something normal, like nice tits. They had to have nice auras. You know how some women spend a half-hour putting on makeup in the morning? These women spent that time sitting in some candle-lit corner twiddling their chakras. And then Mack would come by with his sexual energy and throw them out of balance. That’s why he went through so many of them.

 

I was hoping that this one would be better than the last one, Moira O’Morrigan, Celtic New Age harpist. She had been born Esther Goldman and had been a promising concert saxophonist. But it’s not New Age to be Jewish, with all that Yahwist patriarchal crap and then Alice Bailey like Hitler in drag, babbling about the root races and how the Jews lost their shot at bringing forth the next World Teacher. And the sax was an industrial-age instrument with no mythic resonances at all, and an association with jazz, that evil music put through by the Dark Forces, as the Master Koot Hoomi told Cyril Scott. So after she got Rebirthed, she changed her instrument and her name. A person who could so easily dispose of her past could never come down as close to earth as Mack’s waist. So that didn’t last long.

 

Really, Mack would be a lot easier to live with if he’d only blow off some of that sex-energy. But he didn’t believe in that, or so he said. He came in one night from the gym, limping. He’d been shooting baskets in his stocking feet, landed wrong, and pulled a ligament. He came in, sat down, and told me why it happened. “My muscles were weak, because I beat off last night.” I managed somehow not to burst out laughing, and said, “Mack, if there were a direct causal relationship at work here, I’d be an invalid by now. If you want to punish yourself for masturbating, go right on ahead, but you don’t have to.” He was a little pissed at that.

 

This seminal Scrooge even built his diet around his fetish. No cayenne, of course; it gives you the hots. No onions; they give you wet dreams. He’d get on my case for frying bacon and stinking up the place, but every morning he’d cook kasha and bulghur liberally seasoned with asafetida, also known as devil’s dung. Yum. And for dinner, buckwheat ramen with spirulina, which always reminded me somehow of Soylent Green. The pity was, it did him no good on the firing line. I knew one of his past lovers, one of the saner ones, who told me he specialized in dancing the Minute Waltz. Being tense did that. And since he was horny, of course he was tense, even in general. He’d throw fits over little things, break dishes…terrible temper.

 

Don’t get me wrong. Mack could be a great guy. He was funny, talented, understanding. And I’m a born-again Goddess-fearing pagan myself, so some potential room-mates would find me pretty strange too. But this yogic thing he’d swallowed had broken my flake barriers, and it did make him hard to live with.

 

Anyway, Mack was in love, and I had met the woman that very afternoon. She had just opened a metaphysical bookstore. I had walked in to check it out, and saw her behind the counter. She had long, thin, slightly kinky blonde hair and bright but expressionless blue-gray eyes. She was of medium height, and very thin, like most New Agers, Mack included. I mean, they all look like their center of gravity is six inches above their heads. I had gone up and introduced myself, and asked her name. “They call me Sarah,” she said, as if she were someone else, a superior being, forced by them to wear the label “Sarah” like the Scarlet Letter. I didn’t know how to react to that, so I had left, coughed the incense out of my lungs, and walked home to find Mack moaning. What could I do? I just grabbed a beer out of the fridge and sat down to listen.

 

“She’s so fuckin’ beautiful, man!” he said. “She’s got that sweet elusive Cancer quality, real yin. You think you’re holding her tight and then she just slips out of your arms. It gets my fire sign stuff all revved up.”

 

“Fire and water,” I said, “A classic combo. Do you think it’ll get steamy?”

 

“Hey, I don’t have any water at all in my chart. How do you expect me to balance out my emotional self?”

 

“Work on yourself; how else? What is she good for, besides filling up your holes, or vice-versa?”

 

He shot me a dirty look. “She’s really into Shirley MacLaine.”

 

“And Jane Fonda too, right?”

 

“Yeah, she works out every day. How did you guess?”

 

“She’s into celebrities. I know the type. Too bad she didn’t listen to Art Linkletter when he told people to stay off acid.”

 

“Hey, wait a minute! You’re bad-mouthing this woman, and you don’t even know her! That kind of reflects on me, doesn’t it?”

 

If the shoe fits, I thought, but didn’t say. Last time I pulled something like that, he threw a monster fit. Screamed at me for an hour, until I could barely stand or breathe. I felt sick for two days. Asperged the apartment with salt water, grounded the leftovers in the kitchen sink drain and broke the garbage disposer. Better calm him down. “No, not really. I’m not knocking your taste in women. But I just met her, down at the store. Interesting place.” Yeah, sure. She had the unabridged complete works of Alice Bailey read on convenient 90 minute cassettes by the channeled voice of Alice herself, textbooks on prepucology (the diagnosis of any ailment, physical or emotional, by examination of the foreskin, assuming one has one.), Kabbalistic interpretations of Das Kapital. Paraphernalia like pyramid hats, and toilet paper with the face of the Bhagwan Rajneesh on every sheet. Plus lots from those channeled entities, Ramtha, Seth, Lazaris and the rest.

 

“Yeah, it’s a good store,” Mack said. “She’s going to special-order me some books on Taoist sex techniques.”

 

Could she tell by looking? I thought. He wouldn’t be moaning here if they had…

 

“And I’m going to be minding the store for her part-time. She’s just starting a second career.”

 

“Doing what?” I had to ask.

 

“Channeling workshops. She just learned how last week. She brought through the consciousness of this Sacred King named Sinep, who was earth-merged into some Druidic temple in Vermont about 800 BC. Pretty amazing guy.”

 

A channeler, eh? Well, nature abhors a vacuum, I thought. Still, I was interested in this Sacred King business, and in the psychopathology of the lady. So I asked, “Why do you think all these people are trying to channel?”

 

“Well, the Age is changing, and the human race is in danger. People want to help. And these advanced disincarnates seem to know things we don’t.”

 

Yeah, things about making a buck. “It just seems a little unfair to me. If what these guys have to say is so important to us, why didn’t they incarnate? Why shouldn’t they get hungry and horny and have 9 to 5 jobs like the rest of us?”

 

“We weren’t in this kind of trouble 20 years ago. They would have had to forget themselves, leave their personalities behind, and not be able to help. And it’s an honor, man, like being ridden by the vodoun loas.”

 

“I’m a human, not a horse,” I said dryly. “Anyway, what did this Simp or whatever his name was have to say?”

 

“Mostly that we’re all gods, that we can change our lives, bring peace to the earth and avert the coming pole shift.”

 

“Big deal. And people pay money to listen to that?”

 

“Yeah. She’s got a dozen signed up for a workshop next Sunday, at $50 each.”

 

“That’s cheap for a channeler.”

 

“Well, she’s just starting out, and she’s not really into money anyway. But she has a problem. She doesn’t have a place to do the workshop.”

 

“What’s wrong with the store?”

 

“Too crowded, too open to the street. And Jeff, um, ah, I want her to do it here.” And he turned and looked right at me.

 

Now what was I going to do? I wasn’t real big on the idea of a dozen loons wandering through my living room. But it was Mack’s place too, and fair is fair. I didn’t want to piss him off. If this helped him score, he’d be easier to live with. And I was curious. What kind of fraud was this woman? Or was she for real? That was a scarier thought. I’m suspicious of untrained mediumship. You never know what’s going to take over. If there was going to be any trouble, I didn’t want to miss it.

 

“Yeah, sure”

 

“I’d rather you were gone then.”

 

“It’s my place too.”

 

“Well, you’re such a skeptic. It tends to throw mediums off.”

 

“No., really, I’m interested. I want to see what this is all about.”

 

“Ah…OK. Just don’t be an obnoxious asshole, like you are now,” Mack said with an embarrassed giggle.

 

I smiled at him. “I’m opinionated, but I’m not rude. I’ll be cool.”

 

“Thanks. Got a spare beer?”

 

“Sure.” Mack almost never drank. This was a good sign.

 

 

 

Sunday finally arrived. Mack got up early, just as I was pulling the bacon from the refrigerator, and slapped my hand. I ate an omelet instead. Then I got drafted to push the furniture back and help clean. Mack was very firm that the apartment had to be absolutely immaculate. He said that dirt attracts psychic creepy-crawlies. Yeah, I suppose that clutter disorders the mind, but I always figured that the Goddess loves dust bunnies as much as the kind that hops. But with company coming and all, cleaning seemed like the thing to do.

 

He pulled the smoke detector off the ceiling and lit enough incense to physically manifest a grimoire-full of demons, had either of us been so inclined. Then he brought his stereo speakers out of his room and played New Age tapes. I tried to listen to the stuff. My mistake. I can’t stand music that totally avoids dissonance and resolution; it has no direction. I thought of the music as the shadow of Mack’s sexuality, all release and no tension, and chuckled.

 

Things were supposed to start at 2. About 1:30 the doorbell rang. Moira O’Morrigan. She came in, looked daggers at Mack, sat down. I tried to make polite small talk, since she didn’t seem to be into talking to Mack, and we’re both into music. She began spewing this line about how she and the Celtic Harpist Alan Stivell were soulmates, and how she had seduced him during his last visit to town. I took this with a small salt mine. Mack excused himself to hit the john, and she stopped talking about Stivell. I saw through her game; she was trying to make Mack jealous. I prayed that somebody else would show up soon.

 

As we pagans say, “Be careful what you ask for–you might get it.” Next to arrive was this woman named Ursulette. A bear she may have been, but there was nothing “ette” about her 300 pounds. I was surprised to see her, since she didn’t mingle much in New Age circles. She claimed to be Queen of all the Witches in the area. Since she couldn’t even keep an Outer Court group together for more than 6 months, let alone find anyone advanced to work with, nobody took this claim seriously. I supposed she had come to listen to Sinep the Sacred King; she was big on paleopaganism. She probably claimed a past life as artist’s model for the Venus of Willendorf. I could at least talk occult shop with her, sort of.

 

After that, others started arriving regularly: a lesbian couple who had met at the Womyn’s Peace Encampment, some guy from the local soyfoods plant, and this well-groomed and yuppiesque guy named Jason who had written a book called “God in my Mercedes” and was trying to develop a franchisable business home-delivering wheatgrass juice. Jason I kind of liked, actually; he was honestly mercenary. And there were some people I didn’t know; I introduced myself and tried to make them feel comfortable. But no Sarah yet, and it was getting late. I thought of asking Mack about her, but decided not to. She was probably on New Age Standard Time: half an hour later than the rest of the world. Besides, didn’t Mack say she was a Cancer? They like to make a Grand Entrance.

 

Sure enough, at 2:05 she came in. She was wearing a white V-neck dress, silk on top and bolt lace from mid thigh down to her ankles. Her hair was held in place by a purple silk headband, with an amethyst mounted at mid-forehead. On a silver chain around her neck was the obligatory quartz crystal. She crossed the living room and announced, “Sorry I’m late. Mack and I have to discuss a few things, and then we’ll get started, OK?” The she and Mack disappeared into his room.

 

“Hey, your room-mate is cute,” Ursulette said, “How involved is he in the channeling stuff?”

 

“I really don’t know,” I said. “I think he has personal reasons for facilitating today.”

 

“Oh, I see,” she said coldly.

 

Moira was eavesdropping. “You can let go of the desire, Ursie,” she said, “He’s a jerk anyway.”

 

“So is she, probably,” Ursulette said. “I knew that. But I wanted to come, because I had never heard of anyone channeling a Sacred King before. I thought their energies were tied to their sites, and you had to go there to talk to them.”

 

“Sacred Kings aren’t so strange,” I said. “There’s a woman in Cleveland who channels a vegetarian biker named Produce.”

 

“She just vegetates and he sprouts up?” quipped Jason. Megan, half of the lesbian couple, gave him a “Don’t-mock-my-sister” scowl. Things might have gotten interesting if Sarah and Mack hadn’t returned just then.

 

“OK, We’re ready to get started. I’m sure you all know I’m called Sarah. This is Mack, whose place it is– oh, it’s Jeff’s place too– he’s going to be watching my body while I’m gone and generally facilitating. We have a special guest this afternoon. Sinep is a Sacred King who was buried alive at a ritual site in South Woodstock, Vermont, around 800BC, in order to mediate in the Underworld for his people.”

 

I thought, she’s read Barry Fell and R.J.Stewart and conflated them. Then I realized something about the King’s name, and stifled a giggle. Not well enough; Dianna, Megan’s mate, turned and glared at me.

 

“It was a great honor to be chosen a Sacred King. He knew a lot when he was alive, and now that he is on the Other Side, he knows even more. Today he is going to speak to us on the nature of personal reality. Rather than give him a big hand, let’s sit on the floor in a circle, link hands, and attune ourselves to his message.”

 

So we did that, and stayed quiet several minutes. Sarah sat at the north of the circle, Mack beside her. I sat across from them. We had our eyes closed, but one can’t close one’s eyes forever, and I was suspicious of fraud, so I started looking. I saw Sarah drop her head, shudder, and then blink. Then she spoke, in a deeper voice with a vaguely East-coast accent.

 

“Good day. This is Phineas Barnum. Welcome to the show.”

 

I gasped. Fortunately, so did everybody else. This woman was the Real Thing. I do have a Sight for such things, what a charismatic Christian might call “Discerning of Spirits” but wouldn’t in my case. But it was obvious that this was unplanned. After all, she had announced Sinep. And what New Ager would have the guts to fake P.T.Barnum? That would cut a little close to home.

 

Mack went into action. “Mr. Barnum, we are delighted by your presence with us, but we were expecting Sinep the King. Could you perhaps return to visit us when we are more ready to receive you?”

 

Barnum/Sarah turned and glared at him. “You were expecting a lecture on the nature of personal reality, on epistemology, if you will. If we are all One, does it matter who gives it?”

 

“Well, um, ah” Mack muttered.

 

“And if we are not all One, than am I not uniquely qualified to talk about the difference between reality and fantasy, more qualified than some caveman who was stupid enough to be talked into letting himself be murdered?”

 

Ursulette was obviously offended by this; she was squeezing her hands together nervously. Barnum looked at her. “Are you irate, eensy-weensy bear?” She turned scarlet. “Sorry to stretch your beliefs like that, but how do you know that Sarah hasn’t been humbugging you about this Sinep? Or that I haven’t been pretending to be Sinep all along? I used to take many common oddities and make them seem odder in order to draw a crowd. You wouldn’t have come to hear a mere showman. And you need to be talked to.”

 

A 300-pound woman can’t shrink into the carpet, but Ursulette was giving it her best shot. Megan was not pleased. “Mr. Barnum,” she said, “you’re humiliating our sister!”

 

“Our sister,” he snorted. “You’re as quick to judge her behind her back as you are to judge me. You’re so righteous, Miss Politics. Where did the Granny Smith apples come from that you brought home yesterday?”

 

“I bought them at the Co-op,” Megan said proudly. “They’re from New Zealand.”

 

“Mix-up at the warehouse,” Barnum said. “They were grown in South Africa.” Dianna looked ready to puke one of those apples onto her friend. “And if you think it really matters where they came from, think about the economics of fungible goods again.”

 

Mack looked panicked. He started muttering something in Sanskrit. “Can that bunkum,” Barnum said. “I couldn’t find a real yogi-man for my show when I was alive, and I certainly haven’t found one now.”

 

Mack wasn’t giving up that easily. “In the name of Jesus the Christ, be gone out of this woman!” he shouted.

 

“Nice try at Names of Power, kid”, Barnum said. “They used to do that in my time too, only more convincingly. After all the trouble I had with preachers, you’ll have to do better than that. I suggest you just let me talk until I’m done, and then I’ll leave.”

 

Mack shut up, but his lips were moving as he crossed himself. “Ateh Malkuth, ve Geburah, ve Gedullah….” I read. Gods, the Kabbalistic Cross. What did he think he was doing with that? The guy had no exorcism technique at all. After Mack threw that fit I told you about, I went to my High Priestess and learned everything I could about psychic self-defense. I knew I could send Barnum scuttling back under his astral rock. But why should I? It wasn’t my karma. And I was having too much fun.

 

“Now, if I may continue.” Barnum said, “I didn’t believe in mediums when I was alive. I wrote about them and their silly seances in my book The Humbugs of the World, which you can buy along with my Struggles and Triumphs at the entrance to the Greatest Show on Earth or at your favorite bookseller for only…er, um, I seem to be rambling a bit. Anyway, I did not believe in mediums. But I can’t tell you now not to believe in mediums, because I’m here speaking through one. I’d lack credibility, wouldn’t I? But most mediums are humbugs; this one usually is. But she’s a sincere fraud. Everything she channels except me is the flotsam and jetsam of her own subconscious. She only thinks it comes from outside her. Since she’s sincere, she’ll be a successful fake, because there’s a Seeker born every minute.

 

“The question is this: how does one tell the genuine from the sham? You say to trust your feelings. Horsefeathers! You can’t help but be fooled. When you live in horror of being taken in, you believe yourselves to be a sham, and thus continually humbug yourselves. Such a skeptic does not honor or accept his own mind or senses, and so might as well not have them. On the other hand, if you merely trust your feelings, without objective thought, you will also be fooled by your own wishful thinking. The middle way is to accept that each world, the world of imagination and the world of physical law, has its own rules, which may not be mixed at your pleasure.

 

“We are all magicians. We create illusions to sustain hope. Behind every sham is a real desire. Lonely men in boarding-houses dreamed of comely mermaids in the South Seas. I gave them a dried monkey torso cunningly attached to a fish tail. Some swore that it was real, and that reality was inferior to their fantasy. Most knew they had been taken in, laughed it off, and went out in search of a normal, loving real wife. They transcended their illusions, and had a good time doing so. You’re just burrowing deeper into yours.

 

“I gave my patrons their money’s worth. Everyone agreed that there was more in my American Museum in New York than one person could see in a day, and all for only twenty-five cents, children half-price. You’ve paid a sum which is almost two day’s wages for a poor workingman, and for what? Entertainment! You whitened sepulchers, you’re so sanctimonious about hearing the wisdom of the dead. What besides self-loathing makes you think the dead are wiser than you are? They’re dead after all. Sinep never said anything but the platitudes found in a dozen books, which was where Sarah got them. Why don’t you read the books yourselves? And if humans are all gods, why don’t you spread the news for free? Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where everyone acknowledged their divinity? I think you’d rather live in a world where only white middle-class people are gods who expect everyone else to worship them. And that is the world you live in.

 

“You folks don’t do anything I didn’t do in my day. The only difference is that you take yourselves too seriously and are ashamed of your motives. Jason here is the cleanest among you; he’ll admit he has a prosperity consciousness, which is your jargon for being on the lookout for the main chance. Then Jeff thinks he knows all about what phenomena are legitimate and which aren’t.” He/she stared at me. “Did you know that Charles Godfrey Leland was an associate of mine? He thought very highly of me. You love to impute guilt by association; do you still believe that ‘Gospel of the Witches’ that he claimed to have found?”

 

“Irrelevant question,” I said. “The validity and power of a myth are not dependent on its basis in fact.”

 

Barnum looked at me approvingly. “You don’t confuse the planes,” he said.

 

“I don’t want to get lost on the Other Side,” I said.

 

“Unlike some here,” said Barnum. “You people keep confusing God and Mammon. You, Esther…” Moira started to object to the name; Barnum cut her off. “I changed Charley Stratton’s name to General Tom Thumb, which was no hokier than you pseudo-Celt stage name. And I presented nice safe moralistic plays like The Drunkard and Joseph and His Brethren, just like your nice, safe, bland music, because that is what people wanted. But don’t you see, my dear, that Beethoven’s music is more New Age than any of your tinklings? He used all the resources available to him, not just the pretty and peaceful ones. He wrote about victory, about creating a glorious reality from the most unpromising materials, such as poverty and deafness. Have your pieces made anyone weep or laugh or sing or dance? Music speaks to the body. Bodies are why we’re here on earth, instead of flitting around like ghosts. I miss my body. It’s fun down here in the Dark! On earth I created a vast empire. Here I can only talk to you and tell you to enjoy what you have.

 

“What good is it to work on the astral without working on the physical? Enlightenment isn’t a spacey feeling in your skull. That’s malnutrition or oxygen-starvation. Enlightenment is what you do in the real world. You want to be enlightened? Then feed the hungry, rock a crying child. Make love. Dance in the sun. And work. Work for the world you want to see, the world you can visualize with your so-called astral vision. Keep your energy from supporting your enemy, Know what you believe, and know that ideas have consequences. Reality is a universal agreement– but there may be reasons that the universe has agreed to the present reality. Search them out. Do that, and then you will be enlightened. That is all I have for today. Are there any questions?”

 

Ursulette spoke up. “Was I the High Priestess when Sinep was a Sacred King?”

 

“Jesus Crippled Christ on a crutch!” Barnum exploded. “You really weren’t listening, were you? Sinep’s a fake. If you want to make up stories about your past, and they help you live and have fun, fine, but don’t expect scientific validation from me. My elephant Jumbo had more brains per pound of body weight than you, and he didn’t have the sense to get off the railroad tracks. If that’s the level of question you have, forget it. I’m wasting my time. Good-bye!”

 

Sarah raised her head, yawned, stretched, and finally opened her eyes. “Well, I hope we’re all…” she began cheerily, and then noticed that something was wrong. “What’s the matter? Everyone here looks so grim; it’s not an uplifted vibe at all.”

 

“We weren’t uplifted,” Megan said.

 

Mack jumped in to take responsibility. “Sarah, uh, you didn’t channel Sinep this time. You got P.T.Barnum.”

 

“Barnum?” she said. “Who was he? And why didn’t you send him away?”

 

“A circus guy. He started Barnum and Bailey. He once supposedly said that there’s a sucker born every minute. I tried to get rid of him, but he wouldn’t go. He was very rude.”

 

“I’ll say!” Ursulette said. “He made fun of my weight.”

 

“He called us all fakes,” said Moira. “Including you, Sarah.”

 

“Actually, some of the things he said made a little sense,” said Jason.

 

“Oh, shut up, Jason!” Dianna snarled. “You’re just sticking up for him because he liked you because you’re a fellow fraud. That’s the way all you men are, one big club…”

 

“All you men?!” the soy worker interrupted. “That’s the most sexist statement I’ve heard in a long time.”

 

“Well, this is the biggest ripoff I’ve seen in a long time,” another attendee said. “I want my money back.”

 

“Whoa!” Sarah said. “Let’s calm down and figure out what went wrong. This has never happened before. The channel felt unusually clear; I don’t remember anything that happened. I need your support, and I don’t have it when you’re arguing with each other. Now, what did this Barnum say?”

 

“He was real judgmental and moralistic,” somebody said, “Not like Ramtha at all.”

 

“He said that spirituality wasn’t as important as working on material things,” Moira said. “Of course, he also admitted that he was a liar.”

 

“He kind of liked Jeff,” Ursulette said.

 

The room got quiet fast. Every eye pointed at me. Mack said, quietly, “Jeff has had a rather, uh, skeptical attitude about channeling. Do you think his presence could have distorted the channel?”

 

Thanks, Mack, I thought. I’ll remember that next time you want a beer.

 

“It’s possible,” Sarah said.

 

All hell broke loose. People were standing up and shouting at me. Every sentence contained a “you”: It’s your fault I got taken, you are a materialist skeptic, you are not enlightened as we are, you eat pork and you would probably eat human flesh if it were legal. The crowd crept closer backing me up to the wall. This could get dangerous, I thought; time for some practical magic. I looked the crowd in the eyes. I imagined power thrusting out from my solar plexus with every word. And I said, loudly, “Why blame me? Barnum was right, wasn’t he?”

 

It worked. They turned on Sarah instead, saying how she didn’t have control of herself or her psychic space, how maybe Barnum was right and she was a fake, how they’d all go tell their friends about this. Sarah was in tears. After a while the voices stopped, and let her cry in silence. Finally she quit and said, “OK I advertised a lecture by a Sacred King. You didn’t get what you paid for. Everyone who is not content with what they got out of this workshop, line up, and I’ll return your money. I just want everyone to be happy.”

 

They all lined up, except Jason. Coats went on and people mumbled as they left. When Sarah had finished returning money, she said to Jason, “I can’t believe that you of all people don’t want your money back.”

 

“No, I want you to have it. I got what I wanted out of this. Every dollar I spend comes back to me multiplied. By the way, I’m setting up a book tour. That Barnum really knew how to advertise. If you were to come along to bring him through, and he were to plug the book…”

 

“Fuck off, Jason”, Sarah said.

 

He shrugged, and walked out. Mack put his hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said.

 

“It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s not even Jeff’s fault. I just don’t have my channeling scene together yet.”

 

“You look really tense,” Mack said. “Would you like a massage?”

 

“Yeah. That would be really nice.”

 

I couldn’t believe it. Mack had used New Age Come-On Line Number One, and she had fallen for it. Well, she was in bad shape and he seemed very sincere. Maybe he would give her “just a massage”. But I wasn’t placing bets.

 

“Let’s go into my room,” he said as he turned to me and scowled. “I don’t want to be around this asswipe right now.”

 

So they went to his room, and I went to mine to catch up on some studying. After a good while I heard bedsprings creaking, and high-pitched moans. Many of them, for a long time.

 

I had a feeling that Mack had already forgiven me everything.


CCG at St. Johns

December 5, 2016

This isn’t a review; it’s a reaction. I know better than to talk about my colleagues’ music. Most of it was very fine, some wasn’t.

First reaction: The Syndicate for the New Arts, the group that put on last night’s concert. Wow, just wow. Virtuosi, the lot of them. They did my work The Great Hunger, and never have I heard such a fierce, tight, balls-to-the-wall performance of it as Aram Mun, Henry Jenkins and Caitlin Mehrtens gave it. Yes, fierce… and these aren’t instruments you normally associate with that term. Unbelieveably fast and accurate, but well-thought-out and phrased too,  Of course, somebody had to slam a big wooden door right in the middle of it. Everything else on the program got the same careful treatment. Surprisingly large audience for a Sunday night.

Then there was the venue. St.John’s is supposedly the oldest standing religious building in NE Ohio, having been finished in 1838. Acoustically, it’s quite nice: tall enough for some bloom, small enough to not be echo-y. But it’s a wreck. I don’t know if they actually have services there anymore. It’s still owned by the diocese, they have a vicar (female of course), there are flags inside, and ’82 Hymnal and Book of Common Prayer, but there was nothing in any of the literature or signage suggesting that they actually did church there. And it’s sad. Every wall in the place is peeling and in need of paint. The 1928 Austin 2 manual organ is missing most of its key ivory. A square piano (original equipment?) sits forlorn in the corner. The cover was off the heating baseboards (the main heat produced a F drone and was fortunately turned off before the concert started). The stained glass behind the altar was missing a section. The cheeriest spot in the whole building was the bathroom! The place has had a history of “activism”, with Russell Means running the Cleveland American indian Center out of the basement in  the 70s, and the Metropolitan Community Church using the space when they could find no other. Now they have a yoga center attached.  So perhaps it’s a physical metaphor for the decline of ECUSA into spiritual irrelevance.

But this is sacred space. If it can’t be beautiful, it at least should not be ugly. Even as a concert space, it should not be ugly. It would be a simple and inexpensive thing to paint the inside. Somebody, in some ECUSA church in town, could organize a group of volunteers and have it done in a day or two. And there’d be white to balance the dreary dark pews that seen to be an Anglican dogma. But as-is, it felt like listening to a concert in Berlin in late 1945. “The acoustics aren’t so good since the roof was blown off, but at least the bombs aren’t coming down anymore. And we can listen to Mendelssohn again.”


Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

February 7, 2015

Miss Barnhardt has held forth on the question of salvation, and while it is interesting as always, it really isn’t one of her more successful ventures,  as a logical case. (This probably won’t be any better.) Indeed, after starting with the headline “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church”, she ends up with a doctrinally-correct example of somebody who IS saved outside of the Catholic Church.

The problem is in equivocation of terms: what is the Church?

There is One, and it is the Church of Jesus Christ. Not the Church of Ann Barnhardt, Jeffrey Quick, or Pope Francis.  Not even the Church of St. Peter, though since Jesus put him in charge, it has a unique claim over all others. And who is in the Church of  Jesus? Whoever Jesus says is there. Who is that? We don’t know. We have a pretty good idea what is needed, through the Magisterium. And we do know that “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man…you have no life in you” (John 6:53), which should give pause to followers of any denomination that does not accept the Real Presence, which is most of them. But we can’t say that any earthly church is coterminous with the Church of Jesus. There are “Catholics” (like Ann’s catechist who believes that reincarnation is possible) who are probably not part of the Church. And Native Americans who never got to hear the Gospel (OK, Mormons, I’ll throw you a bone and say they lived after 421 AD.) who are part of that Church. We could compare this to the Bokononist theology of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The Church is a karass, a group assembled by God to do His Will. The churches are false karasses, or granfalloons: groups which think they exist to do God’s will, but don’t really.

Now, there’s a thing called “mere Christianity”, the core beliefs, the stuff in the Nicene Creed. Is that enough to get you into Heaven? I’d like to think so. But how much false-doctrine BS is God willing to put up with? I don’t know, and am not anxious to personally find out. It’s a doctrine that if you’ve been part of the one true earthly church of Christ, with the fullness of truth, and go off to a sect of lesser truth, your chances of salvation go down radically. (Lumen gentium, 14) But my saintly Lutheran grandmother? I can’t imagine her NOT being saved, if justice exists.  I don’t know why one would NOT be part of the Church founded on the rock of Peter, and I certainly wouldn’t take my chances anywhere else. But if an invincibly ignorant person can get in via the Natural Law, the chances of a heretic Christian have to be better. They’ll be set straight soon enough.

The Catholic Church doesn’t even teach Extra (Catholicam) Ecclesiam Nulla Salus in the strict sense. They call it “Feeneyism” after Fr. Leonard Feeney, who spent the first part of his career as a poet (he wrote the texts of most of Theodore Chanler’s art songs) and the last as head of a schismatic community. In between, he got into trouble by converting too many (for the parents/donors)  Episcopalian Harvard students to Catholicism and telling them to drop out of school, and compounded it by disobedience (always a bad move for a priest).I suspect that the main problem with Feeneyism is lese majeste; it’s in effect telling the King of Kings who is in His Church.

Note: one of the two Feeneyite communities is on the SPLC “hate group” list because they want to convert Jews, which is apparently anti-Semitic. Any time the Stupid Preposterous Lie Center disses somebody, they rise in my estimation. But Feeney made statements which at least nibble at the edges of anti-Semitism. Also, Fr. Feeney’s most vocal opponent was a Harvard student named Robert Kennedy, for what that’s worth.


Open letter to Glenn Beck

February 4, 2015

Dear Mr. Beck,

I have never turned any of your broadcasts off in anger, until today, at 11:25 or so.

You were discussing the latest atrocity by the Califake, and the necessity for an Islamic Reformation. And you said (as nearly as I can quote from memory), “What if there had never been a Martin Luther time? We’d be back in the Crusades.”, thus equating Catholicism with radical Islam, and in the process insulting a large swath of your listeners.

There’s so much wrong with this that I scarcely know where to start. But let’s start with those Crusades. Do you think they were a BAD thing? Yes, bad things happened during them (and some Crusaders were excommunicated for those bad things.). But would you say that 4 centuries of Muslim aggression demanded a response, or not? Anyway, they were long over by the time of the Reformation. Constantinople had fallen 64 years before the 95 Theses, and if there was a final “we lost the Crusades” point, that was it. But of course, Muslim aggression didn’t end there. Hungary fell within Luther’s lifetime. There was the great Catholic naval victory at Lepanto in 1571 … during which the Protestant Dutch were cheering on the Turks, saying  Liever Turks dan Paaps (“Rather Turkish than Papist”) Luther himself denounced the Crusades, on the grounds that “to fight against the Turk is the same thing as resisting God, who visits our sin upon us with this rod.” He saw Catholics and Moslems as morally equivalent, much like America-hating progressives today. And there was the Battle of Vienna, where the siege was lifted by the Catholic Polish king Jan Sobieski. In short, those Crusades and after-crusades battles kept Europe Christian.

And how was that Catholic Church? Evil, and becoming more evil? Actually, the eve of the Reformation was a high point in Church history. Yes, there were abuses; there had always been abuses. But popular piety and the stability of the Church had never been higher. It’s even been argued that the energized laity contributed to the Reformation, by wanting “more”, Anyway, there was the Counter-reformation and the Council of Trent, which itself was no big deal (arguably, Vatican II was more radical in practice). They clarified some doctrines in contrast to Protestantism, curbed some abuses, simplified and unified the liturgy, ordered Gregorian chant to be bowdlerized. What made the Counter-Reformation a big deal was the saints that it inspired to New Evangelization, 16th-century style….saints frequently at loggerheads with the hierarchy.

Did the Church, in combination with the secular arm, do things that we consider barbaric? Sure. EVERYONE did.  The Calvinists and Lutherans were just as enthusisatic about witch-burning and Jew-killing as Catholics were (and it was a Jesuit, Friedrich Spee, who was one of the first to speak out against the witch trials).  What about punishment and religious freedom?  There’s “bloody Mary” and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. But then came Elizabeth, and Catholicism was considered high treason…the punishment for which was drawing and quartering. Tell me, Glenn, if you can: between that and burning a guy alive in a cage, which is worse? Tough call, isn’t it?

OK, look: you got excited and said something stupid. We all have done that. But we generally only say stupid things if we’re carrying around stupid assumptions. And the stupid assumption of most Protestant supporters of Islamic reformation is that the Reformation was a good thing, and the Catholic Church was a bad thing. Thus, an Islamic reformation will replace a bad thing with a good thing.

On the contrary, this is the Islamic Reformation. What was the Christian Reformation about? It was about getting rid of “doctrines of men” and returning to the pure state of the first-century church as enshrined in a holy book compiled several centuries later. Isn’t that what radical Islam is about? Doing what Mohammed did, obeying the Koran to the letter, bringing back the glory days? If an Islamic Reformation were about everyone interpreting the Koran for themselves, and letting everyone do their own thing, it might be worthwhile…for us. Several centuries from now, we’d have an Islam split into 40,000 pieces, claiming that Mohammed didn’t really mean all that violent and anti-woman stuff (and the Koran was a forgery from several centuries later anyway), and where a few people went to the mosque to drink coffee and talk about being nice.  But that’s not the Islamic Reformation we have in front of us, and it’s not the kind of religion that will effectively counter it.


In defense of Lena Dunham??

November 3, 2014

Lena Dunham wrote an autobiography which contained a few disgusting passages, which several people on the Right were disgusted by. Apparently one isn’t allowed to express disgust at a disgusting book (and by extension its disgusting author) or to give free publicity to such a book, because Ms. Dunham has lawyered up. 

Lena, dear, I belong to the generation that invented “letting it all hang out”. (Well, almost; I was old enough to identify with the hippies, but too young to actually be one.). We did creative writing in high school, as I’m sure you did. And being the rebellious and hormonal youth that I was, I pushed the envelope on topics. I had a pricky teacher who called me a pervert for it; I had a nice teacher who politely asked me not to write about those topics, because she didn’t want to read about it. Either way, I learned that one wrote for an audience, that one didn’t always have control over who that audience was, and that the audience would draw its own conclusions, so best to try to look through their eyes. You can draw your own conclusions about whether we masturbated or whether we had siblings in bed with us while we did so, or whether we touched their genitals. But that was nobody else’s business. There was a name for those who wrote about it, and a name for the writings:  pornographers and pornography, respectively.

Our teachers were editors, but they were editing us, not just our work.  That’s out of style; teaching morality, or even teaching how to deal with prevailing morality, is now considered to be too much like religion. But surely you had an editor for this book.  Did she pull you aside and say, “Lena, you’re going to have problems over this passage”? Or did she too see absolutely nothing wrong or even socially questionable with these acts? Or that your life was not “about” this; that it was a distracting side plot, that it was “TMI”? If so, this is not just your kinkery… pace Williamson, you ARE the voice of your generation… and that generation is totally depraved.

Now, if people are going around saying, “Lena Dunham is a child molester”, as opposed to saying, “Lena Dunham molested a child”, then you have a moral case at least.  I’m sure you aren’t molesting children now. (Not that that keeps us from haunting every 18-on-15 lover until death.) I’m a Christian; I worship the God of second chances. But that implies contrition and repentance. You don’t sound contrite at all in the book. And you aren’t contrite now; you’re pissed because people now think ill of you.  If these incidents were good enough for the book, why aren’t you proud of them? Why aren’t you doubling down on your right to examine your sister’s cooch?

You know, Williamson was in some ways harder on your parents than on you. You haven’t come to their defense; are they defendable? It probably never occurred to you to take personal responsibility for your words, or for much of anything else. You appear to have been morally crippled by your upbringing.  I’m sorry that my generation raised the generation that raised you in the way we did. But we can’t change that now. All you can do is fix yourself as best as you can. That’s going to require looking to the past through literature and seeing how others did it, and questioning all the assumptions you grew up with.  You won’t be “the voice of a generation” anymore; you’ll be a voice crying in the wilderness. But you’ll be your own person, which is after all what we most wanted in the ’60s.


Return to The Parish Formerly Known As St. Denis

August 3, 2014

This weekend I found myself back in Lexington MI for a class reunion, and had to make provisions for Mass. I reported on St. Denis back in 2011.  I found, sadly, that they had undergone a parish blending last year with the Port Sanilac parish (St. Mary) and Croswell parish (St. Patrick), and are now know as Ave Maria Parish. The big issue, for me, is that instead of walking to 8AM Mass, I’d have to drive 8 miles  to Port Sanilac. Working around the reunion and needing to take my dad grocery shopping, the so-called vigil mass seemed like the best idea.

It’s always a bad sign when they begin with “the Battle Hymn of the Church of Nice”, All are Welcome. Ordinary by Dan Schutte, Alstott Psalms. The upside of this was that all the notes were in the missalette. Hymns were traditional, and all verses were sung. They had a relatively competent cantrix, though she stumbled somewhat in the Psalm. And the Pax was cut short by the intro to the Agnus, a commendable procedure. All this could be worse, in a country church in the summer.

The homily was…disturbing. The priest (new old guy. maybe the former priest of one of the other churches, not Fr. Schikora) used the Gospel (feeding of the 5000) for a lauchpad for a talk on the Eucharist. OK, good idea, but he was stuck in Community Meal and never brought up the sacrificial aspect. Then he encouraged universal Eucharistic participation, saying that it’s never been easier since all you need to do is fast for an hour and be free of serious sin.  Well, what’s “serious” sin, and how do you get free of it?  Is blowing off Mass a serious sin? (The Church has always thought so). No mention of Confession and absolution. So, let’s say somebody is working on Spouse #2 or 3, or is contracepting, or is a Chreaster.  They didn’t KILL anyone; should they receive? I had to fight back and impulse to just walk out, and invoke The Peoples’ Canon 915.  Of course there was the usual bevy of Extra Ordinary Ministers being extra and ordinary.

It’s always a privilege to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Sometimes it’s more difficult than at other times, and this was one of those times. The liturgy is improving, but what if you improve liturgy and lose sound doctrine?

 

 


The chick thing

June 27, 2014

On Facebook, I keep encountering outrage about the fate of poor male baby chicks. The ladies really don’t like it that they’re ground alive, but when asked for alternatives, they never present one. The last time this happened, I got unfriended. So I thought I’d gather all my information in one place, so that I can just link to it. If I’m going to piss people off, I might as well be efficient about it.

First, a disclaimer: we keep chickens. When I was growing up, the Mennonites across from my grandparents had an egg factory. If we wanted to play with them, we had to help them do chores, mostly picking up eggs. And I was distressed by all those chickens in cages, A major reason I raise chickens is so that I can eat eggs without contributing to that. (Note that there are humane arguments to be made for cage culture too, involving sanitation and predation.) So obviously it’s not the case that I don’t give a shit. And we get chicks from the hatchery, and baby chicks are SO CUTE!!!! So I’m not obvious to the emotional impulse either.

So why are baby chicks being ground alive? Because they have to die. Why do they have to die? Because they’re an economic liability.What?? How can that be?

Commercial chicken farming is a bifurcated enterprise. There are two breeds of birds used, one for eggs, one for meat. The meat bird is the Cornish Cross. This is a hybrid of Cornish and Plymouth Rock chickens , with other genetics now introduced as well. (The “Cornish game hens” sold in supermarkets are simply immature Cornish Cross broilers.) These birds are very efficient, with a feed conversion ration of 1.91 pounds of feed per pound of live weight (it was 4.7 in 1925). This efficiency can itself be construed as a form of cruelty, because broiler birds grow faster than their bones can support. That’s a discussion for another day. What we need to know about these birds, for this discussion, is that males and females are both efficient (males more so), and both are raised to slaughter weight.

The egg bird is the White Leghorn.  These lay an average of 280 eggs per year. Since it takes an egg about 30 hours to complete its trip down the oviduct, this is pretty much full capacity, about as good as it gets. And this is the side of the chicken bifurcation that leads to problems. Cocks don’t lay eggs. Nor are they necessary for egg production, any more than you ladies need a man in your life in order to have a period.  So the excess cockerels are raised for meat, right?

Uh, no. Leghorns are a light breed. If males are raised for meat, it takes twice as long as a Cornish Cross, much more feed, and the product is a tough scrawny bird that nobody wants to buy.  So they get killed.

Do they have to be killed? It depends on the meaning of “have to”.  It’s possible to grow dual purpose breeds, with acceptable body weight and laying capacity. You’ll get tougher meat and fewer eggs, and both will cost more. But people do that. I do. Most back years growers do. It’s popular among organic producers. If your conscience is worth your money, you’ll buy from them.  But the poor can’t afford a conscience.

So in our efficient industrial poultry system, cockerels have to die. Even at dual-breed hatcheries, this is a problem, even though pullets (girls) cost more. You can often get cockerels cheap in bulk. But nobody wants Leghorn boys. So the question is: how are they to die? The industry standard currently is maceration, i.e., grinding alive.  Now, I want you to think the unthinkable: imagine yourself dropped into a group of close-together high-speed blades. You may feel something unpleasant on impact. After that, between the shredding of your brain and of all nerve pathways leading to it, there’s nowhere for pain to go. Yes, I know, that’s gross. Imagine the alternatives: suffocation , having your neck broken, electrocution. Can you really say that any of these is more humane than the Guillotine of Forty Blades?

Meat is suffering. If you don’t want to be part of that, I fully understand, as long as you give me the same respect.  I’ll disagree with you, because a carnivore’s short gut is the tradeoff evolution has made for our big brains.  But it’s your life and body.

Oh, and the thing that inspired this? This campaign, which implies that the eggs used in Hellman’s have a different cruelty profile than those used in other mayonnaise, or other eggs. I’d love to look at the stock buys of the people behind this.