©1997 A.D. Sullivan
In search of dry land
Christians Who Kill Christians
Bring Back the Lions
Prayer for America
In search of dry land
For six years he meditated
under the fever tree.
In the sixth year
he contracted fever.
He bought gold sunglasses
and a red bandanna
and saw his disciples
with a glass of sake
in his hand.
He teaches the doctrine
of all things are permissible
but that doing very little
is a high path.
He said the proof of God's
existence is evident
the insanity of others
to which we are exposed,
by its sheer extent is,
The question is not is there
life after death but whether
there is life before it?
Sex is useless unless,
in the grip of fever,
we all make love
to our dreams.
There, at the perimeter,
with the stars behind us,
we become the people
we always though we were.
Such is the meaning of arrival.
Michael J. Maiello
Passaic County Jail, 1989
Bible interpretation among the fundamentalists has always been an iffy thing, as much a product of era as spiritual inspiration. The fire & brimstone version of Revelations is a relatively recent thing. Before the arrival of William Miller and his Adventist followers in the 19th century, Biblical scholars said the Kingdom of God needed to be built before Christ would return.
This reflected the pre-capitalistic enlightened view of helping the poor and downtrodden-- as with social programs and charity. But as modern fundamentalist acquired wealth, charity became a dirty word. A good Christian was not expected to do good deeds. Belief was enough. In this version, perceptions of God changed from one of mercy to one of justice. Christ would return to punish sinners and build His kingdom upon the ruins.
One of the chief exponents of this new view was William Miller, and the contemporary fundamentalists who recently took over the Republican Party can trace their status directly to him and his new "Literal" interpretations of the Bible.
Miller, however, was a fraud-- who deliberately predicted the end of the world in order to scare up cash from his followers. He convinced the New York Herald to print one prediction for April 3, 1843. Thousands came. Some of his followers, convinced that the dead go to Heaven more quickly than the living, killed close relations then committed suicide. All, of course, were properly dressed in special ascension robes which Miller sold on the side. When the world failed to end, Miller pushed the date up to July 7, 1843, and sold yet more robes. When again Christ failed to appear, he pushed the date to March 21 of the following year, then later to October 22, 1844. On this occasion, one farmer even dressed up his cows in the prescribed ascension robes. When Christ did not take the faithful, the crowds dispersed. The Seventh Advent Church, from whom most modern fundamentalists derive their beliefs, calls these failures "The Disappointments."
But Miller himself made a killing from them and died rich.
William P Haynes/Elliott
He always said that if you weren't around for Genesis you may as well stick around for the Apocalypse. Now with the largest nations redefining luxury at the expense of third world nations, he began to doubt his own wisdom. He tired of generation to generation; red plague to black plague to AIDS to mass starvation, cholera, and drought. He was tired of society prostituting itself to survive. Women threw themselves at his feet. He would have settled for decent sex (or for that matter, indecent sex). Little choice was left him and he chose carefully each time. Salvador was as close as he could get to home with killing as customary as sunlight. Not since Hiroshima had he feasted this well. Entire villages without children. He would of thought this heaven if he were fond of puns. As it was his need were greater than his desires; besides nature found him useful. However, he abhorred all comparisons with vampires-- sunning his pale skin which never lost its bluish tint. His friends did tell him he was born to wear foster grants. They were a macabre lot, mostly poets and editors. He was so tired that he began buying stock in companies that manufactured fluro carbons or product that used the same. He took to giving cigarettes to children. He even joined a boy scout pack to teach them to inhale properly. Working for the committee to re-elect George Bush, he met Dan Quayle. He left knowing his work was in good hands.
Christians Who Kill Christians
It began with a ritual execution.
A council in Jerusalem, fearful of offending the formidable Roman authorities, handed over a radical rabbi to be crucified. His teachings, thought within the Judaic tradition, were critical of the wealthy upper echelon. He quietly questioned the whole system of laws that kept the Jews a single, separate people. He stirred the working classes, consorting with fishermen, whores and the like, as he indoctrinated them with subtle stories and supposed miracles into his reinterpretation of their faith. He was a pacifist redeemer with militant traditionalist suppose.
In short, he was trouble.
His posthumous sect ascended to major religionhood in a matter of centuries. Almost everyone of its early evangelists ended in imitation of their messiah's martyrdom, yet their numbers multiplied. St. Paul, who began his career as a Christian hunger before converting himself on the road to Damascus, dominated the new church with his epistles, outlining exactly what the new party line would be. By 300 AD, the empire that had put so many Christians to death was converted completely to Christianity, at which time the emperor Constantine founded an Inquisition to hung down dissenters and heretics in the manner established by tradition.
Dissent within the church was dangerous for the same reason that the church in its earlier days had threatened emperors before Constantine. State religions present a public rationale for the state's existence and, as such, are protected by the state militia. Any who raised doubts as to the imperial authority were challenging the foundations of law and order. The new doubters questioned the system of papacy, the exclusion of women from the clergy, and the authority of clerical rites. Several groups claimed to have secret documents, or esoteric insight into the meaning of known ones, that they claimed gave them greater knowledge (gnosis) than the orthodox church. The "Gnostics" were legend.
Aris, a priest in Alexandria Egypt, began teaching that the Christ was not co-eternal with the Creator, but had been created at some point to fulfill as part in the Creator's plan. Christ is the Son, he argued, and the Father must have existed some time before Him. Alexandria was the intellectual capital of its time, and Aris' teachings spread swiftly though the Holy Roman Empire. The Aryan Heresy, as it came to be known, was one of the more persuasive heresies, necessitating the Nicene council to write the Nicene creed and officially create the Trinity.
Soon thereafter, a British man named Pelagius renounced the concept of "Grace". Man, he believed, did not need God's supernatural interference to achieve salvation. Adam's fall merely served as a model of improper conduct, not as Original Sin, while Jesus' death provided an example of perfect behavior. This Miss Manners attitude toward divinity did not sit well with the church, neither then nor now. Born Again Christians today still warn us that man cannot be saved by his own works. We must be "born again," watch Jimmy Swaggart on television, and vote Republican.
Another heresy flourished around 1200 AD in the city of Albi in southern France. The Albigenes accosted the body with evil and the soul with good-- to the extent that they wanted to separate the two. The people of this town advocated abstention from sex, marriage, meat-eating and so on, until finally the bulk of the population starved to death. These devout ascetics finally achieved notice by the church, which found their devotion excessive and condemned them also as heretics.
In each case, and in several similar, church law would find the adherents of such philosophies guilty of mortal sin. In order to save the immortal souls of such heretics, various methods of execution were devised. By the Reformation, with thousands of new Protestant heresies popping up every day, the Inquisition had to work over-time. Thomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) set the pace by killing 2000 souls and exiling 200,000 more (Moslems, Jews & Christians) in his 15-year reign as Inquisitor General.
Today's church denies that this was a case of Christians who kill Christians; they argue that de Torquemada and his like were Christian in name only. But the Inquisition and its philosophies have co-existed with the church from the beginning, and still lie just a stone's throw away.
Bring Back the Lions
The time has come where we might well consider banning Christians from America. Not only is the issue one of true morality, but of economics, too.
Sure, we have heard tale of the Constitution and its guarantees for Freedom of Religion. But Karl Marx once said this was the single flaw in American Government where the founding fathers meant "freedom from religion."
Well before the American Revolution, Christians have been trouble, exploiting the natives, spoiling the rivers and lands, persecuting those that believe in anything but their own limited version of faith.
What most Americans fail to realize is that the Christians came to America to escape persecution at the hands of other Christians. Like Pat Buchanan's recent call for a religious war, battles over faith tore apart Europe for centuries. The wise founders of American Government chose to avoid much of this by allowing Christianity free reign.
A big mistake!
Not only have these greedy creeds attacked those not of their faith since the signing of the constitution, but they have-- in the name of God-- made themselves rich in the process. Up until the mid-1980s, churches could own land tax free and sell what they wished free of sales tax and other such hidden government revenues. The Roman Catholic Church owns significant properties beyond the physical churches which have never paid property tax.
Several denominations of Christians have learned the trick of building companies on their property exempting them from taxation also.
But the real reason for forcing Christians out of the country is their immoral effect on our society. They have long used the instrument of mob rule to replace laws, lynching blacks in the south, burning witches in the north, causing unnecessary and unwanted pregnancies everywhere in-between. Now, after the social revolution of the 1960s finally freed many of us from the yoke of Christian slavery, it seeks to take over government and force its will upon America, titling this new slavery as "Family Values." Perhaps if Christians showed a little more Charity towards their fellow man and less outright hostility, we could consider them equal partners. As it is, send them back to where they came from or feed them to the lions.
Prayer for America
We pay taxes
God bless America.
God, are you voting with us?
Are you pro-life?
Are you in favor of traditional family values?
Are you a member of the National Rifle Association?
Hey, listen God, forget we ever mentioned you.
We don't need any more of your kind around here.
Arlene L. Mandell
They appointed conservative judges to the courts
to reverse liberal laws and policies
They were opposed to abortion
They ridiculed intellectuals as "Cultural Elitists"
and propagandized about "family values"
They were supported by the fundamentalists
and evangelical churches
They enacted anti-homosexual and anti-pornography
laws and closed down exhibitions of artists
they considered culturally depraved.
They blamed the liberals when the economy was in decline,
They supported a large military budget, vast national
police, and an intelligence force.
They had several mini-wars, controlled the press,
and announced a new world order.
They used new military technology and asserted
"Peace through strength."
They ran candidates in elections and won many seats in the
legislatures, radically altering the nation's ideology,
They called their leader "a great communicator" who waved
his hands and shouted at his audience,
They reminded people of their devotion to their nation.
People fell for this.
People voted them into power in 1933.
They were called Nazis.
I wasn't always a naughty boy. Not the way Billy and Louie were whispering in my ears about naked ladies and the secret uses of my untouchable parts.
But I was a wild boy.
At least, that's what Uncle Ed said, his fat face quivering as he yelled, telling Grandma and Grandpa that I should go to Religious School, where the nuns could teach me how to behave.
Grandpa didn't like the idea. He said he wanted me under foot where he could keep an eye on me.
But they sent me off just the same, Grandma gripping my arm as we climbed the thirteen steps to the church doors, the rounded top of which was made of slits of wood, I thought would be fun to peal off -- if I got a chance.
"Behave yourself," Grandma warned, as if reading my mind, her eyes as silvery and hard as marbles. "And keep your mouth shut when we get inside."
Then, she ran the bell while I looked to the two huge windows on either side of the door, windows made up of bits of different colored glass. I couldn't figure out who had broken them, and why anybody'd put the pieces back like that. When I broke the windows at the factory, the man there put new glass in, never the old pieces.
But before I could think to ask, the big door opened, and a short woman in a black dress looked out. Her round glasses glinted in the sunlight. She looked as silly as the clowns I'd seen on Saturday morning TV. She had rosy cheeks and a crooked nose, but when she smiled, her mouth twisted into something mean.
"I'm Mrs. Grimes," Grandma said.
"And this," the short woman asked, "is the child?"
The funny lady bent towards me, but I backed away. Her knobby fingers had tried to pinch my cheeks, something I got from aunts and cousins every Christmas instead of gifts.
"Kenny!" Grandma snapped. "Behave."
"Such a nice, boy," the funny lady said. "I'm sure he will be no trouble."
Grandma stared at me, her brows raised, telling me I'd better not be.
"Don't let his size fool you," she said. "He can be a devil at times."
The funny lady laughed.
"Devils are our specialty," she said.
So Grandma left me, and hobbled back down the stairs to where she could catch the bus. She didn't look back. Not once. Even though I cried out for her not to go.
"Come along, child," the funny lady said, her voice sweet, but her grip firm. I didn't want to go with her, and shouted when she shut the door. I wanted to peal back the strips above the door so I could climb up and see Grandma again. "I said, come, child."
I wanted to cry, but didn't, wouldn't, afraid to show anything like that to this lady.
"Can you believe this!" Uncle Ed said, his fat fingers holding up the note I'd brought from school. "On day and he's already in trouble. What the hell did you do, boy?"
"I didn't do nothing," I said.
The kitchen swelled with heat, the big black corn pot bubbling and the oven stuffed with meat. Grandpa and Grandma sat at two sides of the long table with me and my uncle sitting across the shorter sides.
"Didn't do anything? That's not what this here note says! They want to see one of us down at that school. One damned day, boy, and you've got them crazy, too. But I won't have it. My sister's son or not, I won't have it. You need a beating boy, and one of us ought to give it to you."
"No!" Grandpa said, his voice neither loud nor mean, but stern. "That's your sister's boy and you won't touch him."
"But the boy's causing trouble, Pa," Ed said, rising slowly from his chair, hands flat on the table, so as to stare better at me. "We can't let him go on like he is. Last week he shot Mr. Williams in the face with his peach shooter, this week he's getting tossed out of school. Where will it stop?"
"No one said anything about tossing the boy out. They just want to see one of us. There's bound to be trouble trying to put the boy in a place like that."
"The trouble is him!" Ed shouted. "I'm sure that school got along just fine before he came along."
"He's your sister's boy, Edward," Grandpa said. "He's blood."
"That's why we should be the ones to deal with him -- we should knock the devil out of him."
"And you don't think Religious School can deal with the Devil?"
"Not his kind," Ed said, jabbing a fat finger at me. "Only a good whack from one of us will do that."
"Did I ever whack you?" Grandpa asked, slowly getting up out of his chair, as if getting ready to go back outside to work.
"That's different. I didn't go around terrorizing the neighborhood. People in this neighborhood are afraid of the boy. They tell me when they see him coming, they pull their kids inside and lock their doors."
"It's true, Carl," Grandma said from her side of the table. "Not a day goes bay that someone doesn't call complaining about something Kenny did."
"Like what?" Grandpa asked.
"Like Mrs. Gunya's flowers," Ed said. "Two days ago she caught him picking her flowers and you know how that woman feels about her yard. We were lucky she didn't call the police."
Grandpa smiled. "You call the boy a devil for picking flowers?"
"That's not all he does," Ed said. "We caught him playing with matches down by that sewer again."
Again Grandpa smiled. "And what boy doesn't play with matches? You did much the same thing when you were his age."
"It's not me we're talking about, pa! It's him," Ed shouted and pointed again at me. "He's the one they want to throw out of that school."
"It was just a note, Edward!" Grandpa said.
"But on his first day..."
"You Ma can go with the boy tomorrow and see what that's all about. Or better yet, did you even think to ask the boy?"
"I did!" Ed said, throwing up his hands. "He just sits there with those wide, innocent eyes of his, claiming he doesn't know."
"Maybe you didn't ask him right," Grandpa said, and eased closer to me, smelling of motor oil and wood shavings, his broad smile telling me not to worry. "Why did the nuns give you that note, Kenny?"
They all looked at me. Grandma, Grandpa, Ed, and I swallowed slowly and shook my head.
"I don't know," I said. "I only told them I didn't believe in God."
One of the factors that goes into making many Jewish writers great is the fact that they show no mercy -- on their reader or themselves. They come at you like a Mack truck. When they hit you with an emotional point, you know it. This is the thing that makes the latest issue of Long Shot, the Hoboken-based poetry magazine, so powerful. It pulls no punches, and though there are writers other than Jews included, the issue focuses on Jewish themes and, as a result, generates a powerful emotional charge.
Yet don't expect anything so vague as "Jewish themes" to be a focal point for the magazine or the reading. Danny Shot, editor and publisher of Long Shot, might like to believe the issue is merely a diverse compendium of Jewish concerns, but he is wrong. Much of what is written by Jews or about Jews wrestles with one overriding matter: defining what it means to be Jewish. This issue of Long Shot is no exception. In fact, as Caren Less Michaelson writes in her poem, "Conversation in Eden," it is a struggle that has been going on since Adam and Eve.
Shot says his friends thought doing an all-Jewish issue was a bad idea, or, as he says in the introduction, "They are strangely silent while I enthusiastically go on and on about my hopes for this issue."
His friends warned him that such an issue could deteriorate into chauvinism. Indeed, for many years, I grappled with the idea of Jewish solidarity. When I was younger, I found myself resenting the whole concept of Jewishness, the way many felt left out in high school by an elite social set or in college by prestigious fraternities. I used to eye this collective culture from the outside, finding myself excluded from the thoughts and feelings of some of the greatest minds in literature simply because I was not a Jew.
Despite recent efforts by other ethnic, racial and national groups like the Irish, Italians, Germans, blacks or Native American Indians to find such an identity, the solidarity of Jewishness has remained an unsolved mystery. As in the poem "Passover Scene" by Jack Hirscham, we are like the homeless man who "peers into a garbage can for some scraps to eat, finds nothing with his eyes, reaches in and rummages, and still finds nothing."
Down deep, it may be that I believe there is some great secret to the universe contained in Judaism not found in the variety of other religious and cultural beliefs, and because the Jewish community -- particularly its orthodoxy -- may have seemed to an outsider to be so self-contained, I came to resent them. The Jewish people have, as Danny Shot notes, in various eras, become scapegoats for everything from a bad economy to declining educational standards. Over and over in history that resentment has translated into violence. In the heyday of that hate, modern society even brought to the study of Judaism scientific methodology, tearing it apart piece by piece in order to understand what makes it tick, willing to destroy the essence of Jewishness in order to synthesize it.
Hitler epitomized this extreme of jealousy, when -- despite all his boasting about Aryan superiority -- he failed to achieve the same sense of solidarity despite bullets and bayonets. Yet even on a less monstrous plane, many of us have felt the same resentment, always asking: How do they do it, and how do we get some?
It took years of reading to understand how mistaken I was, how Jewishness is too huge an entity to describe as cohesive. From the outside, it seems remarkably together, inside, diverse elements strive for self-identity.
In this issue of Long Shot, Allen Ginsberg struggles with this point in his poem "Yiddishe Kopf," sorting through the conflicting definition of what it means to be Jewish.
"I'm Jewish because love my family matzoh ball soup./I'm Jewish because my fathers mothers uncles grandmothers said `Jewish,' all the way back to Vitebsk & Kaminetz-Podolska via Lvov./Jewish because reading Dostoyevsky at 13 I write poems at restaurant tables Lower East side, perfect delicatessen intellectual."
Ginsberg struggles to sort through his Jewishness while maintaining his anger at Israel's political policies and Jewish intellectual involvement in the creation of nuclear bombs.
In "The Personification of Jewishness," Al Aronowitz attempts to come to terms with the past political versus personal. For Sara Felder, it is a question of being a Jew or a lesbian. For Ivan Hahem sees a battle between two halves of himself, one half Jewish, one half goyim. "I'm half and half/just another half empty glass," he says in his poem "Mongrel." Joel Lewis sums up the question in several of his poems, defining the struggle as "a stuttering dance."
Much of what it means to be Jewish is defined by how the world perceives it. Goyim or Jew, identity, according to sociological theory, comes from outside, from what the sociologist call a mirror effect. We look to others outside ourselves to confirm that identity. For a cop, wearing the uniform is only part of the process, having people see and treat him as a cop is the other part of the transformation. For Jews, seeking identity, reaching to the outside for confirmation has always been a problem.
"There are hundreds of blocks where no one knows you exist and it goes on that way until you get to Nebraska, where it gets even worse. There, the people never met a Jew before," writes Hal Sirowitz in his poem "Horns On Your Head."
Bob Holman says "Like everybody else, I wasn't a Jew/until I came to New York."
But from the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans to the Nazi-generated Holocaust, Jews have gotten back nothing but a warped reflection. For many Jews the Nazi slaughter of their brethren led to a re-asking of Job's question from the old Testament. "I am a Jew because Hitler said my father was one," writes Elinor Nauen.
In the light of Nazi death camps, Jews who survived began to ask why? How am I different from someone who didn't survive? Why did God spare me and not another? What criteria did God use? Was I good? Were they bad? Or was survival itself a punishment?
In the original Job, God and Satan tested Job's faith. Was the Holocaust a test of faith, too? Or perhaps Alicia Ostriker puts the question best: "Whether or not God is laughing, that we don't know."
Yet others might argue that it is lack of faith that brings on such tragedies. "In yr [sic] house there is no God, so the rules get broke," says Eve Packer in her poem "easter bonnet."
Shot says his education on Jewishness pretty much ended in 1970 when he bar mitzvahed, and called Hebrew school "a torture" where he was "class dunce." Some of his Jewish awareness came from his mother who escaped the holocaust by fleeing Germany to the U.S. in 1939. She lost a 6-year-old son to the Nazis, he says, and has felt guilty for surviving ever since.
"What does a Jew want?" asks Amy Gerstler, in framing the question that this issue of Long Shot seems to ask. The answer contained within these pages is as diverse as the Jews themselves or as simple as their desire to survive "the stuttering dance." It is a desire to come to understand themselves without the warped mirror.
All work is by A.D. Sullivan except where otherwise indicated.
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