Archive for June, 2010

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Monday, June 28th, 2010

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: Dinosaurs in Tucumcari?

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum

Feel up a dinosaur leg at Mesalands Dinosaur Museum!

Once again I was led astray by a dinosaur on a billboard, this time as I drove out of New Mexico on the way to Kansas for a show.  On the return trip, I made time to track down the Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum in downtown Tucumcari, New Mexico.  I wasn’t disappointed.

It turns out there are some productive fossil beds in this part of New Mexico.  What is even more surprising is that there should be such an active bronze foundry associated with the community college which results is:  “Our Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of bronze skeletons, fossils, and replicas of prehistoric creatures. The bronzes, created in the College’s foundry, were poured by members of Mesalands staff, assisted by a number of community volunteers”.

What this means is there are — among the impressive number of life-size bronzes — several casts of complete dinosaurs and dinosaur bones that you can run your hands across without getting chased out of the museum.

It is almost as much “art” as “paleontology”, and it’s worth a visit if you find yourself droning down Interstate 40 during museum hours.

t.n.s.r. bob says “drop in”.

Mesalands Community College’s Dinosaur Museum
222 East Laughlin Street
Tucumcari, New Mexico 88401
(575) 461-3466
Hours of Operation
Extended Summer Hours  – March 1 – Labor Day
TUESDAY – SATURDAY 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Closed Sunday and Monday)
Winter Hours – Labor Day – February 28/29
TUESDAY – SATURDAY 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Closed Sunday and Monday)
Closed
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day

http://www.mesalands.edu/museum/museum.htm

SERMON: “And You Thought You Felt Small and Insignificant Before…Part Two” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

PART 2.  “Enough about us…what about me?”

In last week’s PART 1 I concluded with this: “If there is meaning in the universe, it is not to be found anywhere outside of us — you and I are the only game in town where that commodity is concerned.  We (and our animal cousins, to varying degrees) are the only ones that care about anything at all (in any meaningful conception of that idea).  And it takes a certain amount of courage to value ones own individual capacity for caring once it is detached from the borrowed validation of an heavenly authority.  In short, humans find it much easier to trust their feelings and thoughts when they think they are coming from God.  No matter that they are always and completely products of our own physical consciousness no matter how successfully externalized we may make them out to be.”

I have found in this view some new understandings of my own person.  I think about my journeys through therapy, religion, psychic advisers and all the rest to achieve some sense of stability in my emotions and thoughts, driven toward a goal that we all believe can be achieved: normalcy.  But when it comes to humans, as in nature, normal is at best a mathematical approximation of the midpoint between two extremes (either of which, since they exist, could claim at least to be perfectly natural if not normal).

Often, however, we strive toward a goal based more on a notion of Platonic essentialism than reality (essentialism suggesting that there is a past or future ideal against which we can practically compare ourselves or strive towards (or, in the case of Christians, the sinless human we were created to be).  But, as Dawkins put it, using a bunny as an example: “There is no essential rabitt-ness!”, meaning that there is no perfect example of any species (and certainly no human) that we can compare ourselves to as an absolute standard.  There is only, well, us as we are right now.

You and I share pretty much all of the same DNA.  Yet you and I will have just a few letters in different places in our lines and lines of code which makes us just that tiny bit genetically different from each other.  But then so does everyone else, and not in the same places, so to quote Bill Bryson in “A Short History of Nearly Everything”: “We are all 99.9 percent the same, but equally, in the words of biochemist David Cox, “you could say all humans share nothing, and that would be correct, too.””

Despite my best efforts at self-knowledge, who knows what is really affecting my mood today.  I could be responding to a change in air pressure, a chemical shift…etc.,..etc.  My body turns itself over every day, so that on a cellular level I am completely renewed every so many years.  I am not the man I once was, and certainly not the boy I started out as.  And on a morphological level — were my fossils to be found some million years hence — the man I am today could very truly be called transitional between those animals we once were and those we will eventually become (assuming we survive extinction for that long).

In my personality I confront the tension and occasional frustration of trying to maintain both my idea of “who” I am, and the physical “I am” wherein that idea exists.  But from where do I get the idea that the consciousness I carry should be any more stable or “essential” than the body of processes that support it?  Instead of constant complaining about the greased pig of self identity, maybe I should be amazed that I am as constant as I am.  But then, couldn’t the same case be made regarding teeming life in general — or the rumbling earth we stand on, spinning through a vast universe?

And yet, for all this tectonic movement and biological activity, life feels remarkably calm (no matter how unreal that feeling might seem compared to the actual science of both the planet I live on and the body in which I live).  The fact that such knowledge as I am discussing does not make my head literally explode is due, probably, in no small part to the necessity of maintaining a certain coherence of mind in order to assure the survival of the constellation of organisms that I represent.  In short — and in a quite literal way — my DNA won’t let me go there!

One could argue that our individual experience of living — pleasure, the satisfactions of learning, the euphoria of love, the heart-breaking response to beauty, the intoxication of sex — are the wages we are paid so that we will find living more to our liking than oblivion, and thereby allow our DNA to continue its single-minded drive toward replication.  On a cellular level, we die a thousand deaths even while we’re living, and are constantly renewed, until the day that the organism is damaged beyond repair, at which time we are destined to be broken up into our constituent parts and recycled as we have been for billions of years.

What can be gained in raging against such a fate?  From who (or what) could we seek concessions?

It is so easy to look at a mouse or a fly and wonder “what’s the point of such a life, where all they do is eat, poop, reproduce and then die?”  What’s the point indeed.  If the experience of life were universally miserable, none would participate.  Even our pleasures are by-products.  And so, of course, is meaning!

No matter what we do the chances are that all evidence of our time here will eventually be wiped from the face of the planet.  Ice sheets will return and retreat, and other animals will thrive, repeating the cycle until our sun finally explodes and our universe collapses once more upon itself.  The more one looks at it the more bleak it becomes.  But so what?  It is what it is, and no wish of ours will change it.

Our lives can seem predestined by the ubiquitous regularity of the cycle of life and death.  We feel certain that we are serving some power greater than ourselves which, it turns out, we are.  It just happens to be DNA, not God, and DNA’s irrepressible impulse toward replication that began billions of years ago.

We are teeming life become aware.  And yet it could be argued, I suppose, that we are no more capable of understanding our existence than any of the other animals that share our lives on this planet.  It is unquestionable, however, that we know a whole lot more about life and ourselves than anything else on Earth.

The challenge that remains unique to us humans, then, is how to live with that knowledge.

t.n.s.r. bob

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

A "bumper sticker" for a cartoon this week...

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Founding Fictions” by Jennifer R. Mercieca

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

I was fortunate to spot this book on the “new arrivals” shelf at the Library, as it neatly filled in some (rather large) gaps in my knowledge about the political arguments that attended the founding of our nation.

Written by Jennifer Mercieca — an “associate professor of Communications at Texan A&M Univserity” — “Founding Fictions” (University of Alabama Press) lays out the history of the stories Americans have created about themselves first as subjects of a monarch and then as citizens of a republic and eventually as partisans in a political party system (that continues to this day) in the first two generations of the nation.  These are the “founding fictions” from which the book draws its title.

Beginning in the years of conflicts (and attempted reconciliation) with the English Monarchy that led up to the actual revolution, Merceica deftly lays out the intellectual landscape as well as the key players and events that turned a colony that was mostly content to be his majesty’s subjects into a unified populace willing to do battle for a new idea of citizenship and liberty.  Such a shift required major movements in the way that people viewed themselves in relation to their government, and the first generation of revolutionaries managed to unify this self-perception through a vibrant public debate of a kind not matched since.  This is the stepping off point for the author’s comparisons of the political fictions that followed this original one: in short, were the fictions of “tragic victim” and “ironic partisan” that replaced this earlier fiction of the “romantic hero” as fully debated and understood before they were adopted by the majority of Americans?  The answer is clearly “no”.

But there is, as ever, much more to the story, and the author manages to show the many sides of the debates and power struggles that attended the revolution (that led to our choosing a republican form of government) and, finally, the rise of “Jacksonian Democracy” in the first half of the 19th. Century, when the rise of the party system led to this (now familiar) scenario: “The new-style professional politicians founded pro-Jackson newspapers, promised government jobs to the party faithful, and pressed state officials into the service of the national organization.  The leaders of the new “political machine” had learned that even without the “aristocrat’s wealth, prestige and connections,” they could still rise to power by enlarging their constituency and by compelling obedience with strict “party unity” achieved by any means possible.” (p. 173) And: “By organizing citizens into party members; by running campaigns as party battles; by demanding submission to party law; by contesting elections for the purpose of party advantage; by using the spoils system to maintain party power; and by changing the nation’s political discourse without changing the Constitution or its fundamental principles, political gamesters created the democratic fiction in America.” (p. 198)

It’s fascinating (and not altogether pleasant) to witness how we as citizens consciously chose a republican form of government, which (after the instability and economic crises that followed the “very weak, but republican, central government” established by the Articles of Confederation) lead to the adoption of a constitution that established a very strong, centralized government (that was never intended — or, indeed thought to be by the average citizen — a democracy) but later adopted a “fiction” that we were, indeed, living in a true representative democracy.  By Andrew Jackson’s time, terms of political theory were being used as party names:  “Words like “federalism”, “republicanism” and “democracy” had become empty signifiers through a process that the greeks would have called antonomasia — “name swapping”.  They had lost their traditional meanings and had ambiguously taken on new meanings…” (p. 180).

At last we come to “The fundamental contradiction at the heart of American republicanism”, which is “…between the government’s need for stability and the citizen’s desire for active participation.”  As “Popular governments are profoundly unstable, because when the people rule then there can be no settled question, no unquestioned rule, no ruling power and no powerless citizen.”   In short, we chose stability over democracy, and no matter how much our political fictions have changed (and been argued) over the generations since, we have never changed the Constitution in that regard.  “The Constitution was overtly designed to protect stability by constraining citizen action to what political leaders believed was its proper realm: outside the legislature.  Citizens were sovereign — the government was based upon the will of the people rather than upon the will of the monarch — but their dangerous opinions would be filtered through the stabilizing mechanism of representation.” (p. 216)

This book helped me understand my own feelings about my country and my government, revealing that when it comes to groups like the TEA Party, I’m actually a conservative republican, and they’re the radical democrats.

If you get this book, I must warn you about (even as I encourage you to persevere through) the introduction and first chapter that read like a masters thesis written for a purely academic audience.  But once you’re past that hurdle, you’ll find a very readable and informative book that I can highly recommend for a great primer on how our nation was actually formed.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “And You Thought You Felt Small and Insignificant Before…Part One.” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

“One of the hardest ideas for humans to accept is that we are not the culmination of anything.  There is nothing inevitable about our being here.  It is part of our vanity as humans that we think of evolution as a process that, in effect, was programmed to produce us.”  Ian Tattersall (quoted in “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson — Previously reviewed on this blog)

I’m rapidly reaching the point where the more I read, the less I seem to know.  I’ve read something like 15 books (and who knows how many articles) since the first of the year, and what began as a quest to fill in gaps in my knowledge has seemed to multiply them.  For all that learning, I find that I’m not as smart as I once was.

The more I understand about what is actually going on in my body at the cellular and atomic level, the more bizarre my own experience of living in this body appears.  Of course if I could be physically aware of all the chemical, electrical and biological processes that make my life possible, I would be completely absorbed in the noise of it all.  The fact that I have a consciousness that achieves a level of serenity and ability to focus upon tasks (and enjoy long moments of contemplation) is a fact that appears anything but inevitable (or even possible, for that matter!).

The more I read from those that understand the teeming bacterial ecosystem that is the human body, the more I grasp that my consciousness (which represents my entire capacity for awareness of my experience of living) is merely a by-product of a myriad other processes that exist purely for the purposes of their own replication and continuation.  In short, I am alive only because I am made of DNA that is completely dedicated to its own continuation.  As Dawkins puts it in “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Previously reviewed on this blog):

“It is all about the survival of self-replicating instructions for self-replication.  If a variant of DNA survives through an anaconda swallowing me whole, or a variant of RNA survives by making me sneeze, then that is all we need by way of explanation.  Viruses and tigers are both built by coded instructions whose ultimate message is, like a computer virus, ‘Duplicate me.’  In the case of a cold virus, the instruction is executed rather directly.  A tiger’s DNA is also a ‘duplicate me’ program, but it contains an almost fantastically large digression as an essential part of the efficient execution of its fundamental message.  That digression is a tiger, complete with fangs, claws, running muscles, stalking and pouncing instincts.  The tiger’s DNA says, ‘Duplicate me by the round-about route of building a tiger first’.  At the same time, antelope DNA says, ‘Duplicate me by the round-about route of building an antelope first, complete with long legs and fast muscles, complete with timorous instincts and finely honed sense organs tuned to the danger from tigers.'”

Having been a Christian for many years (I am no longer), I often call upon my previous conceptions of the religious “meanings” of things to compare with newly achieved insights.  Today is no exception.  For the religious mind rebels against the apparent reductionism that an evolutionary understanding forces upon humanity: a perceived demotion from the divinely determined to the randomly animal.  The truth, however, is much more startling that even that.  As it turns out, you and I exist because of the excesses of an evolutionary arms race between bacteria, each competing army upping the ante with this mutation and that one, over billions of years until competing DNA are riding like tiny mindless insects guiding giant robots from little cellular command posts.  These DNA are responsible for building our bodies from a single cell to a large complex organism capable of life outside the womb, and yet they (our DNA) don’t know that we even exist in any way that would make sense to us.  On this level, the idea of a divine purpose for our lives is instantly embarrassed into oblivion.

It is only the bald fact of our existence that allows us the luxury of indulging in a sort of determinism that makes us really think that it was all meant to be — that we were meant to be (the screaming absurdity of which can only be hidden by the fact that the very idea is so completely wedded to our own self-centered biases.  It is only through science (and philosophy) that we humans engage in any useful mental “extra vehicular activity”, as it were).

So what about the world around and outside of us?

Well the earth, it turns out, has been in an historically unprecedented period of relative climatic stability for the last few thousands of years, and we’re not sure “why” (if “why” is even a question we can ask of such things).  All of human history, it appears, has occurred in windows of climatological and geological opportunity that have favored our success.  (As I wrote that last sentence I could feel the impulse to see those windows as having occurred for our benefit, but of course, that’s just silly.  But that is how we see the world: with us at the center of it.  Any moral or value judgements aside, it seems to be our very natural state, this “solipsism” that the writer Christopher Hitchens likes to constantly refer to: we can, in fact, see the world in no other way.  The fact that we have a natural tendency to be the center of our own universe in no way makes it true, but it is understandable).

When I try to wrap my brain around the size of the cosmos, or the billions of years the earth has been forming, or the fact that more than half of my body’s cellular weight is bacteria, I get a peculiar ache in my skull, as if a muscle is being stretched uncomfortably.  Well, that’s because my brain is being stretched to its limits which are — and have been for ages — necessarily self-focused (in terms of natural selection and evolution).  Were I to have a brain that could easily take in the vastness of space and the complexity of the atomic activity that animates my body, I would be instantly run over by a passing bus I hadn’t seen nor heard coming (the modern equivalent of being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, I suppose).

So I live in a world of limited thought and awareness which I cannot escape.  I explore at the frontiers as much as I am able (sharing the experience with others of my species and the occasional dog or cat), but my ability is not unlimited.  For even our much-vaunted imagination is a tool of comparison completely limited to drawing up “new” scenarios cobbled together to predict future outcomes from its catalog of past experiences.

There is an enforced humility in all of this knowledge that lends no credit to the human that finds him or herself experiencing it.  I feel a sort of stunned silence as I consider it even now.  It is like standing before God.  In reality, it is God: the infinite, the eternal, the incomprehensible everything that does not need us, and compared to which we are small, weak and terrifyingly less than insignificant.  But this is a God upon whom we cannot project the petty quirks, tenderness and wrath of the Gods we are used to.  This is the altar upon which religion is burned away and revealed to be nothing more than what it has always been: an imagined comfort in the face of an incomprehensible and uncaring universe.

If there is meaning in the universe, it is not to be found anywhere outside of us — you and I are the only game in town where that commodity is concerned.  We (and our animal cousins, to varying degrees) are the only ones that care about anything at all (in any meaningful conception of that idea).  And it takes a certain amount of courage to value ones own individual capacity for caring once it is detached from the borrowed validation of an heavenly authority.  In short, humans find it much easier to trust their feelings and thoughts when they think they are coming from God.  No matter that they are always and completely products of our own physical consciousness no matter how successfully externalized we may make them out to be.

t.n.s.r. bob

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The original "Left Behind" story...

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: Two great museums.

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Each time I tour my John Singer Sargent performance across the country, I make a point of stopping at as many interesting museums as I can.  Of course I’m a sucker for any billboard that has a dinosaur on it, but that weakness has led me to two really outstanding museums in places that would normally lead me to expect merely average at best.

I keep talking about two in particular, and thought I should use this forum to introduce you to them should your travels ever take you near them (and since they are both very close to Interstate 40, the chances might be good!).

YOU’RE THE REASON GOD MADE OKLAHOMA?

Battle of the Titans at the Sam Noble MuseumThe first is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma.  This place was good when I visited it some years ago, so I was stunned by the massive makeover it went through by the time visited again last year.  Their Hall of Ancient Life is comprehensive and extensive.  One highlight is the skull of a Pentaceratops that was excavated at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, and is the largest dinosaur skull ever found.  If that’s not impressive enough, that skull is now mounted on an entire skeleton (one of the results of the recent “makeover”).  An interesting side note is a bulletin board where school children that visit can leave comments.  Being in the “Bible Belt”, there are always a few chastising the museum for not telling the “truth” about dinosaurs!

Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is located at 2401 Chautauqua Ave. in Norman, Oklahoma and is part of the University of Oklahoma. The phone number is: 405.325.4712

AMARILLO BY MORNING?

Even more surprising was what I found after a slight detour through Amarillo about a year ago.  Lured once more by a dinosaurDinosaurs in Amarillo!  Oh My! on a billboard, I came upon the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.  Expecting a lot of bluster about Texas, Cowboys and Oil, I was very surprised to see a tremendous exhibit of fossils, including an impressive series of skulls of extinct bison.  There is a big section on the history of the oil business, to be sure, which is actually worth seeing, as well as a great exhibit on the evolution of local Texas life from the frontier, to Route 66 and beyond.

There are parts of the museum that are clearly very old, and have not been changed much.  But they provide a sort of charming tableau of what was once a modest museum that has now been so clearly guided by a definite vision into a very comprehensive and delightful destination.  I can’t recommend the PPHM enough!  Go for the dinosaurs (it turns out the nearby Palo Duro Canyon is a fossil goldmine for certain eras of life — you’ll find Dimetrodons there!), stay for the indoor oil derrick!

As the museum director says on their website: “From dinosaurs to modern art, from saddles to automobiles, we have it all…”  And I can attest that this is a true statement!

The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum is at 2503 Fourth Ave in
Canyon, Texas.  Phone: 806.651.2244

(If you do go to Amarillo, I can also suggest you skip the “Big Texan” steak house.  Tastier bits to chew can be found along the highway!)

As a side note, a friend tipped me off that the The Albuquerque Museum of Art & History is hosting a special exhibition: Turner to Cézanne, Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales, May 16 – August 8, 2010.  A rare chance to see some real names on real paintings in New Mexico.  Tickets are only five bucks (added to the three buck entry for NM residents).  What a deal!

The Albuquerque Museum is located at 2000 Mountain Road NW, at the intersection of Mountain Road and 19th Street, directly west of Tiguex Park.  Call 505-243-7255.

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “By the Power Vested in Me” by t.n.s.r. bob

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Among the comments I heard after “Happy Birthday Charles Darwin at the Church of Evolution with the not-so-reverend bob” (the show that led to the church of bob) was this one: “When are you going to start doing weddings and funerals?”  It made me laugh, but it also made me think.

We humans have a need for ceremony to mark the big events in life, and it seems that the market for such events has pretty much been cornered by traditional religions.  I’m certain that you can recall the funerals and weddings you’ve attended where you could tell the minister didn’t really know either the deceased or the betrothed very well.  Sometimes I’ve known that the deceased or betrothed weren’t particularly religious.  And so it seems that when confronted by disaster or celebratory need, the desire to participate in a ceremony trumps the trouble it takes to find a ceremony that actually suits our real beliefs.

So this last year I took stock of what I felt about life, death and everything else, and drafted a funeral sermon that reflected a humanistic, Darwinian view.  I wanted to be ready for the call.

The call came, but it wasn’t for a funeral — it was for a wedding.

A woman I’d done several stage shows with over the course of some 15 years was getting married, and she and her fiance’ were wracking their brains for someone to officiate who wouldn’t come with the risk of hijacking their ceremony for evangelistic ends.  And for whatever reasons — they told me — my name kept coming up.  (The bride was as surprised that she was the first one to ask me to perform a wedding as I was to be asked.  Go figure).

I was thrilled and terrified, and couldn’t resist saying “I will”.

Part of my task was to research marriage in the State of New Mexico, and see to it that I could guarantee them a legally-binding contract.  The other part, of course, was meeting with them (like any minister) and determining their desires and goals and crafting a text (and vows!) that would give them the ceremony that would perfectly suit them.

While drafting the wedding text (which would follow a traditional form, leaving out prayers and religious references), I began my research into getting an “on-line” ordination, should that be necessary.  Starting with the County Clerk’s office, I was told that I had to be a minister recognized by the State, and it was suggested that I contact the Office of the Secretary of State, which I did.  The Secretary of State’s office sent me to the Office of the Attorney General, where I was given a link to the relevant statute and the phone number of the Regulation and Licensing Department (where I experienced a brief, fruitless diversion to the Public Regulatory Commission’s office, which confused both of us).  Finally I was directed to the Office of the Governor, where a friendly but befuddled woman suggested (as had another state worker) that I contact the local Catholic Archdiocese (where, one must assume, I would get tips on how to register a new church in the State of New Mexico).  I finally ended up back at the Attorney General’s office, where I learned that they could only tell me the statute, not pass judgement on whether or not I was in a position to satisfy it.  The gentleman was, however, able to answer a direct question when I asked: “To your knowledge, has anyone ever been prosecuted for performing a marriage against the statute?”  “No”, he said.

In short, no one knew what the hell to tell me.

At this point, I should probably show you the statute: NMSA 1978, § 40-1-2(A) (2001) “A person may solemnize the contract of matrimony by means of an ordained clergyman or authorized representative of a federally recognized Indian tribe, without regard to the sect to which he may belong or the rites and customs he may practice.”

On the upside, I witnessed in practice the principle of the separation of church and state.  Clearly, neither the legislature, the executive or the front-line bureaucrat wanted to step into the domain of dictating religious qualifications.

Finally, I asked an attorney friend who put the question out on his list-serve, and came back with a “ruling” that I could probably just do it as the fake minister of the pretend church of bob, but to be sure, recommended that I go with the “on-line” ordination of the Universal Life Church.

Not wanting to make my friends into matrimonial guinea pigs, I got the ULC ordination as a backup.  Although submitting to another church’s authority offended my sensibilities a bit (after all, why should special deference be given to ministers of any kind?) I did the deed.  (Fortunately, there is no test of membership and no stated list of beliefs one must ascribe to for the ordination).

I felt surprisingly good once I got the confirmation in my mailbox that I was now an “Ordained Clergyman”, with statute and lawyer’s counsel backing me up.

The wedding vows and text went back and forth between myself and the bride-to-be until we got everything just right.  All that awaited now was the actual wedding.

I used my experience from other wedding’s I’ve been part of to play the role of stage-manager-cum-minister at the Friday evening rehearsal, and showed up in plenty of time for the actual wedding.

I tend to be calm when others around me are taking care of the need to be nervous, and so I was as we awaited the start of the wedding.  Until, that is, I actually had to be the minister.  I burbled a few words, called upon my acting experience to take a moment, a few deep breaths, calm and continue.  We all got through it alive.

The best man was an attorney, and together we negotiated filling out the marriage license and the after-wedding photos.

How did I feel about performing the role of a “real” minister?  The actor in me wanted another shot at it after the “full-dress rehearsal” so I could get it perfect (I was surprised how much it felt like being on stage inhabiting a role).  I remembered the nerves I had as a nineteen-year old Coast Guardsman playing taps on a blustery California hillside for a military funeral (you only get one shot at hitting that final high note).  I also had the odd realization that there were a number of people at the wedding who — having never met me before — would forever think of me as “the minister”.   Finally I had to answer the inevitable feelings of presumptuousness with the answer that there was no extra-planetary credential I was lacking to do this service.  (Makes me wonder how ministers allow people to treat them as “holy”).

But underneath there was satisfaction at having done a service to two fellow humans who were ready to solemnize a deep commitment to each other and deserved to do it in a way consistent with their atheistic worldview.  I wasn’t the point of the event at all.  I was a vital yet supporting player.  I can do that.

And now I’ve got a wedding under my belt, and a “Clergy” card in my wallet.  And, in a way, I’ve maintained my status as a “fake minister of a pretend church” as that card in my wallet doesn’t say “The Church of Bob” on it – yet.

I’m reminded of an insight I once had that ministers and evangelists are, in reality, giving the people something for the money they take in with their collection plates: It’s not really God or miracles or answered prayers, but a feeling — a moving performance.  The contract they have with their followers is that any sins they are committing away from the pulpit will not come to light in a way that violates their believability.  Believers want an ideal (unrealistic though it often is) to look to, a beacon on a hill.

The advantage I carried into the wedding was that all I had to be was a sensitive performer and thoughtfully articulate this couple’s desires.  Though armed now with experience should the call come again, I think I’ll pass on ordering the clerical collar the the ULC on-line store.  For now.

t.n.s.r. bob

A SHORT NOTE ON COMMENTS

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I’m sorry to say that I’ve had to disable the comment feature of the “boblog” for now — it turns out that blogs are bombarded with SPAM comments (in order to generate high numbers on other sites).  So, if you’ve got something to say or add to the conversation, please feel free to visit the church of bob website and utilize the “Contact” page there (by the link shown on the right under LINKS).  Thanks!  t.n.s.r. bob