Well, as you might have been able to tell, I’m going through a very difficult time right now. At the same time difficulty, true suffering, emotional or physical, not just the garden variety problems of everyday life (problems which drown in insignificance when you are dealing with real suffering), brings upon a transcendence normally unreachable in the noise of minutia. Truly important things come into an amazing clarity when you are literally as far down as you have ever been in your life. Normally we have things in our life that hold us up, before we are required to fall on Grace. Grace is humankind’s last resort, as it were. What I have found is that Grace jealously desires us, some of us at any rate, and will conspire against our attempts to create a life for ourselves that doesn’t require its subtle presence. It at once sucks horribly and is beautiful beyond understanding. A paradox, like most things coming from Truth–it is simply impossible for humankind to get it, all we can do is live through it and hope that in the end, when this bullshit we call life on Earth is over, we will get it, and we will be happier than we ever could have imagined.
I mentioned recently that Riddell has a new site. On said site he has some fresh content, in the form of Word documents. I had downloaded them but only recently started to make my way through them, and well…wow. Riddell is one of the rare people who strikes right at the heart of that Thing that is running through me, and through all of humanity as well, IMHO, if that humanity is willing, or as I mentioned, forced, to listen for it. His words sustain me more than most during this time, and for that I am indescribably grateful.
This is a true story. Absolutely true in every respect. It just hasn’t happened yet. All stories are true if you wait long enough. Someone once asked Mao-Tse-Tung if he thought the French Revolution was a success. He replied that it was too early to tell. At that stage the world cup still hadn’t been played.
Anyway, back to the story. This is all about what happened the day that Jesus came back. Of course everyone had been hanging about waiting for Jesus for centuries and centuries. After a while people just gave up and got on with their lives, you know what I mean. Nobody wanted to admit that they’d been stood up, but there’s only so long that you can stand on the corner twiddling your thumbs.
The followers of Jesus had been forced to go ahead without him. And to tell the truth, they hadn’t made a bad fist of things. They’d got buildings and land and money and power; all the things in fact that Jesus hadn’t quite managed in his own short period of ministry. There were universities and political parties and tourist operators and even television stations operating in his name. The church had developed rule books and rituals and all manner of fancy costumes for itself.
So it was a bit of a surprise that when Jesus finally chose to return from the longest holiday in history, that he should come back in the way he did. You might have thought he would have turned up at the Vatican or Lambeth Palace or even Graceland. But no, of all the holy and revered sites on the planet, Jesus had to pick Al’s Greasy Diner to show up at…
I saw Jerusalem, Jerusalem at Greenbelt this year, and it was the most brilliant thing I have seen all year. The script is also available on the site.
The topic we are all called upon to address today concerns ‘How to Live’. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer it. I had intended to read you a few poems. But now that I’m standing before you I find that I’ve changed my mind, and instead I want to speak from my heart. Ewing came to visit me this morning, perhaps to check that I hadn’t escaped to warmer climes or made off with the grocer’s daughter. No such luck. He found me in bed with the prophet Jeremiah, or at least with his words as recorded in the Bible. I have come back to that part of the scriptures rather often of late. I think it is because I identify with that poor old bugger Jeremiah. He was a man preaching an unpopular message to a people who didn’t want to hear it. He spoke of disease in a time when everyone considered themselves in the best of health. He felt that God had given him no choice but to speak the truth and so make himself a fool. I understand his problem.
I stayed for a time in a crash pad in Wellington, and there were some words from Jeremiah daubed on the wall with blood-red paint. It was just one verse, a prayer-poem torn from the prophet’s soul like a heart still beating.
‘Let my head be a fountain of tears, and my eyes two springs of water, so that I can weep both day and night on account of the death wound of the daughter of my people…’
It is a cry of grief; the anguish of a man who can see what those around him are blind to. And it must have echoed in the heart of the person who made it into a piece of graffiti. Perhaps it was written by a junkie. There were several who crashed in that house from time to time. They are a curious tribe, the drug-addicts. Concealing the pain of their existence behind the blank wall of boredom, seduced by the god of dreams, Morpheus. In their stoned state they seem indifferent and even callous, but I have discovered that many of them are actually people who are too sensitive to be able to tolerate the despair of the world in which they live. And so they retreat from their suffering into a womb of apathy, where they can suckle at the numb breast of narcosis.
‘What pain are you talking about?’ the woman behind the counter at Woolworths might ask. ‘I have my ups and downs, and certainly it’s not all plain sailing by any means. But by and large things are pretty good. We live in one of the best countries in the world, and milk and mutton are always cheap. Apart from a few ratbags, people are generally kind to one another and we all manage to live together, even with the Maoris. All this talk of unhappiness is stuff and nonsense. People need to buck up their ideas and get on with things.’
And so she might bristle against those she regards as being self-indulgent, dismissing them as no-hopers. In one sense she is right. They are indeed people without hope. It may not always have been so. They might have started out as idealists, dreaming of a new way of living where love was the guiding star instead of money. Some of them perhaps wanted to be artists, capturing wild visions in the nets of their imagination. Others set out to build communities where people were more important than possessions. The one thing they all have in common is that the fragile craft of their yearnings ended up splintered on the rocks of a materialist society. It is because of being shipwrecked and alone that they have turned to the lotus for comfort. Somewhere buried deep inside, their dreams lie dormant.
Our woman from Woolworths carries on with life oblivious to their fate. She will go home at night to light the fire and cook the dinner, and afterwards to watch television with her mute husband and fractious children. Once a week on a Saturday night she will grudgingly open her legs for her beer-drinking man, distracted by which hat she might wear to church tomorrow. She is living in a tomb and doesn’t know it. The totality of her existence has come down to keeping a facade of respectability for her neighbours, and guiltily eating chocolates by the light of the flickering screen. She has lost all memory of what it was that she wanted from life. Any capacity for passion which might have once dwelt in her heart has been smothered under the suffocating weight of comfort. Sadly, her condition is not unusual. In this psychotic world of our own creation, she is normal.
Normality is the opiate of choice in the suburbs. We live in a land where toasters are valued above romance; where a new car is more sought after than salvation; where Venetian blinds shut out the sight of our neighbours. We have the dubious honour of having invented a new Holy Trinity, which consists of the dollar note, respectability, and the school certificate exam. God help anyone who refuses to bow down and worship at our chromium altars. Our children are dying of loneliness and the hunger for love, while we ponder over what sort of letterbox to erect. Schizophrenics are slashing their wrists in parks at the same time as politicians are discussing what to do about the communists. Girls are going down to the ships to sell their bodies while their parents recline in their La-z-boy chairs and yawn. If that’s normality then give me insanity.
Jeremiah told his people that they were guilty of ignoring the springs of life which stood outside their door, instead building private tanks for themselves which were leaky and contained foul water. I don’t think his message is irrelevant to us. Let me speak plainly to you. I think I am going to die before too long. I’m not looking for sympathy. I simply hope that my words might find some small nook in your hearts, so that when I am gone you may remember them.
I fear that if we do not learn to love, then we will face the consequences of that choice as a nation. We will become a country where merchants rule, and where the poor are seen as a nuisance instead of our conscience. Any vestiges of compassion and dignity will wither and die, choked out by the weeds of competition. We will lose our soul somewhere between the cinema and the supermarket. Our young people will live on drugs to compensate for their disappointment, and our old people will die lonely in institutional camps called retirement homes. Communities like Jerusalem will be lost under a tidal wave of greed. Mammon will be the unchallenged master of Pig Island, and even the memory of aroha will be extinguished. This is my bad dream. I pray that it will not come to pass. I pray that some of you may join me in my fight against it.
Our only weapon is that of love. The love of God; the love of ourselves; the love of each other. I’m not speaking of that parody of love which fills the minds of schoolgirls and often their teachers. I mean something deeper and more substantial. The sort of love which changes the way we live. The sort of love which has caused my friend Colin Durning to resign as a professor of dentistry here, and to go to work in a borstal instead. The sort of love which leads a woman with a crippled leg to bathe the haemorrhoids of her alcoholic partner. The sort of love which motivated Mickey Savage to open his door on a Sunday afternoon and give money to any who came looking for it. The sort of love which calls us to give up decency or job prospects for the sake of offering a spare room to a junkie prostitute. The sort of love which is prepared to lay down and die for the sake of others.
There’s a lot more to both of these pieces and a lot more on the site.
I just wanted to say thanks, Mike.