Thursday, July 14, 2011

Le Quatorze Juillet

One of these Bastille Days, I hope to spend in France just to experience their national holiday, with the military parade down the Champs Elysees and the overhead flight of the French Mirage fighters and their trois-couleur smoke, followed by an evening fireworks display near the Eiffel Tower. Happy Quatorze Juillet, tout le monde!

I consider French culture to be the epitome of high culture. The French have style in nearly all things. I know that saying that would classify me as an "elitist" by the rednecks and teabaggers in our country, but oh well. What do they know? The culture just resonates with me. Its heartbreaking to me that I have not been to France since the summer of 1997. I truly want to return to this country and see how much it has changed (the Euro did not exist yet as a paper currency and cars still had yellow headlights, which was one of the coolest things I loved about France). Perhaps someday. Soon.

So, how did I spend Bastille Day? Well, one guy at work is off for the next week and a half because he's marrying his high school sweetheart and they'll be on their honeymoon next week. This means that I get to do his work, which includes reviewing DVDs and CDs for production errors. This process is a random spot check at various spots on the DVD and CD. Its not a bad part of the job. For instance, I got to hear a fantastic piece of classical music. I was actually moved to tears it was so beautiful...and I'm not a huge fan of classical music (though I can appreciate it).

It was the DVDs that were a mixed bag. The ones I had to review included old horror films about vampires, werewolves, and zombies. Some actually looked interesting, though the quality isn't all that great. Perhaps as a younger man, I might have wanted to check these films out and watch them completely at home. However, now, I simply have too many interests and not enough time, so I have to be quite selective about how I spend it (which does not include watching cheesy and old horror films). The truly bad part of it were the eight DVDs of a redneck television series. They were advertised as a "comedy" but I didn't find anything funny (nor did any of my co-workers who saw these shows as part of their jobs). The actors who made this low budget TV show thought they were funny, or the situation they were participating in, they found funny...the way friends often find humour in their situations (while those who watch would not get the humour). Humour is difficult to pull off and this was an epic fail.

However, what I did find interesting was an image I saw in one of the episodes. One redneck had speared a big fish and pulled it out of the water. I was stunned that I could actually see the fear in that fish's eyes and movements. It was so alarming to me that I even thought of maybe giving up eating fish. There was another episode on catching catfish, which I've always found cute (I had made my grandfather laugh once when I kissed a catfish as an 11 year old). Oh, and I eat catfish (thanks to the Navy's policy of "Fish Friday" on ships). These redneck shows are all about hunting and fishing. I won't even say what they were doing to the poor frogs! Watching these low-rent shows, I couldn't help but thing of Sarah Palin's reality show, with my favourite image being Sarah teaching her daughter Bristol or Willow to take a baton to a halibut after pulling them out of the water. It was just funny to see Sarah beating on a poor fish like it was Obama or something. What can you say about rednecks, though?

I made my supervisor laugh when I told her what I thought about these redneck DVDs. I said, "I think they will sell quite well at Walmart and truck stops." She asked why I thought so and I said because of the type of person who shops at Walmart. I stopped going in the late 1990s because of the "type" that shops at Walmart. The prices at Target are not that much more, but the customer base is a huge step up on the social class scale. Really! Occasionally, I've gone to Walmart in the past decade because the people I was with shopped there. It always stunned me to see huge bins in the middle of the floor filled with DVDs of movies I had never even heard of. Who buys that crap? One would have to be truly bored with life to buy and watch these redneck DVDs. Its a new product and I will be monitoring how well they sell. When I worked at the Palau Community Center in my last year in Italy, I saw plenty of the type who would love watching this series. It makes me sad thinking about it, so I'm moving on...

In the evening, I went to New Renaissance Bookstore to attend a lecture on the above book, Conversations with Jesus. Only four people were in attendance. Well, five, if you count the bookstore employee. For those who don't know, the author is a secular Jewish woman who claims that Jesus came to her in a visual meditation and introduced himself as her personal guide. These kind of claims have to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

The lady reminded me a lot of a flaky, New Agey former co-worker at my last job, named Coral, who only seemed capable of speaking in riddles. Others at work had the same complaint. It was hard for me to gauge Coral, because she was cagey, secretive, and spoke in ways that did not make sense. She was annoying to talk to, even though I liked who she was and thought of her as a fellow spiritual person who saw the true nature of that dysfunctional organization. After she quit working there to go back to school, I had bumped into her and was shocked that she was absolutely glowing with radiance. She attributed it to not working in that depressing office anymore. Gee, I hope I'm glowing when other people see me!

The author of this book spoke in a soft manner and I sensed some nervous energy. I'm not sure how many events she's done, but I'm suspecting not a whole lot. Her energy level or confidence were lacking. I've gone to a lot of lectures / book signings in the past fifteen years and her presentation was one of the worst. Something was off and I was uncertain whether I was going to buy her book or not. She only shared a few things about the book. The session opened and closed with a short meditation. She did allow questions so I asked a couple.

My first question was about Jesus' thoughts / opinions regarding the controversial Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ. The second question was about the true nature of Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene. To my surprise, Alexis knew nothing about The Passion of the Christ. She mentioned hearing that the film was anti-Semitic but she never saw it and didn't know anything about the controversy. Wow. Okay. This nearly killed her credibility with me. I explained why I asked the question. Basically, my liberal Christian friends all had a problem with the film's violence while my evangelical friends thought it was a great evangelizing tool. What I wanted to know was if Jesus felt that this film presented his experience in an accurate way, which I personally don't believe it does. Her ultimate answer, though, was for me to ask Jesus my question and whatever response I get will be Jesus speaking to me. Uh....really?!?

As for the Mary Magdalene question, she said that while Jesus was close to her, they were not romantic with one another. That has been my belief, as well (even though I am a huge fan of The Da Vinci Code, which proposes that not only did Jesus and Mary Magdalene get married, but they have a bloodline that exists today). My impression about Jesus is that he knew his role on earth and marriage and children did not fit in to his plans, due to the necessity of his crucifiction. So, Alexis gained some credibility with this answer.

In her talk, she did say a few things that piqued my interest and what sold me on buying the book was that she had spoken about boxes. Jesus apparently wants people to break out of their boxes. The reason why this resonated with me is because I've been developing a story idea about Jesus in modern America and one scene that came in my mind involved boxes and Jesus.

I decided to buy her book, even though I remain a skeptic about her experience. When she signed my book, I had asked her if she had any word about Jesus' second coming. She knew nothing about it. I was stunned. Her level of ignorance about the basic beliefs of Christianity is truly remarkable. I don't understand it at all. It hurts her credibility because she claims that the only thing she knows about Jesus is the entity she speaks to who claims that he is Jesus. You can find any number of people wandering the streets homeless who might claim to talk to Jesus or that they are Jesus. What distinguishes her from them?

From my standpoint, it is extremely frustrating to speak to a person who does not seem to know much about the topic they have written and published a book about. Okay, so perhaps the Jesus of the Bible might not be accurate. She told another person in attendance that she has never read the Bible so she does not know what Jesus is said to have preached or done. I don't understand this willful ignorance. If she's going to claim to be best buddies with Jesus (that he's her spirit guide), she ought to at least get to know how Jesus is viewed by other people. How can she speak to potentially Christian audiences about her experiences with "the real Jesus" if she's ignorant about what these people believe about Jesus?

Maybe I'm just different. For as long as I remember, I've always wanted to have a basic understanding of what the different major religions believe. Part of this has to do with an inoculation against being deceived. For example, because I had some awareness about the Unification Church, when a Moonie lady appeared at my apartment door in Smyrna GA, I was able to bring up the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's political involvement with the Republican Party and close friendship with the Bush family. The Moonie, of course, denied it and immediately lost credibility with me. When people try to sell me on their ideas, they have to pass my credibility test, which is always about honesty and self-awareness. If someone displays ignorance about a topic they claim to be passionate about, their credibility is shot.

The jury is out on Alexis. One impression that is possible is that she is hoping to become the next Neale Donald Walsch, who went from homelessness to millionaire when his book Conversations With God was bought by a major publisher for a seven figure sum. He has milked that golden calf for a decade and a half by now. Calling a book Conversations With Jesus seems like its trying to follow in the footsteps towards easy money. Even the font styles have the same technique (so the reader can visually tell who is speaking without having to constantly be told by the writer). I don't know what Alexis' true motives for writing this book. She claims that Jesus told her to write this book to set his beliefs straight. But a part of me wonders if she sees this as a potential golden calf to milk for the rest of her life. Perhaps if she knew more about how Christians viewed Jesus, she might've established some credibility with me, but to be completely ignorant of basic "Christology" is inexcusable for someone hawking a book of this nature.

Another reason to doubt is because I had attended another booksigning / lecture last year at New Renaissance by Nick Bunick, who claims to be the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. He claimed that he wanted to set the record straight regarding Paul and Christianity, and in the biggest reveal, he was informed by someone that Jesus was somewhere on earth today, as a flesh and blood human being and they were destined to meet at some point. Obviously, there's some contradiction going on or perhaps a lot of delusional people thinking that they are speaking for the real Jesus.

As I said above, one has to take these things with a huge grain of salt. I bought the book, got her autograph, and plan to read the book for whatever information it provides. To me, the message is more important than the source (to a point). A cursory skim-read through the book reveals that a lot of what Alexis' version of Jesus says is consistent with my beliefs about Jesus based on numerous books I've read about him. Again, I have to ask...if someone is going to claim to be a best friend of Jesus who talks with him every day for ten years, wouldn't that person make it a point to get to know what Christians believe about him? She'll be unable to connect with more people if she remains in ignorance about the Christian view of Jesus. Learning how people perceive or think about things is a skill that helps you connect with people. You don't have to agree with the viewpoint, but having a basic understanding of what people believe is important. Otherwise, this is going to be a vanity project that won't reach a critical mass.

*In an aside regarding writing books of this nature, a family friend back in Georgia told me that she was writing a spiritual book. She wouldn't let me read it because she does not think that I will "accept" the information because it comes from her (as I know too much about her, perhaps, to find her credible). She had told me that if someone I didn't know had written what she has, that I would "find it to be the best thing I've ever read since Conversations With God!" When she said this to me, I was stunned by her arrogant presumption. For one thing, I never found Conversations With God to be all that great. I never bought Walsch's books because I sensed a money-making scheme. I'm not a fan of writers who "pump the golden calf" (is Walsch even capable of writing a book that does not have any "conversation" with God?!?). For another thing, the best book I've ever read is The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe and I know for a fact that this lady cannot write like Wolfe can, so how can she presume to know that I would think her book was the best thing I've ever read? That's egotism talking right there.

The books that had the most profound influence on my spiritual development (with the year that I read them in parenthesis) are: Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie (1994), The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield (1994), What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson (1998), Next of Kin by Roger Fouts (2000), Spirit Matters by Michael Lerner (2001), Satori in Paris and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (2001), Manifest Your Destiny by Wayne Dyer (2005), The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo (2006), Ask and It is Given by Jerry and Esther Hicks (2007), and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (2008). While I have skimmed through the various volumes of Conversations With God, a part of me feels like this was just a money-making scam. If it changed people's perceptions of what God is, that could be a good thing, but it never had the effect on me that the other books I mentioned have. I read a lot of books, and what I know is that I have no idea what impact a book will have on me until I read the final page. I'm willing to give Conversations With Jesus a fair shot, even though I'm skeptical about the writer's credibility.

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