Notes from a Clean Young Man

The mark of one who is unsteady in his belief is their desire to explain their belief or push it on others.

I insist that this is funny. And true.

I worked for Father Christian River Sims for two years. River had a cozy job but left it because he was “called:” “Called” to live a life of voluntary poverty for ten years and counting with the homeless, drug-addicted sex workers of San Francisco’s Polk Street providing food, blankets, condoms, needles, referals, Christmas presents, innumerable other services and most of all a daily loving presence. Oh yeah – no government aid and no unwanted preaching (Did I mention he has a Ph.D. in Theology? A Masters in Philosophy? And, of course, he’s a priest. What’s he doing on the street? He could be teaching! Most of the homeless people he sees every day don’t even know he’s a priest. He holds mass at First Congregational on Sundays and in Hemlock Alley – an alley!- on Thursday nights – all are welcome to attend. But doesn’t he tell them? Oh well, maybe it doesn’t matter).

Why am I so angry? Better yet-am I angry? No. I am not angry. Spirituality is action. Hence Arjuna was called by Krishna. I worked with River for two years. I had studied religion, practiced spirituality, but never did I feel such a real presence or conflict until I started working for River. Being religious, spiritual, is an absurdity: You live a life that makes no rational sense making some slight degree of progress to an impossible goal simply because you believe in something you cannot define.

I attended so many funerals of people I had grown to know and love. We put up hundred of gravestones in front of city-hall for those that died in the streets during a single winter. Every day we went out, heavy-hearted, and bore witness. River is still out there. After this education thing is done I may well return.

No matter how silent the city becomes it will never hear the babble that reverberates from all the Christians in all the classrooms of America. Yes, their were other Christians out there. Some were living in the example of Christ, of the Gospels. Others offered soup to starving people if they would listen to a sermon. Most just walked by. Christians were everywhere. They still are. They insist. I insist.

So on to what a Christian is and is not: River says he is a Christian with great humility knowing, like Germans and knowledgeable Americans, the degree of violence that has been brought upon the world in that name. He does not smugly wax lyrical in class rooms about theology and receive approval from a teacher like a bunch of suckling calfs and mother. He bears his own cross for the love of Christ. Christ does not carry it. No one else can. A Christian realizes that Christianity is a spiritual reality not a historical religion or an esoteric fairy-tale.

The fairy-tale is receited in many classrooms: People who know the Gospel backwards and forwards and have not lived a single word of it.

The historical religion survives like any successful ideology: By power. One enters a beautiful church. You feel the history of thousands of years, billions of believers, a grand empire. The priest tells you the simplest truths about yourself – “you are free;” “live the righteous life;” etc. – and attaches material tags – “in Christ;” “by following the Ten Commandments;” etc. You say, “I already knew that,” and they say it has been found within their framework. They insist. The connection is made, the ideology becomes real. You lean back on the Church and smile. You recite some Biblical passage like a nursery rhyme. Every ritualized action makes you more a part of something other than your “true self” you discovered in that Church.

The children of the Church are sent out into the world. They are an extension of the Church. Since the Church confirms their personal truths, the Church must be protected. So long as the Church is intact the binary opposition that creates the hierarchy of “Christian/Good;” “Other/Bad” also remains intact.

I have never been a Christian. River calls me his favorite Christian. I insist that both these are true. And funny. They are our little jokes. Our only jokes.

I insist on nothing. Certainly not that their are no ‘real’ Christians. Obviously not. Here are some questions you already answer with your every action. Perhaps you should insist that you answer them consciously, honestly (This is not a test. You can change your answers. Time and time again. That’s called growth). I’ve answered them and I’m not even a Christian. That’s funny. I insist: If you call yourself Christian, what does that mean? I know it’s nice to believe, but what do you really believe in? Before what do you bow down? What do you really sacrifice? Is your belief a form of spiritual-materialism by which you gain comfort, a community of like-minded supporters and assurance of your righteousness in exchange for losing your identity?

In rhetoric they say an ‘appeal-to-emotions’ is a bad argument. Well, that’s exactly what this is. Everything here should make you angry if you call yourself Christian and are not truly one. If you are a ‘true’ Christian you’re smiling because you have been saying these same things for as long as you can remember. Get angry. In your anger answer these questions consciously. You already have been answering them. Every person does, with every action.