We woke up on the ninth day of our road trip in the lair, a basement of a house in a run down neighborhood of San Francisco. We were going to start our morning at the Women’s Building, a muralized building in down town, reserved for social activist events, and apparently religious ceremonies. We took some photos in front of all the artwork and headed for our first religious service of our trip. (We had planned a run to a synagogue, but we cancelled our plans in Oregon to stay with Victoria’s family.
So, before I continue, I really need to clarify what we anticipated walking into this church service. Firstly, we though this service was supported or run by the Women’s Building, as in a socially active, feminist, equalist organization looking to find the positives in religion.
What we walked into was a rather clownish Evangelical christian congregation that rent out a room in the building. They have no affiliation with the Women’s building at all.
When we entered this service, and saw what we were walking into, our next assumption was that we were judging this book by its cover. The words, or in this congregation the “words of life” are what matter. So we sit, socialize and wait for the service to start.
Socializing is what piqued our suspicions that we might not have been in the right place, or if we weren’t mistaken, and this is what we signed up for, that we might need to reassess and get ourselves out of there.
At first I was stoked, because the crowd was ethnically diverse and full of different age groups. Newborns in strollers, college students, parents, elderly. They were extremely friendly, of course most congregations are to newcomers, especially when the crowd is small enough for us to be noticeable.
They were not self-aware enough to notice that fawning over us was making J extremely uncomfortable. They were inundating us with attention and questions. The first thing that really disturbed me was the “gospel” music. They had no band. No instruments. They had taken popular pop tunes (like Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are”, among others) and took the instrumental karaoke version and wrote new lyrics praising Jesus. Members of the “choir” came up and sang these lyrics into mics, lyrics also projected above them on the front wall, for the congregation to sing along. It was pretty awful.
A college student, volunteering for the church came and talked to us, and asked us about college, our majors, and when I told him I studied “religions” his follow up question was “So are you planning on going to go into ministry? Become a pastor?”
"No. I study religions. Plural."
"Oh," he said. Concerned.
That simple misunderstanding was what started my heightened attention on this church. And it just got worse.
Half of the service was taken up my a shoddy analogy to convince people to give money for the church. Two. Different. Times. One shoddy analogy for giving money for a religious retreat, and then another for tithing. Quotes used from the Bible to back up their pandering were quoted severely out of context.
The sermon preached 2 countering arguments, and not only used poor Biblical references, but incorrectly referred to “Sodom and Gomorrah” as people, as in a romantic couple…
It was so terrifying, and for me, embarrassing. As I ascribe myself as a (syncretic) Christian. It’s times like these where I feel like I should remove myself from this identity because people within the identity make is shameful. J and I wrote notes back and forth to each other, with all our discrepancies, and eventually with a getaway plan.
There was even a member stationed at the door, patrolling who entered and left. We felt the need to lie, and said we were just running to use the restroom. And we just never came back.
We booked it to our lunch destination early, a highly rated authentic Mexican restaurant called San Jalisco’s. And we discussed the experience there with delicious food and Oh My GOD Guacamole.
Our theme today was finding comfort in self-separation, finding strength in solace. And though we didn’t notice it until our brunch at San Jalisco’s, we eventually realized that this was our first experience today of strength in separation.
We had a theme counter to this earlier on on our trip. Day 7: Larger than the Self. We definitely agreed that there are times and organizations and qualities that make being in a group a positive, even desirable experience. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept everything included in the package.
This group, Word of Life church, was a perfect example of this, to be confident in removing yourself and finding peace and grounding in being alone, as it is a better alternative to standing with a group that you truely do not support. A congregation coming together for celebration; great, in a beautiful building; great, supporting each other; great. But it was clear that there was a lack of open-mindedness, a lack of education and a lack of self-awareness here. Attributes J and I, do not support. And those are things J and I particularly need, and so we left.
We left San Jalisco’s and walked back to our car, full and ready for our drive down the coast, and enjoy the view of Big Sur.
On our way we met a bear-sized dog. Who’s owner allowed J to pet. And said “He’d like you even more if you gave him a double cheeseburger.”
We laughed at the humor, but he then took out a double cheeseburger, ripped it and handed us a both a half to feed to the massive mut.
He ate each half in 2 chomps and a swallow, and absolutely petrified the little boy in the yellow shirt walking by.
We started curriculum once we found the car. Our focus today was on Jnana yoga, or the path of knowledge. Known to be “the shortest route, but the most difficult.” This yoga is worship through understanding. The meditation for which revolves around shifting from self-identification to identification with God, another example of “self-separation.” We listened to an explanation by Cindy Mastry.
Our daily devotional song went well with our windy drive down Big Sur, Riverside, Agnes Obel.
We quickly orated our elemental poem and reviewed our Mission Statement with the 10th exercise of The Path. Which is basically a checklist to see if if fits all the criteria Which, it did. And it was a majikal discovery, how we could simplify our relationship. For sure, if someone was to ever ask me from this point what is the relationship between you and J, I would reply:
"We seek to create, support and inspire awareness in the spirits of youth.”
That is who we are. We are monsoon. We are a force of wreckage to create, of breaking down what you know to inspire, we both want the same thing. To inspire, in the spirits of youth, self-awareness, and one-awareness, with everything.
Next we read from Creating True Peace: A Call for Great Compassion, which I think related to how we deal with self-separation. I know one of my weaknesses is compassion. It is very hard for me to do. Especially in cases like this morning with the church service. Hanh very eloquently deals with how to go about compassion but also maintaining self-respect and I think I needed to, and still need to embrace this more as I come to encounter more experiences like this in my future.
Next was In the House of the Moon, where we read about Autumn, which was all about self-separation. “The season of Metal is autumn the time to begin the process of shutting down and eliminating all that is unnecessary and extraneous.”
I though this fit a lot with being self-aware enough to know when things are beneficial to your life and when they are not, and this explanation of a time when this is pronounced was fitting. This day on our road trip was that time, there comes a time when you go through and eliminate “friends” from your Facebook, that is the time. There is a time when you gain something from a religious practice, and you might find a season when it is unnecessary, just being aware of the change of seasons was what I took from this chapter.
And finally, we read If Women Ruled the world, two excerpts. Personal Space Would be Respected and We’d Banish All Fundamentalisms.
These two excerpts were EXTREMELY relevant to our experience earlier this day. And I’m so glad we experienced the church early in the morning so we had an example for our readings to relate to, it conveniently panned out that way. The first reinforced what we learned from In the House of the Moon, but the second one, this is exactly why I study religions. This is exactly why the Word of Life Church was so offensive to me. Fundamentalisms. Of any find, of any organization, are NOT SELF-AWARE. They do not adapt or change or seek to learn, they discourage questioning, which inadvertently discourages growth and breeds disrespectful, stagnant wastes to societies, and sometimes creates psychopaths and extremists (ie: Hitler, Bin Laden, Jim Jones, etc).
It’s not the religion, its’ not the organization, it’s what the people do with it. I have seen Christians who promote growth and love and respect, but I have seen those who don’t. I have seem academic systems that seek growth and progressiveness. And I have fought academic systems that blatantly do not. Fundamentalism is why these contradicting experiences exist. And it was a great reminder after our experience in San Francisco.
Moving on, our two videos were
Both of which were extremely empowering. Richardson dealt with health and how it is directly correlated with mental health. Over treatment, instant gratification, he belabors the point of “at least something is being done” as opposed to reaping the benefits of sitting and doing nothing. I think it really illustrated how in self-separation, in alone-ness, there should never be boredom, there should never be “nothing” that you are doing. That there is always something to be achieved in every state of being, in body mind and soul. He was great.
Wesch discusses the difference between accumulating intelligence, and teaching people how to seek out wisdom. The title more simply describes this: to learn to be knowledge able versus knowledgeable. He puts the responsibility to teach this, on teachers, which was really relevant to our new found missions statement which revealed our desires to teach. He challenges the idea of the classroom. “If students learn what they do, what are they doing here?” Again, this, to me, was about taking up all of your time, being ever mindful, ever seeking knowledge, and if you do that, you will find times where you gain wisdom from a group, but will be self-aware enough to leave when it no longer provides for you.
It was really good that our events were ordered in the way the were because nothing will remedy the “people-suck” state of mind you’d be in after World of Life Church like nature. Being alone (mostly) in the beauty of creation.
Big Sur was beautiful, and we stopped many times along the way, enjoyed many different musical inspirations and spent a lot of time just absorbing the the landscape. Jnana yoga came about again, in the thoughts after going through our curriculum, consciously keeping yourself learning, not being stagnant water, like a puddle evaporated as soon as met with the sun’s opposition, but being part of the ever inhaling and exhaling of the ocean. I’m serious, you can literally listen to waves like the breathing of the world.
In your constant change, you go with the ebb and flow of the world, like the ocean, and when met with opposition, you flow, you aren’t evaporated up, you don’t cease to be, and even when you cease to be you will remain eternally within the people that remember you and what you helped them inspire.
J and I found our way to the Art Farm Yert, where we would be spending our last night road tripping, and enjoyed a Thai bistro for dinner, aware that we will be constantly aspiring to be monsoon.
Self separation, solace, is but a season, and we will be one with the ebb and flow of the world, through knowledge of the mind, wanderlust of the body, and craving for oneness of the soul.
We are monsoon.