Unfolding the Map
Quincy, California serves as a backdrop for William Least Heat-Moon's reverie on "humbug," on a Sunday where everyone is at church. I take a look at my own relationship to to my church, and wonder if I could use a dose of "humbug." To see where Quincy is located, click on the map thumbnail at right.
"Quincy was a clean mountain town, empty and quiet but for a church bell. It was Sunday with a vengeance. Sunday in the churches, yes, but also Sunday in the streets, alleys, fields, even in the heart of the pines. Sunday is the day bells toll, the day funny papers come out - and with good reason. While the citizens sat under arched ceilings and spoke with their various gods and saviors, I scuffled with humbug in the Laundromat."
Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 11
I still go to church.
I sometimes wonder why I go to church, but I drag myself out of bed every Sunday morning, get dressed, eat something really light, and drive with my wife down to the St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center on the University of New Mexico campus. We get there around 8:30 a.m. and participate in the choir practice. Then we sing in the 9:30 mass.
A number of developments in the Catholic Church have really made me question my commitment to the institution. I'm not really questioning my faith, which is personal. However, I could easily stop going to Mass and walk away from the institutional Church and probably not miss it. The Catholic Church and its leadership, some 50 years after Vatican II brought about liberalization within the Catholic Church and made it more accessible to its people, seems to be determined to revert back to a patriarchal hierarchy. The Church has decided that women, who make up at least half its members, will not be allowed to hold many of its most meaningful positions. It has decided to put emphasis on certain “sins,” i.e. abortion, gay marriage, and cohabitation, while putting other sins that are responsible for deaths - and I'm thinking especially of wars here - on the back burner. It has sheltered pedophiles and made excuses about their actions and blamed the victims rather than dealing directly and meaningfully to the horrors it sheltered. Rather than confronting its problems, it decides to dogmatically ban chalices not made of silver, and choreograph its members to bow at a appropriate times within the Mass. All the while, it faces a shortage of men willing to fill its needs for priestly functions. Perhaps worst of all, it has marginalized and drummed out, through silencing and excommunication, many of those who respectfully disagree and present alternative visions of what the Church could be. My wife compares the churches actions to those in denial, like a man rearranging deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. Yet, the Church's general attitude, especially to those that question, has been something on the order of “if you don’t like it, feel free to leave.”
And yet, I still go to church. Maybe it’s because emotionally, and even in official Church documents, I know that MY church stands for something. I capitalize "MY" because I still claim some little bit of ownership. MY Church still is able to surprise me and say meaningful and relevant things. People within it, beleaguered though they may be, still stand up for justice and empowerment of the poor. It was because of MY Church that I was raised to believe in what is right and good. I still know good people that have stayed within the Church and still do good works even though the Church seems to not care at best or even try to block them at worst. The fact that they stay and continue to see and use the Church as a vehicle of hope instills that same sense of hope in me.
LHM seems almost derisive of such people who sit in buildings while bells ring, talking to their "Gods" or "saviors." He seems to see it as little better than sitting in a Laundromat on a Sunday afternoon and coming to a clear pronouncement of “Humbug.” Humbug on everything, including your damn religion.
I’m not sure I agree with him. As I learn to center myself, to know myself better, I have realized that there are many vehicles toward this goal. Psychotherapy, self-actualization, prayer and worship…they are all avenues to personal reflection on our lives, our relationships and the things that demonstrate both our malice and our love toward ourselves and others.
But sometimes, as I struggle with life’s big questions, and turn my gaze toward a Church that sometimes appears more interested in channeling my thoughts toward obedience rather than toward personal growth and a closer relationship to the spiritual side of the universe, I wish that I too could utter a word and be done with it. I fantasize that one word could drop all the curtains concealing the truth and give me the freedom to explore without the expectations of an increasingly out-of-touch institution. It might be too easy of a solution, but I sometimes wish that I could also just say “Humbug.”
If going to church was like this - well, I certainly would enjoy it a lot more and may even be able to do backflips down the aisle like Jake in The Blues Brothers. Just not too early in the morning. I often wake up on Sunday to gospel music on our local radio station and it can sometimes be too peppy for this decidedly not a morning person. Enjoy James Brown as he tears up the pulpit!
If you want to know more about Quincy
Next up: Keddie, California