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In The Missionary Position
An Echo From 'The Ruins of A Once Great Medieval City'
© 2013 James LaFond
I was headed out to train the other day, dressed in work boots, cargo shorts, a sleeveless T emblazoned with my favorite motto, ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’, and my ‘polygamy porter’ cap. Book in hand I wended my way through the slothful ‘ruins of a once great medieval city’: amongst begging panhandlers; angry black men who wished me to fear them and got even more angry when I did not; vacant-eyed white stoner zombies pleading racial solidarity as they sought my assistance with their agonizingly inefficient suicide—step in front of the bus please; women scantily dressed for the sweltering heat who I was careful not to look at twice to avoid making them uncomfortable; a rat bouncing out of a trash bin and scurrying into a sewer; the dead black cat in the clear plastic bag on the curb; and an aspiring rapper chanting his penis size into the morning’s dirty sky.
‘Harm City’ I thought, ‘here I come you old skank.’
This city is a maze of impersonal apathy, despair, menace and hate—and I am part of the problem; an anti social crackpot who steps over homeless individuals and calculates the odds of being attacked by any and every able-bodied male I come across. Then, as I crossed the street toward the newspaper stand to check on the local leader of the Black Gorilla Family in the soft-serve whitebread corporate rag that refuses to name the gang in the title of the articles about it, I passed an elderly couple. The old fellow looked to me like my fictional protagonist from Hurt Stoker, Whiff Gleason. He held out a copy of Awake! to me, and said, “Some reading to lighten your day young man.”
I gladly pocketed the free reading material, thanked him, and continued reading Lothrop Stoddard’s race war handbook on my way through the ghetto…
I have been approached innumerable times in my life by missionaries, preying as they do on the vaporous souls of pedestrians and mass transit users. In my thirties I stopped and toyed with missionaries of every denomination, getting all Joseph Campbell on them, and reveling in their forced serenity, like the Red Gazoo reminding Fred Flintstone that he is not being assertive enough. I used to resent the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they asked for payment for their little 16 page pamphlet magazines, and favored the Mormans instead.
I still respect the Mormans for living disciplined lives in dangerous soul-crushing opium dens like Baltimore. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been growing on me of late, as the men do not demonstrate fear, cunning or malice like most of the males I run into on a daily basis. Besides their women dress up and act like the old fashioned ladies that I remember from boyhood, gathering in the lobby of what I always thought was the weird stone temple of a hippie/martyr blood cult, but which my parents had insisted was a perfectly benign ‘church’. In any case the female cultists had always been friendly and that lonely little twerp appreciated it.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are, as a missionary group, regarded by many with great suspicion; a deep suspicion that, in Baltimore, is rivaled only by the Nation of Islam. I think this has something to do with the literature-based appeals made by their missionaries. One thing that I have learned as a fulltime writer is that toting a book and pen around with you makes for pariah status among one’s fellow earthlings. I find missionary activity to be deeply intriguing as it has traditionally served as the ‘fifth column’ or advance element in wars; cultural, imperialistic and economic. For example: the CIA [the Nazgul of our own Darklord] uses a group of Christian missionaries in South America to infiltrate, spy on, destabilize, and even poison indigenous tribal groups seeking to retain their autonomy from multinational corporations and puppet governments.
Most readers refuse to read literature written or distributed by those they are ethically, politically, or theologically at odds with. As a fiction and nonfiction writer I must read as much material written from viewpoints that I do not share or promote in order to better understand my subject. While the Watch Tower, the traditional JW magazine, is generally a hard read for me, I look forward to free copies of Awake! Without ‘getting all Joseph Campbell’ on you and dredging up the comparative religious studies scattered about the cluttered recesses of my traumatized brain, permit me to guide you through an issue of Awake!
February 2013
Immigration: Dreams and Realities
First of all this is an old issue, which is not a problem, since the material in this thin magazine is very much like the Reader’s Digest, and takes years to become dated. The cover is a photo taken over the shoulder of a married man on a train or bus, who is looking out the window—which his hand is tenderly pressed to, wedding band and all—to his wife and three children, watching him leave with sad eyes. This is a good piece of evocative photography.
The cover points out the thing that I like about Awake!, that it is cross-cultural and global, regarding governments as obstacles to be negotiated rather than tools to use*. This places it, as missionary literature, at the most primal level of Christianity, giving it an evangelical tone closer to the gospels than anything that came from the church fathers. I guess the thing that makes the editorial bent of this publication palatable to me is that it is apolitical. Nothing creeps me out more than religion and government getting in bed together.
*In the interest of full disclosure I suffer from CDS [Chronic Defiance Syndrome]. Do not be alarmed Mother! I am taking my medication regularly now. What’s really cool about it is not having to go to the pharmacy or hospital. These Paksiatni guys down the street sell you 30 cans for $15, no questions asked. My youngest son says this medication is generic and substandard, though, and takes me to these expensive health spas where people pour your dose into a glass, and let you prescribe it for yourself dose by dose…
Page One is basically the table of contents. It also points out online features for teenagers and children.
Page Two is, Watching the World, always my favorite, with facts on food waste in the U.S., medical malpractice in Israel, suicide in Greece, marriage in Australia, and the tinniest chameleon in the world from Madagascar, all plotted on an equatorial projection map and highlighted with photos.
Page Three & Four, Help For The Family, contains common sense advice for resolving arguments, free of Freudian psychobabble, with about 30% of the content biblical in origin—and some of that makes a lot of sense. There is no lazy wimp with a box of tissues telling you that you envy your father’s penis here, just the kind of stuff your grandmother would tell you.
Page Six thru Nine features the cover article, beginning with a woeful picture of African immigrants trying to escape poverty. The first section is In Search of a Better Life, that begins with the personal stories of George, Patricia and Rachel, who set out from the Philippines and Nigeria [Patricia] to find a better life in Europe.
Page Seven continues the feature with Getting There and Getting Established. Barriers and hardships are noted in a self-help format. Most intriguing was Patricia’s harrowing journey across the corpse littered Sahara, where zombie-like immigrants cast off by greedy truck drivers wandered in despair waiting to die. Then, upon reaching Morocco and giving birth, Patricia had to hide from slavers who sold refugees to pimps. Patricia’s story ends with using her shoe to bail water out of the bottom of the sinking boat that was smuggling her to Spain. Of the 7 paragraphs on this page only one is biblical. There is a colored sidebar with a quote about migration from an economist and a summary of Jacob’s migration down into Egypt.
Page Eight wraps up the Getting Established segment by pointing out that just immigrating to make more money will not necessarily make the migrant happy. Then there is a colored box in which three Filipino sisters are pictured hugging, titled “We wish they had made a different decision”. This recounts the sorrowful experience of these girls being left behind in the Philippines for four years while their parents went abroad to work, in which they are all quoted at length.
Page Nine concludes the feature with A United Family—More Important Than Money. George and Rachel’s story is concluded, and the last three paragraphs are pretty heavy on biblical references to illustrate the decisions that these people made concerning their jobs and families. Across the top of the page is a photo of the man from the cover being reunited with his family at an airport. We learn that Patricia, the Nigerian woman, after her ordeal, became a Jehovah’s Witness. I suppose, if I were a local Spanish missionary, finding someone who used a shoe to get across the Straights from Morocco would invoke a ‘Cha-ching’ sound in the back of my mind.
Page Ten & Eleven contains the monthly Interview. The featured person is Italian Professor of Robotic Science Massimo Tistarelli. The interviewer questions him about his embracing of ‘intelligent design’ [Creationism] over [Darwinian] evolution that resulted in his becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. The piece is topped with a photo of him outside of his university in Sassari Italy, and one of him conducting a biomechanical experiment. So, if you, the reader, get pissed that this Italian brainiac is embracing some ancient Iron Age cult, and skip the article, you will miss out on a pretty neat explanation of visual mechanics.
Page Twelve & Thirteen brings the reader to Portraits From The Past. This month’s discussion is on Plato, and how his ideas about an imperishable human soul have been incorporated into Christianity. I will not throw in my opinion or render a verdict. The scholarship here, though brief, is good, cites numerous non-JW sources, and saves the bible thumping for that dignified broad in a dress that will show up at your door with her uptight friend if you contact the publishers.
Page Fourteen & Fifteen brings us to the Bible’s Viewpoint, with this month’s feature The Needy. The bookmarks are right up my Darwinian alley: Does God care about the needy? The answer is, ‘Yes, if you are one of us.’
The next bookmark is How can the needy benefit themselves? I wonder if that old man realized how close he came to scoring a convert here. As it turns out the Almighty himself is pleased with my Panhandler Nation take on the needy.
The final bookmark in The Needy [pleasingly illustrated with begging hands extending alms bowls] brought me to my feet: Is there evidence that the Bible’s wisdom helps the needy? As it turns out God and I are on the same hallowed page again. I just need to remember to drop the goddamn from ‘get a goddamn job!’
The back page has the kid friendly Was it Designed? The feature of the month is The Tail of the Agama Lizard. The three paragraph article cites a UC Berkeley study, and discusses the possibility that the tail of this remarkable beast might help scientists develop more agile robots. Great! Now when the World Wide Warlord sends out death streaking from Baradur on the Potomac, it won’t just be a model plane packed with explosives and piloted by your brat kid who got a Pentagon job playing video games with real human targets. The fat twit is going to be able to press a button and drop explosive lizards with tails that will enable them to launch themselves from the trashcan in my front yard through the window of my literary bunker.
I might gripe [just a symptom of my CDS and not indicative of treasonous leanings], but I’m thinking that somebody up there would approve.
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