Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Angry Whopper: Sacrament Of Our Day

Burger King has “unveiled” its newest work of culinary marketing – “the Angry Whopper.” Actually, the burger sounds pretty good and I am apt to eat one. As you have probably surmised, it is the regular old Whopper with some spicy substitutions like jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. But here’s what I’m wondering: why is the Whopper “angry”? Why not hot, fiery, spicy, searing, etc.? I gather that BK figures people want anger enough to pay for it, even at lunch. They want an angry lunch.

This isn’t entirely new. Think back to the theme song of the 60’s classic western The Rebel.

Johnny Yuma was a rebel.
He roamed through the west.
Johnny Yuma the rebel,
He wandered alone

(So far it’s just Kant and Kierkegaard’s solitary individual with a sawed off shotgun. But here’s what puzzles me):

Fighting mad
This rebel lad
He packed no star
As he wandered far
Where the only law
Was a hook and a draw.

Ok, “no star . . . the only law was a hook and a draw” -- we are celebrating the heroism of anarchy, living the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short” life in Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all – sounds like Congress and sometimes the Church). But what was Johnny Yuma fighting mad about? I watched the series faithfully, and found Johnny to be rather cool headed. But the theme song promised us he would be “fighting mad.” Why did they make such a promise utterly unsupported by the script or the acting? Whenever I wander far “where the only law is a hook and a draw” as is the case in some urban neighborhoods, I am not angry. I’m mostly nervous. So why was Johnny misrepresented in the song as “angry”?

Now even our hamburgers are imbued with rage, which calls to mind the punk rock 90s classic “Rage” by Henry Rollins. Do you recall the lyrics? To this day, I know every line by heart. It went:

Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.
Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.
Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.

My wife teaches Property Law to first year law students. Typically, disputes arise as to the degree to which the individual’s property rights should be constrained to accommodate the needs of neighbors or the common good (e.g., zoning regulations) -- issues over which students differ according to political ideology. The more conservative students tend to get pretty worked up over things like zoning. My wife has on occasion asked them where the anger comes from. They are unable to articulate the cause of their emotions, but the question itself makes them all the angrier. What is this about?

Remember the Gulf Oil Spill. What were people actually angry at the President about – not so much any policy he had or had not adopted – they were angry that he was not sufficiently angry. With each passing year, anger grows more normative. Remember Sean Connery’s James Bond. He used to have a jolly good time blowing up the bad guys and saving the world. But Daniel Craig seethes with hatred. With him, it’s personal.

In the psycho-spiritual model I believe in, emotions are emotions. They are all natural and human. The core self or the soul looks upon those emotions, either inside us or outside us, with interest, patience, and acceptance, balancing our feelings and preserving our capacity to live rationally and in harmony – harmony both with each other and with the various parts of ourselves. But what happens when one emotion is elevated above the others, when one emotion is given the place in life that is the natural province of our serene center?

In Buddhism, there are 6 realms of being. We each live our life predominantly in one of them, but we experience all 6 realms each day as passing passions or moods. They are the realms of:

The Divas – blissed out
The Diva Locis – blissed out but crazy and erratic
Human – rational and choice making
Animal – controlled by sensuality
Hungry Ghosts – driven by insatiability – constant sense of scarcity
Hell Beings – consumed by fear and loathing

In the Buddhist model, it is the lowest realm of being that has become the pinnacle of spiritual aspiration in our popular and – God help us – political culture. When Clay, Webster, and Calhoun saved the nation in 1850 through Compromise, they acted rationally in a way which is hard to do in a society that buys anger for lunch.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Half Moon Reflections On A Week In The Life

On this half-moon night in Elko, I sip a Gentleman Jack in JR’s Bar while a sweet-voiced old guy with a white mustache and a red baseball cap sings “I thought I loved you then” at country karaoke night. A heavy set man plops down on the bar stool next to me. He is a sniper just back from Iraq, sent home because he is too old, but he has 479 confirmed kills. He wants someone to say they appreciate it, so I do, and get dizzy from the moral ambiguity of life. My glass is empty so I leave while a less romantic, more maudlin C & W favorite is on the karaoke machine. The desk clerk is singing it quietly as I go out the door into the night where the bright half-moon light -- which does not frighten me (I am only phobic of full moons) – is shining down into the clouds below.

And I remember bits of this past week. There was a whirl of news media around a scandal where I was, by virtue of my position, the appropriate point person. Bishops from all over the United States sent me messages of support and encouragement. I met 3 times with the congregation involved and was so impressed with their calm, their compassion, and their wisdom. All the things I was supposed to bring them, they already had in abundance. Even crises can be full of grace.

Thursday I was at an Army National Guard base for the commissioning of 1st Lt. Teogenes Bernardez, Jr. (our own Fr. Jun) as an officer and a chaplain. Friday I welcomed the Filipino Convocation of Episcopal Asian Ministries to a youth and young adult gathering in Las Vegas. There I discovered to my dismay that I was scheduled to be at St. Thomas, Las Vegas the next day – but I was also scheduled to be at St. Thomas the Believer in Lovelock. A calendar disaster of the first order!!! But I looked up and there, provided by the Lord like the ram with his horns caught in the bush on Mt. Moriah, was Bishop Botengan, retired from the Philippines. I asked him to save me by covering the Las Vegas service and he did. God is amazing. The one time I need a bishop; there actually is another one in the state.

Having resolved that crisis I dashed for the airport to catch a plane to Reno – not a minute to spare. But before I could get away, the Asian Ministries coordinator for Province 8 gave me a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, a present from the Bishop of Hawaii – perfect – it was supper! Yes, I ate an entire box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts while driving lickety split to the airport.

Then it was off to Fallon – arrived just shy of 11 p.m. -- from which the Very Rev. Trudy Erquiaga and I headed out bright and early this morning to Lovelock Correctional Institution – home to our largest most Spirit-filled congregation in central Nevada. Yes the gospel is alive and well behind the barbed wire. Baptized two (full immersion), confirmed three or four, received one. Preached on Romans “If a person is in Christ, he is no longer under condemnation.” You can’t preach that anywhere else like you can in prison.

Then eastward as far as Elko. I called the people in Wells (situated about an hour on beyond Elko) to remind them I will be there tomorrow. Up to now I’ve had the impression they didn’t much want to see me. Some say they are afraid I will close them because they are so small. But today on the phone they were perfectly friendly. It’s a four person congregation, the faithful remnant of a church that split over controversies in years past. Two couples meet at our church each Sunday to say Morning Prayer. I like that. Also Wells is the former home of Elias, the mad prophet hitch-hiker who anointed me for this job when I gave him a ride in Georgia the week before the election. Closing them is unthinkable. I hope to tell them that.

Now here I am in Elko at my beloved Gold Country Inn. It was almost full when I arrived. There is a Western Shoshone reunion here this weekend. But I got one of the rooms with Moose curtains and bedspreads.

Today Trudy asked me how I am liking my job. How can I answer? Chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Moose bedspreads. Gentleman Jack and an old guy singing “I thought I loved you then.” Prison church. Two old couples church. Filipino youth church. Army National Guard rituals. I don’t deserve this life. It is just too amazing.