Reading Pet Sematary: Day Three (the finale)

16 March 2012

[Warning: While I do not intend to reveal any specific plot points or twists in this series of blogs, I may do so from time to time. I will also comment on the pacing of the novel. If you do not care to have any plot points or pacing revealed to you, please read no further until you read Pet Sematary for yourself. – JPR]

I begin reading alone in the kitchen at 11:07 AM (MDT).

I am on the verge of tears for the characters in the story as part two begins.

I also continue to laugh out loud at various points in the book thanks to Louis Creed’s insanely prosaic inner dialogue.

The characters are at a viewing and funeral for the deceased.

I remember the viewing for and funeral of my stepfather. I stood with my mother and younger brother as friends and strangers came to shake our hands, hug us and offer sympathy and “reassuring” words. I played the part of the adult. I was just about to graduate from college and I was getting practice in one of the most reliable parts of adulthood: death.

I am sitting in the front pew of McIntyre Baptist Church with my mom, brother and Memaw. We are watching a video montage of photographs of my now-dead stepfather. The montage is set to music. We are clasping one another and crying. I am doing my best to take in the moment as soberly as possible. Remembering him with his hairdo that made him look eerily like fitness guru Richard Simmons. There are no pictures of him bloated and out of his mind from the fluid building up in his body and distending his abdomen as his liver slowly failed. I think the montage is meant to be a reassuring remembrance.

I am hugging two friends and crying uncontrollably as a mechanical wench lowers the casket into the ground. I do not really visit his grave, but I do think of him from time to time, usually when hearing an Elvis Presley or Reba McEntire song on the radio.

He died the morning of my college graduation. I am trying to smile in the photographs, but can’t quite manage it.

A few years later, I am in a heated argument with my mom—the kind of argument in which you think, “Well, that’s it. We will never speak again and the next time we will be in the same place will be at a funeral.” I tell her I do not believe in god, sin, hell or heaven. Tears are in her eyes as she drives her Chevrolet van down Highway 441 past the C & S auto mechanic shop. I assume we are driving back from Milledgeville (the antebellum capital) to Irwinton via McIntyre. She asks me where I think my stepdad is, if I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t remember answering.

On page 436 of the novel, I make a new prediction. I later learn my prediction was wrong.

Manic, hysterical desperation. What drives us over the edge?

I make another prediction on page 451. This prediction is also wrong.

“Something is trying to keep me away from him.” (p. 501)

The characters in this book deal with forces beyond their control. Forces that manipulate and even murder them.

I have faced “real” demons before. Perhaps that is why I am not completely drawn in to the mystical part of this novel. One period of my Christian phase can be called The Wesley House Period. This time centers on my involvement with the Methodist campus ministry at my undergraduate alma mater, Georgia College & State University. (Go, Bobcats!)

This period allowed for full-fledged demon battling. The time the minister, Bill, was afflicted with a demon on his side of the house. (The house was divided, fittingly enough. One side was the public, student side where I played bass in the praise band and ate pizza rolls and played Crazy Taxi on some gaming system and began forming the most influential romantic relationship of my life up to this point. The other was where the pastor and his family lived. His family consisted of his wife Amy, his daughter Charlotte and his son Jay.)  A group of us bold Christians prayed in a room with dim lighting, possibly candles, and placed “holy” water on doorjambs.

One night, I drive home in my red Pontiac Sunfire, tingling with fear the entire 20-minute drive. My girlfriend, Bevan, has a feeling that something sinister is in the air and I should not look back on the drive to my mother’s house. I did look back in the rearview mirror on the dark, lonely drive and swore I saw a shadowy presence distinct from the shadows of the road behind.

I am on pins-and-needles as the book draws to a close and inevitable conclusions that have been building for 500 pages are reached. I hold the book farther from my face hoping that will prevent something malevolent from jumping off the pages and startling me (or worse).

“Fuck yes,” I say as I begin part three. “This is some damn good storytelling.”

The suspense grows. I turn my back to the basement stairs like some plant drawn to the sun outside. The dog’s nails click-clack on the plastic mat behind me, giving me a start. I turn so my back is to the TV and not the stairs to prevent unexpected surprises.

I finish the book.

My first trip into the basement afterwards finds me unsettled. I do have a background fear that the resurrected evil will be waiting for me downstairs in the laundry room, turning the Tide of my life. I purposely walk down the stairs as calmly as possible, forcing myself not to rush. I am sure I look like my own revivified creature with little control of my limbs.

The book lingers, but I am not experiencing the paralyzing fear I expected or that I would have had for certain had I seen the film.

Thus endeth Day Three and the reading of Pet Sematary.

(Feel free to go back and read day one and day two of my journey as well.)

Marriage and religion

6 March 2012

Last night I sat down to watch Piers Morgan’s interview with former Republican presidential hopeful and current US Representative from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann. I decided to tweet my thoughts during the segment.

My comments during the show led to my first ever Twitter disagreement with a Twitter user going by the handle @mikefromkormak. (One day, I hope to participate in a full-on Twitter war with someone.) Eventually, I felt the character limitations of Twitter stifling the need for full dialogue on the issues that arose from the disagreement.

It is my hope to use this blog to respond at more length to some of the points @mikefromkormak raised. It is also my hope that the user would feel free and respond to me.

With that preamble, let us jump into the meat of the issue.

The conversation started innocuously enough.

7:17 PM @mentalmacguyver (me) – “Is @michelebachmann standing up for Rush Limbaugh because healthcare will cause women to be sluts? @PiersTonight”

7:19 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver @michelebachmann @pierstonight No that’s not fair ! She said he apologized that’s all she said”

7:21 PM @mentalmacguyver – “@mikefromkormak She said he apologized and noted this is what we get when we have one person in charge of healthcare.”

After discussing the Rush Limbaugh conversation and how Rep. Bachmann should have responded, we moved on to her misguided views on homosexuality, which surfaced when Mr. Morgan asked her about Kirk Cameron’s recent nonsensical public disdain for homosexuals. Although she did make the highly spurious claim that religious persons are more persecuted in the US than gay individuals (perhaps if that religious person is not of the dominate Christian belief), she generally sidestepped the direct question.

7:33 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mikefromkormak @mentalmacguyver She dodged the gay question too,, no guts”

7:35 PM @mentalmacguyver- “@mikefromkormak It is much easier to discriminate via legislation than on national television.”

From here, my conversation began taking an interesting turn toward the right of churches to discriminate (particularly in marriage) and just what gay rights means.

7:42 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver the government has no place in the bedrooms of the individual, being said you shouldn’t force gay rights on churches”

7:43 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mikefromkormak @mentalmacguyver they cannot have it both ways”

Fair enough. If churches, many of whom talk incessantly about love and loving one’s neighbor and unconditional love, wish to claim that certain groups of humans are inferior, wrong, inadequate and worthy of hatred and discrimination, it certainly is well within their right to believe so. In this country, we can believe whatever we want to believe, no matter how misguided or hateful.

7:46 PM @mentalmacguyver – “@mikefromkormak I suppose some would argue churches have the right to be bigoted, discriminatory and hateful of their fellow humans.”

7:49 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver well yes. People have the right not to be part of that church, and this is not a gay rights debate but a freedom debate”

7:49 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver unless they get government money, then they have to be fair to all,”

Let’s start with “this is not a gay rights debate but a freedom debate.” Same thing. Freedom includes the ability of human beings to expect and receive equal treatment under the law and not to face discrimination and judgment simply for existing.

And I really hate to say it, but I love the argument that only organizations that receive government money should “have to be fair to all.” So, even though religious organizations (wrongly) receive exemption from taxes and have major influence over many of our elected officials, they should only concern themselves with universal welfare if the government forces them to do so? It would be difficult for me to make a better case for the moral bankruptcy of religion and the reasons why it should be separated from the state (which it currently is not in the US).

8:01 PM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver how do you feel about gay marriage ? Should a catholique priest be forced to perform the ceremony ?”

8:45 PM @mentalmacguyver – “@mikefromkormak The issue is not just marriage, but individual rights. Churches have too much power to limit civil rights in the US.”

Marriage is marriage. Or at least it should be. Separating marriage into groups (gay marriage, heterosexual marriage, black marriage, Asian marriage, etc.) is patently wrong. As I mention later, marriage should be universal and should not be the property of the church.

Following these tweets, I logged off for the night to watch the first season of Fringe (which is where religion should be by the way). I awoke the next morning to find additional comments.

5:14 AM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver Churches, people, should have the right to their own opinion, and government should not legislate them”

As I said before, I agree. Churches and people do have a right to their own opinion without fear of government legislation. However, the opinion of churches does not belong in the public sphere when deciding public policy. Marriage, a legal contract with various benefits for the parties engaging in the contract (tax breaks, hospital visitation rights, etc.), does not and should not belong to the church. Just as the state should not have authority to regulate churches, churches should have no business in matters of the state.

5:15 AM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver Personally gay people should have the right to marry but forcing religions to do it just gives the far right an argument”

Marriage, as a state institution, should be available to all. If a church believes it has the right to cast judgment and not allow a certain person into its fold, then it certainly has the right to such a presumptuous prerogative. As I said before, marriage should not belong to the church. Additionally, the “far right” will always have an argument because (a) they have a right to argue and (b) they are trying desperately to hold on to their own sense of power and control and the only way to do so is to maintain unquestioned authority to separate “sheep from goats.”

5:28 AM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver it’s always a dangerous slope when we make special provisions for only certain segments of society #gays #lesbians”

Equality for all members of society does not count as a special provision. Additionally, as I note below, gay persons are not simply a ‘segment’ of society. They are not separate from society. They are society. Just as heterosexual individuals are society. Just as persons of different races, ethnicities, beliefs, income levels, etc. are all society. Unfortunately, religion must create and insist on a nonexistent differentiation between “saints and sinners.” Just because religion chooses to embody and justify hate by targeting certain humans, does not mean these judgments have any justification or basis. (In fact, they do not.)

7:34 AM @mentalmacguyver – “@mikefromkormak We make special provisions for churches and religious folk. Besides, gay persons are not a just ‘segment’ of society.”

7:52 AM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver When I say segment I mean no disrespect, but in the gay aspect they are a small part of society as a whole ,”

I would argue that the number of persons in a certain group does not excuse inhumane vitriol leveled against them. Perhaps I simply misunderstand this statement.

7:53 AM @mikefromkormak – “@mentalmacguyver I believe in live and let live , but you cannot have it both ways”

Unfortunately, religious persons do not believe in “live and let live.” The examples are nearly innumerable, but you can easily point to the Catholic Church’s ludicrous obstruction of no-cost birth control and the ever-growing list of anti-abortion regulation in states around the US. (Both examples happened within the last year and are still occurring. Frightening to think that we still live in a society that should be so backward.)

Religion has no business in state affairs, such as marriage. If a person wishes to be married in a religious fashion (provided they live up to the capricious standards of that particular religion), they should be able to do so. However, that religious marriage should receive no state benefits. State, secular, marriage should be a separate agreement into which (most) anyone in this country should be able to enter.

I look forward to hearing what others think of this debate and conversation.

There is no I in religion

5 March 2012

The sun was out in Utah this weekend. However, the son (of god) was being obscured.

As you well know by now, I was once an avid (and rabid) Christian. The last time I actively tried to participate in religion was when I began graduate school in the fall of 2004. (I say “tried” because I went to a Catholic mass and found that I was simply anxious and uncomfortable the entire time.) Nearly eight years on, I am still talking about religion and how damaging and infantile it is. (In case you missed it, I believe religion should have no role in politics and blame the unrelenting number of recent anti-abortion regulations on state-sanctioned Christianity.)

Last week, I began reading a book I should have read a couple of years ago: god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the late Christopher Hitchens.

The book sparked some great conversation with GF’s family over the role of and reason for religion and religious beliefs.

For me, the book pointed out that Christianity is not the only religion out there of which I should be critical. I often focus on Christianity in my critiques, but every religion ultimately is wrongheaded, misguided and immeasurably dangerous.

Because of the book, I began thinking about everything in which I do not believe. In much the same fashion as John Lennon’s “God,” I would like to list everything in which I do not believe.

I do not believe in:

  • god
  • religion
  • religious guilt
  • sin
  • spirituality
  • karma
  • hell
  • heaven
  • the afterlife
  • reincarnation
  • astrology
  • fate or destiny
  • eternity
  • humanity

However, much like John Lennon notes, I do believe in my loved ones and myself. That is about it. While I previously identified as atheist, I have to agree with Ricky Gervais that such a term should not even be necessary. Why should theism (or deism) be the default? I consider myself a-religious and a-spiritual—neither concept has any place in my life, my decisions or my morality (which, I might add, is far superior to the “morality” I claimed as a drooling, mind-numbed Christian).

So I’m curious, lovely reader—what do you believe? What do you not believe?

Abortion restrictions amount to legislated religion

Today, the Virginia Senate passed HB 462, which mandates that any woman having an abortion must first undergo an ultrasound, even against medical opinion. The bill passed 21-19 as two Democratic senators (Charles Colgan, Prince William, and Phil Puckett, Russell) opposed to abortion access voted for the mandate. (It is worth noting that Senator John Watkins, R-Powhatan, bucked the line and voted against the measure.) Following the vote, Delegate David Englin, D-Alexandria, told The Rachel Maddow Blog he believes the amended bill will pass the House and be signed by Governor Bob McDonnell.

With the high likelihood that the bill will become law, Virginia’s elected officials join their colleagues across the country in a repressive, single-minded effort to force all women to carry each pregnancy to term. No matter what.

As Laura Bassett notes in the Huffington Post, the debate includes a dispute on the role of government and government overreach. (Bassett deftly juxtaposes the mandatory ultrasound decision with the attempt to repeal Virginia’s HPV vaccine mandate.)

Virginia’s latest obstacle to abortion access does indeed raise the issue of government mandates and government overreach. Anti-abortion measures (like mandatory ultrasound, forced waiting periods, bans on financial assistance, etc.) amount to nothing less than government sanctioned religion.

In the United States, one of the greatest influences on our view of morality is our tendency to be religious. Many legislators see abortion as a moral issue. (Sadly, too many see it as the moral issue above all others.) As moral and religious individuals, our elected officials wrongly proselytize through policy, legislating their (primarily) Christian view of right and wrong.

When we accept bills that stand in the way of women obtaining safe, legal and affordable abortion, we tacitly accept that the Christian perspective has supreme value and power in our lives—even for individuals (and there are many to be sure) who are either not Christian or have no religious leanings.

Everyone in our country has the absolute right to believe anything (and everything should they choose). However, no one should have the right to legislate a religious view of life through policymaking. (In fact, because of the flawed views of religiously guided and mean-spirited legislators, if you live in Virginia and are a piece of metal designed to kill and injure people you have more rights than a woman.)

In the matters of medicine, the personal beliefs of presumptuous, sanctimonious lawmakers have no place. (Quick reminder: Despite all beliefs to the contrary, abortion is and will remain a medical procedure just as any other surgery is a medical procedure.) We should have a simple test for abortion-related measures: Is the proposed regulation medically necessary or does it represent the limited, wrongheaded belief of a few individuals who proclaim themselves spokespeople of a deity they invented? I’d prefer to have my medical decisions made based on medicine, not delusion.

-Joseph Patrick Richards @mentalmacguyver

Five Iron Frenzied

Earlier today, I don’t even remember how, I learned that Five Iron Frenzy have reformed.

Holy fucking fuck.

Five Iron Frenzy’s first album came out in 1996, when I was deep into my evangelical period. (I knew I was rabidly Christian, but my best friend recently applied the “evangelical” descriptor to my behavior. I have no doubt that was accurate.) At some point before I found their music I found a renewed faith in that old scoundrel, Jesus. I decided I was going to purge evil music out of my ears (Metallica, Danzig, Megadeth, Tom Jones – although I did feel justified keeping Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and U2’s The Joshua Tree.) So I dove into Christian rap, punk (what?) and ska. When I finally came upon Five Iron Frenzy’s Upbeats And Beatdowns I thought my heart was going to fucking blow up right out of my chest. I could barely drive away from the Christian bookstore (which was in Dublin, GA – home of the Redneck Games – and was probably called The Olive Branch or something of the sort) in my 1997 Pontiac Sunfire (four-door). I was bouncing in my car from the first yelp from Reese Roper’s throat. (Have no doubt that I tried to sing and dress exactly like Mr. Roper, especially in their video for “A Flowery Song.”)

Over the years I zealously purchased each Five Iron Frenzy album, saw them in concert several times (including during their tour of US roller rinks) and even had their bass player, Keith Hoerig, eat my french fries (that sounds dirty) at a Christian music festival in Stone Mountain, GA. I was in love with them. I wanted to be each one of them and I wanted to marry their saxophonist, Leanor “Jeff The Girl” Ortega.

Even when I walked away from Christianity, I still clung to Five Iron Frenzy. They were the music I got to keep when I broke up with Jesus.

In 2003, Five Iron Frenzy broke up. Occasionally, they still popped up when I was shuffling through music on my computer. Most people I met after high school had no idea of my complete devotion to and obsession with this Christian ska band from the 1990s.

Now they have returned and their new single, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night,” jolts me to the past. I am back in that car, in that roller rink, near that smelly tent jumping like a fucking lunatic and screaming every lyric and skanking every limb. I no longer connect to their Christian message, but their music still gets to me.