“Eternity Don’t Sound So Good”

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It’s Sunday, revival time at the Baptist church. I don’t like it much, but the punch and cookies are good, that is if I can hold my patience until the end when all the “amen-ing” is done.

I stuff those cookies in my mouth two at a time. “Gracious me, Cono,” says Mrs. Allridge, “looks like you ain’t eaten anything for a month.”

Almost every time I get to one of those revivals, the grownups say, “Cono, don’t you want to be saved?”

“From what?” I say.

“Why the Devil hisself,” they say and then they add a bunch of amen’s to go along with it.

Unless they’re thinking about my Dad being the Devil, I just say, “No thank you.”

“But what are you waitin for? We could baptize you right now and all your sins would be forgiven and you would have eternal life.”

As far as sinning goes, I guess I’ve done my fair share of it, Amen.

“What’s eternal mean?” I ask.

“Well, it means you’ll live forever with Jesus right next to you.”

I picture Jesus standing right next to me, while I was thunk, thunk, thunkin’ on a woodpile forever and ever into eternity. And it doesn’t appeal to me one iota. Last year when we lived with Aunt Nolie, I didn’t have much chopping to do. But now, I have to chop all the time, Chop, chop to make sure Mother has enough wood for the cookstove at the Tourist Court. Chop, chop so Dad won’t lay into me.

Anyway, I’ve heard stories about how some churches take a poor person’s last dime, so they can put more gold up by the Jesus statue. Then, a penny-less old woman with only one shoe and five starving children crawls away with her head all covered up, as if she’s ashamed of being broke.

It doesn’t make no sense to me whatsoever. It seems to me that Jesus would want you to keep most of your money, so you don’t have to starve and die and can at least make it to church to pray. What gets me is watching them churchgoers and knowing that they talk all big about Jesus, but when they get home, they just keep doing their sinning anyway, like they’d forgotten every word they’d learned.

Maybe all you have to do is say you believe in Jesus and then you’ll be saved no matter how you act. But what do I know? I ain’t been saved yet.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper by C. Dennis-Willingham

 

 

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via Patience

A plea for humanity — Will you join me at the river?

It wasn’t a Sunday morning. It was a Thursday evening.

I sat on a wooden pew where, beneath my feet in the 1800’s, slaves had congregated to worship in a hole made of dirt. On April 27th, at that same location, I was inside the Simpson Methodist Church erected in the 1930’s.

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I haven’t been a church-goer in a long while. I was not there to worship. Yet, inside, a hymn came to me – “Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river.

In my past, I’ve held workshops on tolerance and celebrating diversity. I taught my early childhood staff how to teach bias-free education to our young children. I paired kindergarteners from east Austin to the kindergarteners from west and gathered the 800 or so children together at Burger Center to enjoy the music of Kinderman.

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I’ve done many things to teach tolerance and acceptance of others and each one has made me proud. Yet, each time we step out of our “comfort zone,” we learn something new. This meeting was no exception.

We were not there to worship. Nor were we there to hear a lecture. We were there for the unfolding of a “warm” conversation on diversity and equality.

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Reverend Robert Waddle was strong in appearance and gentle in manner. He led the group – around 15 warm souls- in prayer. Then, our local president of the NAACP, Nelson Linder and Dr. Guner Arslan, a Muslim from Turkey and director of the Dialogue Initiative Austin, began the discussion.

Here is a bit of what I learned, re-learned and processed:

We, as human beings, have always strived for identity — both within ourselves and within a group (or tribe). Identity is core to our “humanness.”

But here’s the problem–

When we don’t attempt to understand or appreciate “different” identities, an “us vs. them” scenario is created. So imagine how having 4200 religions around the world could easily contribute to this unfortunate scenario.

As we struggle to understand ourselves, and who and what we identify with, we often reject the identities of others.

Unless we expand our awareness.

Have you been integrated as a person? Who are the folks you struggle with?

Nelson Mandela once said, “Everyone has a seat at the table.”

How round is your table?

“Love is the absence of judgment” – Dali Lama

How much do you love?

What are you fearful of?

Try being comfortable being uncomfortable.

Mr. Linder and Dr. Arslan told us, “Find excuses to bring people of ‘differences’ together to discover commonalities.”

So, the small group at Simpson Methodist Church became our small group. We had metaphorically gathered at the river, “the beautiful, the beautiful, river“.

 

Folks, this river is wide. And there is plenty of room for everyone. Yes, let’s gather at that river. Or any other place where thoughtful hearts are shared.

I was not there to worship, but I did. There are many ways to worship Great Love for Humanity.

Please join us at this round table for a warm discussion on diversity, acceptance and love. I will bring the water for your parched throats but there will be no need for food. Our hunger will be satiated by the breaking of bread in our open and honest dialogue.

I hope you choose to be part of the discussion.  Because, if you do, and as the song says, “Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.

I would be most grateful if you would leave a response, a personal experience, even a link to similar posts or articles related to this topic.

See you at the table.

Denying Religion

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Almost every time I get to one of those revivals, the grown-ups say, “Cono, don’t you want to be saved?”

“From what?” I say.

“Why the Devil hisself,” they say and then they add a bunch of amens to go along with it.

Unless they’re thinking about Dad being the Devil, I just say, “No thank you.”

“But what are you waitin for? We could baptize you right now and all your sins would be forgiven and you would have eternal life.”

As far as sinning goes, I guess I’ve done my fair share of it, Amen.

“What’s ‘eternal’ mean?” I ask.

“Well, it means you’ll live forever with Jesus right next to you.”

I picture Jesus standing right next to me, while I’m thunk, thunk, thunkin’ on a woodpile forever and ever into eternity, and it doesn’t appeal to me one iota. Last year when we lived with Aunt Nolie, I didn’t have much chopping to do. But now, I have to chop all the time, Chop, chop, chop to make sure Mother has enough wood for the cookstove at the Tourist Court. Chop, chop, chop so Dad won’t lay into me.

Anyway, I’ve heard stories about how some churches take a poor person’s last dime so they can put more gold up by the Jesus statue. Then, a pennyless old woman with only one shoe and five starving children crawls away with her head all covered up, as if she’s ashamed of being broke. It doesn’t make no sense to me whatsoever. It seems to me that Jesus would want you to keep most of your money so you don’t have to starve and die and can at least make it to church to pray. What gets me is watching them churchgoers and knowing that they talk all big about Jesus, but when they get home, they just keep doing their sinning anyway, like they’d forgotten every word they’d learned. Maybe all you have to do is say you believe in Jesus and then you’ll be saved no matter how you act. But what do I know? I ain’t been saved yet.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story.

Denial

Two pills and a Bible

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It had started off on a bad note or rather a bad sore throat. I guess I’d lived there long enough to pick up Temple germs from the Junior High. My throat hurt something awful and I thought I’d surely come down with Scarlet Fever like Delma had that time.

            A kid in one of my classes told me about a doctor within walking distance from my house that I should go see. He also gave me a bible. “What’s this?”

            “It’s a Bible.”

            “I can see that. Why’re ye handin’ it to me?”

            “Just thought you’d like ta have it, you know to read.”

            “I don’t wanna take yer Bible.”

            “Well, it’s not really mine. I work at the Baptist Church and I can get them anytime I want.”

            “Okay then,” I said, taking the Bible he’d stolen from his church.

            “I’ll pray for your throat, Cono.”

            “OK,” I hoarsed out of my throat, thinking, “Yeah and praise the Lord too.”

         I took him up on his advice and right after school I went straight to that doctor’s office. He told me to come back tomorrow morning and not to eat anything. So that’s what I did.

         The next morning the doctor handed me two little Yellow pills and said, “Here’s your breakfast.” Then he left me in a chair that leaned back. I waited there until my head started to feel fuzzy, like I was sitting at the bottom of a well looking up towards the light of the sky.

            “Cono, are you ready?” I stared up through the well and saw the long-nosed face of the man talking to me, the man in the white coat who made a little loop out of some kind of wire and pulled one, then two tonsils from the back of my throat. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he decided that my adenoids weren’t doing me any good, so he yanked them out too. Fuzzy or not, I felt every damn bit of it.

            He laid a pack of ice on my neck for a while and told me to go home and get some rest. I did. I rested for a whole week because I got sicker than a dog and not because I forgot to cover up my hiney. I got a bad fever and thought for sure I was gonna die. That’s when I picked up that Bible. I remembered Ma saying, “Cono, thar ain’t nothin’ wrong with readin’ the Bible.” Plus, I thought that if I was about to die, I might as well find out who was going to open up the Pearly Gates to let me in.

            Once I got through all that “beggetting” stuff, it wasn’t a bad read. I didn’t understand much of it since there were so many people to keep up with. I got the gist of most of it though. But I was still trying to figure out why it said “an eye for an eye” one minute and “turn the other cheek” the next.

            During that week, Delma came in once with a pot on her head and stared at me sober as a judge.

            “Delma, ye need te get yerself a better lookin’ hat.” She laughed and left the room probably thinking she made me feel better. I guess in a way she did.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper

 

 

My gift to you

I painted this on the first day of the Iraqi war and named it “Peace Bubbles.” (I sold this painting and believe it is hanging on a wall in a yoga studio in NYC)

Whatever traditions you celebrate this season, I hope your life is filled with peace, acceptance, grace, hope, kindness, joy and LOVE.

All the best to you, my blogging buds! – Carolyn

 

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Letter to a dead friend

In the 1930’s, a sad seven-year old Cono writes a letter to his deceased friend.

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Cono with his little sister

Dear Gene,

            I hate it that you’re dead and that those stupid doctors in Roby couldn’t fix you to save your life. We had more things to do, you and me. More wars to fight with the other boys in the neighborhood and more of our own fights to have just between the two of us, the ones that were so much fun but made us dog-tired and bruised afterward. Even though you were just a little older, but a lot littler, you always got the best of me. We never gave up. You’d just say, “Cono, ye tired yet?”

            “Yeah,” I’d say.

            “How bout’s you and me stop fightin’ for the day?”

            “OK,” I’d say.

            And that’s what we’d do. We’d get up, dust off our britches and stop for the day. But we’d never give up. Boys in Rotan, Texas never give up. That’s what you said.

         Don’t feel bad about being dead. I think some of us are dead, when we’re still alive anyway. Or maybe it’s just that some of us aren’t completely born yet, like we’re waiting for a little peace and quiet to show up so we can take our first real breath.

         I’m sorry I couldn’t make you better and I’m sorry that nobody could take me to visit you in the hospital. Maybe if you had been in there a little longer, I could have found a ride. I know you never gave up, so there must have been something else that caught your eye.

         Things are growing on me Gene and I’m not talking about inches or new hairs. Things are crawling under my skin. I’m feeling antsy and mad and even a little bit not like myself. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if someone were to holler, “Cono!” and I’d just keep going the other direction thinking my name was George or something. My hands clench more often than they used to. My teeth do too. Just the other day, I caught myself staring in the bathroom mirror. I was about to brush my teeth, but my jawbones were moving in and out and I realized I was clamping down so hard with my grinders that a tooth brush didn’t have a chance to get in to do its job.

         I’m writing to you Gene, Fishing all my words outta my truth bucket. And when I’m done? I’ll send this letter up to God Jesus, so he can read it to you. Better yet, maybe I’ll go someplace real quiet, where nobody else on this earth can hear. And I’ll talk real loud, so you can hear me all the way up in heaven. And if someone else up there happens to hear? It’s okay. I know they won’t tell anyone since they’re dead too. Besides, you’ll know it’s me. I’ll be the one flicking marbles with my pocket knife!  

            I sure wish you could tell me what it’s like up there. When I went to the revivals with the Allridge boys, they told me that Jesus has made a room for dead people and you’ll get to live there forever with Him. What does your room look like?

            I wanna know if you’ve made any friends and if Jesus lets you wrestle and fight with them like we used to do for fun. The revivalists say that we’ll get to meet our loved ones again when we die. But what if I die when I’m a hundred and I get there and you’re still only eleven years old. Are you gonna sit on my lap and tell me Jesus stories? Ha Ha. It’s good to know that you have a room up there in heaven, although I’m not sure I believe everything they tell me at those revivals.

         Gene, I want to kill my Dad. Send him right up there to heaven, where maybe you can teach him a few things, like how to be nice to me. But then, I guess it would be too late. Unless, he was Jesus and got alive again to came back to do something good. That’ll be the day.

         Anyhow, I sure hope you’re real happy up there. I hope you get to throw the football and play checkers and flick marbles. And say? If you see my Uncle Joe and our friend Wort Reynolds, tell them I say, “Hello.”

         Your friend,

            Cono

         P.S. – Wort’s the one without the head.

(Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper)

 

“Fanatics” Against Prostitution!

Greta, one of Sadie’s fellow prostitutes at the bordello, tries to comfort her after they learn members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union are coming to town to Protest against vice. (From The Last Bordello)

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Greta put an arm around Sadie. “I love you truly, truly, dear,” she sang.

“Stop it!” Sadie unclenched her fists long enough to wallop her palms on the table. “Your piping doesn’t help.”

Greta puffed her cheeks and blew out a huff. She placed her hands around her throat. “Geez, kill me now. You’re actin’ like you been slurpin’ asshole soup again.”

“Hypocrites, all of them.” Sadie’s face reddened. “Those protesters make me sick. Religious fanatics who can’t mind their own damn business, preach like they’re better than us.”

Her last comment, barely a whisper, I knew Sadie was thinking about her religious nut of a mother. She rarely spoke of her, but when she did, she referred to her as Lucinda the Lucifer. The woman had forced Sadie to recite Bible passages before allowing her to eat and preached the sin of men’s unbridled passion until her ears burned. Who wouldn’t run away after that kind of upbringing?

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