Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Preacher in a Clown Suit

I've never liked doing returns. There's a part of me that says, if we have to return a book, it means I haven't done enough to sell it. Like I've said before, bookselling is one of the few careers where it's entirely possible to fall in love with your product. For those reading who aren't familiar with the idea of returns, they happen quite frequently in retail. With grocery stores, there is usually a "sell by" date in which, if the can of green beans hasn't sold, they are scanned out of the system and sent back (probably just the scan itself or the wrapper maybe) and credit is given because the item hasn't sold. For books, it's a little harder. Books don't have sell by dates. They don't go bad (well, unless it's a travel book or a calendar...etc), so there has to be a conscious decision to return something.

So I was going down the lists of books to return, and I reached the Bibles going back to one of the vendors. Pulling them and placing them on my v-cart that I purchased from Borders when it closed (best thing I ever bought from the bookstore), I realized that every single Bible I put there was ugly. Orange, a putrid caramel brown, one printed in Giraffe skin print, ones that looked like a Vera Bradley bag. I was very glad to return them, for I knew they would never sell.

Let's try something: I come up to you with a Bible and say, "What an Ugly Bible!!!"

Yes, you're right. The response that probably leapt to your mind was the same I got when I actually said that. Except... let's look at it further.

The Bible is the Word of God. We know that, and traditional Bibles, the ones your parents probably took to church, were made of a bonded or genuine leather, black or navy or burgundy. They were elegant, conservative in style. I have this one Bible made of a premium high grain leather, soft and regal.  Now, take a Bible that has been, for whatever reason, covered in a pink plastic with a candy-like peppermint thing on the top (yes, it actually exists).  It's the same Bible, isn't it? With the same words?  It should be treated with the same respect as the high-quality leather Bible.  And besides, you can't judge a book by its cover.... or can you?

The Bibles we pulled were probably made in an attempt to attract modern-day Christians who want a break from the image of Christianity that our parents and grandparents had.  I can understand this, as I can still remember the preacher from Agnew Pentecostal standing up before the congregation every January 1st and saying "The Lord has blessed us with another year" and at the end of the service, leading us in the Doxology. The dark, sombre hallways, the stained glass that let little light in.  My mom often talked about how, in her Sunday School class, they spent most of the time trying to untangle Christianity from the rules and regulations of the church.  My grandfather, long before I was born, thought it sinful to play with cards, or go to the movies. The lengthy conversations my mom would have talking about how, after she and my dad had gotten married, they were so stressed out on Sundays because they "had" to go to church each week, or else the "friends" my grandmother (dad's mom) had in that church would report that they had not seen my parents there.  And woe to the person who answered the phone at 12:05pm to make sure that we had gone to church.  When church, and the Bible, becomes a chore, a prohibitive force blocking every joy of life without cause or reason (except those were the rules of the church), it negates the simple, positive guidelines of Christianity, sung most elegantly by Guy Penrod from the Gaither Vocal Band:

So, as a break from the sombre tones of yesteryear, Bible publishers have changed some of the covers to make them more appealing to those who are unchurched or more modern.  And there's a certain logic to this.  Take the Skateboard Bible we have in the Kid's section. It's often on sale, and very well made, as the devotionals and images around the Bible text are designed for boys who like sports, the outdoors, skateboarding (obviously), and are very active.  It is usually right next to the Adventure Bible, which is designed as a safari, with African animals, compasses, as if the boys or girls were off on a grand adventure (which, of course, they are.) Similarly, the pink Bibles with sparkles and mentions of Princesses are geared toward girls who love that sort of thing.   All very popular Bibles, that sell very well. In this way the children are drawn toward the Bible and can read it for themselves. The text is the same as the more conservative Bibles, and so, yes, no matter what it looks like, the Bible is still the Word of God.

Now, the flip side, let's say you meet and fall in love with someone who is virtuous, successful, caring, but covered from head to toe in tattoos.  (This, example, of course, reveals my bias against tattooing, because I think it's ugly and stupid) He or She is a Christian and is the love of your life, so why the nervousness when taking them to meet your parents?  Partially because of the reasons given above about the rules of the church, but also, we all do judge a book by its cover.  Would it then be the same as covering the Word of God with pink plastic and candies? Doesn't the way in which you present a Bible effect the perception that the words contained are taken? The person with tattoos might be wonderful, but there will be trepidation felt by strangers who don't know the inside of that person. Would you listen to a preacher who gave the sermon clothed in a clown suit? It is the same words inspired by God. The message is the same, but the cover is different.  That's why preachers don't wear clown suits but rather a suit and tie or a robe of some kind.  It's the perception of the outside image that effects the persuasiveness of the message itself.

So, a balance needs to be struck, between the traditional image with all the respect and regal tones of what a Bible, for an adult, should be, and the modernizing of that image to help draw in those who might not otherwise read the words within.  The twist here, and why these different covered Bibles are made, is that adults, even my age, aren't always grown up yet, and having a Bible that looks like a Vera Bradley purse or made in Tennessee Orange might attract those who haven't read the Bible yet. I can understand this, but it doesn't make it easier when I see a Bible covered in a hideous design. It's a complex issue, one that comes down to personal choice.  For me, let the Bible be covered in the finest of material, but for those who haven't read the Bible or don't know of the meanings inside, that they get the Bible, in whatever form or fashion, is enough.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On

There's always something strangely alluring in a road or trail that winds its way over the horizon, or around a corner.  Where does it lead to?  What scenes of beauty lie just over the next hill? And what if the road never stops? If it just keeps going and going forever, where do you stop or turn around? At the moment of turning around, when the sights become something already seen, it loses its luster.  All that work never to return to that spot again, or to keep going. It's what I find intriguing about the trails I walk.  It's impossible to walk a trail and then turn around because you're tired, or because you've been at it too long, and know that there will be a part of that trail left undiscovered. Sure, I could walk it again, and continue down that path, but why put off that journey until tomorrow?

The Arabian Mountain Trails perplex with all those questions, as the trails are long, steep sometimes, and unless you're riding a bike (which I disagree with), it would take far too many steps to walk the entire thing, and it's difficult to know when to stop.  As for the bikes...I like Noel Paul Stookey's quote on his album Reel to Real, that there's two ways to miss things, either it goes by too fast, or we go by too fast.  The signs on the pathway always talk about controlling your speed on a bike, to pass people only on the left, as if you would be going so fast as to hit them.  Well, you're going too fast. I've seen rabbits, chipmunks, roosters, deer, a really large turtle, lizards, and a couple of snakes I didn't want to bother, all on the trails I've walked.  Which animals would the biker have seen? And the scenery, the sun shining down through the trees with an other-worldly glow, the creeks flowing by with water never to be seen again, do they see these things? Sometimes you have to watch the trees grow, watch the rings form to really appreciate all that's around you.

The joy really is in the journey, as I've quoted before.  It's so much fun to see your goal in sight, and in this case, the place where three trails meet, the spot almost equidistant from the three parking lots. But so much more enjoyable is getting there, through the heat and humidity, the rain (which I did today. I found that the main problem was water getting in my eyes, the wetness didn't bother me), the sun beating down on you.  I found that the best walks I've had were with the sun shining overhead, and me going through so many trails and experiencing the freedom of being absolutely alone and "off the grid," as it were.  For the path is a choice, what road you go down is, in the best of circumstances, entirely up to you.  There are no parents to decide what path to take, no societal norms, no pressure from job or religion or politics... just you and the path, and the sun and the grasshoppers flitting about.

One other thing, while I don't usually sing while I'm walking, I did discover that, at the end of the walk, singing actually helps to regulate breathing, provides tempo and rhythm to your walk. I guess that's why there are so many travelling songs out there.  Pick any James Taylor album, there's bound to be one on there.  Probably the most fitting song for this blog is J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Road Goes Ever On," with the lyrics and video below.

The Road Goes Ever On

The Road goes ever on and on             
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clothing, Nudity, and the Internet

I wanted to look at Nudity. Under our clothes... we're all NAKED!! (Sam Eagle mode off) Before I do that, I have to recommend reading a sci-fi book by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter called The Light of Other Days.  There are books I want to buy and hand out to the public, as they are so essential to the way I think.  This is one of them. Sir Clarke's book, The Light of Other Days is essential in that it enables technology to change the very thought processes of Western Culture. When privacy and modesty go out the window, so too does quite a bit of prejudice and philosophies that surround them. Clarke and Baxter have demonstrated how it is possible to deconstruct whole sections of culture and then to rebuild it using different foundations. So let's do that now concerning nudity. Clothing is perhaps one of the most basic of requirements according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Because, when all psychological and sociological meanings are removed, clothing is needed for two things: warmth, and safety. To return to prehistoric times, take the naked male caveman. He hunts (and is hunted by) the various wild animals around, who will see any appendage as something to attack (just ask my brother's cats, who love pouncing on my fingers.) A predator, such as a Smilodon, would have very little qualms about biting off a testicle or two. Also, there's the question of warmth, where clothing would provide during colder seasons. Makes sense. 

(*The following blog should not be used for research purposes, as I am not taking time to thoroughly research the topics, but instead relying on knowledge stuck into the filing cabinets of my brain. That said, not all information may be correct. It is simply the flow of ideas from one to the next that is important, at least for a blog. )

Now, where the rest comes in. Clothing cannot be produced by every person, for not all cavemen had that skill. In post-Agricultural revolution times, when specialization had become a phenomenon, there were people who made clothing, others who made pottery...etc... Thus capitalism, in the form of barter, was formed. Clothing was purchased, and those who were successful in life could afford it, and those who couldn't were very cold. Thus clothing became part of the social power structure. Those who were strong had garments, and the weak went without. (I could develop this into some huge research paper with references and whatnot, but I'll leave that to sociology majors). So to remove this power structure, you either have to have free, magically appearing clothing, or you have to have a culture and climate where clothing isn't necessary. Thus we look at cultures that formed near the equator, on Pacific islands, perhaps. Initial reactions to Pacific natives by sailors like Captain Cook were ones of shock, desire (for most women had exposed breasts), and pity. They were looked upon as inferior, barbaric, Unchristian. It would be easy to research those initial observations, or even look at modern day tribes of isolated groups that still have no need for clothing, even with the western influences, the absurd massive conglomeration of clothes that have been mass produced in sweat shops, only to be discarded when a small hole appears in the side of the knee, or under the arms. Even in modern day societies, clothing is easier to get than food. Look at the starving people in Africa, or the isolated tribes in the Amazon river basin. They might be extremely difficult to get to, or withering away to nothingness due to overpopulation, lack of food...etc... (and that's another blog), but they are all dressed in something, with someone's old Nike shoes and Adidas shorts. They are donated by the tons from groups that get leftovers from Goodwill, and then sent to third-world countries, as you can be hungry, but naked?? That's just barbaric. Would that they send the food and not the clothing. But the leftover mountains of food destroyed at coffee shops, or shoveled off plates at IHOP, all that food is wasted, while clothing (which cannot go bad) is shipped off on barges. 

Clothing and Power

Follow the chain of command, up the political pyramid, and those that issue the most rules regarding clothes are the priests and the clergy. If we take clothing to be a symbol of power, going all the way back to specialization and the agricultural revolution, the clergy and the military are the most associated with garbs. For the military, it's obvious. They were armor and protective clothing to keep from being killed. It's safety, right from Maslow's hierarchy. For the clergy, it's about power. If the religious leaders, who are literate and can translate the will of the gods however they choose, want to make a clear, visible mark of their power over the whole of their followers, clothing is the easiest way. Let's take several examples in Christianity. 

Let's go all the way back to Eden. Clothing is only needed after the Fruit of Knowledge is picked. They become ashamed of their nakedness, which before they had no problem with. Their first lie to God is about clothing. In Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the main speaker (who is a large gorilla, but nevertheless, it's an amazing book.) argues that Genesis came from oral retellings of the original inhabitants of the area around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, those who probably were naked as the warm climates and the abundance of food from the rivers limited the need for clothing. But when the more aggressive people came from the north, from the Caucasian Mountains, they wore clothing to keep themselves warm and as armor against their foes. To the original inhabitants, they would have been ashamed of their nakedness, seeing the garments that their now conquerors had on. They were forced out of Paradise, and they had to live as slaves or as workers. 

Other examples from Christianity. The prophets and followers of God, when found to have disobeyed Him, would rip their clothes asunder and lie prostrate on the ground. Obviously the clothes which Jesus wore before being crucified were of importance, as the Bible tells about the people taking them and parading Jesus about Naked as a sign of humiliation. It is interesting then, how, when Jesus is depicted on the cross, he is usually wearing some form of loincloth or rag to cover genitalia. But that is certainly a detail added by future Christians to either cover up the humiliation he received or to make genitalia a sinful part of the body for future children/followers. For if Jesus had genitalia, then it certainly could not be sinful to have them and to use them as God had intended. But these thoughts would have been unthinkable to Puritans, for instance, or other Christian believers. And I could go into detail about Joshua and his coat, but that would be a total other blog, for another time. 

The Puritans are probably the most obvious of examples when looking at clothing, nudity, and power. Coming from the Protestant groups in mainland Europe, most Christian faiths had strict regulations on style of clothing, dress, hair, jewelry... etc. The Anabaptists and Mennonites in the 1600's had regulations on wearing wigs. It was done, they said, because any article that displayed ego, or pride, was sinful, and all Christians must have humility, modesty, and live without worldliness. 

Even up to the 20th century, different denominations in the US had beliefs as to length that men and/or women should wear their hair, and even friends I have spoken with today have said that wearing tennis shoes into the sanctuary would be looked at most distastefully. I always wore regular shoes to church, as when I was in Milledgeville going to college, I had no car, and had to walk to church. Also, there was just something so uncomfortable about wearing dress shoes. We always sing the song "Come Just As You Are," and I believe that is how God would prefer we come. Dressed plainly, as the people that we are during the week. So if I want to have Tennis shoes on, that is my business. 

But prior belief systems in the Christian church don't operate the way I do. And if you look at from a political and sociological standpoint, it makes sense. The church extended the power that they received from being able to read and interpret the Bible into a cultural and political power. They could require a certain mode of dress or behavior because that's what the Bible said must be done. And anything that can increase humility and loyalty to the church, instead of pride and individualism, that was something the church would have done. 

This can be seen better in other religions, namely Islam, where certain factions believe in covering a woman up from head to toe in fabric. I have never understood this, as the area in which most Muslims live is usually very hot, and wearing all that fabric is bound to make one hot and uncomfortable. I think, in addition, it is a way of practicing conservatism when it comes to clothing and sexual appeal. It also forbids women from having individual styles of clothing, but instead, relegates them to seeing only through narrow eye slits. The men are certainly in control, and no one can see the woman (wife) but them. There is a very interesting (if one sided) conversation of this on which talks about this very subject. 

Clothes, Capitalism, and Power

Back to Specialization. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs shows us the very birth of Capitalism. Those that could provide the very basics of living were the first to require some form of payment from those that couldn't. Food, clothing, shelter. And then other objects, such as pottery to store the food in, and weapons to defend the new town and to hunt with. You get the idea. Now fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, where, instead of one person making clothes, its some factory where many people make tons of clothing with dangerous machines, but the availability of goods is amazing, even affordable (almost) for the poorest of people. Now the ebb and flow of fashion, the need of people to have clothing is dictated by capitalism's need for continual profit. What makes Applebottom jeans popular? Why, the carefully marketing job done by the makers, and the obvious outlining of sexually attractive parts that females use to attract a mate. And at the same time, the conservative, uniform clothing is also valued (perhaps one because of the other) as something easy to make and required of people working or going to school. 

It is the same idea that is usually practiced in the school systems today. Baldwin County (Milledgeville) has just recently required all of their students to have school uniforms. This is to promote equality among the students and reduce the distractions caused by the many styles of clothing made nowadays to promote sexual attractiveness. It is also done to give the Administration more power over the students (and teachers) in their buildings. This is done even to the point, as one of my friends had done to him, to be admonished because the shirt he was wearing was not white, but an off-tan color. It is an exercise of power and control. And it provides endless profit for clothing manufacturers that have a captive audience for their product. 

If you've walked through a mall and seen the fashions hanging out the store windows, you've seen the provocative (and expensive) junk that they want women to wear, as well as the multi-layered, cloth-laden (and expensive) clothes for men, most of which hide any sexual attributes. Some of the clothes produced (high-heel shoes, ultra baggy jeans) have no practical use; rather, it is highly uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy. Yet women wear those shoes proudly, showing off legs in short dresses. As I said in the prior blogs, it's odd how men's clothing is long and hides as much as possible, while girls wear shorts as high as possible. See the clothing that even little girls wear, and it's no wonder they get abducted. It makes little sense to me. When men work as hard as they do on their bodies and developing the muscles that are aesthetically attractive, they hide them under layers of fabric. A layer of control, while at the same time, requiring that women wear as little as possible. With the loss of power by the church, capitalism and masculine-driven sexuality have taken over, with just as ridiculous a set of rules as the church. 


Let's propose, then, a culture where clothing is not needed. Here, in this real world. How would it happen? Because the rules of society, of the Church, of the Dollar, are too strong to overcome. Along with the feelings of modesty, aesthetics, guilt, sexual discomfort, all these things, which are either put upon us by one of the powers listed above, or are derivatives of the way we've thought for generations. The rules have to be blocked or changed. Both happen in today's society. 

There are isolated communities where clothing is not required. Places where like minded inhabitants are able to show off their bodies and feel pride in them, unashamed of how God might view them (as He has seen us naked, so how would we be ashamed??). These are nudist colonies, of course. You might also find historical references to accepted nudity in Utopian societies or communes in the 1960's and the 1860's. Woodstock, of course, was famous for large groups of naked twentysomethings (of course, one way of releasing inhibitions imposed upon us by society is by the use of drugs, but I won't get into that.) Ancient Greece is probably most known for their acceptance of nudity. They lived in isolated peninsulas in a mountainous region where few armies could come by land, and the infertile soil made it so few wanted to. Also, the many islands, such as Crete, also made havens for nude living, especially since the Mediterranean has a warm climate for most of the year. 

The second way of creating nudity as naturally received by society is through changing the rules. This would most easily be done by the technology that Clarke and Baxter talked about in their book. It provides the one item needed to wipe away modesty, humility, and shame. Proof. Empirical proof about everything. The answers to all secrets, all mysteries, from the beginning of time forward. And since anyone could see anything at any time, there is no need to have privacy or modesty. They no longer exist. 

The last way of creating a nudity accepted environment is through the use of the Internet. Of course, this is not actual nudity, But the Internet creates communities of like minded people without actually having to live in the same town. The only small problem with this is, since the Internet and all its taboo subjects are constant hiding places for the hormones in our lives that can go nowhere, nudity and sex are often one and the same. And since they are both natural states, it is understandable that they might be merged together. The social media realms that have popped up (thanks to Myspace and Facebook) are quite a step forward from the outdated chat rooms and MIRC programs of old.  The Internet has certainly made this world a conglomeration of microcosms, each existing outside of normal rules and expectations. It shrinks the world even as it expands our knowledge of it. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Panola Mountain State Park: Return to the Wild

When we are all decimated, and the human population dwindles to far off islands where whatever supervirus has not effected people, nature will be quick to take back over.  The ivy will crawl up the walls, breaking through the doors and siding. The squirrels will make homes in our attics, and sooner or later, the termites will take care of the rest.  I don't see the house I live in now lasting much past 20 years, but it would make little difference, as there would be no one here to live in it (except maybe Will Smith, but he'll have enough to do fighting off the undead.)  Because the Apocalyptic Disaster movie is so popular, it wouldn't be above people's imagination to see mass death come out of some Robin Cook or Stephen King book and kill us all.

The planned and perfect squares of nature that we play on, the parks and golf courses, would grow wild, turning back from the patterned gardens that Wordsworth penned  to the scary wilderness even Thoreau would not venture into.  So it is that the Southerness Golf Course was given to Panola Mountain State Park and used as a trailhead for the Path Foundation's trails running through the area. Most of the course itself was allowed to revert back to natural space, with the concrete paths twisting around the greens becoming trails amongst the wild raspberry bushes, the thorny thistles, and the many maple trees dropping seed pods everywhere.

The west side of the course has been turned into an archery range, with makeshift artificial animals (it looks like a bear, but it's not moving). They really should move, automaton style, like those games at carnivals. You're allowed to walk on the trails that go from one "target" to the next, but the others are fenced off.  And while I'm used to ignoring signs and hopping over fences, I don't want an arrow in my thigh, so I stay on the trails.

photo by Rob Meeks
The east side, around the lake, where those retired from daily chores come to chat and fish, but mostly chat, are trails that wind around a huge tree used for climbing programs.  Teaching kids how to   climb a tree, which would be instinct in yesteryear, now is done with safety equipment and an instructor. I would rather have large oak trees in the park with winding limbs, just calling for kids to climb higher and higher, and if they happen to fall and break an arm... that's just the pains of childhood. But of course, that won't happen in today's litigious society.  The injuring tree would be cut  down and artificial plastic playsets would be put up, as if man could engineer anything as intricate as a tree.  You know, going to Factory Shoals Park in Covington, the thought processes needed to cross the rapids, with slippery rocks and unknown depths, knowing that a wrong move would cause injury, is the same thing as climbing a tree. Would the limb hold? Can you reach it? The strategy is worth every second.

Parks like this also have wooden things constructed around every bend.... bridges crossing creeks, picnic tables and cooking areas in former greens... built as Eagle Scout projects.  The Gazebo at the South Rockdale Community Park is another one.  Hopefully, the ideas the scouts learned in the program will last as long as the projects.  And past the bridges and the picnic tables, a path leads out to field of grass, and off to the side, a house that has long been abandoned. Perhaps it was a property that was donated to the state to make the park.  The house stands with the ivy encroaching and the animals making shelters in the attic rafters.  An example of how nature would take over our environment, as soon as we leave it.  It leaves a strong impression, not an eyesore in some neighborhood, but a symbol of the power of nature, when wood rots and the storms break through and the walls crumble.