Wednesday, 20 May 2015
When Staff Seargeant Stewarts walked in for his mid-shift coffee 20 minuted later, he found the group holding their sides as Sarah recounted stories from her latest tour.
'...And then, wait wait wait, it gets better,' she was saying as he picked up his coffee from Mary with a nod. 'So after all of that, the flat tire and the broken timing belt and the ticket and everything, we still had to get to the gig cos I still had to get on stage and make people laugh and you know, get paid. So we limp into the parking lot of the theatre and there's a team of security guards around the place cos the show is sold-out, booked solid. And I'm thinking, I cant find my I.D. badge.' Groans. '”They're not going to let me in, I'm going to be shut out of my own show. This is the end”. Come on in Mike, good to see you.'
'Good to see you too Sarah, please go on,' Stewarts said, taking a seat at the table. 'I'm already hooked, keep going.'
'So all of this is running through my head and I'm starting to panic. But luckily, the head of security was a big fan, he told me afterwards that he had pulled some serious string to work my gig, so when I showed up at the stagedoor, he recognised me straight away and whisked me inside. I was that close, the audience was already sitting down when I arrived at the door. The theatre head was having kittens but they stuck a bottle of water in my hand and shoved me out on stage just in time. And that's when I realised that my shirt was torn, my clothes were covered in grease and mud and my hair was an absolute mess. The audience was clapping their welcome and this was it, fly or die.' She paused dramatically and the Seareant's eyes darted around, noting the rapt attention of the little group. 'So I turned to the audience and I said, “Winnipeg, I heard your mosquitoes were bad, boy was that an understatement. Just look at what they did to me on the way here!” They laughed, and I flew!' The group laughed heartily on cue and Sarah beamed. Mike smiled to himself and sat back with his coffee.
Mary did another tour with her coffee jug and smiled to hear the group head down yet another conversational road.
“No, I mean it's inherently doomed to fail. The moral or edcational status of it's followers has little to do with it over more than the immediate short term.”
“What?” Barkus was clearly baffled, but lifted his coffee mug for Mary to refill.
“Okay,” Sarah adjusted her seat, flipped hair out of her eyes and spread her hands as Mary went around the table. “I propose that the true underlying principle of organised religion is that of elitism and superiority. You have a system of salvation that hinges you belonging to a certain group ideology, right? The door is firmly shut against everyone else. Everyone who by reason of having the wrong language, educational background, childhood indoctrination, even the wrong time and place of birth. All of those billlions of people, the door is locked solidly against them. Once you have a system so elitist and that panders to the human ego so thoroughly and contains as part of its framework the justification to act inhumanly towards other human beings, because after all, they're sinners beyound redemption anyway, well, any kind of atrocity becomes easy because they're not really people. They dont really count. And this is for damn-near every organised religion going by the way, picking which one to concentrate on is just splitting hairs.”
“So what are you saying?” Barkus asked, puzzled.
“Oh, just that its not faith that's causing the pain. Faith is a beautiful part of the human condition. Humans need faith to get up in the morning, if only faith that today will be better than yesterday. Where people go wrong is in thinking that faith and religion are comparable.”
“Okay, I didnt know I held that asumption,” Barkus laughed, looking at the rest of the around the table. In doing so, he caught sight of a man staring, no glaring, over at them. He was eating breakfast in betwen snorting like a bull. Gus, who was facing that way, winked and made a conciliatory gesture. Sol was frowning at the ceiling, Lynn had stars in her eyes and the law enforcement representatives were siting with their mouths open, coffee forgotten.
Sarah smiled, “Most people don't realise it,” she said. “Until it's pointed out and that I fear, says several things all at once and none of them good. But I digress.” In the breath she took to collect her thoughts, Barkus shot a glance towards the angry man's table, now wiping his mouth and musing over his coffee, apparently paying them no attention at all.
“For the sake of this conversation, let's say faith and belief are free emotions, they arise in the human heart without any control from the brain. They either happen or they don't. Religion is a different thing. Religion happens when a group of people sit down and decide on a set of behavioural norms and group ideologies around an item of faith. They then make it look like the same thing. If you follow the rules you'll receive faith and if you have faith you must obey the rules. It's a parlour trick, one that has worked for a very long time, but still a parlour trick.”
“You're calling the Church a parlour trick?”
“I'd go so far as to say a con-job in fact,” Sarah seemed unruffled by George's incredulous expresion. “Especially for you and your heritage George, if you don't mind me saying. Groups of elites dictating from their ivory towers how the masses should behave in every situation in thier lives and they get paid for it. It's a great gig if you can get it, you have to admit.” Barkus's eyes darted back to the angry man's table, but he was scribbling furiously in a notebook.
“But you hold that faith is seperate,” Gus questionned.
“Completely, absolutely seperate,” Sara nodded. “I would even go so far as to say that faith may be our saving grace, if only we could get religion the hell out of the way.”
“But how can faith be our saving grace if you deny the role of religion to harness it?” Sol asked. Sarah spread her hands.
'Why does faith need to be harnessed? Why does it need to be a tool for division? Or suppression? Instead of unity and the aknowledgement of what makes us actually unique in the Animal Kingdom?”
The angry man paused in his scribbling, then shook his head and restarted at an even more furious pace. Now Barkus had joined in the open mouth chorus, though he couldnt help noticing a curiously elated expression on Gus's face and a darkly amused one on Sol's. Lynn's smile was huge.
“I'm sorry, but huh?” Mike said. “You're starting to sound vey hippy-ish to me now Sarah and I know that's not you. So how about getting down to the nuts and bolts of it and explain what you're actuallly trying to say in a way that this poor ol' back-water police officer can understand.” Sara put down her coffee and looked him with her head on one side for a moment.
“Allright then, but I'm going to have to pick on you a little bit to do it first.” Mike shrugged and had some coffee. “I guess we all, with the exception of Barkus, know that you're a Church-going man Seargeant, is that correct?”
“That I am, or that you know I am?” Chuckles. “Alright I'll play properly. Yes, I am a Church-going man.”
“My question is, if you had to describe the reason, the real reason why you choose to attend Church as a fully autonomous adult male, what would you describe?” To his credit, Barkus thought, the Seargeant sat back and thought about this properly, instead of going for the flippant reply.
“Now, this doesnt happen everytime,” he stated at last. “But sometimes, I get this feeling of, connection I guess, of peace that made of stillness, of a silence made of noise and it's like,” he paused slightly embarresed but, emboldened by Sara's smiling nod, he tried again. “Do you know when, you've spent every ounce of energy you got running, or playing sports or.” He grinned. “Any other physical activity that adults may care to name.” Laughter. “And just after that, when you're getting your breath back, and your muscles are screaming at you but you dont care because your mind is completely clear and it feels like the edges of yourself go on forever and you're filled with, the feeling of fantastic.” He joined the laughter. “Pure fantastic-ness is filling every cell in your body and your mind is clear and free.” He paused. “Make that a PG image and that's the reason why I go to Church.”
“And that's faith,” Sara said excitedly. “That feeling of connection and benevolence and being re-charged from exhaustion, that's faith. All of the constraints and rigidness surrounding that feeling, that's religion. And the sad part is, religion started as a way of protecting that feeling and giving the faithful a reliable place to find that feeling and instead became the valve that choked it off by supplanting the search for that true moment of bliss with the search for sin i.e. breaking the rules.”
“You saying we dont need rules missy?” George asked in mock-severity.
“I'm saying we dont need the burden of sin, we dont need the fear-mongering and sure as hell dont need the shame.”
“I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that you were raised Catholic,” Barkus observed. Sarah nodded as she took a sip of coffee.
“I tell people I'm RC, was Roman Catholic, now Recovering.” The men guffawed at this while Lynn winked at Sarah and squeezed her hand.
“How's the burden of shame doing?” Sarah looked sideways at Lynn mischeivously.
“Getting lighter every day.” Lynn punched her on the shoulder as the table burst into laughter again.
“Alright then,” Barkus said later. “What else would you describe under the heading of faith?” Sarah looked at him quizzically. They were alone at the table, George had checked the time and hurried off home, the Sherrif had begun his rounds, and Sol and Gus had their own errands to run. Lynn had “gone ahead home” and Barkus was on watch duty to “make sure she gives me a half-hour headstart.” He hadn't asked, just agreed to do as he was told in exchange for a future muffin. The Cafe had a few occupied tables but it wasnt as busy. Angry man was still there, on the third page of his notebook, still writing though at a much slower pace.
“You're gonna have to catch me up there Barkus,” she replied as she got up to refill her mug from the jug on the counter.
“You said, “for the purposes of this conversation, lets say that faith and belief are emotions”. Oh thank you,” he added and held out his coffee cup in answer to her profferment. “What would you call them for the purposes of another conversation?”
“Like this one for example?” Barkus shrugged. She doctored her coffee and sat staring into space for a moment. “Okay,” she said at last. “Since this is a one-on-one, I'd like to try something if you dont mind.”
“Do I have to stand up?”
“Nope, stay right you are, exactly as you are. There's an exercise called the 'Conscious Breath'.”
“Exercise? I thought I didnt have to get up,” Barkus joked nervously, though he had no idea why. Sarah's face held an amused expression.
“Don't worry,” she told him. “You wont be doing anything embaressing, though you might find it easier to close your eyes the frst few times.”
“Oh, okay.” Barkus scanned the room, no-one was looking their way, though he got the feeling that the angry man was trying to watch them out of the corner of his eye. Annoyance flashed, what was that fat idiot doing?
“Never mind him,” Sara said in a low voice and Barkus looked back at her. “Dude in the too-small ballcap? You'll get angry people everywhere, you can't let them into your head.” Barkus glanced towards the other table again and Sara laughed. “Come on, I'll teach you something that's pretty damn handy when dealing with those kinds of people.”
“Is funny music required?”
“Nope.” Barkus sighed and put down his cup, straightened up in the chair and folded his hands in his lap.
“Okay then, lead me through it.”
“So fatalistic!” Sarah laughed again. “But okay. What I want to you to do is breath in through your nose, but when you do, you must follow the path of the air as it goes into your nostrils, down the back of your throat and into your lungs.” Barkus opened an eye and looked at her quizzically. “I know what it sounds like, just trust me. And when you exhale, follow the air back out from your lungs, up your throat and out.”
“And what does this do?” Barkus asked as he tried to follow the insructions without feeling like a bit of a fool.
“It puts you solidly in the moment, where no fears or worries can touch you.” Barkus looked at her sternly. “No seriously! Think about it, all your stress and worries and fears and doubts and regrets are in one of two places: the future or the past, yes?”
“So when you are able to concentrate on the feeling of the breath you are taking right now, you are placing yourself completely in the present and none of the other stuff matters. It can't touch you.”
“Is that I'm trying to do?” Barkus laughed and Sara grinned.
“Okay so I'm not the greatest teacher. But that's the general idea, yes. When you concentrate solely on how it feels when you breath, you calm your mind and allow yourself time to think.”
“Oh, is that all?”
“Actually no,” Sara deadpanned. “The extra rush of oxygen increases the amount of oxygen in your brain which allows you to make better decisions. The break from the ego, the part of us that is the eternal shit-stirrer, lowers your stress levels when practised on a regular basis and helps lower the related doctor's bills. And,” she paused, looking at him with her head on one side again.
“And?' Barkus prompted.
“It makes you realise certain things about yourself,” she said slowly. “It makes you see things clearly, forces you to re-visit assumptions and beliefs.” She laughed suddenly. “It also helps you drop some baggage, some big-time baggage. Baggage that you didnt even know you had.” Barkus stared at her.
“Okay,” he said at last. “Lead me through this again.”
Barkus jumped and his eyes snapped open as a fist slammed onto the table. The angry man was looming over them, lit with righteous indignation and glowering fiercely at Sarah. Who in return merely took a long, slow breath and sipped her coffee. Barkus realised what she was doing as she gestured to an empty chair.
“Please sit,' she invited. “Since you are so obviously eager to join the conversation you might as well.”
“I'll not sit with the likes of you,” the man growled. Barkus shifted in his chair, watching the man's fists. He was dimly aware that while there was still a buzz of conversation in the cafe, everyone was keeping an eye on the goings-on. “You heretic! You witch! You burner of souls!”
“Well not today,” Sarah admitted. “I left my matching kebab skewers in the last hotel fireplace. They're the very devil to replace, you know.” Barkus choked back the laughter, there was no telling what would happen. Though the fanatic didnt appear to notice as he drew himself up with dark relish and pointed to his vacated table.
“I was sitting over there and I heard what you said, you Satan's whore! How dare you attempt to turn people from God!”
“Clearly you didn't actually,” Sara replied calmly.
“Yes I did! I heard every filthy lie you said!”
“I try not to lie, its habit-forming.” There was, Barkus noticed, actually foam on the mans lips.
“You said that the faithful are fools and are being conned!”
“So your Church is your God?” came the quiet but razer-sharp question.
“You have no understanding...” But Sarah cut off the attempted recovery using a level tone that cut through every voice in the place..
“No, you have none. You had neither properly heard nor understood the conversation you so rudely and blatantly eavsdropped. I would never try to take someone's faith from them.”
“Liar! You said...”
“Religion and faith are not the same thing.” The mugs rattled to Sarah's emphatic denial. The stranger's brows climbed down his nose and her empty hands rose as if cupping two spheres. “Look at the Sun and the Moon. One,” her right hand rose. “Gives warmth and light and supports and encourages life freely as part of its physical construct. The other,” her left hand rose. “Is a pale reflection, serving a purpose, yes, but in no way, shape or form capable of supplanting the first.” Right hand rose. “The Sun is faith.” Left hand. “The Moon is religion.” Right, left, right, left. “Not the same thing.” Her hands dropped. “Which of course leaves you in quite a pickle, doesnt it?” The stranger blinked at the apparent change in direction.
“What do you mean?” he demanded gruffly.
“Things should be known by their true names, don't you agree?” she said suddenly.
“To make sure that things are kept straight, for a little less confusion about important things that trip up a poor soul, don't you agree?”
“Agree with what?”
“That things should be known by their true names. Don't you agree?”
“I, I guess.”
“Oh, good. Let me start then.” The stranger goggled as Sarah rose unstoppably from her chair to her full height. 'Ye shall be known to all by thy true name,' she boomed, fury in her eyes. Her arm swung up to point directly at the man. 'I name thee, Idolater'. The man's eyes went wide and he plunked down on a chair, pale-faced. 'You see, I have no fear of the afterlife,' she growled, looming over him. 'Either I'll have to apologize to God's face for not believing in Him/Her, or I don't. It's not up to me either way, so I just get on with it and do what I can to make life a little easier to bear for other people. But you...' The fanatic cringed back as she planted her knuckles on the table and leaned right in until they were nose to nose. Barkus leaned back as the ferocity in Sara's glare threatened to set the air on fire. 'You will die and stand before your God in all his awe-full glory and explain why each and every day you shattered the 1st Commandment. Yes, that is what you have been doing. You've turned from the beauty and wonder of an incredible world that you profess to believe was made by His Will and His Word, down to the very last crumb and you've instead hidden your face in a book written by pens held in fleshy hands. You sir, are an Idolater of the highest degree. With every breath, with every beat of your poor, confused little heart, you have placed a human book of words above your One True God.' She stared into the sweating man's eyes, then said with relish. 'You, are going to burn.'
She drew herself back up to her full height, pulled a note out of her pocket and laid it on the table, nodded at Barkus and left without a single backward glance. The religious fanatic goggled at her, then at Barkus, before scuttling back to his own table, and then out the door, taking care to go in the opposite direction of Sarah. Conversation started up again but with shocked laughter riding through the undercurrent. Mary walked over with the jug of coffee.
“I'm I glad I didnt miss that,” she said in slightly awed tones. “I hope she can take that on stage, that'd be a show to see.”