Friday, August 10, 2012

Taming the Beast Within: Showdown

Win Blevins.  Stone Song: A Novel About the Life of Crazy Horse.  New York: Forge, 1995.  ISBN: 0812533690.

First, two interesting tidbits from Blevins' story of Crazy Horse.

(1) The supreme powers that rule the universe in Sioux mythology (e.g. the wakinyan) are not necessarily benevolent: they will crush you if you cross them, and they will not be sorry.  In the story, Hawk cares for Crazy Horse as a precious individual, a unique reality worth preserving; the wakinyan do not.  Crazy Horse does everything he can to nurture Hawk, who responds by helping him recognize how to respond appropriately (nobly, righteously, correctly) in difficult circumstances.  The wakinyan, on the other hand, make way for no man: you get on their good side (if you are wise); otherwise, they smash you -- ruthlessly.  When Crazy Horse ignores the warning of Hawk and rushes into battle unadvised, he invariably gets hurt, sometimes very seriously.  You don't love the wakinyan: you strive to avoid them.  You pray that your spirit animal gets to you in time to put you out of their way.

(2) The greatest problems that Crazy Horse faces throughout his life come from people close to him -- fellow tribesmen envious of his success or angered by his difference from them.  He expects (and receives) lies and bad treatment at the hands of white Americans (who come out of this story looking like tools, even though Blevins is careful not vilify them as individuals) -- but the worst things he suffers come from other Sioux (right up to the ultimate betrayal, the deliberate mistranslation of his words to Lieutenant William Philo Clark).  We expect our enemies to attack us and hate us.  We are not surprised when they are hostile or hurtful.  But friends who betray us are the worst: when they turn on us, unexpectedly, it really hurts, and it can severely shake our confidence and ability to form relationships of trust far into the future.  Crazy Horse hates the politics of the reservation for this reason, because it pits him against friends and family, making him complicit in plots and counterplots, attempts to control and manipulate others with a sly word here, a veiled gesture there -- and it ends with him being killed in cold blood, betrayed by his own people.

As a result of the personal experiences I have tried to describe briefly in this series of essays, I woke up one day in a very uncomfortable situation.  I realized that God was hurting me, viciously hurting me, and that I had been letting him get away with this for years out of a misplaced sense of duty and obligation.  Up to this point, I have followed Blevins in referring to my spirit as Hawk, but I want to change Hawk's identity here, for dramatic effect.  Imagine that my spirit animal is a bull, living in a pasture somewhere in northern Spain.  This bull grows up surrounded by other cattle, eating grass, enjoying the sunlight, napping, maybe fighting a bit with other members of the herd, but overall enjoying a rather nice life (maybe even having sex every now and then).  One day, men that the bull has learned to trust come and pack it into a cattle car.  They take it to a holding pen near a circular arena.  Then, unexpectedly, they turn the bull out and goad him into the arena.  He is confused.  He starts trotting around the arena nervously, uncertainly.  Suddenly, little men appear waving red flags at him: he is startled.  He charges the flags, trying to defend himself.  The men duck behind paddocks at the edges of the arena, letting the bull bang his head hard against the reinforced paddock doors before bobbing out to taunt him again.  After a few moments of this unpleasant game, a horse and rider appear, armed with padding to defeat the bull's horns, and they gore the frightened animal in the shoulder, so that his blood pours out and soils the dirt.  As he stumbles around the arena in terror, bleeding, another troop of clowns comes out, armed with sharp pins (banderillas) that they jab into his quivering shoulders over and over -- goading him to attack them and then dancing out of range at the last moment.  Finally, when he is sick with fear and woozy from loss of blood, a little man in a fancy suit comes out to taunt him one last time with a sword and a red cape.  Again and again, the bull charges the cape fruitlessly, struggling to fend off the "friends" who have suddenly turned against him, for reasons he cannot begin to fathom (any more than he knows why they were nice to him earlier, back when they used to bring him treats from the hacienda).

Throughout my apostasy, I have struggled to maintain a mask of dispassionate calm.  I have struggled not to appear as just another stereotypical apostate angry with the LDS church.  But if I am brutally honest (pun intended), I am angry.  I am offended.  You see, I woke up in that arena, wallowing in my own blood.  I saw that my spirit was just a frightened animal, struggling to survive, trying to find a way to exist away from the spears and goads -- away from the men in fancy red capes (mantles of authority, if you will indulge me a bit).  Of course I was angry: I was being murdered by inches, for no good reason that I could see.  I was told that it was to save me from myself, from Hawk, from the depravity of sex.  But when I finally found sex, it wasn't depraved.  When I connected with Hawk, she wasn't dangerous: just hurt and very scared (with good reason: I spent years beating the crap out of her).  I was never a sick soul in need of drastic measures for salvation.  I was just naive and weak, with no idea how to defend myself against the authority of the ruthless higher powers bent on breaking me to their will (which they sold to me as the will of God, waving those cursed red capes).  Maybe I should have just given up.  Maybe I should have deliberately broken myself even more -- committing spiritual suicide in the ring for the benefit of my benevolent tormentors and their precious priesthood.  But that didn't seem right.  It felt wrong, like a betrayal of my spirit.  You see, my spirit was not really weak: it was only vulnerable to priesthood holders because I thought that they were agents of God, an almighty Father knew my best interest better than I did and had entrusted it to his chosen servants (whose church I had covenanted to serve with everything that I might be or own, for my whole life).  I gave these men of God everything -- my trust, my faith, my hope, my dreams, my innocence -- and they smashed it all to bits, with me right there helping them, shouting "Deus vult!" at the top of my lungs.

And where was God, while all these shenanigans were going on?  Where was his inspiration?  Why did I get the same deafening silence from him that seems to be the lot of dying children in places like Syria and Sudan?  If he doesn't approve of all the sadism, masochism, and sado-masochism that goes on his name, then why doesn't he step in and do something about it?  I thought he did.  I thought his answer was to found the LDS church, the same church that took my spirit and tore it into little pieces for years while I watched (as helpless as Prometheus on the mountaintop with the eagle of Zeus).  Oops.  And I am not the only one that the Almighty has screwed over.  The more I look around, the more suffering believers I find: among Mormons, I have heard many stories worse than mine, and many faithful outside Mormonism have suffered worse still (much, much worse) while God sat by and did nothing.  For every story of car keys miraculously found, there at least twenty of people who died suffering in unnecessary agony, for lack of things as easy to come by as keys.  From all this, it seems to me that if God exists in personal form, then he is either a sadist (in which case I am not interested in worshipping him) or an absentee landlord (in which case there is little use looking to him for help).

When I became acutely aware that I had to choose between my spirit (which I think of now as more of a wolf than a hawk) and God, it was clear to me that I had to choose my spirit.  I gave God his chance: he got almost two decades of dedicated service from me, and I remain open if he wants to come around and bury the hatchet.  But I am done waiting on him idly, and I am most emphatically done trusting other people (no matter what mantle they wear) who claim to speak to him for me.  I have my own spirit.  I have my own integrity to look to, my own life to live, my own responsibilities that require my attention -- not yours (or God's, as long as he remains a stranger).  I don't go around dictating to other people based on what my animal spirit tells me, and I don't accept others' revelations as commandments for me.  If I am sick, then I will look to myself: I will not prescribe medicine for you.  All I ask, from everyone, is the same courtesy.  Leave me to tend my spirit, as I leave you to tend yours.  I admit that I am still angry with LDS leaders, but I endeavor not to let that make me blind to their good qualities.  Like the men who killed Crazy Horse, they are not utterly evil.  But that does not make them any less dangerous (or me any less angry, come to think on it).

Three hard lessons I took from the arena: (1) people who speak for God have the capacity to be really dangerous; (2) God doesn't seem to care very much about the danger: if you really want to save your soul, you might consider looking inward before you reach out; the remedy others give you is sometimes worse than the disease you already have; and (3) you make your own luck -- if you want God (or his mantled minions) to stop hurting you, you have to step out and throw down.  Put up or shut up.  Fight or flight.  I prefer flight as a general rule, but in my case there was nowhere to run.  So, like Jacob, I wrestled with the angel of God all night (what a long, dark night it was!), and woke up in the morning to an unexpected result: I beat him -- with the help of Hawk, or Wolf, or Bull, or whatever you want to call that animal spirit of mine.

When Crazy Horse and his animal spirit are reconciled to one another perfectly, what happens?  Little Big Horn.  Ironically, the LDS church really had nothing to fear from me (I loved church!) until they went and attacked my soul (with doctrines about sex and confession that didn't work as advertised for me).  What God already had through gentle persuasion (I liked scripture and religion -- still do, in fact), he lost through untimely violence (I don't like being cornered and beaten up -- absolute obedience to an omnipotent bully is not my idea of heaven).

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