Comparing Art, Service, Church

A comparison of voluntary agencies:

The Theatre , An Association for the Intellectually Disabled, The Church

This is a list of a variety of topics showing how three formative places at which I volunteered as a teenager helped influence my personal development: 1. theatre, 2. a group of volunteers assisting the intellectually disabled, and 3. the church.

Family:

High school/Community Theatre is a temporary family of strangers who become friends united in telling a story full of emotions and moral lessons.

Within the intellectually disabled group, one becomes a parental figure to help guide ‘clients’ as they were called in my youth, participate in activities, a formal but rewarding relationship and experience.

The church is an extension of the family except that one has to apply the ‘Sunday Best’ outfit to go there.

Fantasy:

The world of theatre is a place where fantasies are magically brought to life through illusion.

Working with so called ‘retarded children’ in the early 1970s meant relating to innocent and naive people who often exist within their own fantasies.

The Presbyterian Church requires members to believe in an abstract non-sequitur: a monotheistic trinity.

Requirements:

Theatre insists on collaboration.

Children require love.

Church demands faith and money.

Facade:

Theatre makes artificial facades that are built as needed with theatrical makeup, lumber, canvas, acting, gingham and tweed. All of that: acting, scenery, lighting and costuming is applied to tell a unified story. Facade has a purpose here that is independent of the individual ego, it is a device used in storytelling.

The intellectually disabled have no facade, no mask to confront the world through artifice, so a volunteer’s task is to guide the clients toward behaviors that protect them in the world.

Maintaining one’s own facade is something to do at the church. Facade has an ego based foundation here: the presentation of self in conformation with the Presbyterian breed.

Humanity

Theatre is about sharing excellence. There are conventional means of telling stories in theatre, but those conventions are meant to be stretched and reformed as needed.

Unconditional love is what the intellectually disabled are all about. Each person you encounter provides a window into unsullied humanity.

Church is about a person’s relationship with a triune deity: a man, a ghost and a god (in math that would be expressed as 3 = 1). Their relationship is narrowly defined by doctrine and spelled out in rules. Your ‘personal’ relationship with the trinity has already been codified.

Vulnerability

An artist’s job is to bare their soul. Each production and performance is a new opportunity to fail as well as succeed. Theatre people are always vulnerable to published critics or anyone who buys a ticket.

We observe almost pure vulnerability with the mentally challenged, therefore, we can allow ourselves to become vulnerable too. The level of intellectual discourse is low but the level of emotional discourse can be profound. A volunteer’s  defenses can be comfortably lowered to connect at that primal level.

A teenage Presbyterian was once asked to read a passage from the Bible during a regular Sunday service.  He looked at the congregation, began to read, then he instantly froze solid, his rigid body tipped over the railing of the lectern with a thud, like a statue knocked from its plinth, then his body relaxed and he rolled down the steps to the altar. He had found himself, at that initial moment, face to face with a congregation of well managed facades. “I can’t bare to be judged by that!” he thought, so he left the room and his body for a few minutes. He was fine, physically, but he never should have been put in that emotional position; his young father had died of a heart attack in that very church several months before.

This guy was completely guileless; he had no clue about facade management. He was willing to speak (be vulnerable) in memory of his father, but he wasn’t interested in artifice at all. He simply couldn’t manage his own protective shield, so, when faced with the wall of judgement inherent in public speaking he collapsed. The meek may inherit the earth, but perhaps, the meek shouldn’t present their vulnerable, honest selves to the Presbyterians.

Inclusion:

Theatre is always broke, couldn’t care less about what you do and who you screw as long as you make the opening curtain. Don’t mess up their story-telling and you are just fine by them.

The agency for the intellectually disabled has basic legal strictures. Nothing beyond human kindness is necessary and it does not cost you anything. A scandal or misbehavior would be the only reasons to exclude someone.

Of the three, church is the most divisive. You either accept the dogma or you don’t. Promises and money are required. You will be excluded if you do not comply. If you are gay you are not welcome. If you are gay you are hated.

Love:

The Theatre is accepting of all permutations of love. Love is Love

The intellectually disabled offer their love unconditionally. Love is Love

Religion places conditions and restrictions on love and the expression of love, this is called:“Christian Love.” The hymn: ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love’ sounds altruistic but it refers to the exclusive version of love, not the normal connotations of Love. Christian love is the exclusive restricted Country Club version.

Bigotry will be their salvation

One of the best experiences of living on the Island of St. Croix is the Writer’s Circle I belong to. It is made up of a variety of people from all walks of life. The other day I showed them my most recent blog, the one about Harry Potter. HO HOs Role in Polytheistic Monotheism We always critique one another’s work with an eye toward positive reinforcement. One person pointed out that much of what I said would be offensive to the religious community. I agreed with that assessment. She wondered why I would do that since she liked the beginning and the ending bits a lot. I explained the nature of Freethoughtblogs.com and said the comments would fit in with the tenor of the other bloggers and readers. I suspect she really wanted to know why I was being intentionally offensive because I don’t come across as being an offensive person and would be likely to point out a similar offense in others. She has a valid point.

I often wonder why those of us who have been stung by organized religion have the emotional reactions we do. Conversely, why does our secular society cow-tow to these harmful, secretive, exclusive, tax-exempt clubs? There is sense of privilege religions take. Religious privilege is a demand of the pious. They demand special treatment because, well, not for any contemporary reason, they have always had it. Many do good and charitable works alongside their political actions and deceptive sales pitch. It’s honored because its always been that way. I would love to know why we continue to do so? They are tax-exempt, exclusionary, bigoted, private clubs. They have the least-rational premise of any organizations, for example: heaven, hell, angels, getting your own personal planet when you die. Then there is praying dead people from some other religion into their version of heaven and having the relatives get really mad about it. The covered heads and gender specific clothing, food, saying prayers instead of taking action, and a whole slew of myths about birth, rebirth, and death. Folks, these are the ancient equivalents of wands and quidditch matches (it’s a Harry Potter thing), robes and flying brooms – the exemplars of an attempt to commune with the Dreamworld. The difference being that art knows it’s an artifice, religion pretends it isn’t. J.K. Rowling intends to entertain, edify and exalt humanity with her novels; take them or leave them, just don’t demand that government codify the rules of quidditch.

Now, I remember the friends of my grandparents being quite upset at the possibility of Jews being allowed to join their Country Club back in the 1960s. I remember the efficient, immaculate, and at times invisible all-black serving staff at the Club with their white gloves, and polite subservience. And I remember feeling so unwelcome by the other kids at the swimming pool when my Grandmother would take us there. She thought she was honoring us with this privilege, when all we were, was embarrassed. The elitism of that Club carried throughout the community – the most privileged of the white upper class.The way it had been for a very long time. Society and that Club have changed along with the times. Anyone willing to pay can join today and a person of any skin-color or religion may serve or be served dinner.

Religions enjoy privilege in this culture, however, they are more resistant than the Country Club to the progress of time. We see it most blatantly in the “religious liberty” legislation they are attempting to pass. They want to make secular laws allowing for the religious version of an all black wait staff. They wish to keep today’s version of “Jews” (or the Irish, or the Catholics, etc.) – the LGBTQ community, from being in their club. They feel put-upon and abused because their own antiquated bias humiliates them. Toto has pulled back the curtain on their fraudulent misbehavior a long time ago – cover-ups and perpetuation of child rape for example, but they have hired lawyers; so, in the style of Donald Trump, their deceit is obvious and met with a “so what” attitude. Regardless of whether their behaviors are right or wrong the holy wizards want to win, morality be damned. When lawyers take church doctrine and transform it into legalese, then the jump across the wall separating church from state is easier to make. The most effective organization opposing LGBTQ rights in this country is the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a collection of faith-based lawyers sponsored by the most militant evangelicals. They are legally sophisticated and determined to win in the courts and work at it with little public scrutiny.

The privilege of religion is sinking toward a negative number, just like Trump. The shear inertia of that ancient privilege has kept them going this far. Irrelevance, scandal and other atrocities provide the friction that slows the momentum. They are grasping at roots from long dead trees as they fall over the cliff attempting, in desperation, to invent legal codes that merge their falling religions with the secular laws of the land. They must legalize their “ability to exclude” to survive. Bigotry will be their salvation.

So, getting back to the original question, why offend the religious? Quite frankly, I felt deceived and betrayed when they did not live up to their promises in my youth. I have outgrown the hatred and vitriol that I carried for the church for so many years. The absurdity of organized religion and its misbehavior is now a recognized matter of fact. Using humor to point out the oddities of an absurdity seems nicer than forcing it into an academic debate. I mean, Jesus, HO HOs are funny! The first third of my last post mostly pokes fun at myself. The middle third shows how absurdly out-of-date Christianity is. The last third finds moral value in an easily accessible format, suitable for the age in which we live – the morality parables of the Harry Potter Series. ART!

Ho Ho’s Role in Polytheistic Monotheism

Today while I was out doing battle with the string trimmer a brilliant thought occur to me. I was mauling the grass into submission due to the recent volume of rain here in the rain forest, I conceived of something I deemed to be of monumental importance. Previous to that, I had been lamenting the lack of HO HOs on the island of St. Croix. There I was, swinging the string trimmer back and forth – burrrrrump one direction and burrrrrrrump the other, when I caught sight of a glorious truth over by the banana trees. Inspiration struck fully formed then, as usual, it was gone. I suspected it had something to do with the 3rd or 4th centuries. But, why would I even think about stuff from way back then, and why now, I mean 2017? I had become dehydrated of course, this is a tropical island and I am retired so I required a fan and a bottle of water to restore my salinity, sanity, and dissipate my entropy. Then back to the chore at hand.

I did remember the HO HOs lament, so I had something to help reconstruct my train of thought. Wait a minute, “HOs” “polytheism” of course that’s what it’s about; how polytheism influenced Christianity, which presumably related to the TV show Mad Men, burrrrrrrump. You know, that TV show about, burrrrrrrump, the advertising business in the 1960s. Wait, this makes no sense! I doubt the women back then (third century-ish, maybe fourth), burrrrrrrump wore those pointy bras or heels, or even worked in ad agencies, burrrrrrrump, but it’s quite likely there were three (or more) wise-women hanging-out with their camels looking for a bright star in the East, burrrrrrrump, and a slew of female sheep herders hanging around the stalls awaiting the phenomena of a, burrrrrrrump, virgin birth. After all, it had happened before. A new thought occurred that brought a conclusion to this whole lawn trimming thing: If he is a shepherd wouldn’t she be a hepherd? I’m just asking. Time for another bottle of water and a nap.

 

Lets reconnoiter, Jesus is to HO HOs as polytheism is to the third century. That should make things clear. It may never be an analogy on the MCAT but it works for me. Let me explain in my own words: (That is what I have been doing so far and look where it’s gotten us!)

The original marketing plan in the early days of Christianity was great, remember: “Jesus actually exists, He’s not myth (like those other gods), he’s real”. This was the perfect marketing angle for its time. It was fresh, new, and exciting. It worked like gangbusters too, but after a century it started to lose its bang, the pizazz was gone. This is where the Mad Men ad agency would come in handy. What if Christians had those guys working for them way back then? How would a 1960’s ad firm sell that particular box-o-soap?

Well, assessing the situation, it looks like monotheistic Jews and a variety of polytheistic religions were the main competition. Christians would need to choose an ad campaign to counteract those problems. So, this is where the HO HO’s come in – “Three flavorful treats in one package!” TA-Da! Welcome to the age of the Trinity.  Reformatting that monotheistic God into three parts is shear genius. It’s monotheistic polytheism for the masses.

God the father could be the superhero, an all-powerful father figure with muscles like superman and a beard like well, Rembrandt’s version was just fine. His “real-life” blood soaked action-figure son, Jesus as second in command all Rambo-like with a sword in one hand and a massive wooden cross in the other sitting on God’s right hand. That leaves the
holy ghost – well we’ll just assume that back then they knew what a ghost actually does, or even looks like, cause I can’t imagine the purpose of having a ghost except to scare people. Maybe that’s what they mean by god-fearing Christians – they’re afraid of ghosts. Well, the new pitch includes, a progenitor fertility myth, a salvation/action hero, and a scary guy in a sheet. Put that in a HO HO wrapper and you can sell it in any gas station across the country.

So, what exactly would you be eating anyway? I mean you’ve got two men and a genderless spirit that are all supposed to be the same thing. What do you see when you open that package? Short stubby black tubes filled with a white creamy substance that squirts out its sugary goodness when you bite into it. You could try sucking on it but that usually makes a gooey mess. The point is, each snack is identical to all the other HO HOs.

Open up a package of Trinity and what do you see? Well, an old fuzzy-faced guy with big muscles holding a younger guy who’s got his hands full of big heavy chunks of timber and a sword. And then that ghost is hard to visualize. Is he like Casper? All friendly and such? I Googled it and found lots of bird pictures, some were on fire, some were dripping blood, one was a fish, and one included a bar tender pouring “holy spirits” into a shot glass, so who knows.

Back in the day, this Trinity thing was a great solution to competition from polytheism. Nowadays, the religious folks need help from the Mad Men again. They need to take the one armed Trinity (face it: God better be left handed because Jesus has both of his arms full and is sitting on God’s right hand. The ghost is a fire-y, bleeding, fishy, bird liquor). Any kid’ll tell you that ain’t a great image.

What if they devise a reformulated trinity of just three school friends? Two guys and a girl who spend part of their lives living as everyday normal kids and part of it living in the Dreamworld. Many events occur while in the Dreamworld that are parables of real life existence. What if it became very popular to read the stories and watch cinematic versions of the parables. I have been saying for some time now that art serves as a better conduit to the Dreamworld than ancient religions, frozen in time. Harry Potter with its trinity of protagonists rearranges the Dreamworld of theological entities with a consistent, valid, moral formula for existence in this world.

Harry Potter novels teach the importance of love and loyalty. It says: if you need help ask for it. It hates bureaucracies, but sees them as part of life that works as well as the people operating them. It speaks to every individual’s validity in the world and that all people have value. It speaks to the authenticity of an individual’s own thoughts and the “reality” of those thoughts. The school diagnoses and sorts into houses individuals according to personality traits that are sometimes unknown to the individual themselves. Each house has its own defining motto such as: “Do what is right” for the brave-hearted and those willing to stand up for others; “Do what is wise” for the deliberative thinkers; “Do what is nice” for the hard working and fair; and “Do what is necessary” for the prideful, cunning, ambitious. These assigned “families” help reinforce the students where they already have strength and potential.

Evil seems more prevalent in the ‘do what is necessary’ house while the others have a moral sense built into their philosophy. ‘Necessary’ overrides questions of right or wrong.  But, those who consider ‘doing the right thing’ to be necessary can also be part of that group. Just as in the final battle when good people used the techniques of evil to protect and defend themselves.

Some moral lessons of the series include:

1. Love ultimately wins. (all kinds: family, friends, society, as well as romantic)

2. Evil requires desire: “You’ve got to really want it” in order for evil ‘magic’ to work.

3. Bureaucratic structures don’t work well, but aren’t inherently good or bad. Treat them with caution. Don’t automatically trust the system, including its rules. Think for your self.

4. Strategic vulnerability can be a defense or used offensively too: face your fears.

5. Treat all people with the same respect irrespective of their status in society.

6. There is light and darkness in everyone.

7. Anything is possible.

8. There is often a cost to doing the right thing.

9. Loyalty is earned.

10.Morality requires no church or religion or ritual.

11.Expect trustworthiness in others until it is proven otherwise.

My point is that even though HO HOs would melt instantly on this island they still have relevance here. Drink plenty of fluids when cutting grass. The Dreamworld exists everywhere, and can be accessed through many portals. You should read, or re-read the Harry Potter Books. It won’t solve your problems but it puts you in the Dreamworld where you too might spy a glorious truth by the banana trees.

Illud Tempus Dreamworld

 

This post is going to be a little happier than the last few have been. We’re going to find the Dreamworld. This portly dazed and red-nosed game character from Operation will assist us in this endeavor. Let’s call him ‘Duh’ it seems appropriate, I haven’t played the game since childhood and don’t know his name. The parts of the body have changed a little too, we can ignore the arrows and whatever beer mugs and stuff cause we’re looking for something more esoteric.

I’ve used this other image in the past to illustrate the Dreamworld. It, is my own composition which  has no inherent meaning other than my attempt to express my impression of the Dreamworld. It is a rectangle simply because that happens to be a default size I use on Photoshop. It could be any size or shape as far as that is concerned.It has some recognizable elements such as the blue grid and the interior frame within the un-framed illustration. Shapes may not make sense or seem to have a real purpose. When I made it I may have used 18 layers or so. I would rather discuss the qualities of the elements within the illustration rather than creative technique. By ‘qualities’ I don’t mean anyone’s opinion about whether things are good or bad, more the component’s reason for being a part of the composition, their position within the border, color, texture, relationship, balance, etc. This wasn’t just random stuff thrown together, it has purpose and intent and a reason to be what and where it is. Sometimes, the explanation may be simply that it looked good. At other times there is a real important purpose. Did you notice every shape has a texture? Some shapes are used only once while others are repeated often. Colors are bizarre but fit together comfortably. The grid fills up a third of the page but is also barely noticeable. Does the interior frame actually ‘frame’ anything in particular? Why so? Why is it there, instead of the edge where a frame could, as usual, contain the total illustration? Could the frame have been a little bit smaller than it is? What is its message? A philosopher could spend a whole day finding meanings for just the frame alone if he had nothing else to do. And was really bored.

I would call it a better piece of art than Duh, but the purpose is different, and I made it;) Duh is meant to be whimsical and funny, but not very serious piece of graphic illustration; it is well crafted for that purpose. Dreamworld has richness and depth and sophistication. It has humor and sadness and seriousness and plenty of wry whimsy. Duh makes the viewer ask: “Why is there a hammer in his leg?” and other obvious game-like stuff while Dreamworld poses more esoteric questions. The meaning/purpose of Duh is readily obvious. The Dreamworld illustration is never clear, nor are the questions it brings up answered. You, as the observer of each piece, gets to choose what kind of time and thought you give to each observation. I’m going to ask you to give some thought to Dreamworld because I have the expectation that it will illustrate its name. At the same time we will look at our ‘everyman’–  Duh, to discover where inside each person the Dreamworld exists.

In the process of creating Dreamworld I had the goal: “to express my impression of the Dreamworld.” I made thousands of choices and used hours of intense concentration to make the picture. I also drove to work, taught classes, advised students, designed, rehearsed, and opened plays, shoveled alpaca poo, put feed out for the chickens, fish and hay for the alpacas, mowed the grass, read books and watched TV. All of those things contributed to the end result. See the correlation?

“to express my impression of the Dreamworld” means I had an idea of the Dreamworld which came originally from an article I read in the early 1980s, Illud Tempus, a latin phrase meaning roughly ‘now and always.’ It suggests an atemporal dream or dreamlike state where past, present, and future coincide. In this Illud Tempus, boundaries, time, and consciousness are freed from normal constraints and possibilities abound. It is a place, of sorts, where god lives. It is also where our fears, worries, and concerns live too. It frequently reveals itself to those who have made the effort to understand it. All people experience the dream world in their own personal way, and find it with their own solitary journey. It plays a part in every person’s daily choices and it is influenced by the experiences of life: a book, a movie, a religious experience, tripping on the sidewalk, or any other life experience.

So, a person who spends time attempting to understand the Dreamworld has many paths open to them. Some are well-worn highways where perceptions of its many ephemeral components are codified and taught to others of a particular group or religion. There are often shaman, learned individuals of a particular religion, who teach and guide folks through its labyrinth path to the dreamworld.

But what about Duh? The dreamworld exists for him and is part of him. If we wanted to give Duh another hidy-hole like the beer mug and the hammer where would we place it on Duh’s body? Without a shape or depth or time or particular sound it will be hard to figure out the appropriate placement. Is there any form of logic that could answer this question? I mean the heart seems logical, but the brain does too. The stomach and other organs that produce chemicals and proteans necessary for life are needed as are the sensory parts of your feet and legs to keep you standing upright. The whole body is where the dreamworld lives.

It  would be wonderful if we could understand the dreamworld the way we understand our feet and legs and can control them with precision. Our dreamworlds are all of Duh – his whole body and beyond. It includes the smell of the bakery, the view of the lake, the feel of the PJ’s and the emotional states of those nearby. It is the sum and total of each moment of your life. Yet, we can’t grasp any more than a tiny part of it. Most of us don’t conceive of it at all; we call it God and rely on the shaman and the secrets, revelations, scriptures paths of those who have sought to understand it before. As humans we give it familiar trappings to pretend we understand but they are only metaphor. Their influence and continuity give them a sense of false credibility.

All Duh has to do is look inside himself and make an effort to understand by asking a question. When you ask the Illud Tempus for answers you communicate with the divine within. Keep asking questions and have a conversation. You will have done all that is necessary; no cathedrals, symbols, statues, rituals or prayers are required. No holy book can contain it. The dreamworld is the experience of being you.

You don’t need an inverted pyramid to give credence to the experience of being you. If you like and wish to use a pyramid’s features it will also become the experience of being you. It may take you on a long journey back to where you started. If that has value to you or not it is now the experience of being you. Many people are drawn to the inverted pyramid, they find the prepared, organized, well-trod path comforting. I don’t, I left my inverted pyramid for being gay and I am a better person for the experience of being me.

You will see many versions and variations of the pyramid and they all are designed to include some and exclude others on the journey to find themselves – the experience of being you. Passions will be raised and lowered by these attempts. The end result is the experience of being you. The search for god leads right back to the experience of being you. Do you prefer the long arduous journey of organized religion or simply looking  inside yourself? Either choice ends up at the same place: your Dreamworld.

Trump v. Serendipity

Let’s remove the crudeness of reality by taking the topic of: art as a spark plug for finding moral solutions, and give it some application in the real world, Trump’s world. I have been preaching the benefits of art as a catalyst toward finding solutions to moral dilemmas. The actual process may seem a little non-specific (or downright goofy) since we are relying upon serendipity to send us in the right direction.

Trump’s behaviors and policies are immoral. People are being harmed. The language is being abused with alternate facts, of all things. Trust is a fading concept. Trump’s malevolence is, obviously, much more serious than what an individual painting or song might teach us. Art itself doesn’t solve anything; its success rate on that score is about the same as prayer. Communing with thought-provoking ideas is what directs you to a solution. Engaging with art is a conversation with universal ideas. Art is not limited to your own experiences as prayer is, it encompasses the whole world of ideas.

You could seek out specific artworks to solve a specific problem I suppose. Go see Death of A Salesman if you are having troubles relating to your father’s bad choices. Read From The Mississippi Delta if you are a smart young black woman struggling to become educated in an environment of prejudice and poverty. Go see Angels in America to reflect upon your own behaviors back in the late 1980’s.  Go see the new King Kong movie if you are in the mood. It does not matter much whether the story shares an identical problem with yours or not. Although, look at all the people flocking to re-read George Orwell’s 1984 because of Donald Trump.1984

Re-reading 1984 or Animal Farm could be a wise thing to do for any number of reasons. It is part of our shared history. It provides parallels to the current situation. It is fiction, yet speaks of real-world truths. It helps us remember the emotions of people in our circumstance which provides tremendous value. One of the edifying benefits of art is emotional intelligence. If all we needed was information – Wikipedia would provide that with more efficiency. True facts require interpretation; alternate facts already are propaganda. Orwell’s novels provide an interpretation we seek to understand.

Another profitable choice is going to an art museum or gallery (or skim through an art history book). Walk around, view the pictures on walls and sculptures on plinths. Allow the environment to provide a space of inspirational possibilities. Creativity is contagious, it makes the thoughts in our minds race to a solution. The ‘use’ of another artist’s visual products to design scenery for theatre is similar to a sound designer’s use of music. The creative products of others are re-purposed to assist in storytelling. A certain era can be quickly re-established with music and amplified with fashion and architecture. The evocation of emotions can be accomplished in the same way. So can a solution to a moral dilemma.

st matthewArt is a path to the Dreamworld. The Dreamworld is a resident of our hearts and minds. A glance at Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St. Mathew” is like a mirror reflecting our own conscience. We don’t even need to be Christian to gain the benefit. Inside that glance may be the solution we have been searching for. Art reveals clarity. Why that painting? Why that moment in time? Why that song in our earbuds? Does the subject of this painting, a deity picking an apostle, have any bearing on our personal revelation? Possibly not, the subject of the painting is not necessarily relevant to the creative spark – the atmosphere of proximity to art. Art is, once again, the catalyst to inspiration. Solutions are revealed to your mind when opportunity is ripe. Art makes opportunity ripe.

So, our moral dilemma involves discovering a way to deal with the moral disaster that is Trump and his republican cohorts. Normally, this would be just a political issue but he is damaging the lives of too many people in our country and elsewhere to pretend there is no moral problem. His unstable behavior along side the nuclear buttons makes this a moral problem. Do we, as regular citizens, have an obligation to do something? Of course we do – the obligation of citizenship.

So, how will serendipity best Trump? Well, it’s not like we are going to sit around waiting for chance to throw a better fate at us. Nor are we all going to march out to the local Museum of Art with a mass expectation of grand revelationsdreamworld. Art doesn’t work like a church where the sanctuary fills with people seeking comfort from life’s hard knocks. Church is a place to commune with the Dreamworld filtered through an intercessional deity. The Dreamworld exists inside you so art helps you see yourself directly. It is the catalyst, the prime mover of change, but not change itself. You change because art, the path to yourself, reveals your Dreamworld. Religion gives you a super-natural artifice, a fantasy of gods and angels, a detour along the path to your internal Dreamworld that steals focus and delays finding the solution within. It strains your integrity through a sieve of dogma. It takes credit for what is already yours.

Through art, our mind is amassing a series of value decisions. Most are insubstantial on their own, but the cumulative results of all of them within the context of the main question are gradually putting pieces of the puzzle together. One choice becomes associated with another in a thoughtful order. Connections are being made. The part of our brain that is organizing all this is a different operating system than the conscious brain. We don’t realize this process is going on until we choose to revisit the question. Our conscious brain sees all those new connections made while it was busy cooking dinner or what ever, resulting in a “realization” or “idea” or “solution”.

If you are hoping for a solution to the Trump problem you are going to have to wrestle with art for yourself. I don’t know the answer. For now, my solution is writing this blog. A blog that is being read by perhaps 150 people. I don’t seem to be a mass market type of blogger. My blog is a broom; one person with a broom might inspire other people with rakes or vacuum cleaners, shovels or backhoes to start cleaning too.

Finding Morality Through Art

Two artistic expressions of melancholy, both alike in sincerity, if not stature or quality, will be the subject of this blog. One you will recognize from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the other one you will not recognize at all because I created it and it has been shown to very few people. The two are paired together because they are expressions of young men and their efforts to address the pains of existence within their personal circumstance. This is a continuation of the discussion of the last two posts regarding art.

Hamlet is probably twenty years old although some say he is thirty, but that makes no sense, he is written with behaviors of a student questioning life, not a full grown adult. Let’s not delve too deeply into the details of his anxiety; he is a Prince who’s father, the King was murdered while some hanky-panky was going on in the castle between his Mom and the king’s brother, his Uncle who conveniently became the new King. A ghost, his dead father, comes back and suggests avenging his death. This stress adds to Hamlet’s basic not-yet-an-adult angst. He is already a pensive lad and depressed when he gives the following monologue to his two friends:

I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

The second piece is a watercolor painting that’s been modified in Photoshop. I painted this the night in 1978 when I struck up enough courage to walk into my first gay bar. I got my self all dressed up and ready for action and walked straight through the door and sat down at the bar. The place was empty. It was only eight PM. Nobody was likely to show up until at least eleven. The bartender took pity on me and explained how things work in the gay bar scene. I went home, cried, got stoned and painted this self-portrait.BMA cover art

The original painting was less colorful. I jazzed it up on the computer so it can be used on the cover of my book. Years of stress, anxiety, frustration and soul-searching culminated in that brazen trip to the bar only to end in embarrassment and disappointment. This moment was the apex of my struggle. At least I got a painting out of it, such as it is. The title is “I Was Angry” in case you wouldn’t get that from the red eyes. The brows aren’t furrowed the way they would be if looking at some other person angrily. This is an internal, reflective anger focused on no one else. All the energy, conflict and determination through years of effort is churning inside. There is still a peaceful resoluteness in the face that shows a firm determination to succeed. The staunch pursed lips say, “I’ll win this battle”. Coming out of the closet will happen despite this set-back. Period.

So, in my last two posts “art” is assigned a moral and edifying quality. Can we see it in these two examples? Well, the most obvious lesson is that they both exult humanity. Perseverance, the human quality of getting up and doing it again after facing adversity is a major element in storytelling. When do people need that lesson? When they are depressed from having faced adversity themselves. The picture illuminates both anger and peace. The monologue illuminates both the strengths of mankind (is it sarcastic?) along with the harshness of foul and pestilent vapors, summing it as “a quintessence of dust.”  The terms of the discussion have been defined. The monologue could be taken out of context of the play and used to describe any person’s circumstance and so could the painting, making them universal expressions of mankind’s existential struggles.

The moral insight comes from observing humanity exalted through art. There may be no specific moral point of view stated in the piece, so we, the observers, are going to assign a moral value to make our encounter meaningful. Will it be the intended opinion of the artist? Who knows and who cares? The ways in which we interact with art are personal. It is designed to provoke questions and thereby provide an observer the opportunity to draw conclusions. The artist has certain questions in mind while creating the work but the audience always forms new questions and seeks to answer them all. That is a good thing.

Moral solutions are derived through the process of deliberation, which is a crucial element of having integrity. If one can say they honestly examined a choice from all sides, that it results in an opinion/conclusion, and are willing to back up that choice publicly with reasons, then they have integrity. Moral decisions require contemplation and time. Hamlet is deliberating his own moral dilemma when he speaks this monologue. He puts forward universal thoughts in an effort to solve his specific problem. By watching him experience this process we can discover something useful to help us with our problem.

A young adult or anyone for that matter may see something of value in the portrait or not. It may be found in the monologue, or not. A song on the radio, a book, a movie, a TV show, an opera, any and all modes of art have the potential to provide the insight required.

Suppose you choose to seek guidance from a priest or another dogma-based source, you are still culpable for your own actions. Following advice from a bible or religion doesn’t absolve you from your own actions. If you choose to do so, you should truly understand the reasoning behind the instruction from that authority. When you reason out a decision for yourself, you know why you have made the choice you have made. Following predetermined dogma because you ‘believe in it’ doesn’t give you the same insight or understanding. Following another person’s rule does not convey moral integrity.

Art is not a straight line toward understanding. It is a strange and wavering path that exposes vulnerability and encourages confusion. It asks you to think, deliberate and debate so you can form your own considered conclusions. Art is a catalyst which assists its audience with the option of making personal choices. If all art directed people toward forming the same conclusion, then it would be propaganda. Art does not do that, it has no dogma. Art removes the crudeness of reality and the inanity of dogma and frees your mind to explore all options.

Art, Morality, Religion

“We need Religion for religion’s sake, Art for art’s sake and, Morality for morality’s sake.” Victor Cousin

I describe religion’s sake as being ‘know thy god,’ art’s sake is ‘know thyself,’ and morality’s sake as ‘know one another.’ In high school, I volunteered at three different organizations; each one represented one of these ideas. Those experiences brought tremendous growth to my humanist outlook.

Religion, know thy god. Church, for me, was a place to socialize and manage facades. Basically, it was my sanctuary from the bullies of the world. The idea of ‘knowing’ my god was a stretch. I couldn’t get a solid grip on the three-in-one trinity thing because no one could sufficiently explain it to me. (Seriously, God is not like a pack of Hostess Ho Hos just because you get three tasty treats in one package.) So, knowing God was neither reasonable nor possible. I went with knowing about god instead. At church I hung out with friends, made poignant, wry observations, and tried to learn a better way to live life through facade management and religious dogma.

Morality, knowing one another, is what I learned working with the mentally challenged. When you strip away all the facades people apply to themselves you are left with the basics of their humanity. The intellectually disabled are, without the burden of higher thought, the most fundamental human beings on the planet. They exist and they love. Every moral choice is put into its simplest context without artifice. Those who care for them gain a perspective that is unique, so these children are to be regarded with a form of respect that is not patronizing and is accepting of whatever circumstance they inhabit. This was my insight from four years of volunteering. It molded my approach to all people from that point on. Because of this, my philosophy of moral behavior included respect and acceptance of individuals as they are. Once you understand the individuals who exist at this fundamental level of being, you learn to discover those fundamental elements in others. This allows you to see through the artifice of a facade, making the facade useless in those who wear one, even a bully.

My art, or knowing oneself, is theater. It’s collaborative, intelligent and full of emotion. But more than anything it’s instructive; it teaches life-lessons with every play. It is secular, in that each play carries a different philosophy and point of view. It tells stories of social interaction to elaborate on morality. It makes philosophic and theologic arguments from all doctrines exploring many possibilities. It challenges those who participate to be excellent. It challenges those who observe it to think excellent thoughts. In order to tell a story, one must first understand the story, so research and discovery and reading and discussion are essential from the beginning. Each play has a time, a place, a point of view and a message. As each production ends a new play takes its place. It comes with a new time, place and message to first understand, then convey. The cycle of beginning and ending, death and rebirth are constant. When you exist in an emotional and intellectual environment like this you come to know yourself very well.

Seek Moral Guidance in Art

The human moral decision-making process seems mostly random: Our laws are enforced differently depending upon race. Religions put out a conditional morality through allegiance to their exclusive society. Our President merely pretends to have a moral center. Corporations rape the land, sea and air. Our schools cower to politics resulting in clipart substitutes for the power of moral art. Hate groups hire lawyers trained in religious colleges to sneak hateful bigotry into law. New York Times columnists have to chastise other journalists for food-related arrogance. And the christian school where I endured my freshman year is regularly noted for being the most anti-LGBT campus in the US.college_photo_53ff7860a94a99.75957266washington postgcc

I’m not a philosopher. As a matter of fact, I almost failed Intro to Philosophy as a freshman at Grove City College, an extreme, alt-right school, well, at least in terms of LGBT issues. I was not afraid to ask the kind of questions that caused the whole class to turn and gape at me. I challenged the concept of god no matter what the topic of the day. My questions were genuine, but didn’t always match the syllabus, so the minister/professor who obviously preferred grad students to freshmen was quite frustrated with me. He failed me on a paper I had put a lot of time into. I challenged him point by point on what I had written and it became obvious to both of us that he hadn’t bothered to read it. He had judged me on my non-christian attitude in class not the paper itself, so, I passed the course. The ethical merit of his actions was typical at the school – repent if and when you get caught, otherwise keep up the pretense. It was a place to learn moral pretense and hypocrisy.

Old furniture has a moral value to some people. People who value functionality would rather sit comfortably in a chair while having enough room to eat dinner at the table. For others, the expression of status is inherent in the furnishings of their abode. The list of criteria necessary to make value judgments on a chair or a table is daunting. I’m more proud of the fact that I inherited the dough box from Aunt Charlotte than its dollar value, which I have never bothered to discover. I give the object, the thing, the dough box – sentimental value which comes from my heart. Its place in my family history and its aesthetic qualities evoke joy within me. The antique crowd gives it a dollar value.

If the box were to be broken in an accident, would the person who breaks it be guilty of an immoral act? Well, I know how upset I’d be, but I wouldn’t make too big a fuss about it. Damaging another person’s property is a violation of the moral code we live by. I can forgive an accident but once the judgment of the antique crowd places a dollar value on it, the issue gets complicated. A different kind of sentiment becomes important by the introduction monetary value.  In that mind-set, my feelings about the object become irrelevant. Objects with dollar signs attached are morally superior to things of mere sentiment. The person who broke it would feel much more guilt if she knows the dollar value of the piece. Her sense of guilt would go up accordingly with the dollar value. That list of criteria that assigns a price tag to an object is devoid of feeling. The result is we become confused with what we truly value: the emotions derived from the object itself or emotions derived from the money it represents.

Who can we turn to when deciding the morality of a situation? Not philosophers who are still asking that question themselves. Not lawyers, duh, nor the cops. Not the spiritual leaders – they hire lawyers to pick on gays. Not teachers. Not Presidents. And not corporations. We must look at all these resources while taking them with a boulder of salt, not just a grain.

The answer comes from inside us.

Find art.
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Seriously, art helps make things clear to us. It could be a poem, a play, a novel or a song. It may not have any words at all like a painting or a sculpture or ballet. It may be grand and bombastic or calm and lyrical. Let the art transport you into the world it creates to experience its message and emotion, then come back changed because of the journey.

It won’t be like googling, “how to be moral” on the internet. You can’t go to art with a question expecting THE answer, but it will move you to another place and perspective. Perhaps you already know this new place and can revisit it as an old friend. Perhaps you will totally disagree with the premise. Perhaps it will disturb or shock you. It may make you cry. Art as a whole has no agenda, individual pieces have different meanings but there’s no dogma in art. There are no rules or formulas to follow, and yet it instructs you emotionally and intellectually. Art is, by its nature, altruistic.

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The moral lesson intended by the artist may not even be the one you carry away after experiencing the work. I was able to endure my freshman year by repeatedly listening to scratchy records of the musicals Oliver and Fiddler on The Roof, along with the Who’s rock opera Tommy. They all had the theme of an individual struggling against and surviving an unjust society. People take journeys away from their homes to find a new life where they can be the person they are. None of them mentioned being gay but they taught me much of what got me through my internal coming out process. Even a show like Grease with its questionable lesson of getting-the-guy by lowering personal standards and conforming to marginal behaviors has value for the discerning observer.

As with anything, art should be used with discretion and determination. Art helps make clear the questions alive in the world, however, it is up to the consumer of art to find the answers. Art is an excellent starting point for the discovery and resolution of moral concerns. If you seek answers from those who repeat dogma such as priests, mullahs or rabbis, you get a cookie-cutter answer – they think, so you don’t have to think. Their cookies may not have the ingredients you require. The thing is that you already have all the ingredients necessary within yourself. Art will help you find yourself so you can answer the questions for yourself. Make your own cookies.