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Dangerous Compassions

homeward bound: roadside sculpture yard, intense coptic monastery, desert cloud drama

In Yermo we stopped at the Liberty Sculpture Park.  They have a few arts there.  We were most interested in the Tank Man art.

Behind the tank sculpture was an actual tank.  There was glass on the ground where a headlight had been busted by a vandal.  Strangely, the tank’s back hatch was open, and we could look inside.

Looking inside the tank felt creepy.  “Someone could live in there,” I told Ming.  “I’m surprised no one is living in there already.”

Then we visited a coptic monastery.  It was a strange combination of beautiful and dysfunctional.

In this picture, you can see a clear plastic communion cup as litter on the big church’s steps.  We tried the door, but it was locked.

Then we parked by the cafeteria.  A man in a black habit greeted us.  He saw me, said hello, and went to Ming.  “Are you man or woman?” he asked Ming.

“Man,” Ming said. 

He gave us a few pistachios each.  “Do you need food or rest?” he asked.

Then a young man all in white led us to the cafeteria to eat.  There were hardboiled eggs, still warm.  There was some white crumbled stuff that seemed like fermented tofu.  There were some slices of cheese that had seen better days, and slices of lunchmeat in the bottom of a tupperware thing that of course didn’t interest us.  And in a disposable aluminum tray were some apples.

Two white people were eating, and then on the opposite side of the room, three Mexican guys with cowboy hats were eating also.  It was strange.  I got two hardboiled eggs and an apple.  I waved to a Mexican guy, who cautiously waved back.

I noticed the white woman’s shirt was very dirty.  I thought she hadn’t had a working washing machine in a long time.  I asked the white people if they were visitors or if they lived there.  They said they lived nearby.  I figured they could come to this free meal for much-needed food.  The woman asked a monk for milk to take home with her.

The tables were plastic tables like you might get from Costco.  The chairs were plastic Costco chairs also, and dirty with grime, many identical gray chairs all crammed together.  Something about the Mexican people sitting as far away as they could from the white people seemed weird, and all the plastic tables and chairs seemed culty and sad.  Cheapness, unadorned, something meant to be temporary or portable turned permanent out of necessity.

I had a fantasy about offering to wash the chairs for half an hour.  Some service to them.  But I was tired.  I also tried to think of any clothes I could give to the white lady.  She was not as fat as I am, so I thought anything I gave her wouldn’t fit.

A monk told us the person who could talk with us would be available in half an hour.  So we went to one of the three churches.  We approached a door on the side of the building that was slightly ajar.

“Should we go in?” Ming asked me.  There was no sign saying it was the entrance.  He said it was like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.  I said he should knock.  He knocked, then we went inside.

The light was dim.  It smelled like wonderful incense.  There were only a few chairs. 

The icons glowed with gold.  We noticed some of them had paper tucked into the edge–prayers, we guessed.

This knight reminded me of my dad, with a moustache in the 1970s.  The angels reminded me of the angels at our friend’s Eastern Rite church.

I liked the ostrich eggs hanging from the ceiling.  I was connecting the dots about different cultures.  We had to take off our shoes to go into the church.

Well, coptic, I thought it was Sumerian, but it’s Egyptian.  When we spoke with the monk who was appointed to speak with visitors, he had a long white beard.  His eyes seemed kind, but he was fundamentalist and bigoted. 

He told us how the US is based on Christianity, so it’s a good country, and other religions are all bad.  How Jesus was the only religious leader of all the religions of the world who spoke of purity.  Some weird arguments for why Jews should turn Christian.  Some negativity about homosexuals and lust. 

He also thought interfaith was wrong.  To him, the only real faith is his faith, so interfaith isn’t possible.  All other religions are false and bad.

I was confused, wondering if he actually believed what he was telling us.  I suspected he was lying.  If he really believed it, goody for him, to be a monk of the only religion getting it right.  Great to be king.  It seemed so gross–I’m right and everyone else is bad.  Yet sort of easy.  A black & white world.

I kind of wanted to leave.  We had driven for a long time on a washboarded dirt road to be insulted.  I was like, jeeze–how interesting.  I’ve visited many monasteries and other religious places over the years and never been handed such a load of xenophobic, self-righteous crap.

Well, that Catholic monastery in New Mexico where the monk told us it was good that the Native people had been captured and enslaved was pretty out there also.

I asked if the dates they grew were for sale and if the big pond had spiritual significance.  Why they built this place out in the middle of nowhere.  Where the novices come from–other countries or the US. 

The monks all had accents that I guess are Egyptian.  They looked like Arabs, and there were signs on the walls in Arabic.  I thought the monk who spoke to us–he could have turned out Christian Orthodox or Muslim or whatever he had been born into.  It probably isn’t nice to assert that, but nothing he said was original or seemed to have been formed in his own mind–he was 100% repeating what he had been told.  So it seemed arbitrary, which religion he picked.

He gave us gift bags as we left, with fliers and little icons in them.  It was nice to visit this place and have a weird experience, and I liked learning about desert spirituality’s hospitality and seeing beautiful art. 

I’m glad we visited, but when Ming put the key into the ignition of our minivan and turned it, I was really glad the engine started and we could get the hell out of there.

On the way home, there were gorgeous clouds and flashes of lightning.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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