Monday, August 20, 2012


I left Camp Galilee on the shore of Tahoe Saturday afternoon headed East on 50. From Fallon to Austin is one of Nevada’s loveliest drives. The red sun was setting behind me, then I went over a summit, down the hill, and the sun was gone leaving a pink sky in my rearview mirror. Darkness fell, then rain showers.

Arriving in Austin around 9 p.m. I booked my room in the Pony Canyon Motel as usual, brushing aside the desk clerk’s disclaimers “no air conditioning” etc. “I’ve been here before,” I assured him. I have.

Then I sauntered downtown to find everything closed! Everything! The only establishment with its lights on in the whole town was the Chevron Station. Austin was disturbingly dead on a Saturday night.

Sunday morning began with breakfast at the Toiyabe. Suzie the waitress has figured out I am not a tourist. I actually belong there, just occasionally. Then my time at St. George’s was great as always – Holy Eucharist plus a pregnant lady blessing afterward. The priest is going to be a grandma.

After the service, we had lunch at the Toiyabe (best Ortega Burger in the West) and I learned why the town was so dead. It seems there were bar fights in different bars on Thursday and Friday nights. Austin has three bars so it sounds like two were closed by the fights and the other must have closed in solidarity.

As Rev. Darla, who also serves as the 9-1-1 Dispatcher, said, “”Austin has been stuck on a full moon for two years.” There has been one official knifing and there are rumors of an unofficial knifing. The bar where one of our church folks does his pastoral outreach is at odds with the bar where another spends some time. There was an altercation between a bar owner and a bartender involving law enforcement. What is going on ?!?

There is actually a non-lunar explanation. It is the dark side of geo-thermal energy. For over a year, Austin was overwhelmed with well drillers and construction crews putting in a new geo-thermal plant – guys with quite a bit of money, way too much time on their hands, and no one to spend it with.  So they swept like locusts through the social milieu of Austin – then left. Things are still out of kilter. But St. George’s is there like a lighthouse. Austin will come to itself in awhile. 
I told the church folks I regretted not having arrived a night earlier so I could have attended the ruckus in the bar, feeling sure I could have been of some help, perhaps offering a pastoral intervention. They were not sure such an intervention would have been helpful. But I told them the story of how I had seen one Austin bartender go back to the kitchen, fetch a Bible, and fling it onto the bar appealing to Scripture to settle a dispute. They had not seen this side of him. But when I explained he was using the Bible to dissuade a patron from breast reduction surgery, they could imagine it. As I had wondered at the time, they wondered now what chapter and verse might address the cosmetic question. Indeed, the patron had asked this and the bartender told her she had to read the entire book. You can’t take verses out of context.

The afternoon drive down the Big Smoky Valley was just as engaging as the drive from Fallon to Austin. It is a variable and compelling landscape. The gasoline at the only station in Carvers is more than 30 cents cheaper than the gas in Austin. Something odd in that I think. Austin is high. Carvers is not low.

There was rain in the Valley yesterday. Several times I even had my wipers on high. Not the norm. But when I turned right on 6 and drove on into Tonopah, it was desert weather again. In downtown Beatty, I slowed from 25 to 20 to allow three burros cross the street. I don’t know if they were wild but they were certainly unattended. They reminded me a bit of Chevy Chase, Gene Wilder, and Martin Short in The Three Amigos. They looked amused by it all.

On through Cactus Springs and Indian Springs. Eventually the distinctive skyline of Las Vegas appeared in the distance and, as always, the closing words of Gilgamesh came to mind, “Lo, the walls of Uruk.”

Monday, August 6, 2012

Christian Duty In The Face Of Hate Crimes Against Other Faiths

The murder of 6 Sikhs gathered for worship in Wisconsin on Sunday was followed today by an arsonist torching a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. This comes just a few months after a man threw a Molotov cocktail into a Queens, New York mosque while worshipers were at prayer – and burning one Muslim owned business and two Muslim owned homes on the same night.

It should be sufficient for Christians to remember that we follow the victim of religious violence, not a perpetrator of it. But if that is not enough, the history of religious intolerance in the Western World, the crimes that have been committed in our name, mean that Christians have a special moral duty to stand against violence of any kind but especially violence against faith communities. That is our calling, but when one of our priests announced that she would be attending a 9-11 reconciliation service at an Islamic Center last year, members of the congregation walked out.

It is not enough for Episcopalians to look at hate crimes committed by “those people” against ‘those other people” and say, “tsk, tsk.” In the face of growing bigotry and violence, sometimes accompanied by ignorance that cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim, we have a duty to act in the following ways:

First we must educate our own people. We need to know the truth about the world religions. There are plenty of good texts to use, starting with the Huston Smith classic, World Religions, and more recent books like Bowker’s World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored And Explained or Brodd’s World Religions: A Voyage Of Discovery. Or use a video such as Beyond Our Differences or Pillars of Faith. (You can buy it from Amazon and watch it with a group from a different religion).

But Christians need to do more than know what other religions teach. We need to know what Christianity teaches about the inconvenient truth that other people worship the same God in other ways. For this, a good starter would be Gordon Kaufman’s God, Mystery, Diversity. We need to know how to honor other faith traditions not in denigration of our own beliefs but because of them.

Second – this is really two things but the best way is to do them together -- we need to form personal relationships with people of other faiths and join hands with them in working for our communities and our world. Nevadans for the Common Good (Southern Nevada) and ACTIONN (Northern Nevada) are prime examples of how we can befriend each other while uniting for a more just and merciful world.

Third, we must take public stands against religious intolerance. If we do not do so, then non-violent people will turn their backs on us and rightly so.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sometimes A Cigar

What are we not
Is the universe murmuring in
            abstruse symbols
signifying we should do this or
But maybe there are no
Maybe stars, the flights of geese,
            serendipities, and wonders
are absolutely simple and infinitely
both at once, reality announcing soto voce,
            “Here I Am
                        I Am
                           I Am.”