Corona Virus vs. Religion
— Is a modern day Noah capable of building an SS Corona Starship?
Given the test of time, faith can move mountains into the sea and turn the sea into mountains. But the sensibility within us, should ask: “Who has time to wait that long?”
The Biker Church
I write this due to a recent conversation I had with two dear friends who recently attended a ‘Biker Church,’ a religious community offering weekly services. Attendees are largely motorcycle enthusiasts, where riding a bike is a way of life, much like music has become religion to many musicians. Beyond offering the theology of Christianity — words of love, wisdom, sacrifice and community — the gathering encourages strength for helping one’s self, and for helping others.
Its ideals are noteworthy and noble.
Myself a musician, I first learned of the church not because of my friends who’ve been attending, but because the church offered a house-band that played some excellent blues and rock n’ roll. I picked up on some videos on the internet and later discovered I had friends who often attended. So I discovered this church in a very nice way.
Although I’m not a strong religious person in the sense I’m more philosopher than theologian, having seen several photos and videos and liking the musicians I saw perform, pre-Covid, attending a church service was strong on my list of things to do. Although raised on strong and wholesome Christian values, a large part of my personal religious evolution has included appreciating everybody’s religion. I love everybody; condemn nobody!
My Religious Upbringing
I was raised an Episcopalian and graced with growing up having an excellent priest who was not only a preacher strong on ceremonial, but also a radical theologian. He thought it the church’s duty not just to support conscientious objection, but that it shall demand conscientious objection to war. He highlighted special attention to the strengths of Jesus as a man, the rough paths and troubled waters, and that godliness was set in a shine through the context of being in tune with humanity. Something like that.
Add in Gregorian chants, choirs and classical music and, growing up, I somehow complemented all of this into a squeeze likening imperative of Britain’s Yardbirds:
A firm belief in religion and equating it with music seemed and sounded very good to me. Moreover, the psychologist my parents sent me to when they suspected I was smoking pot, agreed my my beliefs were sound and he thought well of them also. Must have been the pot — lol! Anyway, I introduced the priest and the psychologist and they became very good lifelong friends. Interesting that from these relationships, among them, I was the better chess player — lol!
Military Service & Vietnam War
As the immoral Vietnam War took its ugly shape and form, I was conflicted by a desire to serve my country but also a want and belief I should kill no one. Thus, I entered military service, the week of Woodstock in ‘69, as a non-combatant conscientious objector. Later analyzing the military as an institutionalized killing machine and no matter my role helping hold it together, I filed for a discharge as a full conscientious objector.
Somebody at the headquarters of my unit gave me a form and told me fill it out within 10 days. Next, they assigned me extra duty so there was no time to work on what was a very complex application involving the story of my life and needing quality referencing. There was no way I could meet the deadline.
I went to the military chaplain seeking support. He sat with his feet on the desk, his hands clasped behind his neck and listened intently as I described the morality of the world I knew and believed. When I finished, he sat up and pulled his hands together onto his desk, and said in a slow Southern drawl: “Ya know, Michael, (pause) God willed war!” He spoke of angels swooping down with swords. It was almost as if Jesus, the one I knew, didn’t even exist.
It was Christmas. Most everyone had gone home on leave, except me. So I called a cab, had it drive me off the premises of Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. I then hitch-hiked north with two hippy friends (two brothers) I had previously met when on leave. My goal was to make it to New Hampshire where I’d connect with my family and priest in order to pull a quality document together supporting my conscientious objection. I’d then turn myself in and head-on support my anti-war position from strength, not weakness.
After a harrowing and freezing journey, we got as far as New York City. My priest arranged for us to stay at the Emmaus House in Harlem. We arrived on Christmas Day just in time for a wonderful Christmas dinner and met some amazing peace-loving people. Call it a blessing! The late-Reverend David Kirk, founder of The Emmaus House, wrote: “To be a Christian is to place yourself at the place of suffering. Where there is suffering, there is God.”
To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes ….”
After a few days later my father and priest came and picked us up. I arranged for my Texas friends to stay with a female friend who had an apartment on Beacon Hill, Boston. One of them married her and they later had a child. Had I not gone AWOL this child never would have been born. A moment in time. Call it a blessing!
To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “And so it goes ….”
Richard Nixon’s Agent Provocateurs
Being AWOL, we determined it was too risky for me to stay with my family or at the rectory of our church. By this time, given the enormous strength of all of the protesting against the Vietnam War, my conscientious objection became no longer only a moral position for myself, but it had also evolved into a political position to help others. I concluded my own martyrdom was the best course of action. Given I was prepared to go to jail in order to support my beliefs, the questions became:
- How could I make the most out of the situation I was in?
- What was the most I could do to further peace and help end the war?
Return to New York City and remain hidden at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship offices on 9th Avenue. There, I would complete my conscientious objector application and turn myself in not to the military; but, rather, to The Episcopal Church.
In March of 1970, there was scheduled an inter-denominational ecumenical religious conference at the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary in NYC. The Arch-Bishop of Canterbury England and high-ranking cardinals and bishops from various denominations would be present.
Leading a following of hundreds of religious supporters, I would enter the seminary and disrupt the conference by declaring myself an AWOL soldier, a conscientious objector, and demand that all of the churches support my beliefs, my effort to seek release from the military and my immediate demand for Sanctuary: I would not leave the seminary!
While we were planning for this action, two notable things happened; one very good, the other very bad.
- For those willing to take bold action, rewards of Karma somehow manifest. My friend from Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where I grew up, had become an usher at the Fillmore East Concert Hall. He agreed to sneak me in for the Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsies concert. I got to hear the last few songs and enjoyed the turkey dinner brought onto the stage after the show. Quite a moment in time!
- This period of time was seeing near-daily anti-war protest all throughout the nation, especially in New York City. Colombia University was a hotspot. It was believed agent provocateurs were sparking violence at many of the peaceful rallies. The 1970 NYC peace protest violence was capped off by the infamous Hardhat Riot. It was also the same year of New York’s 1st Gay Pride Demonstration and its 1st Earth Day.
Protest tension and anti-protest tension filled the air and rose remarkably each passing day. The violence was intolerable. Discussions among those of us planning my sanctuary became: What would happen if what we were planning also turned violent? The very last thing I would want is for my actions to bring violence upon the church. Then a tip came in from a reliable source that people outside of our circle knew what we were planning.
All things considered, we had to cancel the sanctuary. However, given the tip we got, this meant I was hot and needed a new hideout. It was agreed I could stay at the Holy Cross Episcopal Monastery in West Park, New York, located on the Hudson River across from the Vanderbilt Mansion.
What an incredible experience it was, living among real monks. There were all kinds of ’em eacy very devout. There were intellectuals, gardeners, musicians, artists and chess players, some introverted and others extroverted. But all were very nice people who in essence held a Thoreau-like view of the world, but from a larger hut in a different setting of time.
For the next three months I lived in the guest house. Each room of the guest house was named after a different saint. I kept switching rooms in order to surge the spirit of each saint within me. There I was living in collective poverty, dining in silence, drinking out of bowls and listening to the designated monk read from a book while we ate. I got to participate in real life Gregorian chants.
I walked the long winding meditating paths of monkhood through the forest and along the river. Daily, I’d find a seat in nature and stare with amazement at the statues of wealth fixated on the Vanderbilt Mansion’s spacious green yards across the river. I even thought how they’d never think about me!
All thoughts of wealth and wonder aside — like with the earlier Jimi Hendrix concert — Karma blessed me once again. An often broached topic among the monks was the novel idea that some day they should or would cohabitate with the nuns from the Episcopal St. Helena’s Convent located down the river. One day I got to visit the Convent. The monks were invited, I tagged along. What did I see? A 1970 pre-debut performance of the Dance Theatre of Harlem!
Yet another remarkable moment in time!
A Conscientious Objector Turns Time
By spring, I finished my conscientious objector application, left the monastery and together with my parents, my priest and my lawyer — with a letter of introduction from NH Senator Thomas McIntyre, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee — I turned myself back into the military at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts.
Not surprisingly, they took me back. This then led to whole new saga of my life, but that’s for another story. For the record, on October 30, 1970, the day after my birthday, I was finally honorably discharged from the US Army. What a battle it became. First, they denied my application but I was successful upon a second submission.
Throughout the process I ended up with a 20-day stay in the military stockade when I refused an order to set up targets of oriental hats at the rifle range. At my Court Martial I was found Not Guilty of “disobeying a lawful order” because, as a pending conscientious objector, I was within my rights to refuse such an order. You see, they were trying to ‘get rid of me’ because I started up a GI Resistance newspaper and I began organizing peace demonstrations outside the gates
Anyway, I got out of the army and then worked hard with active duty soldiers and Vietnam Veterans Against the War to help end the war. But, let’s not lose sight — now that I’ve described my religious qualifications — over the fact this story is written about a Biker Church, a conversation with my friends and the deadly effects from Covid-19 virus.
Why I Now Won’t Go To The Biker Church
One of my friends sent me a recent video of the band performing at the church. It was a tremendous performance by the house band. The two guitar players were acing it exchanging tasteful leads, the rhythm section was right on the mark and the lead singer vocals were gifted. I loved it!
But the video was sent to me late night on Friday, the same day it became publicly known numerous visiting dignitaries to the White House Rose Garden — including the president, his wife and his staff — had become infected with the Corona Virus. The video of the Biker Church performance showed everyone I could see in the room, including the preacher, not wearing a mask. Clearly, social distancing went unpracticed.
For me, the White House video and the church video proved a frightening Covid-spreading comparative. I was stunned. I immediately thought, given my multiple high at-risk categories: “ I certainly won’t be going there.” But I’m also concerned about my friend who sent me the video, and my other friends who I knew frequent the church. One of ‘em phoned me the next day and mentioned he’d seen my other friend at the church.
I responded I knew that and and pointed out she had sent me a video of the band performing and that I was troubled nobody present indoors were wearing masks. He told me they never do, that Jesus protects everyone, “if you believe in Jesus, you’re protected.”
So began a heavy-heavy conversation. I replied, “I can name you nearly a dozen preachers who made the same claim and they either got the virus or died from it.” Anyway, we went back and forth for about twenty minutes. Overall, it was an uncomfortable and worrisome conversation and I sincerely fear for my friends. So fearful, I decided to write this short story.
I’d bet anyone a ticket to Fenway Park, whenever it reopens, that the monks in the above-referenced monastery wear masks. I’d also bet each guest room in their guest house would offer a complimentary mask. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if one of the resident artist monks hadn’t already drawn paintings of the saints wearing masks!
Please, my friends, let your common sense prevail. The Covid-19 virus knows no boundaries. It has variants, mutations, is airborne and it’s still too new to fully understand its ultimate implications. With a slithering effect it can affect a pauper, a poet, a prince or a president — no dictator or money man can or will stop it! Quite frankly, a planet-wide herd immunity option would be devastating, catastrophic. It is not a viable option!
Moreover, there is no such thing as a Jesus , Mohammed or Buddha vaccine or immunity to this deadly disease. Google search results for preachers who’ve demanded rights for unmasked congregations, who comforted church members to come forward for healing. Check their fates and the fates of their parishioners.
Finally, I think I know religion well enough to understand fate, and I certainly stand upon my own Karma. All it takes to contract this debilitating Covid infection is: An ever-brief moment in Time!
Check out the last verse of the below song I wrote:
For the good of humanity and for the continuity of religion, be a good philosopher: Wear the damn mask, you’re not being asked to wear the shoes of Satan’s!
In today’s reality, regardless of one’s belief, I seriously doubt we’ll find a modern-day Noah building a starship!