Review of "The American Dream" by Marie Jones
"Palecek is fearless, skewering religious extremism, political right wing fundamentalism, gung-ho patriotism and the use of fear to play upon the innocent...and ignorant. And it works. I finished the book in one night...but it's been in my brain ever since, like a song that won't go away...haunting."
- Palecek recently was a guest on WORT, Madison, Wisconsin, "A Public Affair," with host Willy Becker.
- Will be a guest Tuesday [6/12] afternoon, on KSOO radio, Sioux Falls, "Viewpoint University."
- He will be a guest on KSFR Sante Fe, June 14, with Diego Mulligan on "The Journey Home."
"I'm sorry if anyone here is Catholic.
"I'm not sorry if you're offended, I'm actually sorry just the fact that you're Catholic."
- Bill Hicks
Is This Heaven?
by Mike Palecek
That's a good question.
How could anything be better than song birds on a summer morning and you don't have to work today.
Or kids in the park playing a baseball game they put together themselves.
Or the day your first child is born. If there is something better, well this is gonna be goood.
Or worse than getting a phone call late at night saying your son has been involved in an accident. Or dying slowly in a nursing home.
Geezuz, there had better be something after that or what really is the point?
I grew up Catholic, altar boy, lights crew for the Christmas play in the gym, sh*t like that.
I never questioned the existence of God or the majesty of the Church for a long time. I went to seminary for a while, thinking about becoming a priest, because to me, that was going all the way.
Today I wonder.
I see all the human hoaxes and lies. We don't even have limbo to lean on anymore. The Church lied about that. How low can you go?
Well, it turns out the Church lied about a lot of things. I always wondered about the one where if you don't go to Mass on Sunday, and you die on Tuesday, it's down the poop shoot on Wednesday. That never made sense to me, but it did to Fr. Hank and Sister Ella Mae, so who am I?
Is it just possible the Big One is also something we made up? It would make sense. Our predicament is easier to deal with if we believe there is something after this.
It's true that I cross myself when I'm driving in traffic in a heavy downpour.
I want to think it's going to be oh, boy and not oh, sh*t.
I was on a radio talk show Monday on WORT, Madison, Wisconsin.
The program was called "A Public Affair," I believe.
We were talking about prison and I said that those who say that federal prisons are too soft and all that, get tough on crime, etc., have about as much understanding of the world as some eighth grade girl in Catholic school. I also added that rich people do not really know anything about life.
We've got a caller on the line.
How can you let Mr. Palecek get away with that, saying those things about Catholics and the rich?
"The poor go to prison.
"The rich - go to hell."
- Tom Blue, "The Last Liberal Outlaw"
Well, for one thing, I can say anything I want about Catholics or the Catholic Church or pissing in the holy water font. I have paid my dues.
I have sat through so effing-many church services in my lifetime that did not amount to a hill of wafers that I have every mo-fo right to say that all the robes and sh*t and the eating my body and drinking my blood incantations are just plain, stinking weird. And confusing.
I know they are out there, the churches and priests and ministers who aren't flag waivers, who know that the poor are THE most important people, but apparently not within driving distance.
We don' need no stinking pope, dude. Go out and feed the poor, visit the imprisoned, fight war, fight the government, give away all your effing money. Follow Him. Just do it. Whenever. How about now? Sundays are for bottled beer and naps in the sun on the front lawn.
What about the white light of near death experiences, the feeling we get when we pray, all the people who have devoted their lives to God, monks sitting alone for hours every day talking to "God."
What about the curtain that blew in the upstairs room in Omaha when I was sitting there myself asking God to help me as I was about to go to prison. Was that just the breeze and me wishing it was God saying it would be all right? Because it was not all right. It was pretty bad.
What if the early God stories are just Jews and UFOs?
Moses up the mountain. Burning bush.
Talking to the heavens. How does that work?
How come it stopped?
Maybe it was just some Jew newshounds with pages to fill.
"I got nothing."
"Hey! I heard Moses Malone found some big-ass tablets up on Make-Out Mountain. Get a photo with that, a couple good quotes. That'll fill the religion page."
What if it's like that?
And if there is no God, wouldn't it make sense that nothing down here makes sense? That nothing matters, because later it's like dust in the wind city anyway. Absolutely no record of what we did, who we were, how much we weighed.
Then why do the right thing? Why not eat candy for breakfast and drink whiskey for lunch and kick the dog and the kids and sh*t in the front lawn.
I say it still makes sense. I say no matter what. The poor are still the most important people on earth. I say visiting prisoners and housing the homeless and feeding the hungry are still the most important things on earth a person can do.
I say use the g.d. restroom.
One concrete thing we have is how we feel when we do certain things.
What about Joan of Arc and the apostles, who suffered for "God."
I took a theology class one time at the College of St. Thomas. We studied a book by C.S. Lewis called, something-something-God-something.
It was about the same thing. How do you determine if there is a God? The church is the hat on the invisible man, here is the steeple, there are the people.
Well, it was pretty good, but in the end it's just another man's formula, and you can decide whether to use it or not.
I think I remember parts of a certain concept from that book.
If you are on the bus, and halfway through your trip you start to think you are on the wrong bus.
It doesn't matter what you think, as long as your doubting doesn't cause you to get off the bus. Don't get off the g.d. bus.
Even if they ask for more money. The bus is still moving, and it will run you over, 'cause who are you, really?
It's still heading where it's going, no matter what you think about that.
So, here you are, smack-dab in life, and doing everything as if you believed there was a God - then you start to doubt - but that doubting doesn't matter as long as you keep acting as if there were a God. And some dumb f*cker sitting next to you with Praise The Lord and "W" buttons on his lapel.
That is kind of my philosophy, only I don't think I make a conscious decision anymore. It's like this.
Even though I don't go to Church anymore, and I don't really believe in the Catholic Church.
Even though I think the trinity is nonsense as well as the whole drink my blood eat my body, I wanna have veins in my teeth whole thing, I'm still Catholic.
And I still cross myself while driving my whole family in a storm.
An image of a hip, young nun strumming a Beatles song comes into my head whenever I get a whiff of brown paper towels.
Even though I now realize that "Christ died for our sins" is propaganda and disinformation. He died for our sins? How does that work?
He came down and went through that suffering in order to open the gates of heaven to us? Because of original sin?
You lost me there, dude. I think you are a liar.
What actually happened is that Jesus put the mirror to the face of the military, the government and the church.
And that's what happens to anyone who gets that close to making a real difference. They find out that these powerful institutions are willing and ready to kill to maintain power.
And so they are phony bastards. Doesn't mean Jesus was, though.
And at the hour of my death I will ask Jesus for help and forgiveness and I will ask him to take away the pain and I will thank him for my life and all those around me and all those who I met in this world.
I just know that's what I will do, if I have the chance. And I will think there is someone who hears me.
Maybe I'm just a sucker, but I've got cheap industrial dispenser soap coursing through my veins.
I can show you the tattooed "Don't Slouch, Mr. Fatso" on my forearms.
I once made a pilgrimage to George Carlin's Catholic elementary school in Manhattan, talked to the sisters, the students in their blue and white uniforms.
I have seen a nun naked.
Don't try to tell me about the Catholic Church or Jesus, or offer up some liberal or conservative this or that about what is or is not appropriate to say about them.
This Mass is ended.
I'll take it from here.
Peace be with you, dude.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the ... .
This passage is from my novel "Twins," published by Badger Books of Madison, Wisconsin.
Twins is the story of twin brothers in the Twin Cities. One is the warden of the Minneapolis federal penitentiary, the other is a radical priest who robs local banks and gives the money to the poor, and was once in El Salvador and saw a fellow priest murdered by death squads controlled by his own United States.
I went to seminary in 1979 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was there I met Fr. Dan Berrigan. He came to speak at Macalaster College one day, a few blocks from the College of St. Thomas, where I was.
Well, the things he said about the church and America and war and the military and the poor, I had never heard back home in Norfolk, Nebraska.
It changed my life. I went to prison, went crazy, went home.
I once marched up to the front of St. Cecilia's Cathedral in Omaha while Archbishop Daniel Sheehan gave his Easter homily. I stood next to him with a sign held high over my head, facing the congregation: "The Omaha Catholic Church Supports SAC-Why?"
SAC is the Strategic Air Command, responsible for the targeting of United States nuclear weapons. It's located at Offutt Air Force Base, just south of Omaha.
Sheehan had told me the church had no problem with the policy of nuclear deterrence, the targeting, the threatening with death that those weapons did and still do, or with the millions of dollars spent on weapons of mass destruction rather than on the poor.
This is Father Jerry Mars, speaking to his church on Sunday, a parish in a poor area of Minneapolis, telling them what he thinks it takes to be a Christian, and a hero. When I wrote this I was thinking about St. Stephens in Minneapolis over near Portland Avenue. I went there sometimes when I was supposed to be volunteering at St. Joseph's Catholic Worker, nearby. St. Stephens is what I would call a real church.
" ... Where do these thoughts of John Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King Jr. come from? All mortal men, surely sinners.
"But in my mind, heroes, just as Jesus is a hero of mine. And to be a hero of mine you have to do one thing."
Mars put up his crooked right pointer finger, the one that had been stomped on. He held it over his head out toward the congregation.
"You have to go and get yourself killed."
He held the finger in the air until it became the focus of the room. Mars meant to be pointing straight up in exclamation, when actually his finger was more of a comma.
"You can't score six touchdowns on one night and be my hero."
Mars spoke loudly, pausing, turning this way and that, using all of his homiletics textbook skills.
"You cannot have twenty-inch biceps and thirty-inch waist and be my hero."
He stopped and estimated three seconds, impatient to keep going.
"You cannot go to work each day and pay your bills and keep your kids in college and your wife happy and play errorless third base for the church softball team and be my hero."
He put his hand down as parenthesis.
"I see these guys who drive their little cars into the lot at the elevator every morning and leave every night. They do this without fail for ten years, twenty years, thirty years. Maybe forty years!
"They drive in each morning at the same time, they leave at the same time. Same route, look the same way before turning, park the car in the same spot at work, same place at home.
"Now, to some people, that image is one of supreme heroism, the loyalty, the work ethic, the steady nature of the man going to work each day, earning his daily bread for his family, that they may prosper and live and grow and also maintain their routines.
"I am weird. I see it as cowardice. I really do, and I know some of you will have trouble with that. That's okay. I see it as immoral, boorish, dull behavior.
"Because you see, during those years that man is going to work, maintaining a certain lifestyle, people around the world are dying, from poverty, from war, what have you.
"And on some of those days that man is going to work and coming home while his country is at war, outright bombing people in other countries and they are dying.
"And yet. And yet he parks in the same spot, goes home at the same time.
"That is nothing unusual. His parents, wife, children and friends expect nothing less.
"But is it the Christian response? Hardly."
He paused, shoved the finger again into the air, and turned slowly to the right then to the left.
He put his finger down and gripped the podium.
"You have to go and get yourself killed.
"So, Christ, King, Kennedy. They did not just die. They had to be killed.
"If I can say one thing to you this fine morning, my brothers and sisters, it is this."
He paused and looked around.
"Make ... the ... sons of bitches kill you!"
Now Mars did not care who liked him.
The bones of his jaws showed like ripples in the water portending a shark below.
He made direct eye contact with three people, as he had been taught, not long enough to confront, but enough to show he was not afraid.
"Don't seek to live so damned long that you finally have to be unplugged.
"Make the bastards come get you - make their terrible plans, hunt you down and fill you full of holes, just as they did our Lord Jesus Christ.
"And take that chance.
"The chance taken by Jesus the skinny guy with no money, no family, no friends, no career - no papers or books published - with only this one desperation shot at redemption, with one card to play that might mean he would ever amount to something.
"Take the chance that God is God."
He pushed his papers together, looked up like Walter Cronkite at the end of the newscast, and smiled.
"Now, let us pray."
KGB [Killing George Bush], The Truth, Joe Coffee's Revolution, Terror Nation, The Last Liberal Outlaw, Looking For Bigfoot, Twins, The American Dream .
Mike Palecek website: http://www.iowapeace.com ... or http://www.mikepalecek.com ... website in transition.
Contact Mike: firstname.lastname@example.org
Palecek books are available through local bookstores, Amazon, or by going to cwgpress.com, howlingdogpress.com, badgerbooks.com, newleafbooks.net, essentialbooks.com, mainstaypress.com.