Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gimme that old-time Religion

Tomasita's is a 'mexican restaurant' in Santa Fe, owned by a greek family who own several mexican restaurants, but no greek ones. Each year it wins several best of awards from Pasatiempo, especially for its red chili. I often saw that award-winning chili  being prepared. I went to Tomasita's often in my early days as a priest of the Church of Antioch, Malabar Rite, to deliver my homework to my bishop. He was the ex-husband of the woman who owned Tomasita's, and each morning he oversaw the thawing and warming of the Bueno frozen chili, the same one can buy at Safeway, that would become the award-winner by lunch.

After falling in with the radical faeries, I went to lunch one day at Tomasita's. Over vegetarian fajitas, I grilled P., who was one of the baddest boys and who would become one of my best friends and roommate, about the history of this ancient paganism that had flowered in the Bad Boys of Santa Fe. P. worked for Bear & Co., a new age woowoo publisher co-founded by Matthew Fox, who had tried to establish an alternative ancient Christianity based on original goodness, blessing, rather than on original sin. The history P. told me was familiar: it was the same history I had heard about the baptists among whom I was raised. The [one] true religion had always existed. How could it not? Sometimes it was hidden from the doors of perception.

On personality tests that measure one's respect for authority, I always score very respectful. Always I am  looking for the one true authority. It was a sort of slavery. In retrospect, it seems I have just been looking to trump the god of the Caldwells and Johnsons who were my immediate forebears, and who did not approve of me. Imagine therefore my joy to find the Church of Antioch, Malabar Rite, which pretended to trace its origins to the documented episcopacy of Peter at Antioch, which used the oldest documented ritual, that of Malabar, given to the Christians in south India by Thomas himself. (The difficulty which I managed to overlook was that all the parishes of the Church of Antioch used either a reformed version of the Tridentine Missal or some version of the flavor-of-the-minute, the Anaphora of Hippolytus.) In my little Church of Holy Wisdom, at least, on Sunday mornings we celebrated with the Anaphora of Addi and Mari, the oldest documented authority. On Friday nights I would dance in woad around the fire that Prometheus himself had stolen from Olympus, that had burned on Slane and Glastonbury. In a city full of the oldest--the oldest house, the oldest church, the oldest shrine to Guadalupe, my play with the old found a receptive home.

Was it also a sort of slavery? The oldest church, San Miguel, was built by enslaved Tlaxcalan Indians to whom the Fanciscans were giving  the true religion after they had been  brought to New Mexico by Don Juan Onate. They had come at a time when no alternative to slavery seemed to exist. For me, there seemed no alternative to the sort of intellectual construct that found authority in priority, in some reconstruction of what I could convince myself was 'original'. The present San Miguel Church has no more similarity to the 'original' than Tomasita's red chili is singular. Are either of them, however, 'authentic'? I like to think that my period in Santa Fe began me on a road from slavery to authority to authenticity. I would be lying to claim there would be no detours.

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