No one knows how Arirang came to Oregon. All that is known for sure about Arirang is his name and the fact that he likes to sing in the marketplace.
People in my part of the world do not sing in the marketplace. Not so long ago there were people here who liked to whistle. As you strolled through downtown Portland Oregon on a workday morning you would hear the most interestingly complex trilling noises from the alleys and through the doorways. Of all the arts I wanted to learn, knowing how to whistle like a teamster or shipping and receiving clerk as he's entering or leaving a room was on top of the list. But by the time my lips were mature enough, the transistor radio made whistling unfashionable.
In America, it is still possible to hear people whistle or sing. But it is no longer possible to hear anyone-- even on the radio-- sing for the mere enjoyment of it. (Many of today's singers have lovely voices, but for some reason they limit themselves to less than a half dozen notes per recording contract and it's hard to call it singing. John Denver launched a very successful career using only four notes.)
I asked the local Chief of Police about the consequences of singing in our local marketplace and he assured me it could go down as a disturbance of the peace. In the residential neighborhoods there are also the Community Covenants and Restrictions to consider.
Arirang was at the main highway intersection in our town, his voice rising above the coastbound tourist traffic, when he heard music burst from a door of the local tavern. He looked through the doorway, found no resistance, and went inside. Then, as soon as the juke box music stopped, Arirang reared back his head and filled the air with a joyful little ditty about a maiden and her soldier-love and the little white pony waiting for him by the side of the road.
Without going into the unpleasant details of what happened next: Arirang learned all over again what Woody Guthrie had discovered about singing joyful songs in an American worker's tavern. Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong songs filled with misery and defeat are the only kind the capitalist bosses will permit the working people to be inspired by.
Arirang was walking past a church one morning. And there, for the first time since his arrival in our town, he heard not only loud singing, but loud unabashedly joyful singing.
He almost went inside to join the chorus but he was stopped in his tracks by a life size icon free standing on the front lawn. It was an image of a man hanging on a pair of crossbeams. It was exactly like an image that Arirang remembered seeing the time he was being evicted from his distant homeland (except that it was a real person in that case, a town mayor who had spoken once too often against the local mafiosi). To a world traveler like Arirang the meaning was as clear as an incendiary device lobbed from a passing car: "NO TRESPASSING-- This Could Happen to You!"
Torn between two extremes--the open joyfulness of the singing and the open hostility of the statue--Arirang fled into a grove of trees. Two enormous Douglas Fir trees of the sort that used to blanket the entire Pacific Northwest concealed him handily from the north as well as the south. These two trees produced a kind of catch basin for the music from the church, as bright and crisp and joyful as any in Arirang's repertoire:
With music like that, How (to paraphrase Pete Seeger) Could Arirang Keep From Singing? There was no way he could hold the music in. Though... for reasons we have already examined and explained, Arirang was careful to keep himself hid. He "came to church," but no one inside the church ever noticed him. (One day a stranded motorist, standing by the clover field next door to the church, heard the remarkable combination of Arirang's voice and the congregational choir, but Arirang disappeared before the police could arrive.)
One Sunday, a bumble bee flew in from the clover field while the choir was on the last verse of "Oh worship the King." The choir director yelped and used both arms to save herself.
Now, I must take time out to explain that if you are a member of the church choir and the choir director yelps and waves both arms over her head you understand without being told that this gesture and outburst means: "Stop until I turn the page."
It was at this moment, as everyone inside the church fell into a deathly yet respectful silence, that Arirang's voice alone was heard, soaring among the rafters of the church, alone and unperturbed as one of those bald eagles that occasionally attracts press coverage by landing in the Safeway parking lot... or like the Sun rising over traffic on northbound Interstate Twenty Six during the morning rush hour.
Added to this phenomenon was one witnessed exclusively by the Pastor of the Church, Pastor B, who, as he always did when he was preparing to go up to the pulpit and preach his sermon, was sitting by the window with the sunlight illuminating the cheerful colors of his pastoral robes. From the corner of one eye Pastor B noticed a small light flickering inside one of the frames of window glass. It might have been an insect striking at the window pane and fighting to get out. Except that the pane had been broken out by a neighbor’s golf ball the week before, and so when the man of God turned his head and looked, he discovered that it was Arirang that he had been noticing, weaving and leaping through the tulip and clover fields next door.
[During the preparation of this article, a local produce store owner showed me a list of 100 Rules that he follows to achieve a successful and happy life. Rule number 89 is: "Try singing out loud at least a couple times a day."]
Pastor B and the Vine
If you were a member of Pastor B's church and someone were to ask you what you admired most about Pastor B, your answer would probably be: His ability to name the flora and fauna whenever he is going for a stroll or driving somewhere in the family car. Pastor B's parishioners know that Pastor B is good at not only identifying these natural objects but at using them as illustrations in his sermons on Sunday in church.
Seen from the window of Pastor B's study is a very elaborate, expansive, menacing, prickly, tangled web of blackberry vines. They cling to a plot of land surveyors have struggled in vain to determine the ownership of. And so every spring the vines threaten the church building a little more, while on the positive side providing Pastor B with an ever increasing supply of apt illustrations for his sermons about topics which are important to his community.
What better example than these vines could be found to illustrate the creeping nature of Socialism, Communism, and Secular Humanism? Or what could be found to warn us of the deceptions practiced daily upon people by the followers of Darwin or Buddha or Mohammed than the succulent Himalayan blackberry itself, in pursuit of which so many children and their pets have been lost in recent years? Or the nettlesomeness of the abortion, euthanasia or school prayer issues... which at first inspire us to rise and voice an opinion and then leave us exhausted, confused and defeated the moment someone else answers back?
So rich was the capacity of these vines to inspire Pastor B that we can hardly appreciate the effect that their loss must have had on him that afternoon when he returned from a pastoral conference to discover the horizon near his church cleared of all vegetation whatever: Swept away as the flowers and the beauty thereof are swept away in the book of Isaiah. The beginnings of a three story town house were already being laid in their place.
Brooding is not a habit of Pastor B, but here we see him up late at night with his Greek and Latin texts. The candle is burning low when he suddenly marks a passage from that famous contemporary of Flavius Josephus, Julius Caesar, where Caesar takes the shortest route possible from his casa in Rome to his soldiers in the field by walking straight through the enemy's field position....
Of course! There was the solution, Pastor B realizes! Instead of joining those members of his church who have begun to mount a protest against the housing project... he will do the opposite. He will take a short course in real estate and become a real estate agent as well as a preacher!
It was a clever ploy. After a few years Pastor B would accomplish two things, and possible even three: He would augment his meager salary with real estate commissions instead of constantly hounding his Board of Elders for a salary increase. And he would restore stability to his flock by tactfully weeding out prospective neighbors who might drive golf balls through the stained glass windows, walk their dogs in the cemetery, or complain about the Sunday morning ringing of the church bell.
There was even a third benefit Pastor B was not sure of until he made some calculations on the new church computer. Amazed by the result of these computations he called a special meeting of the budget committee and demonstrated to them how by adding eight new members to the congregation once every sixteen days over the next two hundred and fifty six months, the church treasury would be augmented by $32.5 Billion.
The elders were pleasantly surprised until the one member who had donated the computer mentioned that the machine contained an unfortunate bug in its central processing unit which made it useless for anything but word processing.
This week Pastor B is composing a sermon about acorns and mustard seeds. But you will have to attend his church this coming Sunday to find out how it ends.
Pastor B on the Road
Molly Down the Road
Molly lived alone in the house on One Hundred and Seventh Avenue, just down the street from Pastor B's church. From the point of view of everyone who knew her, Molly was unremarkable.
But Molly was remarkable. For, when Molly was very young she adored her parents and did not rebel against them as so many in her generation did.
Eagerly, every evening after supper, Molly and her siblings would clear the dishes away from the family table. Then they would sit down around the table again to observe the Old Man take the ancient family Bible off the shelf and lay it open before him. In dreadful silence he would divide the Book in half with his work hardened hands and lift the thin red page divider out....
The Old Man's voice would boom like distant thunder then, as the minds of Molly and her siblings were filled with images of seers and swordsmen, kings and queens, dragon-monsters and ruined fortresses and beautiful golden cities and a hundred other images too curious to be believed if they had been read from any other book.
Because of these daily Bible readings the Bible became like a city on a hill for Molly throughout her life, through which she would wander at her leisure. These solitudinous journeys were like a visit to a faroff land that had never been completely charted. Questions about where she had been never ceased to occupy her mind.
For example, Molly often wondered, why do translators insist on translating the words in Isaiah 9:2 as anything other than "the light of the Planet Venus?" Where did "venus" (Latin for "that which came") go?
Why, Molly wondered, do translators accept the term "evil angels" or "angels of destruction" in
Why, Molly wondered, do translators so nonchalantly render "barad" as "hail" in
Why, Molly wondered, are visitors from what is reputed to have been the most powerful kingdom in the ancient Middle East not mentioned at all during the days of the Judges and the reign of King Saul ... except for that one pitiful exception in
Why don't scientists pay attention to the interesting curve that appears when the lifespans mentioned in
Why hasn't some psychologist paid attention to the fact that, in
Why do almost all the sick people that seek healing in the Gospels come to the Lord showing the same list of symptoms as were observed during World War One, when soldiers returned from the battle certifiably blind, deaf, numb and otherwise completely incapacitated, yet without a mark on their bodies?
Why, Molly wondered... But her mind would become so lost with contemplation of these mysteries that she could not rest.
One day on her way to the store, Molly noticed a new sign on the lawn in front of Pastor B's church. The plastic red and white letters announced that a guest Pastor was visiting the church that Sunday. He would explain how the Amazing Secrets of the Bible had at last been unlocked and how there was nothing new to learn.
"What a fascinating place church must be!" Molly exclaimed. She jumped from her accustomed track. She found a place in the audience and after several minutes of careful listening she learned that the whole world had been created out of thin air in six twenty four hour days exactly 6243 and a half years ago and that every one of the 70 sextillion stars that currently shines within the 27 billion light year realm of the known Universe will disappear in the blink of an eye someday very soon, and that it will all be our fault, and that anyone who dares to laugh at this conclusion is suffering from the negative influences of a secular humanist education and needs to reform.
Everyone around Molly was nodding with satisfaction over this Good News.
But Molly was horrified. She hurried from the church as quickly as she went in, her coat buttoned up to her chin. She had never realized before how dangerous it was to stray.
She was ducking across the final intersection before her house when she overheard some people coming out of the corner tavern, discussing a comet that was heading toward the planet Jupiter. "Of course nothing like this could ever happen to the Earth while we are on it." a man of some intellect and bearing was saying.
It all sounded vaguely familiar to Molly. Like deja vu: this idea of stones disrupting a planet's equilibrium
But Molly was reformed. She was no longer going to allow her thoughts to wander freely down those forbidden avenues she had enjoyed all her life until now. She locked herself in her house from that day forward and never read her Bible again.
Read Clyde's Address to the 2000 Lutheran Freedom Conference