come let’s spread the gospel in Milwaukee

Today [yesterday] got off to a bad start when just past midnight I signed on to Facebook chat to beg the knowledge of a more responsible student and my little suspicions were validated, because the topic in class in the morning was religion in the UK and it was my turn to give a presentation during seminar.  From there a light speed journey through the literature [Wikipedia, and one book] discovered the declining trend of religious participation in the UK, demographic delineations along lines of geography (only 11% of adults in England attend Christian church regularly, but that number is 70% for Northern Ireland) and national background (Punjabi immigrants practicing Sikhism and a burgeoning Muslim population courtesy of Pakistan etc.), and speculation on the reasons that religion is so non-invasive in the life of the typical (if such a word has any meaning) UK resident, i.e. even when religious beliefs exist, they are not politically or identically important in the way that they are in, say, the United States.

In fact the class discussion was fascinating, and no doubt would have even further excited my interest were I not carrying the baggage of a suboptimal night of sleep.  One item of interest is that religions are taught in primary school in the UK.  Young children are exposed to everything from Islam to Buddhism to Christianity to Sikhism inasmuch as persons of that age can handle, which means things like stories, practices, food, and robes rather than theology.  Although this all happens as a course of national policy, you can see how in the United States even such an anthropological rather than ideological education in religions would meet dogmatic resistance to its introduction in the schools…partly, of course, because religious practice (and organization, e.g. churches) in the States is less distangled from ideology and politics than the respective British counterpart.  Also because of that separation-of-church-and-state thing.  Actually, more and more I am seeing the usefulness for organized bodies to declare allegiances to certain fundamental causes, because then plainly political moves can be justified in the pretext of those “allegiances” — but where is this digressing to?  Do all roads lead to []…

I was very nearly late to the seminar in which I presented, in fact, because during the hour break between lecture and seminar I had to take the tube to Primark, find a pair of plain black trousers, and then get back to college.  Dress code for the choral concert tonight was “smart black”, and when it turned out that my wardrobe was going to rudely refuse to cooperate, a purchase was in order.  The only thing was, when I reached the checkout counter, something came to my attention which at first escaped the attention of my eye, and also, I suppose, the other eye, namely, that the label read “NAVY”.  Of course, it wouldn’t do to look a damn fool pairing a black shirt with navy trousers, so I went back to the rack on which the trousers were stacked to exchange the object of my clutch for one in black, only to be struck by the tragedy of tragedies — every pair of trousers bore the identical label, “NAVY”.  Without the juxtaposition of black, it was hard to tell…I saw a promising stack off to the left and chewed through it, but each one was “NAVY”.  Every trouser was navy.

The small tick of anxiety which was sucking at the blood of my liveliness all day was the piano, the piano, the piano.  At 6:15pm, the hour of judgment, I would be playing a mildly complex accompaniment arrangement which I had first played only two days ago in some truly horrific first run throughs with the choir.  There was not even a piano available for my use in fulfilling the humble wish of bringing my execution of the piece from the level of “embarrassing” to “acceptable mediocrity”, and for forty hours my fingers longed in vain for ivory to strike like the petulant breed of lovers who miss their partners with anger, and nervously.  It was in this context that I made my “German alliance”, foregoing attendance of afternoon lecture to head to North London to play on a clavinova which Nav arranged for me at a small personal expense.  When I returned to campus to catch the latter half of lecture, which runs for two hours, I was so exhausted that I found an empty classroom and slept.  A student woke me shortly before five, letting me know that his class was due to begin in this space where my welcome was near spent…

Very little in Macroeconomics seminar made sense to me, and at long last I felt a kanka to those numerous students who seek not to master a class, but merely to piece together enough facts to perform acceptably on an exam or blunder through a paper and get the whole affair over with.  Then came the Moment of Truth and after that some singing, all of which went all right after all and seemed like ants in retrospect, but which nevertheless justified a long epilogue of unwinding over curry and lager and conversation.

The subject of this writing, though, is the young man who woke me in the classroom at five.  Where are you from? he asked, and I replied, The United States, well, I was born in China, moved to America when I was three, stumbling through phrases, remember, I was tired and also my consciousness was in its helpless infancy.  Guess where I’m from, he said, it’s a great friend of China, and I tried but could not guess ‘Pakistan’.  He seemed very interested in bringing up the topic of religion, although in fact presently I doubt my recollection of this, and in any case, he pressed me on my religious beliefs, and I said, atheism.  Atheism, my friend.  Grew up Christian.  And he asked me, well, I am sure you have a lot of knowledge of Christianity, but what do you know about Islam?  Have you studied Islam?  He told me that if I were buying a pair of shoes, wouldn’t I try on every pair before deciding which pair to wear, but if he were really so interested in how I shop, why wasn’t he there when I was buying “NAVY” trousers earlier.  Why wasn’t he there when I was buying “NAVY” trousers.


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