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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Illinois Jesus

August 18, 2014 | by

A forgotten Midwestern religious sect and the strange novel it inspired.

An illustration from Six Years in Heaven.

The most confusing thing about the rural Midwest is the importance placed on being normal. Perhaps this comes from demographic homogeneity: there’s a comforting stability in being able to drive a hundred miles in almost any direction and find a landscape almost identical to the one from which you set out.

The Midwest is construed as a place where nothing happens—that being, it should be emphasized, a good thing. Native Americans once lived here, of course; but there’s no longer any sign of them aside from some low mounds and their continuing near-universal use as school mascots. When I grew up here, no one wondered why they’d left. Probably it was more exciting somewhere else. Who could blame them? It’s a fine place to leave.

But on returning, as I did recently, the effect is disorienting: this is a place where everyone is cheerfully convinced of the rationality of their insanity. I was never immune to this. In school, everyone was perplexed by race problems. We weren’t racist. How could we be when there weren’t any black people? We ignored that in Rockford, Illinois, ten miles away, desegregation lawsuits were impossibly still grinding through the court system. Likewise, we firmly believed that gay people weren’t something we had; we learned we’d had a Jewish family in our town only after they’d safely escaped. This seems ludicrous to me now, and things have undoubtedly changed since the turn of the century. With the arrival of the Internet and cable TV, the boast that newscasters were carefully trained to speak like us—because we, among all Americans, had no accents—isn’t quite as impressive.

In 1988, when I was ten, my parents moved to a five-acre farm between the rust-belt city of Rockford and the village of Winnebago. Not being from the area, they were naturally curious about the history, and one of them found a Works Progress Administration history of Illinois in the library. In that book, we discovered that the country road we lived on had once not been so somnolent. A block north of us, a large complex of buildings painted red bore the name Weldon Farm, but once it had been called Heaven. In the 1880s it had been the center of an obscure religious sect—still lacking a Wikipedia entry of their own—called the Beekmanites. A woman named Dorinda Beekman had declared herself to be Jesus, as one did in those days; she died after promising to rise from the dead in three days. Her considerable followers were disappointed until one of them, a red-headed man named George Jacob Schweinfurth, neatly solved the problem by explaining that her spirit had moved into his body. Many agreed; he and his followers, the Church Triumphant, moved into Heaven and lived communally, where he’d attracted attention as far away as the New York Times.

A block south of my parents’ place, the road dead-ended in front of a run-down house. A “bad” family lived there, and their children occasionally went to school with me. We would have called them poor white trash had we not been afraid of being beaten up. Their house, ramshackle as it appeared to be, had a history as well: it had once been Hell. Schweinfurth had lived in luxury in Heaven, arrayed with young women called Angels. Their husbands, had they any, and members of the group who’d fallen out of favor, were sent to Hell, where the work needed to keep the sect fed was done. Read More »

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No More Tears

July 9, 2014 | by

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This “Jesus Wept” photo became a meme in the aftermath of Brazil’s defeat yesterday.

O Lachryma Cristi, what has happened to our weepy Brazilians? Since day one of this tournament, it seems, they have been in tears. As the technical director Carlos Alberto Parreira reported, “They cry during the national anthem, they cry at the end of extra-time, they cry before and after the penalties.” The sports psychologist Regina Brandão was rushed in, but failed to stem the flow; then it was the Pressure! The Pressure! A nation’s hopes, et cetera, et cetera.

And now this 7-1 pasting, the iconic gone-viral boy in the crowd, glasses pushed up, fingers pressed to eyes, sobbing into his Coca-Cola cup; and somewhere else not too far off, the pretty girl with tears streaming down her cheeks, rivulets slowly obliterating the Brazilian flags she had painted there. Wherever you look, buckets: David Luiz crying; Oscar, his face pressed down soaking someone’s shoulder. Cry me a river—the river cried turned out to be the Amazon. Meanwhile, the Germans never shed a tear, although Mesut Özil looked as if he might cry when Bastian Schweinsteiger yelled at him for missing an easy opportunity to put goal number eight past Júlio César. Lighten up, Bastian!

And now the hundred-foot-high concrete Christ the Redeemer that stands with arms outstretched, gazing over Rio from the peak of the Corcovado mountain, has been photoshopped with its hands to its face, a meme for the ages. Read More »

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Avoid Cholera with a Healthy Beard, and Other News

May 16, 2014 | by

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A twenty-three-year-old Viennese woman, drawn before and after contracting cholera in 1831. Image via Wired.com

  • Say Jesus Christ dictates a book to you in a dream—who holds the copyright? Is it you or is it Jesus of Nazareth?
  • “Donne, in one of his regrettably few statements about how ‘Metricall compositions’ are made, referred to the putting together of a poem as ‘the shutting up.’ An unfortunate term, and we could use a better one; because there can’t be much doubt that the shaping of a poem is also a pressure, in which the binding energy of the poem brings everything inside its perimeter to incandescence.”
  • Let’s give franchise novels their due: “It’s a plain fact of publishing life that more people will read the latest Star Wars franchise novel than all the books shortlisted for last year’s Booker prize put together.”
  • Unsurprisingly, nineteenth-century medical texts are full of disturbingly wondrous illustrations.
  • While we’re on medicine in the nineteenth century: doctors in the Victorian era recommended that men grow beards to stay healthy. “The Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body. Others saw it as a means of relaxing the throat, especially for those whose work involved public speaking.”

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Other People’s Churches

October 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Nick Viola.

“Close your eyes,” the man told us, and we did. “If you died today, do you know for sure if you would go to heaven? If you don’t, raise your hand.” When my hand curled slowly into the air, two strangers rushed over to me, kneeling one on either side of my metal folding chair, as if I’d just been struck down on a busy street. They greeted me in warm, soft tones. One opened a small leather-bound book and ran her fingers along the close-set type, then inclined the page towards me. She underlined a passage with her fingernail and commanded me to read it.

For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord, and believe in your own heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation.

At my feet, the two strangers blinked up at me expectantly. “I think I misunderstood the question,” I lied, because I hadn’t. Read More »

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