EAST DOESN'T QUITE MEET WEST
by Jamie Travers-Murison ... by James Travers-Murison - has a degree in history,
psychology and Law at Monash University, worked for international law and accounting firms and has travelled extensively around the world spending some of that time
searching for a meaning to life.
A letter to my mother.
This letter is on religion and age. The generation gap between the old fundamentalist believers of
Christianity and the younger generation of self-explorer's who know the flaws of Christianity yet cannot quite meet the scrutiny of their elders and so satisfactorily
communicate the contradictions in Christianity and so express the changes they feel are necessary to the belief system.
How are you ? I am having an interesting time up here in cap city. The days are blue and warmly lit by the scribbly gums and
stringybarks peeling their bark in long strips to the cacophony of car motors. This morning I rose to the odious rhetoric of chairman Mao's cultural revolution . At 8.40
am dad entered my room and placed the said radio broadcast at close to full volume to my ear. I was dreaming of daffodils floating through the air in a slow motion.
Spinning twisting, arching their light green stems in a multitude of directions that collided obliquely with each other. Petals flew off the ends and joined the floating
mass to fill the air with yellow, green, white until obscured in a blur of iridescent colour. My eyes opened to the marching music of the cultural revolution and the sharp
sounds of knocking on the door.
And so eventually I was up and getting dressed while dad shaved, then after some time pondering on dad's whereabouts, we
made it to the car. To a Camera shop, but first we found a parking meter with some time left on it. We found one and then headed off to the shops. With the camera fixed we
were off again too seek cheaper film developing. We found the best deal back at the first shop, but meanwhile the meterman was at dad's car punching his registration
number into the computer. Oh dear, the meter had expired while we were attempting to save money running from shop to shop and thirty five dollars later we were off to see
Moe Smith. Dad was very upset, apparently he had recently received two speeding tickets which he said took him months to pay off . Finally he blamed me for not allowing
him to park for free outside the city limits. Running late for Moe and as I had done well saving thirty five dollars on film developing and had the camera fixed for
nothing, seeing his contorted wheezing face, I offered to pay the fine. It took him a while to recover and after saying he'd think about it he finally said he'd be
At 75, retired reverend and ex-Korean war medal of honor veteran major Moe Smith walked towards us at full pace and
cheerfully said "there's a rake on the lawn". I made back, picked it up and handed it to him. Our first contact, two hands on a rake. Inside his suburban villa done up
like a tropical mission, practical cheap armchairs lined in a mass around the airy lounge and gaudy oil paintings of no great note of India, Nepal and the tropics lined
the wall. He offered us a drink and at my request for herbal tea, he rushed back to produce a box full of "spicy ginger". With a gleam of angelic joy in his eye he
disappeared off to produce his brew. Sweet twirly biscuits with lumps of sweeter cheesy icing were brought out as dad and me examined his art collection. Pleasantries
aside. I was questioned at length on my current works 'the way to salvation'.
"I hear you're doing good works in St. Kilda," deep concern emanates from behind his spectacles and floppy mop of a
moustache. He's completely taken me by surprise. I've done nothing.
"I could have done much more." I grasp for invisible straws and think desperately of what good I've done, hoping he won't
ask more knowing he will. Vague images of destitute heroin addicted prostitutes throwing themselves into my arms looking not unlike emaciated versions of Mary Magdalene
enter my head. Alcoholic tramps wondering lost begging for a few dollars to warm their cockles, the enormous stomach of a dead drunk aboriginal woman plonked comatose on
the pavement crying out "ssh...your a nice boy... cum 'ome wid me, shweety" as she tries to grab my arm, a young urchin of a lad carooning past on a techno skateboard
attempting to grab an old ladies bag as I desperately try to stop him, on his way back to his cardboard box hidden beneath the stars in a derelict side alley, all covered
in filth - fill my head in a chaotic mist. My eyes slowly clear to meet his patiently staring face.
"And. . ." he states.
The Wilderness Society comes to my rescue.
"The Wilderness Society". I reply.
I'd folded letters, done a letter drop, toured a logged forest, made some phone calls trying to sell wine to multinational
social clubs, showed them some photographs of Cape York, written a short article about an aboriginal I'd met and gone to endless meetings about how to have a meeting, how
not to have a meeting and how to get along with everyone in a meeting. They called it consensus, I called it excruciating. I'd even attempted to offer myself to the earthy
goddesses that adorned the place like amazon warriors of the never-never.
Yet they were too ensconced in saving the blue-eyed webbed-foot hooting cough moss and the stringy-nosed scribbly bark red
gums from the saws of the woodchip millers to ever notice my offers of spiritual oneness.
The reverend waited for more information.
I continued, " and I well did a video ... a sort of documentary clip ... only ... 10 minutes . .. pretty amateurish . . . a
first attempt . .. on the Wilderness Society. An interview and some footage of the people, office, the wildlife ... for community television ... cable. You know cable?" I
passed the ball to his court. His beady eyes grabbed the cue.
"Kerry Packer, big business, isn't it" he said gleefully like an ancient panther about to spring.
I nodded. "They're not that bad. They do good things. I know what you mean, tainted money, but sometimes it can flow
to good things."
"Yes, the media magnates can see a dollar in it. Throw some cash at the community. Makes them look good." He scratched his
"I agree, but aren't we all tainted beings. It's an imperfect world. You have to operate within those limits." I looked down
at the apricot floor.
"Doesn't that bring us to another topic," he said triumphantly. "There is one being who is not tainted " I felt as if I was
back in Sunday school at the age of five. Go on tell me about Jesus I prayed, hoping that I'd be saved from detailing my good works in St. Kilda. If he'd pushed me I could
have spoken of the ex-junkie I had befriended, the schizophrenic girl I'd failed to placate, the overseas backpackers I'd taken to the Wilderness Society and shown round
Melbourne, the portraits I'd done.
"Jesus was, is the only perfect being who never sinned. And, Jamie, it is only through him and Him alone that we can
reach to God's heaven, to save ourselves!" I nodded in agreement. Moe's eyes were beginning to bulge and his spectacles were beginning to fall off his nose. " It is mercy
and judgement, mercy and judgement. The two sides of God. One is necessary for the other. Your Indian experiences ... you were interested in Hinduism. The circle..." He
drew a circle with his finger staring pointedly at the tip. "Reincarnation, doing things for merit, to get better and better, higher and higher up the scale tell you
disappear into universal oneness, nirvana, return like a drop into the ocean." His finger spiralled into a chaotic blip while I was squeeming on the sofa, trying to keep
my eyes concentrated on him, but being pulled into every angle of the room. Suddenly the roughly painted rice-paddies of the Punjab took on enormous
"Isn't that correct" he blustered, I continued to nod. "However Christianity says 'you are saved! It is done!' Trying
to gain further by acts of merit is asserting yourself over God. Accept Jesus, whose perfection you yourself can never attain and allow him to act through you. Surrender
to him and one is with God." He continued oblivious to my condition. "It is the linear approach. A beginning and an end which can be achieved now in this life through a
personal experience with Christ." He leaned closer. "It is only our rebellion our attempt to say we can do it alone that separates him from us." He picked up a pad
and started to draw.
"This is the crown of God." A crown a three year old would have drawn appeared.
" This is the world." A circle just below.
"And this is man." Standing on the circle.
" In tune with God, shall we say. And this is what man has done"
Opposite to it he drew instead a little man wearing a crown on the circle.
" Man thinks he can do it alone and for that he suffers." He drew an oblique smile on the little man.
"As far as I can see the Buddhists and Hindus see God as an impersonal figure. JudeoChristians however see God as a person
to be loved."
He clenched his hand into a fist. "Whereas Hindu-Buddhists see no such relationship to be loved. No one that has suffered
for their sins, been crucified on the cross out of his love for them." I wondered if I was getting lost in a time warp. Being transported back to medieval Spain and had
come across the chambers of a fervent member of the inquisition. Moe had moved across the room to my sofa on which he perched, pad in hand, pen in other. No more than a
foot from my face he began again.
"Hence in India they let beggars starve to death, corruption and theft run rife. No necessity to care for others, to save
others, because unlike Christianity the focus is on saving oneself. As Jesus died for us, to save us, from our sins, through him, by accepting him, as the only way to
salvation, we must help others, spread God's love, to others. It is a living personal faith with Jesus."
He paused. "What do you think?"
I was unsure whether to let it go with a nod of the head or attempt to say my piece. Stumbling I began.
"Well ... in actual fact... the Hindus ... do create the possibility to personalize God for those who... need to focus on an
image of the divine." I paused feeling like someone had gripped my head in a vice. Trying to meet his piercing eyes I continued. "Krishna for instance is one of hundreds
of gods they have created . .. he would be similar to Christ, except unlike Christ he was so pure and . . . perfect . .. he had no need to suffer.. . He lived a life of
utter bliss ... and peace." I neglected to mention Arjuna's crisis of conscience on the battlefield in the Baghavad Gita in which Krishna lectured self-realization through
carrying out one's duty no matter how seemingly unpleasant. Anjuna was saying he would prefer to die than kill his evil relatives. Krishna told him that we are all beyond
death ultimately and the dance of maya that god has enveloped in us must be fulfilled - evil against good - even if it requires us to fight, to kill, even to die
fighting in that duty.
"It's their mythology. Jesus existed?" He snapped like a disgruntled puppy dog annoyed at being taught something
I continued. "So you see Hinduism has both a personal and ... impersonal aspect ... as God himself does." Quizzically I
stared at him and asked him what I had asked Christians a thousand times before.
"How can you say the only way to God is through Jesus, how can you exclude all those people that have loved and cared and
helped without any thought of themselves? Who just did it because it felt good regardless of any religion, who had perhaps never heard of Christianity. Who just acted out
of a deep love for life".
He jumped on those horrendous words, those utterances of sin and pride.
"Feel good - acting to feel better, then one's not acting for god. It's selfishness!"
But what are you doing in your attempts to convert people, to let Jesus enter you, to spread love, isn't it for that good
feeling of love I thought, but it seemed too difficult to bridge that gap with him.
Dad interrupted and looked at Moe, "I think you have to go for your lunch".
Ethel, Moe's wife was rattling at the door and in came a bonnie Scottish flower of a well matured woman. All gushing and
smiles she offered her hand to me. "How are you Jamie? We've been praying for you."
"Fine, fine" I was sure I wasn't really supposed to answer. She rushed through in her flowery dress and dad edged me out. On
the narrow verandah we shook hands again, slapped shoulders lightly and said our thankyous.
"Good luck Jamie. We'll be praying for you. I think you're almost there". I felt a slow surge of energy, a warm tide of love
passed into my heart. And as I smiled warmly dad backed off the stairs backwards and stumbled collapsing into an iron post . He caught himself from falling and stumbled
further down the stairs reaching the garden where he hopped round in painful leaps crying out.
"I'm O.K.... my god a step further and I'd have killed myself .. you would have had a dead father on your hands." We looked
on concerned as he continued to hop to the car. "Don't worry ... just what I needed ... that's trumped it .. my knees going and now this... I'm bloody fed up... oh '
sorry, I didn't say that, goodbye".
"How's the leg," we were on a highway to Weston. I was concerned.
"Its O.K. I better check it. Could be bleeding," he lifted his trouser leg up, it was badly bruised. I stared at him
carefully to discern the truth. He looked guiltily back, his green-blue eyes watering. "God saved me. . . He stopped me falling. I could be dead."
'He could have stopped you falling back in the first place,' I thought.
"Oh, I think I deserved that Jamie," I was not sure if he had spoken and I didn't push him. Too much pain in those eyes,
that had to find a reason, analyze, make amends so as to never make a mistake and so in a way deny simple affectionate love. Unable to give a simple hug. Unable to accept
life simply as it is and always in its subconscious deeply afraid of love, of touching, of trusting. Always afraid of theft and damage and insult so as to lose track of
the real humanness of love. I felt overwhelmingly sorry for him, but was I wrong?
"Give Anthony a call on your mobile. That'll give him a surprise. I think you need a break. That was a very heavy
discussion...too heavy. Was it too much for you?"
"No, no, I enjoyed it," I looked at him.
"I think seeing a family, something light would be a good break - ring Anthony."
The card, the photograph latched to the top of Moe's clipboard. A photograph of an Islander evangelist singing.
"Your postcard, very good. You said 'perhaps we are all divine beings, except some are more in tune with this than others.'
Moe looked at me and breathed deeply. "What did you mean?"
I tried to look intelligent - screwed my face up, attempting to disguise my confusion for deep contemplation.
He answered as if I'd given the perfect response. "It's not true. Only Jesus is divine. Only through Jesus entering us can
we become divine. The rest I'm afraid are out of it." A gloat of finality entered his voice.
"Then you wrote, 'Jesus said, "let not the stick before the stone become lest the house falleth down". We are all divine
creatures seeking our path to God. It is just the stick that we must watch for lest it gets us unstuck. ' "
"What did you mean?" Concerned puzzlement furrowed his brow.
I had made the quote up as a joke when I had been bored out of my brains, marooned on Thursday Island and surroundered by
the fervant arms of the Assembly of God Church. Not realizing that he would ever confront me with it, suddenly I could not admit it had just been a parablic pun, I
struggled with possibilities of trying to explain the symbolic parable of the stick. Through my mind passed sticks of retribution, divine punishment against naughty
backsides, the paucity of a sticks strength relative to the solidity of stone, or sticky tape. The evil stick stuck into one's spirit. The metaphysical stick wand of
Ellijah that attempted to control God's power. The sexually erect yet intensely thin and weak phallus stick of an infertile false god. Moses walking stick after he fell
off the mount. The sticks as the wooden framework of the Temple of David. All opposing the eternal, everlasting foundation stone of God's divine stability and order.
Whether to reveal it as an attempt at humour, or to simply plead temporary insanity.
"I think I was going through a religious stage then. Not very realistic. Head in the clouds stuff. I can't really associate
with it now. I feel I'm on a much more practical level, getting things done. More down to earth, pragmatic." I spoke with deep seriousness and prayed for divine