Looking for truth in the wrong places

Published 3:07 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

Several weeks ago was American Crafts Week. Heartwood Gallery hosted a reception at the Saluda Center featuring four local artists, with a talk by Stoney Lamar about contemporary arts and crafts. Stoney is a woodturner whose work has evolved over the years from simple functional bowls to works of art. Stoney spoke of his life working with wood.
Two of his statements have stuck with me. One is that working with his hands and the lathe has prepared him for physical challenges facing him today. The second statement was that trees have taught him most everything that he needs to know.
Being a person with great respect for trees, that comment is the one that I have thought about very often since that evening.
Two weeks later Allen and I had dinner with Verne Dawson and his wife Laura.Verne is an artist and Laura works for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Laura had just come back from an art trip to South Korea, where there is a rapidly growing upper class with the financial means to invest in art, especially modern art. One of the aspects of the trip that fascinated Laura had nothing to do with art; it was learning that, in South Korea, one fourth of the population is Buddhist, one fourth Christian, and one half animist.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I had not heard the word ‘animist’ in years, if ever. Animism is a religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.
Throughout the South Korean countryside Laura saw shrines and effigies to specific animals where people stopped to pray in hopes of filling certain needs. I can’t say that I am likely to start praying to an animal or tree even though I have great respect for animals, but I may just sit under a tree for a while and ponder the possibilities.
The present political climate has caused unimaginable distrust of our institutions, our society, and our fellow man. We are told lies and half truths, with the warning that if we don’t believe the lies then we’re un-American and un-Christian.
I realize that these lies are being told by people, and these people are using God and/or patriotism as a smokescreen, but the effect is the same; we do not know who to trust.
One night when I was questioning which version of a political sound-bite was really true, our son Joseph made the comment that it is all basically gossip. We spend hundreds of hours trying to discern who is telling the truth, knowing that self interests govern all the information.
Because I actually thrive on the political banter, Joseph’s comment came to me as a criticism. But he’s right; I’ll have to admit it.
Fifty percent of the South Koreans may be on to something; animals don’t lie. Neither do trees and rocks. They don’t manipulate or fight for power and control. They fight for survival, that’s all.
For animists, human beings are often regarded as on a roughly equal footing with other animals, plants, and natural forces. Therefore, it is morally imperative to treat plants and animals with respect. How refreshing!
I’m thinking that I’ll hang in there with Stoney and keep learning from the lessons that trees and nature provide. The universe has so much to teach us, if we’ll only take the time to listen.
This election season has sent me a clear message, which is to turn off the gossip. Listen to that which has true value that can nourish our minds and souls.

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