A Memoir of Mania
Charles Kane grew up hearing voices. It didn't bother him much because he was heavily involved with a bleak fundamentalist Christianity, which is a special madness all on its own. He just thought that these voices were only God speaking directly to him.
It was summer. He was fifteen years old, and had come to the Philippines on missionary work, bringing God to the poor and the destitute. His sponsor was Mission Outreach Incorporated. They were working in the city Olongapo, home of America's second largest foreign military base.
Mission Outreach recruited young filipinos from the streets, dubbed them "Guerrillas for God." Chuck says he was "thrilled" by them, asked his sponsor for permission to join the young men in their work. They slept in hammocks at night, and during the day gave out tracts in Tagalog and English - - - literature that would "explain what it meant to be 'born again' to anyone in the crowd who would listen." On the side, he did faith healing of the blind and halt.
During his time there, he heard "the voices in my head grow louder and more clear, to the point where they'd physically startle me."
As their chorus of odd and familiar sounds began in earnest again, something different happened - - - the mutterings became syllables. And those syllables became words. "Chuck?" they said. "Chuck?"
Why the question mark? I wondered.
He felt that his sanity was "ripping apart."
The mania was upon me again. I ripped my shirt and, in a rage, started banging my head on the floor until it bled.
"Then in a fevered moment I stopped and I rested my cheek on the cool cement floor before me. I calmed my breathing and listened: "Chuck?" "Chuck?"
I waited. Ears ringing, I whispered to Jesus a new kind of prayer. "Jesus. I give up. Jesus I give up."
From that moment on, the voices, he decided, were telling him "to remain steady on the path, reminders that Jesus was with me." He decides that he was at one with "all the great prophets. . . . They were the thorn in my flesh - - - a gift from God I couldn't understand."
At one with the great prophets.
And so it went for him and the voices in his head, quickly going from the Philippines to Europe in the '90s, from saving souls on the streets to getting zonked on the streets of Amsterdam. And learning how to make hay in the hay with some of the young ladies who were part of the Velvet Revolution.
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This is a relatively short book - - - 185 pages, but it does go on. Not so much with Chuck and his Jesus and the babbling inside his brainpan, but more Chuck losing his god and taking up with LSD and pot and cocaine and sex and being freaked out and living in Czechoslovakia and smuggling money and burning the candle at both ends.
What caused the big change, from the boy who wanted to be the new Pat Robertson and Jimmy Swaggart to a dopester and peacenik in Amsterdam and in Czechoslovakia? Partly it was study at the relatively liberal Christian Goshen College; partly it was his experiences as a fisherman in Alaska, his "study service trimester" in Costa Rica, and Haiti and the Philippines; and, too, the basic works of liberal theologians he came to know.
Was the Lord really against the revolution in the Phillipines and Haiti? Was Ronald Reagan anointed by God? What were missionaries really doing to solve the problems in their host countries? Was salvation enough? What about bread or clean water? What if they were on the wrong side?
Lithium Jesus is Kane's tell-all: growing away from the fundamentalist Jesus, going wild in Amsterdam and in Czechoslovakia, and - - - evidently the high point for him - - - letting us know how he wangled his way into a press conference with President George Bush #1, during which, in a lull, Kane interrupted this fully televised event to blurt out a singular, very mysterious line . . . telling the president of the free world that "The homeless in the trees are mourning your decisions here." Hunh?
And then, as he reported later in interview with NPR's Ira Glass - - - reproduced in its entirety here - - - "Nothing happened."
He ain't going to arrest me, and he's about to engage me. And I was like, "Oh my god. The president of the United States is speaking to me right now." And he basically started asking me questions. And I was like, "Holy mackerel. I really almost passed out.
The questions? In effect, Bush asked who the hell he was, and what was he doing in this press conference, and "who are you accredited to?" And then Bush opined that he, Charles Kane, was "rude."
People don't take rude people seriously. And if you interrupt a press conference like this, I'm sure that people would say that's why we don't take you seriously.
In reading this, I found that, for one of the few times in my life, I agreed heartily with the president. Who the hell is this jerk? Why would Kane fabricate this extremely dumb 15 minutes of fame, and worse, why would he slap it (ten pages!) smack-dab in the middle of Lithium Jesus, apparently making it the high point of the book.
He could have asked a thousand questions that would have put Bush on the spot, might have done a mite of good in the world. But no. "The homeless in the trees are mourning your decisions here." Jesus! we're thinking. This guy really is bonkers.
In truth, the book is a jumble, hanging on a couple of very slim threads. #1: I have these voices in my head babbling at me. #2: I was a Jesus Freak who went bananas in Europe, and ended up on NPR. #3: Best of all, I interrupted a presidential press conference.
My thought: if you want a let-me-tell-you the truth book about going potty, you're far better off looking at when Nietzsche turned screwball, or studying the life of Mark Vonnegut, or reading Jim Knipfel's terrific Quitting the Nairobi Trio. Or, best of all, going to the very source, reading Daniel Paul Schreber's exquisite Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.
Anything . . . anything has got to be better than someone who can only imagine that he's a Lithium Jesus.--- Pamela Wylie