By Rev. Tim Churchill
You might catch a glimpse of him in the shadowy background of his local pub, encircled by a fascinated and enchanted group of onlookers. ‘What’s happening?’ you ask.
‘It’s the Priest-Dude,’ calls out the disinterested bar manager from across the room as he continues to wipe a beer glass dry. He’s seen it all before… many times, but the crowd hasn’t and neither have you. You step a little closer to the mystery. Priest? What the fuck does he mean, Priest? You push yourself through the crowd and see for yourself. Oh my God!
There, sat with his hand stretched out on the wooden table, is the cause of all the excitement. A figure dressed like a druid in shabby woolen shirt and ‘Jesus boots,’ eyes half closed and a look of deep concentration on his face. You glance at all the expressions around the table. Their eyes are all focused on the same place and you follow their gaze. Then you stop breathing for a moment. In the mysterious man’s stretched out hand lies a spoon… but this spoon is moving. Damn it the spoon is curling upward as his hands stays still.
You and the crowd continue to watch as he tips the spoon onto the table. One young woman reaches out. She seems to expect a shock as she delicately touches it with the tip of her finger. It’s ok. She picks it up. It’s passed round and eventually you handle it yourself. You try and bend it. How the fuck did he do it?
For the next hour or so you are transfixed by the mysteries you witness right in front of your eyes. He makes objects move, plucks memories out of your mind, tells you what word you are thinking of and even brings tears to some spectators’ eyes… tears, not of sadness, but the joy of re-discovering their enchanted child within.
His magic is not like the conjuring tricks you’ve seen before. This guy seems different. He claims he is not psychic. He says it’s a mixture of psychology and illusion. He claims he’s not reading your mind but reading your personality from he subtle clues you give off. You don’t know what to think and leave that night in an aura of spellbound wonder. You have touched a place within yourself that has not been visited for many years. Part of you wants to know how he did it but the bigger part wants to say with the mystery. You’ve met Rev. Mark Townsend, Priest-Dude & Magic Man, and you feel better for it.
1) You’re a priest and a magician. Do you see any parallels between magic and religion? Is religion a sort of functional illusion, as Great Dude in History Kurt Vonnegut suggested?
In a sense, yeah, Vonnegut was right. Religion (every religion) at its best can make possible a real sense of connection to the great mystery beyond our comprehension. Whether there be an actual ‘Dude in the Sky’ or not the cosmos is buzzing with creativity, wonder and natural magic. Religion, by ritual, metaphor and sacrament can plug us in to that reality. But it’s not for everyone. Science – particularly cosmology and quantum psychics – can do the same, as can stage illusion. I ain’t kidding. Modern stage magicians are usually incredible skeptics and rightly so. They know how easy it is to dupe people. They can see how some of the more unscrupulous Ministers use persuasive techniques (and sometimes even manipulative trickery) to con folk out of cash. But stage magicians ought not throw the divine baby out with the ‘holy’ water. Stage magic can be a priestly function. It can shock, enchant and awaken people to wonder in a way that much of religion has forgotten how to do. Bring back the mystery and awe I say.
Of course religion was born out of magic. It all began thousands of years ago around the shamanic camp fires, where ritual elders would perform magic tricks in order to awaken their tribes to the power of the universe.
2) Do you agree that Jesus was a Great Dude in History? Or is Dudeism a bit out of its element on that one?
Oh yeah Jesus was indeed the Mr. El Duderino of the 1st Century. I’ve just finished writing a new book, which was all about stripping away the Christian vestments of this Galilean street teacher, to see what kind of a dude he really was. And to help me in my research I not only used the latest historical critical sources from the Churchian world (we call it Jesus Quest scholarship) but also sought out a few dozen super cool writers of a world that is often seen as the antithesis to Churchianity – Paganism. I interviewed many of the leading lights within the Druid, Wiccan and Heathen communities, and the Jesus of their imagination was a dude like you’ve never seen him before. With their insights, together with what I learned from the Jesus Quest, I was able to see Jesus as a counter cultural shaman / mystic who’s essential message was ‘Hey, don’t let anyone try and put you in a box man and, like, never feel you gotta apologize for being who you are. You’re special – in fact you’re a god/goddess. And don’t put me on a pedestal either – we’re all brothers and sisters you know. The Dude up there is actually the Dude down here, inside every one of you.’
3) You’re one of the most open-minded priests out there. What impels you to remain in the Christian fold? How do you distance yourself from all the baggage and associations of the established Churches?
Well thank you. I guess I still stay ‘within the Christian fold’ because I still love the main man (the 1st C El Duderino) and still feel that there’s hidden treasure lying underneath all the crap and bullshit of the institution. But I left my own particular church (The Church of England) about this time last year because I ended up feeling I could be a better friend on the outside than within. I could have easily gone the Pagan way because I’ve made such great friends among them and have been awakened to the beauty and power of nature. But I’m still a priest and see no reason why I can’t hold these two worlds together. So I’ve joined an Independent Catholic Church (the OEC); one which allows me to be exactly who I am. Cool hey!
4) What insights and lessons do the Jesus of the Gospels and the Dude of Lebowski have in common?
Well can’t you imagine this scene? The real way it happened. A reading from the Gospel According to St. Jeffrey chapter 8:
The tight assed teachers of the law brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
But Jesus yawned and sat down on the dirt and began to doodle on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he laboriously looked up, adjusted his shades, and said to their leader, “Hey lighten up man and, like, as if you are all perfect. Come on, you gotta treat the ladies with some respect. Otherwise what goes around comes around.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
“But she’s a sinner,” said the guy with the coin purse held between his buttocks.
Jesus raised his head once more, brushed his matted hair out of his eyes and said, “Well that’s just, like, your opinion man, now leave her alone unless any of you can honestly say you’re better than her.’ After that they bothered her no more.
5) Who are some other Great Dudes you admire?
Rather than rabbit on about my favorite long gone Dudes (like the Buddha and Francis of Assisi) I’m gonna just mention two modern day UK dudes who are giants in my life.
Peter Owen Jones – the coolest and most relevant priest in the Church of England today, famed for his amazing around the world adventures as an ‘extreme pilgrim.’ Peter is unafraid to put his money where his mouth is and search for the divine spark in the most unexpected places.
Philip Carr-Gomm – the inspirational hippy chief of the world’s largest Druid order (OBOD). A man well versed in both native indigenous western traditions as well as the mysticism of the Far East, especially Jainism. A truly fabulous dude!
6) What kinds of stuff do you like to sermonize about?
Well in a way I feel that the biggest need in the fast paced and success oriented modern western world is the slow the hell down, and to stop being so damned obsessed with success and perfection. I love the Navajo Indian rugs that have a deliberate imperfection sewn into them. They symbolize the necessary truth that perfection is the ability to include imperfection.
I also love to help people find their own inner gold, magic, wisdom. I actually believe we all have a wizard living inside us – a wise old man / woman who can guide us if we only slow down and listen. We don’t need books or so-called sacred systems to tell us what to believe. We can be own teachers.
And I love to talk about the founder of my own tradition as a man who was often muddled and messy and pretty beaten up by life – yet he always managed to say the profoundest things. This is an example of my sermonizing on him. It’s from my book The Path of The Blue Raven (an adventure into the beauty of Nature Based Traditions and perhaps the most Dudeist of all my books):
The story of Jesus begins in shit and ends in shit. In fact there’s shit all the way through! If there was a historical birth scene in that ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’, would it really be like the good old fashioned nativity plays our kids star in, or the over-sanitized Christmas card images? Don’t get me wrong, all these images add to the magical nature of Christmas, and I’m all for that, but we mustn’t see them as real. No, the actual story is not so quaint. It is however deeply relevant, for it’s about a poor and homeless human family ending up in nothing more than an animal shack. No comfortable room with a bed. Just some dirty straw and a bucket of water. No fresh clean sheets and a cot. Just some old rags and a food trough. Think about the image. Apart from the parents, whose eyes would have first glimpsed this little one? Not the shepherds, nor the Magi, but those of the ox, ass and probably a rat or two. This is fantastic. It’s a marvelously messy and muddled up picture of a ‘god who meets us in the shit’ – divinity intertwined with the animal muck! How native! How Celtic! How wonderful!
And what about the wandering preacher’s final hours? Well the story tells of a gruesome experience – one load of shit after another. He was betrayed, rejected, beaten, spat upon, humiliated and then killed in the ugliest way possible. And the period between birth and death was not much better. He was misunderstood, called names, run out of town, viewed with suspicion and cursed with a group of total misfits who kept getting it wrong. This is a god-image who lives in the gutter rather than at the top of the ladder.
On top of this he also seemed to be able to single out other people who lived the shittiest lives – the beaten up by life, the marginalized, the unclean, the so called prostitutes and sinners. He befriended them with compassion and showed them a way out of their self-despising mess. And here’s the really important part of the story. He didn’t say ‘join a religion’. He didn’t say ‘believe in this or that doctrine’. He would not even allow people to bow down to him, as if to say ‘don’t look at me either’. He enabled them to find a way out because he changed their view of the divine and he changed their view of themselves. He helped them to feel good about who they were – valued, special, loved.
7) So what’s your essential message in a nutshell?
Easy. Accept what you cannot change. Change what you can. But, above all else, be yourself and look for the magic.
If you want to find out anything more about Mark do look him up at his website which is www.magicofsoul.com