Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

“The Karma of Jesus” Interview v with Alex Ness

Alex Ness is a writer, poet, and social critic. Recently Alex interviewed me about my book, The Karma of Jesus. Here are some excerpts:

AN: You’re saying that “Grace trumps Karma.” Isn’t it a bit foolish, to argue one unproven religious principle with yet another one?  Karma exists or doesn’t every bit as much as Jesus.


MH: I won’t argue that from the realm of ideas. I can only say what I’ve experienced, personally. Karma leaves me in debt, but Grace in Jesus really works, practically I mean.

AN: How is that working out for you, personally?

MH: Here’s a story, not an argument: Somewhere a woman named Roxanne sits alone at night trying to silence the voices in her head. One of those voices is mine. I no longer know where she lives. I don’t know if she beats her children, cuts herself, drinks vodka for breakfast, or writes hateful emails to advice columnists. I wouldn’t be surprised at anything of the sort. I wouldn’t be surprised at worse.


I have not seen Roxanne since a clear, crisp Friday afternoon in March, 1974 when she got stepped off our school bus for the last time, the day she left our school. I drove her away.

I never intended to hurt Roxanne. We were bumbling through our 8th grade year at Soulsbyville School in the Gold Rush country east of Sonora, California. Roxanne had a disability. Her right hand hung at her side and she walked with a limp. She had large beautiful sad eyes, and she seldom spoke. We rode the same bus every morning and afternoon 40 minutes each way, weaving in and out of the little valleys where hearty and reclusive Californians had tucked away their homes. I got bored on those long drives. Generally, when I get bored I make trouble.


I grew up in a family of teasers. My father, who had the kindest of hearts loved to raise reactions with little ornery jests. I learned early that affection comes with a jab and a snicker. Herringshaws give this kind of attention. We tease.

I remember feeling uncomfortable with Roxanne’s sullen silence. She would sit in her seat alone, coddling her useless hand looking guarded and suspicious, staring out the window at the green and rocky hills of the Tuolumne. No one spoke much to Roxanne. She said even less. I remember thinking she needed attention. I decided to give he some. I started to joke with her.


I gave her a nickname which I can’t recall now. I sat near her whenever I could and peppering her with playful banter. She’d tell me, beg me to leave her alone, but her rebuffs only made me more resolved. I know now – and probably knew then – that some of my barbs crossed the line into meanness, some even to abuse. But no one corrected me and I never corrected myself. 

Then one day Roxanne stopped riding the bus. Her parents removed her from the school and she disappeared from my life.

At the time I didn’t see a connection between my banter and her departure. I felt no responsibility. I never intended to hurt anyone. It was all in good sport. But in the years that followed, as my conscience and imagination matured I sometimes playing back the mental tape of those bus rides and I saw clearly the brutality I had helped heap on Roxanne. I had not caused all her pain. I had not intended to chase her off. But that was the result.


And what is life for her today? I don’t know. But I do know that I am part of a vast and complicated equation of pain she almost certainly still lives beneath and perhaps passes on to others. If tried fairly in a court, I would suffer conviction by a jury of my peers because my teasing had brutal unintended consequences. I might plead “I never meant to…” But that would not matter. I’d be made to pay reparations with interest and I’d go bankrupt.

I should be damned to hell or if I were Monist to 10,000 reincarnations to pay for this. But the reality is, I’ve been released of culpability. I know it! I couldn’t live with myself but experientially, I don’t have to! That’s what Jesus has done…


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