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Sunday, March 30, 2014

The New Church--After Religion

What it means to be human (spiritually human, not our sinful nature but that which aspires upward) must be the principal that we follow to the New Church. We must focus on the human, not the unknowable Holy (but know that the spiritual humanity must come from holiness, must come from the Creator, and this spirit language is our meeting place). We must create the new language of the spirit to subsume the language of the Word. This is so because literalism is killing the church. So perhaps poetry will save it.

What Hans Christian Von Baeyer once said of science (Discover, March 1996), "Science, in other words, thrives on anomaly, inconsistency, controversy, and doubt. Certainty kills it" should also be applied to the church and spirituality. Whereas certainty comes from the mind, doubt comes from the body: an experience leaves the question What has happened? Who am I, now that this has occurred? Certainty says, This is so because X is Y. It is an answer. And the answers the old church is leaving us are proving unsatisfactory.

The New Church should be like a ship at sea, not at port. The existing church/ship sits at dry dock, getting its repairs done and reviewing its itinerary. Cargo sits about--these are the rules of the church. No homosexuality. Belief in transubstantiation (or not). Belief in infant baptism (or adult). The rules for Christ's divinity--all that stuff has been worked out in creeds and so forth. The cargo is also filled with a ballast of burdensome connotations: judgmentalism, bias, hatred, political activism (of the wrong sort).

However it is the ship out at sea that will be the one that will prevail. It sails along in a fog of knowing/not-knowing. The captain is unsure of his compass and maps--indeed he does not even use these as he thinks them not so useful. The sailors on-board appear to still need their sea-legs under them; they're a bit wobbly-legged. The mists are so pervasive that one cannot always see clearly ahead, and that is fine; this church is used to sailing in murky waters, this church is used to not-knowing. Its cargo is still somewhat overladen: perhaps too mystical, too tolerant of every and all beliefs to the detriment of core belief systems. But it sails. It reaches far distant places. And it is a glad ship, a happy ship. No dour faces here.

The existing church is bound by literalism and rules. As Diana Butler Bass writes in "Christianity After Religion": it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, "us" versus "them." She quotes William Cantwell Smith as he explains that today's church is "something whose locus is in the realm of the intelligible." God is not in the realm of the intelligible. His knowing-ness is like the ocean, like a mist we sail through. We cannot know it. But we pretend; we pretend to know this and that truth, that God wants us this way, not that way. But it is just a pretense.

Language is never literal, but we say we want only literal belief in the Bible. How can that be? God has given us a misty way of knowing and communicating: language. I suspect that is the only way we can know Him: through an emotional, felt connection through poetry, and the other arts. Through shared moments. Is the New Church to the Old Church as true teaching is to propaganda? The Question to the Answer? If the New Church is to foster openness and spirituality, then it has to come to grips with The Question vs The Answer.

It seems the church as it is now constituted is more or less dancing to the same tune of Dogma. It selects the answer it wants, then proposes what hermeneutics are necessary to get there. Every generation is different than the preceding one. Each has to grapple with its own question of Who are we? As we get further away from the generations of our forefathers, we are like a stretched band of gum. Thinner and thinner as it gets pulled it eventually breaks. The Millenials are that generation that has broken from religion. They haven't broken from spirituality (and if humanity is spiritual in its make-up, then how could they?) but they are no longer seeing meaning in dogma. Answers are like that: they have no mystery in them. Nothing to hold the attention. I wonder if the old church to them seems like a dusty mathematics tome. Full of answers, and nothing very much like the mystery of the question of their lives.

Diana Bass makes a point in Christianity After Religion that as we journey we come through different experiences, we become new people, we learn new things. The Millenials are a generation that travels, that does not put down roots. This generation thinks nothing of quitting a job then starting anew. No company men here. This puts them into situations that are constantly shifting. The Question always looms large for them. Bass notes that the old way of religion was this: Belief. Belief is of the mind, not the body in experiencing connectedness and emotion. Belief is an answer. What we need in churches is experience of the spirit; we need the question.

To be successful in the new awakening of the church it will have to be one of the New Light-types, as described by Diana Bass: “more open and inclusive, with greater flexibility in gender roles, a quest for liberation and social equality, a marked liberalism in attitudes regarding sexuality, increased religious diversity, commitment to a wide range of spiritual practices, and acceptance of difference."  There will be a backlash, much like there was after Carter, when the Reagan revolution took fear and loathing to new heights (the City on a Hill). We saw this first with Robertson, Falwell, et al, but we also now see it with the Tea Party [cf Bass, Christianity After Religion]. In a very real sense it is the Christian Church in its floundering, last gasping, thrashing ways that is keeping the Awakening from its course, keeping the Spirit from its work. There will be no stopping it, but the Church will try; and it will fail, with the senescence of its members, with the boredom of its congregation, with the flight of youth. The new Awakening will be cast as demonic, the work of the Devil, if it is recognized at all by the Old Light churches. As Bass writes, “The New Lights of the old awakenings have become the Old Lights of the new one.”

The new, romantic, church will be concerned with the future of the world. Not the future of America. The New Light Awakening will not see boundaries on a map. People the world over need the Spirit. It will be concerned for the children of the next generation and so a Greening will occur in the Awakening. Climate Change will be uppermost in discussions. Alternative power will be the focus for churches: the churches of tomorrow will be run by solar and wind. There may be churches who specialize, some on ocean pollution or over-fishing; some on fracking and the dangers of polluting carbon sources; there will be human rights churches, and churches for the poor and disabled. There will be a lot of these, as the need will be great. There will be rain forest churches and churches for the indigenous. There may even be churches devoted to the rich...not to lobby for their influence and money, but to pray that they find the Spirit for they are far from turning toward God. The New Light churches may also finally embrace agnosticism, those who live in the gray band of not-knowing, of uncertain-ness. And of Zen, whose particular embracing of irrational un-literalism would be a heal-all to the churches of today.

The New Lights will be formed by men and women of Quality (cf Pirsig), of Spirit. They will see the old pass away and they will sense the new. They, for a while, will exist in a floating, non-choosing Way. A Way that holds the old in a balance with the new. This new man/woman is said to be a Man without Qualities (cf Musil), since he has left the old behind, and the new Way has yet to be codified and creed-ified. This Man/Woman will come from the younger generations; the old are inflexible and stiff, resistant to change. He/She will likely come from outside the church tradition. May well come from social liberation circles where there is an emphasis on equality and fairness. She (my bet is that it will be a she) will be low-born, not of the wealthy; or if from the wealthy then she will renounce it utterly. She will be something like the recent Pope Francis, I imagine; though without the baggage of the old church to surround her. She will form the new Way; the Old Lights will denounce her; and the New Church will rise again, just as it did in the 1790s, 1820s, and in the1870s.


"We will never understand anything until we have found some contradictions." Niels Bohr

"Sufism is the religion of the heart, the religion in which the most important thing is to seek God in the heart of mankind."--Hazrat Khan

Mat 16: 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Jesus does not call men to a new religion, but to life.--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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Bass, Diana; Christianity after religion--The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening; HarperOne. Bro. David Steindl-Rast

Monday, February 10, 2014

The New Christianity

Although evangelical protestants like to invoke as their model the early church of the New Testament, one that consisted of small fervent congregations holding worship ceremonies in homes or wherever, it increasingly seems to be jettisoning foundational theology for simple political ideology. To wit: A political position on the topic of poverty would, to a Christian concerned chiefly with Christ's Word, attempt to square the individual's responsibility and response to the poor with the conservative position that the poor are poor due to their own lax moral compass and laziness, that is, due to the individual's faulty preparation to modern life. This hypothetical Christian would have to ask himself what would Jesus do and say on the topic? There is ample proofs for this unfortunate researcher: the New Testament shows Jesus constantly concerned with the poor. The entire Bible contains over 300 references to helping the poor and needy. Indeed this may well be the central purpose of the Gospels (other than the obvious John 3:16). But is this the typical response of a typical American Christian evangelical? Certainly not in the Republican Party.

Though there used to be a niche for a Christian Republican with more progressive values in the Northeast, these uncommon folk have long since been labeled RINOs and marched out of the party. There simply is no room in the GOP for a Christian response to the poor. Instead of following Christ, the typical evangelical Republican of today's America is to first march in lock-step with the ideology of the Self, which is the conservative mantra, the anti-government libertarianism that sees the individual self as maker of destiny (cf. Ayn Rand), and then to twist the theology until it lines up with the Christian response (ie. If we help the poor they will never have the opportunity to learn how to earn for themselves and pick themselves up by their non-existent bootstraps).

It is thus the ideology of the Christian evangelical that fuels his purpose, not Christ's message. It is the temptation to power not the choosing to do Christ's will, that is at the foundation of his choosing. If we only asked ourselves from where does the thought process originate, from Christ or from ideology--from the love of power--we could see the mendacity that is now so thoroughly absorbed in the fabric of evangelicalism (at least within the GOP--since it is largely absent in the progressive parties as they are irreligious in habit). Not all who cry Lord, Lord, know him, as He quite clearly said--and meant. ("Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Luke 6:46)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The new poetry?

Decades ago people stopped reading poetry. Perhaps it was because it was too esoteric, too irrelevant, or just too silly sounding. Maybe it was because there was a lot of bad poetry being written. In any case, beyond a few university presses and micro-journals there is very little print being devoted to poetry these days.

But writers of poetry abound. There is no small demand at creative writer workshops and MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) programs. Everybody wants to be the next Eliot, but no one wants to actually read Eliot.

The same fate, I fear, is due other arts. Local theater is dying. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the seats were empty at a pretty decent production of a Neil Simon play. Most of those present had come on a bus from a senior citizen home. I saw one person who might have been under thirty. Probably the driver of the bus.

If you are a painter, then you know how poets feel. Everybody wants to paint and draw; no one wants to pay for your work of genius.

Are you a ballet dancer? Then your fate is most likely--"So you think you can dance" aside--that of a teacher.

When was the last time you read a short story? A novel? Maybe a novel. For some reason novels, though way more time intensive than stories, still hang in there. Barely. I give it another ten years.

Dance, theater, art, poetry, writing. Doomed. But doomed in a quite interesting way. No one is buying, but there sure are a lot of participants. If you had a hundred people in a room you'd find a lot of people who love to dance, act, and write. Just that you'd also find no one who actually paid for someone else's art, and I think that is the key to the problem.

We still love entertainment. Harry Potter, anyone? Spider Man? Movies are more popular than ever. We love movies. Now, reading a story takes about as much time as looking at a film. Why the big discrepancy in audience? Maybe it is because people can write a story themselves--not that they all do, but it is conceivable to them that they could do so in theory. They can't picture themselves making a movie. Movies are grand things, like operas, that take an army of workers to produce. A story is a small affair, intimate, something that anyone might make oneself.

Perhaps what is happening is that if something can be done by ourselves, then it can't possibly be much good, or at least very important. Truly useful.

Are we suffering from a grand case of societal inferiority complex? If it is something we could produce ourselves, individually, then maybe it isn't worth consuming. We can all see ourselves act out parts from our vast experience watching TV and film, so we don't make that ticket reservation for the theater. It doesn't seem relevant to us. Why not instead go see that vacuous film about some superhero? "Why," we say to ourselves about the play or musical, "we could do that!"

And so it must not be that good. That entertaining. That important.

This is likely to be linked to the modern notion that things don't need work to be good. Just inborn talent. Genius. We don't need to struggle to learn an art for years and years. Turn up at "America's Got Talent" or "American Idol" or any of a dozen other like-minded shows and you will see performer after performer who is untrained and undisciplined. Just like us.

We want our artists to be born genius's fully formed. We want that to be ourselves too. But secretly we know, deep down, that true value in the arts is hard work. Worthy practitioners practice their craft hour after hour, laboring, sweating, panting.

But the effort seems so effortless on the big screen. On the page. On the stage. That's what we want: that effortlessness that comes from lazy genius.

The truth and the lie

A while back an acquaintance said that he only read nonfiction, as he was interested in the truth. Feeling like I needed to chime in, I said I read fiction for the same reason. I added that poetry was even more true than fiction (stories, novels, plays). Puzzled by this, I tried to explain it but I'm afraid I wasn't successful. I made the comparison that historical books (here I mean nonfiction, not historical period pieces) are like map-making. The author researches his topic like the geographer, then picks and chooses certain geographical data to include. To see that he needs to pick some and discard others is obvious: to include all data points, a map-maker would make a map as large as the earth (if that's what he's mapping). But we put too much weight here on "data points." The truth is so much more than "Mr Lincoln arrived at his law practice early on the morning of June 7th, 1837." The reader wants to know motives, reactions, emotions. These are often lost to history. The biographer can guess, of course, but then we enter the drama, the stagecraft of authors. We begin to encroach on the territory of fiction. Fiction gives us something that the historical data points cannot give us: the motivations of humans everywhere, the Everyman. What we don't have in data points is made up for in the truth of what we actually are. The truth of why we do things, the truth that inhabits our souls. You will find more truth in one paragraph of an Alice Munro story than you will find in an entire hagiography by Peggy Noonan. When the writing is unflinching, unblinking, fleshing out the human character at the core of all of us, then you can recognize truth and its rarity. Rare, since to write truthfully is to condemn yourself to its excesses, deviancies and joyful elevations both. It is to inhabit whatever it is--call it Truth--that is the same in all of us, amorphous souls that we are. The Syrians have a saying (so I have read) that goes something like this: There is nothing more beautiful than a well-constructed lie. (And we all have been told that beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is an Alice Munro story, but also it is true of any great writer of fiction, but not so of even the greatest of the writings of history, even Grant, and Churchill. Only a lie, it seems, can tell the truth.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Games We Play: Payroll Tax Cut

Obama wishes to extend the payroll tax cut. The Republicans, the party of tax cuts, wishes to prevent this. Why? Of course, to make Obama look bad, thus giving the GOP an edge in the next election. Here is my reasoning.

Leaving aside for the moment whether we agree that this is the GOP motive, can we say that the GOP has some other reasoning for eliminating a very popular reduction in taxation? Well, they would, and do, say that a tax reduction is indeed needed for the middle classes in this time of recession, but that we need to pay for this so that the deficit is not increased--and they don't mean to pay for it with another tax increase on the rich. Because a tax increase on the rich--I mean, the job creators--would be bad for the economy. You see, the GOP states that increased taxes reduce the economic engine. Tax decreases improve the, let us say, the economic mpg. Tax reductions pay for themselves, in other words, by increasing efficiency, letting people spend as they will.

Well, if payroll taxes are reduced, that would increase the economy and pay for itself. Why vote it down with some excuse that we now suddenly need to pay for it? Do tax cuts pay for themselves or don't they?

There is only one reason for the GOP to come out against the tax cut for the middle classes: to make Obama look bad. They are willing to harm this country for their own pathetic grab for power.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Politics of Religion

The other day I was listening to WBUR with Tom Ashbrook. Someone called in and I thought his comment deserved respect and some more thought. His comment was basically this: The Mormon church has allowed its two candidates for U.S. president to behave in a normal, thoughtful, civil way, while the rest of the candidates (speaking only of those receiving media attention), who happen to be protestant with two Catholics (Gingrich and Santorum), are allowed free reign to be, well, less so.

He is wrong in one way--I'll get to that later--but he is right in his general understanding of the state of the Christian church. It is true that the Christian churches haven't exactly held the candidates collective toes to the fire, in terms of honesty and directness.

And I'm not talking about Herman Cain's recent problems, with allegations of philandering. Those are allegations; nothing is legally proven, whether you view 60-80 texts a day to a woman as moral proof or not. I'm talking about what the candidates are saying and doing. I'm talking about comparing what a candidate states to what they previously stated. I'm talking about hypocrisy, something that Jesus had quite a bit to say, it seems to me.

Jesus was rather preoccupied with the hypocrisy of his day, calling out the Pharisees and Sadducees for not exactly living up to the terms of their agreement with God. Here's a little primer on what Christ had to say regarding the hypocrites of his day:

Matt 6:5, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

Matt 22:18, "But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?"

Matt 23:13, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

Obviously, hypocrisy isn't something terribly cherished by Christ. Neither is an over emphasis on wealth and the creation of wealth. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9,10; I particularly like the OT 2 Kings 23:35--Tax in proportion to wealth. Ouch!) How about Matt 19:24, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

But we know all this. We understand that God is concerned with the poor, not the rich. For every reference to the poor in the Bible there is, well, there are no references to the rights of the rich in the Bible.

So why doesn't the Church speak out against those who pursue personal gain--election, which includes all the perks of elected office including stock purchase rights for insider information--at the expense of the poor? Why doesn't the Church speak out for Occupy Wall St? Oh, I know some brave parson out there may have, but the Church is largely silent. When a candidate lies, on record, about his record, about his past, perhaps about some fellow candidate, what does the church say about this? Nothing. It is as silent as the media, which hems and haws about "he said," "she said," or "it appears that some believe it to be deceptive." What would Christ have said? "Liar! Hypocrite!" would have been heard around the globe.

The Church often will even defend those within a certain political party, viewing itself as a virtual arm of that organization's legions. The problem with that is obvious. Politics is a dirty game. When getting in bed with a prostitute, there are two sinners involved.

Now to Romney. Remember the caller who felt so disposed to allow the Mormon community a pass on this regard? No so fast. Romney out and out lied in a recent add when his people "quoted" Obama quoting McCain. And Romney's people admitted that they were being deceptive. Did the Mormon church come out against their favorite son? Not that I have seen. It seems the Mormons can play the game of dirty politics as well as Christians.

To paraphrase Robin Meyers, a minister now in Oklahoma and author of Why the Christian Right is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto, the church needs to get out of the politics of electing candidates. It needs to get back to the business of responding to the Gospel of Christ. It has been in the barn of politics for so long it now stinks of dung. Hypocrite, heal thyself.

Christianity has no political arm. Or it shouldn't. It is in the interest of the Church to fulfill the ideals of Christ, to love one another...as one love's oneself. To be concerned for your neighbor: Does it concern you that your neighbor is going bankrupt just because he/she is sick? Or perhaps they are dying now because they no longer have health insurance? Or their mortgage hasn't been paid because of a recession? Or this, or that? Or do you believe that going into the election booth and pulling the lever for someone of a certain party makes you somehow religious, and devout?

Here, from the Times Union's "Voices of Faith" column, December 3rd, 2011, written by Barbara DiTommaso, director of the Commission on Peace and Justice of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany:
Biblical justice is not the justice of laws, courts and the penal system. Rather, it is the living out of human solidarity, the reality that there is one human family, and we are responsible for each other's welfare.


Well said.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Evangelicals and the GOP

Slate's latest article on Newt Gingrich claims that the evangelical right can forgive and forget Newt's past sinning ways.

Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Iowa FAMiLY Leader, says
“There’s been a sincere life change for Newt Gingrich...Since four or five years ago, he’s shown a very transparent grace and maturity. He’s been married to Callista for over a decade. He’s healed his relationship with his children.”

What's wrong with a little forgiveness among Christians, after all? Nothing. Forgiveness, you might say, is our bread and...butter. But this forgiveness thing, at least for evangelicals, is tempered by something else: change of life, and a change of actions.

Well, you might say, Newt's been on the wagon for ten years. No more philandering ways. Calista's got a hold on him and he doesn't seem to be straying. Wasn't King David an adulterer (and murderer) but didn't God forgive him? But ask yourself this: Are we only talking about sexual sin here? Sin comes in a variety of colors. There's the red light sin of the bordello, the green stained sin of jealousy, the yellow stained sin of dirty politics, and the dark stained sin of hypocrisy. There's probably as many sins as there are colors. More.

To an evangelical a sin is a sin. One isn't of a higher (or lower) order than any other. To say that Newt is a fine and dandy Christian with a fine and dandy character...just because he no longer struts his stuff with young interns is to forget his other foibles. Didn't Newt just say he wasn't a lobbyist? Mmmm. But calling yourself a historian and getting paid mucho pesetas to do this "historical" work sounds pretty bogus. Sounds like he's lying, in other words. If lying is too difficult a word to pronounce among evangelicals, then how about just saying Newt is just being dishonest. Newt being Newt, in other words.

OK, and how about his hypocrisy? Denouncing politicians enabling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac during the Dartmouth debate...while he himself had been working for them! Libya, Global Warming, and the individual mandate for health insurance: all flip-flops. As Ron Paul states in a recent campaign ad, Gingrich is a serial hypocrite. That doesn't sound like a good Christian to me. So why do evangelicals feel they can look beyond all that? Beats me.

Jennifer Rubin recently wrote of Gingrich in the Washington Post:
Gingrich’s serial adultery and his current hypocrisy suggest not a immoral man, but an amoral one. Rules, shame, punishment, consistency and transparency are abstractions for him, tools to be wielded against political opponents while his own supposed brilliance and patriotism exempt him from the standards that mere pols must follow. Really, is this a person whose values and judgment you’d trust to manage a charity or hold a leadership position in your church, let alone occupy the Oval Office?


That Gingrich has confessed to some wrongdoings in his past affairs on a call-in radio show with James Dobson does not wash away all of this man's sins and make them white as snow. "Go and sin no more," Jesus told the adulteress. Evangelicals out there, please take note that this applies to the adulterer as well.