Archive for May, 2007

One flame, many tongues

May 25, 2007

Like most festivals in the Christian tradition, Pentecost displays interesting tensions.  The community is gathered with one accord in one place.  And yet the One Flame is cloven, and the words spoken are heard by people out of every nation under heaven, each in their own language. 

The Flame of spirit is divided through us, for the purpose of communion, friendship, and transformation with persons of every possible variety.  I spent last weekend running around with druids and assorted pagans, and today hanging out with a Unitarian minister friend.  They speak to me, and I to them, in our tongues the wonderful works of God.  As Carol Parrish would put it (see my interview with her, several posts down), this is the great divine salad – tomatoes are not lettuce and Buddhists are not Christians, but each has their place.  We are all bound together in love and respect by the unction (salad dressing?) of the Spirit.

Jesus tells the disciples that the coming Spirit will teach you all things.  This is a process which is still ongoing, and can be unnerving.  It is not for nothing that Jesus admonishes his followers: Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  Being led into all truth can be deeply disturbing.  But when we lay aside our fear, we come to know the truth that each of our sisters and brothers is indeed the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in them.  

Moreover, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.  In the Orthodox liturgy for Pentecost, there is prayer asking that sinners be released from hell.   While I don’t share the theology of hell expressed in the prayer, what a bold hope!  The Spirit gives us the strength to stand up and ask God for freedom for the most bound of our fellow human beings.  May we find such renewed courage this Pentecost!

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Pentecost hymn

May 25, 2007

From our Orthodox friends:

Blessed are you, O Christ our God,
for you have shown forth the fishermen as most wise
by sending down on them the Holy Spirit,
and through them catching all the world in your net.
Glory to you, O God, who loves humankind!

Banging around

May 25, 2007

Work and other obligations continue to be very busy, thus the slow blogging.  Sorry about that.  This afternoon, I had the delightful experience of meeting blogger PeaceBang (aka Victoria Weinstein – see her blogs in the blogroll: PeaceBang and Beauty Tips for Ministers).  She was in town for a conference.  I can testify that she is just as witty and charming in person, as she is on her blogs.  We had lunch at Sylvan Park, and then went to the Parthenon to visit Athena. 

 We’re headed out of town for the three day weekend.  If I don’t get a Pentecost post up until Tuesday, y’all will just have to bear with me.  May the Spirit fill you.

An in-between time

May 15, 2007

In two days, on Thursday, we celebrate the Ascension of Christ.  After forty days of mysterious presence with his disciples, the Risen Christ is taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight.   I am posting some thoughts a little early, as friends from Oregon are arriving on Thursday, and life will be busy with related doings.   The Nashville crew might want to cover their virtual ears, as the following notes are the essence of my homily for Sunday.  (The LCC lectionary carries the Ascension readings all the way through to Pentecost.)

In some qabalistic traditions, one finds a teaching about tzimtzum.  This is the notion that the Divine somehow withdrew, making a space within itself where a free creation could exist.  This can turn into a metaphysical brain-twister, and (IMHO) is better approached simply by living with the image rather than trying to reduce it to philosophical concepts.  In the Ascension, we have a similar dynamic.  The Divine (in the person of Christ) withdraws, making space among the disciples.  In this space, they can discover their freedom, and feel the Spirit blowing among them, forming them into a new creation.  

In John’s gospel, as Jesus nears the end of his time with his friends, he blows upon them, telling them to receive the Spirit – just as God blew the Spirit over the waters of chaos at the dawn of time.  The freely given Spirit brings forth creation from chaos – in Genesis, in the disorderly band of early followers of Jesus, and in us.   As God pulls back, or Jesus withdraws, we find that we are not compelled into the new creation, but are invited, with the graceful freedom that true friends give to one another.

Ascension is an in-between time.  Jesus has left, and the Spirit, while promised, is not yet fully come.  Friedrich Benesch (1907-1991), who was a priest in the independent Christengemeinschaft, wrote a little book simply titled Ascension (English translation published by Floris Books, 1979).  Benesch points out that the clouds – so prominent in the imagery of this festival – are an in-between reality, flowing between heaven and earth, seemingly much more active than the mineral realm and yet not alive in the way that a plant is.   While Christ in some sense leaves us at the Ascension, Benesch proposes that in-between places are also where we can find him. 

Somehow we can say tentatively: in between stone and plant, where the roots of the forest live and thrust, there the Christ lives; in between stone and plant where the clouds weave, live, and pass away, the Christ being lives.  In between plant and animal in the world of the transient, interweaving blossoms, the Christ being weaves.  Between earth and man, where the being of man works at the earth and the earth answers the activity of man, in the interaction of the earth’s destiny and the being of man, lives the Christ.  (pp.29-30)

Like the disciples on the mount of the Ascension, we gaze into the open, empty, in-between spaces, where we lose Christ, and yet find him again.

A word from The Swedenborg Project

May 15, 2007

There’s a very interesting post, addressing the question “Do we need church organizations?” over at The Swedenborg Project.   While I am not a Swedenborgian (although I like a lot of what Swedenborg said) and I don’t agree perfectly with all of Kurt Simons’ points, I found it very helpful.  Take a look:

http://swedenborgproject.org/2006/11/19/do-we-need-church-organizations/

A word from Samir Selmanovic

May 13, 2007

My friend Mark from New York asked me more than once, “Why do you Christians want Christianity to win all the time?  You don’t seem to know how to live in a world where you aren’t in charge.”  This made me think about the history of Christianity and its aspirations to be in charge.  Looking back nostalgically to the times when Christianity was an empire, we tirelessly monitor our power, our growth, our numbers, our financial success, our political strength.  Maybe the time has come for Christianity to lose.

To lose one’s life is to gain it.  It would not be the first time that God has broken out of religion, which carries his message, and made something new. If God felt it good for his followers to break out of the confines of a religion two millennia ago, why should we expect God not to do such a thing in our time?  Maybe Christianity should be thinned out and broken up, spent like Christ, who gave himself for this world.

If we seek first the kingdom of God, then maybe even our beloved religion, saved from ourselves, will be added to us.

(Samir Selmanovic, “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness: Finding Our God in the Other,” in Jones and Pagitt, eds., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, pp.198-199.  (For more, see www.samirselmanovic.com  )

Not believing

May 13, 2007

In this week’s gospel from Mark 16, we hear about the appearance of the Risen Christ first to Mary Magdalene, and then to the two disciples on the road.  Mary and the disciples run to tell the others, but their witness is not believed.   Later, Jesus appears to the eleven and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them who had seen him after he was risen.

Now, I’ve got more than a bit of sympathy for the eleven.  If someone showed up and told me that a dead friend was resurrected and running around appearing to people, I might wonder.   It reminds of a conference years ago, when a participant was breathlessly recounting an alleged angelic visitation.  The elderly painter (and, IMHO, spiritual teacher) Anne Stockton turned to her and asked, “My dear, have you ever considered that this might be due to glands and such?”

I’ve been reading Richard Tarnas’ new book, Cosmos and Psyche.  In it, he makes the point that we have a very hard time detecting realities which we have decided cannot exist.  This is the case with the eleven, locked away in the upper room, just in case the authorities aren’t done with the crucifying.  I am sure the Risen One was closer to them than their breath, yet they were sure it could not be so.

The epistle, from Acts 2, mentions the miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by [Jesus] in the midst of you.  In our day, we tend to confine such matters to a more credulous past, or to our sisters and brothers in charismatic churches.  Are we like the eleven, sure that God’s wonders, and the powerful presence of the Christ among us, are wishful thinking, or nice fables perhaps useful for moral instruction?   

We don’t want to believe just anything, and we are right to question ourselves – it is just our glands?   At the emergent cohort this past week, we discussed (among other things) the role of emotional manipulation in religion.  Clearly, at times, churches work up people’s emotions in a superficial way which ultimately leads nowhere – and yet, as Dion Fortune liked to say, emotion can be the ass that carries the ark of God. 

Without surrendering our intellectual integrity and healthy skepticism, maybe we can resolve to be a little more open to the wonders of the Divine, to the possibility that (to quote from Hamlet) “there are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in our philosophy” – even a Risen Christ.  

Into Great Silence

May 7, 2007

I have finally had the opportunity to see this movie on DVD:

http://www.diegrossestille.de/english/

I don’t believe the DVD is available in the United States yet, but it can be ordered easily enough from Canadian purveyors of such things.  It’s a remarkable portrayal of life in the Carthusian monastic order – to say more seems almost against the character of this most silent of movies.     (Nashvillians – If you are interested in borrowing it, just let me know.)

Desiring that he be slain….

May 5, 2007

This week’s epistle reading, from Acts 13, tell us of the residents of Jerusalem:  though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.  How familiar does this sound?  How often, at work, in the neighborhood, in our families, do we identify a scapegoat, and proceed to sacrifice said unfortunate person?   If confronted with reasons why such exclusion may not be such a good idea, we close our ears and reach for the knife.

The philosopher Rene Girard has written extensively about the scapegoating mechanism, and how we use it to create cohesive groups, societies, and cultures.  We define outselves by who we throw out.  (If you don’t know Girard’s work, see Michael Kirwan, Discovering Girard, or Gil Baillie, Violence Unveiled – or just pick up one of G’s books, such as Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.)  With Jesus, we have taken the very presence of the Divine, scapegoated and killed it. 

But isn’t this always the case?   Each human brother or sister, however troubled, however caught in evil, is the living image of God.   Is there ever really a cause of death in such a one?   Nonetheless, we point the finger and demand a crucifixion.   The Cross of Good Friday shows us what we do every day, writ on a cosmic scale.   Yet, Jesus does not respond in kind, and cracks open the cycle of destruction.  To the extent that we can see the mystery, and can give up our desire to sacrifice others, redemption begins to move in us. 

Easter shows us that, however hard we hammer at the nails, God will not let the Holy One …see corruption.  As the young man says in the gospel, Christ is not held within the tomb:  He is risen, he is not here… he goeth before you.  In the painful moments of life, as we madly spill the blood of our sisters and brothers, we can trust in God who sees the Holy One, the Logos, living in each of us, always carrying us into new life far beyond the corruption we inflict upon one another.

Too good not to share

May 5, 2007

A tip of the hat to Rev Jack (www.revjack.com) for this one:

http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2007/4/24/ireAndViceDouchebagsForJesus

In case the link disappears at some point:

Ire and Vice: Douchebags for Jesus
(The Stanford Daily, April 24, 2007)
By Darren Franich

A couple of douchebags holding douchebag signs and wearing douchebag T-shirts were out in White Plaza last week talking about some incredible douche clown they referred to as god. This god, who bears no relation to the fellow/lady/thing named God (who, I learned in school, loves everybody and wants us all to get along), hates on everyone except for douchebags who preach his word. One of the signs even had a list of people he sends straight to hell. Drunkards and fornicators were right at the top; there goes my whole fraternity. Adulterers and god haters were further down, right next to liars and thieves. And at the bottom of the sign, written in bigger print than all the others, these horrible people who claimed to be in the business of soul saving reminded everyone that of all the world’s sinners, homosexuals were the worst.

This is offensive for all kinds of reasons, mainly because Jesus Himself was actually pretty gay. He was a lot closer to his mom than his dad. He threw aside the bounds of normal society to follow his dream, which involved kicking it with 12 other dudes. They were always walking and didn’t eat very well, thus creating gym culture and male eating disorders. The ladies all loved Jesus like a big sister because he was so in touch with his feelings.

Other religions have hyper-masculine badass bad dudes as their central figure: Mohammed, conquering Mecca; the Old Testament protagonists, Patriarchs and Judges and Kings, quick with their wits, their swords and their dicks (David was a stud); or even the Buddha, who’s quiet in that serene Jedi Master way, like he could probably turn the universe inside out through sheer force of transcendence. Jesus just went around telling people to treat other people the way you’d want to be treated. We can agree that the son of God and Man wasn’t exactly an alpha male. He also worked with lepers and taught poor people, the first-century version of the Peace Corps and Teach for America.

I kid ‘cause I love, and because I believe in a God who doesn’t mind a few playful jabs at his image, but does mind when his people think that they can say a bunch of stupid things in his name. In my personal vision of God (colored by a Catholic upbringing, a Presbyterian mother and several years of fashionable agnosticism) God is a middle-aged man who understands failure and stupidity because he invented them. He can be angry and jealous, prone to destructive rampages which psychiatrists would refer to as “acting out.” But he can also be kind and loving. Like us humans, he has the capacity for regret (He’s never forgiven himself for forgetting to put the dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark). He only wants to do right by his kids, but everything always seems to get worse. Even after the long span of his life, he still isn’t sure if he’s a good man who does bad things or a bad man who’s just kidding himself. He sees a psychiatrist, hates his psychiatrist, loves his psychiatrist. Actually, he’s a lot like Tony Soprano.

I don’t think that’s so weird. Frankly, I think some bombastic Huey Long-type preaching his awesomeness while throwing thunderbolts at gays, drug addicts and Muslims is pretty damned silly. I like my version of God because he’s not infallible, because he can change, because, dare I say it, he can evolve. Guys who hold up signs condemning people they don’t understand are throwing the first stone, and that’s plain bad manners.

It’s because of Douchebags for Jesus that I lost interest in church a long time ago. The last time I went to confession was eighth grade, back when I had to make up a few sins just so I didn’t waste the priest’s time. The last time I went to church when it wasn’t Christmas or Easter was under duress. When I came to college, I figured I was through with religion. Now I’m a senior. And when you’re a senior, you don’t just feel four years older. You feel four decades older.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about going to church again. Not because I think Catholicism is particularly stellar — women should be priests, homosexuals should get married, elderly virgins shouldn’t regulate my sex drive and John Paul II should rise from his grave just long enough to slap some sense into Benedict.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about going to church again. Not because I think Catholicism is particularly stellar — women should be priests, homosexuals should get married, elderly virgins shouldn’t regulate my sex drive and John Paul II should rise from his grave just long enough to slap some sense into Benedict.

And yet, two months from the real world, I find myself moving ever closer to paranoid existentialism. Not the fun existentialism, either: “Like, dude, have you ever thought about what would happen if colors could smell fear?” Real, crippling existentialism. How do I know I exist? That the world exists? Why live when you’ll just die? And why do all the hot girls I stalk on Facebook block their profiles?

The last time I can remember asking myself questions like this, I was in seventh grade and the only person I could ever talk to, the only guy who understood me even when I didn’t, was God. I would tell him stuff I would never tell anyone. I would beg him to protect the people I loved, and ask him to let them know how much I loved them, because I knew I’d never get around to telling them myself. He didn’t hate anybody.

I miss that guy, sometimes. Even if he doesn’t really exist, he was the best imaginary friend I ever had.

I went to the bookstore and bought a big poster board, some highlighters and some duct tape. I wrote, “God loves homosexuals and can’t stand douchebags like this” and taped it to a trash can right next to the douchebags in question. I think that made God chuckle a little bit.

Don’t worry: thanks to Catholicism, Darren Franich already feels guilty about this column. Email your prayers to dfranich@stanford.edu.